Our last few days in Australia

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.

Ben flirting....

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.

An Australian forest

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

This is a great sport!

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.

The very imposing ANZAC Memorial

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.

Melbourne

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 Botanical Garden

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….

 

Botanical Garden in Melbourne

The Eternal Flame at the ANZAC Memorial

The Memorial

St. Kilda

At St. Kilda on our last evening in Australia

The last picture in Australia! Happy faces no one can ask for more!

The road to Melbourne

Our last night in Adelaide

Well after a month in South Australia it was time to move on.  After all there are 6 states in total and two territories (NT and ACT), which in effect do function as States though.  We had to swap our hired car as the inspection light came on, so after sweet talking Bill the Greek in the Europcar station in center city Adelaide we got us a nice Skoda Octavia that fit us perfectly for the 800km trip to Melbourne.

Our trip to Melbourne was via the Western Highway, which is the shortest route.  It is still a long route that passes through a number of towns but it is a route that besides some pretty spots is very boring.  The only stops we made besides Murray Bridge 80km east of Adelaide to marvel at the mighty Murray river, was stops for gas, coffee and nappy changes.  The good thing this time around was that there were significantly less flies compared to

Ben checking out the naughty Hindley st. in Adelaide. The world's dirtiest McDonalds is on this street!

our trip up north.  Interesting along the route are the Grampians National Park and the Little Desert National Park as well as the city of Ballarat.  The city of Ballarat is known for spawning the victorian gold rush in the 1850s.  It is quite a large city, it is probably the largest inland city in Australia.  Unfortunately, we did not have time to stop as Beth and Ben were getting impatient to get going.

What is it about Australia, its highways and its bad drivers?  I mean Aussies are as nice and polite as they come but behind a steering wheel they become obnoxious and reckless.  It is weird because I expected it to be different, the driver’s have no notion of decency on the road.  On the other side you have these narrow two lane highways that make them perfect for horrific accidents.  Road trains do not help either, it is very hard to overtake them

Eleni, Beth and the kids

and when you do you have to actually speed up significantly, something that the Australian police does not seem to really agree with.  Speed limits are quite low and frustrating as it takes forever going 100km/h in Victoria (110km/h in S. Australia).  The distances are so great and there is so much space I wonder why it has to be this way.

Another thing that surprised me is that 40-50km outside Melbourne from the west side there is nothing.  I expected suburbs that stretch the horizon but the cities are much more compact, there have been recent developments but there are not that many commuters that actually have to drive 40-50km in Australia.  We arrived as night set in over Melbourne and the skyline was amazing, a stark contrast to the very (in comparison)

Ben is growing fast!

provincial town of Adelaide.  Adelaide is quick and easy, it has over a million inhabitants but it feels like much less, it is very spacious.  In comparison when we were approaching Melbourne I thought New York and Chicago, it is not quite that big but it has a few skyscrapers and compared to where we just came from it might as well have been.  We also found ourselves to a modern multi-lane highway that also came as a surprise and not long after we came to our first mini traffic jam over the West Gate Bridge.  It was a combination of a road works and a guy who wanted to jump off the bridge, let them jump I say.  It is a weird spectacle as a drama like that unfolds a mere 10 meters away while you are in your own little world looking through a window and hearing no sound.  I do not know what happened but then I could not just stop and watch.  We finally made it to Hawthorn, a suburb of Melbourne

My BBs, taken in Murray Bridge

about 7km from the CBD and according to Wikipedia a very expensive one.  It has a population of about 20,000 people and it is very close to the city.  We will be based here for the rest of our stay in Australia.  We will explore Melbourne its surroundings, Sydney, Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef in the next few weeks.

So long….

Kyriakos, Beth's uncle and our host in Melbourne feeding the little man.

He enjoys water so much!

Our friends in Adelaide