Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Although we've been in Australia for 3 months, we've not really seen very much about the Aboriginal culture, and so we went to Brambuk Aboriginal cultural centre in the Grampians today. As well as the usual things (glass cases full of 200 year old didgeridoos and boomerangs) which museums love and kids hate, they'd also laid on some holiday activities for children. The girls had a go at aboriginal art, creating paintings with dots, using bits of grass and poster paints. Not to be left out, I had a go too, painting a dotty Australian flag on a rock. Charlotte painted her own boomerang, and Emily daubed a rock in a not-quite-Aboriginal style.
Sunday, December 28, 2003
A day trip into the Grampians
We got out and about in the cars today, to see some of the sights of the Grampians. We drove up the top of a couple of mountains to the viewpoints (talk about making it easy!), and then walked to a couple of waterfalls. Although it is now summer here there's still water coming over the falls, they had solid rain here a fortnight ago for four days, which must mean that the drought has truly broken here. So the walk to the waterfall was rewarded with an impressive view. Sarah and Michael regularly compare this part of Australia with the views of Africa they remember from 30 years ago. Away from the mountains, the plains are very flat and covered in dry grass, with trees studded around. And every now and again, there's an emu or kangaroo beside the road. If only the flocks of sheep were wildebeest…..
Friday, December 26, 2003
Boxing Day – time for a walk!
Well, after spending a day in and around the cabin, we thought we should go for a walk today, and work off the excesses of Christmas (how many people at home will have done exactly the same!). As you'll have seen from the photos of the last 5 months, we haven't done anywhere near as much physical exercise this trip as last time, because the children don't have the same stamina for walking. This picture was taken after 12 months of travel last time, where I'd lost 4 stone after travelling through India and Asia – somehow I'd imagined that something similar would happen this time, but of course no chance! Not only have we had less chance for hiking, but we've also spent the last 5 months in countries with easier access to unhealthy foods – Canada, the US and now Australia. Here in Australia, for example, we've been very actively using the barbecues, which means quite a bit of meat and sausages.
Anyway, back to today – we decided to walk around the lake by the caravan park, which didn't look huge, but by the time we were halfway around we knew it was bigger than it looked! Anyway, it was 10km round, so we had a healthy long walk (fortunately we'd left Charlotte and Emily at home with Gloria and Michael), and felt much better for it!
Thursday, December 25, 2003
Swimming in a Winter Wonderland
25th December in Australia - a Christmas Day like no other (for us at least!). First thing was a bit like normal – presents under our tacky tree, but only for the girls. Gloria and Michael had carried a suitcase over from England, which was full of Charlotte and Emily's presents from them and our friends. Imagine our horror at seeing the size of it (too big to be a carry on bag…), and then when the presents were piled on the dining table around the tree, we couldn't help but think about the size of them compared to the size of our rucksacks! Of course, everybody had thought of that too, so when the girls unwrapped them with glee, we found lots of packaging around presents which will either pack up small, or aren't designed to last beyond the 9 days that we are here! That was about the only thing that was slightly traditional – the rest was very different. For a start the weather was warm and sunny, with a clear blue sky. After a BBQ'd breakfast of bacon and sausages, we went down to the pool for a swim, and then wandered out to the beach.
We have done this before – 10 years ago we were in Australia for Christmas during our last trip backpacking around the world – but it still seems very, very odd to be standing on the sand, in shorts and t-shirts, while thinking about Christmas. It makes it so unreal that its difficult to think about the traditional images of Christmas – snowmen, carol singers, a roaring fire. In fact, by the time we'd walked to the beach and taken the photo with our hats on, we were very, very hot underneath them. So we didn't spend all day in them!
Finally, in the middle of the afternoon, we had Christmas Lunch. Michael and I slaved away over a hard barbeque, for at least 20 minutes, to cook the fillet steaks, while Gloria and Sarah were tied to the kitchen preparing a salad. So instead of the traditional 7 hours of cooking turkey (starting at 5 o'clock in the morning) with all the trimmings, we were sitting down to eat half an hour after we'd started preparing our meal! After such a hearty meal, we had to leave the Christmas Pudding until after we'd had another swim in the pool, and then we settled down to watch a little bit of TV, with various family members settling for a nap!
With no stress, and little fuss, it seems as if there are some really positive side effects of a non-traditional Christmas.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
t'was the night before Christmas…
We left the coast today, and headed inland to the Grampian mountains. A month ago we'd booked a cabin on the shores of Lake Fyans for Christmas and New Year – we'd been warned that as soon as Boxing Day arrives it gets incredibly busy, and most people book 6 months ahead for the sites – so we thought we should book one place for the whole period around Christmas, rather than risk moving around and being without any accommodation at all! The Grampians are about two hours drive from the coast, across typical Australian farmland – dry, yellowing grazing land, dotted with corrugated iron shacks and corrugated-roofed houses.
Lake Fyans is an artificial lake, created by damming an existing hollow, but with the drought that has been affecting Australia for the last few years, it’s a lot smaller than it should be – it got 40% of the water in it that should be there. So instead of a small sandy beach in front of the cabins, there's actually a HUGE sandy beach – about 100 metres wide – running down to the distant shore! The plus side of this is that the water skiers, powerboaters and jetbikers have all had to go and find another lake to zoom around, so it’s a lot more peaceful than normal. Apparently the lake has been very low for over 5 years, and it has started to recover a little, now that the worst of the drought is over. But its going to be another 4 years of rain before it starts to look like the waterfront cabins on the front of the brochure again!
Once we'd settled in to the cabin, Michael, Gloria and Sarah went off to the nearest big town for the Christmas supermarket shop. This wasn't nearly as harrowing as a normal Christmas food shopping expedition, as we didn't have to buy turkeys or many of the other traditional Christmas Day delights – and because the Australians don't make a huge thing of Christmas Day either, the supermarket wasn't heaving with thousands of people desperately fighting over the last tub of brandy butter!
Although we've not going to have a traditional Christmas, we've still got a few traditions to continue for the children – including fixing the stockings up on the bunk beds – and waiting three hours for them to fall asleep. Emily finally succumbed to sleep at 11:30pm!
Monday, December 22, 2003
Tower Hill Reserve
With the weather improving each day, we headed out to Tower Hill Nature Reserve today, which is inside the crater of an old volcano along the coast. Along the rim of the crater emus wandered around, ignoring our presence. It feels really strange walking close to animals that you would normally only meet in a zoo, and without a fence between you and them. The only time they acknowledged our presence was when I kneeled down to take a close-up photo of one, and the two nearest emus kneeled down too!
One we were down inside the crater, we found even more wildlife around – lots of birds flying around and koalas in the tree. Spotting your first koala is a bit difficult, as they don't move around a lot, but once you've worked out what to look for you can suddenly see them everywhere. We saw them right at the tops of trees, with the bows bending over as they reached out to the very tips to grab eucalyptus leaves. We saw them sleeping in the forks of branches, in the most uncomfortable positions. And we saw young koalas, making their first explorations away from their mums. We even got to see a koala with a baby on it's back, walking across between trees. The girls loved every minute of it, and for a while even forgot about the flies that pestered us every moment that we were outside.
Saturday, December 20, 2003
The last Saturday before Christmas...
Like almost everybody else, we spent the last Saturday before Christmas doing the shopping! In Australia, most smaller shops close around lunchtime on Saturday, even in the cities, so we only had a short time to get our shopping done. We were only after a few small Christmas presents for the girls (aware of the size of our rucksacks, especially as we've got to get everything back into them when the hire car goes back on 5th January; and also the ominous presence of a green suitcase, which Gloria and Michael are carrying and have told us is full of Christmas presents for the girls). I also had to buy a new CD-ROM writer, as the Archos drive I've been using since leaving has finally given up (it was temperamental when I first bought it, and has been getting steadily worse as time goes on). We need it because it allows us to backup our pictures onto CD, and send them home, as well as copy photos and text for our website, whenever internet cafés won't allow me to connect up my own computer (which is quite often here in Australia). We're also hoping that the green suitcase contains one or two CDs to play, as we're now thoroughly sick of the same 10 CD's worth of music on the computer. We could do with something else to put on our MP3 player!
Anyway, shopping successfully achieved, we then all went to the cinema to watch the new Peter Pan film (a pre-Christmas treat), and then went down to the harbour to play in the adventure playground and catch the sea breeze before bedtime. We're still amazed at how good the public parks are here in Australia – every town has a park that most places in England would be proud of, with a great play area, and picnic tables and BBQs to cook on. This evening the sun had come out, and all the clouds had cleared away, and every BBQ was in use by groups of families and friends enjoying the summer. Its at times like this that you can envy the Australians their outdoor lifestyle (especially after the flies have gone to bed...)
Friday, December 19, 2003
Carols on the Green – Australian Style
When we arrived in Warnambool, we discovered that they had an outdoor carol service planned for the evening, so we thought we'd try and get in the Christmas spirit by going down to it. We all had images of the carol service in Deddington on Christmas Eve - wrapping up warm and standing in the village square, in the shadow of the village tree, singing carols accompanied by a barrel organ and Jim Flux's off-key singing through the loudspeaker! All along with mince pies and mulled wine. Sadly, Australia doesn't seem to do Christmas like that...
The green was filled with families settled on picnic blankets, with candles and drinks – and quite a few Domino's Pizzas. The first half hour was taken up with the students at the local dance school, performing their routines to pop tunes (not quite Christmassy!), and then we had 15 minutes of magic from one of the local teachers (not a mention of Christmas there then), but then the Christmas lights were switched on (one neon Angel over the stage) and the compere stepped forward. He was obviously a local celebrity, because he talked for quite a bit about this and that (mainly about the ice cream stall and the glo-band stall either side of him), and then introduced the choir, who led into the first carol. Despite everybody having carol sheets, not a single person in the audience sang (except for Gloria, of course). Carol two was "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", and the local celebrity spent a while talking about how it didn't mean anything to Australians, as it was all about Kings and Royals, and they didn't go in for any of that stuff, so he tried to put it into an Australian context, by asking what the herald angels would sing for today – and deciding that obviously it would be Cathy Freeman winning in the Olympics. So there we go – a Carol concert in which the birth of the son of Christ is declared to be the same as Cathy Freeman running 400 metres! The carol was accompanied by the same deafening silence from the crowd, and by this time we were starting to realise that our image of 'Carols on the Green' weren't going to be fulfilled. When the next carol was replaced by a Country and Western song composed by the local celebrity, we decided that we'd go back to the cabin rather than suffer any longer! (It turned out that the "Carols from the Domain", on television the next night, was just as good – they had the Wiggles singing children's songs at 10pm, and then a huge Disney section, unrelated to Christmas, because Disney had sponsored the programme – they showed trailers for every Disney movie in the cinemas at Christmas, but still no mention of Christmas. The final icing on the cake was when we discovered that they sang the carols when we were watching the adverts, so when the adverts ended was the only time we caught the last few bars of a carol!)
We had already decided that we couldn't really have a proper Christmas here in Australia, and it was confirmed by today's experiences!
The shipwreck coast
Finally, after seven days at Marengo Headlands, we're heading off up the coast. After feeling that my feet were growing roots, it was a relief to pack everything back in the car and set off. Although the weather continues to be a bit overcast, it is broken up by occasional spells where the sun breaks through the clouds – and when that happens you're quickly reminded of how fierce the sun is here, so close to the ozone hole. We've been away since July, and have got pretty used to the sun, and have developed tans which protect us from the worst of it, but even we still get caught. On Wednesday Sarah got sunburnt eyelids, when she sat out in the sun for an hour without her sunglasses on, and the result was painful, puffed up eyes for a day.
The drive today, from Apollo Bay to Warnambool, took us past the 12 Apostles, probably the most famous sight of the Great Ocean Road, and we had to stop for the obligatory family photo – and you can see the effect of the weather. Although it's still warm – T-shirt weather – the temperature can be very variable, depending on how thick the cloud cover is. When we arrived we were all feeling a bit cool, but as we were leaving it had become too hot, as the clouds had thinned a little, and were letting through much more sunlight.
The thing that you can't really get any sense of in photo's is the ever-present Australian fly. Whenever the weather is warm enough, they swarm over the landscape, looking for something to land on. At the viewing point for the Twelve Apostles, we came across the worst fly infestation we'd seen in Australia, and by the end of a twenty minute walk we all had 50 flies clinging to our clothing, and wandering around our faces. Although we wave them away, they quickly just fly back and start crawling over your mouth, nose, ears and eyes again. It's so bad that it cuts short the time you spend outside at some places, and makes it a relief to get back in the car. And we always have to have a vigorous fly-swatting session before a photo – otherwise we'd end up looking like currant buns!
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Water, water everywhere
When it rains, and we're confined indoors, the cabin can seem a bit small – especially if the children decide to play a noisy game. But when the rain stops, and we can go outside, its great to be able to get onto the beach, or go for a walk. Today, after some early morning rain, we headed up to Marriners Falls, a 2 mile walk through the rainforest. The track was pretty easy going, with four stream crossings across stepping stones, and it went deeper and deeper into the forest – eventually completely shaded by the huge ferns which cover all of the forest floors here. The silver-lining to the earlier rain was that the trickle over the waterfall had turned into a semi-torrent. The fall itself was surrounded by moss covered rocks, and fallen trees lay across the pool at the foot. It was such a perfect sight, it was a though it had been made as a film set.
On the way back to the town, we saw an example of the rural economy – a farmer selling bags of 'sheep poo'. Given that sheep are free-range, and wander all over the hillsides, we wondered how he collects and bags it? Does he wander all over the hillsides with a collecting bag, or has he improvised a device to hang off the back of the sheep?
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Victoria – 3 seasons every day
Melbourne has a reputation as the "changeable weather capital of Australia", and now we've been in the area for a couple of weeks, we know how true that is. Every day seems to dawn bright and with blue skies, then deteriorate towards either too high temperatures, or in the opposite direction to cold winds and rain. Yesterday it was 39 degrees and blue sky – just stepping outside sapped the energy away from you. And today its wet and around 17 degrees. The rain started before 7am, eased up slightly at 1 o'clock, and then came back with a vengeance later. Its quite amazing, considering that this is the Australian summer (their school summer holidays start tomorrow), and we hadn't really packed for such poor weather (we'd been planning to stay in summer temperatures all year! We've had to add a few more layers some days, and you sometimes wonder if we'd be warmer at home!
But when the weather is good, it's quite something! Yesterday morning I went for a walk on the beach at dawn, and saw this sunrise. So its not all doom and gloom when the weather's bad, and just like at home – if you don't like the weather, at least it'll change soon!
Sunday, December 14, 2003
The Otway Fly
Today was another day of rainforest and walks. After a picnic lunch and a short trek, we went to the Otway Fly, about 40 miles from Apollo Bay. This is a treetop walkway, suspended between huge metal poles up to 45 metres above the ground. They very kindly used a metal grid for the floor, so that when you look down you can see exactly how high you are. Charlotte opted out before we'd even got onto it, as she's not really got a head for heights.
For 600 metres we walked amongst the tree tops, looking down on the forest floor waaaay below us. It was quite exhilarating, and unlike anything we'd ever done before – especially the cantilevered section, rocking and swaying as you step out onto a 30 metre walkway suspended over nothing and held up by two high tension wires. (If you saw "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here", the walkway is a bit like the metal bridges they walked across to their challenges).
Saturday, December 13, 2003
The Otway forest
We're staying in Merango, a mile from Apollo Bay, which has got the sea on one side, and the Otway State Park on the other. The coast here is lovely – sandy beaches in the bays, with rocky headlands in-between – and is great for rock pooling (yesterday evening at low tide we found hundreds of starfish and multi-coloured anemones). And today on our inland trip we enjoyed walking through rainforests covered with ferns and towering eucalyptus trees. Along the way we saw another echidna and then koalas – they cling to the trees and munching all of the leaves and then drop asleep in the most unlikely positions. We finished with a visit to Cape Otway lighthouse, up on a headland with sweeping sea and coastline views. The weather has also improved too – yesterday afternoon we had torrential rain, and it got very cold overnight. But by this afternoon the clouds had gone, to be replaced by blue sky and warm temperatures.
Friday, December 12, 2003
When you're travelling around Australia with a group of six people, you have to work a little harder to find the right kind of accommodation, at the right price. Fortunately, we found cabins, which are basically wooden or prefabricated buildings, which are all over the coast in Australia. Sometimes they're either on their own or on caravan parks – which is often the cheapest option. With two people they cost from AU$50 to $120 (£20 to £50), depending on the individual site and how luxurious they are – some of the deluxe ones are fitted out with spa baths, hi-fi, DVD players etc. At most sites they also get the pick of the views – looking out over the sea, or alongside a river, while the campers are lined up behind with a view of the toilet block! (Boy, did we complain about that when we were in the camper van, but now we're staying in them it seems okay!).
Once you're inside it's fitted out just like a house. There's a lounge/diner/kitchen, kitted out with all the normal appliances, and then two separate bedrooms and then a bathroom with shower etc. From the inside you wouldn't know you're in a pre-fab – apart from the paper thin walls, which mean that there's about as much privacy as you'd find in the middle of Brighton beach in the summer! Anybody turning over in bed risks waking everybody else up. There's one double bedroom (for Sarah's parents), and one with bunk beds (for us and the girls). The bedrooms aren't exactly the biggest we've seen – once you've squeezed two two-bed bunk beds into a room, there's enough floor space to put down our rucksacks, and that's it. So we have to take turns getting up in the morning, although the girls are normally up well before us or well after us. I did ask Gloria and Michael if they wanted to take turns on the bunk beds, but apparently they're quite comfortable in the double bed!
The great thing about the cabins is that because they are on caravan sites, you have all their facilities available, like the laundry, play parks, swimming pools and outside gas barbeques. This is much better than hiring a house, or staying in hostels, and it works out much cheaper than either of those options (we paid AU$80 for four dormitory beds in the Treehouse hostel, compared to AU$90 for four people in a self-contained cabin, with two bedrooms, bathroom, lounge, kitchen etc). If we hadn't had a camper van for the last two months, cabins would have been more economical for the four of us than hostels. The major downside to staying in cabins is that you tend not to meet as many other people as when camping or hostelling – everybody spends more time inside their cabin and on their own veranda, with an impressive view (this is the view from the cabin here in Merango).
The girls love them too – not only can they wander through to see Nana and Opa first thing in the morning, they also get to watch television for the first time in two months. And today's cabin has even got a DVD player (all we need now is a DVD to play....)
Thursday, December 11, 2003
The Great Ocean Road
For the next couple of weeks we're going to be driving the Great Ocean Road, which was built by unemployed ex-servicemen after the First World War. Today we explored the stretch from Anglesea to Lorne – about 20 miles – which wound along a coastline dotted with beach houses. Some of the houses are older wooden slatted bungalows, while others are modern glass and concrete affairs, built on big pillars and with huge windows facing the sea. One even looked a bit like a concrete birdhouse, perched on a 30 metre high solid concrete pillar. Around every headland is another bay, with a long sandy beach, and normally occupied by surfers waiting for 'the wave'. Although at the moment there's no waves of any size – so they just seem to sit there all day on their boards, looking hopefully out to sea for the 'next big wave'.
Not all of the sights are on the coast though – in the evening we visited Anglesea Golf Course – to see the hundreds of kangaroos which invade the fairways at dusk. Kangaroos eat grass, and there's a plentiful supply of freshly watered grass right along the golf course! We'd been told that there were quite a few there, but hadn’t expected the hundreds that were there – probably over 500 on three fairways alone. I guess the members must avoid the early and late tee times, and leave those for visitors! We got talking to a local golfer, and they had got used to playing with kangaroos around the course. Apparently they have very thick fur, so if a ball hits them anywhere on the body, it just bounces off and the kangaroo ignores it. However, if you hit them on the head, they just keel over like bowling pins, and lie there on the ground stunned. There must also be some special local rules – do you get a free drop if your ball disappears in a kangaroos pouch?
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
Mr Fraudster – part 2
Over the last five months of travel, I have mostly been myself, but I've begun to get used to having a few aliases. In Canada, when we were filming with the BBC, we'd asked Amanda from the BBC to confirm our accommodation bookings, so that we had hostel rooms in the same town as the crew. (Normally we wouldn't book rooms ahead, as we'd just turn up and see what we could get!). The side effect of this was that all our bookings were in the name of Egbujo. After the second time we realised, and began checking in as the Egbujo-but-Fleming-really family.
Then in Australia, while travelling in the camper van, we'd been using the campsite discount card which came with the van – in the name of Mrs Gill Bird from Canada. Unfortunately the handwriting on the card was so bad, that we ended up being booked in as the Bird family, the Biro family and the Biko family! It also meant that where we used the card, we had to pay with cash, otherwise there would be the mystery of the Biko family ("Didn't speak like a south African did he?") using the Fleming family credit cards("Do you think we should call the police?"). At the last site we visited, the receptionist was very curious about our accents ("You don't sound Canadian..."), and why my first name was spent with two L's ("Normally Gil is spelt with one 'L' for men...").
But now the van's gone back, I'm my own man again – I've even got my own campsite discount card in my own name. I can go around the rest of the world as Ray Fleming Mmm, perhaps hiding my identity again would be a good idea...
Monday, December 08, 2003
Who's the Birthday Girl?
What can we say – birthdays can't get much better than this, can they? Surrounded by the ones you love, and who love you, spending the day on a sunny beach, surrounded by smiles, and with nice presents and cards.
Happy Birthday Mummy
And we spent the day celebrating - flowers, birthday cake, sparklers, and then dinner out, with the world's largest crayfish for Sarah (and the nearly the world's most expensive bill for Sarah's Dad - what great timing to arrive before Sarah's birthday and be landed with that!)
Sunday, December 07, 2003
The Great Ocean Road
We're starting the drive along the Great Ocean Road, the world's second most beautiful drive (according to the literature from the local tourist board). Although it can be done in a couple of days, we're planning to take a couple of weeks, by staying 4 or 5 days in various towns, and basically taking it slooowly. And today was a great example – we managed to drive just 20 kilometres along it, from Torquay to Anglesea (yes, there really are Australian towns, I'm not making it up). To slow ourselves down, we spent half an hour in Torquay looking for a suitable cabin, then stopped for a picnic lunch at Point Addis, looking out over cliffs and sea covering half a dozen shipwrecks from the 19th century. But after that exhausting drive, we stopped in Anglesea caravan park and got no further! We're now tucked up in an identical cabin to last night, where we intend to stay for the next 5 days. I'm sure that there's a lot to see and do (open cast coal mine tour anyone?)
Saturday, December 06, 2003
En vacation, en famille
It definitely feels like we're on a seaside holiday! Today we went sightseeing to the surf beaches, watching the locals ride the waves while tucking into a picnic on the beach. Australians love to get to the coast at the weekend, and on a Friday and Saturday night the camp sites fill up with people leaving the big cities for a couple of days. Mostly their time is spent surfing (under 30's) or fishing (over 30's) – or at least that's what the men do. We haven't been able to work out what the women do, as they don’t seem to get out in the same numbers – in fact, we mostly see them looking after the children while the men are out doing their thing. Australia sometimes seems to represent England 30 years ago! But as you can see in the photo, we're getting out all together, and all seeing the same things.
Friday, December 05, 2003
To the coast
We all left Melbourne behind us today, and headed to the coast near Geelong (30 miles south of Melbourne, sandwiched between the sea and the Philip Bay which stretches all the way from the city). We also left behind all traces of accommodation luxury, and checked into a family cabin at the Pelican Beach caravan park – basically a pre-fabricated hut plonked on a bit of grass overlooking the sea (well, it overlooks the sea if you stand on tiptoes). This will be the style of accommodation for the next month – one double bedroom for Gloria and Michael, and a room with 4 bunk beds for Sarah, the girls and me. The great news is that they also have an ensuite bathroom, so we no longer have to traipse across the campsite to the toilet and shower blocks. And all for around AU$130 a night (about £55) for everybody. At the moment it seems spacious, compared to the campervan, but I wonder if it will still seem the same in a month's time – us, the children and the in-laws in a space the size of a large garage? But the views compensate for everything, as most parks are by the sea – the picture above was taken at Barwon Heads, ten minutes drive from Geelong (unfortunately, the cabins that have this view were all booked up, so we had to be satisfied with visiting the beach for the afternoon, rather than gazing at it all day and evening).
Thursday, December 04, 2003
Welcome home darling!
Let me explain the situation – I've arrived back in Melbourne a day early, having driven 600 miles in the last 36 hours, and flying back at midnight. Sarah and the girls have had a couple of days to spend time with her parents – they're in the 5-star Windsor, and Sarah's in a nice double room in the town-house part of the Nunnery hostel. Fortunately I'd been able to let Sarah know I'd be arriving earlier than planned, and she'd booked me in to the hostel. But not into the same room as the rest of them, or even in the same building. Oh no. Sarah had booked me a dormitory bed next door.
So I'm in what I described two days ago as 'Smelly-dormitory-ville', while Sarah is in the 'Boutique-hotel' part, with the girls. The chap on reception apologised, but explained that he'd "only done what your wife asked me to". Let me share with you the contrast:
Sarah is in the town house, with a modern and stylish double bedroom, with a private lounge downstairs, complete with leather sofas, 8 seater dining table, and a shady courtyard.
And I'm in a 10-bed dormitory, which smells like a rugby-team changing room, and where people arrive and leave at all times of the day and night. The last residents didn't come to bed until 3am and decided to turn all the lights on to help them guide their drunken frames to the top bunks, making all kinds of noises and grunts. Mmm, nice!
But this was all that Sarah could arrange at short notice, so I had to put up with it! And then I discovered that Sarah had arranged it for the next night too, rather than us all moving into a bigger room together (apparently, it would be a bit of hassle packing everything up just for one night). I think I may be getting a message!
Still, we had a good day in Melbourne, with Sarah, her Mum and the girls going shopping for some new clothes for the girls (after 5 months on the road, the white clothes aren't quite so white any more!), and Sarah's Dad and I visiting a couple of museums, followed by a swift half in the hotel bar – which turned into a merry three hours chatting to the locals about all things Australian. We'd noticed that the Australians are fond of their beer, but we hadn't expected to spend the afternoon drinking with a police inspector, a rugby umpire and a stockbroker, on a normal work day! Still, it helped to make me less sensitive to my dormitory surroundings overnight!
Wednesday, December 03, 2003
Last night, when I called the hire firm to arrange to drop the van off earlier than booked, at the end of this afternoon, I discovered that I'd made a big mistake – I was already a day late! So instead of having three days to get to Sydney, I had zero days – and every day was costing me a penalty fee. Whoops. And that's why I drove 400 miles yesterday in horrible weather, instead of taking it more easily. It left me with about 200 miles to drive today, into the Sydney rush hour. Today started at 5.45am, as I drove off the campsite and back onto the dual carriageway. And there's not really a lot to say about the rest of the drive – except that I found out that Sydney's rush hour is pretty slow going, even on the toll roads. But by 10:30, I'd made it into town, cleaned the van (the company insist on vans being cleaned inside and out before returning them), and delivered the van back in the same condition I picked it up in – but with an extra 6,000 miles on the clock. It has really been a long road trip over the last two months, but even though we've driven so far we've still barely scratched the surface of the country.
After such a manic trip I decided to treat myself to a flight back to Melbourne, so that I had to spend just an hour and a half in the air, rather than 12 hours on a coach overnight (splurged on the £45 flight, over the £24 coach!). That means that instead of getting back to Sydney on Friday as expected, I'll get there late tonight (Wednesday).
So I called Sarah to let her know, and asked her to arrange accommodation for me when I get to the hostel. As she wasn't at the hostel, I tracked her down in her parents room, down the road in the Windsor Hotel. Somehow the Nunnery wasn't good enough for her, and they'd decamped for the day down there. I phoned as they had their mouths full, devouring the cream tea that room service had delivered. While I spent the rest of the day browsing the shops in Sydney for Sarah's birthday present (Do you think she'll like the "Koala" Hat, complete with ears and dangly koala-nose?).
The journey home was uneventful, apart from the airport being closed for an hour because of huge electrical storms, and I finally got back to the hostel in Melbourne at midnight – more about what happened then tomorrow!
Tuesday, December 02, 2003
Picking up the parents, and dropping off the hired van
By 6:30 this morning, we’d all roused ourselves from bed, got dressed, packed up the camper van and driven out the Melbourne Airport to meet Sarah’s parents as they arrived from the UK. You know how it is – you step off a long flight, and walk blearily through the terminal. But not for the Hirsts, as they arrived wide eyed and smiley after 27 hours in flight! How is this possible I hear you ask? Easy, you fly Business Class and enjoy your flight fast asleep in a seat which lies down into a 6” long totally flat bed. Hearing stories about Business Class luxury really made us look forward to our next Cattle Class flight – NOT.
Anyway, we all piled into the campervan, and dropped them off at their five-star hotel, and then went to the hostel which Sarah’s going to stay in while I’m dropping off the camper van. This is going to take me 3 days – because we’re in Melbourne, and the hire company’s office is in Sydney – 600 miles away. So while Sarah, the girls and her Mum and Dad enjoy time together in Melbourne, I’m going to be enjoying the equivalent of driving from Lands End to John O’Groats – and then coming back. Whoopee!
And then Sarah showed me the hostel she’d found for her three days alone. My jaw dropped (along with my many chins). Somehow she’d found a hostel which had two parts – one part smelly-dormitory-ville, and the other part Boutique-hotel – which is where she’d found a comfortable room, with inclusive continental breakfast, lounge with hi-fi, leather sofa’s – the works. (If you’re coming to Melbourne, then you too will want to stay in The Nunnery)
And off I go, driving the last few hundred miles in the camper van, realising who’d got the best deal. There’s something about being a Hirst (or nee Hirst) that means that luxury just falls into your lap (when your husband’s not looking!) PAH!
So I drove 400 miles before sunset, in the worst rain storms they’d had for three years, and slept in the Yass Council Caravan Park for £3 while rain hammered on the roof all night. In a freezing van. Double PAH!! (How many of you are smiling reading this?). But at least I got out of Melbourne before this happened (about 2 hours behind me) "Boats were used to rescue several motorists from the roofs of cars on the Eastern Freeway, while one man trapped in his flooded 4WD was saved by quick-thinking emergency service volunteers."
Monday, December 01, 2003
"Don't I know you from somewhere?"Read back through our travel diaries
We've heard the line a few times in the last week - once when we re-met somebody we'd originally met in Fiji; then yesterday when we met a family that are spending 6 months going around the world, who saw us on TV the night before they left the UK (apparently we gave them a boost of confidence, as they were a bit nervous on the eve of their trip - something along the lines of "If those idiots can do it...".)
But the strangest coincidence was a week ago, when we met a lady who asked "Excuse me, do you live in England?", which then went to "Do you live near Oxford?", which then became "In Deddington?". And then she described the inside of our house to us! It turned out that she was an Australian nurse, who had been working in England, and had been a rural specialist covering north Oxfordshire - she'd actually visited us three years ago at home to try and help with Charlotte's exczma. How weird is that? As Mickey Mouse says "It's a small world after all!"