We proudly present a post from guest bloggers, Iain and Tricia!
After 36 hours travelling, two and a half movies, cricked necks and four “bland” meals (we thought we had to choose one of the twenty spicy meal options listed or we would starve) we were met by an excited twenty-eight year old little girl waving her sign “Welcome to Australia Mummy and Daddy Young”. Instant feel good factor.
We had three days to recover before the tennis (honest, Georgi, you and Greg were the main attraction in Australia) so while Greg was out most of the day working to fund future travels Georgi’s task was to entertain us until Friday.
First order of business was to explain Australian driving rules, the Melbourne transport system and parking regulations. At least they drive on the left (good) but one or two idiosyncrasies when it comes to pedestrians, turning on green light and overtaking on the inside lane to avoid trams but in our whole stay I’m glad to report that no vehicles, wildlife or pedestrians were hurt in the making of this blog. Tricia and Georgi negotiated a good deal on the car hire, a something X-trail roomy enough for Greg in the back and all our luggage.
On Wednesday Georgi thought we should see Melbourne by bike. Georgi had her own machine, I had the loan of a friend’s and Trish was on a Boris bike courtesy of Transport for Melbourne. For a couple of hours we cruised around town, along the riverside, down to St Kilda, along the prom, stopping every half hour to re-register the Boris to keep within the free hire period until Georgi thought she should offer to swap machines with her mother. After two minutes on the built-like-a-tank Boris Trish was gratified to hear “you’ve really done very well on this thing, mum” as Georgi laboured ahead. What with the extra wide streets, no hills and the sunshine of the summer, cycling is definitely the way to see the city.
On our way to the Hertz office I had noticed a sign to Melbourne City Baths so after confirming the location and opening hours on the internet (6am – great), shown the family the route I proposed to take on the bicycle, assured them I would have my mobile phone and a home address label on my person, a la Paddington, I was granted permission to leave home for an early morning swim at 7am. Best time of the day, especially in summer when the sun shines, it’s warm enough to cycle in shirtsleeves and there is NO traffic on the road. The City Baths is an Edwardian brick building, beautifully restored and all glass over the four lane pool, in among all the high rise modern office blocks (the building opposite has a 40 foot climbing wall inside!). I asked at the desk if a senior discount was available and experienced the usual disappointment when the young lady did not ask for proof of age. Similar conflicted feelings the following day when we were about to join the long queues at the tennis to clear security as a helpful young lady immediately approached us and ushered us to the “old persons” gate where we got straight through.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday was Australian Open Tennis experience (no, no Georgi you really are the main attraction). In a word – terrific. Ground pass on Friday, Margaret Court Court, sorry Arena, Saturday and Rod Laver Arena Sunday. Warm but not too hot, mostly sunny, good crowds and not as rowdy as I’d expected. Bouchard had a support team of 12 groupies (boys naturally) with a well rehearsed repertoire of chants and songs. We saw Nadal (which pleased Tricia), endured Sharapova’s shrieking (actually not QUITE as bad in the well of the court as on TV but should still be zipped) and caught Navratilova in a Legends Women’s doubles. Highlight in the entertainment was Bahrami and Ivanisovic on opposite sides in a Legends Men’s doubles. Trish and I had recommended that G & G stay on in the evening to see the man Bahrami and his tricks and he did live up to our hype.
Monday we set off on our travels round Victoria in drizzle with overcast sky but the day brightened through the morning. I drove, Trish navigated (the safe option) and for the first four days all I can say is the windscreen was kept squeaky clean, to the amusement of the two Gs in the back seat. Why is it not mandatory that the indicator lever is on the left of the steering wheel, wipers on the right!?
We stopped off in the one horse town of Clunes for lunch.(“One of only 17 what in the world?” our guide quizzed us. Yes, a BOOK TOWN – 3 books for Iain, what a good start to a road trip!) Accommodation was a chalet in Ballarat for two nights, a little cramped but clean and the kids had the bunk beds On the plus side, we were right next door to the Eureka water park which advertised an Olympic outdoor pool, heated to 27 degrees which is a walk-in warm temperature and actually preferable to be under water than in the air. However, the walk to the changing room was freezing in the wind and the Australian summer was continuing to not live up to it’s billing. Olympic in Australia means 50m, not an American 25m, but once again I was the only one to take advantage of the facilities. Monday was Australia Day, their national holiday, so we thought there would be crowds out celebrating in town but no, we struggled to find even one restaurant open and ended up at a Vietnamese with the husband waiting, wife cooking and young baby being fed between courses it seemed. Couldn’t fault their work ethic.
Ballarat’s main claim to fame is the home of Democracy in Australia as a result of the Eureka Stockade incident in 1853 – Australia’s equivalent of the Boston Tea Party with gold substituted for the beverage. We didn’t visit the Eureka museum, which only opened in 2013 (seems a bit late in the day if you think it’s THAT important) but the principal tourist attraction of Ballarat is Sovereign Hill, a restored gold mining settlement. We spent the day there doing all the touristy stuff – a short underground tour, read the history bits, bought a candle snuffer at the spinning shop (spinning is metal work on a lathe in Australia. Don’t know if they have a special term for what you do with wool – turning, perhaps?), tried our hand at the Victorian version of ten pin bowling, very noisy on a crudely built alley and kids reset the skittles, lunch in a saloon/restaurant but the highlight was seeing a range of machines, imported from the States in the 1860’s, that produced all the separate parts for a traditional wagon wheel. The wheelwright’s demonstration was absolutely brilliant. They are still a commercial business with lots of restored wagons to maintain. Steam box for bending rims and shafts and a forge and fire pit to bind on the metal tyres.
Wednesday was a long drive via Bendigo to Echuca in the north of the state. We actually stayed over the state line outside Moama in New South Wales in a very comfortable lodge where we continued to follow the tennis in the evening on the giant flat screen accompanied by G’s speciality pizza dinner. In earlier times Echuca was very important as a port, well inland up the Murray river, and is famous for it’s restored fleet of paddle steamers. When this tour round Victoria was in the planning stages Trish and Georgi had really quite fancied a trip on the river in a genuine paddle steamer but as we approached the dock their disappointment (and relief that nothing had been pre-booked) was all too obvious. These are not the paddle steamers from Maverick and the Mississippi. No great paddles thrashing through the water, no court-size open deck with a promenade view of the riverbanks and certainly no downstairs saloon with dubious entertainments. These were much smaller boats, more like tugs, used to pull barges and much more utilitarian
So, not a great deal to recommend Echuca to these tourists except…….. Iain found another bookshop and came away with The Role of Science and Industry in Australia in the War of 1939-1945 – another gem for the library, Laurie!
Friday we headed down south to a campsite and chalet outside Healesville. I think this was advertised as a resort-type park with swimming pool (paddling pool size) and a pitch-and-putt golf course….. they had to be joking. We guessed where the tees were (found possibly 6 of the 7 advertised) and which hole to aim for on the green area was selected by a majority show of hands. What fun we had!
Georgi and Greg had joined Melbourne Zoo early on in their stay which also gave them entrance to a number of other parks in the State including Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary; hence our choice of destination. This is where we became properly acquainted with the weird and wonderful Australian fauna. Koala spotting in the trees, yes they are as cuddly as they look, but what a static lifestyle. It was feeding time and this was the first time Georgi had seen them move – very slowly. Tasmanian Devils – evil looking, wombats – adorable, wallabies – miniature kangaroos lazily hopping about but the star was Doris the platypus. Two charming lady keepers put on a presentation about the wildlife in the rivers and all the while this little platypus was swimming around her mummy keeper in the water tank having her furry tummy tickled. What a cute, peculiar beastie.
Although I had surprising success with bookshops on the tour Trish had not been so lucky with craft shops. Plenty listed but all closed for one reason or another until we struck lucky on a drive round the Healesville area. Just passing a tearoom at quarter to five in the afternoon, saw some quilts in the window and stopped in time to find IT WAS OPEN. So we had a cream tea and Trish could browse round some very nice quilting displays. We had a men’s semi-final of the tennis to watch in the evening so fish and chips from the local shop (no cod or haddock – blue grenadier, gummy shark and other exotic sounding species). Georgi booked us Saturday dinner in the restaurant on a winery estate, the best meal so far in Australia. There was a distinct lack of attractive eateries on our trip.
Our last three days we were guests of Pete (old uni friend of Iain’s) and Jane at Inverloch down on the coast south of Melbourne. We enjoyed comfortable accommodation and easy-going hosts. Bike ride into the village/town along the promenade – miles of beautiful white sandy beaches but the sea still pretty chilly, maybe next time for windsurfing in a wet suit – and Pete took Trish and I out for seven holes at his golf club. Maybe I’m nearly old enough to take up this game – I actually quite enjoyed the walk and took great satisfaction swinging the Big Bertha, almost in a straight line. Jane, meanwhile, was scouring the woods to replace the expected lost balls. I think we came out well ahead in the ball count!
In summary, the trip was a great success. Georgi and Greg were super company, with stories and accents for every occasion, Peter and Jane we hope to see later in the year to return their hospitality and we are both keen to return to Australia for a future tennis open (even if you are not in the country, Georgi) since we can BUY TICKETS as we desire (unlike Wimbledon). And we shall make sure we have much longer for the touring. The place is HUGE (GB 229,000 sq km, Victoria 237,000 sq km).