And it's off to Melbourne - cultural capital of Australia... sorry, Sydney but that's what the guide books say!
May 23rd. Up early to catch my flight to Melbourne this morning. Really excited to meet up with my good friend, Sara (who also happens to be my ex-client, working for Emirates in Dubai!). Just so happened she was home in Melbourne while i was doing my whistlestop tour so we managed to "clear our schedules" ..haha.. and get together! The lovely girl picked me up from the airport (and yes, more comments from airport staff about the giant bag....used to it now!). We headed back to Pascoe Vale, a suburb of Melbourne to meet Sara's family - her twin sister Josephine, husband Jo and gorgeous children, Vivien, Victoria, Amelia and Jacob. So good of them to put me up while I'm in Melbourne but as I quickly found out - Melbournians, and especially Lebanese-Melbournians are incredibly warm, kind people who will go out of their way for you - and constantly ask you if you are hungry and need to eat!!! Talk about a great welcome - the children all gave "auntie Sara's friend" lots of hugs as soon as I arrived - how lucky am I!
Off downtown for lunch then Sara whizzed me around, showing me some of the sights. After that we went to the trendy Dog Cafe to meet a good friend of hers, Melo (hope spelling is right, Melo?) and just hung out and had a great chat!
Now for a little highlight on Melbourne. With a population of 3.1 million, the people who live here are fiercely passionate about their state - Victoria. Although it is Australia's smallest, it is crammed full of sights and activities, with a beautiful coastline (the famous Ocean Road - oops didnt quite manage that!), incredible wineries (which we would be checking out tomorrow in the Yarra Valley) and of course tons of sport! You have to cheer for St. Kildas when it comes to Aussie rules!
There is always something to celebrate here with festivals for film and the arts, horse racing (the famous Melbourne Cup), and of course food! Food is really big (a good reason for me to move here of course!) - boasting the largest people to restaurant ratio in the world - 7 people for each restaurant (I think that's right?). Half the population here were born overseas, with waves of immigrants bringing significant cultural influences (from Europe, Asia, and more recently the Middle East) making the city's multi-cultural make-up an integral part of its richness and variety! Did you know Melbourne has the largest Greek population outside of Greece!
So after heading home to say hi again, we were off to meet friends of Sara's for dinner! Lovely group of folks and great chat! Then it was down town for some drinkie poos at Cookie and then the Supper Club - two very trendy bars here in town! Have to say Melbourne really is a very hip city - so many trendy bars, clubs and the shopping... Chapel Street seems to go on for miles and miles and each shop is a boutique - no chains here. The clothes are just fab - had to forcibly stay away from here or my "little flexible credit card friend" would get into some serious trouble! But a wonderful first day here in Melbourne - definitely have a good vibe about this city!
May 24th. We had decided as we only had limited time, what would be the best thing to do and so, a wine tour was born! Picked up Melo in Fitzroy, another trendy area of town.. and we headed out around 9ish to the Yarra Valley!
After a lovely breakfast in a funky wee town close by (thank goodness all three of us love our food!), we checked out a fab little teashop with over 200 types of tea to choose from! Wild place. Then it was straight into wine world! This particular area is covered in neat, furrowed rows of grapevines from over 40 vineyards that dominate the Yarra Valley. We visited the De Bortoli winerey - it was absolutely amazing..Seriously, thank goodness Sara was our designated driver (love her!) 'cos Melo and I got to try about 20 different wines.. and this is before lunch (ok we did try some lovely cheeses beforehand but still!). Sara and I just had a giggle at the description of this particular cheese! After a fab time here, we headed out to another winery, "Yering Station" for a delicious late lunch at Sweet Water Cafe! Yup, more eating!!!
Back to Melbourne, then we were heading out to an 80's evening which one of Sara's friends was hosting to sell "nostalgic CD's for charity! Had quite the giggle here, and "boogeying" on down was exactly how any dancing here should be described! Met tons of Sara's friends, including Mary B. (my other client/friend Laura's sister in law and a brilliant girl!), and Angie, who has the same birthday as me - just a year apart! How about that! Also met her friend Nabil, a lovely guy who ended up giving us a whirlwind tour of the city at night - from Federation Square, St Pauls Cathedral, Flinders St Station, Queen Victoria market, Chinatown, Parliament House, Govt. House, the Australian Center for Contemporary Art, phew and finally - the very impressive and completely huge Casino complex, which is the 2nd biggest in the world! Seriously - i had whiplash at the end of this night - but it was incredible and the city really did look gorgeous at night!!
May 25th. Up earlyish today as Sara had to meet some folks in town. Still managed to find time to potter around the gigantic outlet mall around the corner from her.. again with the fab clothes. I look like such a disaster - seriously i wouldnt be seen dead looking the way i do right now if I was back in the "real world", but as a traveler, there are only so many clothes and shoes one can carry around (even with my giant bag!)..and its def easier when you are not in cities to blend in a bit more! Due to my complete ineptitude, I am in Melbourne one night longer than Sara, as she has to fly back to Dubai. Remember that amazing Lebanese hospitality i talked about earlier? Well, her lovely family said no probs, here's a key, so feel free to stay another night! Unbelievable - i did feel a tad embarrassed but they were so kind about it! So Sara and i went into town and we said our fond farewells.. and guess what, yup! I got all emotional again! What is wrong with me! Sara has been such a doll.. can't thank her enough for showing me such a great time here!
I had organized to meet Mark and Jean, friends of the family, this afternoon, so popped over to Federation Square (do you like that, sounds like i know my way around already... dont worry, its all a ruse, i got lost again!) and had coffee at the Blue Train Cafe with them. Lovely to catch up as they have just moved to Melbourne after sailing around the world - now that is exotic! After that I was joining Mary and Anna, to watch the Australia - Greece friendly in the Square later that night, with about 10,000 close friends... hilarious. Now, I had bought an Australia top earlier in Manly, primarily cos i was cold one day (yes, it does get chilly in Sydney in winter!). So I had it on and def. got a few loud "Go Greece" comments as I waited to meet up with Mary! But what a laugh during the game - flares going off, people singing the Australian and Greek national anthems - the crowd was great and it was very much a friendly event.. afterwards we went to a great Greek restaurant for souvlaki and of course the whole place, full of Greeks wearing the country's blue and white, turned to look at this one person sauntering in, with a yellow and green top on - hmmn not the best choice maybe when im hanging out with Greek Aussies.... but seriously, all harmless! A brilliant night - thanks very much Mary and Anna!!! Oh yes and cant forget that we stopped off at the AC/DC pub (that's what its called folks!) for a wee after dinner drinkie and who did we bump into but Cathy Freeman, the Olympic track star.. not bad eh!!!
May 26th. Now this is hospitality! Jo and Joe wouldnt let me get a taxi to the airport this morning - had to leave the house at 5am... and Joe drove me!!! Can't thank everyone in Melbourne enough for such a brilliant time - too short of course but def. a fab city with amazing people, and I will have to come back again one day and see everything i missed! But for now, its off to Queensland on the next part of my whistlestop tour of Oz!