From apples to zebras: a trip to Melbourne

Back to the trip to Melbourne…

Beechworth’s Carriage Motel is very nice for a motel. The big screen television was great for Doctor Who and there was free wireless internet as well. But our room didn’t come equipped with a bath. Last time we tried Alex in the shower (Hong Kong) it ended in tears. Six months later and he’s proud to be a “big boy” and enjoy the water on his head. Amazing how they change.

The first order of the new day was breakfast, and where else to eat but the Beechworth Bakery. Yes, it may be a big commercial venture now with branches elsewhere but there is no doubting that the bread and pastries are still very yummy. Afterwards we went sweet shopping in the heavily decorated (no photos please!) Beechworth Sweet Shop and some interesting cordials from a greengrocer. Wish that I had bought the perfect looking local cherries as well.

Rather than head straight down to Melbourne we went for a drive around the local area. The road to Myrtleford passed through hills scarred by bushfires. Many of the gums had been so badly burned that they had died. As we drove further along to Bright the giant granite outcrops of Mt Buffalo loomed over the skyline.

We drove past vineyards and fruit plantations. Alongside, the old railway track had been replaced with a bike trail. As I have mentioned before the sight of disused railway lines always saddens me. On one hand I’m happy that the line has been preserved, but on the other I’m sad that this picturesque route will never see trains again.

I didn’t think Bright was anything special, but there was one shop selling apple pie ice cream made inhouse. The three of us shared that.

From Bright we travelled back to the Hume Highway, stopping at Myrtleford to change Alex’s nappy and buy delicious apples and pears from a small fruit stall.

The drive to Melbourne was unremarkable until we approached the city. That first sight of the Melbourne skyline has always been special for me, although it has continued to evolve over the years.

Somebody had cut a big “ALP Out” message into the side of one of the hills. On the motorways towards the CBD there were other “decorations” alongside the road; a rusty modernist iron bridge across the road, reminiscent of the Australian pavilion at the Shanghai Expo; blue poles giving a feeling of movement as we sped past. Even Alex said “wow” at some of the abstract roadside sculpture.

Thanks to the phone’s built in GPS we navigated to the hotel in Prahran almost without incident (one wrong exit). The Art Series [The Cullen] was very impressive. Adam Cullen’s bold artworks make for a colourful hotel, but the rooms themselves were both comfortable and stylish. We were too tired to go out so we popped over to a local supermarket (the Prahran Markets being closed over the period) and returned to make a simple pasta using the room’s kitchen facilities.

Monday saw us walking up past the clothing boutiques of Chapel Street until we reached the Yarra River. We stopped at a park to let Alex play on the swings and slide, before catching a train into the city, getting out at Parliament Station. Why they ban photography there I don’t know.

After admiring the Exhibition Building, with Alex all excited over the fountain, we had a Malaysian lunch at Lygon Street, which is famous for Italian food – but most of those restaurants were closed or too expensive. Then we walked back to the Melbourne Museum.

Back when the Museum was in the old building that now houses the State Library my father used to take me there. I would spend ages reading all the tags of the prehistoric and geology exhibits. Fast forward to now and Alex saw the museum as a chance to run around at high speed. No time to stop and read anything. He did enjoy a dinosaur, insect and fish or two, but really he’s a bit young for it all. The kids section and outdoor garden was a hit with him though.

Eventually he fell asleep in the stroller and we had the chance to enjoy the preserved organs of the human body exhibition and see CSIRAC, the oldest preserved computer. If only the ICT Centre did stuff like that nowadays.

After walking along Swanston St for a little and letting Alex meet some horses pulling carriages we hopped on a tram to St Kilda. There we bought some ultimately disappointing cakes before returning to the hotel for dinner. Alex had fun on the tram ride back, was very noisy.

More driving on the Tuesday, this time down to the Werribee Open Range Zoo. My memories of Werribee were mainly the stench of the sewage works as we drove down towards the Bellarine Peninsula, but there was only the tiniest whiff today.

The zoo was fantastic. Included in the entry fee is a bus ride around the zoo grounds. It was like going on a safari, with herds of bison, antelope, hippos, rhinos, zebras, giraffes and more. Afterwards we took a walk along the African trail. Alex got excited by the pacing cheetah, but even more thrilled by a water play area near the hippos. We stripped him down to his nappy and let him loose on the fountains.

From Werribee we continued on down to the Bellarine Peninsula. As a child my family used to holiday in the area with our caravan. Unfortunately, we were too late to catch the Bellarine Railway with its steam rides between Queenscliff and Drysdale. Instead, we stopped first at Barwon Heads to see the changes wrought by Seachange. A restaurant where a takeaway fish shop on the jetty once stood, but the riverside walkway is still there. Pity that the bridge is now being duplicated or replaced and it no longer rattles.

As we drove into Queenscliff I marveled at how little had changed. There might be new housing developments, but they are away from the beachfront areas. The same giant Norfolk pine tree dressed up with lights for Christmas, the same beacons, petrol station, cricket ground, caravan parks as before. In Queenscliff we watched a little diesel shunt carriages in the heritage station grounds, too late for the steam engine. Then had perfect fish and chips from the Trident Fish Bar opposite the park. I have missed those fish and chips for so long and now miss them again.

Alex had fun chasing gulls and climbing around the playground, while fairground rides ran in the background. The air smelled of seaweed. Then we drove to the main street and I had licorice and ginger ice cream, B and Alex the best ever jaffa ice cream from the Scandinavian Ice Cream shop. They’ve been there about 30 years.

I would love to stay on the Bellarine Peninsula again one day, but tonight it was a return to the hotel in Melbourne.

It was time to begin our return journey to Sydney. Except we first had a wander of the other end of Chapel Street (not so much to see), then explored the Prahran Markets. It would be so nice to have such a range of fresh foods handy. We ate an early lunch at the HuTong Restaurant beneath the hotel. It may be expensive but their yum cha dishes are some of the best I’ve ever tasted, especially the prawn dumplings.

Finally we began our drive north, though we first missed our exit and ended up crossing the Westgate Bridge again. I was sad to see Melbourne go. I still have strong feelings for the city.

Alex was simply perfect the whole ride back to Sydney, singing, laughing and sleeping. The only times he got upset were when he wanted to do a poo, was terribly hungry or wanted my camera. We couldn’t complain about the poo – it’s an important step in toilet training! Unfortunately, roadside toilets are few and far between.

We stopped at Euroa to change Alex’s nappy, let him out to play in the park and have ice blocks. It was a very hot day, but there’s something rather nice about stopping in these quiet country towns on such days.

Instead of taking the bypass we drove through the centre of Albury, for old times’ sake. Stopping at a car wash I blasted the locust bodies off the car with a high pressure hose. Then we continued on. Another stop at Holbrook, by the HMAS Otway, a submarine lying in an inland park, and another run by Alex.

B wanted to get to Gundagai, but the last hour was difficult. Alex was hungry and had done another poo. We finally made it into the town, changed his nappy and took a look at the disused railway and road bridges, long wooden structures crossing the broad flood area of the Murrumbidgee river. Another sadly disused railway line.

We couldn’t find anything much to eat in the town centre and the adjacent motels were all booked out, so we returned to South Gundagai and the Swagman’s Rest motel, the only one that seemed to have a vacancy. We’ve stayed there once before and it’s only a place to sleep, nothing more. Alex found the bedside cupboards amusing though, hiding away in them.

Opposite the motel is a petrol station, but sadly the roadhouse diner has been converted into a Hungry Jacks. A big truck stop meal would have been appreciated, but instead we had to make do with the standard burgers and chips. At least Alex ate the tomatoes from my burger.

The food problems continued the next day. We returned to the main street but not much seemed appetising or in our price range, so we bought a couple of things from the bakery. The vanilla slice seemed like it was off. Blah. The signs around the main street describing the history of the town were interesting though and the reminder of the flood deaths appropriate considering the current events in Queensland.

We had a deadline of 4pm to collect Kita from the boarding house. It should have been easy to make it, but Alex forced us to make further pit stops. The first was Jugiong, a tiny, but very pretty little town by the banks of the Murrumbidgee. The highway used to pass through the town and I was disappointed when they bypassed it. You could see that it had recently flooded by the grass and debris strung up along the wire fences.

Lunch was at the famous Paragon Cafe in Goulburn. It was absolutely packed and it took us a while to get served, but it just felt right to eat there. When we left there should have been nothing to stop us getting to Sydney under hot blue skies, in contrast to the storm clouds on the way down.

Alex’s bowls called yet again, this time drawing us into the infamous Belanglo State Forest rest area. No sign of Ivan Milat or his relatives, but Alex’s desire to go to a real toilet had to be discarded when an old couple, the man with a walking stick, took over the facilities.

The drive back into Sydney was as boring as ever, especially with the 80km/h roadworks zones. We made it to the vet with 30 minutes to spare, then returned back home for a swim in the pool.

It seems like the whole family enjoyed the holiday. It really felt like a family trip and Alex really seemed to respond to all that time spend with both of his parents. He’s changed again and it’s wonderful to share in it. The fact that he travels well in the car is also a fantastic thing to discover.

As we drove through Sydney the vegetation colour struck me as wrong. Everything was too green, the wrong shade of green, almost tropical, after the yellows and khakis of Melbourne. When I began this trip I didn’t know how I would feel about Melbourne. I’ve now lived the greatest portion of my life in Sydney, fallen in love with cities across the world. Yet I cannot escape from those first nine and a half years of my life. I still feel at home in the south.