Australia by Baz
Christmas in Melbourne
Arrival and first Hostel
We flew into Melbourne on the 16th of December, allowing a bit of time to relax into Ozzi-pace for Christmas.Our Hostel (the Urban Central Backpackers) was in the mould of a medium sized hotel; big and impersonal and not at all as homely as most of our South American accommodation, which were probably homely because they were actually someone's home.The atmosphere wasn't helped by the people staying there.Perhaps I'm just getting old, but (here comes a rant), I couldn't stand the loutish posey behavior of the people who swanned about the hostel, wouldn't engage with anyone outside their own close circle and lacked basic manners and social skills.A couple of examples; we were put into a dorm with 2 English girls.They were reasonably polite, but obviously a bit put out having to share a dorm with someone else so when we returned one day they had moved out to another room.We saw them a number of times in the days after and when I said hello they wouldn't even look at us never mind return the greeting…it was like we were invisible.Perhaps they were a bit embarrassed at ditching us…I don't know.Another time, there were 4 girls waiting for a lift, we were behind them, and when the lift arrived a guy pushed his way through the girls and got into the lift first…how rude!On the Sunday morning there was sick all over the men's showers, and after the rudeness, tension, we had to get out of there.If we hadn't have moved when we did I would have slapped someone for not saying hello to me, and then I would have been branded the social outcast… now that's irony. So off we went to a smaller hostel with a bit of dirt on the floor, but some character at least.
Before our move though we did enjoy a terrific night out in the lively Brunswick Street area of Melbourne.We went out a couple of charming English girls who roomed with us after the other 2 had left.We had a few drinks and a bit of a dance and I believe I even demonstrated some of my impressive pelvic thrust dance moves, a true barometer of a good night.
There are more things in Australia that can kill you than anywhere else in the world. There are crocs, red back spiders, box jellyfish, sharks, of the 10 most deadly snakes in the world all 10 are Australian.So imagine my surprise when on our first day here I was nearly embarrassingly taken out by a tram.They are all over the place in Melbourne, most notably right up the middle of the main pedestrian shopping area where I was almost caught out.They are a great way of getting around.We jumped on one into town and, unsure how the ticketing system worked I asked a friendly looking gentleman with 2 children."Struth mate, you're asking the wrong bloke.I've never paid in 20 years",He said in a thick Australian accent. Well, if this upstanding citizen doesn't pay, then Seonaid and I must continue our Bonnie and Clyde Backpacking experience, and become "Tram Bandits".The gentleman explained that if there are ticket officers waiting at the next stop you should just stay on the tram.He made it sound so easy, and that we would in fact b emugs if we did pay. I smiled and considered our Shower stealing escapades in New Zealand.We were no strangers to criminal activity.Anyway, for the majority of the time we were in Melbourne we enjoyed the high life…jumping on and off trams without a care in the world and saving perhaps as much as 50pence a time.But crime doesn't pay kids, it had to come to an end sometime, and it was the day before Christmas Eve when we were heading into town on the number 6 when it stopped and 3 ticket inspectors leapt on in a flash.I mean these guys we like a SWAT team.Perfectly coordinated they fanned out and started asking for tickets.We were cornered and I had images of us spending Christmas in the big house.Instead we played the dumb tourists, just off the plane.I politely asked the most sympathetic looking of the trio how the ticketing system worked as we had just arrived.Fortunately she took our side and told us to get off at the next stop and buy a ticket in the shop.I suspect we were genuinely lucky to avoid a fine. "Havnt paid in 20 years"…So much for that guys advice, I thought.Never trust a criminal.Our lesson learned we paid on the tram for the rest of our time in Melbourne.
Gambling is massive in Australia. While having only 1% of the worlds population Australia has 20% of the worlds electronic gaming machines.The Crown Casino in Melbourne has the majority of these machines.It is a massive complex where you can engage in every imaginable form of gambling 24 hours a day.Seonaid and I walked round the place for a good couple of hours, and really enjoyed the atmosphere.Such a buzz around the place and huge numbers of mostly Asian gamblers tried their luck.I was much too terrified to join a poker table myself, but Seonaid and I did pump a dollar into a slot machine, which permitted us a bewildering 5 minutes of random button pressing before informing us to our relief that we were out of credit.Great place to watch people and soak up the atmosphere.
Christmas away from home was always going to be a difficult time but the fact that it was so unfestive here made it a bit easier to accept."It can't be Christmas, its just too warm" we managed to fool ourselves.A few days before Christmas we moved from the horror of the big brother house to a smaller hostel near St Kilda beach and fell into a lovely crowd of English and Irish people.Together we were "Christmas Orphans".Seoanid was keen to go to mass over Christmas, but having been told off by my father I couldn't be seen to be doing anything religious.We compromised and on Christmas Eve night, went to an open air cinema in the botanical gardens.We prepared a picnic and took a bottle of wine and a few beers, and sat in the gardens and watched an informative biblical tale about the birth of a boy in Bethlehem who would grow up to die on the cross, to some he was the messiah, although throughout his extraordinary life his mother continued to claim that "He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy".The life of Brian… the perfect film for Christmas Eve.We were amazed by the multitude of bats that appeared overhead as the sun went down.Fruit bats, we were informed and damned big.
On Christmas day we swapped presents and headed to the Botanical gardens again to eat and drink in the heat with the hundreds of others.We had great craic talking about our most memorable Christmas's.Mine was when our house was getting done up and we had no running water, heat, electricity, and had to pee in a portaloo in the front garden.That year we spent a memorable Christmas at my brothers house.Seonaid recalled being rushed to bed by her mother as 12.00 approached, herself and Alan frightened of being awake when Santa came, she was 17 (I'm joking of course).We went back to the hostel and enjoyed a barbecue generously put on by the Hostel owner and later sat and had a bit of craic with our fellow orphans.Over the course of the evening and in the style if a small biblical miracle my glass of beer changed into mulled wine, then into rum and coke. Sometime around 3.00am I started my drunken phoning of relatives back in Ireland and England.I managed to get most of them in the middle of their Christmas dinner. If you didn't get a call, don't feel left out, believe me, you were one of the lucky ones.
In the end we had a fantastic Christmas, thanks in no small part to the company we enjoyed (and to the alcohol).Christmas over, we prepared to travel to Sydney for the New Year.