Monday, May 14, 2012

Prelude - let the fun begin

The trip has begun though the blog has lagged somewhat!

Lets call this part of the voyage the prelude to our second world cruise.
We left New York at the crack of dawn on May 7th for Los Angeles where we camped out at the LAX Holiday Inn Express waiting for our flight to Melbourne.

Qantas proved to be everything that United Airlines could never be – we had booked premium economy seating; which means we were behind the business class area upstairs in their Airbus A380. The seats were comfortable, tons of legroom and the flight attendants and ground staff were exceptionally courteous. The fight was scheduled for 15 hours overnight and, after a reasonably good sleep, we arrived ahead of schedule in Melbourne. Accomplished the transfer of 2 months worth of luggage to the Downtown Marriott and we were good to go!

Merle and I have visited Melbourne many times before. My first visit was to attend the International Congress of Endocrinology in 1980; subsequent trips have been focused on spending time with family who moved there from Cape Town. My cousins Barbara and Ruth and their respective families had moved to Melbourne to make new lives for themselves; Barney and Anita – my uncle and aunt – had followed them. Over the years we have been able to visit them through happy and difficult times in their lovely adopted city. What better way could there be for us to start our new adventure?

Melbourne was founded in 1835 by Batman (actually John Batman) on the Yarra River at Port Phillip Bay – a site he considered “ the place for a village”. Discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851 brought wealth and people and Melbourne grew to be the gracious city it is today. The population of Melbourne is now more than 4 million and it has come to be recognized as one of the top ‘lifestyle cities’ of the world.
From a personal perspective there are certain things that make the city special. First, the people. This is one of the most cosmopolitan (or multicultural) cities I have ever visited. Just walking to and from our hotel you pass through an area heavily represented by Greek restaurants and stores then though a Chinatown that has actually become representative of Asia at large.

People are also very friendly – we chatted in the elevator as we arrived with the porter who helped us with our luggage – told him we were about to embark on a cruise. Next thing we receive a gift from him in the form of chocolates and a bottle of wine – how cool is that? The bellboy tipping a guest!!
Second, I think, has to be the enormous enthusiasm for sport. Melbourne hosts the Australian tennis Open; the Australian F1 Grand Prix; is the birthplace of Aussie rules football and is home to the MCG – the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground.

These things together with a location on the ocean and a love of life make it a place that is easy for South Africans (especially Capetonians) to fall in love with – and South Africans definitely represent a substantial share of the multiculturalism here!

A source of pride to folks from Melbourne is their “coffee culture” and, as one who shares this weakness, drinking a flat white at a café here is a highlight.

Travel in Melbourne is easy – trams crisscross the central business district and the trains are clean fast and on time. So, soon after we arrived, we were off to visit Anita and Barbara in the suburb of Brighton which is convenient to them both and is where Ruth (presently in London) lives.
Trains leave from the Flinders Street Station built in real Victorian style in 1910. The clocks under the sign show the time of the next train departure on each line. You buy the ticket just inside and over the few days we were there Merle developed a very chatty relationship with the ticket agent!

Across the street from the station is a study in contrasts – on one hand the pub (which clearly has stood for years)

and on the other the scary modern Federation Square buildings.

On the Sandringham line train which we took each day 

out to the Middle Brighton station – old style

Church Street Brighton has it all; stores, newsagents, travel agents (all of which we visited at length – don’t ask) and the café where we met to chat and get caught up.

In a very leisurely way we followed coffee with lunch at a lovely bayfront restaurant in Brighton and then a walk along the breakwater path. 
You can see the view towards the city

and away from it towards Sandringham.

The houses along the bayfront remind me how much I have always longed for a place by the water – no, the East River doesn’t quite fit the bill.

Next day we retraced our steps and this time we intrepid foursome went to the South Melbourne Market. This was in part a mission; cousin Ethan needed his 2012 season footie cards, but was also to enjoy the vibe. Which we did.

The Market, like the Souks we will soon be visiting, sells all manner of necessities

–    - flowers 

-   - prepared meats and cheeses of all varieties (South African readers please note the biltong hanging above the counter)

-     - Fresh meat cuts

-       And Seafoods of all descriptions – some of them very abstruse

Then had a lovely paella for lunch at one of the market cafes

From the market we drove the Grand Prix track route then on to Caulfield where there is a South African Store to obtain vital ethnic supplies for the cruise

Finally, to close out our stay in Melbourne we went to Sandringham to have lunch at Anitas house and have some really good laughs as we caught up.

Farewell Melbourne until October 2013 – now on to Sydney


  1. Family looks great!!!! Hugs and kisses to all!
    Paella looked amazing- even the bugs looked tasty.

  2. Would love to try this "coffee culture!"