After a nice flight during which Ben made lots of new friends and a great impression on a cute air hostess (is that the politically correct expression for a stewardess now days?) we landed in Melbourne and picked up our rental. It took us a little longer than we expected as they gave us a big Japanese SUV, as with any non-European car we had difficulties with the baby seat and thus had to wait for a VW to get ready.
When we arrived home in East Hawthorne it was almost dark and we made ourselves comfortable. We were slowly realizing that our stay in Australia was about to end. While we were happy with the thought of going home and stop living out of a suitcase we were also more than a little sad. For the past two months we were in a state of quasi trance, we did not really know what day or date it was, we did not care if it was the weekend or not, the only thing that we looked forward to was our next destination. There was a lot of excitement about the whole trip and there was nothing routine about it.
We still had three days though and we wanted to make use of them, we decided to visit the Dandenongs. The Dadenongs are the Melbournian answer to the Blue Mountains, at least that is what “they” say. The Dadenongs are not that far from Melbourne but it was a stark reminder that driving in Australia is not really as pleasant or quick as what we are used to back home. We finally reached the forest and after a quick stop at the visitor’s center we took a stroll through a beautiful forest, the trees were huge and looked like they came from the sets of LOTR. We drove through towns with names like Ferntree Gully, Safrasssas, Kallista, Olinda, stopped for coffee and enjoyed watching people go about their lives.
This was also the weekend of the Formula 1 race in Melbourne, the Greek Festival Antipodes and the start of
the season for Aussie Rules Football! Melbourne was bustling with frenetic activity of all sorts. There were closed roads and whole areas cordoned off to an exclusive clientele, especially around Albert Park where the F1 race was on. Fortunately, I received a pass from a friend who lived in the area and I could move around. We had gone to the Antipodes festival the night before and it was fantastic, there is something very special that makes you very proud when a world city like Melbourne stops to celebrate its Greek population. The celebrations are extensive, there is a mini Luna park that they set up, there are stands that offer original Greek food, there is live music, there are local politicians and some that come from Greece, they hold speeches and go on a publicity roll through the mass of people. It was what the Greeks call a “panigiri”, in its truest sense.
On Saturday, I went to my first and only AFL game, the Bull Dogs were facing Collingwood. Australians are sports crazy and there is no other sport that can perfectly illustrate this craze. The sport is full of action, there is no stopping, they run, they shove, they kick and not always the ball for 4 quarters each about 30 minutes! The game is physical, quick, fun and exciting and the crowds were wonderful, loud and full of energy.
On our last full day in Australia the weather was beautiful, clear blue skies and warm. Unlike most of our time in Melbourne it looked like we would spend our last day outdoors, enjoying the day as Aussies do. We decided to go to the Botanic Garden and the Shrine of Remembrance.
It is a patch of green and quiet, just south of the city center, an excellent place to take a walk and enjoy the skyline. The Botanic Gardens are very beautiful, serene and as good a place as any to relax and in our case to reflect about the time that we spend in Australia. The Shrine of Remembrance was a very special place to me. It was build as a memorial for the fallen soldiers of Victoria during WWI, later it was dedicated to all fallen soldiers of the ANZAC forces. The Shrine was more spectacular than any other that I have seen. Walking through the building with its high ceilings, the war torn flags, the registers with the names of the fallen, the eternal light in front of a monument in the courtyard, it was overwhelming. It is also possible to get on top of the shrine where there is a balcony with breathtaking views of the city and St. Kilda just to the south.
The weather was beautiful and we did not want the day to end so we drove to St. Kilda and just sat there watching the sunset and loving every minute of it. That was the last day of a magnificent trip, we saw so much and experienced a lot. We spend countless hours together as a family and drove many ks through this beautiful, magnificent country.
The next day we checked if all was ok said our goodbyes to Beth’s uncle, who had been a graceful and wonderful host. We drove to the airport, taking in the sites, the city, the sky that seems to be so different down under. We dropped off the car and made our way to the gate….