Monday, September 5, 2011

Up over from Down Under

Returning from Australia means experiencing one long 36-hour day, punctuated by disorienting naps. We collected all our things, including the many new toys, hats, uggs, wildlife books and souvenirs, and distributed them throughout our bodies.

We equipped the kids with the virtual reality gear necessary to preserve mental health over the endless Pacific.

When the plane touched down at long last, at exactly the same time on the clock as when we took off, we entered Limbo, also called the Los Angeles Airport Hilton, especially its pool hot tub.

When we were ready to be coherent again, we met up with Uncle Brian and Aunt Tricia to tell stories and reenact adventures.

After a month on the bottom of the world, it's back to Boston, for new schools, new friends, more things to turn into instruments, and the exotic wildlife of our own backyard.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Now museum, now you don't

Our holiday came to rest in Melbourne. An excursion to St. Kildans provided lots of character and an expanse of sand that ends in ocean, like so.

And a day at the Melbourne Museum, built in 2000 and therefore one of the newest museums we've ever seen, was packed with wonders. A split screen movie with actors playing an Aborigine elder and the museum's founder, arguing with each other about the treatment of artifacts, captivated C. A mind-blowing augmented reality dinosaur room and hall of animals made the Peabody seem ancient. Colin and C. took in a 3D Imax on animal rescuers. And a sprawling kid-focused mini-museum gave T. lots of surprises to explore.

It was a banner day for T., as a matter of fact. They had a turtle shell guitar he could play; he went back to try it three times.

At the playground, at the top of the slide, he shouted, "Look Mom! One leg!"

At the exhibit on forest fires he found a place to practice some soulful singing.

And even at dinner he worked on his microphone technique.

And with no bang but T.'s drumming and no whimper but C. complaining about walking too long, our visit to Australia had come to an end. All that remains is to make our way home to Boston.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Melbourne: the Yale of Australia

Melbourne seems to have a little chip on its shoulder about Sydney. The way people talk about it is so emphatic--"Oh, I LOVE Melbourne, it's so European, it's artier"--wethinks she doth protest too much. After all, we loved Sydney, and thought while we were there that it was among the very nicest cities we'd ever been to. How would Melbourne play its hand?

When Colin got a last minute invitation to go to an Australian football game there just after checking in, it seemed like a great chance to give the city a chance to show us its best. Our college friend Mike and his two sons were the sherpas for me and C.

There is something about that much fluorescent light that excites the brain, no doubt. But Colin is simply immune to the charms of highly-paid people wearing colorful suits running around obeying inscrutable rules. And boy are these rules inscrutable.

On the Melbourne/Sydney question, Mike put it like this: Sydney looks great from the outside, but living inside it is not too special. Melbourne may not look like much on a postcard, but walk around in it and it's infinitely rich. Our first day alone bore this out. We walked for hours without ever finding an uncharming corner. So much public space: parkland, gardens, plazas, playgrounds, riverfront, memorials, elevated walkways.

Mike's wife Clare and their brood showed us around. The kids bonded like a rock band.

Sydney, Melbourne: you're both pretty. Now let's all go to the footy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Face to face

In three days on Kangaroo Island, we've spied on penguins, pet koalas, fed kangaroos, talked to cockatoos, spotted echidnas, held falcons, communed with seals, and fed pelicans. We've seen rocky coasts, smooth beaches, rolling farmland, and eucalypt bushland. What's left? Crystal caves, of course.

C. has thought about caves for many years thanks to a vivid episode of Danger Rangers. Happily her first experience of a real one was positive.

If only we could conclude our visit to the island with some iconic encounters that would sum up what this week has meant? Okay, if you insist.

The rainbow over the road reminded us of our honeymoon in Ireland 12 years ago, where there was a rainbow every day. This trip hasn't exactly been a honeymoon, but the memories will surely last as long.

And it's not over yet. In the morning, we fly to Melbourne!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Raptor domains, sea lion cities and pelican hordes

We started strong this morning with a visit to Raptor Domain, the birds of prey show!

The off-season advantage continues to pay dividends, as the 250-seat amphitheater was under capacity (with exactly six). Thus when the presenter sought a volunteer from the audience to hold a falcon, the competition was less than cutthroat.

The bird keepers were even able to produce a smaller glove and let T. have a go with an owl.

And because C. had gotten so many of the birds of prey trivia answers correct, they accommodated her dream request: a peregrine falcon, who doesn't usually do the shows.

After such a climax, we unwound with a walk down to the beach. Except that this was a walk down to the beach with a naturalist to watch the sea lions returning to their warrens in the dunes after three days at sea.

By the afternoon we had crashed from overstimulation, along with irritation from the electronic squawking of the inevitable stuffed peregrine falcon toy from the backseat.

The perfect evening pick-me-up on Kangaroo Island, it turns out, is the nightly pelican feeding on the dock. These things are much bigger than you think, and deeply strange looking. When they all move their giant scoop-shaped heads at exactly the same time toward the fish in the amiable man's hand, well, it takes your mind off things.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Earth, air, water, fun

The second, epic day with our expert Kangaroo Island guide began at an old farm that was donated to the national parkland. We strolled among the rusting Model Ts and tried not to spook the--oh, kangaroos.

After morning tea we spotted an echidna waddling around, listening for ants. Echidna: the Other Egg-Laying Mammal.

Guess what T. found? A cello.

We left T. in the car napping with Tim (told ya he was good) to walk down a boardwalk to the windy, rocky coastline and visit with the colony of New Zealand fur-seals that lives there.

This is called Admiral's Arch.

But the A-list geological formation is Remarkable Rocks, which is like an awesome piece of public art out on a promontory.

Normally this would be crowded with busloads of tourists, but it was just us and the wind and the orange algae.

We closed our day at the visitors center for the big wildlife preserve, which sounds lame until you learn it has an interactive exhibit on the geological, paleontological and anthropological history of the island. Plus some trees to climb in the parking lot, a gift shop to pick up some t-shirts, and a place to change a poopy diaper.

Still not enough? How about a sand pit where kids can dig for simulated fossils?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

It's a wild, wild life

We now entered the care of one Tim Harris of Extraordinary Kangaroo Island, a luxury outfit that provides guided drives to as much wildlife and notable sights as you can cram into two days. Plus gourmet lunches, history and anecdotes, and great company for two harried parents and two good-humored kids.

The first stop was a bee farm which was novel but not yet extraordinary. Next was lunch, cooked on the spot, in a secluded tent in the bush.

Not only can Tim spot wildlife, make Australian farming history interesting, drive on dirt roads, play 20 questions with a 6-year-old and crack up a 2-year-old, he can cook too. Not that anyone but Jess appreciated it.

T. was just happy to have a limitless supply of sticks he could turn into guitars.

After lunch things got rather giddy. With our VIP access to the wildlife park in the center of the island, we were suddenly feeding kangaroos...

Petting koalas...

And conversing with cockatoos. That's literal, more or less: this bird says "hello!" in an Australian accent. It had Colin doubled over laughing--and T. beaming and saying "hello" right back.

Also on site were wombats, black swans and their goslings, the rare cassowary, a white peacock, and an emu.

Okay, we give in: this is extraordinary.