Thursday, July 26, 2012

St. Andrews Market & Kinglake

We journeyed into rural Victoria in the Nillumbik Shire, north east of Melbourne.  Shire is like a township, I know, I did a double take when I saw that word.  I actually had no idea where I was going, since I never heard of these places, but I got in the car anyway though.  Well, of course I did, and it was a good thing because I saw some beautiful sceneries and bought smelly bars of soap.  The good kind of smelly.  The following photographs were taken by Marcus Krigsman.  He's a good photographer, isn't he?  Also a good tour guide...  If A=B, and B=C, then..  ahem yeah.  :P

 I was told that St. Andrews Market was an "alternative market" but I had no idea what that meant until I got there.  I would probably describe it as a hippie market.  The market is very selective on who they allow as vendors.  They don't want something too mainstream, mass-produced or even duplicate vendors selling the same products.  As a result, I saw many "Made in Australia" signs, cool clothing (that I don't need any more of..), fresh produce, fragrant bars of soap, musicians, and even a chai tent.  I was thoroughly impressed.

The best part, for me, was that these prices were fairly reasonable.  In fact, the bar soap that I could not resist was cheaper than what I've found in the US.  $1.50 for a bar of soap?  Amazing!  I'm not sure, but I'd guess it was 4-6oz bars.  In either case, it was fun for me to pick out scents.  The other funny thing was that we ran into a lot of church friends at the market.  Funny, 25 minutes out of town was not where I expected to run into people, but just as well!  Last but not least, as a result of these entries being a week behind, last Saturday I discovered that there are shuttles that run from the last train stop, Hurstbridge, to St. Andrews Market and other towns in the Nillumbik Shire.

We continued up into the mountains toward Kinglake.  In 2009, the area was nearly obliterated by a forest fire.  Nearly three years later, the trees are regrowing at a fairly quick pace.  Of course, "quick" is a relative term.  For someone who grew up near evergreens like pines and redwoods that take decades to grow, I'm used to very slow growth.  In either case, Kinglake is a beautiful area with lookout points from which you can see the city and faraway mountains.  There is no lake at Kinglake though, ha.  We stopped at Flying Tarts Bakery and Cafe for lunch where I had my first taste of meatpies.  The meatpies were smaller so we finished the meal with additional treats including a vanilla slice, jam donut and a bumblebee.

On our way back we stopped by Sugarloaf Reservoir.  It was raining so the reservoir was a grayish color.  On nice sunny days with blue skies, it would be a more beautiful place.  Next time :)

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Flinders Street Station & Melbourne Central

I departed San Francisco on July 9 and arrived in Melbourne, Australia two days later.  Flying with Air New Zealand was a very pleasant experience though, so given the choice, I would highly recommend them.  They also forgot to charge me for my bags.  Ha.  Don't count on that happening though :P

I finally ventured into the city despite it being a rainy day.  I was going to meet a professor at Victoria University in hopes that he'll give me some leads for possible employment, so that was a good motivation to venture out that way.  We called after getting into Flinders Station, and since it was only a two minute walk to his office, he asked for some time, so we walked around the block to soak up the city.
Source: Public Transport Victoria
We wandered into Degraves Street, an alley way with restaurants.  These tables fill the alleyway, so no cars allowed.  I appreciated that aspect of the alleyway.  The first thing that struck me was a store called Pie Face.  What a cute name.  We didn't get anything from there, but they also have an adorable logo.  Some things you should know about Australia, ha, this is coming from someone who's been here a week and a half?  Well prior to arriving, I did some light research, as in I read The Age as a news source for six months.  Australia has a strong coffee culture and they pride themselves for the taste and quality of their coffee.  Starbucks is for tourists.  Needless to say, there are plenty of coffeeshops all over, many of them independent coffeeshops.  As for food, meat pie is one that Aussies claim as their own.  So a store called Pie Face might conjure up images of apple pie, strawberry pie, key lime pie or the like for Americans, but in Australia, pie can mean rosemary lamb pie, beef curry pie, or things along those lines.  (Yes, Americans have chicken pot pie but it's hard to find that in a restaurant, unless you're at Marie Callendar's, in my experience anyway)

Souce: Degraves Street
After a brief meeting, we went out to eat the food we had feasted our eyes on earlier.  We got Lord of the Fries, bubble tea, and Taiwanese shaved ice.  We wandered around the streets, and through Myers, a department store.  I mean, I did the wandering, my tour guide (read: boyfriend) knew where we were going.  Next thing I knew, (See?  Absolutely no awareness of surroundings...) I was in this building, distracted by cute and cheap vintage clothes.  I was so focused on delivering myself from temptation that I didn't notice the shot tower (see picture below).  It's like the highlight of Melbourne Central, and all I knew it for was the cool shops.  Yeah, wonderful tourist I am.  I was later quizzed on what I saw by my boyfriend's parents and when they asked what I thought about the shot tower I responded with a blank look.  Well, there it is, below.  I'll keep an eye out for it next time.  As for the cool shops, this area reminded me a lot of parts of Taipei.  Sophisticated shops, busy streets and sharply dressed pedestrians.  

Source: Melbourne Central
So I was trying this new thing called "not looking like a tourist" and thought I would just use pictures online instead of taking pictures with my own camera.  Eh, the next time I went into the city (a few days ago, I'm a week behind) I brought my own and snapped away.  The other reason, besides not wanting to scream, "Mug me I'm a tourist" was because I thought by putting away the camera, I could soak in more of the city.  After giving that a shot, I think that for me, snapping pictures is part of the experience where I fit the scenery into a frame.

A note on costs: Prior to arrival I heard over and over and over and over again that Australia is an expensive place.  A good part of the reason is because they have a strong economy and their dollar got really strong against the American currency.  That means that while a decade ago, when the Australian currency was something like 50% of the American currency, a $20 Australian Dollar meal was actually $10 US dollars.  Now the $20 AUD is something like $20 USD.  The other reason is that Australians pay their labor well, none of that cheap labor we have in the US that deflates the price of goods and services.  SO, how do you enjoy Australia on the cheap?  That's what I'm supposed to be learning this year.  A train ride into the city is about $11 roundtrip.  Pretty steep, but more convenient than driving & parking.  I kinda turn a blind eye to the price of food.  Except I still remember it well enough to catalog my spending a few days later :P  What I need is to find the balance between reasonable spending while still enjoying my time here.  One of the ways that I'm trying is sharing food so that I can try more varieties which is supposed to give you more enjoyment than a large quantity of one item.  We'll see.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

"They're Building a Bomb!"

My apologies for a super long gap between my last post until now.  I moved out of Oak Ridge on June 26 and prior to that I was frantically trying to sell my car, unsuccessfully.  Now I'm back home, but a tribute to my home for the past year:

I should have done this way earlier, talked about where I live, my point of reference.  I lived in the beautiful East Tennessee in the City of Oak Ridge.  Located in between the Smokies and the Cumberland Mountains, it was called the Secret City and hence there is a yearly Secret City Festival to celebrate its history.  It was chosen because of its obscure geographic location between two mountain ranges that most planes would not fly over that area, and if they did, the plane would not see this little town.  I'm not an Oak Ridge native, so please correct me if I have these details wrong!  Prior to World War II there were farmers living here, but during the war, it was chosen to be one of the sites to enrich uranium, one of the steps in building a bomb.  The farmers who were living there were forced off their property, and I'm not sure if they were fairly compensated for that, but those who have relatives buried there have access through the high security gates.  The town of Oak Ridge was built in record time, and the house I lived in was from that era, although with additions.  During the war, most people who worked at "the lab" (Oak Ridge National Laboratory) and "the plant" (Y-12 National Security Complex) did not know what they were building.  They had pretty cheeky answers for people who asked them questions:

"What do they have you making there?"
"Not enough"*

"What do you do there?"
"Hardly anything"*

*Based on memory from a tour of Y-12 over 3 years ago...
Said to be the largest swimming pool in North America.  The pool was built to give families something to do in Oak Ridge, during the war.
I came to Oak Ridge also to work at the lab, but nothing related to bomb-making.  The lab doesn't really do that stuff anymore, or so they say!  I worked with a team of social scientists and it was a blast.  I can only hope that I will work with similarly wonderful people later in my career.  Oak Ridge was a bigger city during the war, but now there are about 27,000 residents.  It seems like the City has tried to attract chain stores and restaurants rather than boost small businesses.

There are many great locally owned restaurants in town though!  With all local businesses, they weather many obstacles in order to provide their services.  Although is this a small measure, paying in cash helps them keep more of your money, rather than paying by credit or debit, since credit & debit companies will take some off the top to process the transaction.  Below is a picture of Razzleberry's Ice Cream: Cafe & Market.  It used to be called Razzleberry Ice Cream Lab and Kitchen.  Maybe they wanted to emphasize the food a little more, since they started out in the corner as a teeny ice cream store.  Their ice cream is rich and creamy and the flavors are excellent.  The owner was trained in a culinary school in Poland, he smokes his own meat & fish and makes the sausage.

This was probably my second home in Oak Ridge.  Ice cream & wifi, what else does a person need?
My favorite place to eat was Mediterranean Delight.  It was opened by a Jordanian couple.  They close at 7pm, so get there early.  As a lamb-lover, this was the place for me to get my lamb fix.  Their dips are great to bring to parties.  They also have great vegetarian and gluten-free options.  It's primarily a catering business, but if you got food to eat there, you can eat it outside or in a side room.  The owners are funny and kind people.  The second time I went there, about 2 or 3 months in between, the owner recognized me and I was like, "I"M DEFINITELY COMING BACK HERE!!" 

Hot Bagel is a local favorite as well.  They have kiosks at the lab and so if I forgot my lunch, I often ate their bagelwiches.  Aside from their famed bagels, their pastries are delicious and not your average pastries.  They'll have things like eclairs, flappers, and other cool things.  The owner is German, and he bakes most of the things, and the other owner who runs the front of the house has a strong southern accent.  Many of my friends are from Oak Ridge, and they've all experienced getting yelled at by this owner as kids.  Ha.  (For taking too long to decide or something)

Magic Wok is THE place to go in Oak Ridge if you're only around for a short visit.  This is the place to stop at.  Most people refer to this place as "Miss Betty's" because the owner's name is Betty.  I asked a local friend what her husband's name was and they said, "Mr. Betty??"  Hahahaha, I love it.  I have friends who say that as soon as they get into town, the first thing they want is "Miss Betty's!!!"  There are only two options there, Cashew Chicken and Sweet and Sour.  You can also order egg rolls and friend wontons.  The fried wontons are so good.  So this is definitely a hole-in-the-wall kinda places, it's sort of like a diner, some people say it's "sketchy."  Ha.  The first time I had it, it reminded me of Taiwanese food, like the "stewed flavor."  Later I heard from someone that they were from Taiwan.  High school students love it because it's cheap and good.  Or at least "an experience." 

Melton Lake is the gem of Oak Ridge

This was my last sunset in Oak Ridge, Tennessee
There were of course other great places to eat in Oak Ridge, but these were my standout establishments.

"What makes Oak Ridge beautiful" is the greenway belts.  In the town of Oak Ridge, there are trails where you'll hardly think that there is a residential area just 5 minutes in the other direction.  There are bodies of water that get all foggy after a rainstorm.  There is a "West End Quarry" that I was never able to find ::sigh:: that is brilliantly blue.  It's blue because that is the color of radioactive material.  Don't touch it, but I bet it's beautiful.  Someone wanna show me a picture of this elusive quarry??  Pretty please?  :P  Eventually I'll find pictures of the fall and spring in Oak Ridge.  Actually Oak Ridge is beautiful all year round, but maybe I'll save that for another post.  That's what makes Oak Ridge beautiful, oh oh!  (One Direction sang a song called "What makes you beautiful")