Next stop - Melbourne. We were immediately greeted by the most glorious weather. Beautiful blue skies and a gentle but warm breeze gave the Autumn days a magical and peaceful feel and the tree-lined streets displayed a golden hue as the leaves started to turn with the change in the seasons. Trams trundling past curbside coffee bars gave the city a real European feel and we spent a few very pleasant days just wandering around the city center.
We stayed a few kilometers south of the center in an area called St Kilda which was right on the ocean, in a small B&B called St Marina. A few minutes walk from us was the bustling Ackland Street, lined with numerous boutiques, bars, restaurants and East European pastry shops (Anci and Andrea were thrilled to say the least!) We had a great meal one evening at an Italian called Cicciolini's - we highly recommend it!
Apart from the usual shopping (Andrea was very happy to find a TARGET on Bourke Street!) we took the time to take in the views from the observation deck of Rialto Tower - at the time of building the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. We also visited the immigration museum - which was fantastic and again we highly recommend it!
It was particularly interesting for Andrea's mum. She was born in Hungary and escaped to Austria during the Revolution. Her family was scheduled to emigrate to Australia (Melbourne actually). At the last minute, her mother became ill and the doctor advised her not to make the long flight. Instead, they gave them tickets to go to America, as the flight was shorter. So for Anci, coming to Melbourne was a bit like going somewhere that fate almost led you. She also discovered one of the featured "immigrant stories" on the wall told of a Hungarian family who arrived in Melbourne two days before she arrived in America (which, by the way, is on Andrea's birthday - talk about strange!) So, she really enjoyed the experience for sure! After all of the culture, we stopped for ANOTHER coffee where a bird found it necessary to relieve itself on Anci - luckily it just missed her hair and just left her with a soiled jacket!!
The following day the three of us rented a car and headed out for a day of wine tasting amongst the many Yarra Valley wineries. Unfortunately for me, I was the designated driver and so had to carefully limit the number of glasses tasted! On the other hand, Andrea and Anci were free of such constraints and following our first stop at the Yering Farm Vineyard, both had to be fortified with a strong cup of coffee - It had been hard to resist trying each of their very tempting lineup and we left with a very nice Merlot as we headed for our next stop at the Yering Station vineyard. Again, a few tastings later we left with another couple of bottles and headed over to the restaurant at the hotel on site where we enjoyed a very pleasant lunch in a beautiful old conservatory.
Our penultimate destination was to the Chandon Vineyard, of Moet Chandon fame. Part of the LVMH luxury goods bohemoth - it was a manicured estate with over 1,000 acres of vines and was a far cry from the 30 acres owned by our first hosts of the day. Even the roses at the end of each row of vines had a use - in this case the colour of the indicated the grape variety grown there. "Luckily", we arrived for the final tour of the day - which turned out to be a guided tour. The usual tourist route through the winery but instead of being on your own, you were with a few coach loads of tourists all bussed specifically in for the 3pm tour! (read: NIGHTMARE!) The advantage was that instead of ready explanations and information from exhibits along the way, we had a guide read them out to you instead. You also had the "advantage" of a Q & A session. Some of the better ones included: Is the quality of the sparkling wine reflected by the height of the cork when opening the bottle, or is it rather the loudness of the pop? We quickly made our way through to the tasting area at the end. A couple of glasses of sparkling wine later, and another bottle on the back seat of the car, and we were off home. However, we couldn't resist one more stop on the way, at the small (only 3 acres) LirraLirra Vineyard. We were lucky to catch the husband and wife team as they were busy picking the end of year crop. Despite this they took the time to show us the processes involved in making their wine - and even let us help. A large of newly pressed juice and skins were being soaked to extract the colouring from the skins and the mixture needed to be stirred every few hours for a couple of days. Being there at the right time, we each had a go at breaking the crust of skins that had formed and stirring the mixture. And so, finally after another few tastings and the purchase of a very nice Pinot Noir (we were told the most difficult one to "get right") we were finally on our way back to Melbourne having enjoyed a fantastic day in picturesque surroundings. Another result of our trip has confirmed for Andrea that she would indeed like to have a small vineyard someday - something she has talked about for as long as I have known her.... might be a few years yet!
So with that, we are off to the Whitsundays for some Aussie beach time!