Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Welcome to Down Under

G'day mate. Sweet as and fair dinkum!

In the morning Dad and I drove back to Queenstown early - I would fly out first, Dad later in the afternoon. We had agreed that Dad would be doing the canyon "shotgun" adventure ride in my absence, though I had a mild and surely unfounded suspicion that he would head to the pub. My domestic flight to Auckland was fine until we were near to landing, when we ran into fairly severe turbulence - in fact the most I've ever experienced. Not "people hitting the ceiling" turbulence, which is what I've always wanted to see, but we were being buffeted about quite badly.

Out of the plane into the fairly heavy rain that we had dodged so successfully round the South Island, though it eased slightly for the walk from the domestic to international channel. I was glad to be flying Business from Auckland to Melbourne as the queues were ridiculous for check-in, security, immigration - every step of the way. I wonder whether I would have made the flight without the dear old priority channel!

On the flight I sat next to a very nice English couple who had been over visiting their daughter, and so the flight passed by quickly. Filling out the arrival card, I wondered whether to lie on the "address in Australia" box, as I wasn't sure of Marc and Jess' address. Do I just put "a friend's house"? Sounds a bit lame! Do I put "Hilton, Melbourne" - this would contradict the fact that I've ticket the "visiting friends" box under 'purpose of visit'. The dilemmas that law-abiding types face! Reminds me of the other times in my life when I've felt incredibly guilty - crossing Hyde Park after hours as a student, and worse - pinching trolleys from Sainsburys Finchley Road then being spotted by a father with his young son, or the ultimate disgrace - I've crossed the road when there's a red man, in front of children. The shame of my hedonistic behaviour!

It wasn't me!

As it happens arrival was fairly painless, and even my dodgy Argentine tea didn't set off alarm bells, though all my Australian friends are incredulous as to how I got away with it! Marc and Jess were pleased I finally made it out, as I had told them my departure time from Auckland as my arrival time, and so even with the time difference they had been waiting a long time, fun at the best of times, but when you have a 7 year-old child, especially so. Marc drives us back to their house in Brunswick, a suburb of Melbourne. It's a quiet residential district, but not too far from the centre. And the temperature is perfect, although Merburnians apparently regard it as cold. I delight in the fact that Jess has picked up a slight Australian lilt! G'day, Sheila!

It was raining, apparently the first decent downpour for several years. Melbourne, and most of Australia, currently has quite severe water restrictions. Car washing is not allowed, watering lawns etc. The reservoirs around Melbourne have falled to twenty-something %, which is well down on what they ought to be at this time of year. However I read recently that domestic water usage only accounts for a small part of the total usage, 5% perhaps? So industry needs to be targeted, presumably agriculture primarily. I need my showers!

The flower show was on

First thing the next morning I am woken by a light sabre being shoved into my hand. I am evil apparently. Niran is Jedi. The battle is on! I have the duvet as an additional weapon, but eventually the battle is brought to premature close by me going for a shower (and locking the door). After breakfast, with fresh bread from the breadmaker (how much do I miss mine?!), we all drive into town, Niran, Jess and myself being dropped at Niran's smart looking Victorian red-brick school. His schoolmates are fairly cosmopolitan, one of the influencing factors for choosing it.

I wander down on my own to the CBD, the Central Business District, which is effectively the centre of Melbourne. It's a grid of roads which probably takes about 20 minutes to walk across, lined with mostly high-rise buildings. Shops and cafés line the main streets, although there are a few shopping centres and galleries too. I notice that there are lots of (independent) coffee shops. The first one I go into seems nice, though luckily I remembered as ordering that I haven't taken any money out since arriving in Australia - I am cashless! I apologise and say I'll be back, though of course I don't return. Too many alternatives!

After surfing the web for a while in a bookshop net café place, where the hippie guys behind the bar don't charge me because I'm using my laptop not their computers (spot the entrepreneurs there!), go to buy my Japan Rail Pass (you need to buy it in another country) from Jalpak, a Japanese travel agency up in one of the office towers. I provide all the usual details. Normally when I put my mobile down, I put my UK number, which my cousin Pippi currently is using. This time I put my own roaming mobile down, which is lucky as they forget to stamp my pass, and so called me back twenty minutes later. This would have been somewhat awkward to resolve in Japan I suspect!

Later I head back to the Melbourne Museum, which wasn't open when I passed it at 9:30am, to visit their Great Wall of China exhibition. $16 entry, which includes the whole museum. The exhibition is interesting. I hadn't realised that in fact there are several walls, each built by a different dynasty, the most famous being the Ming walls up in the mountains. The walls also enabled trade to flourish across the mystical Silk Route which interests me so much. Next grand trip may have to be a Silk Route journey. Watch this space :)

The gallery is trying to be as interactive as possible, which is in general irritating, but they do have a computer showing a live blog of an Australian couple travelling the length of the wall. I scan the blog, interested more in technique than content. It's well-written and has excellent photos. Not hosted on Blogger. Interesting. They update it with a sat-nav phone though, the jammy sods.

In the evening, I meet Marc and Jess down in the Docklands area. To get there I walked down past the modestly-sized Central Station - trains are not very exiting here - just a couple of lines - the large sporting arena of the Telestra dome and a rather bleak railway bridge, before arriving at the quayside. It's quiet, but is still early, about 6pm on a Friday night. Later when we leave the restaurant everywhere is bustling and packed. Bed-time for us then!


Swanky new places in Docklands

The Indian restaurant Bhoj , has won cheap eat awards for the past several years. It's a smart place, with big glass windows overlooking the harbour, and as Marc reserved the night before, we have a nice table with comfy chairs. They have an extremely spicy sauce for the popadoms which I tuck into. I have an unpronouncable chicken dish which is good. The waiters are attentive and the beer is okay. In fact, I haven't found Fosters yet, and none of the Aussies I've met on my travels have admitted to drinking it. Perhaps it's just a UK thing. There's certainly plenty of Victoria Bitter about, but we are in Victoria State so it's not entirely surprising.

Following day, we go to the beach at Brighton. This is one of the richest areas in Melbourne. Large detached houses with high walls and beach views line the pretty bay, as people kite-surf and windsurf off the next bay. Dozens of yachts are floating about further out, possibly racing. It's a very pleasant scene. A small wedding party take photos with the couple walking along the sand, with colourful beach huts behind.

Beachhuts with wedding photos happening

In the afternoon, we head to Queen Victoria Market, the large covered market in central Melbourne, selling vegetables and fruit, fish, meat, cheese and all sorts of other tat. After Marc and Jess buy what they need, we enjoy a nice coffee and cake and one of the smart cafés lining the market. I guess it could be compared to Borough Market in London, but this is bigger. It's refreshing to be in a market where people are yelling at you in English! I wonder if Lisa works here?

Later after dropping Jess off near her concert hall, we hit an Italian ice-cream parlour in Lygon Street, which is lined with restaurants and bars spilling out on to the pavement. I go for Green tea and Nutella flavours. We sat in the park across the street and enjoyed what was left of the ice-cream by the time we'd walked there. Then we went to a Japanese restaurant in the centre, where I enjoyed gyoza then a rather unpleasant beef ramen. Jess turns up just as we've all finished.

Jess is performing in the Melbourne Singers of Gospel choir this evening, in the NGV Centre. The choir is joined by the Gospel Bells, three female singers who usually do the pub circuit (sticky gospel they call it), and a famous ? black singer from the US. They perform a variety of gospel and rhythm and blues hits. The girl next to me asks me why the choir is not all black and wearing white gowns. Overall the evening is marvellous. The Gospel Bells are great, although I'm convinced one of the three singers, and their pianist are both men (the singer looking a bit like the thing that crawls out of the television in The Ring). The black singer has an incredible voice (how do black girls do this?!), and the choir is energetic! They have a few soloists, some of whom are very good (Go Cara) and some not quite so good (one reminded me of a BA air stewardess I once had - not a compliment).


Next day I head to the Australian Impressionist exhibition at the NGV Gallery. This details the movement in this area in the 1880s to capture the landscape of Australia, focussing on Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Charles Condor and others. Charles Condor's work appeals to me the most, as it is the least "pastoral" - much of the exhibition is slightly tedious, consisting of many landscape pictures etc. Their work focussed on Box Hill, Mentone and Heidelberg and followed their expeditions to Sydney (including the camp at Sirius Cove) and rural New South Wales. It examined the lively art world of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ in the 1880s, the influx of artists and entrepreneurs from all over the world, and the staging of the famous 9 x 5 Impression Exhibition of August 1889, which was slated by critics at the time.

As I toured the gallery, I thought how it would be lovely to set up an art colony, perhaps in Spain or Italy. If I could buy a ramshackle house somewhere very picturesque, I could live in poverty, painting and capturing life on canvas.

After the exhibition, I head to Chinatown to find Bubbly tea. I'd seen people before enjoying this drink but not managed to find it. This time I asked. Bubbly tea is a Chinese invention, I first tried it in Vancouver with Leo. It consists of some kind of (iced) tea, with, say two dozen small black chewy balls (semolina apparently) in the bottom of the tea. The tea always comes with a very wide straw which one uses to grab the "pearls" as well as the tea. I go for the Iced Green Pearl Tea variation, one of hundreds available. Next I carry on walking up to Lygon St, where I meet Marc and Jess, and go to Brunetti's, an Italian cake shop.

I choose the Nutella cheesecake with an iced-coffee with ice-cream. Naughty but nice etc.

Low-cal? Err, no thanks!

Someone chomps happily on their cake

Spider on the ceiling

Marc and Jess

In the evening, Marc and Jess host a birthday party for Jess, the highlight being raclette, a German grill where each person has a mini frying-pan which one fills with vegetables, meat and cheese, then place on the top of the special raclette grill to cook, then underneath the grill to brown. It's a good concept, except when the weather is hot already - having a large furnace in the middle of room is not especially welcome as the temperature soars.

Also in attendance are Selena and Peter, she being Marc and Niran's piano teacher, the young ladies Hua and Jessie, Marc's colleagues from his institute, and later Silke, a German colleague from the same place.

Later Marc makes his famous cocktails, tasty and with the alcohol completely hidden. We do battle with a small wood and string puzzle that Jessie has brought with her. It's the usual thing that if you're worked it out, it's obvious, otherwise extremely frustrating! Jessie is desperate to explain it or provide hints. Hua fidgets with it until she and Jessie leave. I bask in the glory of completing it with ease immediately (this time)!

Next day, time to head off. Cab to the airport, as going all the way into town then all the way out again on a bus doesn't really appeal, then check in. Rather chaotic, but quick, and soon I'm into the Qantas Club lounge, which must be the biggest lounge ever. It seems to me that there are more people in the lounge than out, and I generally get the impression that "Qantas Club" is rather too achievable. Awful for first-class types like me to have to slum it with what must be a couple of hundred people! :)

On the flight, I listen to From Our Correspondent. This is the name of a BBC radio show presented by Kate Adie. If you haven't heard it, it is an interesting and informative spoken collection of reports from the BBC overseas correspondents from all over the world, not necessarily news, but focussing on life in cultures so foreign to us in England. Front Row, Broadcasting House, Today Lead Interviews. Another potential job for me, eh? BBC Foreign Correspondent. How easy would it be to get a foot in the door? Where would I want to report from? Possibly Perth...


Anonymous said...

As I toured the gallery, I thought how it would be lovely to set up an art colony, perhaps in Spain or Italy. If I could buy a ramshackle house somewhere very picturesque, I could live in poverty, painting and capturing life on canvas.
You really are turning in to a hippy!! But the first class would have to go, along with all the gadgets, starbucks etc. I'm not sure I can really see it!!

R said...

Wonderful blog entry :)