From Tulla with Love

In December 27, 2006, I made my first step in Australia at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport. A year later, I’m back in Tulla, awaiting my flight back to Manila.

It’s been quite memorable, these two Australian trips. I was able to live in a different country for almost 6 months. On the first trip, I was so excited about being overseas once again. Homesickness set in about after a month after my arrival. On this trip though, the homesickness set in nearer to my departure date. It was Christmas you see, and Christmas is usually spent with family and friends. I did get to spend Christmas with family and friends in Tasmania (and had a blast, actually), but it’s still diffferent. Not that it’s bad, but Christmas in Manila is something I really missed.

I feel my heart racing with anticipation; in less than 10 hours I will be back to the city I so love. I am looking forward to seeing her again, to discovering the changes that happened while I was away. And maybe see how the Manila Peninsula looks now.

I also feel a twinge of sadness though. Melbourne has been good to me. I spent my last two days in Melbourne buying bilins and pasalubongs. Coming home from overseas without gifts is a big no-no. Though while I was in a hurry to complete my errands, I didn’t run. I want to savor every last moment that I spend walking through Melbourne’s streets.

I don’t know when I will see Melbourne again. A part of me wishes it to be soon, yet another part yearns for Manila. I would like to see more of the Philippines, so Melbourne will have to wait. But I know I will come back.

Day 1: Melbourne to Ballarat

I just got back from a 4-day mini-holiday in the Victorian countryside. My brother-in-law had a teaching job in Ballarat and another in Horsham so he decided to bring the whole family. This is the first post of a series about our trip to Ballarat, The Grampians and Horsham.

Is this really safe?We started out late, leaving Melbourne at 6 o’clock in the afternoon on Sunday. Ballarat is a little over 100 kilometers from Melbourne, and driving there takes about an hour and a half via the Western Highway. Though it was a Sunday, there were plenty of people on the road. Probably families headed for their country homes or students enjoying their holidays (and their new licenses).

I’ve always loved driving (or in my case, riding) around Melbourne and the outlying countryside because of the great condition of the roads, and the seemingly lack of traffic. Australia is almost the same size as mainland USA, but unlike the United States, the population of the entire country is only at 21 million (Metro Manila has about 11 million residents). This means less people in the streets, less people on the roads, just less people, period. When I first came here, I told my sister I’d love to drive in Australia, since the roads are pretty empty. She was quick to refute my argument, saying that it’s much more dangerous here. Emptier roads meant people tend to drive faster. The higher the speed, the higher the chances of a car crash, which in Manila would just mean bumping the car in front of you. I realized what she meant, when I saw a car grazing the rear bumper of another on the road to Ballarat, during the first trip we made there last February.

Home of MarsWe were driving along the side road, looking for a fish and chips shop to buy our picnic lunch. As we wait at the intersection for a break in the traffic to go back into the main road, one car going over 100km/h grazed the left rear end bumper of another car going over 90km/h. The first car only swerved a bit, but the second car tipped to the side. Luckily for the driver, the car didn’t topple over and soon righted itself. The driver only got some minor bruises and possibly some broken bones.

Now on our second trip to Ballarat, there was another accident along the freeway. We didn’t actually see it, but it was a bit unnerving to hear about it, seeing as we passed the same stretch of road just minutes before. According to the reports, four teens were inside the car that careened of the highway, hitting a tree by the side of the road. The car burst into flames upon impact. Police and witnesses says that the car must have been travelling at 160km/h.

Cabin E14Road accidents aside, it was great to drive back into Ballarat. I greatly enjoyed the time whe spent there last February, albiet a short one. There were no concrete plans for this Ballarat trip, just a stop at the local Rivers branch, where we went shop crazy and bought a trunkload of shoes (well, just half, really) during our last trip. Another highlight was to check whether Lake Wendouree has dried up again (it was completely dry last February and almost full at the end of July).

After a drive around the city, we emerged from one side street, right across our home for the next two days, Lake Wendouree Tourist Park.

Coming up next: our day in Ballarat, review of Lake Wendouree Tourist Park, and driving off to our next destination.

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Hot Air Ballooning in Melbourne

Hot air ballooning in MelbourneThere is an annual hot-air balloon festival held in Clark Field, Pampanga. The only time I was able to make it there was the one time the balloons didn’t come, and was replaced instead by an aerosport show. I find myself looking wistfully at pictures taken from the festival, always wondering when I’ll be able to see hot-air balloons on flight. So for my 27th birthday, I wished for a hot-air balloon ride. I must have been a good girl, because my wish came true this morning!

There are three or so companies offering balloon rides over Melbourne and the surrounding countryside in Victoria. My brother-in-law picked Global Ballooning. The starting and ending point of the balloon ride was at the Hilton Hotel (Hilton on the Park). We met up at the foyer around 4:30 in the morning. Passengers were asked to fill in a form and sign a waiver. Afterwards, we were broken into groups, and assigned to a pilot. We boarded an SUV, towing the basket, balloon and propane tanks.

We drove to a field 15-minutes away from the Hilton. We were told that the take off and landing fields change every flight, as it is dependent on the direction of the wind. As stated in their website, hot-air ballooning is a hands-on activity. Passengers are asked to help with setting up the balloons for flight and packing it up afterwards.

Hot air ballooning in MelbourneThere were six balloons in the field that morning, three of which are from Global Balloons. It was amazing to watch as the balloons inflate, and eventually lift off the ground. Nick, our pilot, said that ballooning is all about the landing. Landing requires concentration and precision in managing the hot and cold air to get the balloon to land in the target landing field. Taking off, on the other hand, was so gentle, we hardly noticed that we were already off the ground.

Once you get over the initial excitement of being several hundred feet above the ground (and several hundred pictures), you find yourself just taking it all in: the view, the experience and just drifting wherever the wind takes you. Unless you have a terrible fear of height (why go on a hot-air balloon ride if you’re scared of heights?), ballooning is quite relaxing when you’re up in the air.

We flew high and we flew low. On the highest ascent, we reached about 4,000 feet (I would guess what’s when my ears started hurting a bit). We dropped altitude a couple of times, low enough to shout greetings to people on the ground, and hear their response.

Hot air ballooning in MelbourneAfter one-hour, we were instructed to go into our landing position. The landing position kept us balanced, preventing us from toppling all over the basket. The basket absorbed most of the impact, but you still feel it as the basket touches the ground. Once we have scrambled out of the basket, we were given new directions on how we can help pack up the balloon. First, the basket was lifted unto the trailer while there was still enough hot air inside. Then the pilot opens a flap to release all the air inside, deflating the balloon. We take up position along the lenght of the balloon, squeezing out the air and folding it in. Once the air is all out, we line up again, carrying the balloon and stuffing it back to its bag. Once everything was packed up, we head back to the Hilton for breakfast and champagne.

The balloon ride costs AU$350 for adults and AU$245 for children ages 6-12 years. It includes the ride and the champagne breakfast. It’s pricey, yes, but it well worth it.

More pictures after the jump, or if you can’t get enough, head on to my flickr.
Continue reading Hot Air Ballooning in Melbourne

I met Peter Moore!

I met Peter Moore!When you travel, you try to take in as much as you can in the limited time you’d be in one place. You’ll try to visit all the attractions listed in your guidebook, dine at all the restaurants friends and acquaintances recommend and buy all the native trinkets you can find.

We try to cram everything in a day or three, because we don’t want to miss anything. After all, who know when you’ll be back in that place again?

Unfortunately, there are times when you’ll miss something — a concert of your favorite artist, performing just before you arrived; a festival that wouldn’t start until after you’ve left; or in my case, missing the chance to see Marcus Schenkenberg in person gah

That’s why this time, I made sure I know what’s happening in Melbourne, and I take careful notes to the events I want to join. I purposely gave the Melbourne Cup a miss because even though it’s the biggest event here, I find that I’m not really interested in it (the Flemington Racecourse is just 10 minutes away, whereas I flew 800 kilometers for the Mardi Gras). One thing I didn’t pass on was the chance to attend the WordCamp Melbourne, and a chance to meet my favorite travel writer, Peter Moore.

I met Peter Moore!Initially, I planned on attending the formal launching of his latest book, Vroom by the Sea, but schedule conflicts meant I’d have to stay home that night. Luckily, Peter invited his readers to join him for drinks at the Espy, along with fellow travel writer, Brian Thacker.

I was actually hesitant to go at first, fearing that I’d feel ill at ease, but Peter and Brian were a couple of really nice guys. They both have travelled to the Philippines, and I am so ashamed to admit that they’ve travelled to more places around Luzon and the Visayas than I have. I was glad that I went to the Espy instead of the book launch, because it was more informal and I was able to chat with my favorite travel writer.

I remember my friends lining up, just so Neil Gaiman can sign their books last year. This year, Anna found out that he’s coming back, but the book signing this time would be at Subic, and it would only be limited to a hundred or something. And me? I just went for a chat over drinks and steak burger. Now, don’t you wish more author-reader interactions are like this? 😀

WordCamp Melbourne

IMG_3087I seemed to have come to Melbourne at a great time – Priscilla the Musical is still on going, one of my favorite travel writer Peter Moore is launching his latest book in Australia, and the event I attended last Saturday, WordCamp Melbourne.

WordCamp is a gathering of WordPress users talking about (you guessed it) WordPress and blogging. Among the speakers were Alex Shiels of Automattic (who quite succinctly told us how big WordPress is), James Farmer of Edublogs (who organized WCM07 and quite a jolly person), Darren Rowse of (how can this be a blogging event without Mr. Rowse? He’s a very nice, down to earth guy, by the way, and he even granted my odd request of posing with my Pinky St doll), Christine Davis of (developer of the Ultimate Tag Warrior, which I’m currently using), and Alister Cameron, the self-proclaimed blogologist (who was wearing a TinTin in Vietnam t-shirt, which had me racking my brains whether TinTin ever went to Vietnam).

Darren Rowse mentioned in passing that Melbourne bloggers have been talking about having one of these gatherings for a long time, and this is the first time it has pushed through. Also, when I asked him if he gives talks on blogging a lot, he said he gets invited to talk overseas, but hardly in Australia.

Apart from the talks given by the speakers, there were also round table discussions, where in participants get to talk among themselves regarding a topics pertaining to WordPress or blogging. Topics like choosing a blogging platform, selling plugins, online reputation management, themes, and blogging as new media. I joined the plugins table, reputation management and new media.

The online reputation management discussion was facilitated by Gerry McCusker, a Public Relations Analyst. We discussed how organizations can optimize blogs for better public relations. I found myself drifting off at certain points, thinking of how certain individuals can hurt their reputation through online self-publishing.

When the time came for the last round table, I eagerly headed to the table set for the new media discussion. Disappointingly, there were only three of us there. Hmmm, as I told Gerry, who was also at the table, this table would’ve been full had it been in Manila.

Overall, it was a great, enlightening event. I was able to see the “blog culture” in Melbourne, and how people are utilizing it. It was great to meet people with such passion for blogging. Oh, and Lucio, too bad you left early…you could’ve won a WordPress shirt 😛

Pictures from WordCamp Melbourne

Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse talking about how to make money by blogging

Alister Cameron
Alister Cameron telling us about all the fun to be had with Sandbox

James Farmer
James Farmer sharing his trick for increasing your multi-user blog from 1 to 1,000

Christine Davis
Christine Davis differentiating between tags and categories

The Panel
The panel of speakers with Alex Shiels answering question from the audience