Melbourne, Australia (19th Dec 2007)
We arrived in Melbourne after a lengthy flight from Shanghai then a transfer from Sydney. Rather than give in and get a taxi to our hostel we decided to get the tram as Mark was familiar with the city and the directions to the hostel seemed pretty easy. After lugging our backpacks halfway across the city (that's what it felt like in the unfamiliar heat we were experiencing) we made it to our tram stop and hopped on board. We soon realized that our hostel wasn't in St Kilda as had been advertised on the website but was in-fact in South Melbourne Beach. Not that we were about to start complaining though, as when we got off the tram at the last stop we were confronted with the beach and then turned around and saw our hostel (suitably names The Beach) sat not even a stones throw from the sand. The actual layout and running of the hostel seemed a little peculiar as there was no reception desk, just a tiny little office which we soon realized would be closed half the time. We were shown to our room and were pretty happy with it as we had treated ourselves to a private room for the Christmas festivities but then we looked out of the window and saw there was a communal balcony outside with the most spectacular views you could wish for and we couldn't have been happier!
In the run up to Christmas we didn't really do all that much as we were so worn out from our time in Asia and just relaxed really. The first few days were spent venturing into town every day to familiarize ourselves with the city, taking a tour of Mark's university buildings, sorting out an Australian bank account and just picking up a few essentials. We spent the first few evenings back at the hostel on the balcony and on the first night we were surprised to find ourselves watching a thunderous storm break across the ocean that soon made its way inland. It was one of the most spectacular views we could have wished to experience as it was nothing like a storm back home as the air was humid and the sky was a rainbow of oranges and reds. On day three the weather seemed nice enough take the tram down to St Kilda, a beachside resort and backpacker central but as soon as we stepped onto the tram the heavens opened. Rather than head back we decided to take refuge in a bar until the rain stopped, leaving us to explore St Kilda without getting drenched. We stayed away from the beachfront as we didn't think anything could beat 'our' beach and just aimlessly wondered around the streets, bumping into one of Kara's friends from home, before heading into the city for some food and a bit more shopping. At the hostel we started talking to two girls from England, Alice and Rosie, the only girls who seemed remotely sociable and shared our views of the weird atmosphere at the hostel and so we arranged to spend Christmas day at the beach, weather permitting. The following days followed a very similar pattern, lying in till around 12 as the music from the bar downstairs kept on pumping till 3am and either wondering into town or just enjoying some quiet time at the hostel.
Christmas Eve soon arrived and after purchasing a few nice items of clothing for the traditional Christmas Eve night out, we got the tram into town and were confronted with something not too dissimilar to a ghost town. There we were all suited and booted (so to speak) and every bar we went in was deathly quiet. Compared to back home where Christmas Eve is probably one of the biggest get together's of the year, we were really surprised and felt a little stupid wondering around all dressed up but no where really to go. As we had made the effort to go out we thought it a waste so first of all we went to a bar called Transport that's in Federation Square then we headed to the Elephant and Wheelbarrow which is an English themed pub which Mark frequented on his last trip here. Finally we went to one of Melbourne's micro brewery's which made a nice change from the usual bar/pub scene. Then it was off home for some sleep ready for Santa's visit.
Christmas day started being woken up by the sun streaming in through the blinds followed by a nice leisurely lie in. We opened or presents from Santa and then wondered into the kitchen around 11 to find Alice and Rosie lounging on the sofa watching Four Weddings and a Funeral so Kara joined them while Mark set out making the stuffing for his turkey sandwiches. Once the film was finished we all set about making our Christmas feast, which for us consisted of a Greek salad and Turkey and stuffing sandwiches, nothing compared to the feast Rosie and Alice prepared of which the highlight was gorgeous roast potatoes. As the weather still wasn't fantastic we couldn't have our dinner on the beach and so it was nice to find the dinner table had already been decorated with candles, steamers and party poppers so we added our contribution of cheap crackers and sat down to celebrate. Feeling surprisingly full we moved to the sofa and managed to find a Christmas movie, 'The Man Who Saved Christmas', to fill the Christmas day afternoon which brought tears to our eyes in parts but ended with the traditional 'Happily Ever After'. To make up for not being able to have our Christmas day dinner on the beach we went for an afternoon walk with Mark's present from Santa, a foam rocket thing known as a Jaru and had fun messing around for an hour or so in our Santa hats, acting like kids! In the evening we found ourselves alone in the common room so we treated ourselves to a few bottles of fizz and settled down to get merry and watch You Got Mail, not the most traditional of Christmas evenings but still really enjoyable and not a bad way to end the day.
We decided to spend the next few daysbeing a little more active than the previous week, but didn't start very successfully as the only thing we did on Boxing Day was go to the cinema to see Atonement.The following days consisted of seeing some of Melbourne's sights. We went for a walk along the riverbank and saw The Vodafone Arena, The Rod Laver Arena where they have the Australian open, The MCG which is Melbourne's Cricket Ground and the Telstra Dome, all of which are impressive structures especially the MCG which is massive! On one of the hotter days we decided to get the tram up to where mark stayed when he was at university in Melbourne, it took about a half hour and when we got there we could only manage a quick walk there and back as the heat was unbearable, just enough time to see what had changed and to take a few pictures.
On our second to last night in Melbourne we went out with Clare (who we met on the Vietnam leg of our trip) as she lives in Melbourne and told us she would take us out one night. She came to pick us up and was amazed by the view we had from our window and was even more amazed when we told her how cheap it was to stay there!She took us to Brunswick Street as we hadn't ventured there yet as it was a bit of a trek from our hostel but fairly easy to get to by car. After witnessing a bit of road rage we settled down outside a bar and had a bite to eat and a drink, both of us really enjoying the quality of the food, having become accustomed to beans on toast most days! We then moved onto a lounge (like a bar but with sofas and more comfy areas) that would have been quite at home in the Northern Quarter in Manchester but wasn't half as expensive or busy. We were undecided as to what to have to drink so we took the barman's recommendations and really enjoyed the unusual beer he chose.
On our last day in Melbourne we took one last trip into town before heading back to the hostel with the intention of getting an early night as we had an early start the next day but thanks to the music booming downstairs we were awake way after twelve, which isn't not too good when we had to get up at half three!