St. Kilda, A Special Part of Melbourne

In all honesty, I didn’t do any research before going to Australia. My friend sent me a message about how we should meet up in Australia, and I said yes. I bought a plane ticket, I reached out to my few Aussie, and Tassie friends, they hooked me up with places to stay and recommendations and then that was it. My friend Lisa did much of the research on what to do and where to stay. I felt like after spending six months in China that a trip to Australia was going to be so easy- and I was so right.

I’m happy Lisa put more into it because without Lisa’s research we may never have stayed in what I consider the best part of Melbourne. St. Kilda is a little distance from the center of the city, but worth the commute. It felt like a place completely separate from Melbourne, which I imagine it is to some extent. I’ve already mentioned that I liked Melbourne, and there were many great parts of the city, but St. Kilda was my favorite.

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It wasn’t just because of this creepy fun park with the nightmarish clown mouth that you walk into, Sydney also had a Luna Park, but it helped with the setting. I had heard from some people that St. Kilda was once a pretty aggressive area. It makes me think of Dog Town when Southern California beach towns were tough and surfers weren’t the pretty groomed boys and girls of the magazines, but actually more gang like and territorial. I don’t know if that’s really what it was like, but you can tell that it’s still a little rough around the edges. I personally like that; the rough around the edges part. I tend to think rough around the edges is another way of saying creative and edgy.

No one wants to live in a place where they feel unsafe, but you also don’t want everything to look like the cookie cutter idea of happiness. I think you always need a little bit of wild to remind yourself that life is unpredictable and chaotic; everything else is just a facade. I guess to be more specific, once money and image comes into a neighborhood the rules and regulations get tighter. That once awesome muralist that would paint amazing paintings on the wall is suddenly a criminal, all because one person with more money moved into the neighborhood and doesn’t like the way it looks. Or the local market that would once give away food that was going to go bad to homeless people is suddenly fined because that new posh business that just moved into the neighborhood doesn’t like having homeless people around because it’s bad for business, or that local rock club that has been around for decades has to shut down because some real estate mogul has come in and bought up the property and wants to build condos for vacationers and he doesn’t care what happens to the local neighborhood because he doesn’t even live there,  and so on. There’s still homelessness, there’s still crime (or new crimes have been created through new laws) you just can’t see any of it because they pushed it into another neighborhood. That’s what I mean about the facade. CIMG2480

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I suspect St. Kilda will head the direction of tourist and vacation destination and price increases. I imagine it has already seen some price increases. It’s too bad it couldn’t stop right about where it is just floating between once rough and now up-in-coming that’s always the best time. CIMG2481

Judging by the architecture and some of the old photos of the area it was originally a pretty  wealthy place, a fun palisade for the wealthier folk of Melbourne to come and visit for their summer holidays. But as happened to so many places at the turn of the century, it went from a Victorian playground for the rich to a red light district. Something happens and it falls into neglect and disrepair and eventually it becomes dangerous like Coney Island or Santa Cruz boardwalk. Those places were both scary in the 70’s and 80’s just  watch The Warriors. All they wanted to do was make it back to Coney Island. Maybe it’s all just a crazy cycle.
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One thing that we got to experience while we were there was the St. Kilda festival. Nine days of music and art. It doesn’t get more spectacular then that really. We watched several bands, and wandered into many galleries. To me music and art are basic fundamental parts of life just like food and shelter. We need it in order to really feel alive. We are nourished and then we express ourselves. If you really want to see what’s happening in a city check out the music and art scene. Is it exciting and new, refreshing, and surprising or is it something you can see on vevo or any manufactured pop scene?

 

I didn’t take many pictures of the bands, but I loved this colorful girl group that called themselves We Love the 90’s or something like that. I didn’t realize the 90’s were so bright and poppy, but maybe I wasn’t paying much attention back then. CIMG2948

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And, of course we had to see some metal. hesherWe stayed about three nights in St. Kilda in a nice hotel just a few blocks from the beach. Even after we left and stayed in another part of town, I returned to take a final walk on the beach. I mean, just take a look at that sunset. It’s like it’s something straight out of a last days of summer motif.

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A well earned vodka soda.

 

The Great Ocean Road

A year has already long past and the memories of this trip have faded. Memories that include the details of names and dates. This post will be useless to anyone looking to find the perfect tour and route because I’m empty handed or headed. I had meant to keep a journal and I think I even kept the tour guide with the brochure and name of the company with the intention of sharing the information. It was a great tour as far as tours go. A two day trip with an engaging and friendly tour guide. I had plans of sharing, but three days after I returned from my vacation in Australia my mom died, and then none of it seemed to matter. So the details are lost, and all I have left at this point are some photographs, and some small memories- everything else seems to have erased.
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All you have to do if you are in Melbourne is go to the center of the city and ask about tours along The Great Ocean Road. It’s really easy. I had zero information which is usually the case because I am an inefficient traveler- hell, I can’t even tell you what I’m going to do, so if I can book a tour anyone can book a tour. In the center of Melbourne there is a huge tourist center complex. It’s all underground beneath one of the art museums. I believe there was a choice for a one, two or three day tour. I don’t think one day is enough you can’t see much, and three would have been great but I didn’t have the money or time so I picked two days, and it was a great choice. I’d never done tours until this year (which was 2014) except a couple of walking tours many of year’s before, and normally I’m a little hesitant. I picture many white hairs and slow movers- although I’m quickly aging into the white hair population, I still like a mixture of ages. This random grouping of people was high on the diversity list. I was the only American, and the driver was the only Australian. There were a couple from Sweden, two couples from different parts of China, a woman traveling on her own from Hong Kong, a boy from Japan, a boy from Germany, a lesbian couple from Argentina, three twenty somethings from Italy, a couple of girls from England, and an Irish girl. I can’t tell you the route or anyone’s name, but I can tell you every country people came from. Our tour guide had offered up the front seat and no one was interested in taking it so I took the seat which honestly I think was prime seating. I felt a little guilty, so on the second day I offered it to the others, but no one wanted it. Shame in a way, but for me it was fantastic to see the distant ocean rising to greet us.

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They picked us up from the various places that we were staying. I was at a hostel that had the word “space” in it’s name. It was a nice place. I’d recommend it if I could remember. Then we drove off toward the famous Australian roadway. On the first day we stopped where you could see the famous Twelve Apostles which are enormous rocks that had once been a part of the land mass but due to millions of year’s of ocean slamming up against the land and eroding away the softer parts we are left with these giant bits of rock.

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Pre-helicopter ride

We had the opportunity to ride in a helicopter (price not included) which was a splurge for me, but I thought since I had never ridden in a helicopter before, and I’ll probably never do it again that I should take the opportunity. I got to sit in the front seat for this one too; it was my lucky tour. I think the yellow pack around my stomach was a parachute, but it didn’t seem like enough to float my body safely into a sea filled with Great Whites. Obviously, we didn’t crash.
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It is interesting in a helicopter. You have to wear giant headphones because it is too loud to hear what anyone is saying. It’s probably too loud for your ears in general. If we wanted to talk to each other we had to push some button, but we didn’t really feel like talking. Inside it feels like you are moving really slow, but when two helicopters are passing in the sky you can see that you are actually moving quite quickly, but something about the size and the shape slow down the sensation of speed. Even watching the cliffs pass underneath us seemed slow.

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Apparently, enough people have washed their dishes in the toilet that this sign was needed. I can’t fathom actually thinking of washing the dishes in a toilet as being a good idea, but I guess something about the freshness of the toilet discolored water really caught someone’s fancy. Or many fancies.

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What was unique to this tour, at least according to the tour guide, was that we did the route backwards. We started at the Apostles while most tours ended at the Apostles. He said the reason behind the backward approach (which made it take a little longer to get to the coast) was to beat all the major tour buses. I don’t know how unique this tour route really is, but he was right. It was the height or tourist season, and we never met a tourist bus, but about five would be arriving as we left a place.
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Apollo Bay

I don’t remember the names of any of the places except for a few. One of those places was Apollo Bay. It is a sleepy beach community that is also a popular destination. A friend of mine had lived there for many years and he is the artists of one of the wooden sculptures. I also remember Bell’s Beach which is a popular surf spot. There they have surf schools which we watched for a bit, but Bell’s Beach has a greater significance other than just being a prime spot for surfing. It is the greatest surf in the world according to the movie Point Break. In fact, in 1991, according to Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) that year at Bell’s Beach there was going to be a record monster wave that he and his gang of surfer bank robbers were going to ride. That was the motivation behind all of the bank robberies. If that isn’t a major plot line, I don’t know what is (alone with the whole screw the system and the banks theme). Point Break had a special place in my teenage heart since my friend and I saw them filming a small part of it in Portinfino, California. We were 16 and thought we saw Patrick Swayze, and we began screaming and jumping up and down until we realized it was his stunt double. I really wanted to see Keanu Reeves. I think I may have had a teen heart attack if I ended up seeing his double.
We ended up staying the night in a surf hostel a little outside of Bell’s Beach. Can you imagine? A surf hostle. I think I was standing at the edge of one of my major life fantasies.
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Our friendly tour guide
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A traveler from China, and an Australian parrot.

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Before settling into our sleeping arrangements we wandered through a rain forest, and then an open park with wild and sleepy Koalas, and wild and hungry parrots. Then we ventured to a famous lighthouse that had something to do with some British show that I had never heard of, and then we stopped at a beach named Torquay. I remember this place because there was something special and powerful about it. It was a surf spot, and small, and looked like the other surf spots but there was a powerful energy in the air and with all my heart I wanted to stay. I was hoping they would just forget me, and I would have to make my way surviving in the town, and learning to surf; raising a family; and teaching my dog and cat how to be surfers or at least to ride skateboards. I pictured it all. I would have sand-stars hanging from my hippie windows, and wear wrap-around skirts that would make Stevie Nicks jealous, and be incredibly happy with my partner Bodhi. Or Keanu. Alas, they did not forget me.
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That night our wonderful tour guide made us a bbq of seafood and other bbq meats, and a huge salad. This was also included in the price. We all sat together and ate and chatted. It was at this time that we began to get used to one another and started learning the very basics about each other. The Swedish couple were both bartenders traveling during the dark dismal winter of Sweden. They were traveling for a few years in as much sunshine as possible, but they both agreed that when they decided to have children they would go back to Sweden to raise them even though the winters were awful. One couple from China were traveling through all of Australia for a month which was really unusual to find a couple from China that could take that much time off, but they had saved for a few years. And, there were more stories like that.

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Australia is known to have fires. Many fires. Especially, in the Melbourne area, and on our second day there was a huge fire that was spreading and filled the sky with so much smoke that I thought I was back in North China. The day was dark and warm and all the colors were subdued.

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We took a ferry somewhere, and ended up at a small park where you could hand feed the Kangaroos, and the Wallabies. They also had some pretty lazy Tasmanian devils. They are said to be nocturnal creatures, but that’s no excuse for laziness.

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Then we went to a place along the Ocean that reminded me of part of Hawaii. In this spot you could see sleeping boxes for penguins and wild wallabies. Lastly, we went to see the tiniest penguins in the world. Yes, I just about died. I really did. The penguins roll in on the waves. Literally, they wash up on shore from what ever rocks they’d been out playing on, and with each wave they tumble in little roll poly clumps like masses of seaweed, and the huge crowed of humans gasp and coo then they all rise from the stadium like seating and try to follow the path that the penguins walk on their way to their tiny beds. It’s well controlled they keep them roped off- I mean the humans of course. I was so caught up in awe of darlingness and daydreams of stealing one and bringing him back to my fantasy beach house in Torquay, he would definitely be the pet to surf, that I lost track of time and was late to the bus. This was a little embarrassing since the Italians held the record for being late, and I ended up beating them during the one time the tour guide said, “it’s important not to be late for this part of the trip”. Then he eyeballed the Italians. Little did he know that I would succumbed to the pull of penguin seduction. He even had to come and find me. I try to be remembered.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any photos of the darling little butter balls of cuteness because we were not allowed to use flash and it was night. They were seriously strict about the flash (people did try) because it’s like strobe lights to the little guys, and the flash frightens and disorients them to the point where many of them go crashing back into the ocean where sharks and other meat eaters are waiting for them.
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Penguin in a box

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At the end of our two day journey we were dropped off at our respective places of temporary habitat, and said our good-byes, forever. I left Australia invigorated and happy, but as I said, three days later I would be heartbroken by the loss of the most important person in my life. Now, that so much time has passed, and even though I still ache when I think too much on my mom and how much I miss her, I can finally share the events of January to February 2014.

It was a really nice trip momma- you would have loved it.

And for your extra entertainment, I present for you the trailer to the original Point Break:

Good-Bye to 2014

At the time of writing this post there are six hours left until the New Year begins; for me that is. My friends in Australia and New Zealand have already seen the date change.

I think that if it were not for one event in my life, and a major event it was, I would chalk up 2014 to being challenging, but pretty thrilling, and damn- for lack of a better adjective: interesting. But, there was the main event that just broke my heart in a so-far-irreparable way: my heart was shattered. No one wants their parents to die (almost no one) and no one wants to know that that precious parent was found dead alone on a bedroom floor, and no one wants to know that that parent died of a drug overdose; prescription or otherwise. Yet, at the end of the year no matter how that loved one died, death is death. That life is over and you just have to let it go, and keep living.

In all honesty, I haven’t really dealt with it too much. When the thoughts of my mother rise, my brain goes into emergency mode: “You can’t think about it. Don’t think about it. You are not in a safe place. There is no passage here. Avoid it. Avoid those thoughts!” And so I mostly do.

Well, this is the New Year. I’m in Prague and the snow has fallen. Time is ticking and my year is nearly over- not that life is really gauged in years, but it’s a great way to write out a list.

2014

New Year’s Eve in Zhengzhou, China. The night starts out at Maddie’s with Bobby. We have too many drinks and go to Muse, a little smoky dance club next to Maddie’s apartment. Maddie leaves at a reasonable hour, but Bobby and I stay the whole night, have to climb stairs in the morning, and we wake up on Maddie’s couch. Bobby is covered in Gummie Bears. He fell asleep on them.

January
I travel to Ho Chi Minh City and meet a new friend who I had been communicating with via Facebook. We were on similar journeys. Took a trip on the Mekong River: One of my favorite moments in Vietnam.
Met up with a dear friend in Australia. We met new and great people in Sydney and Melbourne.

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Sydney

 

February
The 13th read a message from my mother. She was excited to hear about my trips to Vietnam and Australia. I wrote her back saying I would write on the 16th.
14th back in Zhengzhou.
16th forgot to send an e-mail to mom.
19th around 10:00 p.m. in Chico, California: Mom dies.
20th around 2:00 p.m. after school, Zhengzhou, China: Get a strange message to contact one of mom’s friend’s. Skype to find out my mother died.
21st Fly to San Francisco, CA. Stay a night with a friend before another, my best childhood friend, Rachelle, comes to pick me up and drive me to Paradise, California.
22nd another of my best friends, Rosi, comes from Seattle to help me with mom’s funeral arrangements.
23-24 We pick up mom’s things from the police. Have her cremated. I don’t see her body (not sure if this was good or bad since I haven’t seen her since August of 2013). We clean her apartment with mom’s best girlfriends. She had really loving girlfriends just like I do.
25th- My birthday begins with cleaning mom’s apartment: she had so much shit. A regular little horder. My best friend Rosi and my mom’s friends kick me out of the apartment. Rosi says, “what do you want for your birthday?” I say, “I want to go to the psychic, Madame Ruby, who lives across the street.” I’d seen her neon palm in the window since I was a little kid.
Rosi leaves, and Sara N. comes from Portland. We pick up mom’s ashes and Rachelle and her husband drive us to Eureka to spread mom’s ashes. My only knowledge of the place is that it was her only place of positive childhood memories. We spend the night in Eureka and then drive to Trinadad. We hike up the mountain and throw some of her ashes into the wind above a dramatic pacific ocean. I don’t know what she would want. She didn’t plan on dying so soon. Some things are hard to plan.
Dad comes to visit and drives me around Chico to the places where mom and him met and the first place they lived.
I give some of mom’s ashes to her girlfriends, and put a few ashes in Chinese stacking dolls for me.

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Last day of school

 

March-July
One last night in San Francisco before returning to Zhengzhou, China
Shao Boa, and Xiang Kia take me to Hua Shen, and we hike one of the most dangerous mountains in China. I toss some of mom’s ashes off of the sacred mountain. Now that she’s dead she can travel.

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Hua Shan

 

Apple takes me to Luoyang and we visit the Longmen Grottoes and hike in a gorge outside of the city after being stuck in what may have been the craziest country Chinese traffic jam ever.
School ends.

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Longman Grottoes

 

My students take me to Kaifeng for a three day trip. Me and five 16 year olds on e-bikes.

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Kaifeng with some of my students

 

July- August
I work at a new school.
Trip to Xi’an and meet a new friend: Leslie a fabulous scientist! See one of my childhood dream sites: The Terracotta Army.

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Terracotta warriors

 

August
Leave China.
One day and night in Seoul, Korea.

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Seoul

 

Arrive in Prague, CZ.

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Prague

 

September
TEFL training and certificate.
Visit Viktoria in Switzerland.

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Switzerland

 

October
Go to Cesky Krumluv and Ceske Budejovice
Can’t decide if I want to stay in Prague

November
Decide to stay. Begin visa process
Go to Poland for Angloville- 5 days

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Warsaw, Poland

 

Go to Berlin for Visa application- 3 days meet another amazing woman.
Back to Prague and begin new job
Go to Brno, CZ for first teaching job

December
Malacky, Slovakia for work.
Trenčianske Stankovce, Slovakia for work.

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Trenčianske Stankovce, Slovakia

 

Poland for Christmas.
Prague for New Year’s.

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Prague

 

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Snow on the Zizkov tower babies

 

The End of 2014