New Zealand had been great to us but we were both ready to move on; on Saturday 11th December we were up early to catch a flight to Melbourne, Australia.
Having picked up a few bits in duty free we boarded the plane and got ourselves comfy for a 4 hour flight. The flight was made a hell of lot easier by taking advantage of the free alcohol on board; we consumed a couple of bottles of sparkling wine between us and found ourselves in a merry state (see Melbourne photos). 30'000 ft combined with fizzy bubbles do make for an entertaining flight.
We touched down in Melbourne with a mission on our hands; we were staying with a friend of whom I used to work with at BCA many moons ago. Close friends of mine will remember Nanna Panna and her infectious personality. We caught the bus from the airport to the city centre where we had planned to meet Panna. Having made our way to Southern Cross station I spoke with Panna on the phone - she was at her granddaughters birthday party at the Botanical gardens and told me to meet her at her auntie's house. So not only had I not seen Panna in 7 years, we were now going to her auntie's house who I didn't know from Adam! It was all very random but we eventually found our way to Aunty Carol's house where I was reunited with Panna.
After a cup of tea and a delicious yet filling vegetable samousa, Rachel and I went to a football match that evening with Panna's son in law and friend. The Melbourne Hearts Vs Melbourne victory. A local derby and arguably the biggest game of their season. The game was relatively uninspiring however the stadium was impressive. After the game, Jon (Panna's son in law) drove us back to Panna's house which is in Mornington, roughly an hour outside of the city. We arrived at Panna's around 11pm and we were both overwhelmed with their home; A luxurious, modern house in a quiet neighbourhood, complete with 2 lounges, 5 bedrooms, a pool table and it's very own bar! I was in my element. After a brief chat and introduction with Panna's husband, Stu and youngest daughter, Charlotte, we hit the hay.
We were woken on Sunday to the smell of a cooked breakfast. Awesome. We hadn't had one of these for ages. The rest of the day was spent familiarising ourselves with Mornington and also visiting the local farmers market. Panna also informed us we could borrow their spare car for our time in Melbourne which gave us a whole new leash of life. It felt so good to be able to make our own way around, when and wherever we wanted. Not having to rely on a coach gave us so much freedom.
The following day we ventured into the city to experience Melbourne and all it had to offer. WOW! What a city, easily our favourite city we'd seen so far on our travels. Despite being densely populated and scattered with skyscrapers, Melbourne has a really unique feel about it and it has its own quirky character. There is a dominant force in the city for Sport, Music and Arts which made for a cosmopolitan atmosphere. There are loads of little side streets, littered with cafes, bars, boutiques etc. We were completely blown away. Whilst in the city, I booked up my Neighbours tour (Oh yes!) and MCG tour.
Tuesday was an absolute scorcher, almost 30 degrees. We therefore decided to make the most of the weather and chillax on the beach. Not really much else to say about that really, we've done loads of beaches recently so I won't bore you with details.
Wednesday we ventured back into the city, I had my Neighbours tour booked for 12.30 and Rachel was spending the afternoon with Panna's daughter Charlotte. The Neighbours tour was great fun... it was one of those activities that was so bad it was good! There were some real diehard fans on the tour which made for a cheesy experience but I enjoyed it nonetheless. We visited the studio, the infamous Ramsay street and then met one of the 'stars' of the show: Stingray. Would we call him a star?! Anyway, after the tour I rendezvoused with Rachel and Charlotte, no prizes for guessing where they were. You've guessed it, a pub. Whilst still on a high from my Neighbours adventure, I enjoyed a few beers with the girls. Rachel and I spent the rest of the evening at the Queen Victoria markets in Melbourne. There was live music, food stores and loads of market stalls selling everything from clothes, CDs, books, jewellery etc. Again, there was a great vibe to the place and it was packed with people. The next morning we were up early for our 2 day Great Ocean Road drive (see separate blog entry for details, the highlight of which was an amusing breakdown. You'd be foolish to miss it).
We spent Saturday back in the city; we visited many of the city's landmarks, my favourite being the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). The MCG was a great experience. I went on a tour of the stadium with a big group of people, there were a few English on the tour but the majority were Aussies which obviously made for some interesting Ashes banter. The stadium was awesome, easily one of the best stadia I've seen. There was loads of Ashes history dotted around the place and the National Sporting museum within the stadium was really cool. There were loads of interactive games and activities to do as opposed to just looking/reading stuff. A really good experience and one not to be missed if you're a sporting fan in Melbourne.
Sunday was supposed to be spent watching the Ashes, however with England bowled out within 20 minutes we spent the day chilling at Panna's and were treated to a Nanna Panna curry in the evening. Lovely stuff. After the curry Rachel and I went to a 'drive-in' cinema which was something we'd both always wanted to do. Despite the wind and rain, the drive-in was really cool.