It’s Down Under at last – arriving in Melbourne nice and early on a Thursday morning, one of the first things our landlady gave us was an umbrella each. Having heard about and watched the endless golden summers of Australia, I balked at this and waited for the inevitable spiel about the weather. There was none – news flash – it rains and gets cold in December in Melbourne. There are some who dress in winter clothes and some who are dressed in hot pants. No one seems to make a fuss about the weather around here. Part of me wished they did – I was up for a discussion on the subject!
Our first day though was warm and dry – we found the tram leading us most naturally to the Rod Laver Arena, the home of the Australian Open Tennis. And wonder of wonders, the MCG is next door. At odds with our tennis thoughts, there was a Katy Perry concert scheduled in the centre court. A poster said Paul Simon and Sting are performing together soon. We couldn’t go into the main court but we had free reign of all the outside courts. We walked around at leisure spreading the good vibes for one more title for the one and only Roger Federer for the tournament beginning towards the end of next month.
There’s something to be said about the silence of a sports stadium. We walked across to the cricket ground where there were some beautifully sculpted statues of Aussie greats – the likes of Shane Warne and Dennis Lillee. It was where India won its second big one day championship back in the mid-80s. The blissful silence in the park around this hallowed ground was just so serene and peaceful.
Melbourne is a grand city. It had strong reminders of London for the river walks and the theatre district – where every tiny restaurant boasts a menu with an eye-popping price list. The Flinders Street train station’s architectural design (pic above) was meant for India – it looks exactly like Victoria Terminus in Bombay. Melbourne is supposed to be the foodie capital of Australia. The delis in the covered Prahran food market boasted a range of international foods and the streets had inviting cafes selling delicate pastries and plenty of chic boutiques and exclusive shops.
The National Gallery the next day was an excellent mix of modern and traditional. There was an exhibition of Scottish artist David Shrigley and the moving head on a floor of white paper, with two ball-point pens sticking out of the nostrils making random patterns in blue and red was very amusing. The evening we spent at St Kilda’s beach felt more real – very relaxed atmosphere. The breeze was strong and we shivered bravely in our light clothes as we walked on the beach on a beautiful night.
A big city can stimulate and jade in equal measure. Only on the last day of our stay did I realise that I was craving the great outdoors and the tour we’d booked to see the Great Ocean Trail was just what I needed. Our guide on the bus, Outback Billy was the perfect commentator/stand-up comic/radio DJ. He had information to impart, a few jokes to share – “the kangaroos got affected badly by the bush fires in 2010 – they ran down to the sea to escape the heat and many drowned as they can’t swim. But now, we’ve got them back on the beach, given them swimming lessons and they should be fine next time.” His choice of music was pretty good too.
The Grand Ocean Trail is a coastal road built by soldiers who came back after the First World War – it is breathtakingly beautiful. We saw kangaroos on a golf course, went to many pristine beaches surrounded by rocks that predates the dinosaurs, saw koala bears that love eucalyptus and had tropical parrots come and eat seeds from our hands. We then visited the Otway National Park, a rainforest with giant fern trees, eucalyptus and Myrtle Beech. The smell of eucalyptus was everywhere. Some trees were 300 years old – the aboriginal people treat this as a sacred place – they were nowhere to be seen. Port Campbell is where the 12 Apostles can be seen – in Lagos, in Portugal, the boatman called such rock formations his spinster aunt or a grumpy camel – they are just more serious here, it would seem. On our way back to the city, we saw the Australian hedgehog – the Echidna on the roadside. It curled up into a big quivering ball when we turned up. Obviously too scared to the answer that dreaded question – why did it cross the road?