Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Australian Road Signs

As noted previously, that's not much about traveling Australia that is different than America -- but I did enjoy seeing a few new road signs, especially this one that is common here, and I wish was on every American road:

And there were plenty of variations of this one:
And I also enjoyed these:

Signs have always interested me -- including back in 2009, when I motorcycled across the USA, I found a couple of signs I liked: here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

1363 Miles - Melbourne to Sydney - 6 AirBnBs+1

So, when I last blogged -- I had just made my way through my first three nights on The Great Ocean Road after leaving my cousin's place in Basalt, Australia.

Today (Monday, November 14) I arrived in Sydney -- having driven a coastal route with these stops (click here for Google map) over the past 7 nights/8 days - putting 1,368 miles (more correctly 2,203 kilometers) on a rental car - cost $180 USD plus gas and a $48 USD ferry toll (the crossing is just below Melbourne - it was spectacular).  And I stayed at 6 different AirBnB places plus one unusual/special place I'll describe below (ranging from $35 to $87, with average cost $54 a night - all USD values).

I don't have the energy tonight to describe the entire trip, the scenic stops, and the wonderful AirBnB hosts/places along the way -- but let's just say it all fun, beautiful and interesting.  Allow me a few random observations:

- traveling here is EASY.  This is not adventure travel -- this is like traveling in America but where I'm the one with an out-of-place accent and the turn signal is on the wrong side of the steering wheel! Much of the terrain looks very much like the USA -- at least where there is plenty of rain (it's spring here and the mountains are a luscious green). And speaking of rain, I got almost none of it during my journey -- few clouds now and again, but generally picture perfect days.

- Australia has many, beautiful National Parks.  I've always thought highly of the advocates and politicians that set aside 58 National Parks in the USA.  Australia has over 500 (I didn't try to figure out the State Park numbers).  Anyway, my journey took me through several.

- I've now done AirBnB stays on three continents (USA, China and here).  I think all my reviews (and all but one were exceptional) are public -- as are the reviews of me -- but again, a summary would be I stayed in great places and met interesting people.  All the "hosts" had positive things to say about their experiences.

- Of course, everyone has talked about the USA election - and I was comfortably at one AirBnB (by myself as it happened, as the guy had to work) watching it all unfold on flat screen.  However, I've decided to leave this blog a politics-free zone!  Though, as I wrote previously, it's been intensely interesting to watch the news and commentary from Australian news sources.

Now, the one night that wasn't at an AirBnB was superbly special and unique.  The AirBnB hosts I stayed with during my first 3 nights in Melbourne, upon learning my route and that I was still working on arranging one stop, suggested his own sister's/brother-in-law's home with a "granny" flat that he was encouraging them to turn into an AirBnB.  It was perfectly positioned where I needed a place and so it was arranged through email.  Perhaps because of the unique way it was set up -- and perhaps because they are not yet seasoned AirBnB hosts -- they greeted me and treated me as family -- including introducing me to the guy's parents (nearby), giving a tour of their garden, taking me along to feed their pet lamb, and fixing a delicious lamb roast feast, sharing beers and educating me on their own (and the country's) passion with Cricket.  I left feeling like I'm related.

Anyway, I took way too many photos of the entire trip -- and maybe one night I'll take the time to create and link a few.  But for now, you'll just have to take my word for it -- the little piece of Australia I've gotten to see on this journey is beautiful.

I'm staying here in Sydney for 3 nights before flying back to the USA on Thursday, November 17.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Touring "The Great Ocean Road" - The Name Game

I scheduled far too little time with my cousin -- but because I had prebooked AirBnB lodgings for the next several nights -- I journeyed onward with a personal commitment to return soon, keep up the cousin connection, and continue exploring my roots.

Upon leaving the Basalt area, I navigated through the beautiful Grampians National Park to the end-point of "The Great Ocean Road" in a town called Warrnambool.

Prior to preparing for this trip, I had not heard of The Great Ocean Road -- but it's up there among top ocean-side road trips in the world (Cape Town's Cape Point Peninsula Route, and  California's State Route 1 come to mind).  I booked three nights of three different AirBnB's at the beginning, middle, and end - in reverse order.  It is/was a spectacularly beautiful drive on beautiful days.

Now, a tourism highlight of the Road  is called "The Twelve Apostles:"  beautiful limestone stacks in the surf.  But here is an interesting tidbit (in keeping with my prior posting that people really want to read/hear about the unusual) -- there are really only eight currently standing in the area known as "The Twelve Apostles" AND, better yet -- their name was originally "The Sow and Pigs" but changed to encourage tourism.  I've blogged before about how a name can make a difference -- like the renowned "Tail of the Dragon" in Tennessee and how "Scenic Route 12" in Utah needs to be renamed something similarly catchy like "Tail of the Rattler."  In any event, The Great Ocean Road is spectacular and I enjoyed seeing the "8 Apostles" or "Sow and 7 Pigs" and many other beautiful spots along the drive, and my three selected AirBnB accommodations.

Australian Family Connections

During my third day in Melbourne I spent several hours at the Immigration Museum, and was surprised and pleased by the wealth of information there on the immigration of Swiss-Italians to Australia beginning in the mid 1800's. It was superb way to prepare for my next stop - visiting a 3rd cousin and the Australian home sites of my paternal great great grand parents and great grand parents when they immigrated to Australia from Switzerland, and where my grandfather was born.

By way of background, my paternal ancestry, indeed my surname, is Swiss-Italian, and my great great grandparents and great grandparents immigrated to Australia from Switzerland beginning during the first Australian gold rush. In addition, my paternal grandfather was born in Australia, and lived here until he was 8 years old and his immediate family moved to California.

What's a Swiss-Italian? There is no “Swiss” language – the population of Switzerland speaks German (64%), French (23%), Italian (8%) - (the three official languages), and Romansh (less than .5%). The Italian-speaking population primarily reside in just one southern Canton (similar to a USA State), south of the Alps and bordering Italy. Why this Canton (Ticino) remained part of Switzerland rather than joining with fellow Italian-speaking Italians in Italy is an interesting topic for another day.  My ancestors come from two villages/towns in Ticino - Someo and Gordevio, previously blogged about here.

What Caused Swiss-Italians to emigrate to Australia in the 1850's: This is a challenging question that I've blogged about before – here. Essentially the emigration started with the Australian gold rush – but as with all migration – there are lots of reasons - individual and social.

Where Did the Swiss-Italians settle in Australia: The heart of the Australian's gold rush territory was in the areas surrounding modern day Daylesford – about an hour and a half northeast of Melbourne.

So, on my fourth day here, I met (for the first time) and stayed with the cousin and met his brother/brother's wife and mother who today own the property where my great grandfather built a residence, across the road from where my great, great grandfather built his family residence. This cousin is an expert on family geneology and we spent considerable time looking over and discussing his extensive research materials and family tree knowledge and visited the prior home sites.

It was a wonderful day of family connections and reflections on my roots.

Here is all the remains of my great grandparents home in an area then called Boots Gully - today called Basalt:

Monday, November 7, 2016

Melbourne - What's Not To Like?

I've often said that people (including me!) usually don't want to hear about the good and the beautiful of another's trip -- they relish in hearing the excruciating detail of travel challenges and discomforts. Wonderful sights, amazing food, interesting people, blah blah blah -- but tell me again what you didn't like: weather, prices, seeing a rat in the restaurant, scary flights/landings, bad smells -- the list goes on.  Well, so far Australia has not been serving up any stories people will want to hear!  But I do have one gripe -- rather insignificant when compared to the wealth of wonderful that is here -- but it does allow me to hold my homeland in higher esteem by comparison -- so perhaps it's blog worthy! Prepare to be disappointed:  the only thing I've been able to complain about is that the extensive and wonderful public transportation system in Melbourne doesn't run to the airport!

It seems to this traveler that one can get anywhere and everywhere in Melbourne by public transportation except the airport.  So it gives me a little pleasure to know that my hometown of Portland with its $2.50 fare ($1.25 for seniors!) all the way to the airport from distant suburbs has something better than Melbourne.  Here in Melbourne the airport transportation (other than taxi) is a privately run SkyBus that cost $15 USD each way.  That being said -- the SkyBus is clean and speedy and timely and even has free wifi -- but it's pricey. I suspect the problem is that the SkyBus offers "free transfer/transport" in smaller vans from it's Melbourne terminal to hotels -- so those of us who just need it for point-to-point transportation from the airport to downtown (city or train) are subsidizing the hotel guests - but hey, I can't find anything else to complain about!  What a wonderful city Melbourne!

My last day in Melbourne was spent at the superbly interesting Immigration Museum ($14 but free to "concession" seniors).  I spent hours in their research room engrossed in the details of the Swiss Italian immigration that brought my great great grandparents and great grandparents to the gold fields (today about an hour drive from Melbourne) in the 1850's.  I have always been fascinated with learning the "whys" of my ancestor emigration first to Australia and then to California -- and with the help of a Museum employee, I got to dig deeper into the possible reasons.  Of course, it is impossible to know the primary reason for any person -- and there might not have been a "primary" reason at all (adventurer, gold seeker, leaving famine conditions in Switzerland, a new start, opportunity to own land, etc) but at least I now have resources to learn the many reasons and the logistics including ship rosters.  More on all of this in a future post..

A Closer Look at Restaurant Prices

So, allow me a brief diversion while the subject is on my mind: Australian Restaurant Price Sticker Shock.  It is my evaluation/opinion -- that Americans are so conditioned by added taxes and tipping on restaurant bills that we perceive Australian restaurant prices as substantially higher in the same way that we Americans perceive that some other nations have substantially higher income taxes when we don't consider the additional costs we have to pay separately to get the same services.  This situation is clearly displayed in Michael Moore's latest movie: "Where to Invade Next" (trailer here). Whether or not you like Michael Moore, it's a fun exposure to some of the ideas Americans should "take home" from other countries such as extended holidays, free college education, universal health care, top-notch school lunch programs, to name a few.

Anyway, here's my point.  Here in Australia -- in regular dining, you might see a pub burger/fries for $20 and an ordinary beer for $8.80 -- and instantly believe prices are outrageous compared to America.  But when you analyze it, it's not the case.  Let's take a closer look:
                                           Burger/Fries      Beer
On Australian Menu            $20.00            $8.80
Currency Convert to USD     15.35              6.76
15% Tip Already Included    13.05              5.75
8% Tax Already Included      12.01              5.29

So the equivalent American menu price would be $12.01 for the burger/fries and $5.29 for the beer and that's assuming a 15% tip -- many tip more.

Another way to think about it would be that one needs to subtract around 40% off Australian restaurant menu prices to compare them to an American restaurant menu price.

Now, even though I know the facts -- it's still challenging to adjust to seeing the higher menu prices much in the same way that we are easily tricked by advertisements for $3.99 rather than $4.00.

But as I've blogged about before, change is hard -- and rethinking restaurant menu prices is only one of the challenges.  I haven't yet strayed to the other side of the road -- but I'll be damned if I can train myself to stop flipping on the windshield washers when I'm trying to turn on my turn signals.  Why does the location of those need to be flipped?  After all, even though I'm driving on the other side of the road and sitting on the other side of the car, I'm not turning the steering wheel the other way and the gas pedal is in the same place -- so why can't the turn signal be standard - as in, on the left side?

And there you have a glimpse into some of my more random thoughts today.  Back to blogging tomorrow.  I am loving Australia!

Friday, November 4, 2016

"Such Is Life"

Reportedly, "such is life" were the last words of the infamous Melbourne area criminal and sometimes folk hero "Ned Kelly" when he was hung here in Melbourne 136 years ago (November 11, 1880).  That's just one of the many delightful tidbits that came from a 3 hour "free" walking tour of Melbourne that started at its beautiful State Library of Victoria.

I'll spare you a step-by-step of my day -- but it was fun to learn the history and see the current vibrant and beautiful city.  What's not to like:  Melbourne is consistently rated among the top of the "most liveable cities" -- including top of one of the three main listings for 6 years -- and it was easily apparent on this beautifully sunny day.

But as with all my trips, the real fun for me is in the conversations with others -- and today provided a few treats:

- after noticing many excellent buskers (street performers) around the city, I took time to approach one and learn all about how they are auditioned and trained (one main street requires auditions -- all must be trained and there is a 2 month wait to get into the training), and licensed/regulated and supervised for loudness.  And the guy I approached had been doing it 8 years -- and seemed happy to talk about all aspects including introduce me to two others nearby (playing chess as they waited for their turn) including one that performed magic).  Having tried busking myself (with a friend and my son) in Portland -- I was interested to learn how it had grown to be such an integral part of the vibrancy of the city -- and even proceeded to the nearby city hall to engage in yet another delightful conversation with a couple of workers there and to get Melbourne's "Busking Guidelines" handbook.

- while doing some people watching in front of the Library, I noticed several young adults wearing Green Peace T-shirts soliciting.  I approached one to engage on what they were soliciting for and whether they were volunteers or paid.  The conversation ended up being fun and informative as I learned that the solicitor was a lifelong resident of Ohio who had come to Melbourne to get a master's degree (something in environmental sciences).  It was a paid opportunity that fit her interests -- and gave me an opportunity to get her opinion that Melbourne really was as great to live in as it appeared. She also said that she was paying the University of Melbourne about the same as she would be paying for a state-school education in Ohio.

- I confirmed what I had read about tipping in bars -- that it is "very rare."  It was a fun conversation because I started the conversation by giving a tip.  It turned out that the person who I thought was just the bartender was actually the owner -- who had lived in the USA for 8 years (mostly Austin, Texas) and during that time had acquired USA citizenship -- but now -- because of the successful bar -- would stay in Melbourne.

- While I waited the making of a smoothie, one of the workers inquired where I was from (even I can easily recognize an American accent here).  The worker was actually a USA citizen who had only been working in Australia for a couple months.  Of course it was fun to talk to him about visa requirements (he claimed he was working on a regular tourist visa) and Australian minimum wage (currently $13.60 after converting to USD).

A fun second day in Melbourne.