Journal

March 2011

Cycling in Melbourne

While I was living in Melbourne, a television personality went on a bit of a rant about cyclists on the TV show Good News Week (see video) and stirred up a bit of controversy. Though it was a comedy show, the angry rant displayed exactly the kind of mentality I experienced from motorists when cycling in Melbourne.

I’ve cycled to work daily in two major cities (Ottawa and Vancouver), but in Melbourne I’ve only been cycling once or twice per week. Yet, the number of times I’ve been harassed by motorists here exceeds all the times I’ve been harassed by motorists elsewhere. Of all the instances, two were particularly intense.

I was cycling down Victoria Parade approaching Hoddle Street, in the leftmost lane on a relatively busy Wednesday evening, when some bogan shit bloke (Australian hillbilly) in a lime green ute (Australian pickup truck) starts laying on the horn relentlessly. He recklessly accelerates past me on the right, then has to stop for the red light at the Victoria/Hoddle intersection about 50 meters ahead. I glare at the driver window as I approach and he rolls down the window, shouting “Arrogant! That’s just arrogant!” Implying that by occupying the whole left lane I was being arrogant. I was planning to give him an earful, but after that statement I was baffled. All I could do was half smile and shake my head in amazement.

Then there was the incident late one Sunday afternoon, again on Victoria Parade, but approaching Smith Street this time. I think this tweet captures my feelings at the time…

Just got honked at by some bitch driving an SUV on a low-traffic Sunday afternoon on Victoria Pde (3-lanes)! Next time I'll stop.

(I think by “Next time I’ll stop.” I meant that I’d stop after the second honk and make her stop and go around. I was still boiling with rage when tweeted that.)

It’s almost inconceivable that someone would honk in this situation. I mean two other traffic lanes were completely unused! It would seem that some motorists don’t believe that cyclists deserve to share the road with them at all, no matter what the conditions. In their mind you have no business being out there. This is a dangerous attitude and one that could be changed through education.

Unfortunately, what I saw during my short stay in Melbourne was law makers and the media reinforcing this mindset, villainizing cyclists as reckless rebels who don’t to obey the rules of the road and kill pedestrians. Rubbish!

I really hope the next time I return to Melbourne, motorists have been better educated about sharing the road with cyclists and I can ride down Victoria Parade from Collingwood without being harassed. Melbourne is an absolutely beautiful, charming city and cycling is a wonderful way to experience it if you are lucky enough not to encounter an ignorant motorist.

January 2010

Tasmania

Australia Mixed Ultimate ChampionshipsIn October, Carolyn and I flew from Melbourne to Tasmania for the Australia Mixed Ultimate Championships. I played with MDAC (Melbourne Dating Advisory Committee). I couldn’t have asked for a greater group of people to play with. A great mix of talent and people who know how to party. Some classic moments include Lester setting off the fire alarm on purpose at a Hobart pub, Lester saying “Touch me touch you.” to this guy who started talking to the team while we were eating our Chinese food. And who could forget drinks with JimmyToddHill. Hobart is a beautiful city. We spent a lot of time around Salamanca which was an amazing spot, especially on Saturday when the huge Salamanca Market is in full swing with street performers allover. It reminded a lot of the Halifaxwaterfront.

The tournament was going great right up until I busted my foot reaching for the disc. It was a strange injury. It was extremely painful when it happened, then went away, then started to swell an hour or so later, then an ugly bruise showed up later on in the day and it was very sore. I was done playing. I got X-RAYs than night while everyone was at the party and was cleared. No bone damage, just torn ligaments. The doctor said I should walk on it as much as I could, though it would be very painful. This was great news, as we had booked a tour (with Bottom Bits) for a few days after the tournament which would involve quite a bit of walking. With a bit of painkillers, I didn’t have much trouble getting around, even doing some hiking.

Our tour really consisted of 3 day tours out of Hobart. The first day we visited Port Arthur, an old prison. Convicts sent to Tasmania from England that reoffended were sent to Port Arthur. It was probably the most interesting part of our Tasmania trip. There were loads of convict stories and the historic buildings were fun to explore.

The next day, we had a new tour guide with a funny accent, Chris. He grew up in Alaska but has lived in Darwin, Australia for ten years or so. He had just moved to Tassie a few months earlier. Turns out his dad is a botanist, so he had loads of information about the local ecology and turned out to be an excellent guide. We toured a Mt Field National Park first, then went up a dirt road to Lake Dobson at alpine elevation where the fauna changed completely. Later we visited a wildlife sanctuary (for animals that wouldn’t survive in the wild) where we saw some tasmanian devils, golden bushtail possums, and lots more.

On the third and final day of the tour, we headed for Freycinet National Park but stopped by the convict-built Spiky Bridge on the way. The construction of this bridge was both impressive and baffling (why the spiky rocks?). In Freycinet National Park we make a long hike up to the Wineglass Bay lookout.

On our last day in Tasmania, we had a delightful breakfast at the unique Machine Laundry Cafe in Salamanca Square. And yes, there were actually people there doing their laundry while we had breakfast.

I absolutely loved Hobart. It comes a close second to Melbourne as my favorite Australian city.

September 2009

Malaysia

IMG_8657IMG_8646After a largely sleepless 8-hour flight with Air Asia over Australia and the Indian Ocean, Carolyn and I arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) at around 7am local time. After a zippy 45 minute bus ride with Skybus to KL Sentral in the center of Kuala Lumpur (KL), we stumbled around for a bit and with hardly any help from sign posts or our guide book, we found the Monorail station a 5 minute walk away. We bought a couple of passes for RM 1.30 (~40 cents CAD), took the Monorail a few stops to Bukit Bintang, dropped our bags at our hostel, and went back out in search of breakfast. We found a hawker stall nearby and had an excellent curry seafood dish.

IMG_8686IMG_8693We spent the afternoon checking out the Taman Tasik Perdana park, got up close with some monkeys, and browsed the greenery of the Lake Gardens. We were pretty tired and hungry, so we vetoed the KL Bird Park, stumbled to Central Market and had an tasteless plate in the food court. We then walked on to the Petaling Street market in Chinatown, browsed around a bit, but couldn’t get into bargaining mode. We took a break at the Reggae Guest House Bar, shared a pitcher of Margarita, and found the energy we needed. I bought some Billabong board shorts, Oakley sunglasses, a Polo shirt, and Addidas kicks for Carolyn all for around RM 183 (~$56 CAD). For diner, we found a hawker stall recommended by our guide book, ordered Hokkien Mee (a popular Malay hawker dish) and weren’t disappointed. What the heap of oily noodles and seafood may lack in presentation, it certainly makes up for in taste! To finish off the night, we took the train to the Petronas Towers, got some great night shots of the well lit buildings, and then made the short walk back to our hostel.

Our hostel turned out to be excellent. It was clean, the staff were very friendly and helpful, and the dorms were very well air conditioned and comfortable. It definitely exceeded my expectations.

IMG_8701IMG_8719On day two, we got a Transnasional bus to Malacca, a historic town two hours south of KL. We had a quick lunch at Hoe Kee which is famous for their Chicken Rice Ball dish, though I found it pretty ordinary and not nearly as tasty as the Hokkien Mee. We spent most of the day visiting the history museum, the naval museum, the Sultanate Palace and exploring what remains of the old Portuguese (A Famosa) and Dutch forts. There were even several open excavation sites that appeared to be in active exploration.

We had a few drinks before diner at a restaurant on Jonker Street, then chose the Portuguese/Malaysian restaurant Eleven Bistro on a side street off Jonker. We had a few dishes of seafood and vegetables which were pretty good, but a bit pricey. After diner, we checked out the market that had setup on Jonker Street and proceeded to find a city bus back to Malacca Sentral bus station. Unfortunately, when the bus came along it just passed us by, the driver waving casually at our frantic waving for him to stop. So we ended up scurrying to a busier street and flagging down a cab. With only 20 minutes to spare, it was a very nervous ride to Malacca Sentral to catch our bus back to KL, but we made it just on time. Exhausted from all the walking and the uncomfortably hot bus ride back to KL, we called it a night and turned in early.

IMG_8758IMG_8769On day three, we sat down and enjoyed some Nasi Lemak for breakfast. We then checked out KL Tower and Bukit Nanas (Pineapple Hill – a forest reserve), an enormous shopping mall, and then picked up some more Nasi Lemak from sidewalk hawkers for lunch. We then grabbed our bags at the hostel and hopped on a bus destined for Kuala Selangor (KS), a small town about 2 hours north west of KL. There were lots of poor people in the countryside and palm tree farms that stretched further than the eye could see.

We arrived in KS just at dusk and made our way on foot, through a night market, about 45 minutes to our accommodation at the KS Nature Park. We arrived just in time to catch the last employee leaving for the day and booked a trip to see the fireflies. About 30 minutes later, we were sharing a boat with a couple from London on the Sungai Selangor and admiring the spectacular display of fireflies synchronously lighting the trees along the river banks. It was an incredible show (photos didn’t turn out unfortunately).

Our host drove us back into town and dropped us off at the only restaurant in town that served beer, Restoran Makanan Laut Ah Poh. After an excellent meal and some large bottles beers, we took a couple of bottles for the road, swung by a Chinese concert, then retired back to our little cabin for the night.

IMG_8782IMG_8845The next day we climbed the hill to Bukit Melawati, a fortress built by the locals in the 19th century. There were lots pieces of the original fort remaining including some Dutch canons. There were also lots of monkeys and it was fun to watch the Chinese tourists feed them. We spent the rest of the morning exploring the KS Nature Park. I found that it was a bit run down and depressing, but Carolyn very much enjoyed seeing the mangrove forest and the mud skippers.

After grabbing a few snacks, we caught the bus back to KL, ditched our bags in a locker at KL Sentral station, headed for the National History Museum, and got soaked in a torrential downpour of rain. The museum was actually quite a bit better than our guidebook had reported. We then headed back to the Petaling Street market to try another hawker stall for diner. We weren’t disappointed. The king prawns were excellent.

After diner, we grabbed our bags at KL Sentral and I was almost robbed in the restroom. Luckily, I had no cash though and the guy just walked away after I showed him my empty wallet. A close call, just before getting our bus to the airport.

Check out all the photos on Flickr
Carolyn’s post

May 2009

Perth and South Western Australia

Australian Ultimate Championships 2009 A few weeks ago, Carolyn and I flew off to Perth, Western Australia for the Australian Ultimate Championships.  We were playing with our respective ultimate frisbee clubs, Honey and Chilly.  The weather was pretty much perfect for the duration of the tournament and the fields were pristine.  And I don’t mean pristine by Australia standards (ultimate fields are usually crummy), I mean some of the best fields I’ve ever played on.  The only fields that may rival them are those I played on in the Colorado Cup last summer.  Kudos to Perth for keeping those fields and especially for letting us use them!

My club rented condos in a complex right on the beach in the Scarborough suburb of Perth.  With a complete kitchen, in-suite laundry, and a grocery store just downstairs, it was pretty convenient.  And at only $50 per night, I couldn’t image a better accommodation.

Australian Ultimate Championships 2009As for the actual tournament, it was great.  Over the past three seasons playing with Blackfish, I was limited to the defensive line and when playing a zone, further limited to the ‘deepest’ position.  Needless to say, I was getting pretty bored.  This season however, it was really refreshing to be given the opportunity to step up as a handler with the Chilly club’s B-team, Sweet Chilly.  Overall, I felt that I performed well throughout the tournament, getting some layout D’s and keeping my turnovers on offense to under two per game.  Unfortunately, our team didn’t play up to its full potential which cost us a couple of key games and put us out of our goal of finishing in the single digits.  After day one, I had been really frustrated with our performance, but realized that I personally needed to make more of an effort to stay positive during the game.  From day two onward I think I improved quite a bit.  It’s definitely something that I will continue to work on.

Australian Ultimate Championships 2009The Saturday night party took place at an old prison and reminded me a lot of the 2006 Canadian Ultimate Championships party at Citadel Hill in Halifax.  It was a pretty good party but unfortunately shut down just shy of 12am, before it could reach its full potential. The next day we watched the Chilly club’s A-team kick some Sydney ass, beating Fyshwick and taking the title.

Western Australia On Monday, Carolyn and I hoped on board a small tour bus for a 3-day tour south of Perth.  We ended up with an excellent group of Irish, Scot, and German travelers.  The first stop on the tour was the Busselton Jetty, which was only cool because it was built 2km long and trains would actually go out on it to load up back in the day.  Then we went on to the Ngilgi Caves which were quite impressive.  Especially the workmanship that went into building all the stairs and pathways.  We stopped for lunch at a microbrewery which had some really tasty beers, then moved on to the Moss Brothers winery.

Western AustraliaThe next day we set out bright and early (7am) and made our first stop at the Bicentennial Tree, a climable 75-metre tall tree.  Yes, climable.  My climb to the first platform ranks up there with the top 10 adrenaline rushes for me so far.  With thin re-bar stuck into the tree as steps and death below if you slip, there’s no way in hell this would be allowed in North America.  The views from the top platform were amazing and definitely worth the effort.

Western AustraliaWestern AustraliaNext, we made a stop at the Tingle Forest for a tree top walk along a very unique set of bridges suspended between steel pillars.  Our guide mentioned that an American engineer had won the bridge design contest because his system doesn’t adversely affect any of the nearby trees.  Neat.  We finished the day by watching the sunset at Torndirrup National Park and then heading to our hostel in Albany.  With the help of our Irish friends, we managed to keep the local pub open an extra hour before coming back to the hostel to play drinking games quietly in the courtyard.

The next morning I felt like a sac of shit.  It was a beautiful morning though and I sobered up by the end of our 45 minute hike up to Castle Rock in the Porongurup Ranges.  After a stop at another winery for some lunch, we were on our way back to Perth.

Western AustraliaWestern AustraliaThursday morning Carolyn and I hoped on another tour bus for a quick day tour up to Nambung National Park.  But this was no ordinary bus, it was a 4WD.  Despite being a short one-day tour, it had excellent value.  We stopped at Caversham Wildlife park and got to pet some Koalas and feed some ‘roos.  We were served lunch.  Then we went on to visit the Pinnacles desert, then on again to the sand dunes around Lancelin.  That’s when the tire pressure was lowered and the 4WD kicked in.  There were some pretty loud screams when we went over the edge of the first dune.  Fun stuff.  Then we stopped for some sand boarding, which turned out to be pretty fun.  That is until I hit the jagged bedrock at the bottom of the dune and scraped up my arms and ripped my shorts.  Not much pain, but I was pretty sour for the rest of the day.

Western Australia Western Australia Not having any plans for the last couple of days of the trip, we decided to book the ferry to Rottnest Island.  We managed to get accommodation when we arrived, rented bikes, and peddled our way to the hostel.  The old Army Barracks turned out to be a pretty cool place to stay.  The island was beautiful and cycling around was a nice chance to relax.  We were pretty surprised by the number of little critters (called Quokkas) that were running around during the day, and astounded to see even more at night.  That night we drank with our roommates, a couple of British guys.  The next day, we cycled around a bit more, checked out the World War II battery, and then headed back to Freemantle on the ferry.  For our last night in Perth, we had a nice diner at an Italian restaurant with our own unlabeled bottle of wine from a winery we visited earlier in the week. The waitress didn’t seem impressed, but we didn’t care.

I’m really looking forward to our next Australian adventure around October. I only wish it could be sooner.

Presenting my travel journal

It’s been a couple years now since my first trip outside of North America.  I remember thinking about starting a travel blog then, but it’s only now that I managed to scratch that itch.  Because I want to keep my main blog focused on Web Development, I’ve separated the travel journal into it’s own section with it’s own RSS feed.  So if you want my updates on my travels, you will need to subscribe to my travel journal seperately.  This will be the last travel-related post to show up on the main blog and my main feed.

I hope to reminisce about my travels over the past couple of years and write about my experiences traveling Australia in the coming months.