A night with bite

Melbourne has a handful of theme restaurants. There’s Witches in Britches (burned out about a month ago), Hunchbax and the one that started it all Dracula’s. I’d booked tickets at the end of last week for Fiona and I. I was planning to leave Melbourne the next day and I’ve no idea when I’ll see her again so it seemed like a great plan to go out for a great night.

And a great night it was. I can’t put any pics up as there’s a photograph ban inside the venue which is understandable as they charge for pics to be taken with the cast. At $15 each, we didn’t bother – a shame as it would have been nice to get something on here, but pop to their website instead.

The tickets were $57 each ($63 on weekends) and, annoyingly, I could have got a 10% discount from a voucher I found later on. Not to worry, at least we got a free cocktail each from the Melbourne tourist guidebook.

On entering, we were hoarded to the bottom of the stairs and greeted by a very camp, overacting “vampire” who pretty much put us in our place. All very theatrical. The doors swung open and we walked upstairs to the bar to queue for the ghost train that was to take us to the dining area. The ride was quite short, but entertaining and Fiona screamed like a girl. Which is fair enough as – between you and I – she actually is a girl.

The theatre and dining area was superbly decorated. Permanent lamps shaped like skulls with red eyes, table lamps looking like they were made of stitched human flesh, skull pepperpots and the cast and staff all dressed in various Gothic outfits. The guys looked great while the women looked… erm… astounding to say the least. It seemed pretty obvious from their attitude that they loved their job. At least, if they didn’t they were very convincing liars.

Our waiter was the guy from the entrance who hammed it up more than an entire pigfarm, treating us “badly” (wiping his wet hands on Fiona’s top and so on) while still giving us great service and keeping the laughs going between acts on the main stage.

All the acts we saw over the evening were brilliant. Magic tricks, comedians, music numbers, dedications to members of the audience… the whole thing was just wonderfully chaotic and well choreographed. In between it all, the wandering staff kept spirits up (and glasses full – I won’t scare you with our bar bill). The food, included in the ticket price, was also excellent though the servings weren’t huge. Fiona had steak and I had a veggie curry, served in a hollowed-out skull!

The show lasted around four hours from the time we entered until the time they insisted we all left. The cast received a well-deserved round of applause and everyone made their way to the exit.

Ben very kindly picked us up and we popped to a bar for one more drink before dropping Fiona off for the last train home. I checked, and she did make it back in one piece!

When we returned to the house, I popped online and booked myself a flight for Brisbane the next morning. Ben, as with everyone else, had proved himself to be a wonderful host and is also on the list of people I seriously owe. Thanks, fella!

Shearer! Shearer!

 By some lucky coincidence (thanks to NUFC.com), I’d found out that Alan Shearer (ex-captain of England and Newcastle United) was doing a promotional event at South Melbourne Football Club this morning. Having never actually met the guy, I had no choice but to get up early and make sure I got there for it. Annoyingly, I’d have loved to have got my flag signed but it went walkies in Vietnam somewhere and I’ve not replaced it yet. Instead, I had something else planned.

The event was really good. The kids who took part in the training session had all won a draw via Umbro and got some basic hints and tips and some demonstrations for almost an hour before they did a goal-kicking contest. The lad in goal almost saved a Shearer shot that went low and left – had he been wearing gloves I think he’d have stopped it! The poor kid came up for his photo later with an icepack on his arm.

All the children got to keep the football they’d been using, a t-shirt listing Shearer’s goalscoring achievements for clubs and country, a personally signed photosheet and a professional photograph of them with Alan. He then made his way along the crowd (around 200 people, at a guess) and signed at least one thing from every person who thrust stuff at him despite his agent telling him to hurry up as they were late for a TV commitment on Channel 10.

Lovely day, great guy and a good bunch of people who organised it. It was great to meet so many ex-pat Geordies and honorary ones who’d visited Newcastle some time ago and fallen in love with the place!

 Oh, yes. What did I get signed? My arm, right above my Newcastle United tattoo! Only, of course, this would rub off. So I got it inked in permanently the same afternoon.

Mari is a fountain of knowledge as regards Melbourne or at least the area immediately surrounding where they live. When I texted her to ask if she knew any tattoo parlours, I didn’t expect a reply back within two minutes telling me the best two within walking distance of the flat. One said he could fit me in around 4pm as it was only going to be a quick job so I walked out of the Grand Final we were watching in the pub and got back again, avec new tattoo, to catch the last quarter.

Oh, yeah, there was some Aussie Rules game on as well. West Coast Eagles beat Sydney Swans (who used to be South Melbourne so had most of the local support) by a single point. I have to say, I left a very one-sided competition and returned to a very close finish in the last ten minutes!

 After the game ended, I helped Mari and Jesse with the shopping then collected my bags to meet Ben and Fiona in town.

Another “thank you” is called for here. Once more, people have shown themselves to be really welcoming and helpful. Mari would sit and go through maps and phone books to help me plan things out, and even got hold of information about the Japanese rail tickets from someone she knows for me! Jesse is just an amazing kid – I think about 12 years old. Great to talk to, really polite, wise beyond his years and when he gets older if he wants to travel to wherever I settle down I’d be more than happy to offer him a couch to sleep on.

I originally met Ben in Hanoi around early May, I think. He’d been to the final itself and looked like he’d been up all night. Which he had, more or less. His ticket just got him into the ground, but didn’t alot him a seat so he and some mates camped out and had a barbie outside so they’d get the pick of the seats when the gates opened.

We jumped on a train to Ben’s and when we arrived started on the booze. Ben’s basic rule is that he spent so long sponging off other people when he was travelling, that he refuses to let visitors pay for stuff while he’s at home and working. Very generous… again, like all the Aussies I’ve stayed with so far. We went through a few beers and wines then (just) caught a train to Richmond for some food and to meet some of Ben’s friends in a bar.

As is apparently quite common in Melbourne, we had to queue to get in though Ben’s friend inside was saying it wasn’t too busy so he didn’t see why we had to wait. Never mind, after a 10 minute wait we were allowed in and headed directly barwards.

We just had a good natter with a few people, some of whom I’m sure I’ll never see again but they were all good company. I got talking to one couple at the bar who saw my Newcastle shirt and helpfully told me that Shearer had been in Melbourne that morning. I showed them my new tattoo! Then when I went to sit back with Ben and Fiona, the same people walked over – they knew Ben!

Around 2am, we decided to call it a night as we were all pretty tired. Ben had been sleeping on concrete, Fiona was woken at silly o’clock by two drunken lads in her hostel banging on the doors and I’d simply not slept well as I’d not wanted to sleep in. We managed to flag a cab down after an age, dropped Fiona off and Ben and I returned to the house. Ben zonked out in front of the TV while I watched a couple of episodes of Friends with his brother and sister. Then I felt the need for sleep and retired to my comfy mattress and duvet/dooner. Posted by Picasa

It’s that posh bird again

 I’m only saying that as it annoys her. I’ve been told to point out that Fiona is not posh – it’s me who’s common as muck and hence my mistaken impression. We’d arranged to meet just after lunch as Fiona was trying to sort a house or flat out, so I decided to have a further wander in the morning.

I slept in a little bit, so didn’t see Mari and Jesse before they left the house. A quick breakfast of orange juice and… more orange juice, and then I tootled off down the road to catch the convenient tram once again. I like this tram system. Frequent, clean, convenient and pretty cheap at $6 for a one-day zone one pass. Or you can fare-jump easily enough, though of course I’d never condone that *cough*

 The city was heaving today as it was the day before the AFL grand final. A parade was scheduled for around 11am-1pm and I think I caught the last tram that guaranteed getting me into the city before they closed the roads off. I had the usual walk around and then headed up to AFL World to find out a bit more about that insane sport that nobody understands (except for possibly the Irish, who view it as “Gaelic football for poufs”). AFL World is worth a visit, especially if you get one of the tourist booklets with a 20% off voucher and more especially if you have kids in tow. There are very few actual exhibits on show as such, but a huge amount of interactive games. Kicking, handballing, virtual football, AFL on XBox, radio and TV commentary positions and so on. Tons for them all to do. As an adult, though, it was just fairly interesting.

 I left in time to catch part of the parade wheeling past down the street, though by that time I wasn’t going to get a good view. The papers that night reckoned around 60,000 people were in the street to watch the teams go past. The atmosphere was great. AFL is a very family-oriented sport, much like rugby back home so despite the mix of fans in the city there was absolutely no tension. Just good-natured banter and the like.

Fiona called to say she’d be really late as the guy she was meant to be sorting the house out with hadn’t showed up, so I decided just to meet her then and we’d at least keep other company and grab some lunch while we waited for him to get in touch. He did, eventually, and we met him and his girlfriend for tea/coffee on the northern outskirts of the city. I think his name’s Mark and he was really pleasant, so we decided to get a lift off him to the house and check it out. It’s further out than Fiona was hoping, but it’s in a good location and has a huge room. It also comes with a wonderfully lovely and bouncy labrador! If it was me, that’d have sold me straight away. Mark was stupidly helpful – something I’ve found is the case with all the Aussies I’ve stayed with while I’ve been here – helping peg down bus timetables, showing us the nearest shops and bar, advising where cheap furniture can be bought and so on, and then driving us back into town.

 After a brief walk around and some thinking, Fiona decided to take the room. A weight off her mind! To celebrate, and also as we were starving after walking around all day, we walked up Lygon Street and picked an Italian restaurant. Which wasn’t difficult as there’s pretty much nothing but Italian restaurants around there. Plus, anyone offering a free glass of (very nice) wine to convince you to take a seat is OK with me. A fine Aussie pizza and two lemon crepes later and my appetite was satisfied. Lovely.

A few doors up was a bar with some very comfy sofas where we sat and nattered for a couple of hours. At points, we had live music from a random guy with an acoustic guitar who was playing some good tunes. Eventually, tiredness started to overcome us so we walked back into the city centre and caught trams back to our respective domociles. I made it back just after midnight, so didn’t see Mari or Jesse all day. Oops! Posted by Picasa

Melbourne from a height

 Mari and Jesse were both heading out early this morning, so I’d already been provided with keys and told to just sort myself out. Well, I was up at early o’ clock anyway and saw them before they left then had my own breakfast and planned the day. By “planned” I mean I went online and checked all the places in the city guide book to see what places are free or at least cheap!

 The great thing with where Mari lives is that she’s in Zone 1 so the fares are about as cheap as you can get. $6.10 nets me an all-day MetCard to dot around the city centre at will. The tram ride is a short one with some lovely scenery on the way in, and I got off at Federation Square where there is currently a lot going on around the AFL cup final this weekend. Goal kick competitions, live chats with retired players, the cup itself on show and a ton of other stuff. The square is made up of several very strange buildings. It looks like someone’s got a group of architects very drunk and given them a selection of kids’ building toys with which to construct a working model. And then it’s all been scaled up. Freaky, but also very cool.

 The tourist information area came in useful, as I grabbed a bundle of leaflets to help decide what to do. First on the list (after lunch) was the Melbourne Observation Deck, the highest point in the city. Well, I’ve done it in Auckland and Sydney so I may as well start visiting all these towers! There are 23 in the World Federation of Great Towers… so only 20 to go. Melbourne’s stands at 253m, which is 75m shorter than Auckland’s and 50m shorter than Sydney. However, the view is superb. Melbourne has an impressive variety of buildings from old to new to bizarre – Fed Square is only one example of some very extreme architecture.

 Melbourne is also home to one of (if not the) largest glass structure of it’s type. This glass “cone” covers the Shot Tower, a very old brick building originally constructed for the manufacture of lead shot. At the time, it was 6m taller than building regulations allowed. The glass cone is significantly taller than it. The cone covers a large shopping area which also houses a rather impressive clock donated by Sony to the city. It’s in the form of a very large old-fashioned pocketwatch. On the hour, the bottom of the watch slides out to reveal two figures and a variety of wildlife. As the birds “dance”, the figures play Waltzing Matilda before the watch closes itself up again.

I’ve got a list of things to see tomorrow and by now, the rush hour was starting to ease off. I walked back to Fed Square and jumped on a tram to Chapel Street to pick up some wine and beer to drink with dinner. Mari was cooking chicken wings, and you just can’t have chicken wings without a few cold tinnies! Posted by Picasa

And so to Melbourne

 Having seen the city centre for all of about 45 minutes on Saturday morning, and that was literally just a block around the train station, today I would be getting a chance to see round it a bit more. The journey to Marie and Jesse’s was a simple one as, like everywhere I’ve been in Oz so far, the public transport’s nice and easy to use. One train from Mooroolbark to Flinders Street station, then a tram a few stops up followed by a short walk.

The entire Luxford clan (Adrian had the day off work as well) drove me to the station to wave me off. A huge number of hugs were exchanged and I jumped on to be whisked into the city centre. Less than an hour later and I was at Flinders Street. The main tram stops there all have a couple of staff members walking around, so getting information on where to catch the tram from was simple.

The trams themselves are frequent and the signposting good, so I jumped off at the right stop and them immediately got confused. I ended up ringing Jesse and he walked to the tram stop to get me. Thanks, Jesse! He then directed me to their favourite local pub for lunch, but when I got there I found I’d missed the lunch break, so kept on walking until I reached Chapel Street. This is a long road lined with nice cheap shops and a gazillion fooderies of various descriptions. I was only peckish, so I settled on a ham sandwich and some milk after being trapped in a bookshop for almost 45 minutes by the woman who worked there. Very chatty. Too chatty. Of the three-quarters of an hour I was in there I was only browsing for about ten minutes!

I muched my sarnie on the walk back and got to the flat not long before Mari came in from work. Again, I’ve not met either of these people before having made initial contact through Couchsurfing.com. We had a glass of wine and a natter then headed out for dinner, back on Chapel Street. Mari knows the manager of a Thai/Vietnamese restaurant so we went there and I had a rather delicious beef dinner. And more wine.

The conversation was great, the next bottle of wine went down well and back at the flat I collapsed onto the converted sofa exhausted and slightly the worse for wear winewise! Posted by Picasa