Understanding the hype
25.02.2013 - 14.03.2013 37 °C
Landing in Melbourne after a 2.5 hour flight from Brisbane, the weather seemed significantly better. I travelled to Beth's house where I'd be staying for the next few nights. Just a block away from the beach Beth's house was adorable, a quaint old style one floor terrace with wood floors throughout and a little back yard. In the evening Beth generously treated me to a meal out in St. Kilda, an area a little way a way from where she lived that was packed with amazing looking patisseries. That night I enjoyed a comfy double bed to myself and made the most of sleeping in a room that didn't have several other people sharing it. It was actually nice to be in proper home again.
I woke up to heavy rain. When I'd initially looked at the weather forecast, it had predicted sun and I'd planned to spend the day at the beach. It seemed that instead of escaping the rain that had plagued my time in New South Wales and Queensland, I'd brought it with me down to Victoria as well. So I spent a lazy morning waiting for the rain to ease up slightly, watching Australian daytime TV with Marnie the cat lying on my stomach. In the late morning the rain stopped being torrential and so I put on shorts and my raincoat and went for a long walk along the seafront. After marching a long way in the drizzle, by the time I turned around it was sunny and I was too hot in my jacket. I began to see what people meant when they claimed that Melbourne experienced four seasons in one day. When I later left the house to meet Beth in the evening, the temperature had reached such a high that I could have happily lay on the beach in a bikini. It was nice in a way to know that however shitty the weather was in the morning, there was a high chance of improvement by that afternoon. But at the same time the dressing and packing logistics that would go into planning a day that could require both Wellington boots and factor fifty sun cream were mind-boggling and I was surprised that Melbournians weren't all trundling round with small wheely suitcases containing various seasonal outfits.
After a brief walk through the CBD (central business district apparently), I met Beth from work (grateful for her willingness to be an entertaining hostess even on a Tuesday night) and we went for a drink at a rooftop bar before eating Vietnamese Pho.
The next morning the weather was, at least for the time being, looking positive so I rode the tram into town for the Melbourne 'free walking tour'. Again I found it difficult not to be overly critical of other guides and Ellen wasn't the best of story tellers. She was however quite sweet and friendly and, given that my level of knowledge about the city began at zero, I was a relatively easy audience to impress.
After a couple of days, I left the comfort of Beth's house for a week of walking and early starts in Tasmania. Upon returning, I spent one last night at Beth's before relocating further out of town, but fortunately still by the beach, to a different friends place. When Dave had lived in London's Clapham he'd frequently taken advantage of my much more central residence and it seemed only fair that he now pay the favour of accommodation.
Having just quit his job Dave was an ideal host with plenty of time on his hands. He picked me up from Beth's and we drove westwards along the circular bay that surrounds Melbourne. We hadn't seen each other in around four years but had kept in touch thanks to social media and thankfully initial conversation came relatively easily. We stopped for iced coffee and at a winery before continuing to a couple of beaches. As we waded into the water at a calm beach south of the city, I noted that Dave had changed little in the four years since I'd last seen him; having once attempted to eat a kebab in my bed, he was now eating a pork pie in his 'swimmers' whilst waist deep in the ocean.
I stayed at his place for six nights and, whilst initially we'd had plenty to catch up on, thanks to his newly unemployed status, or actually 'between jobs', being together 24/7 was a new experience for us and there were a few awkward silences over the next few days as we visited the beach near his house (I was developing a serious case of life envy and made a mental note to live by a beach one day too!), went out for brunches and sampled iced coffees around the city.
On the second day, a Saturday, we went out drinking with Lexie, an ex-colleague of mine who, having also left recruitment, was spending a year in Australia. We'd not been close in London however seeing her in Melbourne was lovely; there was a lot to catch up on and an evening of heavy drinking, guided by Dave around several bars, ensued.
I woke up the following morning with a stinking hangover and in no fit state for the day's planned activity: a thirty three kilometre bike ride around the city on Dave's rickety (broken peddled and two geared) bicycle. It was scorching hot and, whilst he whizzed ahead on his fancy road bike, I trundled slowly along behind struggling in the hot weather with a headache and an empty, hungover stomach. By the time we went for an evening swim and beach beer, I was only just beginning to recover.
It was a long weekend in Melbourne (labour day apparently) meaning that on Monday, we unemployed were not the only ones with a day to ourselves. I went for a morning run along the beach from Dave's, passing Brighton Beach with brightly coloured beach huts before throwing myself in the sea to cool off; Melbourne was experiencing an unprecedented autumn heat wave and the temperature had already reached the low thirties. We ate more brunch and spent the afternoon in St. Kilda, unsuccessfully penguin spotting (however a did see hundreds of gigantic (apparently non-stinging) jellyfish with fat white tentacles floating in the deep water at the end of the pier) and eating Mexican food. We then headed in to town to a free 'festival' along the river Yarra where we watched a waterski jump competition, listened to a band and watched a fireworks display before having a few beers and reminiscing about our London tour guide days at a bar under a footbridge in the middle of the river.
The next day, feeling that Dave was struggling to keep me entertained and wanting to give him some alone time, I woke up after less than five hours sleep at 5.30 am and made my way with the early commuters to the city for a day tour along the Great Ocean Road. Being a little sea-obsessed, especially since being in Aus, I was always going to enjoy the trip and, despite the sweltering thirty-seven degree temperatures making us unwilling to leave the air-conditioned comfort of the minibus, I was so glad I'd chosen do take the trip. We stopped at several beautiful places along the way including small touristy towns, surfers beaches and the stunning coast at the twelve apostles where we cooled off in the water at a small bay. It was gone six by the time we turned around and began the long journey back to Melbourne and it was after ten by the time I arrived, exhausted, back at Dave's.
The next day we wandered through a different area of town and the botanical gardens and as we walked through the city Melbourne began to remind me more and more of London and, much as I liked the city, for the first time, I knew I was a little homesick.
We met Beth from work for drinks - I knew Beth from guiding in Berlin and Dave from guiding in London but, strangely, Dave had once taken Beth's tour of Berlin and they'd met again when both studying law at the same university back in Melbourne. I then met Lexie and her travel-buddy for (a lot of) wine and dinner.
My last day in Melbourne was spent having lunch with Beth, visiting the Aquarium (I like looking at fish much more when they're not in the sea with me!) and the immigration museum as well as having a drink with Lexie before we met Dave for Indian food.
There were a lot of goodbyes that day, made more difficult by the fact I felt slightly emotional and hungover. As I said goodbye to Beth I knew that we'd see each other again and hoped that it would be as easy as it had been the last couple of times I'd seen her - it was a goodbye but certainly not a goodbye forever. In Lexie I hoped I'd made a new good friend; we'd never been close in London but now, perhaps minus the office dynamics, I couldn't help but like her.
Back at Dave's we lay together on the floor of his living room before he walked me to the station. As the train arrived, he kissed me and left, looking back as he went. I didn't know what to feel, in fact I thought I'd feel more than I did. But it was just that. Another goodbye with another friend from the other side of the world and there was no reason for it to be anything else.
And that was Australia. I'd been there thirty-one days, almost as long as I'd been in India. I'd had a great time, met old friends and new, met koalas, wombats and kangaroos, climbed mountains and surfed in the sea, enduring both incessant rain and scorching temperatures and thoroughly enjoyed myself. But, having been bombarded with so many reminders of home, as I (not) slept on a bench at the airport before my flight to NZ, I couldn't help but think about going home.