I can't believe it's all over and I am on my final airline leg of my journey to Australia. It's hard to believe that i traveled almost to the other side of the planet to a place that I really never had a desire to visit. As you may know this trip was just a whim because I been to so may other places that I wanted to round out my portfolio and add another visited continent to my list. Let's see so far I have been to North America, Europe, Asia and now the Australian continent. I still have to go to Africa and South America. I think I will skip Antarctica because I am not fond of cold weather.
Regardless of my interest in Australia, It was a great trip! There weren't many surprises except for the high prices and large number of American fast food chains I saw lining the streets. In retrospect I think I may have stayed a day or two longer than I really needed. I wasn't really sure how many days to stay since some people said that "If you go all that way you should stay at least 3 weeks" and those who said, "Three day per city, max!" It's OK, staying this length of time in each city let me relax more and didn't make me feel like I had to get out on the streets at the wee hours or stay out until the wolves were howling at the moon. I think this is one of the first vacations I've been on in a long time where I didn't come home and feel like I needed a vacation to recover from my vacation.
On arrival in Australia, I really didn't suffer much dreaded jet lag at all. I did get tired at about 3 in the afternoon but on my first few days I had a coffee and pushed myself to keep going. I did find that I would wake up at very early hours in the morning. Since I've returned home I have been battling with getting back on regular sleeping habits. Traveling east is really much more difficult. I suffered from nearly falling asleep at 3 in the afternoon to wide awake at 3 in the morning. Two weeks later I still get the yawns in the afternoon.
Now the controversial part, here are my impressions of Australia-
- Australians are naturally friendly. I really didn't come across too many rude or unfriendly people except for at Chinese restaurants and the ticket and ferry operators at Circular Quay in Sydney.
- The weather in Sydney and Melbourne were much better than I expected. Even though it was Fall the leaves were still green on the trees and on most days I only wore a tee shirt. Needless to say I brought too many clothes and didn't wear half of them. The few sweaters I brought were just too warm. Some nights I barely wanted to wear my jacket.
- Speaking of clothes, Dry Cleaners are way to expensive (about AUS$9 to clean a pair of pants). Darn, I always complain when I have to pay US$4.50 to have a pair of pants cleaned. In Australia I found professional cleaning prices to be double what I pay at home.
- Speaking of laundry, I did wash a few things in the tub in my hotel. It wasn't too hard. To wash out my jeans I just filled the tub with a little hot water and some washing soap, slushed the jeans around then let them soak while I went to dinner. When I returned I emptied the water, filled the tub all the way with warm water and rinsed the jeans out. Then I got out as much water as I could and hung the jeans to "drip dry". Due to the climate control in the hotel room it took 2 days to dry but they were ready when I needed them. I always bring a small travel bottle of liquid soap with me to wash socks in the sink.
- The best view of Sydney is not from the Sydney Tower, it's from a low cost ferry ride in Sydney Harbour. The ferry price is included when you buy a weekly transportation ticket. It's also a great was to get to and from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour, Manly Beach and Luna Park.
- The biggest rip off is the price to go to the top of Sydney Tower. At $22 (US$17.60) this could bankrupt a family of 4! The view is good but for $22, I could have done without.
- Admission fees to sights and attractions are very high. Expect anywhere from $4 (US$3.20) for the simplest attraction to $27 (US$21.60) for the zoo.
- 7-Eleven is the second biggest rip off. I don't know why the prices are so high at this convenience store. Instead of 7-Eleven, in both Sydney and Melbourne I went to a Coles Supermarket and picked up essentials like bottled water, chips, yogurt and candy to use in my hotel room and for snacking. The prices at a supermarket can be almost half of what they are at a convenience store. Coles is also a good place to pick up an authentic Australian "gourmet" souvenir or two. Have your friends at home tried Vegemite? Look closely and you can pick up native Australian made jams, chocolates, honey and even olive oil. I also picked up a few Asian specialties that are expensive and hard to find in the USA. If you are a die hard lover of Coke (the soda) or Pepsi, expect to pay a lot for a bottle (about AUS$2.60). I kicked the habit for these few weeks.
- I had a feeling that Australia was going to be a lot like the UK with foods, traditions and customs. I was surprised to find that it was more like the USA. No tea-time here! Australia seems to be closely linked with the US economy, news and trend. Many broadcast television shows are the same stupid sitcoms we watch at home. Australians must think we're idiots! OK, I will say, the accents sound British and they eat a lot of Cadbury chocolates!
- If you are feeling homesick there is always McDonalds, Burger King (but in Australia it's called "Hungry Jacks"), Gloria Jeans, KFC, Borders and the dreaded STARBUCKS! I actually found that in Australia, Starbucks was as bad as everywhere else but Gloria Jeans was better than in the USA. Did you know that Gloria Jeans coffee is now 100% Australia owned? In Melbourne look for locally owned Hudson's Coffee. Melbourne even has a Target store, but it looks more like a very distant, and very old, relative than what we have at home.
- There is no Gap in Australia, at least not that I've seen. I just had to add that.
- I don't think drunk Australians are cute or funny, they are just loud. Aussies love their beer and pubs, that was obvious.
- I was lucky enough to be in Australia on Anzac Day which is a national day of remembrance. Australians take this very seriously and honor their war veterans with parades, services and memorials. Afterwards everyone goes to their favourite pub to put down a few beers followed by many of them urinating on the streets. Really.
- It's easy to walk into a restaurant on a weeknight or even a Sunday night without a reservation. For Friday and Saturday night it's best to have a reservation especially if you are dining at Sydney's Darling Harbour or in Melbourne at Southgate, Federation Square or the Crown Casino complex. Don't be disappointed or get stuck eating at "Hungry Jacks" when you can get into your planned restaurant.
- Restaurants can be very pricey. Regardless, there are options such as cafes, sandwich shops and food courts everywhere. In many places you can also get a lunch special but most don't offer reduced prices from the a la carte menu.
- I was impressed to see how religiously Australians drink wine with their meal. Bottled wine and "by the glass" prices in restaurants are quite reasonable. Almost all wine on the menu will be Australian. Imported wines are premium priced where offered. many restaurants don't have a liquor license. Most that do will usually say they are "licensed" somewhere on the outside. If a restaurant doesn't have a "license" they will usually not mind you bringing your own bottle.
- Speaking of wine... I saw no great values on bottled wine in wine shops. In fact, many of the Australian wines I buy at home were 10-20% more expensive on their home turf. I think their tax base is higher. If you are a wine connoisseur there are a few brands that are not available that you could drag home to add to your cellar.
- Australians usually don't jay-walk. I am a New Yorker at heart, I love to cross against the light or in the middle of the street. I see no sense standing there waiting when there is not traffic on the street. Generally, Australians wait for the light to change before crossing. One or two people will dart out and cross against the light. The funny thing is that a lot of people wait at the curb for the light to change but when one person dares to cross against the light, the rest follow.
- Sydney is a very modern and clean city. Downtown is dominated by young suited professionals. After work they enjoy going to the pub for a few drinks. On weekends the downtown area (near Circular Quay) is active but sort of dead. Sometimes it's hard to find a place to eat. Late night everything changes when young guys and gals come out to strut their stuff, especially in The Rocks which becomes a major cruising district because of all the clubs and bars in the area. This includes guys cruising the street showing off their cars and wheel covers. It's actually terribly unattractive and what I call "Le Scene".
- Melbourne is a modern but "Victorian" city. It combines the old architecture with the new. I also noticed that Melbourne seemed to be a younger city with lots of backpackers and locals showing off the latest trend. At night, there are a lot of people going to dinner, casinos, shows and walking the streets. Melbourne has many different faces. For the bohemian and artistic side visit Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, for Italian restaurants it's Lyon Street in Carlton, for baked goods try the Eastern European bakeries on Fitzroy Street in St. Kilda. Brunswick and Lyon Street are within a 15 minute walk from the CBD or easily reached by tram.
- Neither Sydney or Melbourne lack for decent shopping. In both cities the CBD is loaded with department stores, specialty shops and bookstores. Meyer and David Jones are the two major department stores with branches in both cities. Where David Jones seemed more upscale, Meyer seemed more moderate, neither were very affordable to the standard of Macy's or one of the popular US department stores. In Melbourne, Meyer had a good food hall. In Sydney, David Jones also had a decent food hall. To extend your shopping experience, both cities had a few old Victorian shopping arcades. The Strand and Queen Victoria in Sydney were the nicest.
I really had a great time in Australia and will always remember the people and their hospitality. I think my most favorite parts of my visit were seeing Brunswick Street in Melbourne (and eating at Blue Chili's) and riding the ferry in the harbour in Sydney. I'm glad I had the experience and hope someday I get to see more of this beautiful country.