Wine, bracelets and footie...

Trip Start Jan 31, 2006
Trip End Dec 11, 2006

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Flag of Australia  ,
Tuesday, June 6, 2006


We flew to Melbourne to stay with Matt and Fiona (friends of Fiona's brother and sister-in-law) and their two children, Lachlan and Michaela. Matt and Fiona live in Camberwell, a suburb of Melbourne, which was ideal for exploring the city and its surrounding area, and we had arranged to stay with them for a couple days before heading off down the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide.

Having picked up our rental car from the airport and negotiated Melbourne's toll roads we arrived at Matt and Fiona's and made our introductions. We were naturally a little nervous about staying with people we'd never met before but we need not have been worried as we had a fabulous welcome from everyone, particularly Lachlan and Michaela who were excellent 'hosts' keen to explain everything to us, including the rules of Australian Rules Football (Lachlan's abiding passion!). I won't pretend that I know the finer points of the game but now at least I understand what it is they are trying to do! After dinner we chatted with Matt and Fiona for a while but were bushed from our flight so headed to bed fairly early ready for our first day exploring Melbourne.

As the weather was good we decided to spend our first day in the Yarra Valley, the wine region to the east of the city. At Fiona and Matt's recommendation we started our tour at the De Bortoli winery where we sampled the wines on offer as well as the local Australian cheeses which they sold. Needless to say we came away with a couple of bottles of wine and some very tasty cheese! Our next stop was Yering Station and the Sweet Water Cafe where we would be having lunch (another Matt and Fiona recommendation). The Cafe was in a pretty conservatory overlooking the winery's garden and the food was fantastic (yes I know, more eating!). After lunch we went over to the winery's cellar door and bought a very nice bottle of white wine to go with the red we had bought earlier. We'd avoided the dessert menu at the cafe because of our final food stop of the day, the Yarra Valley chocolate shop. Our hostess Fiona had extolled the virtues of the chocolates from the shop so we thought it only right that we try some ourselves and bring a box home for everyone to share. The chocolate honeycomb we had was fantastic (it puts a Cadbury Crunchie firmly in its place) and we snacked away while taking in the views of Melbourne and the surrounding countryside from the top of the nearby Dandenong hills. With the sun setting (although the weather is warm in winter in Austalia the days are just as short as a UK winter so we ended up heading home at around 5pm on most days as it was getting dark) we headed back for more home cooking and to share the wine, cheese and chocolate with everyone - something that made us quite popular!

Day two in Melbourne was spent looking around the city. If you haven't been, Melbourne is a very pretty city built around the Yarra river. Having been dropped off at the local station by Fiona, we headed into town on the train. We arrived at Flinders Street station and after looking around the architecturally 'interesting' Federation Square (lots of glass and steel at odd angles) and making some enquiries at the tourist office about places to stay on the Great Ocean Road, we headed over to the city's Scottish church. Fiona's mum had asked us to look in on the Minister at the church as she had taught him Highland Dancing when he lived in Glasgow, but hadn't seen him since then. Unfortunately, the Minister was not able to see us when we visited but it did give us a chance to look around the church and admire it's impressive stained glass windows.

After the Scottish Church we looked around the Queen Victoria market which I thought was very similar to Borough Market in London with many specialist food shops selling some extremely tasty looking produce. Inevitably, our look around the market made us hungry so we headed over to the south side of the Yarra River where most of Melbourne's best restaurants are to be found. We checked out several different places to eat but plumped for Tuto Bene, a restaurant that served mostly risotto. Fiona is a diehard risotto fan so was in seventh heaven trying to pick between the several dozen different risottos on offer. We weren't disappointed when the food arrived either which together with the fact that most of the dining room was outdoors and overlooked the river, meant that we had a very pleasant lunch indeed.

After lunch we had a look around the shopping area on the south side of the river and bought Fiona a lovely bracelet made by a local designer with several dozen different semi-precious stones set in silver. After that we headed further south to the Royal Botanic Gradens and the ANZAC shrine. The ANZAC shrine is dedicated to the memory of all those Australian and New Zealand soldiers and sailors who have fought and died for their country. It was initially built to commemorate WW1 but now commemorates all conflicts (including the Vietnam War which I didn't realise Australia had been a part of). The building itself is very impressive and had some excellent exhibits, particularly on how sport was used as a means of getting men to enlist in the First and Second World Wars. It also has some of the best views of Melbourne from its balcony - much better and more informative than paying for the view from the Melbourne Observation Deck.

It was now getting dark so we headed back to Flinders Street and caught the train back to Camberwell where another great meal was waiting for us. One of the great things about staying with people is that they are keen to chat away the evenings which Fiona and I love doing, particularly after many evenings of it just being the two of us. We also gave Micheala and Lachlan the gifts we had bought them in town to say thank you for letting us stay. Thankfully the flower fairy sticker book and the AFL cards went down a storm and cemented our place as family favourites (with the junior members of the household at least!).

Fiona, Matt, Michaela and Lachlan were fantastic hosts and Fiona and I would like to say thank you again to them for letting us stay and being so welcoming and for all the info and tips on where to go and what to do in Melbourne.
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