Our first stop in Autralia would be Melbourne, as to beat the oncoming winter, we intended to travel North from here. The weather which greeted us was unsurprisingly similar to that of New Zealand, Melbourne being notorious for its ‘4 seasons in a day’.
We chose Melbourne for another reason: this is where our soon to become adoptive Australian family, lived. The parents of Steph (or ‘Stiiff’), who we had travelled with a few days in Mexico, kindly offered to have us over for as long as we needed. Steph was also very kind in greeting us in the CBD on the first day, we left our bags at her office and went to explore for the afternoon. We particularly enjoyed our pub lunch where we got our first taste of Victoria Bitter (Victoria being the Australian state with the most and best tasting beers on offer), and visiting the enormous State Library where we caught up on reading and current affairs.
That evening Steph drove us to her parent’s place (Monica and Roger), and we hit it off immediatly, spending a few hours at table enjoying the finner things in life: lively conversation, home-made dinner (Roger is quite the amateur chef!), and French cheese and liqueurs for dessert!
The first day was spent wallowing in the bliss of their clean, spacious, comfy home, located steps away from a wide sandy beach. We did our laundry (and I cleaned out tons of pepper from my backpack, which had spilt during the flight – long story!), watched TV, took a bath, worked on the blog: basically the kind of day a backpacker usually doesn’t see the likes of, until he/she stops travelling. We got to know Max and Penny, the small resident dogs: silly, playful and always up for a walk on the beach! That evening was similar to the previous, we got spoilt rotten!
The next day we mustered up just enough energy to set foot outside. We had a rendez-vous with a friend from Uni, but we never made it: she was in the middle of a stressful move and new baby arrival, and we were stuck in traffic after the train line was closed. Instead, we wandered around the CBD again, taking in Melbourne’s unusual feel: a mix of historic and modern, poor and well-off, gritty and polished, artsy and urban.
We took advantage of the free city-center tram line, walked along the river front, under geometric bridges and shiny skyscrapers, indulged in a jar of cocktail and tapas by the water, and ended up laying in the grass at the park, watching the skaters flaunt their moves.
We met up with Anita, Steph’s travel-buddy who we had also known in Mexico, the following day. She took us to Heallesville Wildlife Sanctuary which was, for us newbies, the best intro into the array of endemic fauna Australia has to offer. We didn’t know it at the time, but we would see many of these animals during our road-trip, in the wild this time. Our highlight had to be seeing a baby kangaroo’s legs sticking out of mama’s pouch! The bird show was also impressive.
We were close to Coldstream, home to Coldstream craft beer, so we headed there next for a long overdue gourmet burger and beer tasters. Thanks for babysitting us all day, Anita!
That evening Mon and Rog invited us to their favourite Thai restaurant, where our conversations were inspired by upcoming Asian destinations, Mon and Rog having travelled extensively in Thailand and in Indonesia for voluntary missions in healthcare.
We lazed around again the next day (Friday), leaving the comfort of our new home only to venture back into town to meet up with Steph and her boyfriend and a friend from work, at the pub for after-work (yes, our week had been exhausting too!). Steph and her boyfriend then took us to Chinatown, where we had to fight for a table at the cheapest restaurant in Melbourne! Fortunately our BYO beers kept us occupied in the long queue. Chinese food never disappoints: it was tasty and filling, the restaurant buzzing to the brim with noisy customers!
The next morning, after breakfast at a local cafe, we collected our Hippie camper-van. Mon and Rog kindly escorted us there and supervised the proceedings, as any adoptive parents would!
We drove with it into town (the busy Melbourne freeway not beeing the ideal location to get used to this big, old, stick-shift, left-handed combi!). We parked illegally in front of a train station (fortunately avoiding a parking ticket), and hopped onto one of the many packed trains headed for the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Here we met up with Steph and Anita, in the pouring rain, for a much anticipated match of ‘footy’ (Australian Football, or AFL). Anita was well-connected with a security guard on duty, who we chatted to later (failing to coherse her into drinking with us), so got us free seats in the Member’s area! The stadium is gigantic, much larger than a rubgy field, the goal posts and giant TV screen on either end, dominating the view. It was also full, and the crowd was on fire, which made a change from the quiet rugby match we attended in Dunedin, NZ.
Two local teams were playing, don’t ask me who or what the score was, or how the rules worked. I unfortunately was too slow finishing my 1/4-time pints at the bar (in the Member’s area you can’t return to your seat with the glass), so spent most of the game there, with Anita and Steph. Anita popped back to the seats every now and then to answer Renaud’s stream of questions. He really took to the game, drawing from his passion for rugby, as a fan and player, and appreciating the fervour of the crowd.
The game lasted forever, but before we knew it, it was over! We were transported by a stream of fans to the nearest sports bar, and enjoyed a few pints on the rooftop, in good company. Anita had to leave us so we said our goodbyes, and Steph took us out for Vietnamese Pho, to help get over our drunken munchies!
And so we said goodbye to Steph, and to her parents the next morning, ending our fun, relaxing stay in Melbourne, on a high note. Hopefully, see you in Europe next time, family! And thanks to Mon and Rog again for helping us pack and manoeuvre the van, and for their very thoughtful ‘goody box’ which would last us well into our road-trip!
Driving out of Melbourne we followed the coastline, stopping at a pier to watch some kite-surfers and take in a different view of the city-scape. We knew we were headed for the Great Ocean Road, but took a moment to get used to life on the road again.