Who am I to predict the future, but I think this could equally be the most fun and the most painful update for me personally to write so far. The past two weeks have been incredible and I’m going to try and take you through the emotional spectrum that the past two weeks have brought along with them. Buckle up because this is… Crazy. Also yes, this is going to be disgracefully cute at times. I warned you. This is also very picture-heavy so if there’s anything you can’t quite make out, clicking on the picture will make it bigger for you!
So… I’ll start at the beginning (I like to be different). My girlfriend, Mags, came to spend two weeks with me here in Australia allowing me to be her own personal (awful) tour guide and to be fair, we only got a little bit lost a few times and horrendously lost once. Maybe twice. Probably twice.
As I was watching a live map of her plane edging closer to Melbourne, I was heading towards Melbourne International Airport to welcome her with open arms – a scene played over countless times in my head from the moment I knew she was coming. It went a bit differently. Melbourne’s international terminal is notoriously awful with getting baggage from an aircraft to a carousel in a reasonable amount of time. So Mags had found WiFi before even getting her bag and we were messaging each other. I was checking on a reply and then all of a sudden looked up to check the faces coming through the door, looked back down at my phone before looking up to see Mags just sort of…. THERE?! ACTUALLY PHYSICALLY THERE?! Magic stuff. Anyway, we got a bus where she was trying to get her head around the fact that she was in China and now she’s in Australia sat next to me and for some reason it felt so normal. Nothing felt out of place.
It didn’t take long for her to leave her mark either. After catching a bus, we caught a tram. After thinking all day I need to warn her about how abrupt these things start and stop I did of course forget to mention that part. So on her first tram as it started to move, she fell backwards, I got an arm behind her back to try and stop her doing any damage to herself but in doing so I clenched my fist trying to grab her and snapped my MyKi into two pieces. It didn’t cost me anything but time out of our journey and gave me a funny anecdote to put in a blog, so everyone wins. Also I got a shiny new MyKi card!
With that, onto day one. We took the tram into the city to take in a multicultural festival which was taking place at Federation Square. There was music and a lot of stalls but in truth I don’t think it quite lived up to expectations. So we looked around Federation Square itself for a bit and then headed to AAMI Park to watch ‘Not Bolton Wanderers’ (Melbourne Victory) play against Newcastle Jets (not United) in the A-League. It was Mags’ first ever football game and luckily for me she absolutely loved it! In the summer I hope to show her what real disappointment is like and take her to watch Bolton, but back to the game. It finished 1-1 and I saw my first ever Melbourne Victory goal from open play and it only took 6 games. SIX GAMES!!! Anyway, after 90 minutes of explaining what’s going on and why the fans are inexplicably angered by a whistle we went to a lovely fish and chip restaurant where we both ate shark. A night of first’s for Mags and already plenty to talk about!
The next day was more about exploring Melbourne.
I did what any good boyfriend would do on his girlfriend’s first few days in a foreign country in a new continent and took her down some strange looking alleys to look at some technically illegal painting on some bricks. I know, I’m a romantic. We went down Hosier Lane, AC/DC Lane and Croft Alley. After that I took her to some of Melbourne’s arcades (which I haven’t really spoken about before or even pictured before) so the arcades are not dark rooms with arcade games. Melbourne’s arcades are sort of Victorian style arcades filled with cake shops, tea rooms, chocolate shops and perfume shops. On Flinder’s street, there is a lane with cafe’s on either side which lead to an arcade. We went to one of the cafe’s for an iced coffee (I really wanted an iced coffee that day) and after missing out at two, it really was third time lucky as they came out in a weird mug jar thing with ice cream on top. Perfect. A proper iced coffee which hit the spot beautifully. We jumped on a tram to Docklands next. After a walk around such a lovely area with highlights naturally including a selfie with a statue of Dame Edna (which I didn’t know was there) we ended up going to play glow in the dark mini golf (what else would a young couple such as ourselves go and do?!) I know you’re all desperate for details here so it was an 18 hole course and Mags started strong with two or three consecutive hole’s in one. She destroyed me on the first 9 holes but being the competitive, determined, driven individual that I am, I wasn’t about to sit back and allow that. Long story short I beat her by only a few points… Goals…. Whatever they’re called. We had a stroll back towards the tram stop looking at menus for restaurants before settling on one called ‘Cargo’. We were told to wait whilst they just set up a table, then were promptly sat down at a window seat over looking Melbourne’s Docklands area, the water, the big bridge which does have a name but I can’t be bothered looking for it and the sunset in the background. It was perfect. We ate and made the most of the spot by sharing another drink together and just chatting. From that moment it felt like we were in for a pretty special time together.
Mags loves the sea.
Fortunate then that Melbourne is a coastal city as I got to spend a day taking her to beaches. We have a name for a day such as that. In this particular case, it was called ‘Tuesday’. Her face when we got to the beach was a picture and seeing her so happy was wonderful for me. We spent a lot of the day on and around the beach. We got ice cream and eventually headed over to St. Kilda to catch sunset along the beach and the pier before going to potentially see penguins. We saw one penguin and got very cold so went home early, we had a big day the next day. Wednesday. Great Ocean Road. A once in a lifetime trip that I was doing for the second time (this year abroad lark is very trying sometimes). We fuelled up on coffee and picked up our hire car – an automatic Suzuki Swift that grew on Mags over the few days we had it.
We stayed one night at Apollo Bay after roughly a 3 hour drive down the coast at a YHA hostel which was everything we needed. Clean, friendly and in the location we needed to break up the journey. We set off the next morning heading straight for Cape Otway lighthouse which was only 20-30 minutes away.
We took in all of the sights the oldest working lighthouse in Australia had to offer before driving back to get onto the Great Ocean Road stopping several times where we saw around 10 koala bears just sort of there. Being fluffy and cute and aw. Look at them. You just want to grab one and forget that it’s a bear and cuddle it and give it a name and feed it copious amounts of leaves. Anyway…
We headed on to Port Campbell stopping many times to stop at viewpoints such as the Twelve Apostles which was just incredible. A breathtaking sight. We reached Port Campbell and stayed at a Best Western. Upon arrival, we were told by the receptionist that because I had booked with her new booking button on their website, she’d given us a free upgrade to a spa room! Which I didn’t think to get a picture of because we were hungry! We went out and walked around Port Campbell, bought necessities we were short of such as take away pizza and chocolate and then headed back, sat on the sofa and watched the Australian rules football on the TV. That was confusing. Neither of us knew the rules. They kicked the ball, they tackled like rugby, they threw the ball, they punched the ball, they punched each other and it was all very confusing but thoroughly entertaining. We checked out the next morning and continued along the Great Ocean Road, setting midday as our cut off point – anything we hadn’t seen by then we wouldn’t see at all. We’d turn back towards Melbourne.
Fortunately we’d seen most viewpoints along the Great Ocean Road by 11:30am so we turned back using faster, straighter, quieter roads. Suzuki Swift’s are not made for off roading but some of the roads I ended up forcing Mags to drive down in a car more suited to toy mats was a little interesting at times. We hit a point where we were both flagging a little and needed a break. We stumbled across a lovely little town called Inverleigh where we utilised the facilities and found a cute cafe which was selling iced coffee. We got one each to take out and as we walked out the door taking the first sip there was a very satisfied “ahhh” noise that we both made in unison. Safe to say that hit the spot and freshened us both up ready to get back into Melbourne, where soon enough we were faced with this thing: WHO DESIGNED THAT?! So the silver straight lines crossing over in the middle of the grid are tram lines. On the right, where the lines start to run into a different shade of grey – that’s a tram station, there was one to the left too. We’re travelling from the bottom green arrow and need to turn right. The way to do this is waiting for the green light on Elizabeth street, pulling in to the lane with the white arrow (where the red arrow is), stop there for the red light on La Trobe street and then turn into La Trobe street avoiding the La Trobe street right turn lane, the oncoming trams (which we had from both sides of La Trobe street) and the steady flow of traffic from La Trobe street going straight on. So that was fun. Or at least I think it was… Hard to tell with your eyes closed. We got rid of the car in one piece and headed back to mine to drop stuff off, have a quick change around and then do something I’ve wanted to do for years. We got a tram back into the city, headed for the Victoria Hotel where we had tickets to see Tim Vine live. One of my favourite comedians and one who Mags quite likes too! After the stress of city driving hours earlier this was just what we needed, he gave us a good laugh and a great evening. He’s still in Melbourne for the 30th International Comedy Festival here along with many other big acts playing across the city. After that we went to Federation Square to get food before heading home. After an exhausting few days we had a bit of a rest on the Saturday before heading into the city as I had a surprise planned! I’d booked tickets to take Mags up to the top of Curtin House in the middle of the city of Melbourne to watch Zoolander 2 at the open air rooftop cinema.
It rained but we had a great time up there. The film was good, the atmosphere was great and we had good food up there too, and cider! As it was raining we were given free ponchos and a free blanket too. So that was nice. It didn’t rain the whole time, only a little at the start, so it all worked out okay in the end. We stayed up there a little while after the film to have another drink at the rooftop bar just to relax and enjoy the atmosphere and the view before heading home.
Now we come to the next day. One of my favourite memories not just of the past fortnight but one of the best times of my life. We went to Melbourne Museum in the day and that was all very civilised and very lovely, then we visited a very average looking pub which serves the best pub food in Melbourne – The Napier Hotel.
Large on character, atmosphere, food quality and portion size it’s a wonderful place to go to eat. So we ate and we ate so much that walking was a challenge, so what would be better than to go to a gig where dancing was pretty much inevitable? We went to the Corner Hotel on Swan Street in the heart of Melbourne to watch a band called Nahko and Medicine for the People play to a sold out venue. Mags and I only got together in the summer (the European one) and at the time I’d just discovered this band and I was quite liking them. I listened to them most times when I was travelling to go and see her. She told me around November or December that Nahko were playing one show (I think) in Melbourne during the two week period that she was here, too coincidental an opportunity to pass up on. We got tickets and had something solid to look forward to for three or four months and when it finally came around it didn’t disappoint. The band themselves are Hawaiian and are made up of a drummer, an electric violinist, a trumpeter, lead singer and guitarist, acoustic guitarist and electric guitarist. Also most of them sing. They spread the message of promoting environmental care through some very enjoyable music. Their warm up act was an Indigenous Australian acoustic guitarist who also sang in an Indigenous Australian language. As Nahko sometimes switched to sing in Hawaiian, we heard music in three languages that night and loved them all. At one point the drummer and the lead singer stood up on stage together to duet, they alternated and the drummer could SING?! They sang songs which are currently in the charts in their own style, one of which Mags and I had heard a lot of and were loving together over the past week or so before the gig so that was a little surreal too. The whole night was amazing. Everyone was loving it, the crowd and the band. It was a great place to be and if the opportunity arose to watch them again I’d jump at the chance. There was a trumpet solo and an electric violin solo too. There was so much talent and energy on the stage – it truly was a wonderful place to be.
The next day we planned to go to Phillip Island. We had a car booked – a manual Hyundai i20. Long story short, we didn’t go to Phillip Island, Mags hates everything related to Hyundai, the police were only involved once, no one crashed and everything was okay in the end. We went to an art museum, the Shrine of Remembrance, watched a load of films, ate cookies, chocolate and ice cream and I cooked bolognese using dinosaur pasta. So it still turned out to be a good day and the next day we were travelling to SYDNEY?!
So we packed, got up early the next day and off we went. Sydney is a one and a half hour flight which we spent hyper, hungry and moaned about the free food Virgin Australia provided us with – a cheese roll with lettuce and pickle. I don’t even like pickle. It was a disaster. But the flight was good and we checked into our lovely, well positioned hostel at around 3pm. We went to Darling Harbour for a bit of a walk and then headed to the Hard Rock Cafe for food. I visited Mags in Germany (where she’s doing her year abroad) before I came out to Australia and we visited a Hard Rock Cafe in Heidelberg. It was awful. I mean truly horrendous. But we had so much fun there because it was so diabolically horrific. So we wanted to go to a good one and we weren’t disappointed. We couldn’t decide on a burger so each got one the other wanted, cut them in half and had half a burger each. We can be very diplomatic sometimes. We decided to walk the meal off and ended up walking around towards Syndey Opera House. We were thinking that at any moment the Harbour Bridge was going to jump out at us and as we turned a corner, it appeared. Mags was going quiet, in awe that this is it, this is Sydney, this is Australia, she’s actually there and I’m actually there too. We approached the Harbour Bridge, getting closer to a path running underneath it alongside Sydney Harbour and we both knew that at some point we’d get a first proper glimpse at the Opera House.
We turned the corner under the bridge and there it was, lit up dramatically against the night sky. Mags jumped with excitement and as we looked on at it suddenly the sky to the right of it was filled with fireworks. It was perfect. So perfect that neither of us managed to picture it before it was all over, but it was perfect and entirely accidental. Mags was pretty much silent from this point until the next day in shock of the moment, it was all a little surreal. We walked up to and around the Opera House before getting a train home. The next day we explored Sydney, I revisited some of the spots I went to with my parents – Milson’s Point, The Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon, we did a tour of the Opera House and even ate at the top of the tower and we loved every minute! On our last day we went to Paddy’s market and Bondi Beach – appealing to Mags’ love of the sea on one of the world’s most iconic beaches. We did spend a day in Sydney very differently to how I spent it with my family. We went on a two hour train journey to the Blue Mountains. Usually with incredible natural areas of outstanding beauty you have to work for the view. When we got off the train, we caught a bus which took us to a tourist information centre, where we got off and stared straight out at this:
Not bad? By this point we’re getting quite good at being speechless.The green below is all rainforest. Not being satisfied with this and how easy it was to get to, we decided to go to the Giant Stairway which with the wonderful benefit of hindsight probably should have been a bit of a warning for what was to come really. 400 steps later and we see a sort of sign (scratch marks in the floor at a viewpoint) saying “half way”. Another 400 steps later and we’re at the bottom in the rainforest. To our great surprise it’s a view of trees. Who’d have thought, eh? One of us was happier with our descent than the other. So we decided not to take the safe bet in going back up the way we’d come because the 800 steps we’d just done were a little tricky. So instead we followed a sign which pointed in the vague direction of Leura forest. This walk tested our entirely unsuitable footwork and took us up (and down) at least another 1000 steps over some waterfalls and around some cliffs. It was an adventure but it was absolutely beautiful.
As we neared the end of our escapade to Leura to find the train station, we saw a sign saying “track in poor condition, experienced walkers only”. It was a bit late really. The track was certainly in poor condition and we certainly are not experienced walkers but it was an adventure and Bondi Beach the next day was thoroughly appreciated for a rest.
We got the plane home to reach my flat at 1am due to a delayed flight, then showered as we hadn’t really since Bondi Beach earlier that day so got to bed at 2am. The next day was spent watching films and eating awful food including a beans on toast tea.
That was the last day.
Next was a 5:45am start to get to the airport in time for her to go. She cried whilst I tried to hold it together to help her out and then she went through to security and I left her walking back through the airport and burst out into tears too. As you can see, they were two incredible weeks and we experienced a lot together. We had a great time and leaving hurt. Now she’s back in Germany and we’re both trying to recover and pull ourselves together to get on with it again. We still have some time left on our own incredible journey of the year abroad, some more amazing places to go with new, exciting opportunities. For the moment it’s a case of taking it one day at a time to work out how on Earth we managed this before but it’ll be okay. Last time was 5 months without seeing each other. This is ONLY 3. It could be worse. The elation of distance at Melbourne Airport International Arrivals was wonderful. The pain of international departures will remain for now. Charles Dickens said that the “pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again” and right now that joy is all that has spurred me on to write this – a thousand words longer than usual yet not one of them comes close to describing how incredible the past two weeks of my life have been.
If you stuck with this until the end you probably deserve a medal but since they’re kind of tricky to source and postage for medals would be expensive the best I can do is say a big thank you, not doing this for the good of my health you know and I drew maps and stuff! Vaguely accurately!! So thank you for reading and hopefully I’ll provide a little update for you all soon!