Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Melbourne Free

There is rather an impressive young man in front of me in the check-in queue.  He is fully kitted out with an enormous backpack, a golden tan and an air of arrogance about him that says, "I'm incredibly well travelled, don'cha know?"  So, I couldn't help but snigger to myself when the lady at the desk informed him that he'd come to the airport a day early; his flight was in fact tomorrow. It's amazing how quickly a golden tan turns to a blushing rouge.

JB: not looking his best
Everyone in balmy Sydney told me Melbourne would be cold.  I wish I'd listened.  Despite the sunshine Melbourne was definitely a place that required socks and a warm vest in November. After my smooth hour-long flight I caught a long bus into the city to meet my friend John-Boy.  I lived with JB in Oxford when he was a student studying the Oxford BPhil, which is quite possibly the hardest degree known to man.  But despite having some of the biggest brains on campus he also has the sense of humour of a buffoon which is why we got on so well. After a hard day reading Wittgenstein he would join me on the sofa to watch a Come Dine With Me marathon or sing along to America's Next Top Model ("You wanna be on top?!"). He once made me a stir fry that contained so much fresh ginger I couldn't taste anything else for a whole week.

We ride the tram back to his home in Brunswick. This part of Melbourne's not like anywhere I've been before; lots of cool little shops and eateries but all in a very 70s style (I didn't know wallpaper was back in?). But what Brunswick lacks in interior design it makes up for in great pubs.  And I mean pubs. Proper pubs that feel like the pubs back home. And they sell pints! I order one excitedly and feel the effects immediately; after 2 months drinking schooners this pint is like being kicked in the clackers by a kangaroo. In a good way.

Takoyaki being made at the night market
The next day we head into the city centre.  We have coffee in a rather trendy street where all the cafes are like little tiny huts squished next to each other and the chairs spill out onto the street. Centre Place; the place to be.  Melbourne feels very multicultural, European and a little edgier than Sydney (Apologies to my Sydney-sider friends but it's true).  There is some very ornate Victorian architecture here and with the trams running up and down the city it makes you feel like you've travelled back in time. I like it!
Are you game?

We head to a few galleries in the NGV and then JB suggests we go and see some 'bush paintings'.  Having never heard of a bush painting before my mind conjured up all sorts of meanings but I was relieved to find some beautiful depictions of some of the first settlers arriving in Australia.  Little did I know how much of an expert JB turned out to be in regards to his heritage. As we strolled around the paintings he told me stories of famous explorers and prison escapees.  It is really unbelievable that these first settlers could survive such a country with its harsh terrain and lack of amenities (not to mention the bloodthirsty kangaroos).  They're a tough sort these Aussies.

We finished off the day with a visit to one of the regular night markets.  With rows and rows of food stalls including every national dish under the sun we really did work up an appetite trying to decide what to eat.  And then you have to stay for ice cream as they have every flavour imaginable.  A few post dinner beers later and we end up in a nice pub called "the Oxford Pub" typical. The streets all begin to look the same and the trams are all heading in the wrong direction. We flag a taxi home and try to sneak in so we don't wake JB's housemate.  The chook in the garden has other ideas though and makes a terrible racket. I'm beginning to feel at home in Melbourne.

Next time: I play a gig in Melbourne and witness a horny Koala bear courting a tree at the Healesville Animal Sanctuary (rated PG).

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