And away from South East Asia we go. A brief stopover in Kuala Lumpur, which takes the honour of least charming airport on the planet, and a spot of lunch in a particularly unsanitary airport café, and we are off Down Under!
The first thing we do on landing is enjoy a nice cup of coffee in Melbourne airport. It’s the first good cup of coffee we’ve drunk in 4 months, and it is beautiful. We’ll later discover that Melbourne is a city built on amazing, single origin, hipster coffee places. It’s almost like discussing the weather in England, everybody has a favourite place, tucked in a little laneway, impossible to find, that serves the greatest coffee on earth. It says a lot that Starbucks and their ilk have failed miserably in their attempts to break into Australia, and the sheer quantity and quality of coffee places is the reason their few franchises sit empty. For me, this alone would have made me love Australia.
We hop into a cab, and away to the AirBNB booking we made a few weeks before, a very nice modern flat, seconds from the beaches of Port Melbourne, 2 miles south of the city. Our hosts are a very nice couple from New Zealand, though prone to single syllable answers, and have a lovely, hyperactive dog, Bonnie. Regrettably, thanks to the aforementioned grubby café at Kuala Lumpur, we spend the first night in their bathroom, taking it in turns to suffer the indignity of one last bout of the South East Asian Squits, which is not quite the introduction to our roomies we had hoped for!
Thanks to overspending in Asia, we were particularly poor over our time in this end of Australia, so we were living on quite a small budget- about 50 bucks a week! Luckily, Ben got a job for a few days running up to Christmas, packing Game of Thrones and Doctor Who merchandise for a supplier of geek ephemera, which got us a couple of Christmas presents, and helped us lay down the rent on our next place!
We also got to wander around a lot, and Port Melbourne is (the name is a giveaway) right next to the sea, so we had a few runs along there, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.
We also liked to wander down to Albert Park. The joy of the sheer amount of land Australia has, is that they can really push the boat out with the size of their parks, it’s huge. They have the F1 Grand Prix there in January, which might give you an idea of quite how long it takes to walk around. It also has black swans, a lake big enough that they were having a sailing competition on it, and just a whole lot of lovely scenery.
As a Brit, you also can’t help but notice that the roads are so much wider. Everywhere feels spacious and open, even in the city, and weirdly, the sky just looks bigger.
We also explored town, and were very impressed, having come from London, at how organised Melbourne city is. It’s laid out in an even grid from end to end- you would have to try very hard to get lost here. The main centre around the GPO was decorated all Christmassy, and this is comforting- because it’s the middle of the summer, Aussies seem not to go quite as mad as we do for Christmas.
Our AirBNB hosts invited us out for an ‘Orphans Christmas’, as they are away from their family in Melbourne too, which is, as per what every Brit expects, a barbeque in the park, with some beers! Christmas day is boiling hot, and the park in St Kilda is packed with people celebrating Christmas in the sun, playing cricket and ‘footy’ (AFL, not the proper one!), and in one corner, a large contingent of travelling Brits from the ‘Barmy Army’, the devoted followers of the English cricket team, over for the Boxing Day test at the MCG. We eat plenty of snags (sausages), chicken and a not entirely pleasant traditional New Zealand onion dip.
Then, for the New Year, we go down to the banks of the Yarra river to watch the fireworks, have a few drinks, decide it’s far too crowded, and watch them from our balcony, with a few glasses of rum, and Channel 9’s The Project on in the background (it’s much like The One Show in the UK, except genuinely funny and interesting.)
The following day, we have to start packing up to make our next move. From the professional’s paradise that is Port Melbourne, to the edgy hipster and biker den that is Brunswick. Exciting!