18.3.2017 Melbourne Balwyn to Alphington

Awoke with very dull heads, probably much the same as most the Irish nation felt. Breakfast was cheesy beans on toast (given a Guy twist by adding our remaining salami) and a cup of tea, and by 11am we were packed and walking to the tram stop. 

We had to change on the tram to the trains station, Guy was in charge of logistics so I was waiting for him to give me the nod to collect bags and get off the tram in an orderly fashion. Unfortunately he was not quite on the ball, so we were both sat back relaxing when Richmond station appeared, we jumped into action, elbowed kids, prams and parents out of the way to grab backpacks, exit the tram and find ourselves and our belongings deposited on the pavement. 

We pulled ourselves together and got the train and bus replacement service to Alphington, to our next Air BnB. This was a room in the family home, the owners weren’t there so it felt quite weird going into the home without them. There were lots of paintings and wall hangings that showed this couple had travelled to Cuzco, China, India, and some lovely family photos so we felt like we knew them already when they walked in later and caught me peering at a photo of them.

It was a hot and sunny Saturday so we had a wander into the local town of Fairfield, which was a lovely suburb with loads of coffee roasterys, cafes, Lebanese bread shop, chicken n chip, fish n chip and lots of Asian restaurants. Amazing variety in such a small area. We were on a mission to have an Aussie pie, we wanted steak and cheese but only found plain beef, beef with cheesy mash and for pudding a delicous beef rendang pie. Times are tough. These were eaten in the local park washed down with a can of fizzy pop….. yes, we felt that bad….

The park was lovely, beautiful scenery and some music going on as well. We relaxed.

For dinner we had a smoked salmon salad 🥗 with a bottle of Savignon Blanc which was deliciously​ refreshing after all the red wine we had been having.  Our hosts were lovely and we spent time chatting with them and planning tomorrow’s trip to Yarra valley. 

Wines tasted:

Tasmanian Savignon Blanc Norfolk Rise 2015

17.3.17 Melbourne – St Patrick’s Day

So, another visit to Post restante with our tracking number to find that our licences haven’t even got to Oz yet. There is no indication as to how long it will take when they arrive, just that they have to go to Sydney, then elsewhere before Melbourne. They will not be turning up soon.

We are pretty gutted and have talked it over (a lot!) and decided we don’t want to go to NZ and not do it justice, with no driving licences it will be difficult to get around and we will be spending the last of our cash on a holiday which we won’t get to see what we want. We still have the China visa and Great Wall to see, so maybe we will do that instead and not use our flight (£260 for both of us) to NZ. More money lost. Interestingly, the last few weeks we spent ages talking about booking the NZ flight, but never acted on it, we are now regretting eventually booking it.

We haven’t booked a flight out of NZ yet as we are unsure where to go, although we do know we are heading home soon as we are missing family, friends and need to save up for our next adventure (whatever that might be).

As we were expecting to be in Coonawara tomorrow we hadn’t booked any accommodation, our current Air BnB room is not available so, yet again, we are trying to get last-minute accommodation which is always a pain, and not cheap. We find somewhere across town, and then get on with actually seeing Melbourne.

Using VicFree wifi to sort our travels out

Guy takes us on a heritage walk around the city centre.

Aussie Burger King, so called as the American company didn’t get the trading name Burger King as a shop in Adelaide already had the name.

There is a buzz around the city, as you find anywhere on a Friday night, and especially Paddy’s Day, a few Irish pubs are already heaving with punters in the streets with a pints of the black stuff being enthusiastically drunk, even at 2pm.

It is strange being back in a city where there are well dressed people, with beautiful clothes, smelly perfumes, matching handbags and shoes. We try to look inconspicuous in our well worn (and well washed) clothes, knackered flip flops, practical shoulder bag, unmatching clothes and eau d’traveller aroma around us.

Melbourne is looking good. Buildings are colonial or art deco and many are fresh looking cafes or coffee roasterys with the beard and flat cap that accompanies such cool places. We feel at home (even if we don’t look the part!!).

We are meeting Johan at 4.30pm and at about 3pm spot a beautiful looking little wine and cheese bar, Punch Lane Wine bar. The wines by the glass look enticing, soon we were seated and enjoying a crisp, Marlborough Savingnon Blanc and a light Yarra Valley Pinot Noir. It is a great aperetif to Guinness.

4.30pm and we are sat on the Post Office steps, watching the Melbourne-ites going about their Friday afternoon. We are quickly reunited with Johan and go to the English pub across the road, Elephant and Wheelbarrow. The rest of the night is spent drinking pints of Guinness, collecting flat caps, baseball caps, loosing my purse (returned to me by the Mancunian bar maid), avoiding bust ups (bloke from Leeds was being taunted by a local), and trying to understand Johan’s cousin Andrews thick Dublin accent, which he hadn’t lost despite living here for years.

Us, Johan and his work mate, Roger

It was a great end to a week that had thrown up its challenges, meeting Johan and having a night in a pub was just what we needed.

Wines tasted:

Marlborough Savignon Blanc Astrolobe 2015

Yarra Valley Pinot Noir ….. erm can’t remember the rest 🍇

Irish Guinness 2017 free hat included in price of £7.50 a pint…….

16.3.17 Melbourne

So, today’s task was to pick up our driving licenses from Poste Restante in Melbourne. For some unfathomable reason we didn’t bring them with us, so we applied for new ones online whilst in Bangkok and my marvellous Mum helped us out, yet again, by sending them onto Oz. This will mean we can start the Roberts International Wine Tour of Oz and NZ, which some of our friends are looking forward to drinking along with us back in the UK.

We get the tram into town and we go to the wrong PO to get them. This turns out to be a good thing as it means we walk past Guy’s old work colleague, Johan, from our time in London. He looks so stunned, doesn’t believe it is us, then realises it is us so we have a quick catch up, marvel at the smallness of the world and agree to have a few ales for good ol’ St Patrick tomorrow!

We get to the right PO and are shocked when the licences are not there. Oh dear, we hadn’t planned for this. The guy checks loads of other places and nope, they are definitely not there. 

Photo of sunny Melbourne to cheer us up.

We walk out feeling numb and try to decide what to do. I ring the car hire to see if just a passport or DVLA number will suffice, it won’t. We need the actual licences. 

We walk to the other post office, pass Johan walking the streets again, clearly having a productive day at the office!!! They confirm there is only one poste restante and also that post can take a month to come from the UK. A month!!!! Our car hire deposit is lost.

Johan has given us a bar recommendation which is near tourist info, so we go to tourist info first to see what our options are doing the vineyards via public transport. The place is staffed by 8 OAP’s and one none OAP, similar to the staffing levels in B&Q at home. We are passed on to about 4 people before someone agrees they have the knowledge to help us. 

Doing Coonawara vineyards on public transport doesn’t seem to be a valid option (unless we have 2 days to travel there and another 2 to travel back). It also limits the accommodation options, as we can’t use out of town camping grounds, so we’ll have to pay more. This leads us to reassess our limited cash reserves​.

We look for answers in the bottom of a (very expensive) lovely dark ale in the sunshine. Life isn’t all bad!

Time is passing, we decide to go back to Balwyn, via the bottlo for a couple of red wines that we will now not be visiting.

Once the UK is awake, Mum promptly sends us a tracking number which shows it has left the UK. But we are no closer to finding out where in Oz it is. Wine and movies (Grand Budapest Hotel) help us try to forget the day and relax, as much as we can.

Wines tasted:

Coonawara Shiraz Parker 2015

Heathcote Shiraz Brown Brothers The Standout 2014

Barossa Shiraz Earthworks 2016

15.3.2017 flight to Melbourne

So, our first flight on this trip and I was as nervous as usual.

One last meal in a cheap Indian restaurant, MA restaurant, it is soooo good. We haven’t been lucky with restaurants here so are going back to the one we enjoyed!!!

We get to the airport with plenty of time to spare, about 5 hours, mainly due to getting a bus and everyone staying it would take hours in the traffic. It took us 30 mins. Still, we had sweated litres and litres so the cool airport air-con was welcome relief.

Our last Asian meal was cheese nan and curry for me, cold noodles for Guy. I will miss the food loads.

We decide to try and check in early to get to a bar on the other side mainly!!! We queue for check in baggage and are quite excited to see that my luggage is 14kg and Guy is a manly 18kg. Good thing we had sent 9kg home from KL!!! 

We are less excited when the Air Asia check in assistant asks us if we have a visa for Australia. Visa?  What? For Australia? Why? We own that country (…. insert other colonial clichés you can think of) but she insisted we need one. Stunned, dry mouthed and feeling slightly sick, we go to the service counter to see what our next move is. 

Visions of the last of our savings being frittered away on unused accommodation, wasted car hire, expensive visa applications, unrefundable flights, new flights, more accommodation was making us quite stressed.

15 very long minutes later and $140 USD lighter we are the proud owners of a fast track E visa from those lovely Aussies. This service is offered free and takes 3-4 days if you check current visa advice and don’t assume that nothing has changed in the 18 years since you last travelled to Oz.

As we haven’t spent enough of our hard earned cash needlessly we celebrate this experience with a £30 bottle of average argentinian malbec. 

Flight was a breeze. 

We land on time, albeit a bit wonky as it was windy. Going through immigration I forfeited organic oats due to quarantine laws and we are back in the western world on a bus into sunny Melbourne. 

We find lockers at southern cross station ($7 for 3 hours, fits 2 backpacks easily) and wander the streets to find coffee and fine food at Hardware Societe. Unbelievably there is a queue and loads of Chinese there…… somethings, it seems, are the same in Asia and Australia.

The wait is short, 15 mins, and well worth it. Our coffee, espresso, macchiato, are so good that we have an iced mocha (with ice cream) as well. 

The food is chorizo (how I have missed paprika) eggs, potato and sourdough toast, and Guy has slow cooked ham hock, perfectly poached eggs, kale in a bun. Wow.

Off to the supermarket for supplies as we know we have cooking facilities at our Air BnB, although not much cooking required as we mainly got cheese, ham, salad and bread. The prices are a shock after Asia, we knew that would be the case, but we’re still reeling at the till.

A 50 minute tram ride out of town through suburbia and we get to stop 51, Balwyn, our home for a couple of days before we pick up our hire car and embark on a vineyard tour of Coonawara, Yarra valley and Mornington Peninsula. 

It is kind of weird being in the ‘burbs when travelling as you get used to being city based, the walk to our Air BnB was lovely, seeing all the different designs of houses and all the well irrigated gardens filled with standard roses, agapanthus, grasses, Cyprus trees and huge geraniums. 

The room and house are fab, our hosts are Taiwanese, unfortunately we didn’t really get to see them, but the other guests are Chinese and really friendly. 

We walk back into Balwyn and explore the food shops and liquor stores. The range of wines leaves Guy open mouthed.

We manage to choose a couple of bottles of red from the Barossa valley. We have decided Barossa is too far to drive in our limited time and at our age (driving 600km a day in our Toyota Hiace, called Norm, was a breeze 18 years ago – can’t imagine it will be now), so this is the closest we will get to these wines. A salad is thrown together and we savour the fresh flavours on our palettes. Oooooohhhhhh.

To finish a perfect day back in the west we have movies available to us, Jason Bourne is soon dashing across our TV  screen saving the world. We are enjoying this life! 

Wines tasted: 

Shiraz Barossa Valley Mojo 2016

Barossa Shiraz Cat Amongst Pigeons 2015