Melbourne, Australia 15th May ~ 21st May 2009 Part 1 of 3

15th May 2009 ~ Singapore

Taking an overnight flight from Singapore with Emirates. We got a good deal at S$404 per ticket!

I always hear good reviews about Emirates. People always feedback that it is comparable to Singapore Airlines. So I actually anticipate this flight with them.

When we board the plane, we are greeted with the light coloured fittings of the seats which is easy for my eyes. I took some airlines which have dark coloured seats and the whole plane look so dark.

We settled down quickly to our seats and soon we are given hot towels before take off. I heard not many airlines provide hot towels and Emirates and Singapore Airlines are among them who provide.

We depart on time and the flight is smooth. The flight crew start serving us meals soon. The food is not fantastic and the crew for this flight is not as good as others have mentioned about services provided by Emirates. It is quite a disappointment actually. However, the in-flight entertainment is pretty good. Unlike Singapore Airlines, they turn the system on while we are still boarding the plane and even after landing it, the system is still running. In Singapore Airlines, they will turn it on after taking off and turn it off before landing. The choice of movies are pretty good too.

16th May 2009 ~ Melbourne – Queen Victoria Market ~ Little Bourke Street – Federation Square – Crown Entertainment

Dawn break when we are over Victoria. It is a very nice view from the plane. The flight has been smooth so far.

Dawn break over Victoria. The view is awesome.

Before landing, the crew keep reminding us to declare all suspected items to the Airport authorities.

The descent seems to be a bit of a mild shock. There are a few times that the descent is quite steep. Furthermore, just before it lands, there is a sudden drop in altitude. My heart sank for a moment but the plane did make a safe landing. When the plane is taxing it’s way to the gate, I can see those ground crew wearing very thick clothes. I am wondering how cold is it actually outside.

We make our way to the immigration and the immigration officer is very friendly. After clearing immigration, we noticed that there are posters everywhere to remind us to declare items that may be prohibited in Australia. My wife says she saw a poster listing instant noodles is one of the items that is prohibited. Thankfully we decided not to bring any of them just before our trip.

Nevertheless, we still declare the medicines we have brought and after scanning our luggage, we were cleared quickly.

We went to the Vodafone store in the Arrival Hall to get a pre-paid SIM card. We were offer a AUD$29 package that gives up AUD$150 of talk time. The rate calling back to Singapore is about AUD$1.90 per min. This should be sufficient for us. With the cost of the SIM card, we spend AUD$39 for the whole package. However, after the whole trip, I found that Vodafone will be good if you stay in the city. When we go to Great Ocean Road, there is no signal at all. If you want to have good signal coverage, get a Telstra pre-paid card.

We saw the Skybus kiosk outside the terminal. When we exit the terminal, we are greeted by a very cold autumn that day. It is so cold that “smoke” came out from my mouth as I speak. I noticed that it had rained earlier. That may explain the cold weather. We bought the return tickets for AUD$26 per person.

The reason I choose Skybus over Jetbus is that Skybus have a terminal in Melbroune CBD. In the event that I miss the airport shuttle bus, I still can make my own way to the Southern Cross Station to take the bus to the airport. For Jetbus, it actually go around picking up passengers at the hotel and if you miss the bus, it will be difficult for you to catch another one. You will either have to take a taxi to the airport which is very expensive or the Skybus from Southern Cross Station.

The bus leaves on schedule and the ride only take less than 30mins. When we reach Southern Cross station, we transferred into a shuttle bus to our hotel, Victoria Hotel.

We reach the hotel in less than 10mins. The hotel looks pleasant from the outside. We spoke to the reception and request for early checking at 12pm. Unfortunately our request was decline as they have high occupancy the night before. We then leave our luggage with them and start our tour.

The first stop is Queen Victoria Market, the mother of all markets in Melbourne. In order to save cost, we decided to walk to the market. I was told that Melbourne CBD is a very walk-able place. We head down to Elizabeth Street and start our journey up. While walking, I notice the tram and the roads. It reminds me of another city – San Francisco. Some of the Melbourne roads are like San Francisco, up and down slope and with the tram and weather then, it really looks like it. About 20mins of walking, we reach the market.

It is really huge I would say. The first thing we look for is food. We went to the food section to find something to eat. The price of food here is really high. A bowl of noodle cost me AUD$9! Though this is normal price for Aussies but not for me! I bought a plate of fish and chips for my wife but I skip my breakfast.

We walk to the vegetable and fruits section of the market. We hang around there and see what do they sell in the market and what Melbourne residents usually buy. We saw some grapes and hesitating should we buy it. The stall owner seems to be annoyed by our hesitation. We finally bought some to bring back to the hotel. It really taste sweet and worth every cent we pay for it.

We then proceed to the general retail section. We saw a few stores selling expired food! We also saw them selling soap that has mold on it. However, I must admit that they sell it cheaply. Some of the chocolates has expired for 9 months! I do not want to risk my holiday so I give it a miss. T-Shirts and souvenirs are plentiful there. Do shop around and do not jump on the first stall that sells it. We bought some furry stuff like bags for the kids. We spend about 3 hours there and left.

We walk down back to Elizabeth street and head into McDonald’s. The price caught us off guard too. So we settle down for a meal of Fish Fillet that cost AUD$5.95. The amount of salt that they put on the fries is shocking. We try to get rid some of the salt by tapping it on the tray. Again, I skip the meal to save a few dollars.

We then head to Little Bourke Street. Yup, that is the Chinatown of Melbourne. However, it is pretty quiet there and it does not have the “Chinese” feeling like San Francisco. We walk into a asian grocery store there and bought some biscuits. While we walk back, we saw the Target store and went in to have a look. They have some offer on Cadbury chocolates and we bought a few bars. We saw a Thomas Tank Engine train wooden seat that is selling for AUD$60 only. This is a clearance sale but after some hesitation, I drop the idea of buying it due to the size. When we walk out of the Target store, we saw a Chinese eating outlet. I was told that some of the Chinese food stall have this offer. You pay for either a small plate or big plate. You are allowed to take the food once only and you try to stuff as much food as possible into the plate. No sharing is allowed. A small plate (it is really a small plate) cost AUD$7.50 and a big plate (not that big either) cost AUD$8.50. We decided to try this store some other time.

We reach Victoria Hotel at about 2pm. We are given a refurbished room. We check into the room and found it small but it is enough for both of us. It has a LCD TV and the door security of those card type. Those older rooms still uses the key type. The bathroom is small and the shower place is also tight. They do not provide toothbrush and comb. Soap and shampoo conditioner are provided. Very simple and no frills type of hotel.

After resting for a while, we proceed down to Federation Square. They have a Buddha Exhibition there. I believe it is to coincide with the recent Vesak Day. We took some pictures there and we then proceed to South Gate by the Yarra River. We try to get something to eat there but is again hesitated by the prices. My wife eventually ordered a plate of fried rice at AUD$6.50 and I got myself a slice of pizza at AUD$3.90. This is our dinner and is pathetic.

After dinner, we walk down to the Crown Entertainment. The temperature is going down fast then. We went into the casino to have a look. Strange that they did not ask to see our identifications. We saw the security checking the IDs of others and they are white. We went in and try jackpot at 2 cents per try for the sake of fun. As usual, the money got used up pretty fast but what the heck, I only used AUD$1!.

We then went outside to wait for the Fire show at 8pm. The Fire show actually happen every hour. I heard that it is quite nice. However, the weather is too cold for us and we left 2 mins before the show start. We can see the fire from afar. We cross over bridge that has some metal sculptures on it. I was told the sculptures do actually move every 15 mins. We walk over to Flinders Street and found a Coles Supermarket. The things there are pretty expensive too. I can’t remember what we bought. We walk back to the hotel and have an early night.

17th May 2009 ~ Camberwell

We overslept!!! We must be dog tired from the over night flight. Blame it on the in-flight entertainment in the Emirates flight! We are suppose to leave the hotel at 8am ended up waking up at 8am!!! We quickly wash up, rush down to have breakfast and by that time, it is already 9:30am.

We walk down to Flinders Station and bought a day pass. It cost us only AUD$3.10 each as it is a Sunday. We took a train down to Camberwell Station. Wondering what we are doing there?

Few days before my arrival in Melbourne, I found out that there is a Baby & Kids Market in the Camberwell Centre. After yesterday “price shock”, I have concluded that I can’t expect cheap stuff in Melbourne. I do not know what to expect from the market too. Nevertheless, we decided to make our way there.

When we alight at Camberwell Station, we are pretty lost and just follow our gut feel on the direction. At first we thought of taking Tram 75 down to Camberwell Center but found that Tram 75 does not pass by Camberwell Station at all! So we walk down the road and slowly but surely, we started to see people carrying kids stuff in plastic bags walking pass. We then ask a couple are they from the market and they said yes. They even directed the way for us. This is how friendly Melbourne residents are!

When we reach the market, it is already crowded with people. We paid AUD$3 to enter the market but kids enter for free. It happen that the market is actually a second hand market for baby and kids stuff. They have toys, clothes, shoes and anything about babies and kids. We bought some toys at a bargain. One of the most rewarding toys we bought is a computerised car. The seller is letting it go for AUD$20 but we bargain till AUD$15.

We actually intend to visit the Camberwell Rotary Market but due to time constraint, we decided to give it up.

After the market, we proceed to Punt Road. We board the Tram 75 and make our way there. We met up with my secondary school friend who has migrated to Melbourne a few years ago. My plan was originally to shop around Bridge Road with her. However, I never expect her to drive her MPV and pick us up and zoom all the way to Narre Warren. Though she distorted my plan, but it is a rare chance for me to see how a common Melbourne resident will live.

Along the way, I noticed that Melbourne residents do not really care for their cars like us. I happen to see a car that has mud all over the lower part of the car. My guess is that either the car is dirt cheap there or they are environmental conscious that water is precious. They had better use of water rather than cleaning the car often. Remember that Victoria is a very dry place unlike Queensland.

My friend brought me to Sam’s Warehouse to shop. We bought a few items and one of them is Jumpy snacks which is hard to find in Singapore. We also noticed that it is hardly found in the CBD.

We then proceed to my friend’s place in Narre Warren. A nice house indeed according to my standard. They actually own it unlike us where we only “own” it for 99 years here. Lots of catch up with an old friend.  She treated us with her hubby’s vegetarian friend rice. Yummy indeed from a former chef of a restaurant.

She send us back all the way to our hotel. On the way, she brought us to Hampton to shop at Safeway Supermarket. There we bought 7 Snickers bar at AUD$0.78 each, 12 packs of Tim Tam at AUD$1.89 each  and 4 tins of Milo 1Kg at AUD$7.99 each among other things. This is considered cheap to us. Do you know that the Australian version of Milo is sold at a premium here? Therefore it is a good buy for us! Also the Snickers sold in Australia smell and taste nicer. It seems like anything that is chocolate and is from Melbourne it will definitely be good!

After that, we travel back via M1. Along this freeway, suddenly I feel “proud” to be a Singaporean. We actually export a “devil” technology to Australia. When the vehicle is approaching the CBD, we keep hearing a beep sound. I was told that it is for collecting road toll. From what I understand, Singapore is the first country in the world to be able to collect road toll electronically. I am surprised that Melbourne is using the same concept. Melbourne residents will be hating us reading this!

Upon reaching the hotel, we hurriedly alight as there is a sign that says no parking. It is a pity that I did not manage to take a photo with her.

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