Hope you're well.
Last time we wrote, we'd just arrived in Melbourne and were looking forward to spending over a week catching up with friends, exploring the city and enjoying a spot of tennis.
We were lucky enough to be put up for all of our time in Melbourne – with Gen and Eli in the city (Roland used to work with Eli), and in the countryside surrounding Melbourne with Sharon and Bryn who we'd climbed the Inca Trail with. It was great having a base, and staying put for a little while – and especially nice to be back in bricks and mortar after a few weeks of mostly camping.
Melbourne is a fab city – we absolutely loved it, and if it weren't so very far from home (and the Arsenal) it's the kind of place we could happily imagine living in. (Don't worry Mums, we're too old and we don't have worthwhile professions: the Aussies wouldn't let us in anyway...)
Of course, we probably saw Melbourne at pretty much its best, while the Australian Open Tennis was on. We'd bought tickets months before for a second round match, but the schedule doesn't get drawn up until much nearer the time. So we were delighted to learn the day before we went that we would be seeing Nadal (ranked number one in the world, or at least he was then...) and Clijsters (who went on to win the women's title).
I'd never been to a tennis match before – lots of sporting firsts for me on this trip, of a purely spectating nature of course. We had a brilliant day – it was amazing to watch the skill of the top ranked players, even if they did make rather short work of their opponents. We also enjoyed some of the smaller matches between lower ranked players – interesting to see up close see quite how much effort and passion is involved.
While we were in town, we got to sample many of Melbourne's excellent (some a little kooky) bars and restaurants, courtesy of socialites Gen and Eli, including some delicious Vietnamese food, with Chinese New Year celebrations including amazing fireworks going on around us.
We also went to two moonlight cinema nights – one in the beautiful botanic gardens (with fruit bats flying around) to see an Aussie pastiche of a Western (we think) and one with Sharon and co in their local town to see Black Swan, the highly recommended 'ballet thriller' (it's a new genre, fair to say). It's an excellent and novel way to do it, with deckchairs, picnics and the stars providing a pretty special backdrop to the silver screen.
We spent a relaxing couple of days with Sharon and her sons, who live in a gorgeous spot not far out of Melbourne, in the Dandenong hills CHECK. As well as lovely home-cooked food, we were very kindly treated to a meal at the restaurant where Bryn and Nye work. I think Rhys quite enjoyed having his younger brothers wait on him...
While we were out of the city, we got to see a bit of the local countryside with a bushwalk, complete with kookaburra spotting. We'd heard their bizarre monkey-like call previously but not been quite sure where it was coming from... And Rhys took us up the punishing '1000 steps' – a title I thought was an exaggeration but, turns out, they do exactly what they say on the tin. I relived my Inca Trail back-of-the-group days, huffing and puffing in the heat (couldn't even blame altitude this time!) but just about made it in one piece and at least I didn't have to call an ambulance as some poor lady did...
Our very social time in Melbourne continued when we met up with Carole and Roy, who had just started their tour of Australia and New Zealand. Lovely to see them, and they looked like they were having a whale of a time so far. We were also joined by Andy and Cherie, friends of Katy's who I know too, who moved to Melbourne a couple of years ago. A fun night and I'm pleased we were all able to cross paths so far from home!
We didn't do too much in terms of actual sightseeing in Melbourne, aside from a walking tour from our guidebook which was a really good way of getting a feel for the city. It's an attractive mix of older buildings alongside more modern, with plenty of green spaces and the Yarra River running through. It's a very cultural, vibrant city with loads going on and, while we loved polished Sydney, slightly more edgy Melbourne just pips it for us.
During our time there, we had dual cause for celebration as 26th January is not only Roland's birthday, but also Australia Day and they, like every blimmin' country in the world apart from England, get a national holiday. We had a fun time with Gen and Eli, playing cricket in the park, cooking shrimps on the barbie and adding a splash of Englishness with some Pimms to wash down the birthday cake. Nacho, their pug, made an excellent fielder, but had to be bribed with strawberries to give back the ball...
The slightly embarrassing cultural low-point of our time in Melbourne was a trip down memory lane - to Ramsey Street. Or, as it's in fact called, Pin Oak Court. This tiny cul de sac is where they film Neighbours several times a week, and magically make it look like a really long street. Wasn't quite sure whether to be impressed or not that Roland could identify Madge and Harold's and Mrs. Mangle's houses, about 20 years since either of us last watched the programme. Anyway, in our defence, it was (sort of) on the way back into the city from Sharon's. Not sure that's much of an excuse!
From Melbourne we waved good bye to our friends and hit the Great Ocean Road, which we'll post as a separate (much shorter!) entry.
Ta ta for now.
Lots of love
Helene and Roland xxx