Auckland, the City of Sails

As mentioned in the previous post, Frank and I spent last weekend in Auckland. We hadn’t planned to visit another big city so soon after Australia but the draw of a Christmas Parade was enough to change my mind — and then Frank’s!

We discovered that the city is much more than tall buildings and lots of people. What makes Auckland unique is its geography. The region lies on an isthmus between two harbors with almost 2,300 miles of coastline. It is the only city in the world built on a still-active volcanic field and the region is dotted with 48 volcanic cones, many of which provide panoramic views of the city and harbor. A lot of the nearby islands are part of Auckland City and one of them, Rangito Island, was formed by two eruptions just 600 to 700 years ago. (More about volcanos at the end of this post.)

Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and is home to 1.4 million people (30% of the country’s population).  They all live within a half an hour of a beach, which may explain why 1 in 3 families own a boat and why the city is known as the “City of Sails.” Frank was impressed by all the activity along the waterfront. I was a fascinated by the volcanos and how hilly the city was — even more so than San Francisco. We were surprised to find out that Auckland is the largest Polynesian city in the world but weren’t surprised that it was recently rated the world’s fourth best city in which to live!

More about volcanos: You are probably wondering why anyone would live here among all these volcanoes. While the volcanos in the center of the North Island (i.e. near Taupo), are more explosive and are the result of the movement of tectonic plates, the volcanos in the Auckland area are far less dramatic. The Auckland Volcanic Field is monogenetic, which means each volcano usually only erupts once. The field itself is considered active but dormant. There is no way to predict where or when the next ‘bubble’ of magma will rise to the surface and create a new volcano but no one seems to be that worried about it.

Our Life in St. Kilda

As we get close to winding down our last days in Melbourne, I thought I’d share a little about our life in St. Kilda. As I mentioned in a previous post, we rented this apartment through airbnb. To say I was nervous about clicking the “make booking” button and choosing a place for two whole months was an understatement. But this place did not disappoint! (You’ll find more pics of the apartment in an earlier post.)

St. Kilda is a southeast suburb of Melbourne and it reminds Frank a little of Brady Street with it’s many bars, restaurants and all different kinds of people. The area has a colorful history — was pretty rough for a while — and has recently experienced rapid gentrification due to its closeness to the CBD (Central Business District) and the waterfront. This end of Fitzroy Street is comparatively quiet. Our wall of glass doors offers sweeping views of the city skyline (gorgeous at night!) and the ocean. Outside our balcony and across the street, we can hear the laughter of the kids as they run around the school, watch the old and young at the outdoor bowling club and catch the various activities at beautiful Albert Park.

The transportation system in Melbourne is second to none. Frank is in awe! You don’t need a car here. Buses, trams and trains are all connected and get you everywhere you need to go. That said, most mornings Frank grabs his little green “miki” card, catches the #96 tram and off he goes to swim. Although the aquatic center is in Albert Park, it’s still a couple tram stops away. I go for walks or bike rides around the park’s lake (about 3 miles) and often meet him after his workout to get a start on the  day’s adventure.

We go to South Melbourne Market a few times a week. We have our favorite stalls/vendors for veggies, meat, fresh OJ and also for crepes and dim sum! (Not together, of course!) Frank has finally found one place with coffee he likes – filtered, while I am loving the flat white (similar to a latte). There are many of these markets around Melbourne and in other Australian cities. In addition to food, you can purchase anything and everything — housewares, cheap souvenirs, artwork and even designer clothing and shoes! (Yes, I bought another pair of shoes….) What we don’t buy at the market, we get at our local Woolworth’s(!) food store – the locals call it Woolies — or the small local bakeries. Soon after we got here, Frank discovered this little gem below us that serves these awesome donuts called “Bombolinos.” They are super fresh, sugared jelly donuts filled with custard. Let me tell you, they ARE the bomb! Once or twice a week, it’s our little treat not only because of the calories but also because they are $3.80 a piece!

Everything is expensive here. People warned us about that before we left. Frank has done some cooking to offset food costs — sauce and pasta, eggplant, veal. When we do go out, we plan, utilizing our “Good Food Guide” and local restaurant reviews. If we are going to “restaurant spend,” it’s going to be good! I will write more about food in another post.

People ask us if we have made any friends. We’ve found Australians to be friendly, but only after you initiate contact/conversation. Then they don’t stop talking! We have had some great conversations at restaurants and events we’ve attended but have not met new people to “hang out” with. Besides, who could we like better than our friends back home?! We have, however, gotten together with some relatives of friends back home. They are great and took us on an all day drive around the Mornington Coast. Next week, we are going to their home and to a park to see some koalas!

Speaking of Australian animals, we have some little penguins at St. Kilda Beach! We went down there last night and saw a couple before we got too cold and it was too dark to take pictures.

The weather here is changeable — very much like San Francisco. Beautiful spring days can quickly turn cloudy and chilly. Plus, I have never seen wind like they have here! Somedays our doors and windows rattle so much we can’t hear ourselves think or watch TV. The latter isn’t a bad thing because the TV shows, at least with our basic cable, aren’t really worth watching (other than Seinfeld reruns). There is a lot of reality TV (The Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars is HUGE!), fishing shows and news. We try to keep up a little with what’s going on and have found that not all the crazies are in the United States. One Aussie politician wanted to block all Africans because she said, “terrorists might infect themselves with Ebola, come to Australia and touch people(!!).” I miss my New York Times. We get the Sunday Herald Sun, which is kind of an odd paper. Major breaking news stories will be next to full size pictorials on Princess Kate (they LOVE their celebrities here!) next to political scandals next to funny little puff pieces. It actually makes me smile and I do get a kick out of reading it on lazy Sunday afternoons.

That is the nice thing about staying in a place for an extended time — you can have those “down days.” Today is one of those. Although we are on vacation, there is still wash to be done, bathrooms to be touched up and a dishwasher to unload. That’s OK though, because tomorrow Frank will get on that 96 tram, go for a swim and we will be off exploring another fun area of Melbourne . . . Cheers!

G’day from Melbourne!

We have settled into our new home away from home and couldn’t be more pleased. Our airbnb apartment, billed as “Fitzroy St with the WOW factor,” did not disappoint. The wall of glass doors open to a sweeping view of the Melbourne city skyline and the ocean. The one bedroom space is comfortable and seems to have everything we need for our 2-month stay. It is located in Melbourne’s St. Kilda neighborhood, a lively and eclectic area of restaurants, bars and great people watching. Directly across the street from us is scenic Albert Park. On our second day here, I took a bike ride around the park’s lake, utilizing the city’s handy bike rental system. Albert Park also has a golf course, sport fields and an amazing Olympic aquatic center. Frank is trying to stay in his routine with his new “swim heaven,” enjoying its many lap lanes (two 50m pools!). We have picked out our favorite grocery store (a Woolworth’s, which everyone calls “Woolie’s), identified a nearby church for Sunday Mass and are learning to navigate Melbourne’s convenient transportation system of trams and trains.

PS I haven’t actually heard anyone say “G’day” yet but there are some unique “Australian-isms” I will write about soon.