Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world…

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”

– Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca

The dingy, overcrowded and dark hotel bar at the Havana Hotel in Cairo is probably not the first choice of bar to meet up with a friend. Long and rectangular with just enough room between the lounges and seats to squeeze past, during a week in October 2009 it became my regular haunt.

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

With time off between the summer and winter seasons in Europe, but not enough to do things independently I decided to jump on board an overland truck from Cairo to Nairobi. First things first however, visas and welcome letters had to be arranged. It was at the Australian Embassy waiting to get a letter confirming my Australian passport was real for Sudan that I met Chris. After reading an inch thick travel advice, and followed by the question, “So you still want to go to Sudan?” we had our government stamped confirmation letters and we were on our way.

Over the next few days Chris and I spent the days rummaging through Cairo’s souks, hopping between the Ethiopian Embassy and generally exploring Cairo. Throughout we met several other travellers who would be accompanying us on our adventure south. Every night we would return to the Hotel Havana, where most people were staying before the trip, to have a few beers, catch up and get to know each other.

Chris had spent some time in Dahab before arriving in Cairo to sort visas. During his time there he had met a British girl who would be joining our trip. As Chris put it, “Natalie is a really cool chick”. As the week progressed the odd assortment of intrepid adventures travelling with us filtered into the hotel, but no Natalie.

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

One evening, several days before the trip, the band of merry adventurers had assembled in the bar. A thick smoke wafted up towards the ceiling from the various shisha pipes scattered throughout the bar and the heavy scent of apple tea hung in the air. In the background Arabic dance music rang out from an old CD player behind the counter and the low drum of hushed conversation would be broken by raucous laughter from one group to the next.

The rusty old metal detector at the front door would occasionally beep as a new guest entered but the fully armed security guard would only ever give a disinterested glance. I think the security was more there to make us feel safer but I had a feeling if something did happen they would be the first ones out the door!

It was at that point my life changed forever.

Against this backdrop of curling shisha smoke and apple tea the door from the hotel opened. A stream of bright iridescent light streamed into the bar followed by a ghostly silhouette. As the door creaked closed the beaming smiled Natalie replaced the silhouette. “That’s Natalie, the chick I met in Dahab”, Chris exclaimed. I don’t know how and I don’t know why but the moment I saw Natalie I knew I was going to marry her! Little did we both know, it was on that summery night in the smoke hazed hotel bar in Cairo The Smart Way Round was born.

It must have been love...

It must have been love…

That was five years ago. Our adventures have taken us all across the world, five continents and numerous countries. November sees the one-year anniversary of The Smart Way Round but the adventure started years ago. That’s the thing about travel, you never know who you are going to meet. I am always reminded of a comment a guest made on one of my first ever trips around Europe, “You make friends for a reason, a season or a lifetime”. Well in Cairo in 2009 it was definitely the latter….

– Dean

The Smart Way Round was born!

The Smart Way Round was born!

 

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Oktoberfest 2014: Top Day Trips out of Munich

It is now less than two weeks until Oktoberfest begins and if you followed are Pre Oktoberfest Checklist you should hopefully just about be ready to go! While a week-long beer drinking binge sounds good on paper, after a few days of being jammed into the Oktoberfest tents you may be looking to get out-of-town and rest your liver. Below we have listed a number of great day trips all within a couple of hours journey from Munich.

1. Ludwig II’s Fairytale Castles.

‘Mad’ King Ludwig’s castles are the jewels in the crown of Bavarian tourism. Neuschwanstein is the most famous, with an estimated 1.4 million visitors every year. Neuschwanstein was also the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle and has captured the imagination of tourists since the King’s mysterious death in 1886.

The view of Neuschwanstein Castle from Mary's Bridge

The view of Neuschwanstein Castle from Mary’s Bridge

However, while most people flock to Neuschwanstein, his other two castles are equally as impressive. Linderhof, near the famous Bavarian religious town of Oberammergau (also worth a look if you have time) is the only castle Ludwig ever completed. Much smaller than the other two, it is a far easier visit than Neuschwanstein and also doesn’t get the crowds. Nestled amongst the mountains and surrounded by lovely gardens, Linderhof would have to be our favourite of the three.

The smallest and only palace to be completed, Linderhof

The smallest and only palace to be completed, Linderhof

The final castle is situated on an island in Bavaria’s largest lake, the Chiemsee and is situated almost half way between Munich and Salzburg. Herrenchiemsee was built to be a living breathing museum dedicated to Ludwig’s idol, Louis XIV of France. An almost exact replica of the central sections of Versailles, Herrenchiemsee is probably the least visited of the three but has an idyllic location and can only be reached by a boat ride out to the island.

Numerous companies offer day trips from Munich and often combine Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Oberammergau. If you do go with theses agencies double-check what you are booking, as a lot of the tours DONT include entrances into the castles themselves.

Rear facade of Neuschwanstein

Rear facade of Neuschwanstein

2. Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site

Visiting a concentration camp is not something you will necessarily say you enjoyed, but it is something you will be glad you have experienced. Dachau was the first camp set up in the 1930’s and now days is part memorial and part museum, dedicated to all those who suffered under Hitler’s regime. Getting out there can be a little tricky on public transport, however a number of local tour companies offer trips out to Dachau normally meeting in Marienplatz. We highly recommend the audio guide.

Shadow of the entrance gate into Dachau

Shadow of the entrance gate into Dachau

3. Berchtesgaden and the Eagle’s Nest

According to legend when God was creating the earth he gave all the natural beauty to the angels to distribute evenly around the world. As you can imagine this is a time consuming job. With the angels running behind schedule (he did only give them a week after all), God bellowed out “Hurry up!”, and the angels dropped all the natural wonders in Berchtesgaden.Or so the story goes.

Looking down over Berchtesgaden and the Eagle's Nest

Looking down over Berchtesgaden and the Eagle’s Nest

Approximately two hours from Munich the region of Berchtesgaden is stunningly beautiful. Dramatic mountains, crystal clear lakes and rivers and of course Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. Specially designed local buses drive you up one of Europe’s most amazing, and somewhat hair-raising roads to the base of the Eagle’s Nest. From here it is a short walk through a tunnel to the original elevator made of polished brass before arriving in the building itself. Eagle’s Nest has a little something for everyone, incredible alpine scenery and photo opportunities for the nature lovers and some very interesting history for the history nerds (like me). Our tip, try to get there early, queues for the buses and the elevator can be very long if the weather is good.

4. Salzburg

The hills are alive! That’s right, after only a two hour train journey you could be yodeling away Julie Andrews style in the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart . Salzburg makes for a great day trip from Munich if for no other reason to just ‘pop’ over the border into Austria.

Salzburg's gorgeous Old Town

Salzburg’s gorgeous Old Town

Combine the imposing Festung or fortress towering over the city and the charming medieval streets and alley ways, Salzburg is a photographer’s dream. There are plenty of sights from ‘The Sound of Music’ to keep you amused or for something totally different head out to Hangar 7, the home of Red Bull. For great views of the old town and fortress head to the Cafe Sacher and enjoy a slice of the famous chocolate cake, Sacher Torte.

Sacher torte, yum!!

Sacher Torte, yum!

There are numerous other possibilities that we haven’t mentioned her as well. Nuremberg has a great old town and huge city walls, while from Garmisch-Partenkirchen you can catch a cable car up to the top of Germany’s highest mountain. If you fancy staying in Munich there are also some great experiences to keep you busy. We love Mike’s Bike Tours, a great way to see loads of the city and have a seriously fun time doing it. You can also hire bikes from them and they also run trips to Neuschwanstein and Salzburg.

Remember (if you haven’t had too much beer), Munich is a great city and so is the surrounding countryside, so make sure you take time out from Oktoberfest and get out there and explore!

– Dean

Prost!

Prost!

 

Our Top Wildlife Experiences So Far… Part 1

Nothing beats seeing wildlife in their natural habitat and over the years we have been lucky enough to see our fair share. From almost being trampled by a family of elephants in South Africa, searching for the elusive nocturnal Bamboo Lemur in Madagascar to the other worldliness of Antarctica, in this two part blog we explore our favourite wildlife experiences from our travels so far….

1: Mountain Gorillas in the Parc National des Volcans Rwanda

This would have to be one of the most amazing hours of our lives. We hiked for roughly an hour into the rain forests of the Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda to get up close and personal with one of mans’ closest relatives.

One of the most amazing hours of our lives.

One of the most amazing hours of our lives.

Visiting the Gorillas is strictly regulated, and rightly so, with less than an estimated 800 still in the wilds of Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Only 10 visitors per day get to spend one incredible hour with a family watching them go about their business. Despite their size, (the males can weigh over 200 kg), they can be extremely quiet and the sound of them beating their chests was more like hollow drums being beaten than anything out of a King Kong movie.

Up close and personal with a 200kg Mountain Gorilla

Up close and personal with a 200kg Mountain Gorilla

They truly exhibit human like tendencies and when they make eye contact you can sense the intelligence behind those eyes.  It is an experience you will never forget. I never thought anything would top visiting Antarctica, I was wrong.

2: Penguins in Antarctica

Antarctica is like another world, virtually devoid of human interference and one of the few places in the world where nature rules supreme.

Just one of the colonies of Penguins to be found in Antarctica's harsh environment

Just one of the colonies of Penguins to be found in Antarctica’s harsh environment

It really is a privilege to visit Antarctica and to watch a colony of roughly half a million penguins squawk, clamber, dodge and bully each other was one of the highlights of my years of travel. Each penguin had a totally unique personality, and armed with your camera and just sitting still they would move around, investigate and try and make sense of you being there. Antarctica is one of the few places in the world where wildlife has not had to learn to fear man and the penguin’s curiosity was fascinating to behold. We can only hope that it remains this way.

The penguins go about their business as if you were not there

The penguins go about their business as if you were not there

3: Madagascar’s Diverse and Unique Wildlife

After watching the BBC documentary series on Madagascar we thought we would be lucky to see half of what they experienced on the program, how wrong we were. Getting our Attenborough on was far easier than we thought, and we were lucky enough to see over 20 species of Lemur (our new favourite animals, sorry penguins you have dropped to number two!), dozens of incredibly colourful chameleon and geckos that looked like leaves.  We never thought we would get so excited about spotting insects!

A Ring Tailed Lemur in the  Andasibe National Park, Madagascar

A Ring Tailed Lemur in the Andasibe National Park, Madagascar

Each national park was famous for a different variety of Lemur, or a special type of Chameleon. Our tip, make sure you link up with experienced local guides in the National Parks, without a good one you wont see a fraction of what can see you.

One of the stunning Chameleon we saw on Madagascar's northern islands

One of the stunning Chameleon we saw on Madagascar’s northern islands

4:Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

You can’t talk about wildlife experiences without mentioning Africa!  While not the most famous, we loved Lake Nakuru National Park.  A stunning location and diverse wildlife made this one of our best game park experiences in Africa. Containing four of the big five (the park is too small for elephants) as well as loads of monkey and flamingo all set around a beautiful large lake and only a couple of hours out side Nairobi, make sure you add this to your Kenyan wish list.

Our first Lion in Nakuru National Park

Our first Lion in Lake Nakuru National Park

5: Diving with Thresher Sharks in Malapascua, Philippines

While there are without doubt far better dive sites in the world, and perhaps because it was my first shark experience Malapascua makes the list. It is one of the few sites in the world where recreational divers can see these deep-water sharks. Every morning at dawn they swim up to a cleaning station at 30m below the surface. Their ribbon like tails majestically waving behind them and their huge black eyes and open mouths they almost look as if they were stoned!  For divers, their fist shark experience is always something special, and mine was no exception.

 

The amazing tail of the Thresher Shark off Malapascua

The amazing tail of the Thresher Shark off Malapascua

Divers lined up at dawn as the Thresher sharks swim up to a 30m cleaning station

Divers lined up at dawn as the Thresher sharks swim up to a 30m cleaning station

Next week in Part 2 we round out our top 10 wildlife experiences. Any ideas what we will find? Leave a guess below or tell us about your favourite wildlife experience around the world and we will have to add it to our travel bucket list!

– Dean

A Glimmer of Hope in Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses row on row…

– John McCrae

This year marks the commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of The Great War, the war to end all wars.

Sadly the Great War was not the conclusion of hostilities but rather the beginning of one of, if not the bloodiest centuries in World History.

The next four years will see major battles remembered, historical debates reignite, blame and finger-pointing intensify, because for many countries WWI was a defining point in their history.

Gallipoli, the Somme and Flanders are all spoken with a deep-seated respect and reverence as thousands laid down their lives, often in appalling conditions fighting a war that no one could comprehend but felt compelled to participate in.

The battles in Flanders were some of the worst, soldiers fighting in waist deep mud and freezing conditions during the winters of 1915-1917.

The Iper Cloth Hall, home to the Flanders Fields Museum

The Iper Cloth Hall, home to the Flanders Fields Museum

However during this dark time, a ray of light, a glimmer of hope sprang from the small town of Poperinge. The village is situated about 12 km from the town of Ypres, today know as Iper and during the war as ‘Wipers’ by the Commonwealth forces.

The front facade of Talbot House

The front facade of Talbot House

This glimmer of hope was called Talbot House. Talbot house was founded as a ‘every mans’ club by army chaplains Neville Talbot and Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton. It was set up without discrimination of rank as a respite from the horrors of war. Men could shower and sleep in a clean bed often for the first time in months. Even if only for a short time, Talbot house was designed to allow men to forget the war and atrocities associated it, like Tubby Clayton said, it was “An Oasis in a World gone mad”.

 

Talbot House from the rear gardens

Talbot House from the rear gardens

Now days Talbot House is not only a museum but also a guest house with nine rooms in the original building and three rooms in the garden block. Staying at Talbot House truly gives you a very unique experience and a historical link to your Battlefields visit. The staff are very friendly and incredibly knowledgable and more than happy to sit down with you and help you plan your visit to the surrounding sites. Their hints, tips and advice all designed to ensure you get the most from your visit of the region, and it certainly helps getting some insider knowledge of out of the way places, monuments and cemeteries.

Talbot House is a great base to explore the region. From Poperinge you can easily visit the Tyne Cot Cemetary, largest in the region, or the Canadian Memorial commemorating the first use of mustard gas. Not far from Poperinge are some intact German trenches where Adolf Hitler served and was almost captured by Canadian troops and numerous other cemeteries and monuments.

One of the many Commonwealth War Graves around Poperinge

One of the many Commonwealth War Graves around Poperinge

Most convenient of all is the proximity to Iper which houses the stunning In Flanders Fields Museum and the famous Menin Gate. No visit to the region is complete without attending the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. At around 8:00pm every evening the Last Post has been played uninterrupted, (except during the Second World War) since 1928 and is an absolute must if in the area.

The Menin Gate in Iper with 54,896 missing soldiers names engraved on it

Vancouver Corner Memorial to the first ever mustard gas attack

Vancouver Corner Memorial to the first ever mustard gas attack

The next four years will be a sombre time for reflection and remembrance for the thousands of lives lost many of which perished in the mud of Flanders Fields. However while it is important to remember the tragedy that was the Great War, we should also remember men like Neville Talbot and Tubby Clayton and celebrate what they did to help alleviate the suffering of those weary soldiers. By basing yourself in Talbot House you are honouring their efforts, in a special way you are remembering those who fought and most importantly, you are keeping this amazing piece of history alive.

– Dean

“In all my experience I have never known a place so vital to morale as Talbot House”

– General Sir Herbert Plumer, 1928

The Magic and Wonder of Prague’s Charles Bridge

The ancient splendour and beauty of Prague, a city beyond compare, left an impression on my imagination that will never fade

–       Richard Wagner

Walking the Castle District or the Old Town of Prague is like walking through the streets of a fairy tale. Colourful facades, a stunning mix of architectural styles it is easy to see why the city is the Central European Hollywood. Every turn leads down a picturesque alley way or beautiful square that could easily be the scene from a movie. In fact over the years Prague has starred in Mission Impossible, XXX, Amadeus, Ghost Protocol and Casino Royale but to name a few.

Somehow every visitor to Prague is drawn to one spot in particular, as if by a force of gravity, and that spot is the majestic Charles Bridge.

Charles Bridge as seen from the River

Charles Bridge as seen from the River

Now like any good fairy tale or folk story the Charles Bridge is shrouded in myth and legend, much like the thick mists that can envelope the bridge itself during winter. This fact and fiction is easily blurred when talking about Prague’s tourist showstopper.

Charles Bridge has two faces, the hustle, bustle and energy of the day and the magical and mysterious by night. During the day the bridge is packed. Tourists and locals alike jostle for position for that perfect photo of the Castle, or peruse the myriad of artists plying their wares. You will find hand made jewellery; caricature artists and some amazing painters and photographers lined either side eager to help you spend money. Not only that but it is not uncommon to find jazz bands, Dixie bands and soloists all eagerly entertaining passers by hoping for a generous coin or two thrown into their hat.

Artistic creations  galore adorne the bridge by day

Artistic creations galore adorne the bridge by day

At night however the bridge really comes alive. Towering over the bridge the illuminated Castle looks more like a giant painting or film set than the seat of the Czech Government. The towers and statues illuminated at night throw an eerie light over the bridge and you can feel the myths and legends enveloping you from all sides. While the Charles Bridge is great fun during the day to get a real sense of the true magic of the bridge you must visit it at night.

Prague Castle at night from Charles Bridge

Prague Castle at night from Charles Bridge

Now as we said what is fact and what is fiction can be hard to separate in Prague but as the saying goes, ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story’ here are a couple of our favourites and the most famous ones.

First is the construction date, Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV was not only devoutly religious but also believed heavily in numerology. So to construct the bridge he consulted his numerologists to find the perfect date to lay the foundation stone. That date? The year 1357, 9th day of the 7th month at 5:31 am in the morning, or a pyramid of odd numbers

9

7   7

5         5

3                 3

1                       1

Fact or Fiction? Actually fact!

Second legend states that as the bridge was being built a number of the arches would continually collapse when one day there was a huge crash of thunder and strike of lightening and the devil (who thanks to the Simpsons will forever look like Ned Flanders for me) appeared and offered to help. The Devil promised to help the young architect complete the bridge on the provision the first soul to cross it was the Devil’s reward. One the day of completion the architect thought he could out smart the Devil and bought a rooster down to the bridge. Little did he know however that while he was mustering up the rooster the Devil had gone to the architect’s home and told his wife that she was desperately needed at the bridge. When the architect arrived at Charles Bridge he saw his wife rushing across the bridge and realised the Devil had won their game of wits!

Fact or Fiction? I think we better say fiction on this one, but the Devil does appear a lot in Central European and Germanic mythology so you never know!

Third legend believes that Charles IV insisted that every village in his Kingdom supply him with a horse cart full of eggs so the egg whites could be used in the mortar to hold the bridge together.

Fact or Fiction? Fact! Egg whites were also used in the construction of St Vitus Cathedral as well. As the story goes one village supplied the Emperor with a cart of boiled eggs. Now if the architect had of released the rooster over the bridge it begs the question, what comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Poor old Jan of Nepomuk, Patron Saint of Bridges

Poor old Jan of Nepomuk, Patron Saint of Bridges

The final legend relating to Charles Bridge is based around the most famous statue on the bridge, that of Jan of Nepomuk. He was the court priest to Wenceslas IV the son of Charles. Wenceslas was a quite a horrible man, he would often walk around the markets of Prague in disguise and if a merchant sold him under weight good he would have the merchant nailed to his scales, and he allegedly had a chef roasted alive one evening for ruining his dinner!

Now Wenceslas confronted Jan and demanded to know what the Queen had told him during her confession. Jan refused and as punishment the King had Jan’s tongue cut out, he was tied up in a sack and was thrown off the Charles Bridge into the heaving Vltava River below! Jan’s body then floated in the same spot for several days and when it sank a ring or crown of five stars circled the water where his body disappeared. Amazingly Jan of Nepomuk is now the Patron Saint of Bridges!

 

Relief one, rub for good luck

Relief one, rub for good luck

 

Relief two, rub to return to Prague

Relief two, rub to return to Prague

The Charles Bridge’s most famous statue is of Jan and below it are two reliefs. The one on the left shows a solider patting a dog and represents loyalty and the relief on the right shows Jan being thrown into the river. Rubbing the relief of the solider is supposed to bring you good luck and rubbing the relief of Jan being thrown from the bridge means you will return to Prague. A little further down the bridge is a small iron framework with a depiction of Jan floating below the bridge. This is the exact point where he was thrown to his death; it is also good luck to rub this one.

The site where Jan was thrown to his watery grave

The site where Jan was thrown to his watery grave

Fact or Fiction? Well a little bit of both. Jan was thrown to his death off Charles Bridge but it is believed because the Kind didn’t agree with the new Archbishop Jan was going to appoint. Lets be honest, the confession story is far more exciting.

There are many more myths and legends about the bridge but also about Prague itself. The foundation of the city, the Astronomical Clock in the Old town are all steeped in scurrilous rumours, magical stories some with a hint of truth but many passed down from generation to generation from medieval times.

The famous Astronomical Clock, also surrounded by myth and legend

The famous Astronomical Clock, also surrounded by myth and legend

One thing is for sure, like Richard Wagner said the legends of Prague and experiencing Charles Bridge in all its glory is something you will never forget.

Do you have a favourite myth or legend of Prague? If so leave a comment or link below.

Melbourne: Seeing your home town differently

Having lived and worked in Europe for the past 11 years, married to Natalie and armed with my UK Residence Permit I guess I would now be considered to be an ex-pat.

While I am lucky enough to live in one of the Worlds most amazing cities, London, a part of me will always call Melbourne home.It is only when you live away from, and then return, do you truly appreciate your home town.

Working in Europe I always wondered if Parisians strolled down the Champs Élysées and gave the Arc d’Triompe a second thought, or as the Romans wizz past the Colosseum on their Vespas they realised what an amazing piece of history their city had, even if Londoners appreciated having the greatest public transport system in the world, the Tube? (I can tell you the Londoners don’t!).

So over the last few years I have had the opportunity to experience Melbourne in a different light, I have had the chance to be a tourist in my home town.

Melbourne's Flinders Street Station

Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station

Put simply, I love Melbourne, it really is the best city in Australia. OK, city rivalries aside, Melbourne doesn’t have the ‘Big Ticket’ wow factors like Sydney does, such as the Bridge, Opera House and Bondi, and probably needs a little more exploration but once you do it is an incredible city.

One thing Melbourne is famous for is its cafe scene and it’s love affair with coffee. We can thank the Italian immigrants after WWII for really kick-starting this. One of the best places to experience Melbourne’s cafe culture is in Degraves Street. A small little pedestrian alleyway running between Flinders and Collins streets, it is filled with outdoor cafés and has an amazing energy and ultra cool vibe.

Degraves Street in the Melbourne CBD

Degraves Street in the Melbourne CBD

The Yarra River is the heart and soul of Melbourne and a stroll from Flinders Street Station down to the Casino and docklands area is also a must. Great restaurants, quirky bars and modern art awaits you, but it also gives you a great feel for Melbourne’s redevelopment over the last 20 years.

Natalie with one of the modern art pieces along the Yarra River

Natalie with one of the modern art pieces along the Yarra River

Now if you are more adventurous you can head out to various suburbs for a different taste of Melbourne. Carlton is the ‘Italian’ district and Lygon Street plays home to some of the best Italian restaurants in the city. Or perhaps down to St Kilda for some city beach chill time. Every inner suburb has a different feel and is famous for something different, and only after exploring a few of them do you truly understand what Melbourne is all about.

Of course Melbourne is also famous for its love of sport and if you are lucky enough to visit during a major event you quickly learn Melbourne loves sport almost as much as coffee!! We finish our visit coinciding with the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix – one of the jewels in the city’s sporting crown. Much like Kevin Costner’s movie Field of Dreams, in Melbourne, if you host it, they will come! In fact half of Melbourne will still turn up to watch a sport they know nothing about.

Gearing up for the Grand Prix

Gearing up for the Grand Prix

Great shopping and great museums also contribute to the Melbourne experience. Every time I visit now I see something different and I have a greater appreciation for my home town. It makes me want to get out and explore London more, a promise Natalie and I have made repeatedly on this trip.

Now while I love Melbourne I am the first to admit it is not perfect, but no city is. Apart from the trams, in particular the Circle Line Tram which does a loop around the city and is free, yes free, ask any Melbournian and they will tell you the  public transport system is not great, (Londoners take note). Australia, not just Melbourne in particular is very expensive for tourists but these are small considerations. It is no wonder that Melbourne is regularly voted one of the world’s most liveable cities.

Melbourne's famous old trams

Melbourne’s famous old trams

If you have never been a tourist in your home town get out there and explore, visit the famous sites, eat at the famous cafés and restaurants, go and see that show or museum you have always said you would, who knows, you might just discover you live (or have lived) in a pretty incredible city and you never knew it!

– Dean

Chapter 11: Melbourne, The In-laws and the Great Outdoors

Touchdown!

We made it, Melbourne, our furthest away point and the whole reason for our overland adventure was now a reality. Landing in Melbourne felt like a world away from what we had experienced through Myanmar, India, Nepal, Tibet and so on.

The sign at Melbourne Airport

The sign at Melbourne Airport

Despite our excitement about arriving back in Australia there was also a twinge of sadness. Australia was our penultimate destination, our target to reach by any means possible and here we were. So our excitement was tempered by the fact that in a few short weeks we will be back to normal life, well as normal as it gets for us! However this was not going to stop us having an awesome couple of weeks.

While I grew up in Melbourne, it is no longer ‘home’ ever since my folks sold up and retired down to Torquay. Put simply if there is a better place in the state of Victoria to live it hasn’t been found yet. At the beginning of The Great Ocean Road, one of Australia’s most stunning coastal drives, a short drive to the world famous Bells Beach, Torquay was the perfect spot for us to chill and relax for a few days after our epic adventure. Walks along the beach, a glass of red on the balcony looking for kangaroos, does life get any better?

Torquay front beach

Torquay front beach

Of course our visit to Oz wouldn’t be us if we didn’t try and cram as much into a brief visit as possible. This included catching up with awesome friends Matt, Kirsty and my favourite kids in the world and spending a few days in Melbourne itself.

I love Melbourne, it is such a vibrant and cool city. Natalie and I have developed a routine in Melbourne which revolves around shopping, particularly the outlet stores near the Crown Casino and Docklands area, walks along the river and normally a drink in Federation Square. We may do the same thing everytime we visit but it is the sense of familiarity we love.

This time however we had one important thing to do, and that was to pick up Natalie’s parents from the airport. They were flying out for our wedding party and it was a surreal experience.

Natalie’s parents help us out an awful lot, particularly with airport drop offs and pick ups and not to forget her Mum’s mercy dash to Paris airport with my newly issued residence permit so I could return to the UK after our honeymoon!

So patiently we waited, welcome sign in hand hardly believing this moment had come. If you have never experienced it, it’s quite a strange feeling picking up your parents or friends from home in another country.

Waiting for Natalie's parents to arrive

Waiting for Natalie’s parents to arrive

After a late night arrival the following morning we hit up one of Melbourne’s famous lane ways for breakfast before I returned to Torquay and Natalie spent the next day and a half exploring Melbourne with her folks.  They rode the free Circle Tram, had dinner on the Colonial Tram Car as well as going up the 88 floors to the Eureka Sky Deck viewing platform and they seemed to really enjoy catching up and re-living old haunts!

The Cole family’s arrival in Torquay was a chance for everyone to catch up, consume a little too much wine, and explore the surf coast region as we prepared for our Wedding Party.

It’s been great having both families together again and also wonderful that Natalie’s parents can see where I grew up and where we spend our time down here in Australia. Week one in Oz has been great and with dawn breaking on Wedding Party day we couldn’t wait to catch up with all our friends and family.

Australia, it’s good to be home!

– Dean