Tuesday, March 10, 2009

9.2.2009: Crazy Day, Australian Museum, Sydney to Melbourne

Today was a crazy day. Like crazy. But let’s talk about the Australian Museum before I get into the craziness.

A couple of friends and I went to the Australian Museum. So original, no? What else would you call a museum. I think around this time, I was already starting to get tired of all these touristy things. I went to an aquarium, saw a bit of the botanical gardens (and they had what looked like bats on some trees! Except … they weren’t bats. They were flying foxes?), saw some religious monuments, and now I’m going to a museum. Again, my lack of student ID deprived me of a concessions ticket. Moral: bring your student ID everywhere!

The Australian Museum was pretty huge. Ton of stuff in there: rocks/crystals, bones, birds, insects, dinosaurs, a mummy, kids-zone, and cool animal pictures. I think that when they designed the Australian Museum, they weren’t really thinking about how sometimes, less is better. They had a huge room completely dedicated to birds and insects. And seriously, there were so many birds, insects, and information about both of those that it was an information overload. Glass cases would have like 30 different species of birds and there would be about eight of those cases in a row. I do not know how viewers could possibly follow it. The same is true of the insect, skeleton, dinosaurs, and rock galleries.

The coolest exhibit involved different pictures of animals/plants. Basically it was just showcasing the results of this photography contest that the Australian Museum held. And there were different themes for these photos, like animals in their native environments was one of them. What made this exhibit so interesting was the fact that beside each photo, there would be a couple of paragraphs that contained a first-person account of the mindset of the photographer, like how they came up with photo and what they had to endure. I wish I took a photo of all those photos, haha, but I’m sure you could find them online.
The Australian Museum’s gift-store was more like a walk through Toys ‘R Us. I really don’t get it. A lot of the things they were selling were not even related to the museum. Remember poppers from middle school? Yeah they had those. They also had colored bouncy balls. How is this at all related to the museum? Not to mention that everything was ridiculously overpriced. But that was to be expected.

And so now the crazy part of the day begins. So let me explain a bit about the situation. EAP’s orientation in Sydney is from Feb. 6th till Feb. 9th. Melbourne Uni’s orientation isn’t until Feb. 20th so I basically have a few weeks to play in Sydney. So I had booked a flight with VirginBlue to fly out of Sydney the afternoon of Feb. 14th. But I hadn’t booked any nights at a hostel because I wasn’t sure who I’d be staying with or better yet, where I’d be staying. Yeah I should have done my homework beforehand, but I had no intention of doing any work after mcat’s were over. Come today, the only group from EAP I knew who were staying in Sydney until the 14th was this group of four girls. I would hate to have to explore Sydney on my own, so I felt my best bet would be to hang out in Sydney with them. However, they had already booked their hostels beforehand. They were staying three nights at Coogee Beach (which is close that famous Bondi Beach I was telling you about earlier) and two nights in the city. So I start looking for hostels around Coogi/Bondi ...

4:30pm: get back from australian museum and use their internet kiosk stand (A$2 for 20 minutes of internet) to look for hostels at coogee/bondi
4:45pm: realize that there are no hostels available in either coogee/bondi beach
5pm: start looking for flights online and seeing when i can check-in to unilodge (place where I’m staying for the semester at melbourne), check if i can change the flight time of my VirginBlue to an earlier date, i.e. a few hours from now, but because of the class of ticket i have, i don’t have flexibility
5:05pm: borrow my friend's cell phone and call unilodge and realize that i can't check-in even if i fly to melbourne because i won't have this bond ready (like security deposit, but dumb unilodge requires it paid in a money order form, only available at post offices and banks) since post offices and banks close at 5pm
5:10pm: about to book virgin blue flight but then friend tells me to check qantas because they have more flexible luggage weight restrictions
5:12pm: start running out of coins to pay for internet kiosk; friend lends me some coins
5:15pm: looking for hostels around melbourne area, find one, type in all the info, and book it. costs around A$26 total for one night in 6-male room
5:17pm: find a decent qantas flight (~A$106 total) that leaves around 10pm and arrives at melbourne at 11:30pm (which is pretty darn late for going into a city that i've never been to), type in all the info to book it. it's actually cheaper than the virgin blue flight! but virgin blue flights leave earlier: there were flights around 8pm, 9pm, 10pm. but around A$125 total
5:20pm: deliberate whether to submit the forms for the qantas flight. talk to a friend about it. i contemplate the option of just staying in sydney and forfeiting the fee at the hostel for no-shows. she convinces me that i should book a flight even if it's pricy b/c if i stay in sydney, i'll be spending that and more for hostel stays. so i book the qantas flight. copy down the confirmation number. look for online check-in on the qantas website but can't find it. friend tells me that they don't have online check-in.
5:25pm: talk to the front desk about the sydney airport coach which is A$12, but they said that i have to book it three hours in advance. my flight's at 10pm and there's no time to wait three hours. luckily, there's a taxi waiting on the driveway of the hotel that i stayed at the previous three nights. quickly run out to tell him to wait while i get my luggage. he waits, i get my luggage, and then i'm off to sydney airport. the driver's chinese and we talk mandarin for a while. he's really cool but makes me feel bad that my chinese isn't really up to par for someone my age. when he drops me off, he tells me to learn my chinese better and wishes me well. taxi wasn't bad. A$35 as opposed to the A$45 my friends and i paid in total to get to the hotel from the airport.
5:55pm: at some bench at the airport, i quickly rearrange some of my luggage to hopefully help it pass the weight restrictions. i also dispose of any liquids i have since i don't know if they'll allow that on the airplane. i don't have a scale on me and just make some quick guesses about how much my luggage weighs. go to one of the check-in kiosks to check in. luckily i have my confirmation number which i wrote down on a piece of paper.
6:10pm: i check-in my luggage. lady tells me that while my luggages both are under the weight restrictions, the smaller one i usually use as carry-on is over the carry-on weight restriction so i have to check that in. i quickly grab the free money i have lying around in my luggage so that security people don't snatch if/when they check my bags. then she asks if i want to fly out earlier seeing that it's on 6pm and i'm here for a 10pm flight. so i'm like sure! she says she's not supposed to do this because the flight ticket i bought was a cheap one and doesn't have these special features, but she's willing to put me on the 7pm flight. i ask her if i'll make it in time and she says no worries and that i'll have plenty of time.
6:15pm: i pass security check-in
6:20pm: start waiting to board airplane
6:40pm: board airplane
7pm-8:30pm: flight to melbourne. qantas is pretty cool. even thought flight was about 75min, they gave us dinner on top of the usual drinks. dinner consisted of a roll and rice+chicken/teriyaki sauce. pretty tasty stuff.
8:40pm: arrive at tullamarine airport which is melbourne's international airport. have no idea how to get to hostel i booked from airport. i just have hostel's address and only vaguely recall it's name. recall that hostel website said i could take some form of airport shuttle to get to the hostel's frontdoor for about A$15. i ask an employee at qantas info desk and she says that the street the hostel's on is in the city and that i should take this skybus service and said it costs around A$15, which is what i recalled when reading the hostel site online.
8:45pm: get my check-in luggage, go outside, get a ticket for skybus.
9pm: skybus arrives. i really hope that this hostel i'm going to be living at is close by to the unilodge that i'll be staying at cuz i don't want to take another taxi from one edge of melbourne to another. skybus takes me to this place called central station or something.
9:30pm: i ask around to see how to get to my hostel, which i vaguely remember is called melbourne international hostel or something. i ask around at the station and they say there's a connecting shuttle service that takes me to the front door of my hostel.
9:45pm: i finally get to my hostel. there seems to be a problem when i check-in, since i booked it only 4 hours ago. but it all works out. hostel life seems kind of sketchy and i'm not a big fan of it. just not that clean at first glance. and that's saying something considered that this hostel is one of the more recommended, i.e. less dirty, than most hostels. i decide to lock all my stuff in a locker which i have to pay $5 for 24 hours. i feel it's a small price to pay to assure my stuff is safe. these lockers are on the ground floor instead of in my room. lockers in my room are smaller than one in my locker and while i did buy a lock, it wouldn't fit all my stuff so i just used the downstairs locker.
10:30pm: only brought enough stuff in my room for contact lenses and oral hygiene. walk into random room of six guys. luckily they aren't too loud.
10:45pm: i put on the sheets to my bed and then lie down and fall asleep. don't even change clothes. sleep in jeans and socks.

Hostel environment just isn’t for me. Hostels are kind of like inn’s? I don’t know how to explain it. You just have to go to a hostel. I guess if you have to order hierarchically the places you stay for the night from good to less good: hotels, motels, inn’s, hostels. Communal bathrooms and kitchens are fine, but it’s kind of weird sleeping in a room with people you don’t even know. It’s best if you book a room at a hostel if you know everybody else. There are lockers since I theft is a common problem in hostels, when you start rooming with people you don’t even know. Hostels are also called “backpackers” because they’re where backpackers go to stay for a night. Basically all they offer are beds to sleep on. No room service or anything. Just a bed to sleep on and facilities for personal hygiene and cooking. Basically all you get is a mattress is your room. And when you check-in, you get a card-key and some sheets to put on the empty mattress, both of which you have to return when you check-out. I think my hostel was cool in that it offered breakfast, but I just wanted to get the heck out of there. The scary thing is that my hostel was actually ranked really highly from reviews, which means if I thought this hostel was bad, what about the more lowly ranked ones? Things could get pretty sketchy pretty fast … Looking back, I think I was being overly judgmental of the hostel. It’s not like there were holes in the walls or yellow stains all over the mattress. The bathrooms were really clean, bedrooms well-kept, and the kitchens were pretty nice too. I think I was just judging it because of how I arrived there around 10pm and was rooming with five other guys I didn’t even know.

So now I’m Melbourne. More about my experiences here soon …

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