A Tale of Three Cities

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Oceania » Australia
April 15th 2011
Published: April 20th 2011
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Hobart (06/03/11-13/03/11)

So we finally got to Hobart, found accommodation with safe tandem storage and headed out for dinner. We wandered down to the wharf where the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin (Sea Shepherd boats) were docked, we couldn't walk up to them as they were sectioned off by the federal police because Japan had requested they be searched. The crews were partying in Salamanca, celebrating a successful anti-whaling season and also getting back to dry land.
The next day was spent on dull stuff; we booked the tandem in for a service to try to sort the front rim problem out, booked flights to Melbourne and accommodation at the YHA there for our first night, had a clear out and washed the road grime off all our cycling gear. We did find time to wander around Hobart, it's got a completely different feel to other Australian cities, for starters it is older and has many of it's original buildings still standing giving it a bit of a Victorian market town look, it is also very hilly as we discovered on our ride in. The port area of Salamanca has been spruced up and "touristised" and, of course, has a Blimey O'Riley's as one of it's theme pubs, we did wonder whether Dublin has a theme pub for every country to counteract all the Irish bars around the world.

On the 8th we took a boat up the Tasman River to visit MONA (the Museum of Old and New Art) which is effectively one man's art collection. They have an unusual way to give information about the pieces on display; as we entered the building we were each given an iPod and headphones, this detected where we were in the building and showed icons for all the nearby artworks, we just tapped on an icon and the title and artist/s were displayed along with three further icons: Thoughts - giving the owner's view of the piece, Detail - giving further information about the artist/s and Artwank - giving the usual guff you get from the bloke with the goatee and the black polo neck. There were no blokes with goatees and polo necks of any colour we were just left to wander as we wished. It was a wonderful place with a bizarre selection of art the most leftfield of which was Cloaca Professional, a machine that turns
Not a pizzaNot a pizzaNot a pizza

As we're not allowed to publish photos of artworks in MONA, this isn't a long exposure of a Damien Hirst, no sirree!
food into poo, it is fed regularly and pooing times are displayed so you can be sure to see the full effect. There was another piece that was just a wooden frame with hooks on it, it used to have beef carcasses hanging on it but they got used to feed other artwork. The owner's opinions were very interesting, he clearly regretted buying one of Damien Hirst's spinning discs and spent a long time trying (and failing) to justify it, on other pieces he gave no view except to say "Elizabeth said we should get this" (Elizabeth is the curator) and on others "They don't like this, I do, it stays."
As it was Vernon's birthday we had a curry and a few beers in the evening leading to a lazy next day with only the collection of the "mended" tandem being of note. The mechanic reckoned he had sorted out the front rim problem by judicious use of emery paper, trued the back wheel and all was fine.

On the 10th we took a trip to Bruny Island, bus to the small seaside town of Kettering, ferry to Bruny Island, coffee and cake before being loaded into a RIB with our fellow travellers and driven at speed along the coast of the island, out into the Southern Ocean and around a number of smaller islands. All the while accompanied by a commentary from one of the Aussie crew while his mate tried alternately to crash the boat and shake our fillings loose. We had a splendid time, seeing a number of historic sites, interesting rock formations and caves that belched seawater. We also visited a seal colony with a number of very cute young seals, bickering teenagers and fighting adults. There were no females in the colony, they all hang out around Beauty Point and once a year a trailer is reversed into the sea at Bruny Island, some of the adult males clamber aboard and are driven to Beauty Point where they breed before swimming back down the coast, at least that's what our tour guide told us! On the return leg we came across a large flock of albatrosses feeding, a shot of which should be the panoramic photo at the top of this blog entry, both the guide and pilot said they had never seen such a large group.

11th March - tandem test day:
We took the Jaffanaut out for a test ride around Hobart but we were still getting a lot of juddering on braking and the ride was very uncomfortable, so much for "It's sorted."

The Salamanca area of Hobart has a large market at the weekend so we spent a few hours on Saturday wandering around looking at the many touristy gift tat stalls before returning to base to try sorting the bike out, much use of emery paper made no difference so we gave up and headed out to source packing materials instead. Having experienced rough baggage handling once we were planning for the worst with a very solid cardboard box, rubber bungs for the down tubes and as much foam as we wanted from Tony's old mattress pile at the hostel.

Melbourne (13-21/03/11)

"Can we have a maxi cab from the Hobart Hostel to the airport please?"
"How many of you are there?"
"Is one of you disabled?"
"Well why do you want a maxi cab then?"
"We have a lot of luggage, it won't fit in a standard cab."
"You don't need a maxi cab."
"Yes we do, we have a tandem in a bike box which won't fit in a standard cab."
"If there are only two of you and your luggage you don't need a maxi cab and it will cost you more."
"Look, just send a maxi cab, we will pay the surcharge."
Maxi cab arrives.
"Blimey, I can see why you wanted a big cab now."

Arriving at Melbourne a few hours later we collected a near pristine bike box from the stupidly sized luggage department and manoeuvred it into a large enough taxi for the ride to the YHA.

Checking on the internet we discovered two tandem specialists in Australia one of which is Beach Road Cycles at Brighton a short pedal or train ride from Melbourne so we headed down to chat to them about the rim problems, we all agreed that a new rim was needed and ordered one from Velocity, should be at BRC by Friday and the wheel will be built the same day. We got back to the YHA and rebuilt the bike in our room.

Tuesday was Chinese visa day, we had our forms filled in to the best of our abilities, our passports, our Australia e-visa proof, photographs and the required fees, we also had bottles of water and reading material for the expected long wait to be processed. On arrival we were given a number, shown into a near empty waiting room and very quickly beckoned to a counter where it all began to go a little bit wrong. As there was no option for "unemployed" in the employment section I had given details of my last job, this was, of course, wrong and had to be changed, the next problem was that our route included travelling to Urumqi but we were informed that we could only go to Urumqi as part of a tour group so we had to change it to Beijing where neither of us wanted to go and finally we wanted a 90 day visa but could only apply for a 30 day one. We were sent to the naughty corner to fill in new forms but once we'd done that all was fine and we were told to come back on Friday to collect our passports and pay for the visas. All relatively painfree and it took less than one hour from start to finish, we even had time afterwards to get the jaffanaut out and play in the Melbourne traffic, bit scary but not too bad except for the trams which take some getting used to. Trams run down the middle of the roads but the stops tend to be on the sides of the road, so when a tram stops to collect/drop off passengers they all have to walk across at least one lane of traffic, to prevent carnage everything else on the road has to stop whenever a tram stops. Thankfully we were following a local cyclist so got a quick lesson in what to do.
Back at the YHA we tried to put the bike in the bike shed as we had been instructed when we first arrived, the bike shed however was stuffed with hire bikes so there wasn't really any room, there wasn't much space in the rest of the garage either (the other option we'd previously been given was to just find a space in the garage) so I wandered upstairs to reception to find out what we should do. The humourless receptionist told me "You can pay $4 per day to put it in the secure store or if you don't want to do that lock it on the street and take your chances." I epressed some surprise at his attitude and asked about using the bike shed but was told that was only for hire bikes and anyway we couldn't get a tandem in there. Not being one to turn down such a challenge I asked for the key and assured him that we certainly could get our tandem in the bike shed, he raised his voice to reply that we were NOT allowed to use the bike shed, it was the secure store or nothing.
Back in the garage we found the key to the secure store in the lock to the store - very secure! We got the tandem in there and returned the key to reception with the suggestion that it would be a mite more secure if the key was kept seperate from the lock unless needed and that things would be a lot less confusing if all the reception staff could sing off the same hymn sheet.

The following morning we rescued the Jaffanaut from the locked store and took off to ride around Melbourne, first stop the visitor centre for cycle route maps, I got chatting with a former racing cyclist who gave some suggestions for routes around the city and directed us to Little Italy for decent coffee. We set off on the Capital City Trail a 30km route around the city using mainly off road cycle paths and a few quiet roads. The route has a Sustrans-like approach to signage and we were soon lost, finding our way back to the loop we came to the Gipps Street Steps which, thankfully, have a gutter up the side for bikes to be pushed up, it was still quite an effort to get up to the bridge and we wondered how the woman we met with the tag-along had faired getting down them. Eventually various trail works and 'cyclist dismount' signs wore us down and we headed back to the CBD where we found a beer festival in progress so we quickly got the Jaffanaut home, showered, changed and jumped on a tram back to the centre. The festival was well set up, for 25 dollars we got a glass, twenty four tokens and a food coupon, every token got us a taster of beer (about 75ml) so if we didn't like any of them it didn't seem so bad to pour it away. CAMRA could learn from this, being able to sample small amounts of beer is a better way to showcase brews than having to have half a pint of something you might not like. Of course we managed to find the beer delivery bike, a genius of an idea, you want beer? Phone beer delivery bloke and he pedals round with beer. The Belgian Beer Cafe also has a similar system, using a cargo bike for local deliveries. At one point the two bikes crossed paths and had a ring-off, to see who had the loudest bell, they could be heard across the entire site.
The next morning we had to move out as the YHA was full, we weren't too disappointed to go and arranged a room at the Olembia Guest House in St. Kilda. On arrival David (the landlord) gave us a discount because we were on a bike, showed us the bike shed then our room and explained where to get coffee and cake. David is a touring cyclist!
Friday - rim and visa day, we took the wheel to BRC first thing then got ourselves back to the China visa office where to our complete surprise we were given back our passports with bright, shiny new China visas in them. We celebrate with lunch at the Belgian Beer Cafe (they are almost as common as Irish bars in Aus), frites, mayo, aged Gouda, Dijon mustard (when was that Belgian?), moules for Vernon and maybe just a little beer. Then it was back to Brighton to collect the mended wheel and we finally got to the bottom of the mystery, the old rim had split between two spoke holes, hidden under the rim tape we hadn't seen it.
Armed with a shiny new front rim we set off down the coast on Saturday, first stopping at BRC to show the Jaffanaut to Mr Fixit (whose name I completely failed to get), he's done a good job, the front wheel is absolutely fine. We chatted for a while about tandems and cycling in general then took our leave and headed south, the coastal cycle path was rather busy but everybody had good 'road' sense and shared the path well. we covered about 50km with no problems and finish with coffee and cake in St Kilda.

Sydney (21-24/03/11)

With the
All our worldy goodsAll our worldy goodsAll our worldy goods

(The car isn't ours - just the stuff in front of it)
front wheel sorted all we had to do was work out why the rear wheel kept getting loose spokes, Vernon spent a long time tightening and truing to no avail so on our return to Melbourne for the flight to Sydney we stopped at Just Tools for some Loctite, that should sort it!

We arrived at Sydney in a tremendous rain storm, parts of the city were flooded and we got drenched getting from the taxi into the hostel, thankfully Glebe are used to us now and just watched and laughed as the comedy luggage pile threatened to swamp reception and we dripped everywhere.

We bought a Mandarin phrase book in Dymocks, only to discover that somebody had stuck the security tattle across the Key Phrases list on the inside back cover (see I never did anything quite that dumb in Tech Services!), we tried to swap it for another copy but they all had the same problem so we got a refund and went to The Map Shop for an uncensored version.

It took us the best part of two days to arrange the packing in such a way that we would avoid excess baggage charges but we managed it and even got the tandem weight to exactly 32kg at the first attempt, we are getting good at this. Next stop our first new country - Thailand.

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