Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Vroom! Driving away from the city

On the morning of our 5th day, we were really excited of the prospect of driving southwards to the Great Ocean Road! We had been awake around 9 in the morning, lazed about in our beds, and went out for a quick breakfast at QV Market; for the love of coffee and free WiFi, everything is good there within a walking distance from where we stayed.

By 11am, we had already booked a car with Alpha Car Hire, Melbourne for a 2 day drive. The payment was quite cheap, as it did not come with a GPS unit. Trying to rent a separate GPS unit from other car hiring companies was also impossible. So, we were given a pink Nissan Micra for the price of AUD112, and navigated our way down to the coastal area using iPad tethering on an iPhone, and a map of Melbourne.

Driving in Melbourne requires strict adherence to the rules and regulations. Each turn we made must be indicated with a signal (unlike back home, so I heard from an aunt after I got back from my holidays). What we did was to observe the locals driving on the streets for the first few days, before adventuring out on our own. The Melbournians are respectful of pedestrians (even to the jay walkers)..slowing down for them to cross the street, unless they are in a hurry they would honk and the poor pedestrian would have to step back and allow the vehicle to pass. No road bullies around I presume...

So we started our journey southwards toward Great Ocean Road. The journey took us on average 5 hours, crossing the Australian plains on the freeway. Saw lots of remnants of where the great trees used to be before being burnt down by bushfires. The locals get teary-eyed everytime they talk of it. But we got to see all the local cows, sheep, horses along the way under the clear, blue, and sunny sky.

We took the road to Tourquay, went past Anglesea, drove along the Great Ocean Road where we stopped by Urquharts beach to absorb some fresh air and beautiful seaside scenery.

View of Urquharts bluff beach from the cliff

After a lot more of really curvy roads on the cliffs, we stopped by for a while at Lorne, a sleepy looking town with clean lawns and small cosy homes. Had a quick munch (hot drinks and pastries) around 5:30pm before continuing our journey. Drove a whole lot more, passing by Apollo Bay, which was a shame that we had no time to stop by; went past the great Otway Lighthouse and also drove on the winding roads that separate sections of the Otway National park. It was getting to  6:30pm and it had grew really dark on the roads in the forest. Only road reflectors were available and lighting was dependent on the vehicle's headlamps and the diminishing sunlight.

It was slightly stressful at times having to focus on the road for small animals and trying to rush to our hostel on time, lest it closes before we were able to reach it.

We had drove through the Great Ocean Road where the famous rocks lie... (the Apostles). Couldn't see a thing as it was pitch black out there. The dark sky was filled with twinkling stars though, where one was the brightest, seemingly guiding our way towards the hostel in the night. The towns weren't really brightly lit, and my iPad had ran out of battery, so we had to depend on our instincts to locate Port Campbell using the map, as not a soul was present on the road. Sounds scary? Hell, yeah!

By the time we reached our hostel in Port Campbell, I swear I could've had a few tears trickle down my cheek with joy - the many hours of driving and concentration was -EXHAUSTING-. Nevertheless it was a good adventure on the road. Wouldn't mind doing it again someday!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Coffee...oh, specialty coffee!

"Coffees! Come get your coffees!"

My active imagination -> the blonde fellow in dark blue apron wrapped around his crisp, light blue collared shirt yelling to the customers passing by on the pavement from his coffee "laboratory" namely Market Lane Coffee. (Well, it did look like one!)

Melbourne is famous for specialty coffee. There's great coffee everywhere I went. It was another morning hovering like an empty soul in QV Market, in search for good coffee to perk me up. I remember reading an article from The Star paper about the coffees of Australia(Melbourne was in it!) right after I got home from my trip.

We had found ourselves again at Market Lane. This tiny coffe house with whitewashed walls, was introduced by Chanchan's friend, Penny. Located on the same row as McDonald's at QV Market.

Chanchan was queueing up for our "dunno--how-many"-th coffee for the week. Two days before I had ordered a cappuccino from Market Lane. This time, I had a short macchiato. I would say it was quite accidental that I bought something different from what I am used to. Well, I am a coffee lover but not an expert!

So, I placed an order for a macchiato, and the guy pipped, "Short?" Since I had no idea how it tastes like drinking a short - I had gone along with it because it seeemed to be a good idea to try something different in a foreign city. He mixed and stirred, and then my healthy dose of coffee was ready in a white paper cup. Beautiful chocolatey-looking brew...aaahhh...Took a whiff, and then a sip to jolt me awake with its aroma; my eyes twinkling and I found myself smiling, ahaha! As I was a little baffled as to why the macchiato was much, much, much more bitter than cappuccino without sugar, I plopped a teaspoonful of brown sugar into the beautiful mixture, which was a HUGE mistake. OHHHh!! Brown sugar turned my macchiato into a sourish concoction! Bad move.

Market Lane... good coffee!

Market Lane coffee "lab".  Slowly enjoyed with breakfast bought from QV Market.

Oh, do remember - do not repeat my mistake of mixing sugar into macchiato. It does not work that way.  Ouch!

A couple of other coffee stands/coffee houses we went to were:

  • Di Bella Coffee stand at Queen Victoria Market
  • Seven Seeds at Berkeley Street (near Elizabeth Street)

Each regular sized coffee cost me around AUD3.80 or AUD4..not bad at all!

No photos of Seven Seeds :( but I managed to salvage a couple of photos of coffee at Di Bella's :D

Creamy and foamy, yum yum yummm

Monday, 4 June 2012

Getting around Melbourne with Wifi and 3G service

A modern backpacker in a city should always move with the times. Gone are the days when we backpack, holding a paper map in our hands. The advantages of strolling in a foreign city with a smartphone or a tablet are abundant. I like Melbourne for the free WiFi connections I could get in the cafes and restaurants. But when I am walking on the street, I could be as lost as newbie in town.

My friend had earlier recommended a handy application for my iPhone and iPad if we are in search of gastronomic experiences. You could download UrbanSpoon, which gives you the best reviews of eateries in Melbourne CBD. Using this, we managed to make our way to Koko Black, a popular chocolate cafe which also sells rich Belgian chocolate (oh, the chocolatey luxury!) at Lygon Street which was many, many stones' throw away from our apartment. Before getting a 3G prepaid package, we made good use of the Wi-Fi in the apartment to snapshot a map to Koko Black :)

There are a few mobile network operators in the city, some of the common ones; Optus, Telstra, Vodafone. I was looking for an operator which gives me 24/7 connection even out of town when I move southwards, near the suburban and coastal areas on the following week. After googling for reviews prior to landing in Australia, I opted for Telstra. Pretty cheap for sharing among 3 people on a trip as it was only AUD30. With 3G, we had more options on our hands - where to eat, who to call for emergencies, hiring a car, making last minute accomodation bookings, people contacting me...uhhh very long story (stay tuned for more).

Surfed the net and made calls locally using this prepaid package.

Very affordable package, ain't it? Connection was satisfactory too.


Koko Black could also be found at QV Market by the way. BUT nothing beats a nice walk along Lygon Street though, passing by Argyle Park and admiring all the Victorian-styled buildings on our way there.

Opening hours of Koko Black

The interior of Koko Black on Lygon Street looked inviting and cosy. We were seated next to the barista's coffee (or chocolate??) counter and served by a very friendly waiter.

Below is a breakdown of the costs of our first meal of the day. (Yes, we didn't have proper breakfast!)

  • Chocolate florentines - 5.50
  • Hot belgian chocolate - 6
  • Soy dark chocolate - 6
  • Chocolate affogato - 6

Totalling up to AUD 23.50

Very rich chocolate content for the chocolate lover!
Before leaving, I even purchased 2 small blocks of Belgian chocolate to take home. I had never imagined they could create a chocolate recipe with ginger!

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