Friday 13th February – Melbourne arrival – Vicki
We are in Melbourne for Graham (Rich’s school friend) and Vicki’s (not me) wedding on Monday and are all staying in the same hotel. We arrived in the centre of Melbourne around 9am on Friday morning, and were just in time to catch the groom (wearing the world’s brightest shorts) before he headed out to check final arrangements with the venue.
Once we were free of bags, the first stop was breakfast, in a nice little cafe on the central shopping street, only a short tram ride from the hotel. One of the great things about Melbourne is that all of the trams in the CBD are free – you can just hop on and off, and you only pay if you go outside the CBD. It would be great if TFL did that in London, but I can’t see it happening somehow!
Refreshed and revived we then started exploring Melbourne, starting with a few of the shopping arcades, which are basically similar to the Burlington in London – snazzily decorated with lots of cute little shops and quirky features – one had a Gog and Magog clock…not entirely sure why, but there we go.
It was now getting pretty toasty and by the time we had wandered round the Queen Victoria Market, a huge fruit and / veg /deli / bit of everything market we were ready to find a pub. The pub we chose (or to be honest, the only one we could see) was part of a backpacker hostel, and wasn’t the nicest place. However, it did give us a chance to sit down and cool off and plan the rest of the day. [Rich: I thought it was fine and had some charm.] We opted for a picnic lunch from the market and sat in a lovely park, before catching a tram back to the hotel for a well deserved (and much needed) nap.
Waking up a couple of hours later, we were very confused….it appeared to be raining. Not just a few spots either but proper British torrential rain. This was not part of the plan – we came to Australia expecting sunshine and so hadn’t packed a brolly. However, not to be deterred, we joined the wedding party for dinner a few streets away. By the time we left the restaurant a few hours later, we had just about dried off and decided to head to a casino for a nightcap.
Australia’s casinos (as explained by Bill Bryson) are a huge deal. Just the one casino in Melbourne generates 15% of all of Victoria’s tax revenue. And heading in there, we could well believe it – it was huge! Bars, restaurants, hotels, all in one place. To be honest, the gambling seemed kind of secondary, most people seemed to be just there to have a drink – a very different atmosphere to other casinos we’ve been in (Macau, for example). There were also many different non-Casino options. The Crown is a $1billion entertainment complex with food options, a cinema, three hotels and much more. It is vast!
After one drink we were ready to hit the hay especially given the fact that we were due to be running at 8am the following morning….
Saturday 14th February – Albert Melbourne parkrun – Rich
It never rains at 9am on parkrunday. Especially being in Australia of course this must be doubly true and it wouldn’t rain on us. Well it didn’t rain at 9am on this Saturday either. Sadly parkrun here starts at 8am and it was raining. Although by the time the run started it was only a light drizzle and we finished in the dry. Sadly we chose to get to the parkrun on foot. This started ok as it wasn’t raining too hard. Halfway there we once again got torrential rain though so when we arrived we were soaked.
Despite the rain it was well worth the trip. The parkrun (Rich’s 146th parkrun and 64th different event and Vicki’s 124th at 56 events) is a lap around the lake in Albert park in the south of Melbourne. F1 fans will know this park as the site of the Australian GP. There were some bits of the GP course already setup but fortunately nothing in the way of the run. It was a hard run dodging puddles and what became a steamy heat part way round. Vicki did a good time of 24:28 which considering our wet run down then warmth later on, coming in as 4th lady was a great achievement. Rich also ran.
At the parkrun we chatted to a few people, mainly expat Brits. We weren’t the only visitors, we were mentioned at the start as visiting from Kingston however there were also visitors from Bushy Park. Strangely it was a lady we had met before as we have mutual running friends (Jenny & Andrew Melbourne – will the co-incidences ever end?). As we ran home after we passed by the designated breakfast cafe and were invited in by someone whose brother was from Surbiton. It really is a small world. parkrun followed by breakfast is always a great way to start your weekend even when on holiday.
After a break to refresh we headed out for the afternoon to explore some different Melbourne neighbourhoods. We found these to be varied and each distinctly charming. Fitzroy Gardens were a delight. Nearby to the MCG we saw a lot of people walking through these to head to the cricket (Aus vs Eng) however we gave that a miss. The Fitzroy area itself is a trendy area with a real hipster feel. Not necessarily our scene but good to wander and we found a really good pub for refreshment. Finally Lygon street is the Italian area where we settled in for a pizza and watched people pass us by.
Our evening was spent sitting on St Kilda pier. This is where the wedding would be in 2 days time. We went for a sneak peek due to the presence of penguins. While we went far too early and ended up sitting for quite a while we did get to watch the sunset over the city while we read our guidebook. Eventually we realised that penguins weren’t going to arrive on the beach in a hurry but we did get to see some sitting on the rocks waiting for their parents to return. Overall quite a while spent waiting unnecessarily but worth it to see the penguins.
We completed the day back in the city with a stroll though the Chinese New Year market on the Southbank. Tired out after another long day we returned headed to bed ready for another early start.
Sunday 15th February – Great Ocean Road – Vicki
Day 3 in Melbourne saw us up bright and early for a trip along the Great Ocean Road. We had considered hiring a car and doing it ourselves, but time constraints and the dodgy weather the previous day meant that we figured the best option was to let someone do the driving for us while we took it easy and admired the views.
At 6.45am we were sitting on a minibus on our way to pick up some other day trippers. Luckily as the first pickup we got the best seats, right behind the driver, whose name was Wookie (apparently he looks like the Star Wars character, I couldn’t see it though). The prime seats really made the trip as we could chat with Wookie and had a great view.
The aim of the day was to get to see the ‘12 apostles’. In truth there aren’t actually 12, and were named that just to get more people to visit them. Regardless of the number, in the end we enjoyed Lock Ard gorge just a few miles on from the aposltes a lot more. This was because it wasn’t so busy, and you could actually get down onto the beach rather than just standing at the top of the cliffs. At the apostles you had to shuffle round with a large crowd of day trippers who all arrived at the same time.
Rather than list all the sights, I’ll just set out a few thoughts:
1. Koalas are very cute (we saw three at a stop along the way), although like pandas, something of an evolutionary dead end.
2. The views from the road are amazing, although most of the main view points are crowded with tourists trying (and failing) to park their camper vans. (John and Lauren – we saw plenty of wicked vans, although none as bad as yours)
3. People, people everywhere – the main sites are ridiculously busy as many of the tour groups arrive at the same time as they are all following the same route. It would be good to be able to time it so you could actually spend some time looking at the views rather than just battling your way through the other tourists.
4. I dread to think how many photos get taken on the road each day. I know it is a bit rich of us to complain about people taking photos, but we really noticed the number of selfie sticks on this trip. One person in our group must of taken literally hundreds of selfies during the day, each one preceded by excessive preening, and each one with the exact same ‘selfie face’. The poor koalas that we went to see were also victims of this, with the telescopic handles of the sticks allowing extreme close-ups of their furry features.
Despite all of the people and the selfie-taking, it was a really good day. Wookie was a great guide (full of useless facts) and not having to drive meant that we could both relax and look at the scenery.
After a quick change at the hotel, we joined the groom and his family for dinner and another trip to the Casino and its sports bar. This time the bar was overrun with cricket fans, with India playing Pakistan. However, within seconds of India taking the required wicket, the place had emptied out, leaving just a few bemused drinkers finishing off their pints. Very strange.
Post naming – Rich
We weren’t originally sure what to call this post. Vicki was going to go with “Trams and penguins” but as I control the website I have changed this to “Manchester in the sun”. The reason for this is that Melbourne really reminds me of Manchester but with added sunshine. Maybe it is the trams, maybe it is the size of the city or maybe it is the atmosphere, I am not sure. In any case we both really like the city and agree it feels very familiar. Our first impression of Australia is that is is very like home but with some aspects of American added on the top. I am sure more impressions will follow.