Adventures in Melbourne

Donnie and I ventured south over the weekend to do some exploring, and lots of eating, in lovely Melbourne. We have now officially visited half of Australia’s states! However, that isn’t quite the accomplishment that it would be in the US, as Australia only has six states (and two territories, if we’re getting technical).

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We spent two days in the city and one full day exploring the Great Ocean Road. I’m writing a separate blog post for the Great Ocean Road, as it was full of amazing things (like spotting a wild koala!) so today I’ll focus on our time spent directly in Melbourne.

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After finally arriving in the CBD (we flew on a cheap airline that flies to an airport about 45 minutes outside of the city) we immediately headed to a little cafe for brekkie. We had delicious bacon, egg, and cheese toasties (a departure from the ubiquitous bacon egg rolls of Sydney) and flat whites before dropping our bags at our hotel. We headed straight for the Queen Victoria Market, which was only a 5 minute walk from our room. The market reminded me a bit of the straw market in Nassau, only with laid back vendors and no one screaming at you for looking at their bags and then buying from someone else. We had fun picking out some cute things for people back home and Donnie even got a custom leather belt from an adorable older gentleman.

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We planned to ride the City Circle tram, as it is free and provides audio commentary of major areas around the CBD, but it was suffocatingly packed so we skipped it. Speaking of trams, because they run down the middle of the streets, there is this terrifying traffic pattern called a “hook turn” that only happens in Melbourne: when turning right (remember that cars drive on the left here) at an intersection, cars go out into the middle of the intersection all the way over on the left, and then turn right across all of the lanes, while watching for cars going straight to blow past. It’s scary to watch and even scarier to experience.

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One of the fun things about Melbourne are the random alleyways and side streets with restaurants, bars, and cafes tucked away. We found a cute little side street with globe-lights and outdoor seating for several restaurants for lunch. Donnie picked a place called “Bread and Meat Co.” (Ron Swanson approved) and I ate sweet potato fries while he had a Texas BBQ Chicken sandwich– they were celebrating their new “American” menu.

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After lunch, a Little Cupcakes indulgence, and a little rest in our room (catching a 7:00 am flight when you live an hour from the airport requires a pretty early start time!) we wandered over to Federation Square and the Flinders St. railway station. This turn-of-the-century station is gorgeous. It’s also home to a “pedestrian scramble” which essentially stops traffic in all directions at once and allows pedestrians to cross at every crosswalk, including diagonally. We eventually landed at the rooftop bar of Taxi Kitchen, with great views of the Yarra river that runs through Melbourne.

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For dinner (I really wasn’t kidding about all the eating) we headed up to Carlton, a cute, leafy neighborhood adjacent to the CDB and home to Lygon Street. Lygon Street houses all the best Italian restaurants, and we had reservations at Da Guido La Pasta. In order to understand the level of my delight at the enormous, fragrant dish of homemade, traditional Italian pasta that was set before me, you must first know that I have not had one single bite of pasta in over six months. This was a heavenly experience.

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In addition to their fabulous, authentic Italian restaurants, Melbourne is also home to numerous cake shops. We ventured to one of the most famous, Brunetti, after our dinner. Thankfully we got in a bit of a walk on the way, so I was able to enjoy two miniature treats. The bright, white marble flagship store on Lygon Street was bustling at 9:00 pm. We walked in, took a number for our turn to order, and perused the cases that were filled with mignons (mini-cakes and treats), cake slices, cheesecakes, macarons, cannolis, eclairs, and every dessert imaginable. I ended up with a mini nutella cannoli and a nutella and ricotta mignon while Donnie indulged in two opera slices. We ended our evening on our hotel balcony overlooking Flagstaff Gardens, tired from a day full of exploring and so many delicious carbs.

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We spent the first part of Sunday morning listening to the Vols game on the radio as the illegal stream we were watching annoyingly turned into a baseball game. The game, which started at 6:30 am, was headed to overtime at the exact moment we had to check-out, which wasn’t great for Donnie’s nerves. I accidentally caught this moment when Tennessee failed to score a TD in the first OT…

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After a disappointing loss (but overall impressive comeback attempt by the Vols) we headed back to the Queen Victoria Market to buy some things we had passed up on Friday. There were intense 45 mph winds that made walking quite the challenge. You haven’t experienced “wind” until you’ve been to Australia. We managed to make it to the Greek Precinct and took a break from the blustery outdoors for some of the best (and most garlicky) hummus I’ve ever had at a cute little place called Stalactites, complete with stalactites hanging from the ceiling!

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Melbourne is known as one of the greatest street art cities in the world. One of the most famous laneways of street art is Hosier lane, which we happily stumbled upon because Donnie somehow has a weird sixth-sense for spontaneously finding places when we travel. This area reminded me a lot of Seattle. There were a few artists painting as we were walking by, and you could even pay to spray paint something yourself. Pretty cool!

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We decided to check out The Crown, Melbourne’s fancy casino in Southbank. (Fun side note: the hotel attached to the casino, Crown Towers, is where Tiger Woods was busted by his wife for being a cheating loser.) The casino is luxurious and so clean with no smoking on the main gaming floor. Donnie found this super fun pokie (what Aussies call slots) called “More Chilli” and we ended up winning $200! We cashed out after that happy turn of events.

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The last thing on my Melbourne “to do” list was to photograph the bathing boxes at Brighton Beach. We caught an Uber to the quiet beach town about 20 minutes outside the CBD and after almost having the door smashed off our driver’s car when the wind blew it wide open into oncoming traffic, we made the short walk down to the iconic boxes. If you’ve never been on a beach in super strong winds, I would recommend keeping it that way. You could hardly see the water due to the “fog” of sand being swept up by the wind. The sand stung our faces and our eyes, filled my jacket pockets, and became permanently embedded in our scalps, but I got my pictures of the colourful boxes! Was feeling like Princess Jasmine when she’s trapped in that hour glass at the end of Aladdin worth it? Maybe not. But it made for a good story and some cool pictures!

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Overall, we really enjoyed Melbourne. The food was amazing and the city has a casual, hip, slightly gritty vibe that is very different from Sydney. We were planning a return trip while still there, which I think is a sign of a great city! Besides, how can you not feel drawn, as a Nashville native, to a city that has its own Batman building? It almost felt like home.

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Alaska: The Last Frontier

Nothing prepared me for the overwhelming beauty of Alaska; the sheer size and wildness of the landscape is breathtaking. It’s taken me a while to even put this experience into words as I doubt my ability to do the 49th state justice.

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We booked our Alaskan cruise almost a year ago, before we knew we were moving to Australia. Instead of a 4 hour flight from Nashville to Seattle, we ended up on a 13.5 hour flight from Sydney to San Francisco, before finally landing in Seattle. We settled in at the downtown Westin, ate some Chipotle for dinner (an obvious priority when in America), and then met up with my parents when they got in later that evening. It was so great to see my Mama and Daddy after four months! We were pretty exhausted after our flight, so we called it an early night.

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We spent all day Friday exploring Seattle: visiting Pike Place Market, wandering in Olympic Sculpture Park, taking in the views from the top of the Space Needle, marveling at Chihuly’s beautiful glass creations, soaking up the (warm!) sun on the waterfront.

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After a delicious breakfast in Pioneer Square and a quick stop in at the Klondike Gold Rush Museum, we hopped aboard the Crown Princess, our home for the next 7 nights.

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We had a room next door to Bill and Brenda, so we were able to open the connection between our balconies and have an extra-large balcony space! We enjoyed a (freezing) day at sea on our way to Juneau, full of whale-watching from our balcony and wildlife photography presentations.

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We pulled into a rainy, grey Juneau and headed to the Red Dog Saloon for some salmon chowder before heading out to do some whale watching. We saw so many humpback whales, and braved the chill and misty rain to get some great views of the huge animals. Watching those majestic whales surface and dive in and out of the water was humbling and awesome.

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After our whale adventure, we headed to the Mendenhall Glacier, which was enormous and really indescribable. These pictures don’t even fully communicate how impressive this giant glacier truly is.

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A woman walking by while I was snapping this picture of my parents exclaimed, “You two are just the cutest couple! Seriously!” I think she was right– they are annoyingly cute.

Tuesday evening we left Juneau headed to Skagway, a really cute little Alaskan town. Our first adventure was a ride on the White Pass Railway up through the gorgeous mountains. You can stand out on the front or back platforms in the open air as the train climbs up, which is a little scary, but worth it. We even saw a giant brown bear right next to the tracks, though my picture is pretty blurry as we were moving and everyone was rushing to see him!

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I absolutely loved Skagway. Back in town we wandered through town, which feels very touristy. However, we learned that the buildings are actually restored to accurately reflect the town as it was in the early 1900s. Skagway is currently home to around only 1,000 residents, though that number tends to double during the summer months to help manage the 900,000 or so visitors that land in Skagway each year.

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On Wednesday I woke up in time for my hot-stone massage that Donnie gave me as an anniversary gift. We celebrated our two-year wedding anniversary a month early, because who doesn’t love an excuse to celebrate?

After my glorious spa treatment, I headed for The Sanctuary– the exclusive spa deck that my parents booked for us as a treat for our Glacier Bay National Park experience. As we cruised through the National Park, instead of fighting for a spot to view the glaciers or freezing on deck, we were lucky enough to have a front-row view of the glaciers from our luxurious deck chairs. The experience came with warm blankets, bottomless mimosas, breakfast and lunch, snacks, and a “molten glacier” drink that was heavenly hot chocolate with Bailey’s and whipped cream. Needless to say, that was one of the most relaxing days of my life. We had great views of the impressive glaciers, stayed warm and hydrated, and in the afternoon as we left the park, everyone took a contented little nap.

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Our third port was Ketchikan, home to Creek Street: the most photographed street in Alaska. Creek Street used to house brothels for the men of the town, but now all of the cute little houses have been turned into souvenir shops and tourist destinations. We didn’t have an excursion in Ketchikan, so we were able to just walk around and enjoy the town. We did encounter an unexpected rain shower, but luckily we all had our raincoats…. except for poor Donnie, who just got really wet.

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While on the ship, we saw countless whales, including a super playful, breaching Orca that quite literally left me speechless.

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In addition to the humpbacks and Orcas, saw bald eagles, otters, seals, jellyfish (seriously!), Dall’s porpoises (they look exactly like baby Orcas), a brown bear, and a moose (well, everyone saw him but me, as I was getting a massage at that time.)

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Alaska was full of surprises and unadulterated natural beauty. I already want to go back, so I’m sure we will be returning several times in the future. Cruising is a fabulous way to see the state, since traveling between towns is nearly impossible except by water. I loved our experience on Princess, including the delicious meals and entertaining shows. We even had the cutest door on board thanks to my Mama’s Cricut skills!

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We stopped in Victoria, BC, on our way back to Seattle. We didn’t arrive until 7:00 pm, but we had plenty of time to walk from the port into town and enjoy a pint at a local pub, conveniently called “The Local.” We walked through this adorable floating “house boat” neighborhood, took pictures of the iconic Parliament Buildings, enjoyed the sunset over the harbour, and wrapped up our evening at The Local. Our server grew up in Collaroy, which is right down the road from where we live in Sydney!

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We enjoyed a peaceful, adventurous week in the Last Frontier. I was thrilled to get to spend some time with my parents, whom I’ve missed more than I realized. It was refreshing to get away from technology (so weird to have our phones not work in America, since we have Australian SIM cards) and breathe the crisp, clean air of the wild. If Alaska isn’t on your immediate travel list, I’d highly recommend prioritizing a visit. I never thought I’d love a cold-weather destination more than the Caribbean, but Alaska is easily my favourite cruise itinerary.