Monday, 28 April 2008

Future so Bright

In celebration of the long weekend we took ourselves on a long drive, from Melbourne to Bright, then from Bright through the Great Alpine Road to Lakes Entrance, and then back home.

The road from Melbourne to Bright took us along the Hume Highway, the main road connecting Melbourne to Sydney. It has now been more than five years since I last made the drive to Sydney and back and I forgot just how boring that road is. It’s as if the people in charge of roads said to themselves “let’s create a road that is the exact opposite of The Great Ocean Road and see what we come up with"; the Hume Highway is the result.
For like 300 kilometers or so we dragged ourselves on cruise control, locked in a tight formation of cars whose inhabitants we got to know on a personal basis during the drive. The scenery amounts to dreary and flat hills that are obviously very drought stricken, the road itself, and that’s it. To add smoke to the fire, there was a thick later of smoke over everything, so that even if there was something nice to see you couldn’t see it.
At least we had the satisfaction of not having to travel back on the same route.

As we drove Jo informed me that our Lonely Planet Victoria says the Bright area is famous for its culinary delights. Even though we were nearing our destination we had to stop and feed Dylan anyway, so we stopped at Oxley and had lunch at the King River Café there.
And what a lunch it was! It was one of those culinary delights whose memory will linger on for years. We didn’t even bother with main courses; instead we shared a plate of Fetta Cheese & Cardamom Fritters, another plate of King River Potato, and last but not least – their Carpaccio of Beef. It has been a long time since I last ate Carpaccio: Uri fed me with some when I last visited him during September 2005, and then Fitzroy’s Madam Sousou did the same a year and a half ago, but since then I was Carpaccio deprived. Still, praising the Carpaccio alone would do grave injustice to the potatoes which were more like cakes; it’s one of those things I can eat and eat until my stomach bursts open.
Luckily, Jo prevented me from having more of the potatoes as dessert. Instead, I had to settle for Crème Brulee; and it wasn’t just your average factory made brulee either. Like the rest of the meal, it was all distinctly fresh, it wasn’t too sweet (the way most Australian served desserts are), and the quantity wasn’t bad either.
In short – when in the area, don’t miss the King River Café.

With our stomachs full (even though I would have been happy for more) and our wallets not that much lighter we continued to our B&B. Bright was too full and all the accommodations there insisted on a minimum three night stay (assholes; how can you do that if you have to work before and after the weekend?), so we had to settle for a night with Dylan sharing the same room as us. Again.
That, however, was the only bad thing I could say about the place we’ve stayed in, Kookaburra Park in Myrtleford (some 30 kilometers from Bright itself). Run by a Belgium couple living there with their two lovely kids, I find it hard to recall a warmer hospitality from people who are not first degree relatives (and some of them would get beaten, too).
I’ll focus on just one thing, the culinary delights that place offered us: At night we were given with a cheese plate that included some very nice high quality locally made stuff . They usually offer that with a bottle of wine, but as we’re not your average Aussie drinkers they settled on two bottles of Stella beer instead. An hour later, in bed, we were served with a plate of genuine top of the notch Belgium chocolate – I’m drooling even more than Dylan just thinking about that chocolate.
Then at breakfast we were served with a three courses (!), all of which freshly made from fresh ingredients. It included a bacon and potato omelette that was very as fulfilling (my way of saying I was full but happy), a savoury bacon pancake, baked sweet rice, and much more.
For $145 a night I don’t understand how they’ve made money of us, but I do know I would very much like to go back there again while Dylan is young enough to share the room with us.

We hardly did anything in Bright itself or in the entire area, for that matter. It’s hard to do stuff with Dylan around, and besides – Bright seems like not much more than a picturesque village living off its location at the foot of the main skiing attractions.
Sure, it does feature avenues of European trees that were in the process of their annual autumn leaf color change while were there, but then again I’ve seen more inspiring autumn vistas before (topped, for the record, by up state New York).
The thick layer of smoke covering everything had a definitive effect on our enthusiasm with the view and with our will to get out of the car and choke. It’s quite amazing, when you think about it: The smoke is a result of controlled fires, but these were lit in a week with no wind so the smoke just lingered over Melbourne for the week; thing is, the smoke persisted and even got stronger throughout our 400 kilometer drive to Bright. Think about it – it’s quite amazing – an area the size of several normal countries all covered up with smoke, and all because of controlled fires!
Driving through Bright and its area we were amazed to see some smoke coming out of people’s backyards and such. What is it with them? What are they burning? How can they stand it? Is it like a local pastime? Should Jo and I burn something in our yard now that we’re home?

The drive up and down The Great Alpine Road was certainly interesting. I wouldn’t rate it as highly as The Great Ocean one, which is probably what the very original people who named the road were trying to achieve, but it’s definitely a good drive.
After getting out of the Bright area set of towns, the road becomes stupidly tight and inclined as we overtook groups of suicide bicycle riders (as in, how they climb up that road without getting a heart attack?).
Eventually, we found ourselves at the peak of Mount Hotham, one of Victoria’s chief skiing slopes at 1750 meters up high. I was never attracted to skiing, and the Moon like appearance of the resort’s area failed to inspire me. The weather, on the other hand, deterred me, although me still wearing a Bright weather t-shirt inside the car when it was only 5 degrees outside was a fine testimonial to modern engineering.
The rest of the drive is pretty empty. It gets to the stage where there are signs telling you where the next gas stations are (pretty far from one another, that’s where they are).
Lacking much in the way of choice, we stopped at Omeo – an old gold rush town – for lunch. Lacking much in the way of choice, we stepped into this very mediocre bakery to have lunch (how the mighty have fallen from the previous day’s lunch!). The reason why I mention the place is that while sitting there I was quite horrified to see almost everyone coming into the bakery ordering meat pies. Next to cheap sausages, these pies represent the bottom of the culinary heap, yet people voluntarily pay to eat them. Go figure.

It was smooth sailing from there to Lakes Entrance, where we stayed at a motel. In a world premier, we’ve booked an apartment with two bedrooms (as well as a living room), so Dylan has had the privacy of his own room.
The apartment was well equipped though very archaic in design. As Jo said, one wonders what went through seventies designers’ heads when they came up with some of the things they came up with. Still, with a full on kitchen, TV, DVD, washing machine, dryer, extra beds, who can ask for anything more? Needless to say, we watched something on the Eee PC and didn’t use any of the gizmos.
I did find, later, that the place actually had free wireless. However, by the time I realized that reception was closed and I couldn’t get my password. Not that I cared, but free wireless is so rare in Australia each event is worth mentioning.
At night we got to have a peak at another Australia. At around 4:00am there was loud shouting from the caravan park next to the motel: A guy called Greg was violently chasing after a woman who, he claimed, lost him $200,000 while uttering all sorts of superlatives about her. I saw the action from the kitchen window, and as I was reaching for my mobile to call the police someone else down there said they were calling; Greg just rushed off to his car and drove away.
Being the way we are, it is often easy to forget how well ingrained is alcohol into the Aussie culture. I find it really sad that people succumb to drugs so easily and that it’s considered mainstream; in Australia, I am the exception rather than the rule as far as drinking goes.

The drive back home was pretty miserable. The rain that hit Melbourne over the weekend finally caught us (it was snowing up Mount Hotham; we were pretty lucky not to get stuck there!). We stopped at Yaragon Village for lunch as the Lonely Planet claimed it to be another culinary delight, and instead had another culinary disappointment. They even microwaved the bread roll Jo was eating!
We also stopped at the Latrobe Valley's power plant display, which takes you into a power station and around a coal mine. We didn't take the tour (not a baby friendly environment there, with the noise) but it was interesting to look around. According to the displays there, the amount of coal it takes to keep my PC alive while typing this post is like a bucket's worth; there must be so much coal in the world it's unimaginable. You can clearly see how much greenhouse gases we're dumping into the atmosphere all the time.
From then it was a case of straight home for Pipi Velishon (don’t ask). We were lucky: despite clocking more than 1100 kilometers (talk about greenhouse emissions), Dylan only started complaining towards the very end and was a very good boy throughout.
I suspect the next big day out adventure would see us flying again. I shudder at the thought of long international flights with Dylan…

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