Gin & Tonics with Neil until the wee hours of the 20th didn’t make for an early morning for Julie and I.
At around (what I perceived was) 7am, we heard stirring throughout the house and decided we’d better not be impolite and sleep much later than our hosts, so I sat up, stretched, rubbed my eyes, and checked my phone for the time.
Holy eff it was 10:30am already, meaning we’d had more than enough sleep and should probably hit the road as we’d planned to drive the Great Ocean Road (henceforth ‘GOR’) for the next two days (a much condensed version than that recommended by most of the websites we came across who recommended a 4-day itinerary), but not before Davey could make us a pot of coffee and Jesse and Neil could seemingly effortlessly put a grand feast on the table for brunch (bacon, eggs, toast, pan fried tomatoes & mushrooms, and a monstrous fruit salad).
This we shared in the shade of their back yard patio, surrounded by a garden overflowing with all the accoutrements (limes!) that would be expected from someone who knows the climes and also built a chicken coop for 3 resident bantam hens.
After a couple hours of delightful conversation that touched on everything from family memories to ornithology (who knew that male ducks [drakes] are small-dog-rapists? I sure didn’t…), we released Neil and Jesse of their hostal (? yes I make up words) duties and got underway, heading south west from Melbourne towards Geelong and the anticipated splendour of the GOR.
Aussies still drive on the left, but thankfully the car we hired here had English controls on the console so I was able to set the clock and operate the radio comfortably, and we blasted some Oz top 40 (?) to keep us occupied on this very boring segment of what would turn out to be a somewhat anti-climactic adventure.
We’d been recommended the GOR by anyone and everyone we’d talked to about Australia, and expectations were high, so I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the majority of the drive was somewhat mediocre, and it definitely didn’t help that we’d just arrived from a 14 day road trip around 2 of the most beautiful islands on the planet (NZ = road trip paradise; spectacular scenery around each and every corner).
Don’t get me wrong: there were many vistas along the road that were quite incredible
and it was a fun drive, but the road quality was sub-par for such a well publicized tourist route, and the really spectacular views were few and far between.
It also isn’t 100% fair to judge the trip solely on views alone, as there are many roadside ‘attractions’ that are part and parcel to the reason why the GOR is a world renowned destination, and the fact that we slept in and spent so long being pampered in Melbourne meant we only had time to stop at a couple of them along the way: Apollo Bay for lunch, and the 12 Apostles (of which only 5 or 6 are still standing…) for a standard tourist photo shoot
before we reached our destination for the night: Port Fairy.
By the time we got checked into our hostel, it was past 9:30pm (we were lucky that reception even stayed open that late for us, otherwise we’d have been stuck sleeping in the very small back seat of our Hyundai i20), and in the dark, with a combination of hearing millions of birds roosting in the nearby trees and the small-town-previous-century feel of the hostel and surrounding buildings, we decided to stay in for the night rather than provoking our fears of a Hitchcockian Birds-esqe horror movie reenactment.
The next morning we realized that our fears were unfounded, as the town turned out to be quaint and bustling rather than small and murderous, and a long black from a main st. cafe set the tone for a nice visit to the local fixture: a walk through a nature sanctuary to the famous Port Fairy lighthouse where we encountered our first marsupials up close!
Black wallabies (which we mistakenly thought were kangaroos at first… ‘gah, tourists’ right? ) are super cute, and although getting up close in the wild to a couple of them was a fantastic treat,
we were in for another even bigger wildlife experience when we dropped by the Tower Hill Scenic Reserve on the way out of town for a nature walk.
We got to see a bunch of emus, not only strutting around the picnic area looking for a handout, but also milling about in the bush along the walking trail (such that I almost had a heart attack when Julie pointed them out… They are really effin big!!!)
where we were also lucky enough to discover a koala bear 2.5m up a tree next to the path (omg was it ever sloth like, but so fuzzy and adorable that if it weren’t for the 4-5cm long talons [claws?] and the fact that it’s quite inappropriate to disturb wildlife in it’s natural habitat, I’d have tiptoed up and grabbed the fur ball for a giant squeeze.
After leaving the reserve, it was a relatively quick and arrow-straight trip back to Melbourne via the A1 then M1, which is the route we decided on after nixing our plan to take the scenic drive straight north to Halls Gap (also part of a suggested GOR itinerary) then south east back to Melbourne, a ‘detour’ that would have taken another 8 hours driving (and consumed a lot of expensive fuel…) and that we were convinced would be as anticlimactic as the rest of it.
This is probably not the best way of considering the whole excursion, and we might not have seen the wildlife we did had we not undertaken it in the first place, but the truth is we also wanted to see Melbourne, because we’d heard from most people that it was a very nice city, and we were unfortunately tired of driving after our NZ trip.
Very much looking forward to staying in one place for more than 1 night, we drove into the city to look for our hostel, and immediately realized that the rules of the road in Melbourne were a little different than anywhere else we’d been.
For starters, in the city limits, on multiple-lane roads shared with trams (and possibly other roads too, but we mainly noticed it on the ones with tram [streetcar] right of ways), and recalling that Aussies drive on the left, you queue in the far left lane to turn right…
We’d been warned about this by Greg on the flight over from Sydney, but I think the ridiculousness of the concept never allowed the logistics to sink in, so that when I was first confronted with navigating such a counter-intuitive intersection, there was a huge internal struggle within my head that one might liken to a seg fault in computer programming (In 80’s robot voice: *Does not compute. Does not compute.*) and that almost concluded with me driving into a pole.
Ok, I jest.
I actually took it pretty calmly, and after doing it a couple times and realizing that the implementation was quite effective, was able to appreciate the genius of this strategy of keeping the traffic flowing in a busy downtown core (Toronto could take a lesson or two here, if only people could learn how to drive in the first place;).
We made a quick stop to pick up groceries, headed to the hostel to check in, then drove Betsy (I name all my cars Betsy) back to the airport location to avoid one-way rental charges.
Unfortunately, then we had to take the airport shuttle back into the city to get back to our hostel, which cost us 28$ each for a return ticket so we could get out next flight on the 24th.
But that was still a few days in the future, and I have many more adventures in Melbourne to tell you about before we get to that.
A salad craving while at the supermarket earlier prompted us to buy avocado, arugula, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, and balsamic vinaigrette, so we gorged on that then retired to our 4 bed dorm for the night as I had to get up super early (6:30am :p) for an overseas conference call via Skype with my condo Board for our monthly meeting (Julie and I are renting our condo out while we are travelling, but as Vice President of the Board of Directors, I feel compelled to stay involved as much as possible not only to protect our investment but also to live up to the 3 year commitment I made my constituents when elected in 2011).
*a good nights sleep, said meeting, then nice nap ensues here*
After my nice nap, we walked into the legal district to meet up with Neil and Jesse near their office for lunch.
Holy suits batman!
We were at this point getting quite used to our comfortable travel attire (t-shirt/shorts/runners/daypack combo), so charging full throttle into the den of suits was an all-too-familiar reminder of the downtown city life we left at home in Toronto, especially since we were to be shoulder to shoulder lunching with two newly-minted suits.
Needless to say, it was a bit of a shock, but in a completely good and slightly hilarious way, in that we kept internally patting ourselves on the back for managing to find a way to escape the drudgery of the rat race for a year of travelling.
Neil and Jesse were kind, and instead of a wallet lightening legal power lunch they shared a tucked away little Korean spot with us, after which we dropped in to a standing-only ‘coffee shop’ (I use the term loosely because it was the most incredibly tiny hole in the wall-yet stunningly beautiful mashup of cafe/stiff drink/cocktail establishments I’ve ever seen, and it was pure class and super old school yet money, business and rich-hipster all at the same time) for a properly made espresso to keep the wheels going.
They pointed us in the direction of some more of the cities’ delights and returned to their respective grinds, at which point we went on a grand walking tour of the south end of the city,
through the Royal Botanical Gardens (lots of turtles in the central pond), and past a big monument
Dinner was the most gourmet affair we’d gotten up to yet, with another healthy dose of salad paving the way for home-made garlic cheese bread and pasta with gourmet sauce that featured freshly BBQ’d italian sausages.
The next morning we tried our luck at the highly recommended Victoria Market, a feat we’d attempted the previous two days as well, only to find that it was closed on Wednesdays (if we’d bothered to do our research, we’d have been able to find a time that worked), so instead we set off on another crosstown trek to check out the Brunswick St. area (another N & J suggestion).
After a nice walk and stumbling across the expo buildings, we arrived at Brunswick St, where the hipsters started coming out of the woodwork, and the numerous ‘trendy’ cafes, art shops/galleries, record stores, vintage clothing stores, and other hipster-friendly-establishments (read: ironically ghetto) betrayed us as foreigner tourists who were out of their element.
Not to say we didn’t stop for an extremely well prepared espresso (and some fancy 5$ iced tea drink for Julie) and quite enjoy our chosen area of exploration, but it was definitely off the tourist-beaten path, and we soon set our sights on walking around the University of Melbourne campus where we felt strangely like we fit in better.
This was actually a full day excursion, and after dropping by our hostel for a nice dinner of leftovers (and a 40 of Coopers Ale to wash it down for me), I dressed up in my ‘Sunday best’ (black jeans and a t-shirt) and hustled back downtown to meet Neil for a farewell bar hop.
For those of you who don’t know Neil, he is a childhood friend who I only ever got to see during the summers growing up in Deep River, and we never really kept in touch much as adults unless we happened to be in the same city for whatever reason (which was itself very rare… I probably only got to see him 3 or 4 times in 6 or 7 years…), so for me to spend 3 days in his adopted home city (he was originally from Ottawa) was very nice, and for him to take so much time out of his busy lawyering life to show me/us around and look after us was a treat in the extreme.
In other words, Neil is awesome, and the fact that he was taking me out to see his town made me very happy.
Ok, enough testing his modesty.
We started out at the completely-hidden-from-the-street-yet-extremely-well-patronized-and-obviously-popular rooftop patio of Madame Brussels, where we shared a pitcher of Russian iced tea (?) and spent an hour shooting the proverbial $hit and playing relationship catchup as neither of our significant others were in attendance (Jesse being at work, and Julie taking it easy and fending off a cold at our hostel).
This was followed by a pint on yet another rooftop patio (also one I never would have found without expert guidance) at The Palms at The Carlton Club, where I immediately ‘befriended’ the barkeep by spilling a good finger of my drink all over our table then asking for a napkin.
By this point we’d managed to catch up on most of our adulthood (sad? Nahhhh just reality… Not much happens between childhood and adulthood besides going to school and getting a job if you are on the typical capitalist-society-driven 10-point plan to success: be born [into opportunity], do well in school, get good job, find gal [guy], get married, have kids, get nanny/xbox to raise kids, make sure kids do steps 1 through 5, retire, enjoy life, die), and were on to just enjoying the beautiful evening presented to us by a beautiful city.
Next stop: The Toff, for a luxurious indoor barscape that I wish I could afford on a regular basis, and where we swapped more recent stories and chilled right out until 9, when Jesse finished work and was to meet us downstairs at Cookie, a trendy fusion resto/bar/longe/club for dinner.
We did dinner tapas-style, the three of us picking and choosing from each others selections of pan-Asian cuisine and chit-chatting about various goings-on in each others lives.
This entire evening was very enjoyable for me, especially since I didn’t have to get up for work the next morning (sorry Neil & Jess, I’m not trying to rub it in I swear;), and the cab ride home on Jesses chit didn’t hurt either, as walking home alone in my state in a still-foreign city probably wouldn’t have been in my best interests.
Unfortunately, goodbyes from the front seat of the cab to the back contained less fireworks than might be expected from friends who might not see each other for another year or more, and we parted ways when I jumped out at my hostel having to make do with a stretched semi-hug-handshake to end our visit.
I promptly passed out, and spent the night fitfully dreaming of having a job and being able to afford a life of fancy food and rooftop pats again.
Checkout the next morning was at 10am, but I wasn’t about to get out of bed until 9:30, which left frightfully little time for me to pack up my years-worth of belongings and get out of the room, so Julie took pity on me and checked us out while I was still slowly getting moving.
Breakfast consisted of more pasta leftovers which we insisted on finishing since we couldn’t bring it with us (enviro-quarantines and what not…), and then we hung around wishing for free wifi while waiting for our shuttle back to the airport at noon.
The Tiger Airways departure terminal (terminal 4) at the Melbourne Airport turned out to be only incrementally more functional (read: still super crappy) than the arrivals
shed terminal, and after going through our now routine bag-sticking-together-to-avoid-checked-baggage-fees motions, getting through the relatively lax domestic security, and bogarting the lousy free airport wifi, we were in the air on the way to our first real vacation: staying 10 days with my Uncle Pierre and Aunt Tammy in Mandurah, WA.