30 December 2008

It's fun being in a physical body–

Well friends and readers, I'm happy to report our Christmas season went well enough, though it was twinged with an odd Aussie flavour throughout.

Australians call the holidays "the silly season," and they shorten Christmas to the far more annoying "Chrissy." They don't have Christmas trees everywhere, their stores don't play Christmas music all day, and they seem--generally--to have not lost their entire minds in the fervor of finding the perfect pressy. It's tough to blame Aussies for their laid-back approach to the 25th--it's just so distractingly beautiful, sunny and warm outside. But they should be mocked for calling presents "pressies."

The majority of festive decoration we've seen around Sydney consists of spray-paint stencils on storefront windows. And they have been truly bizarre stencils--such as this red-nosed possum wearing a Santa hat.

Actually, the red-nosed possum is quite a popular stand-in for Rudolph around here.

The cute-ifying of words has reached new nauseating heights; you'll be talking to someone who seems to be fully grown, a complete adult, and out of the blue, they'll mention eating "chrissy cake." First off, that's fruit cake, for all you English speakers out there. And secondly, yes! they actually eat it. All the time, because it's delicious. The desserts here are so fantastically British, it really makes you wonder how and why America drifted so far from the heavenly halls of the dried minced fruit tart. We are a poorer nation for it.

For our holidays, Craig and I decided to head down South, visit Tasmania, spend a week there, loop around to Melbourne for New Year's Eve, and spend a week there before heading back to Sydney of beauty and smog.

The day before we left, we called ahead for hostels and caught the first hint of our looming bad luck...after reaching three completely booked up hostels, we finally got a room. Our plan was to fly into Hobart, at the bottom of the island, hire a car and make our way up to Launceston, stopping off at various destinations on the way. There's a lot of Tasmania you just can't get to without a car, beaches and bays, mountains and forests. Eventually, toward the end of the week, we'd get to Launceston, and from there we'd fly out to Melbourne. We got into Hobart and to our hostel on Christmas Night and were put in room 13; I've never had need of superstition before. We managed to find an open Indian restaurant and walked around Hobart's darkened streets. Everything about Hobart reminded us of Memphis or some blue-collar industrial town in Mississippi, but as we walked along late at night, we realized we hadn't heard any gunshots. We powerfully felt that we were not home...and a gloom for America's wretched idle violence settled over us.

The next morning we walked around Hobart's boring town centre and boring Botanical Gardens...I was itchy to see some of Tasmania's famous wild landscape, the lavender fields, the mountains, the rainforests, the sanddunes; I wanted to visit the Tasmanian Devil Park, to see baby devils hidden in sleeves, and Hobart is a small third-rate city. Everything was closed; Hobart's waterfront is a working, industrial waterfront and therefore unattractive. The coolest thing about Hobart is the giant mountain about 10k out of town: Mt. Wellington pushes into every picture you take. It's constantly peeking into the frame, an overbearing friend. Miraculously, I managed to get through the whole day.

The next day, we tried to hire a car for a few days and quickly learned there were no cars available for hire on the whole island. Until the 5th of January. This was not looking good. We decided to take a bus up to Launceston, as we'd heard there were tour buses going to several destinations from there. We knew we'd want to come to Tasmania again, go camping and do more nature stuff than we could on this trip, so we figured we'd cut our losses on the car hiring business. Take what we can, give nothing back, as it were. I was excited to get out of the Hobart hostel because it was expensive and small and gloomy and filled with obnoxious people. When I called ahead to the hostel in Launceston, we managed to get the last room available: Room 13. Hmmm.

We quickly realized the tour buses were way out of our price range. If we'd rented a car, we could have gone to every destination we wanted to for about $200 total. But with the tour buses, going to just the lavender farms would cost $160. Even that price started to look reasonable as four long days in small small Launey loomed ahead...but of course, all the tours we tried to join were fully booked up.

So, what we've seen of Tasmania has been less than impressive for the most part. We haven't gotten out of the city, and been stuck at the hostel a lot. But it's not a total wash. We know we're going to come back, do the road trip and bushwalking, we've already gotten a cheap second-hand tent. It's expensive to take a trip and not do what you intended, but we've also met some great folks.

We've seen some beautiful flowers and produce:

The Launceston Backpackers Hostel we're at is first rate. Cheap, clean, big, and friendly. It's got a TV room and a dining room, a really great kitchen, and super nice bathrooms. It's close to a grocery store and a bottleshop. It's got a great DVD library. I'd recommend it any day to anyone.

We got to see Launceston's City Park, featuring a macaque monkey enclosure. They were pretty fun, for being grub-eating monkeys.

And about ten minutes from Launceston we were able to walk to Cataract Gorge, a big river valley cut from solid rock by the Tamar River. Along the Gorge track, there is a cafe that keeps very sociable peacocks in their back lawn. Craig fed one peanuts! We don't know those people who so rudely stood in my shot.

Launceston is the home of the Design Centre of Tasmania and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. The Design Centre exhibits industrial design works made of native wood by Tasman artists. The exhibit was outstanding, showcasing Tasmania's craft tradition. In general, Australia's museums are top notch affairs, thoughtfully presented information and exhibits, well-lit and well-researched. In keeping with tradition, the QVMAG is also an excellent museum and art gallery; they have a permanent renewable energy exhibit (yeah!) in the courtyard, and a permanent dinosaur exhibit (double yeah!), as well as a temporary exhibit of Tasmanian student art, which was about equally hit and miss and that's really all you can expect from student exhibits, right? To top it off, QVMAG have a cafe with excellent food at cheap prices, and you even get to sit in a former train car! Nearby, a former Blacksmiths' workshop is open for people to walk through and view old-timey Blacksmithing equipment.

Speaking of which, one gets to view quite a bit of old-timey stuff in Launceston. Namely, an umbrella-makers, a custom shoe-makers, and a barber shop whose window display consists entirely of billiards paraphernalia. As will often happen with old-timey places (cemetaries, caves, EuroDisney, etc.) one also gets to view some seriously scary stuff in Launceston, like this sign we found at a "Family Fun" arcade.

Yeah kids, don't take your physical body all that seriously, ok?

UPDATE: It appears our luck might just be turning! Not only do we leave for Melbourne tomorrow evening, to start a New Year and celebrate dear Craig's birthday, we've also managed to get a morning trip out to Devils' Heaven, a little native Tasmanian animal petting zoo, of sorts. And we even have a place to stay in Melbourne--oh, boy--I'm gonna kiss a wombat!

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