Downtime Down Under
(Em) I think I mentioned in the last entry that the budget Air Asia flight from KL to Melbourne was surprisingly good. We both remarked that it was one of the quietest flights we’d ever been on, both in terms of general engine noise and fellow passengers (well, you never know who you’ll end up sitting next to and in our case, we had three seats between the two of us!) I did get slightly unnerved when, whilst flying over Indonesia, we noticed a spectacular lightening storm lighting up the night sky outside our window – I’ve never seen so many forks striking all at once, and they seemed to be so close! James, of course, wasn’t worried in the slightest and sat with his face to the glass, absolutely riveted. (James: It was incredible, with quite literally, dozens of strikes every second. Almost as if someone was fast forwarding through footage of a storm! And after all planes can handle lightning. Right?….)
We arrived in Melbourne early the following morning. We had a few hours while we waited for Dan (James’s younger brother, who you may recall came out to see us in Istanbul ) to come and meet us after he’d finished his lectures at nearby Monash (one of Melbourne’s two universities, where he is currently half way through his first year) so we had a bit of a wander around town. It was great to be back in Melbourne, one of our all time favourite cities, and at the same time very surreal. Just hearing the Aussie-accented but undoubtedly English language all about us in the airport had seemed strange after so many months in foreign language-speaking countries, and it was equally odd to be met with a sea of white faces, not Asian ones! Then, when we got into the centre of town (via the airport shuttle bus which, convenient and friendly as it was, shocked us a bit by the price – we hadn’t quite adjusted back to the Western cost of living!), we were struck by how calm and quiet everything was: Melbourne may be a busy, cosmopolitan city, but in comparison with Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur it seemed like a ghost town!! The roads were quiet and orderly, and people gave each other space, real space, as they went about their business. Amazing the things you notice when you’ve been living somewhere else for a while! We were also loving the laid back, friendly attitude of everyone around us. On the bikes, we’re used to constant attention and questions but as ‘normal tourists’ you usually blend in a bit more. This was still the case in Melbourne, but it seems that local or tourist, you’re greeted warmly and end up having a chat when you go into a shop or café. And why not? Unfortunately in London, this seems to be a bit of a lost art.
Once with Dan, we got the train back to James’ family’s house in Avenel, about 100km (60 miles) north of Melbourne. Sal (James’ step-mum) picked us up at the nearest station and when we got to the house, we were immediately leaped on by Teva, their young boxer puppy and possibly the most excitable and insane dog ever!! I’m a cat person myself (you might have gleaned that from the numerous feline photos in our gallery) but luckily I’ve warmed to dogs in recent years – and it’s hard not to love Teva, for all her madness she’s pretty adorable. It was great to see David, James’ dad, not least because he was looking so fit and well; back when we were in Pakistan, he’d been taken seriously ill and it just so happened to be the one time on the trip when we couldn’t have gotten to an airport for a flight to see him. This was partly why it was so important to us to get over to Oz now while we were ‘in the neighbourhood’. Pretty soon, the kettle was brewing, the laundry was on, and Meg (James’ sister) was back from school – all of a sudden we were in an environment with familiarity, routine and home comforts… and it’s amazing how quickly we adapted right back into it! (Hopefully this bodes well for our return home – one of our most frequent questions is ‘How are you going to adjust to living a ‘normal’ life again?’!) I think it’s the cold that we had the hardest time getting used to – we constantly felt freezing!! I borrowed extra layers from Sal and Meg, and David took to lighting the fire for us even during the day, but it was no good: we’ve turned into complete wimps and anything below 90 degrees has us shivering!
Aside from being a good chance to catch up with the family, our fortnight in Australia afforded us some welcome downtime. We slept in, went for walks with the dog, made ourselves a cup of tea whenever we felt like it (I’ve never consumed so much tea in my life – I think we were missing it!) We enjoyed some lovely home-cooked meals (and accompanying wine…) from Sal and David (that really was the best shepherd’s pie I’ve ever had; sorry, mum!) and James had the opportunity to get back in the kitchen too, which in turn meant that I got to have my first ‘James risotto’ in over a year, yes! We went to watch Megan play netball a couple of times, and if it’s not netball, it’s horse riding or tennis. Growing up in Australia promotes such a healthy, outdoors lifestyle –we were hoping it might rub off on us a little bit but a couple of cycle rides with Sally (aka fittest, healthiest woman in the world) and we were done for! (James: 20km into a bitterly cold headwind was the end of us!)
The next weekend saw us meeting up with Dan again in Melbourne where we ended up going to see at AFL game (Aussie Rules), the Richmond Tigers v the Western Bulldogs. Neither of us had much of a clue about the sport but Dan did his best to explain the rules and it was a fun experience for the lively atmosphere and good natured joshing from the crowds alone. (James: Bizarrely the sport isn’t actually played across Australia, but is more a game played in the state of Victoria. It started out as a warm up game for cricketers, but has evolved into a contact sport, with plenty of room for a bit of good old fashioned confrontations. Phrases being yelled around us during random breakdowns in discipline like ‘let him stand up for a fair fight you dog!’ sound a bit pathetic and old fashioned in ‘english’ English – more something you’d expect to hear at a duel – but the phrase takes on a much more earthy quality when coming from the mouth of the extremely large Aussie sitting next to you!) That night, I steered the boys in the direction of Lygon Street – they’d had their sport, now I needed my Italian food! The Lygon and Brunswick areas of Melbourne are home to lots of different immigrant communities – Greek, Italian, Lebanese etc – and, as a result, are well known to foodies. We stuffed ourselves stupid then made our way back to Dan’s halls of residence where we crashed for the night!
All too soon, the day of our flight back to Asia approached. We didn’t know where the time had gone! We’d been sure that we would be up-to-date with the diary by this point (the fact we’re only just posting up Australia shows you how wrong we were on that front!) and there were some jobs we’d wanted to do for Sally and David that we’d never got round to (sorry guys!) Nevertheless, we had been fairly productive – James had helped David get his MG up and running again, we’d installed a wi-fi modem to the computer, James had been in touch with Yamaha Canada about possible help with our crates at port in Vancouver and I’d managed to sort out a teaching job for September! One task that had thwarted us completely was trying to clear the tumbleweed from the garden – following an incredibly wet summer, the first after several years of drought, the stuff had grown at an unstoppable rate and now the area was experiencing an influx of dried tumble weed that was blowing in over garden fences at a far quicker rate than it was possible to gather it up. We spent several hours clearing the stuff and filled about ten big garden sacks, but by the time we’d finished, the first area we’d cleared was already full again! Oh well, at least Teva enjoyed herself trying to catch the rake and dragging sacks all around the garden!
David took us to the airport and we lucked out with a short check-in queue. It’s always sad saying goodbye to David and the family – with the massive distance between them in Australia and us in the UK, we never know when we’ll next get together. Our wedding, just before the trip, was the last time and Ben’s wedding (James’ brother in the UK) a couple of years before that… I guess next time will be for a birth (?!!…) or perhaps when Megan or Dan go travelling or even get married themselves… (that’s a scary prospect, eh guys?!!) This time we were flying with Jet Star (another budget airline) – they’d been pretty rubbish when we’d used them for an internal flight in Vietnam so we didn’t have high hopes but at least the journey to Singapore is only about nine hours (a trifle compared with the usual trip home from Oz). This would be our last destination in Asia after over a year on the road and it’s fair to say, we were excited to finally be making to ‘land’s end’ so to speak!…
See Australia gallery for photos.