The Australian Grand Prix: Not Just for Petrol Heads

When most people think of motor sports they imagine beer bellied, mullet sporting,  booze swilling petrol heads standing around discussing engine capacity, top speeds and which driver has betrayed loyal fans by swapping drives. When you think of Formula One you also add the glitz and glamour of the world’s biggest PR circus, Monaco living multi-millionaire playboy drivers, celebrities on the grid and the ridiculous sums of money that are thrown at the sport. Fair to say motor sport and Formula One is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Vroom....

Vroom….

I however am a fan. I love Formula One racing, sure the races have become a little boring and mundane over the last decade or so, and you almost need to be a rocket scientist to understand the new rules that are introduced every year.  Combine that with Bernie Ecclestone hogging the spotlight more than the drivers and teams themselves and I understand why people have switched off and turned their backs on the sport. More than anything I love the engineering and the science and physics behind the cars, call me a nerd, but I bet many fans of Formula One would say the same thing.

So therefore how convenient was it that the Australian Grand Prix almost perfectly coincided with our visit to Australia, how could we not go! If you ask many of the teams, drivers and associated ‘hangers-on’ in the F1 paddock they will all tell you the race in Melbourne is one of, if not, their favourite. Close to the centre of town, close to some great bars and pubs and combined with Melbourne’s famous restaurant scene what is not to love? So with my Dad in tow (or as Natalie would put it with her in tow!), we headed down to the Albert Park track to enjoy the first race of a new season and our last day in Australia.

Go Red Bull!

Go Red Bull!

It has been 11 years since I last went to the race and things have certainly changed. As I mentioned in my previous blog about Melbourne, the city loves a sporting event, not only that they know how to host an event. The atmosphere around the track felt less like a motor race and more like a carnival or fun fair. There was so much to see it would have been very easy to miss all the action on track.

The event catered for everyone, with an enormous ‘Kid’s Zone’ filled with rides and entertainers for the children, to an extreme sports area with everything from legendary skateboarder Tony Hawke giving demos on the half pipe to motorcross riders braving the ‘Globe of Death’.  Of course there were the stock standard souvenir shops selling event merchandise and each of the major F1 teams had their own dedicated shops selling everything you may ever need to support your team of choice.

Plenty to spend your money on!

Plenty to spend your money on!

Strolling around the track there were entertainers to keep us all amused. Small three piece jazz bands in racing jumpsuits, military bands, and even two guys in racing kit on mobility scooters angrily chasing each other waving their walking sticks at anyone who got in their way made sure the day had a fun element.

The picture says it all!

The picture says it all!

Several of the support races, the old restored cars and the Porsche racing cars, allowed you to walk right up to them, pose for photos, or see the cars being prepared for their respective races.  A rare insight and a chance for the petrol heads to get up close and personal with their beloved machines.

Porsche's on display

Porsche’s on display

Of course the reason we were all there was for the action on track, and this was also very well organised. There would be a break for 15 to 30 minutes and then something to entertain you. Everything from parades of restored cars, a celebrity challenge race, parade laps of drivers in nearly all categories and even a ‘drive by’ by country fire brigades that had helped the state of Victoria during the recent bush fires.  Whether you were walking around or watching the action on track there was never a dull moment.

The pre-race entertainment concluded with an aerobatics display from the RAAF Roulettes, an incredible fly over by a FA/18 Super Hornet fighter jet (probably Dad’s highlight) and finally a QANTAS flyover with their brand new Dreamliner (which was flown by a distant relative of Natalie), all helping raising expectations and excitement.

Fantastic flying machines

Fantastic flying machines

The race itself was pretty one sided but plenty of fighting for position further down the grid. The one thing that stood out to us was how many families were there as well as how many people who either didn’t know much about F1 or who you wouldn’t expect to see at a car race. I guess that comes down to how well organised the event was. It was a day out for friends and family.  Sure there were some people who were purely there to make their partner happy, but the race was set up to appeal to everyone, get people involved and expose people who normally wouldn’t be interested to the complexity, politics, engineering and excitement that is Formula 1.

Walking the track after the race

Walking the track after the race

Melbourne you have done it again!

-Dean

P.S. For anyone who was interested Nico Rosberg from Mercedes won the race.

 

 

 

 

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