Melb2016: Around the “Den” & Leaving Melbourne (Part 11)

After a long series of posts, my time in Melbourne is just about up. This part covers the tail end of the trip, namely where I stayed and heading out of Melbourne.

The “Den”

Even though the trip was mostly funded by the university, that didn’t mean I could be as lavish as I had liked. After all, there is only a certain amount of money left in my funds, and I had to make it last as long as I could. As a result, I chose the cheapest hotel (not hostel and not backpackers) that I could find that was within walking distance of the conference, just in case I couldn’t get around any other way.

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That turned out to be the Ibis Budget, formerly Hotel Formule One, in the CBD. Conveniently located at the corner of two tram stops, it was extremely easy to get around. Because of its budget positioning, things were a little different – there was no hotel lobby on the ground floor, and barely any frontage.

In fact, reception was on first floor. At least they had lifts, although they were a little slow and very creaky. The staff were friendly and easygoing, but the offerings were generally quite slim. Even the complimentary tea and coffee cups had to be specially requested, as they weren’t always serviced by housekeeping.

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As I was a comparatively long stay, they were able to offer me Room 707, top floor in the side section, annotated in the photo above. This room felt a little run down, with blinds that were a bit mangled, walls with scratches, and a shower screen which didn’t roll freely. The shower was relatively small, but serviceable. The air conditioner was noisy and rattly. Even a CFL failed during my stay. Despite this, room access was all card controlled, and I felt relatively safe even though there was the occasional homeless person in the ground floor corridor taking advantage of the “open” powerpoint to top up his phone. Did I mention, I saw someone walking a sheep down the road as well, chased by six cameras?

The hallways were mostly quiet, but the neighbours not so much. Some nights they’d be rather noisy, but not too excessively. Even though my room could theoretically accommodate three people, I was the only one. I actually didn’t have much problems falling asleep – the bed was very comfortable and just the right firmness for me.

The hotel doesn’t really have Wi-Fi either – the only area they have it is in the reception/breakfast area on the first floor, and the Wi-Fi is pay-for access anyway. In the rooms, there is absolutely no signal. Rooms have no phones, but mobile coverage is pretty good. The booking I made was not inclusive of breakfast, although having peeked into the buffet, I didn’t think that was a great loss. There are many restaurants down the street anyway.

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Aside from these relatively minor niggles, I very quickly made it my home away from home courtesy of all the technology in my luggage. Because of all the extra room on the bunk, I could hang out my clothes to keep them from being excessively crumpled.

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On the night I was about to leave, I had many of the things somewhat closed, but there was a small corner table, and a small bar fridge (empty) as well, with a TV for me to keep up with MasterChef. No complaints on that side.

2016051509495207What you might be wondering is how a nerd like myself can get by without the most basic of needs – namely, an internet connection. The answer is, I came prepared! Of course, I had my relatively expensive Telstra 4G Data Pass, but I wasn’t going to waste it all. Instead, this phone booth across the road was my saviour.

Yep. In front of a Vodafone store, this phone booth had Telstra Air enabled – an open Wi-Fi network offering unmetered free data to Telstra customers until 1st September 2016 (at this stage). Of course, it’s probably not going to be free forever, but this was at street level across the road.

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IMG_20160509_134137Not a problem either. I came prepared – namely with an old 2.4Ghz Yagi antenna and some electrical tape. My photographic tripod had to “stand in” to hold the antenna in alignment while I wasn’t out on photography, but I bought along enough Nitto tape so I didn’t have to worry about taking it down and putting it up again.

I had it very accurately pointed at the phone booth and surprisingly, a very decent link was achieved even with the single-band single-stream 802.11n USB wireless adapter I was using (a TP-Link TL-WN721N). As a result, my desk was a little messier when actually doing some work.

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I suppose it was both a good and bad thing that I used a Yagi. I wouldn’t have received enough signal (or would have had too much interference) without it, so it kept me online. It also potentially kept me more safe due to the unencrypted nature of the AP, so eavesdroppers were less likely to “hear” my packets. It potentially might have had a negative effect on other users, because I might not have heard their transmissions (and vice versa), resulting in collisions. However, that being said, even on the day I arrived during the afternoon, the performance wasn’t too bad.

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Screenshot_2016-05-10-23-52-00_org.zwanoo.android.speedtestWith some tweaking and better alignment, I was able to improve the result. Rather interestingly, I also consulted this article to create an ad-hoc network using the Wi-Fi card inside my laptop so I could get my two mobile phones on the same connection as telsairwell – this was a speed test from the phone at night. Given it was free, I had no complaints at all – it was so good that I didn’t even spend 400Mb of my 3G allowance through my entire stay in Melbourne. Most of that was when I was away from the room.

The session does time out after a while (12/24 hours), but you can log right in again. The physical link is maintained, and I managed to do some decent downloading and catch up on TV shows. Some types of traffic appear to be blocked over the network, but that’s no big deal because I also have a slow but steady SSH tunnel at home to use, hosted by a Raspberry Pi.

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With that sorted, I was free to enjoy the evening views – of which there was some view, albeit a bit limited due to adjacent building overhang. On the last night, I couldn’t help but take a vertical timelapse of the view for a few hours.

Screenshot_2016-05-17-23-09-57_com.xiaomi.hm.healthMy stay in Melbourne, because of the limited time, really inspired me to make the most of it. It also pushed me to achieve my one-day step record, which currently stands at 22,271. For someone like myself, it’s not easy to achieve that, and I really don’t want to have to do it too often because my ankles really didn’t like it. But I can definitely say I made the most of my time.

Melbourne Impressions

While I didn’t stay in Melbourne long, nor did I visit Melbourne on a regular basis, I would have to say that I had a relatively positive experience of Melbourne overall. It felt like a very liveable city, with green spaces everywhere and good accessibility by walking or by public transport. It’s a city where there seems to be a lot of appreciation for diversity and culture, with lots of different artforms practiced and where heritage is celebrated and new blends with old. It also seems to be quite a progressive city when it comes to embracing technology.

The layout of the city is relatively simple, and getting around is very convenient. Major events are practically held at venues where public transport is well established. Signage is excellent, and it seems a lot of the action centers around the CBD which is not that big. There is quite a lot to see and potentially enjoy, and it seems they have done a lot to gear it towards tourists with official information centres, free CBD tram zones and city circle trams. Even the people down there seem a little more friendly, especially the staff, and are willing to take it a little easier.

In the CBD, shops are very much packed together and supermarkets are aplenty, although they are smaller than the ones in Sydney. There are many upmarket shops, which might be good for those interested in designer brands and clothing, but … not my style unfortunately.

The weather is a little cooler, but that’s the way I like it. The food is excellent, with a large variety of restaurants and what seems to be a greater attention to the quality of food. Would I visit again? Quite possibly, although I probably would spend more time in the outer suburbs away from the CBD to see the more “quiet” life and do more commuting and sightseeing.

Goodbye Melbourne

Inevitably, as with every holiday and trip away from home, it had to end. I packed my bag that morning, and had a feeling that I was both glad to be going home so I could take some time and process everything I had “collected”, but also I would miss the quietness and tranquility that comes from being a solo traveller, or at least, being away from the family for a bit.

Before I departed, I realized that I had packed a little too much from the conference, and would be over the allocated baggage weight. Because Jetstar wants to charge AU$15/kg in excess baggage at the gate, I decided to spend about AU$17 for a 5kg postal satchel and dispatch that back home the day before I was to leave, so it would arrive the day after I had returned. As planned, just by “feeling” the weight, I crammed the satchel full and attempted to dispatch it down a red street posting box only to find it was so big it wouldn’t fit. I went back to the post office, where it weighed at 5.001kg, and they let it through (after all, how accurate are those scales anyway?).

After packing everything, and having just the electronics I could afford to carry in my backpack, the bags weighed 7.00kg and 16.74kg respectively, which was less than what I came with. Because there wasn’t anywhere to put my luggage, and the hotel sometimes has long check-out queues with no late check-out, I checked out at 9am and was on the road on my last day.

I had breakfast at the McDonalds down the road, and trammed off to Docklands Park where I compiled the Tram Catalogue in Part 8 – this is a selfie of me on top of the hill.

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Even though I was away from the uni, I wasn’t away from the work, and a minor misunderstanding led to frantic calls while observing trams to try and iron out the situation. I enjoyed being in a less trafficked place, a little quieter, enjoying the outside which I rarely do. I was quite content, but Melbourne weather was having none of it, so it decided to drizzle on me. After a few passing drizzles, I got bored, and headed back towards Flinders Street.

I had lunch at Lord of the Fries, where I was again, somewhat disappointed with the result. After that, I went into Flinders Street station to catch a train to Broadmeadows, essentially reversing the route I had taken to get into Melbourne.

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returning-to-airportWhen they said Melbourne Metro was mostly owned by MTR Corporation, I didn’t expect to find these large Dewhurst buttons on the lift. In fact, these appear to be the same model of buttons used on the MTR networks’ lifts. And similarly to those lifts, they are very very slow hydraulic units too. What a surprise.

I arrived at the airport over 4 hours before departure, so I had some time to kill. Exiting from the 901 bus, I was in the lower level of the carpark. I wondered just how utilized the carpark was – Sydney generally doesn’t have any free space in theirs …

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… in contrast, this Melbourne carpark is practically empty. I wanted to take a photo of the city from this top floor carpark level, but because of all the security and cameras, I decided not to. After all, I didn’t know if I could even recall the lift or open the sliding auto-doors to get back into the lift lobby, since it appears almost abandoned, but not quite.

Looking into the city, the sky was an even darker grey, with a rain shower just about to hit the city. It seemed to be my luck that I seem to be flying on relatively poor weather days.

Luckily, within the terminal, there was free Wi-Fi and I had a fully charged tablet to enjoy it with. A lot of Wikipedia reading on Melbourne’s public transport ensued along with a call to a colleague back in Sydney easily consumed the majority of the time until I could check my bags in.

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20160517-Jetstar-Baggage-ReceiptSurprisingly, at Melbourne T4, you may have already printed a boarding pass but you still have to visit the machines to print off a few boarding pass and a bag tag to do a self bag drop, rather than the assisted bag drop in Sydney.

Before I realized this, I had my own printed boarding pass in hand wondering why the bag drop machines wouldn’t read the barcode and accept my bag.

After I sorted that out, it was interesting to see the automated bag drop machines were equally as bad at reading the barcode off their printed passes, but at least, the bag was accepted with an impartial weighing. The issued receipt appears to be an image, printed out of its original aspect ratio, and a little fuzzy.

Having checked the bags in, I passed the security screening to go to get some food. I bumped into a random stranger, who spoke Cantonese as well, and had a chat with her. She apparently missed her flight earlier that morning, so had to wait until the evening to return home. The impetus for the conversation? A boarding pass that was on the floor near where I was sitting. Luckily I had spotted it and returned it to her before it went walkabouts, otherwise she would have probably had to wait for yet another flight.

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On the approach of boarding time, I decided to have a pit stop, where I … spotted this interesting label-graffiti. Seems like there are fans of VHS cassettes elsewhere too.

IMG_20160517_172737The budget T4 in Melbourne is a pretty odd place. It’s like a building at the end of a long tunnel. Prior to boarding time, the screens tell you to “Relax, boarding in x mins”.

Boarding passes and other documentation deliberately do not state any gate number. At the entrances to the gates, there’s a banner too that tells you that the gate number will be shown when it’s time to board, and that you should relax in the departure lounge.

But once boarding time arrives, the screens change to Boarding at Gate xx NOW!

When you see that, they literally do mean boarding right now, and it is a mad rush stampede down the long tunnel to the gate to make sure you don’t hold anyone up. The reason for this design? Well, there’s no real “lounge” at the gates themselves. This is a way to reduce duplication in seating and space needed to run the terminal. It’s both smart, and problematic – those with special needs (e.g. disability) appear to be late, having to make their way with a very small time window.

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By that time, the sun was setting for the evening, and I sat in the allocated seat, hoping for an on-time departure. As expected, there was a passenger mix-up with someone not making it to the plane and others in the wrong seat that led to a slight delay.

Luckily, this was a cheap flight, as Tuesday return flights tend to be cheaper, and the plane was not full. As a result, I managed to slip into the window seat just before take-off – normally unless you pay for allocated seats, you’d have no chance at a window seat because they’d “reserve” them pre-emptively for those who would pay for seat allocation after being told they have a “middle” seat.

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Because of that, and the seat pocket design, I managed to have my Garmin eTrex 10 in the seat pocket holder and received a good lock throughout the flight. The flight involved a few turns out of the airport, but was otherwise an uncomplicated and smooth flight, with no major weather impacts.

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On the approach into Sydney, there was the standard “snaking” approach, which got captured on the GPS log as well.

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Conclusion

It was a very worthwhile trip taken to Melbourne, primarily to present at OzWater’16, which also turned into a great opportunity to explore “our backyard” and appreciate some of what Melbourne had to offer, both as a “normal” tourist and a “nerdy engineer”. I definitely had a great time and I felt I made the most of my time there. In fact, what was sort of a holiday turned into some of the most productive time I’ve had in the past few months, solely because of the motivation to ensure I made the most of everything.

While this appears to be the last part, since I’m home after all, that’s not all. There’s one more part. This one’s a bit of a special posting, but it will take a little while to compile, so look out for it when it finally arrives.

About lui_gough

I’m a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!

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