No Hugh Jackman Sightings the First Day
10.10.2009 3 °C
Sunday, 12 October
Grand Hyatt Hotel
Up to eight hours of restful sleep my ass! So far, my Ambien experiment has complete repeatability: I sleep well for 6 hours, then it’s up and time to make the cookies. Only I have no oven and no ingredients, so I will have to settle for telling you about our first day in Australia as a diversion. (David is awake, too, and no, I didn’t wake him up. Physically our bodies think it’s 12:30 in the afternoon and time to be up and about.)
The lack of sleeping notwithstanding, Melbourne is wonderful! No issues with customs or immigration, save that they seemed extremely concerned that David’s middle name was not on his electronic visa and that we didn’t have some little green stamp on our entry cards to let us out the special exit. (Don’t really know what was so special about it, because once the lady determined we didn’t have it, she asked us if we were carrying any food--roasted almonds, which are apparently kosher, though raw are not.--then gave us the stamp anyway.) We had a scoche of trouble locating the Tauck driver in the airport mob scene, but we found another traveler from our tour, so we knew we had not been left on the proverbial doorstep. I finally managed to locate him on one last desperate pass through the terminal before giving in and calling a hotel shuttle. He was an interesting fellow: an Italian who immigrated to Australia over 25 years ago, so imagine an Italian/Australian mixed accent!
We’re staying at the Grand Hyatt right in downtown Melbourne, and have a room on the 20th floor (sshhh, don’t tell my mom) with a magnificent view of the Yarra River. Quick calculations revealed that it had been over thirty six hours since my last shower, so quick showers were the order of the day. (Excellent bath amenities which are absolutely worth stealing, if only the FAA and their Australian counterparts weren’t so peskily anal about that 3-1-1 liquids rule, by the way--I do like me some tiny little hotel shampoos!), then simply because it was easy we grabbed lunch at the hotel. We shared steamed dumplings and some sort of stir-fried beef with noodles, which were both good, but the big find was the iced chocolate. I ordered it thinking that it would be similar to something I’d had in Tokyo, literally an iced hot chocolate. Oh no, when it came, it was orders of magnitude better: it’s a cross between chocolate milk and a milk shake! Thick, but not too thick, made with chocolate syrup and vanilla, rather than with chocolate ice cream or milk. I downed the whole thing before our lunch even came, and got another one to boot when we stopped for a tea break during our walkabout that afternoon.
Thus cleaned and fortified, we set out an a walkabout around town. The tour came from an article I’d copied out of Natural Geographic Traveler (finally a subscription that has proven useful!). We walked to the Flinders Street Railway Station and watched street performers, then visited the Campbell Arcade and Desgraves Street, where we (of course) had to sample a cupcake from Little Cupcakes. (Strawberry for David, Teddy Bear for me). We continued our walk through several lanes and so-called arcades before ending up almost where we’d started. All along the way we saw lots of hip little shops and restaurants, but more significantly, we saw at least 5 chocolate shops! And I don’t mean candy shops, I mean serious chocolatiers that were conching chocolate and dipping truffles on the spot. If this is not that unusual, I think I’m going to like Australia! They could be my peeps!
Sara had clued me in to the joys of the Australian Post Office, and since I wanted stamps, when we passed on along the way, we popped in. Sara did not exaggerate one bit: the Australian Post Office is so much more than a surly clerk selling stamps and delivery confirmation. They sell post cards, packaging materials, calendars, posters, office supplies (they were good, but none were really worthy of bringing home…I’m trying to restrain myself, you know!), even little stuffed animals. I managed to get postcards and stamps only, although there was a lot more I wanted to buy. Damn Tauck and their one suitcase restriction! (But I’ve found a loophole: the airline lets you have two, so if I get desperate, I’ll buy an extra one the last day in Syndney!)
After our postal find, we hiked to the Queen Victoria market. This market is vast, with over 1700 stalls selling everything from fruits and vegetables to knock-off (or possibly genuine…I couldn’t tell) Ugg boots to DVDs and ticky-tacky Australia souvenirs. It’s a cross between a farmer’s market, a gourmet food store, and a flea market. We wandered the market for a couple of hours, then headed back to our hotel to change for dinner.
We had dinner at this wonderful restaurant called Gingerboy. It is on the top 10 Melbourne restaurants list, was in my New York Times “36 hours in Melbourne” guide, and made it into David’s Lonely Planet guidebook. We tried to make a reservation, but the only one they had was at 10:00 (by which time I was no longer conscious), but said we could eat at the bar. So off we went. When we got there, we were early enough that they still had a table, which they forewarned us they would need back by 8:00 pm. Ordinarily that would have bothered me a little bit, but it was so early and we were so tired (the earth was spinning under me occasionally at that point) that it didn’t even register on my rude-meter. The food was wonderful: shrimp dumplings, wagyu beef dumplings, son-in-law eggs (more on these in a moment), then kingfish cooked in a banana leaf with lemongrass curry, accompanied by rice and what they called corn cakes…you and I would have called them hushpuppies! We also split a piece of silken tofu 5-spice cheesecake with pineapple jelly. The cheesecake was surprisingly good given its suspicious tofu ancestry, but we both could have done without the pineapple jelly. It tasted fine, but the squishy-chewy didn’t fit with the cheesecake. Now to the eggs. We got them because they were considered a house specialty by the New York Times. It is a soft-boiled egg that is then breaded and fried. The idea is to pop the whole thing in your mouth at once and to “enjoy” the yolk squirting out. Frankly, I know I have a big mouth, but I can’t fit a whole egg in there at once, so I enjoyed it in several bites, letting the icky yolk part (which I don’t like anyway) drain into my bowl. They were good, but I think once was enough!
It was while walking around that I observed two things about Australians: yes, there are fat, ugly Australians…based on television coverage, I was expecting an entire nation peopled with Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman (neither of whom I have seen yet) lookalikes. Not so much. Also, they have no concept of “keep to the right” or in their case, the left, when walking on the sidewalks or crossing the street. It is just a higgledy-piggeldy free for all when the light changes! Knowing me as you do, you can imagine how this cranks on the anal retentive little nerve!
I’m still not the least bit sleepy, so I think I’ll post this and maybe go take another shower…you can never be too rich, too thin, or too clean! More tomorrow. On tap for the day: dinner on the Tram Car restaurants, where unlike Brian, I will endeavor to stay sober.
Also, while I did not meet Hugh Jackman today, I am sure he's out there waiting on me with baited breath, perhaps waiting to surprise me on the tramcar. If so, cancel the cable, sell the car, I won't be coming home!