Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sipping Hot Chocolate on the Great Ocean Road

Hot Chocolate anyone?
It was cloudy that day I joined a group tour to explore Great Ocean Road. I joined it by signing up at the Tourist Information Center near Federation Square in Melbourne city center.  Paid a hefty AUD 120 for the tour on Friday (the day after tomorrow) and waited at one of their pick-up points at 7:30 am!

This marks my very first time joining a group tour alone. Alone among strangers which I hoped against all odds would be friendly and welcoming. Imagine stuck on a bus with 19 odd people. They'll be talking among themselves, while I'll be sitting at one corner, alone with my thoughts.

I'm a shy person. I don't talk much. A stranger asks me a question, I might just answer yes or no. So I got worried. Haha.

"Will there be a person to help take my pictures?"
"Will there be strange questions regarding me traveling alone? Or perhaps asking about my hijab"
"Will there be some-one accompanying me during the walks, lunching, toilet breaks?"

And most importantly, "Will they forget me if I suddenly wasn't on the bus?"

I didn't want to be the odd person out and eventually thought of renting a car to do GOR alone, just to avoid these awkward moments. But I braved myself and went on with it. 

On the 20 seater bus, there were several others which the tour guide chirpily introduced to all of us. She was holding a clipboard with our names on it and calling out to everyone. Woo Hoo! There were an American family on their Autumn school holiday, a couple from India who lives and works in Sydney, an elderly couple also from USA, a father and son couple from France, a solo, cutey girl from Japan, another solo, but elderly woman from Southern India and then there's lill shy me. The only muslim on the bus. ^___^

I eyed the Japanese girl sitting in front of me. Her with her adorable outfit, ponytails at each side of her head and super bright pink DSLR. OK, I told myself, she'll definitely be my friend by the end of the day! Thankfully the mini bus had a row of single seats on the left and seats in pairs on the right. 

And so the journey continues with the tour guide cheerfully talking onto the portable microphone attached to her head. Making me sitting back and relax... as the sun rose higher in the horizon.

8:16 am and to Great Ocean Road we go! *music playing in the background*

***to be continued***

Ps: damn I miss storytelling. muahahahaha! 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Luna 1878 - Melbourne's Winter Night Market

I hopped on a train heading to Hurstbridge. Clinton Hill is situated right along that line. When I got there, I wasn't sure which exit to use but I only saw one. So.... Hahaha.

Little did I know there was an underground staircase just outside the station to the "other-side". My host, Soo Ying was panting while she dashed up the stairs to meet me. She was on her way to work and parked her car at the other side. She could've informed me but I might not know where to locate that underground staircase though. =P

We went to her car to store my heavy backpack and we hopped on another train into town. She usually parks her car there before going to work via train as it is more economically-wise. The parking fees in town are so expensive! And parking at this station is free!

A Victorian looking train station.
But the not so Victorian looking train. =P
First stop for me that day was her working place, a dainty Japanese restaurant on Bourke Street called Edoya. She invited me for a seafood dinner with her two colleagues. And furthermore, her place provides free Wi-Fi connection which is simply heavenly for me. :)

Sorry for the low quality of this picture. Used an ipad for this. :)
I was told there was a night market famously known as Luna 1878, being held every Wednesday night at Victoria Market. And Soo Ying asked a friend to accompany me there. I got a bit shy and decided to venture there alone. By walking there by myself. Haha. And instagramming as I went. Solitude is my friend. :)

I visited the famous Federation Square and Flinders Street during the night. Also enjoyed free Wi-fi there.  
Walked towards Queen Victoria Market from there and spotted some artsy alleys with graffiti (left picture). And when I reached the night market, it was crowded with people lining up to buy food! (right picture).
$69 for an artsy shirt is too much for my budget. But I love the ambiance of the place. =P
Concurrently with my visit to Melbourne, last August the Queen Victoria Market comes alive every Wednesday evening, transforming itself into a whimsical winter wonderland full of roving maestros, cabaret stars and stage delights. Thus the LIVE band below.

At one end of the market there was a LIVE band playing the newest hit song. ^__^
I found some stalls selling and serving sizzling hot plates, some exotic dishes made by local hands, and colorful desserts. Basically it was a great spot for youngsters to hang out. Enjoying food and music everywhere. I actually thought that they served free food there, what with all the super long queues I saw just to grab a bite. But lo and behold, it sure wasn't ordinary food they were selling there!

This my friend is hot soup in a bread, shaped as a coconut! You can peel of the bowl-like bread and eat with your soup! AUD 10 per bread bowl! 
I didn't want to go there empty-handed, or at least in this case, an empty stomach! Eh! So I lined up with the other fellow Aussies/immigrants/tourists/whatever and bought this waffle strawberry ice cream for AUD 8.

And so my night in Melbourne is complete! Muahahaha! 
Good music. Good food (albeit expensive), I soon made my exit and headed back to Soo Ying's restaurant so that we can head to her house together. 

So long Luna 1878!! Till we meet again!! :*

The entrance and exit into the area. Luna 1878, celebrating the night! :)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Day 1 in Melbourne - Understanding the Transport System

I stayed at a quieter area located south-east of Melbourne's city center. It is reachable by both trams and trains. The only bus I rode on was the one that reads Melbourne Visitor Shuttle on it which is free! Else all other transport needs a myki card to access.

My journey in Australia started with me purchasing an OPUS simcard from Sydney's international airport before flying off to Melbourne a few hours later. I paid AUD 15 for unlimited calls and internet connection for the next 8 days. I thought it was a perfect deal! And I needed a local simcard to contact my couchsurfing host in Melbourne.

Once I reached Melbourne, I took the SkyBus situated some where outside the arrival hall. $17 one way from the airport to Southern Cross Station.

Just look for the red box like the picture above for a ride into town. :)
While on the bus, surprisingly, a man of Cambodian ethnicity sat beside me. I knew this after we started a conversation. He told me of how he escaped Pol Pot's cruel regime via boat and washed upon Malaysia's shores before being deported to Australia. He told me that Malaysian ringgit was equivalent to Singaporean dollar at that time. I was also filled in on how Australia helped refugees like him get an education, a job and citizenship in Australia. I was spellbound and deeply touched by his story and respected the government of Australia more for helping people like him :)

In all retrospect of things I've learnt from my 8 days stay in Australia is that in one sense, Australia is a country made of and by refugees. Where-ever I went, I'd see Asian/Middle East faces here and there. Even the earliest white settlers were in chains, sent there as convicts because the prisons in their original country were too full. Later-on, many later settlers were people who were either in flight from a hostile country or in search for a better future. It is said that about 650,000 'sponsored' refugees resettled in  Australia after World War II. This proves Australia to be very generous in providing a safe haven for refugees. While doing some history check, I also found this interesting site on Refugees Who Have Made a Difference.

20 minutes later... I reached Southern Cross Station. It was humongous!

Southern Cross Station, the third busiest major railway station in Melbourne.
I later contacted Soo Ying Oi via SMS and she sent me directions to where we would meet. Before using the trains here, I first had to purchase a myki card and reload it. Unlimited usage per day to any stations in Zone 1 costs me AUD 3.50 and AUD 7.00 for Zone 2 during weekdays. And during weekends, all stations in both zones will cost only AUD 3.50. 

This card enables me to use all the trains in Zone 1 in one day. 
I bought the card at a ticket counter in Southern Cross Station and it comes with a booklet that contains the train network map. You could also see the zones as denoted in yellow and blue respectively in the picture below.

Map taken from here. 
After getting my bearings sorted out, I then headed to Clinton Hill Train Station to meet up with my host. That will be on my next post. :)

Till then, happy traveling tweeps!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Surviving a Trip to Australia Alone

I mindlessly joined a friend to book a flight to Sydney for August. It was during one of those AirAsia's sales where you get two tickets for the price of one. Australia was one of their chosen destinations. :)

But in truth... nope....

I never thought I'd be going to Australia this year. Like ever! Haha!

It was a last minute impulse decision and I get to pay for the tickets in monthly installments. The tickets costed me RM831 all-in for a two-way ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney. Fortunately, with the monthly installment plan (ha ha!), I get to pursue more pressing financial issues such as buying a local flight ticket from Sydney to Melbourne. Since I'll be going to Australia, why not cover Melbourne as well? Right? So my plan was 3 nights in Melbourne, 1 night on a bus and 2 nights in Sydney. 8 days in total. :)

Thus these are how I survived the expensive Australia (to fit my budget)

1. Couchsurfing

This was the very first thing I thought of before braving this trip. Couchsurfing! I went to search for hosts straight away once my tickets were bought. Sydney proved to be difficult and resulted of me getting more offers from males instead of females (especially from those who live alone in big apartments. SCARY!). So I ended up booking a hostel dorm instead. :(

Melbourne? Well,  I get to stay at a two-room apartment, hosted by Su Ying Oi and her sister at a suburban area just outside of Melbourne. A struggling student, paying off her tuition fees by working two to three jobs per day in mid-town Melbourne, I couldn't help but to adore and love her dedication! :)
Me with Su Ying at Brighton Beach, Melbourne. She's also a solo traveler cum photographer,
2. Drinking water straight from the taps!

Both Sydney and Melbourne sports clean local bathrooms. So all I needed was an empty water bottle and when-ever I'm thirsty or out of water, I'd just fill in my plastic bottle with tap water. Mostly from the public bathrooms! Haha. If not, I'd have to fork out about AUD 3 for a bottled mineral water. That's just too expensive for me!

Free tap water vs. AUD 3.00 bottled water
3. Opted in taking a GOR day tour instead of renting a car

I've researched ways to visit the Great Ocean Road. Some of my twitter friends actually suggested renting a car. But since I'd be traveling alone, I opted a local tour instead, costing me AUD 120. An additional $21 because I wanted a bus with free Wi-Fi on board. =P

My tour guide for GOR. I forgot her name but she loves saying "Woo-Hoo!". Hehe.
All types of day tours from various operators can be made from Melbourne Visitor Center near Federation Square in Melbourne. I booked mine there after browsing through various operators. You could also get free information, do your travel bookings and also buy souvenirs, though it's a bit costly. And it's actually situated underground. Woo-hoo!

4. Use free transport when-ever available

Do mind the time in which the free bus or tram services ends. It doesn't operate until night time. I used the free shuttle bus in Melbourne to get around. And spent most of my time in the bus sight-seeing and only gone down to Victoria's market. Hehehe. 

This is where I first boarded the free Melbourne Visitor Shuttle. Stops can be read here
5. Booked all local transportations beforehand in Malaysia and via online.

I booked via Jetstar for an airplane ticket from Sydney to Melbourne (AUD 60++)
Then I booked via Greyhound to book an overnight bus from Melbourne to Sydney. I wanted to try out different ways of transport in Australia. Hehe. (AUD 75++)

My first experience with Jetstars from Sydney to Melbourne. :)

6. Joined a FREE city walking tour in Sydney

I didn't get to pay anything because it turned out I didn't have small change to tip the delightful tour guide. :(

The meeting point was at 10:30 am near the town city hall and a guy in a green t-shirt will greet us. Once a crowd has gathered, we'd follow the guided walking tour of Sydney from there to the rocks and ends at Circular Quay.
I was given this free map at the hostel I stayed in. 
Once I got my bearings straight, I can now roam Sydney at my own leisure. Oh, I also used the free bus shuttle here that goes by the number 555. 

7. Opted a day tour to Blue Mountains

I studied the details of each itineraries of various operators and decided one that allowed me to get close and personal with a real life koala and feed the kangaroos. Everything else seemed to not matter. Hahaha. But since it included the Blue Mountains and a free pick-up from my hostel, I just couldn't resist it anymore.

So with a tour bus to the Blue Mountains, I go! Costs incurred = AUD 109 (AUD 99 if booked online)

The 20 seater bus that I rode on. Luckily it was a small group that day. Only 12 people including me. :)
And thus I end my survival tips in Australia. All ground tours and hostel costs were paid in cash while I was there. I brought only AUD 500 which is deemed a lot by my fellow friend who went to Sydney with me but had a completely different itinerary. Haha. We met only on the last day where I got treated with Kangaroo Burger! Yummmm!!

Till my next post. Happy traveling guys! Will be boarding a plane to Korea in less then two weeks! :)