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MELBOURNE: 24th to 30th December

24th December

We left New Zealand through Wellington Airport just around lunch time on Christmas Eve. After the customary security checks on the house, we went on a hurried walk with our bags the kilometre or so to the Stagecoach Flyer bus stop. The Flyer took us all the way through to Wellington Airport.

An uneventful journey on Air New Zealand followed. The last half hour or so of the flight was over Australia and we could clearly see the billowing smoke and scorched earth from the ongoing bush fires.

Arrival and processing at Melbourne was fast and added interest was provided by the customs corridor which had athletics lane markings; a hangover from the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.

From the airport, the SkyBus took us into the City, passing through industrial areas and old Victorian warehouses. The SkyBus dropped us off at the Southern Cross railway/bus station from where we needed to find our way to our accommodation in St. Kilda. In the end, we decided to pay for a taxi to get there.

After a few discussions with the taxi driver about where our final destination was, we arrived at the apartment we would be staying at, just off the main Acland Street strip in St. Kilda. We were warmly greeted on arrival by Pete and Chantal.

A view from the balcony of the apartment in St. Kilda on the day of our arrival. The clouds may have passed by, but the rain had just been as the standing water on the roads shows.

Pete and Chantal live in Christchurch, where we visited them on our trip in the South Island. As they are both cricket fans, we had agreed to share an apartment in Melbourne when it became clear that we both intended to watch the Ashes Melbourne Boxing Day test match.

The remainder of the day was spent shopping for food and drinking. The trip to the local Safeway Supermarket was particularly entertaining. The highlights of the shopping trip were the local unpolitically correct brand of cheese on sale and the very expensive mini-battenbergs. Another crate of beer was bought and after dinner at the chicken-based fast-food sold by Nandos, we spent the evening drinking and chatting.

The famous Coon cheese on sale in Australia. The package says, "Australians don't say cheese, they say COON. After all, Australians have been enjoying COON for over 70 years. With its full flavour and tangy taste, its no wonder COON is Australia's tastiest cheese!"

25th December

We'd had big plans for Christmas Day ever since we'd decided to go to Melbourne and meet up with Pete and Chantal. The plan had been to take advantage of the always beautiful Australian weather and have a picnic, drink and swim on the beach.

Unfortunately, the awful weather that has been the constant bane of life in New Zealand had followed us to Melbourne. Despite the awful drought in the state of Victoria, we experienced Christmas day hail storms and rain storms, and some of the further flung Melbourne suburbs even had some snow settle! Unbelievable!

We did brave the beach for a short time. Our only company on St. Kilda's beach were a few hardy souls deciding to brave the icy cold water and a dead rat. Pete and I had a very short toe-dip in the water, but after seeing the deceased Mr. Rat, we decided against going in any further.

Some more views from St. Kilda.

Top Left: St Kilda beach on Christmas Day. Bleak.
Top Right: Pete playing pool at the Espy
Bottom Left: The ornate doors at the Espy

After a walk along the beach, we stopped in at the local music orientated pub – The Esplanade aka. “The Espy”. Pete and Chantal had lived in St. Kilda in the late 1990s and The Espy had apparently been one of their favourite haunts and it thusly came highly recommended.

The Christmas Day atmosphere was slightly subdued as the clientèle were quite laid back and relaxed. We simply played a couple of games of pool and a few drinks before heading back to the apartment, stopping on the way at the world famous Acland Street cake shops.

Back at the apartment, we soon tucked into a picnic-like Christmas Lunch – a spread consisting of salads, cheese, cooked meats and the like.

A slightly unorthodox Christmas dinner. Certainly not traditional. No turkey, no sage and onion and no brussels sprouts!
Chantal and Pete on the Gazebo-type structure in the St. Kilda Botanical Gardens.

The rest of the afternoon was largely spent drinking and talking and letting the Christmas lunch and the cakes digest. A short walk was taken through the St. Kilda Botanical Gardens in the late afternoon in a rare break from the foul weather.

26th December

Boxing Day was the start of the Boxing Day test match. We woke up to find out that Pete had proposed to Chantal that morning, in the city where they first met. Chantal accepted.

Approaching the MCG from the Batman Avenue (yes, Batman) tram station.

Pete and Chantal had been able to get hold of some tickets for the opening day's play, but we hadn't. We all travelled up the MCG together to see if we could get some decently priced touted tickets. The atmosphere on the way to the ground was electric, even given the dismal performances from England in the series so far. The Australians were hoping to see local boy Shane Warne take his 700th test wicket. England were hoping to see a bit of fight from their team. We were hoping to get in.

Unfortunately, we didn't.

The beautiful edifice at Flinders Street station - one of many architectural marvels in Melbourne.
So instead, we decided to take a long walk from the MCG, through the City Centre, up past Chinatown towards Carlton. There, we headed up Brunswick Street and walked out towards Melbourne Zoo. We made sure to see all of the standard, famous Australian wildlife – emus, kangaroos, koalas etc. We walked around for a long time before catching the tram back to St. Kilda.
An Emu at Melbourne Zoo. It wasn't doing much, unlike one that we would later see at Australia Zoo which seemed to enjoy following visitors around - probably on the off chance of giving them a good peck.
27th December

The next day, we finally made it along to the MCG and got in. Our seats were in the Ponsford Stand at the very, very back. It wasn't the best of days for England fans. The Australians batted throughout the day with big knocks from Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds. The star performer, no doubt, was umpire Rudi Koertsen who gave Hayden not out 3 times when he should have been given and Symonds not out once when he should have been given. The pair of them put on nearly 200 runs more than they should have.

Towards the end of the day's play, I was getting fed up with the abject England and umpiring performances and decided to meet up with a member of one of the cricket forums that I often post to. The guy was called Simon (a.k.a Psyduck) and we met up at the Transport Bar in Federation Square.

Some views from the day's play at the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground

Top Left: An Englishman (I think it's Sajid Mahmood?) comes into bowl to Matthew Hayden
Top Right: The outside approach to the Ponsford Stand of the MCG
Bottom Left: The view that we 'enjoyed' from the back of the top tier of the Ponsford Stand.

The first thing that struck me when entering the bar was the thickness of the cigarette smoke. Don't get me wrong, the smoke wasn't that thick – however, considering that smoking is banned in New Zealand pubs, it was a lot more smoke than I was used to at the time.

After spending some time trying to find one particular England fan in a bar full of them, I found Simon and a mate of his and we had a couple of beers and a chat about the day's play.

28th December

The next day's play at the MCG was even worse viewing for an England fan. The Australian batting collapsed early on during the day with dangerman Andrew Symonds only adding a couple more runs to his overnight score.

The weather during the day was pretty sunny. Unfortunately because we were once again located at the very back of the ground we were freezing cold. The wind ripped and swirled round the top tier of the ground and went straight through our clothes, chilling us to the bone. In the lower tiers of the ground, in the sunshine, the Barmy Army went topless and quickly burned in the sun. In the rear of the upper tier, Jen and I were wearing t-shirts, jumpers and jackets and were still cold!

The lunch break was devoted to letting local youngsters play games of Kwik Cricket on the outfield.
The darkness signals impending doom for England as they're bowled out a second time to lose by an innings.

However, England went on to show that they were willing to out do any collapse that the Australians could muster. England managed to bat for the rest of the day, finally finishing all out in the final session of the day, losing by an innings and then some. It was a total annihilation.

The main entertainment of the day had been the rivalry between the Barmy Army and the Australian players in the field. It seemed that anything that the Army could chant, the Aussies would willingly reply to. The highlights were the 'very amusing' “Brett Lee takes it up the arse” chant (which must have gone down well with parents of young children). Lee's reply was to bend over and smack his backside in the Army's direction.

We hung around for a little while after the end of play to watch the presentations and hopefully see an interview with Shane Warne. Once again, the Barmy Army wanted to have the final word and chanted loud enough during the presentations that we could hear very little.

After the end of the match, a close up of the grassy surface just before the presentation ceremony.
A pint at the Elephant and Wheelbarrow. I'm not too sure what we all had to smile about to be honest!

Pete, Chantal, Jen and I soon trudged off away from the stadium, stopping for a beer and dinner at the English theme pub, the Elephant and Wheelbarrow on the way back to the apartment.

29th December

Due to the lack of cricket thanks to the early finish to the test match, we had a few extra spare hours in Melbourne than we'd expected on the 29th.

During the morning, we met up with Jen's cousin James; a doctor who works at one of the hospitals in Melbourne. We had breakfast in a little cafe on Acland Street. James had been working the night shift and we didn't keep him for too long in the few spare hours he had.

After breakfast, we headed off into the City Centre to walk around, do some window shopping and see some more of the sights. The City was jam packed full of people – people browsing, people searching for bargains and people just trying to see the famous Melbourne architecture. We spent a few hours in the shops, leafing through the December sale stock trying to find some bargains.

We soon had our fill of shopping and we went for a wander around the streets of Melbourne and along the river. It didn't take long for us to get bored and we headed back to the apartment.

The view of the Yarra River from the Princes Bridge. The South Bank promenade is on the left hand side and Flinders Street station located on the right hand side.
In the evening, we headed out from St. Kilda towards the other side of Melbourne to find a decent restaurant. The tram journey was very interesting thanks to the entertaining tram driver who gave us a bit of commentary as he drove. The restaurant we finally went into, after getting lost, hungry and a little fed up was crap. The food came very quickly and was obviously microwave cooked. Fortunately, it was fairly cheap.

30th December

The 30th was set to be our last day in Melbourne – and finally the hot weather turned up. It was hot, but probably not a scorcher by Australian standards.

We all quickly headed off to the beach to have a sunbathe and a dip in the sea. Pete and I played a game of tennis ball catch which involved having to make as spectacular a diving catch as possible. After we became fed up with this game (which took a while) we lazed on the beach for a while, continuing a game of “Guess the records in the record collection” game that we'd started the night before. Incidentally, no matter how many times I said that Pete owned the Marc Almond classic “The Days of Pearly Spencer” he denied ever owning it.

The four of us on the beach at St. Kilda. Jen and I on the left; Chantal and Pete on the right.
Tony and Denise on the beach at St. Kilda after being spotted by Chantal walking past on the Promenade.
Whilst sitting on the beach, Chantal suddenly spotted someone we knew. Walking past on the pavement were Denise and Tony. Denise plays for the same cricket team that Jenny and Chantal had played for when we all lived in the New Forest area. We did know that they were going to be in Melbourne, but had never arranged to meet up. More surprising still was the fact that they only happened to be visiting St. Kilda on a whim and it was a total coincidence that they happened to be passing at that time on the day that we'd decided to go to the beach. Well, we chatted for quite a while, catching up on the gossip from the old cricket crowd. After a while though, Jen and I had to return to the apartment to pack up.

In the early evening, we shouldered up our backpacks, said farewell to Pete and Chantal and took the tram back to Southern Cross. There, we met up with the overnight bus to Sydney. The bus was full, and in fact extra buses had been sourced to cope with demand. The bus was also very uncomfortable to be taking on such a long trip – even with the two stops that we had in the middle of nowhere. It was very hard to get any sleep – let alone and decent sleep and the bus drove through the night past famous Australian names like Bendigo, Wagga Wagga and Canberra.

A stop we made somewhere between Melbourne and Sydney. I think it was just past Canberra.

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