Day 179: Father and Son

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At eight o’clock we were up and ready to try out the free hostel breakfast which turned out to be not bad at all. A bowl of cereal and a glass of OJ was followed by cups of tea and slices of toast galore, leaving us replenished enough to clean up after ourselves as per the umpteen notices on display.

Back at the room however, things took a turn for the worse as Mary started to go downhill fast, coughing and spluttering her way back to bed by eleven. We had both brought slight coughs from Barcelona, but while mine appeared to be treading water if not receding, Mary’s was definitely deteriorating and turning into a nuisance. It soon became obvious that a day in bed for her was required. I resolved to spend the day alone with Scott so as not to waste a day and also to give Mary a chance to recover from her combination of a cold and jet-lag.

I busied myself with Internet stuff until Scott came round at about one-thirty. Having looked in on his Mum, he took me over to the Botanic Gardens situated not 200 metres from the hostel, after we’d picked up a sandwich for lunch. The gardens were indeed very impressive and exceptionally well-laid out with good information at every turn on the trees, plants and wildlife (or flora and fauna to you scientific boffins!).

Cygna Negra

Cygna Negra

The far end of the gardens took us out onto the main road running alongside the Yarra River where Scott drew my attention to the numerous rowers being put through their paces by an on-board cox and a cyclist trainer with a megaphone. How very ‘varsity it all appeared! Over the bridge I was led by my youngest into the sports area of the city, a vast complex of facilities ranging from public grassed pitches to the imposing Rod Laver Arena where Scott had seen the Murray v Federer match. We nipped inside here for a quick look but, despite skipping past a security barrier, we couldn’t find a way into the arena itself which also doubles as a rock concert venue.

Rod the south-paw

Rod the south-paw

After a brief stop to watch 2 guys beating the hell out of each other via a fiercely competitive tennis game on an outer court, we took a magnificent pedestrian walkway over the railway to the MCC, the Melbourne Cricket Club. This is the equivalent of Lords in the world of English cricket and looked like a rather plush Hampden Park to me with huge bronze statues of the greats of Australian cricket outside each entrance gate. I recognized Don Bradman the famous batsman and Dennis Lillee, one of the most-feared bowlers of all time and one third of the infamous Colemanball “Lillee, caught Willey, bowled Dilley!” Google it if you don’t understand. It’s also on YouTube.

This man had bails!

This man had bails!

Next we crossed over to the stadium (ex-Olympic) of the local Soccer team, Melbourne Victory, still within a few hundred yards of the other stadia. Adjacent to that was a public area which we strolled around wishing we’d brought a football with us. In the end we just pretended we had one as you will see from the photo. On our way back, we stopped at a bar and had a couple of drinks at a pavement table as the sun became more predominant and the clouds less threatening. The wine was quite excellent and I may be going back there at Happy Hour!

Spot the Ball

Spot the Ball

On our return it was obvious that Mary had been sleeping the whole day and wasn’t yet up to going out for dinner as planned by our guide Scott. So we went and got her a sandwich and Pot Noodle then Scott took me to a Sports Bar where we had a great dinner, pizza for him and T-bone steak for me. Gggrrr! Carnivore!

Although Lady Burton had had a less-than-perfect day today, I had had the opportunity to bond a bit with the wee man and he had had the chance to let me know what was going on in his own head. It was all very interesting but that stuff’s private of course. Scott popped in to say “bye-bye” to his Mum and while they were chatting I fell asleep almost standing up as the jet-lag kicked in.

After Scott had left to get the tram home, I went to bed and was asleep before head hit pillow. If I remember correctly, it was nine-thirty in the evening!

 

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Day 178: Prodigal

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The Big Bird finally reached Melbourne, landing in pleasant weather and 22 degrees even though it was almost three in the morning. We immediately got ourselves some Aussie dollars for the first day or so, collected our cases which magically appeared on the great luggage snake as soon as I went over, sailed through passport and border control with not a TV camera in sight and exited the arrivals area to find the Skybus right in front of us. We were on a roll!

First steps in Oz

First steps in Oz

The bus took us quickly into Melbourne as we personally got more and more excited at the prospect of seeing Scott again. We alighted at the bus station, turned right up a ramp and there, coming down, was the wee man himself looking tanned and fit. We hugged till it hurt then flagged down a taxi which took us to Scott’s flat in 5 minutes. 14 floors later we were inside having a cup of tea and catching up frantically on what each of us has been doing.

Mary and I shared Scott’s bed for a couple of hours while he curled up on the sofa but we were all up and raring to go by ten o’clock. After breakfast Scott took us on a tour of central Melbourne which was easy as he actually lives right in the heart of CBD (Central Business District). The city immediately got our attention and struck us as laid-back and friendly, inhabited by joggers, skateboarders, cool people in summer clothes and a thousand schoolkids in uniforms straight out of an episode of “Neighbours”! The people seemed tall and fit, polite and smiling and very different from the inhabitants of the European countries we are presently in the middle of touring.

Reunited!

Reunited!

Lunch was taken in a mall on the banks of the river Yarra and, in a pub a few metres further along, I had my first taste of Cooper’s Pale Ale which Jeremy had recommended I try. He was right! The beer was tasty and refreshing. This was when I first encountered the price of things here in Melbourne as I was charged 21 dollars for a pint, a bottle of beer and a Pepsi Max! That’s 15 quid to you and me! Scott then informed me we were in one of the cheaper places to have a drink so  I signed the pledge on the spot!

G'Day!

G’Day!

Scott then took us to see the Anzac war memorial just outside the CBD and we did a short tour of Chinatown before collecting our cases and taking the tram to our Hostel a couple of miles away. Once settled in, we avoided the temptation to lie down, knowing we would fall asleep and miss our date with Scott for dinner at his favourite Chinese restaurant. So back we went on the tram, met up with Scott again and he treated us all to a great meal as a kind of belated birthday gift to me. Bless him, he also gave me a wonderful present of a framed collage of various photos of all the boys and me individually in front of “Kelso” street signs and he’d added 2 more from streets he’d found here in Melbourne. Thanks, son!

Chinatown

Chinatown

Fatigue soon caught up with us all so we called it a night at about nine and went our separate ways. It had been a great first day in Melbourne with our son Scott and we’d even managed to book rooms at the inn Jeremy had recommended in Manly, Sydney for 5 nights next week. We’ll book the flights tomorrow. Mary fell asleep on the tram home and I had to waken her to get off, as I’d had a few more hours sleep than she’d managed to grab on this eventful first day. Nevermind, we’ve promised to take it easy tomorrow and try to wear off the effects of those long flights.

Goodnight (or is it Good Morning?).

Day 177: Big Bird

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We touched down in Dubai only 10 minutes late due to heavy air traffic over the Arab State and simply moved a couple of gates to our second flight, this time to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. We boarded a similar monster to the first one and got chummy seats again on the other side of the plane for a change, so we felt quite at home really! This flight gave us a sandwich over The Gulf of Arabia and drinks over India, we had a sleep over the Indian Ocean and breakfast over a set of islands we’d never heard of!

The haul into Kuala Lumpur got a bit bumpy at times but all was well and we arrived safely although we were surprised to be asked to leave the plane while it refuelled. Only 90 minutes later we took up the exact same seats we had before then took off on the final leg to Melbourne. This time around, drinks were served over the Java Sea (doesn’t that sound dead exotic!).

Sleep was fitful for the two of us but, as the day only had 16 hours in it, it didn’t feel too bad. Mary and I then chalked up another first when we flew over the Equator although neither of us could make out the thick, black line on the ground! Dinner was served as we reached the northern coast of Australia. Yippee! Tie me kangaroo down, sport!

I must tell you about Emirates’ in-flight entertainment system. For information you can follow the flight path of the plane from take-off to landing, including altitude, speed, distance and time to destination. Movies include all the best classics plus the latest blockbusters such as ” Brave” which Mary watched and “Lincoln” which I dipped in and out of.

But the music section was really fantastic. It included all the UK number 1’s since the charts started, so I listened to the songs that were Top of the Pops on each of my first 30 birthdays. The day I was born, Perry Como was at the top with “Don’t let the stars get in your eyes” but I found some wonderful songs including Cliff’s “The Young Ones” when I was 9, “You’ve lost that lovin” Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers when I was 12, at 15 Manfred Mann”s “Mighty Quinn” and the late, great Andy Fairweather-Low’s Amen Corner singing “(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice” on my 16th birthday. Memories indeed!

As we flew over Alice Springs it became Wednesday!

Day 176: No Plain Plane

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Surprisingly, we slept well and woke at just before eight to a very, very special day for us both. It’s not every second day that you fly to Australia, is it? The nerves were evident in us both and I’m afraid the toilets took a bit of a beating for the first couple of hours. In between, I managed to pack my case and backpack, using only about half of the generous 30kg allowance as I was trying really hard not to take twice as many clothes as I would need.

So we were all ready and waiting when Kevin drew up outside the Magic Caravan with Dick riding shotgun and Lynne coming along just to say bye-bye. We were duly deposited at the airport Terminal 1, hands were shaken and then we were on our own facing the biggest trip of our lives! Emirates check-in was unhurried and hugely civilised compared to all the budget airlines we’ve used and we were told we would next see our cases in Melbourne.

Thankfully the stress dropped at this point so we were able to go and have a bite to eat and a coffee. Security and Passport Control were negotiated without a twitch, leaving us with an hour to relax at the gate before boarding. It was now time to get on the “Big Bird”.

I use the term advisedly as this was no Ryanair 747 but an absolute monster of a plane, seating 3x4x3 across, with loads of legroom and extra space, although we were lucky enough to get one of the 5 double chummy seats near the rear of the flying leviathan. I was totally surprised when we left the ground as if by magic with the engines hardly trying! There then followed a drink over Sardinia, a 4-course meal over Greece, a movie over Turkey and a nap over the Holy Land. Sorry, God!

But by then it wasTuesday!

Day 175: The Flitting.

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Most unusually for a campsite, there was some noise during the night caused by a group of over-exuberant Spanish kids who rolled up, partied and left. They were squealing their heads off at two o’clock in the morning, only settling down when the security van came by on its rounds. However they hadn’t reckoned with their neighbour, our friend Kevin, who went out and rather suggested it would be in their best interests to quieten down for the night. They did.

Our task for the day was to pack everything up and move to a different pitch where the Magic Caravan would be stored until our return. The new place wasn’t all that far away, just the other side of the toilet block and down a wee slope. We quite liked it actually. We dismantled the awning, gave it a bit of a wash, dried the washed bits in the sun and packed them all away in the Audi. In a short while we were ready to pull the caravan down to the new pitch but Dick came with us to lend any help that might be required. His labour wasn’t needed however as two hefty Danish guys helped us manoeuvre the caravan into position.

We tried our best to keep busy with the preparations for going away tomorrow and slowly but surely things began to take shape. At six-thirty we walked back up to the old pitch where we had been invited for dinner by Lynne and Dick. This turned out to be a terrific chicken dish with all the traditional veg as trimmings, even some delicious Yorkshire puddings! Well done, Lynne.

After dinner, I went up to the bar with my friends to watch some footie, giving Mary the space she needed to get her case packed. When I returned she had completed the task in style and was looking rather pleased with herself. I decided to leave my packing until tomorrow morning when I will have all the motivation I need to get on and sort out what I’m taking and what I’m leaving. On a larger scale, we’ll be able to leave the Audi down here beside the Magic Caravan to keep it company over the 3 weeks we’ll be away.

The nerves have now kicked in and I am exhibiting all the classic signs: a sore throat, cold feet, lack of appetite, multiple toilet trips and that strange reluctance to speak. It’s the last one that always puzzles me. Can any of you imagine me ever being reluctant to say something? Not likely, eh? Why are we both nervous? I guess it’s just the enormity of flying to Australia, so very far away, in the middle of what is already an amazing adventure travelling around Europe. We have both been really cool about where we have been going, getting there and then moving on a few days later, but this is a big gig and way outside our comfort zones.

It was sad saying goodbye to Jeremy and Fred who have become good friends to us over the last 3 weeks here in Vilanova. The same will apply to Kevin, Dick and Lynne whom we will see again as the guys are driving us to the airport. After bouts of loneliness during our time in Italy, this has been great fun here in Spain and we are keen to have more of it when we get back from Oz.

Watch this space!

Day 174: Shocker!

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Well, to waken up and find that Barcelona and district had just had its first snowfall in years certainly ranked among one of the biggest surprises we’ve had on our adventure so far. Our neighbour Lynne was quick to point out that there was snow on the surrounding hills to the north and west while she excitedly described having seen a car come up from the town with snow on its bonnet. The television up in the bar showed nothing but pics of the roads in Barcelona but compared to our usual snowfalls I must admit it was nothing special. To the Catalans however, this was a major spectacle.

Fred and Dick sped off on the latter’s motorbike to take a look at this event in Barcelona and maybe even get a rare snapshot of the Sagrada Familia with snow-covered spires. What excitement the weather seemed to have caused! I doubt if any of our recent visitors will recognize what I am describing, but believe me it’s true, as we’ve seen it for ourselves. Admittedly it had all vanished under the warm sun by about one in the afternoon but there you have it, snow in Barcelona!

Up at reception we checked on the details of our storage starting on Monday and discovered we would have to move the Magic Caravan to a different pitch and take the awning down. We went to have a look at this smaller pitch which the receptionist suggested we move to on Sunday for convenience sake and found it perfectly suitable for our requirements so that’s exactly what we are going to do tomorrow.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up with preparing to move and drying out the carpets which had taken a bit of a soaking last night in the heavy rain. Luckily it was sunny enough for me to lay everything out flat on the adjacent vacant pitch and just let it all dry, even though it continued to be really, really cold. Mary went and did a final washing of clothes we will be taking to Oz while I dismantled the water systems and satellite dish.

Soon it was seven o’clock and time to get ready for our special dinner with our friends before we all go off in different directions. They had chosen “Wok”, a Japanese buffet restaurant in Vilanova town, and Mihail, our Rumanian waiter friend, had organized for his pal to come and fetch us in his 7-seater taxi. We all had a beer at the bar on the campsite before jumping into the taxi and being driven to “Wok” for eight-thirty.

The magnificent 7

The magnificent 7

The meal was quite wonderful and I won’t go into too much detail as to all the things we tried but I can say that I had a terrific assortment of seafood (including delicious lobster) and Mary regaled her taste buds with sushi and seaweed and stuff like that. Apart from the cooked food ready for you to put straight onto your plate, there was an uncooked area where you added what you fancied to your plate then watched as the chef cooked it up in woks and on huge hotplates. Quite eye-popping! The seven of us drank down 4 bottles of wine, we all had coffees and the damage was 20 Euros a skull! My kind of bargain I would say.

Call me a romantic fool!

Say it with chocolate!

We had noticed the restaurant workers lighting big gas heaters in the room and it was indeed a wee bit chilly at the table but when we went out to get the taxi home it was absolutely brass monkeys and much colder than you would ever imagine Barcelona could get. Back at the campsite, we shared a drink or two at the bar then Mary and I became the party-poopers by leaving first as we were both very tired. We had had a great night in jolly company and will be sorry to leave our new-found friends as they’ll all be gone by the time we return from Melbourne.

All set for a feeding frenzy

All set for a feeding frenzy

As I write this post, we’re 30 hours away from getting on the plane. Emirates here we come!

Day 173: The Final Farewell

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All good things must come to an end they say. Mum and Kate’s visit most certainly had been “a good thing” and today it had to come to an end. We almost unconsciously got together around the table of the Magic Caravan after breakfast and just drifted into conversation about Mum’s early years and then Mary’s early years. Mother and daughter swopped anecdotes on things they remembered vividly, some funny, some tinged with sadness, while Kate managed to chip in with holiday experiences of a more recent ilk. I said very little and kept a back seat, letting the family bond.

But, around midday, Mum’s frequent glances at her watch reminded me that we had a journey to make, back up the motorway to Terminal 2 again. The chalet was handed back in perfect shape as you might expect and Mum and Kate climbed into the Audi to wave bye-bye to Vilanova Park. They had clearly had a good time here and the talk was all about which family members and when they would come back. Karen and Greg had done exactly the same thing when they left and it appears that this place has a habit of leaving quite an impression on its guests.

For the sixth time in ten days I drove to the airport 30 kilometres up the road towards Barcelona. As usual there was no problem with the traffic and we arrived at Terminal 2C in plenty time for a series of big hugs from our two visitors before I got back in the car and left Mary to see her Mum and niece into the departures lounge. She returned quite soon after and invited me to get her back to the caravan and not spare the horses. I (or should I say more accurately the Audi) duly obliged and 30 minutes later we were having a cuppa.

A strange thing then happened. As if we had been secretly storing it up and waiting for the right moment, we suddenly kicked into action on the “We’re going to Australia” thing, checking itinerary and tickets, printing visas, working out when to sleep as we travel against the clock, arranging transport to Melbourne from the airport and a hundred other details. I asked one of my new friends, Kevin, if he would run us up to the airport on Monday to save us the hassle of trains and buses and thankfully he said he would. What a nice guy!

On our way up to the bar for a bit more Internet work, we stopped at the shop and bought the tea which we had about seven thirty. By then Mum had texted (well, there’s a surprise!) to let us know they were safely back on the ground, then on the Metro, then in Claire’s, then at her tea, then in her bed! No offence, Mum, but you are an absolute demon at the texting. You put our blog to shame!

The rest of the evening was spent in the bar with the lads, but we weren’t just exchanging laughs. Jeremy (from Sydney) gave us pointers as to the best places to stay when we’re there with Scott, while Fred, Dick and Kevin told me about all the long-term deals available for staying on this site. I wonder why we wanted to know that?!

At about 10 o’clock, with the temperature dropping sharply, the word came in that it was snowing in Barcelona! We looked out to find the rain had turned heavier and sleetier so our walk back to the caravan was with my leather jacket over our heads. We fell asleep to the rhythmic drumming of the rain on the roof and awning. I’m so glad the bad weather waited until all our guests were gone.

It’s quite nice to be on our own again!

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