An early start to get to the station in Melbourne, usual mode of transport my Uber was ordered. This time I was taking a detour to drop another AirBNB’er at the Domestic airport which was en route. Seemed to make sense as we both needed to leave at the same time. There were lots of roadworks around the station so I got dropped off in the wrong place and ended up having to pull my luggage up an escalator to get to the city departure point, I was initially in the local area platforms. I was travelling First class and my information said I had to be there half an hour before to check my luggage in. I couldn’t see any signage for luggage check in so asked a member of staff who kindly escorted me to the check in area. The rules were two bags max of 40kilos. I have by now got my 23 kilos more or less off pat, and my back pack is full. The way the rules were written it was a 20 kilo limit but you could have two bags up to 40 overall. So I thought I would be ok. Oh how wrong could I be. This is 23 kilos. It’s too heavy, well I have this other bag, No said Mr Grumpy you will have to take stuff out and put it in your other bag. I can’t do that I said, there is no room, well you can’t check it in and anyway it’s too late now! Oh so what am I supposed to do then. Take it on the train with you, it’s on the platform right behind you. Phew for one minute I thought I was either going to have to leave it behind and or cart it all the way back across the station to another platform. Thanks for your help I said, I obviously meant every word of that as you can imagine, miserable old man he was.
My carriage wasn’t too far away and there was floor space on the luggage rack so I was ok, didn’t have to lift it or anything. I found my seat which was a window seat, very comfortable with a lot of leg room. Good window for viewing the bush..... a lady came along and into the seat next to me, she was travelling to Yass junction. I asked her did she live there and she explained she had a property in Sydney and made frequent visits there, but lived in Yass. Within minutes of meeting the laughter started. We just hit it off straight away which made for an extremely entertaining first few hours of the journey, swapping life stories and hearing about life in Australia. The first thing I noticed was my ticket said departure was at 07:32. Her ticket said 07:42. I said am I on the right train, she assured me I was and said it usually is timed to leave if 32 so she didn’t understand why she had 42 on her ticket. It was all pretty immaterial because it didn’t leave until well after 8, so there would have been time to put my overweight bag in the train. I am not moaning, honestly. We finally set off and then they announced that the train was running with only one locomotive and they were trying to repair the rear locomotive as we were travelling. But it meant we couldn’t go as fast, and as we had missed out slot we were also having to give way to other trains which were on time! The next announcement made me think I was back in England, because of the high temperature outside the rails are too hot, so we will only be able to travel at a maximum of 90 kph. By now it was clear that we weren’t going very fast and 90 would have been an improvement. As the day wore on the reported delay in arrival time got longer. They were unable to fix the locomotive. They informed us that when we arrive at Albery they had put on a replacement bus service for us, oh and there would be a free bottle of water available to us all on the bus. I am not sure what they thought they were achieving with that massive gesture of good will, but everyone was just taking the mickey out of them for it. The train was supposed to arrive at Albury at 15:11 and arrived at 18:00, nearly three hours late by this time. I was very fortunate because all I had to do was get a taxi to my hotel, a lot of people had connections which they had already missed, and one lady was travelling with her 90 year old mother and was wondering how she was going to get two more trains and if they would even be running by the time we got there. We got the the place where we had to change to a bus, and they had different buses going to different route to cover the stops and try and improve on the time it would take. But the reality was it was four hours on the bus to get to Melbourne with one other stop for us. No one had any mobile battery left by now with no means to charge anything on the bus and it was almost impossible to help people work out if they would be able to get a connection for the next part of the journey or not with batteries running low and the signal was very poor as well. On the train they led us to believe that the bus journey would only two and a half hours but it was four hours. We arrived at 10 pm. I really felt for the lady with her 90 year old mother. She hadn’t been able to contact her husband to get him to collect her and needed to charge her phone before she could do anything. A complete nightmare for her.
My hotel wasn’t far and I was installed in my room within 20 minutes of leaving the bus, and crawled into my great big comfortable bed, in my air conditioned room. A delight after the heat of Sydney. Sleep came pretty quickly that night. The next morning I went down to breakfast quite late and it was a buffet style, I had been persuaded to order the night before when I checked in as it was cheaper that way. I wish I hadn’t bothered to be honest, nothing worse than half cold buffet breakfast. That was the last one I had of those.
I went to the local 7 /11 to get my travel card and got a few bits I needed, work out they lay of the land, find the tram stop. The area was quite nice and there was a wonderful view from my bedroom window of Albert Park and the Golf course adjacent to it, the park had a big lake in it, so that was going to be a walking objective for one day. There were quite a lot of restaurants and cafes on the road running parallel behind the road my hotel was on. The city centre was in easy reach too on the tram which also ran on the road behind me, St Kilda’s Road.
I had arranged to meet my friend Gilda from my Fiji trip the following day and I was expecting her to call me to finalise the when and where. I decided to have my usual quiet day after travelling and did something I had never done before, I coloured my own hair. Blimey what a mess that was. First of all I had just got the stupid plastic gloves that they provided on when Gilda rang me. The phone would not left me answer with the gloves on and in getting one off I stretched one of the fingers completely out of shape. So having called Gilda back, getting back to the job in hand I eventually had to cut the end of the finger off and pull it onto my finger separately. Needless to say it kept falling off, it must have been a real comedy watching me do this. Anyway I finally accomplished it after a fashion. Then I thought I would have a nice soak in the bath. Well apart from the fact bath was not really long enough for a soak, the plug didn’t really fit in the plug hole so I had to keep putting my foot on it keep the water in. I think you get the drift that this wasn’t turning out to be quite the relaxing day I had planned.
Anyway I watched some tv and had a room service dinner which was ok and an early night, Gilda was getting a lift in from her son and was going to be at the hotel at 7:30am.
So the next morning I was down stairs at the appointed time and there she was. We spent an hour or so sitting outside by the pool, and then went out to find some breakfast. I thought we would try one of the little cafes I had spotted the day before, and we had a lovely freshly cooked breakfast of eggs on toast and a great coffee. After this we went into the city and had decided we would go to the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. We got off the tram and went into the Arts centre to see if there was anything I could get tickets for whilst I was there. Yet again I was thwarted. There was nothing on, I was quite disappointed because I had seen an musical about Bobby Darrin advertised but it didn’t start until the day after I left. Oh well we thought we better get moving, and eventually found our way to the Art Gallery which was slightly off the beaten track, so we asked someone who was giving out information and we got a map too which helped.
When we got there it was an exhibition about the emancipation of women. It was brilliant. It wasn’t a very big gallery but there were some amazing pieces, including one which was made up of all the words from banners from a recent march about women’s rights, after the lovely Mr Trump was elected. I think this happened simultaneously all over the world. It is quite disturbing how little progress we have made in my life time even. I was discussing this with Becky when in Brisbane and I told her that I had been asked at work to talk about my career to some groups of women. It was a really interesting exercise to look back at my life and see my journey so far. Becky said she really wanted to read my story, so I have agreed to write it up and put it in here. Perhaps other women will write their story too. I have been quite shocked to hear that a lot of women in Australia are finding themselves homeless as a result of their marriages breaking down, they have been housewives and have no skills that they can take to the market place, have no money and end up sofa surfing at friends houses. This has come up in general conversation a number times and not only with women. I met a woman recently who is virtually homeless as a result of her marriage breakdown, so it is very real here. But is not something I am aware of in the same way in the U.K. but I could be completely wrong. This is a topic in its own right and something I do want to research more and write about later in my journey, both the physical journey and the journey into the rest of my life.
I do consider myself very fortunate at this point to be able to travel and take this journey of a lifetime, but it’s not just fortune, it has been years of hard work which was as a result of finding myself single again at the age of 28. I joke about it being 48 years of hard labour, but in reality it was a labour of love brought about by necessity.
Anyway back to the girls day out in Melbourne, one of the reasons Gilda and I hit it off is because we have both had to provide for our families and bring them up, those sorts of common basics in life make for a good friendship to build very quickly. We went next door for some lunch at the bar connected to the Malthouse Theatre and then we went back to the South Bank and had a wander down the river bank. The weather was beautiful and of course the bars were full of people having the Christmas drinks, everywhere was packed. We stopped somewhere for a coffee and then made our way back to the hotel and Gilda’s son came to pick her up. They were off to Brisbane the next day for Christmas so we said out goodbyes and promised to catch up in Lytham St Anne’s or somewhere more exotic next year. It seems that Gilda has the travel bug too and will be off again somewhere else soon after arrival home. I definitely understand that after being on the road for over three months at this point.
I had dinner in the hotel that night and was interrupted by a message from a friend asking if I was ok and then a call from my son. This was the day that the car drove into a tram stop in Melbourne. We had been very close to the incident and had left a few minutes before the stopped the trams so were completely oblivious. I did notice a lot of helicopter actitity but there are at least two helipads on the river bank and probably more elsewhere. We were same but many injured, it’s really difficult to understand why people take this action against their fellow man.
I took to going to the same cafe every morning for breakfast, and taking my iPad to write a little. They had good WiFi there which was more then could be said for the hotel. It was impossible to get anything published and I wasted half a day trying to upload photographs there and then everything hung and I had to use the hotel computer to sort it all out. I complained so they gave me the premium service free of charge. What a joke that was, no different at all. They still didn’t do anything about it. Blamed their supplier, that’s a familiar story for those of us who have worked in IT. Anyway I enjoyed my breakfast at the little cafe every morning. Except they closed from Christmas Eve onwards so I had to get supplies of yoghurt and blueberries in for breakfast in my room.
The next day I went on a cruise on the River Yarra it was just a one hour cruise and the first part was under three very low bridges, the captain couldn’t talk at the same time as go under these bridges and he had to blow his horn, not quite sure why! There was a good view of the architecture of the city from the river and I have to say again that I really liked the architecture particularly the use of colour on the tall buildings. Needless to say river living has become the place to be here as well and the premium for living on the river was very high. They took us right out to the harbour and we saw some of the huge contTiner boats and the way the automed cranes were filling them at a rediculously high speed. We also saw the tug boats which can not only move forwards and backwards but sideways too, unbeleivable.
I went to a restaurant on the south bank for some dinner that day and there were birds flying in and out all the time, one perched on a girder above me and pooed on my head. Please will someone tell me that is a lucky omen. It seems to be an ongoing hazard in both New Zealand and Australia, no one except me seems to bat an eyelid.
The following day I did the red bus, which had two routes the seaside route and around the city and for once I did not take lots of photographs. I have to say though I was very lazy and didn’t get off the bus at any time. I was still enjoying the coloured buildings and learned that some of the designs and colours have specific meanings in relation to the city’s history. The city does have a real buzz about it. We stopped at the market which is absolutely huge and extremely vibrant and I must admit I was tempted to go and have a look, but shopping when you are not buying anything is a little boring to say the least. There is also a little Italy and the driver was saying that the Italian food there is better then in Italy. There was quite a lot of one upmanship in Melbourne. Everything is bigger and better than Sydney in particular. There are two big concrete pillars on one of the river bridges, they don’t actually do anything but they represent the gateway to Melbourne, and the are 91 feet tall, one foot taller than the two stantions on the Albert Bridge in Sydney. I am sure you get the idea.
The next day was Christmas Eve and I went to the National Gallery of Victoria, it looks quite bleak from the outside a large grey oblong shaped building, but at the doorway there is a window with water running down it, and behind it something in green which looks like the water is running down it, but when you get inside it’s actually a seating area. Very clever. There is a picture of it in the bottom left hand corner of the gallery above. I very much enjoyed my visit there. There was an outside garden which had some lovely pieces in, includung bean bags and places for people to lol about. The Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama was exhibiting here, I had seen her work in Brisbane. Here her work was a room where people could place Poppies. There was some lovely costumes and furniture. I was particularly taken by a section on recycling computers to make office furniture and I loved a cabinet made out of old CPUs. I reached saturation point before I saw it all, I usually find this, I can only look at so much. So set off for the Gardens.
The gardens were across the road from the gallery and there were three different areas, the Kings Domain, the Shine of Remembrance and the Royal Botanical Gardens. I walked through the Kings Domain first and found some water to sit by. I saw a family of ducks. dad got out first followed by mum and then the babies and they went wandering off across the path. The Domain was very pretty I thought and I didn’t even realise I hadn’t yet made it to the Botanic gardens. There were lots of people arriving in preparation for the annual televised Carol concert which was taking place in the Domain. Before circumnavigating that I went to see the display which was a floral clock. I was taking photographs and noticed one plant which was the wrong colour.
I then walked towards the rehearsal area where lots of children were penned in with their parents in the baking heat, rather them than me I thought, and all the musicians were making there way into the area. Bypassing that I made my way into the Botanical Gardens, which were quite lovely. There was an area of water and I saw a punt but didn’t managed to catch it with my lens, in other words it took me too long to get my phone ready. Families were picnicking everywhere, it’s something I find again and again all these beautiful open spaces being used to the full by families and friends. Very heartening and a different way of life because of the weather.
I then made my way back to the road to get the tram back to the hotel, and found the Shrine of Remembrance on my way. I found a little enclosed space at the back and spent a few minutes in there, it was extremely peaceful and very beautiful in a simplistic way.
So finally it was Christmas Day, I planned to take it easy, I went for a long walk around the lake I could see from my bedroom window, it was a good 8 kilometres, people were barbecuing wearing their Christmas hats, groups of families and friends. It was lovely, and all the swans were black, they are so rare in England. They were all tagged as well. I spent the day watching Netflix and drinking wine, and talked to almost all my family in the evening. It was really nice to have a stress free Christmas Day, no cooking.... or cleaning up. But of course it heightens the feeling of being so far away.
The next day was Cricket at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Ashes, fourth test. Australia had already won the first three, and therefore the Ashes, but with two more tests to go England obviously had to work hard to save some face. I set off early as the gates opened at nine even though the Cricket didn’t start until 10:30. I think I have explained already that my Father was a big cricket fan, and my brothers are too, so I was there to represent them all. I found myself a seat next to an Australian gentleman, we had a lovely day together talking about the cricket and about life, I missed the first wicket, Australia were batting, but there were two more and England did well not to let them get too many runs in the first day. The Barmy Army were in full voice in the afternoon. Someone was trying to get a Mexican Wave going and every time it got to the Melbourne Cricket ground club stand it just died and everyone booed. At the end of the test it was a draw. We were quite high in the stand and protected from the sun for most of the day. But it started to get warm about 4:30 and my companion left first. He thanked me for a great day, hr actually said I made the day for him which was very nice of him I have to say. So clearly I fit into the cricket world! It got to about 5:30 and I could feel my face and knees burning. So time for me to go. It was great to be there on whatbin Australia is clearly a hugely important day in their calendar.
Next morning was an early start as I was flying to Adelaide, I had really enjoyed my time in Melbourne, a beautiful and vibrant city, I would definitely visit again. Bye Melbourne signing off now.