Day 34 – Melbourne, Australia. We arrive on time and begin the immigration/customs process at 8 AM. All I can say is that HAL presented the process as being much more difficult than it really was. In reality the process was little different than US procedures. The only difference being, once we cleared Australian customs, HAL collected our passports.
Oh I almost forgot to share an important detail. Gene, our cruise director announced about 6 times this morning that everyone must leave the ship with their room key, passport, and Australian entry form. There is also a sign on the gangway, and there was a notice in the daily program. Well the couple several feet in front of me managed to get to the Australian official without passports. I can't swear they understood English but their excuse was: "nobody told us we needed our passports!"
The weather was a cool 63 or 64. Skies were cloudy and hazy. The forecast was for clearing later in the day. The Europa is in port on the opposite side of the pier. She is a small ship, even by our standards. I would guess maybe 400 passengers. The port pier is very congested and the buses are about 15 minutes late in arriving even though the passengers are 15 minutes early.
Melbourne is a very modern cosmopolitan city with the expected skyscrapers, tram, trolley, light rail and bus transportation. Traffic is very manageable, and once off the pier we didn't encounter any congestion.
After our tour takes us around parts of the city, we eventually head to the Dandenong range. A very lushly forested area, parts of which are national parks. There are quite a few quaint little villages and many people living in the range, but their presence is not obvious because of the rugged terrain and heavy forests. The worlds second largest trees grow here, second to the redwoods in California. Several of the hardwood species tree trunks are nearly perfectly straight, and were prized for sailing masts in the 1800's. Lumbering in this area ceased about 50 years ago, and the trees are beginning to mature into old growth forests.
In Belgrave we board the narrow gauge steam train "Puffing Billy". Originally constructed for the lumber trade over 100 years ago, for the last 50 years it only functions as a tourist train, a very successful one I must add. It is operated mostly by a staff of 500 volunteers. For a donation of $2500 you can even be an engineer for a day. Our train of approximately 15 or 18 coaches, only three of which are filled by passengers from the Amsterdam, was pulled by two coal fired steam engines. The seats ran down the center of each coach facing the open windows. A sign said "no standing on railings or window". Nothing was said about sitting in the window, many passengers did with feet dangling on the outside. Not me.
Picture opportunities were scarce because of the cloudy skies that didn't clear until just before returning to the ship.
I did learn some more proper etiquette tips for tour buses today. When we approach a stop, and the guide specifically tells everyone not to order coffee at the little cafe because it will take longer than the time we are stopping here, go ahead and do it anyway. The last couple gets back to the bus 20 minutes after we were scheduled to depart. I will also mention the same couple was 5 minutes late on a previous stop. Surprise.
I think I mentioned several weeks ago that HAL often has a escort on the tour from the ship's staff, usually the passenger workers like dance hosts, entertainers, etc. I learned that the way it works is that anyone can volunteer for a particular excursion, and HAL chooses someone, or if there is no volunteer, they may assign one. I will only call our escort today "CS". While the 2 passengers are still getting coffee, he goes thru the bus counting passengers. He gets to the front and tells the driver and the tour company guide, "Yes, everyone is here we can go." Fortunately the tour guide does his job correctly, and easily sees we are missing the two guests purchasing coffee.
This is the same "CS" that about a week ago at the whaling museum stood at the back talking to the bus driver in such a loud voice that he overpowered the guide giving the tour. I have yet to see an evaluation sheet for any tours. HAL needs them.
I go to the dining room tonight. Many passengers are in the Queen's Lounge watching the Superbowl replay. I'm seated on deck 5 with a couple from Chicago that are leaving the ship in Sydney, and a gentleman from Austria I have met previously. Dinner was simple, spaghetti and meatballs, the first time I remember it being on the menu.
At the next table is another of our eccentric passengers, the "dog lady". Whenever she walks around he ship she pushes a carriage with a stuffed dog wearing what I guess you would call doggy clothes. To give you an idea of size, if real I would guess the dog would be about 30 pounds.
Tonight in the dining room, the dog is sitting up in a chair next to the woman, has a napkin tucked in its collar, and a plate with some kind of food on it in front of it on the table.
I was not surprised the woman and her dog were the only two seated at the table, the other four chairs were empty. Hats off to the hostess.
Please don't get the impression that this ship if full of crazy obnoxious passengers. That certainly is not the case, its just that they are more fun to write about.
Since the Superbowl is being replayed, there is no show tonight in the theater. I take some pictures leaving the harbor, and wait for the sunset that doesn't materialize due to the clouds. The channel out of Melbourne zigs and zags back and forth. If you just watch our compass headings, you will easily think we are going around in circles, and headed in the wrong direction most of the time.
Tomorrow is a sea day, no alarm clock, and then on day 36 we arrive in Sydney for a two day stay, where some passengers depart, and others board.