Melbourne: Smoked Roo

Yes I apologise profusely for the cover photo of this post but I took literally one photo in my entire time in Melbourne so I have to save that one for later and use a photo of Syndey. I’m deeply sorry.

Since swooping into Avalon Airport about nine days ago, I’ve discovered that there’s really only one way to describe Melbourne; undefined. Where Sydney is a sprawling mess of suburbs and wide avenues punctuated by the inconic vistas afforded by the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, Melbourne is just a mess, full stop. This is in no way me saying that I don’t like it here, but more that it’s difficult to get to grips with exactly what it is that I like about it. When in Sydney (or really anywhere as long as you’re speaking to someone who’s visited both cities), you’ll often meet people who rave about Melbourne over the former, saying you absolutely must to go south and visit it. However, I should have seen my own personal existential inquisition coming, as whenever you ask even people from Melbourne what is so great about it, or what there is to do that’s so enticing, they’ll often just say ‘… I don’t really know’. Well, either that or ‘… you can get good coffee’.

In fact, on that note, let’s get something out of the way right now; the coffee here is good, but inferior to any I had in Sydney, and that in turn was inferior to any I had in New Zealand. Yeah, blasphemy – what of it? The Kiwis have got you beat, ‘bro’.

So what have I actually done this week? The truth is not much. Staying with my friend Tony, I’ve just been taking it easy, which includes a few days of sleeping in to midday or 1pm. Sweeeet. My liver has been fairly unhappy, however, having taken the harshest beating of my trip so far on the first night after landing. After going to three or four pubs and then getting a literal mountain of meat at a Chinese restaurant, we discovered a whiskey bar that happened to have a bit of a twist in its menu. In this place, a beer is about $10, and a whiskey is about $10 too. However, they have a ‘boilermaker’ menu, whereby you can choose a combination of one whiskey and one beer, which costs… $10. And I’m not talking shit blended whiskey, I’m talking high-quality single malt scotch. (If you’re English and you’re not familiar with the conversion rate, $10 is about £5). So I took what I would call too much advantage of that deal, then headed back to Tony’s and passed out, having gotten up at 3am that morning for my flight from Sydney.

Now then, the flight. It is not so much the flight itself that I want to talk about, but more where this flight happened to end up. Melbourne, for a city of just over 4m people, has a remarkable four airports. Tullamarine, the main international hub, Essendon, a small airport pretty much in the city centre, Moorabbin, an even smaller airport in the suburbs, and then… Avalon.

There it is. The one photo I took in my entire week in Melbourne. My man Tony.

Avalon Airport is not in Melbourne. It’s not really in the ‘Greater Melbourne Area’ either; way too much countryside separates the city and the airport. In fact, it is much, much closer to the town of Geelong. Overall Avalon is about 35 miles southwest of Melbourne, which is around the same as Luton Airport’s distance to Central London, the difference being that the London Metropolitan Area (the area around London that is continuous urban area), has 14 million people and has comprises a total area of 3,236 square miles. As I’ve already mentioned, Melbourne has a mere 4 million people, over an area of oh shit, upon further research I’ve just discovered that Melbourne’s total area is actually larger than London. That’s despite having 10m fewer people. There goes my point.

Forget that. Basically my point is that Avalon is little more than a cardboard bus stop in the middle of shrub-covered nothing. It’s not exactly the stereotypical ‘outback’ that you think of when the word Australia drifts through your consciousness, but it’s not far off. We arrived in truly atrocious weather, our plane getting battered all over the place by the thick clouds, and we slowly taxied up to what looked to be one of about two gates in the entire airport. In fact, to get a sense of the size of Avalon airport, I can tell you that I could see the roof of it while we were taxiing. The entire building is shorter than the window of a Boeing 737. I crossed the runway, reaching into my pocket to get my phone out, until a little woman wearing a tangerine-coloured hi-vis jacket ran up to me and told me not to ever get my phone out on the tarmac. Woman this isn’t Charles De Gaulle. Who’s radar am I fatally messing up by attempting to connect to the free wifi this airport incidentally doesn’t even have? I get that your job description is literally just ‘make people’s lives a little less enjoyable’ but Jesus.

After navigating my way through Avalon’s 70’s-esque interior, complete with faux-shag carpeting in the arrivals section, I stumbled my way to a city transfer bus and accidentally sat one row in front of some sort of obese man-child who would not shut his mouth for the entire hour-long trip. Keep in mind this is still about 9am. I had to turn around a number of times to double/triple/quadruple-check if he was disabled just in case my anger was unjustified and unintentionally intolerant, but he was no spastic – he was just a regular fat dickhead who cackled, coughed and violently sneezed his way into the eardrums of his fellow coach-goers.

Melbourne, as people who live in it will tell you (and as I’ve already said), is all about atmosphere. It is (as I’ve already said), an enormous city area-wise, but the ‘CBD’ – or centre – is a small grid of about 5 x 8 streets that are absolutely crammed to capacity with people, shops and restaurants. So, most days I would wake up, head into the centre and attempt to navigate the strangely tiny layout of the CBD, picking up a coffee on the way and scouting for restaurants I would later eat at. However, I gotta give it to my bro (and host) Tony; he took me to three places that were three of the best meals I’ve had on my travels so far. One was the excellent burger at ‘Beer and Burger’ in Richmond (yeah great name right), one was the chicken parmigiana at the Napier Hotel in… somewhere (which had a layer of kangaroo, or ‘smoked roo’ on top), and the third (and best) was SUT & Wine, an extraordinary Korean BBQ place in Box Hill.

Honestly, I apologise that this has been a bit of a nothing post, so I’m going to end it here. I enjoyed my time in Melbourne but most of it was just chilling out and not really doing anything. About 24 hours ago I left and landed in Tokyo, and I’m dying to write a post about all the random and hilarious shit I’ve already seen, so I’ma do that now.


Sydney: Long-Range Creepin’

I suppose I’ve left it long enough; I know none of you are exactly hanging on my every word, but it is probably time I wrote another post. My last post was written just as I was about to board a flight to Sydney from Auckland, and I write this post having just landed in Melbourne from Sydney a week later. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time in Sydney, but I did have a lot of free time in which I could have updated the blog, yet I felt there just wasn’t much to say.

After seven weeks of non-stop travelling and activities, I decided to very much take it easy for my time in Australia’s largest city. Staying with my friend Nick allowed time and space for sleeping in, and removed me from the increasingly tiring world of jam-packed hostels which, by the end of my time in New Zealand, had made me feel a bit like Nigel Farage at the EU Parliament; resentful of everyone and wondering why I’m there. As a result, I kept sleeping well past 10am, and thus didn’t leave the house until at least 11am each morning, though this may have been something to do with our nightly tradition of liberally hitting the house’s opulent liquor cabinet to take the edge off our ferocious ongoing backgammon rivalry.

So, Sydney. After stepping off the plane into some pretty uncompromising heat, I quickly hopped onto one of the most appallingly-designed train networks currently in service on this planet. Granted, Sydney Harbour is an awkward shape for a city to have been founded upon (well done Captain Cook you proper bellend), but that doesn’t excuse the layout of the train lines here. Imagine, if you will, that you’re at Sydney International Airport in the south of the city, with the coast to your east, and you have to get across to the western suburbs. You’d best believe there’s no train bypassing the middle of the city, so what do you have to do? Get on the train and go north until you get to Central Station, where the train will continue through to the north until it gets to the harbour, at which point it turns to the east and goes in a loop around five stations in central Sydney, ending up back at Central Station again. Then it heads west into the suburbs. It’s like the train isn’t allowed to turn left. As a result, it took longer than anticipated to get to Nick’s house, at which point I went for a swim, attempted to sunbathe without turning into a raisin, then crashed out horribly having gotten up at 3am that morning for my flight.

In all honesty I did barely anything touristy in Sydney. Yeah I saw the Opera House (which is surprisingly small when you see it in person), and walked across Sydney Harbour Bridge (which is pretty impressive), but really I just hung around with friends and absorbed the atmosphere of the city. In all honesty, even when you make a concerted effort, there just isn’t all that much to do in Sydney, despite it being a massive tourist destination. The Opera House is really just something you observe from the outside as a piece of iconic aestheticism, and the Bridge is a functioning foot/rail/road bridge, so I only actually ended up spending money on two activities.

The first was the Sydney Eye Observation Tower (which most people just know as the Westfield Tower). And I can tell you that wasn’t so hot, despite affording vistas stretching for miles and miles. While the view of the natural harbour in the distance is fairly impressive, Sydney itself is not much to look at from the air; it’s just a metropolis much like many others on earth. Really weirdly, many of the buildings near to the observation tower are of a similar height to the tower itself, and thus block the view of both the Bridge and the Opera House. I wanted to be frustrated, but then realised that I’d already seen those two things numerous times by this point in the trip, and always from more flattering angles anyway. As I sat on the window ledge and stared out at the side of the adjacent skyscraper, a small Chinese woman came and sat right next to me, at which point I turned just in time for her friend to inexplicably take a photo of both of us; her with an attempt at a posed smile, me with a frown of ‘what the Christ are you doing?’. I hope that one goes in her holiday scrapbook, or she frames it.

Then I discovered the telescopes. Oh the telescopes. There are some pretty powerful ones at the top of the tower, which I just naturally assumed you’d have to pay for like any other tourist destination on Earth. But no! I looked into one of them to reveal a shirtless man sunbathing at the far end of Hyde Park, a good few blocks away from the tower. After getting as much fun as I could out of long-range creeping on people, I realised I could hold my phone’s camera up to the viewfinder, leading to some really odd photos with an astronomy-esque aesthetic. That’s about as much enjoyment as I could get out of the tower (especially considering they didn’t even sell beer up there), and headed back down.

After a night in the pub playing Connect Four (which Nick absolutely destroyed me at, 10 games to 1), I got up fairly early the next day and headed to the harbour to get the ferry to Manly Beach. I know, great name. With the sun absolutely beating down on me, we headed out into the harbour and cut across the wake of a passing cruise ship, causing some fairly large lurches up and down, which for some reason caused all the Chinese tourists on the boat to scream like they were watching their children get disembowelled. So, after riding out to rough seas and shrieking our way into Manly Harbour, I bought some cheap sunglasses and hit the beach, which I noticed was being patrolled by the strictest lifeguards I’ve ever witnessed. Manly Beach is probably a 1.5-2 miles in length, with people sunbathing, surfing, swimming and paddling across its entire length. Just as I arrived on the promenade, a siren went off, echoing all the way along the coast, and after coughing into the microphone, a man said ‘Ladies and gentlemen, as I’ve already made very clear, you aren’t supposed to swim outside of the flags. You two. Yes, you two. Come back to shore now, walk down the beach and reenter the water between the flags we’ve set up. There are strong currents today that will sweep you out before you’ll know what’s happening.’

I looked left along the vast expanse of sand and water. No flags at all. I looked to my right, and just before the end of the beach was a solitary yellow and red flag. I assumed the other was at the far end of the beach, meaning these two trespassers must have strayed into the only tiny stretch of water that was off limits. But I was wrong. I walked toward the flag and lo, the other flag came into view behind the first, about ten metres further down the beach. That was the extent of their safe swimming zone – a ten-metre slot on a beach miles long. I looked back down the beach and, just as before, saw people partaking in every marine activity under the sun on all points of the beach. Why were the lifeguards not stopping them? Who were these two poor bastards that got singled out for the condescending retard treatment?

I headed past the Nazi lifeguard offices, toward the cliffs near the beach, prepared to head up into the national park in brutally hot weather. Originally I had assumed, what with Manly being so jammed full of tourists, that this walk would be short, easy, well-marked and crowded. I could not have been more wrong. After taking a smoothly-paved path into the first set of bushes and up a hill to the cliffs, the asphalt suddenly vanished from under my feet, and I found myself making up a path as I went along. I ended up on the edge of a cliff by accident, then headed back into the thick foliage to emerge at an abandoned World War II gun pit used by the Australians during the failed attempt at a siege by Japanese submarines during May 1942. However, these gun pits (of which there are quite a few) hadn’t been refurbished or converted into a museum; they’re situated in a national park and thus I imagine redevelopment is prohibited. As a result, they’re literally derelict; just concrete-lined trenches in the ground, now home to some pretty extraordinary wildlife (or at least to an uncultured Englishman). Aside from the inevitably huge spiders which hung from every ledge, the pits had been colonised by groups of what I later discovered were Eastern Water Lizards, which are awesome green-and-black lizards, about 40-50cm in length, that look like they’re fresh off the boat from the Jurassic Era.

Unfortunately my wander into the Australian countryside predictably took a turn for the worse when I saw a clearing in the distance, and weaved my way towards it, only to discover a swamp. Holy mosquitoes that was not what I wanted to see at that point. After I realised an ambush attack was imminent, I sprinted back into the undergrowth and over the next hill where I suddenly found a road and, more surprisingly, a hospital. I have no idea why on Earth they placed it there, in a national park, by some cliffs, on a peninsula which is difficult to access unless you have a boat. Either way, I walked back down into town, grabbed a glass of red wine at a bar, watched the sun set, then headed back to Nick’s for another round of the gammon.

I’m now in Melbourne, sheltering in a coffee shop from the hideous weather outside (rain this time, not sun), so will report back once I get to grips with this city.