I’d planned for us to be in Melbourne for Xmas. Whilst flying over the Tasman sea it seemed like this was a mistake, given we knew no-one in Melbourne and loads of people in Sydney or back in Queenstown. Christmas is after all a very social occasion. Either way Kelly and I were going to enjoy it, this was our first Christmas alone, and in a hot country after all.
It didn’t start well, once we arrived I discovered my cash card had been randomly selected for security checks. No cash then. After a bit of a panic we managed to get on a Skybus and luckily the service included taking us straight to the hostel.
The hostel, excellently located by Fed Square, was a bit dire and pokey, not ideal for Xmas day but Ho-hum.
We explored around a bit by walking down to Fed Square and over the bridge in the blistering heat. This is a bit hotter than NZ I thought, a bit confused by the Merry Christmas sign on the bridge – my mind not associating summer with Crimbo.
We discovered happy hour down on the Southbank included Gin and discussed our Christmas plans – We’d beach it on the day and pack some kind of picnic. That got us both hungry so we wandered round in an effort to find some kind of gastronomic treat Melbourne was famed for.
Thus down the wonderfully graffitied and named AC/DC street we found Pastuco serving Peruvian ceviche food. Like Lightly smoked black kingfish, tartare de alpaca and wagyu beef. Mmmm.
My tastebuds needn’t wait very long to be used again. The next morning we had our breakfast on Fed Square. A scrumptious meal of salmon, Rosti potato and horseradish on a very hot morning washed down with Pimms.
It felt like a good day to wander round taking photos and walking across bridges. Then we saw a sign for river cruises down to the port of Melbourne and up to Herring island. We learnt a lot about the building of the bridges, history of the area and Melbourne in general. Whilst enjoying the ride and taking in the sun.
No tourist day in Melbs is complete without a visit to the Eureka Sky Tower for a view on high across Melbourne city. So we popped up there double quick and then down again to the Southbank for happy hour and a gin reward.
For dinner we journeyed to Madame Bruxelles – an amazing bar with a balcony view and risqué named cocktails like Ginger Minge.
Briefly down the road inside a Chinese shopping mall sat ShangDong MaMa, famed for its cheap eats. Unsure of the menu we ordered two noodle dishes and a comically large amount of dumplings (10 fish and 12 Melbourne – prawn, calamari etc). Which is excellent and dirt cheap for the quantity, so we took most of the dumplings home for the following day.
That morning after a brief visit to a supermarket to stock up our Xmas hamper, we walked to the Botanic Gardens. It’s another very hot and sunny day. The air is full of flies whilst we have a picnic by a lake. Apparently Melbourne is suffering from the wind carrying swarms of them from the sea.
Christmas Eve at the hostel seems strange. We get involved with the trivia quiz, but only get 2 out of 10 largely Melbourne based questions right. An awkward highlight being when we have to sing a national anthem. A group of lads had already bashed out God save the queen so Kelly and I decided to sing Wonder Wall to everyone, with most joining in.
Christmas Eve turned into Christmas Day so we Skype called Kelly’s family Oliver, Emily, Jo and Mya to wish them a good Xmas day from Oz. I expected Kelly to get emotional and upset that we weren’t home on Xmas day but we woke up early and the only semblance of Xmas emosh was when she got out a present for me. The other day while I was getting a haircut, Kelly wandered off and bought me a doggy eye mask. Unfortunately for her that was the only time we’d been alone for a month or two, and she’d taken my international currency credit card – so I couldn’t return the gesture.
Presents done though we set off for St Kilda beach, and got there at 11:30am. Kind of too early but we avoided the crowds, making us prime fly fodder.
As ever the first beer on Christmas Day is good, cold and crisp. We tuck into our lunch after an hour or so of sunning ourselves, a new experience but a good one on Xmas day. Lunch is a roast chicken, Doritos and other picnic grub, which is slightly warm by this point, but welcome. As the day gets hotter the flies get worse, the sparkling wine gives me heartburn and the lack of shade takes its toll, and once I reach peak angry-sweary Andi, Kelly concedes that it’s probably time to move on back to the hostel. As we head back to the tram stop we pass what seem like endless crowds of Christmas Day-ers, who have gradually filtered down to the beach. We left around 5, but later learn (via the news) that the party went onto late, and the beach was left trashed!
Back at the hostel it’s early Christmas morning in the UK, so we resume our Skype calls. Wishing Craig, Rianna, Mum, Ness, Iain and family a very merry day. Disappointingly England was a pleasant 16 degrees and not at all as Wintery as I’d hoped to avoid. Still watching those far away prepare for their traditional meals made me think what we were missing, but then I realised it was 35 degrees tomorrow and Christmas would be over. Plus we were heading to the Cricket!
The irony of that statement washed over me as we read that the first hour of cricket would be rained off in the morning. So we took the opportunity to get a big breakfast on way and then head to the famous MCG. Now I won’t pretend that I actually follow cricket nor believed that it could hold my interest for a whole day but it was a very impressive stadium. Albeit half full because the opposition were so poor. The Aussies love their cricket so having heard that the Boxing Day test was a big tradition, we had to partake.
I don’t think I’m overusing the letter ‘u’ when I say the game was duuuuuuuuuuuull. Australia batted first, we got their late so just missed the Windies getting David Warner (Australia’s best batter) out for 29 runs. It was poised to be a good match, so I thought, before Australia spent 4 hours slowly accumulating 300 runs without much resistance from the West Indian fielders.
They did serve beer however, but as it had become apparent Australia doesn’t like to serve its patrons beer with much alcohol. I can only assume they can’t handle their drink and therefore the state decided to nanny them in that respect. Not that I wanted to get drunk in the midday sun, just that I didn’t want to drink brown fizzy water whilst I watch sport.
First day of the test done, and it already seemed to be an Australian victory, so we headed home to call my Aunt and family for a final Xmas Skype.
A fresh morning heralded another day of tourism for us. Tramming it to Queen Victoria market, we walked the lines of bric-a-brac, fake premier league shirts, lots of different meats and interesting clothes.
There’s not loads of history in Australia, relatively speaking from an Englishman’s point of view, so we had to squeeze in a visit to Melbourne Gaol. Now the experience at the gaol was really interesting. When we were welcomed the prison guard lined us up and then a warden checked us in. A mixture of serious history and comical delivery. The men were separated from the ladies and asked to sit in dark cell (I’m assuming the ladies went through the same ordeal), after which a tour took us around the blocks. I felt the general experience was better than Alcatraz. For example death masks and background stories of those men and women who were held and executed in the gaol painted a fuller picture. Alcatraz may have the fame, but we left with little knowledge, and for all the hype surrounding Al Capone, Melbourne parried with Ned Kelly, who’s actual death mask drew all to the back hall of the cell block.
Lessons learned for the day it was time for a bit of fun before we had to dash back into town to meet Kelly’s book group friend Gemma. Luna park, a small theme park on St Kilda beach gave us the opportunity for a few roller coasters. The first being the scenic ride, a 108 year old, tame rollercoaster. I got moaned at for trying to film with my GoPro, but on reflection nothing happened on the ride anyway.
Next morning after an evening of drinks with Gemma and co, we left late for the National Gallery of Victoria. Inside Andy Warhol is on display but the queue is too long so we head to the free exhibitions upstairs. Now, being a massive geek, I came over all excited when we entered a room dedicated to an Oculus rift virtual reality art experience, loosely based on the book series Dune. Generally I was just excited for the Oculus rift 3D virtual reality part, but the actual experience was very immersive and gave me vertigo at certain parts including when I just seemed to be in white infinity. Weird.
Our final afternoon meant we needed to sample the local craft beers so we headed to Little Creatures brewery, which coincided with my 100th beer on the trip (according to my Untappd iPhone app). After which we headed to ChinChin, a restaurant with such a high reputation we had to queue outside. Luckily as we were happy to sit and eat at the bar, and as we were only two this queuing was for only 20 minutes (we were warned about an hour plus). Inside we partook of the ‘feed me’ menu where we we given a procession of 7 or 8 dishes that exemplified the Asian fusion menu. Simply a taste explosion and a gauntlet run against our waistbands.
Melbourne had been a cultural and culinary masterclass, not to mention the site of probably our one and only hot Christmas Day. Our next stop; Sydney promised a one-in-a-lifetime New Year celebration.