I arrived in Melbourne to find my friends’ lovely Victorian home in the Eastern suburbs. I was to stay there and feed their cat during their absence. When I arrived there was no sign of the cat, but when I popped to the supermarket for some food, the cat was in the house on my return. After some initial distrust, and much plaintive miaowing, the cat decided a warm human was a good thing and settled in my lap, very much my new best friend.
The following morning I drove into central Melbourne to return the hire car I had driven all the way from Adelaide. It took a while to return the car, as it was busy. I mooched about the centre for a bit getting my bearings before finding Federation Square, a large public space on the river. I checked out nearby Hosier Lane, famous for its graffiti. It was a bit of a let down, being mainly tags and not street art, so there was not much that was witty or had anything to say. It turns out there is better street art in other parts of Melbourne. I popped in to the visitor centre at Fed Square, where I bought a Myki card, which is a transport card allowing one to ride on the trams. A very sweet volunteer showed me that I would need to get off my tram at stop 43. Is there an announcement of the stop number on the tram, I asked? No, she replied, but it is written on the stops. I was not convinced how helpful that would be, as it was about to get dark.
After having a wander around Fed Square, I braved the tram. It trundled along past some of Melbourne’s many and most distinguished sporting arenas until I had no idea where I was. I spent the next 40 minutes or so peering anxiously out the window, trying to read the signs by the side of the road. Two things made this a challenge. First, the stop numbers are rather small. Secondly, Melbourne is not big on street lighting. However, my eyes got accustomed to spotting the tiny numbers in the dark, and I only overshot my stop by one! Success! Note to public transport chiefs of Melbourne. Please announce the stops; it would meant I did not have to concentrate for the whole journey!
I slept badly that night. The cat woke me repeatedly by standing on my chest and butting my head. I think he was missing his family, so I forgave him and had a lie in the following morning, letting him lie on my lap for a bit of reassurance. When I set off to the city I was feeling sluggish so I walked for the first couple of miles to get myself moving. I went back to Fed Square and crossed the river for a walk along the bank, past the boathouses and towards the botanical gardens. It was a lovely walk, watching swallows swooping over the river, the odd crew rowing past and a beautiful black swan eating the grass. For once I deliberately went for the rear shot, as they have such pretty, frilly back ends.
The botanical gardens are beautiful. Directly across the river from the Rod Laver Arena and the MCG, they have views of these fine sporting venues. I promised myself I would not take loads of bird photos (there have been a few comments on my bird fancying) and then I immediately saw a wattlebird posing so beautifully it would have been rude not to oblige. After a very pleasant wander, I headed back past scores of early evening joggers to meet a friend for dinner. You can always tell when a park is nice, as all the other tourists in the botanical gardens smiled hello as they walked past. Either that or I had something in my face.
My friend Kathy took me to the vibrant suburb of Fitzroy, where we started proceedings at a bar with a couple of drinks at Naked for Satan, a lively tapas bar with a lovely rooftop terrace. Patio heaters kept us snug while we waited for her boyfriend to join us for dinner. We headed to the Vegie Bar for delicious vegetarian food once he was able to escape the office.
The next day I joined a tour group called Wild Wombat for a tour of the Yarra Valley. In the group were some Spanish honeymooners, a couple from the UK and the States who lived in Sydney, a father and son from Glasgow and a couple of nurses from Perth. I was the odd one out as I was the only one who was neither a teacher nor in a medical job! They were all very nice. We arrived at our first winery at 11 am. It was a French owned operation called Dominque Portet. The wines did not go down very well so early in the day, and I could feel the effects after tasting six wines, even though I only had a sip of each.
Next up was St Hubert. This one had the nicest wines. At noon we moved towards De Bortoli, where we had lunch. We ordered our food and then returned to the cellar for our third tasting. This one was very speedy, as we were rushed through each wine with the result that I do not remember any of them! A delicious and much needed lunch followed, accompanied by a glass of wine that was perhaps not quite as necessary. After lunch, the others went to sample desert wines but I decided to take some pictures of the scenery instead. Probably for the best!
On then to our fourth stop, which was a small winery, Graeme Miller Wines, where the owner took us through his wines. I confess that by then I could not face another sip and just played with his dog, a beautiful German Shorthaired Pointer.
I had recovered a bit by the last stop, another small winery owned by Italian Australians and former restauranteurs, the Corniolis. This was the most fun by far. Lucy, the owner, sat us all down before passing out wines to taste, together with some cheese and biscuits, all the while telling us stories. She made me pronounce her surname in my most English tones, as she likes the way it sounds. Her non-stop talking was very entertaining and endearing, and I felt a bit guilty that I did not buy any wine, but I was due to go straight out to dinner on returning to Melbourne and did not fancy carrying it around. I can recommend their Sangiovese, however.
I was a bit relieved when my friends called to reschedule dinner to the following night. Having been drinking steadily since 11 am, I was keen to head back to my borrowed home and warm up and sober up, as the Melbourne night was freezing. So cold, in fact, I ordered a pizza as I could not face popping out for dinner. I was grateful for my warm and clingy feline friend!
On my last day in Melbourne, I had to do some laundry, pack and clean my borrowed home. In the afternoon I joined a friend, Gareth, who took me to two trendy Melbourne bars. The first, the Croft, was down an alleyway decorated with bright street art in Chinatown. Inside, it is decorated like a funky chemistry lab. I told the young barman to make me a nice cocktail, since a G&T or glass of wine would not challenge his chemistry credentials. He made me something delicious with gin, apricot brandy and lime. We then moved on to Madame Brussels, a rooftop bar where all the unfortunate waitstaff dress in tennis gear, which must have been chilly, even if they did look cute! This place is decorated like an old-fashioned English garden terrace, with white wrought iron furniture and faded floral cushions. And hot pink fleece blankets if you cannot handle the Melbourne winter. The views were lovely and the cocktails very nice, if a little sickly sweet.
We joined Peta, a client I have enjoyed working with for years but never met, for dinner in Port Melbourne. We went to Corte, a trendy restaurant in an old courthouse (very apt for three lawyers) and had a lovely meal and a lot of red wine. Thanks Gareth and Peta, it was really good fun, and great to finally meet Peta. On the way out, there was a possum sitting in a tree, avidly watching something we could not see in the darkness. It is odd to see something which looks exotic to me, but is as common as a squirrel here (but nocturnal).
I got up before dawn to get ready to leave, and was at the airport by 7.45 am for my 9.00 flight to Cairns. Only my flight was at 1.00. Another fail for the travel agent, so I spent the morning hanging out at Melbourne Airport when I could have been having a lie-in followed by some leisurely packing. I did get some entertainment at the airport when I was asked to participate in a survey. She asked me a question to which I told her that I did not tend to have strong feelings about airports. This set up the next question perfectly. It went something like “if you were talking about Melbourne Airport to a friend and you gave it a rating out of 10, what rating would you give it?” The absurdity of this question gave us both a fit of giggles from which we took ages to recover. If anyone cares, I would say about a seven out of ten, because I managed to get the free wifi to work for me! There was one major irritant though – Virgin Australia insists on referring to its passengers as guests. Would you charge guests for a sandwich on a lunch time flight? It grated with every announcement.