Going to the Doctor

Words you never want to hear when you are on holidays: “You need to go to the doctor”. Unless you are me, that is. On the weekend we flew down to Melbourne to see The Doctor.


Number five, actually. You know, the guy who plays a younger version of his son-in-law. Peter Davison.

I grew up watching Doctor Who, now in its 51st year and absolutely love Murray Gold’s incidental music to the series reboot. We’ve been to a couple of concerts previously, including another a couple of years ago in Melbourne. Of course there was no stopping me once this concert was announced. When faced with the choice of going to Melbourne or Brisbane the decision was obvious – a return to my home city for sure!

Plus Alex had to start school on the Monday, which kind of limited things.

Fortunately a couple of sales meant that I could book flights on my favourite airline (Qantas) without having to justify the expense. It also allowed me to use my new Qantas Club membership to gain entrance to the lounges. Why not enjoy ourselves?

A couple of days prior to departure I twisted my right ankle, to go along with the recently twisted left. Fortunately the sprain didn’t seem to be so bad and I applied the same treatment of ice, rest and strapping that saw the left heal rather quickly. It did mean that I started the journey with a hobble.

Public transport from the airport can be a bit hit and miss on Sundays, so we prebooked parking at the airport for a somewhat reasonable but by no means cheap amount. We had no luggage to check in and I had already printed the boarding passes off the Internet, so we walked straight through security of Terminal 3 and up to the Qantas Club lounge.

Upon entering the lounge we were told about the kid’s section towards the rear and Alex quickly zoomed ahead to the corner of toys, books, PlayStation 3 and computers. Meanwhile B and I went in search of breakfast. The offerings were mainly cereals, yoghurt and toast, but I did enjoy the pancake machine while B ordered a nice hot chocolate.

The lounge has great views of operations around Terminal 3 and across the main runway to the International Terminal. We watched big jets soar into the sky. Definitely a pleasant place to spend an early morning or late afternoon, so long as it isn’t too crowded.

We walked down early to our gate, number 10 in the rotunda. Boarding was done by two zones and we were in the later group. Originally a 737-800 had been scheduled to fly on this leg, which would have meant three seats together at the window. But when I went to check in online I saw that it had been substituted with a 767-300 and we had been grouped together in the middle row, as the seats are in a 2-3-2 configuration. The flight was so full there had been no opportunity to change seats. So no external photos on the flight down. Oh well, I’ve done the route a few times.

A pity that this wasn’t the Disney Planes liveried 767, the aircraft that Alex and I had flown during the premiere of the movie in Australia. Not that the interior is any different, anyway.

We taxied to the third runway and a took off towards the north, with a series of right hand turns taking us back south and across the coast at Wollongong. Or so the pilot informed us.

Once the seatbelt lights were switched off and with no window to look out it was time to enjoy the inflight entertainment. In addition to cabin screens passengers are supplied with iPads that displayed streamed entertainment via the web browser. The iPad covers can be slotted through a fitting for a seat back display or sit on the tray table. The entertainment selection looked reasonable. Without any soundtracks available on audio I initially set mine for some modern classical music, but later changed to a selection of TropFest short films.

Alex was handed a Nickelodeon activity pack consisting of a drawing and puzzle pad, a postcard and four coloured pencils. He preferred the electronic entertainment.

We were each served a muesli biscuit and a selection of hot or cold drinks. Tasty, but not particularly necessary considering the food we’d eaten in the lounge.

One of the older flight attendants, Patricia, stopped by to chat with Alex and us. It’s these touches that make it a delight to fly with Qantas.

An hour’s flight feels very short when you have flown as far as we have in the last twelve months and before long we had to stow our iPads for the descent into Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport. There were a few shakes and bumps on the way down, but with the knowledge that we’d shortly be on the ground it wasn’t too disconcerting. Then a very hard landing on the tarmac.

We taxied past an eclectic range of aircraft docked at the international terminal. An Air India 787, Royal Brunei 777 and the more common Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines, along with plenty of Qantas tails.

Once off the aircraft and out into arrivals we approached the car rental desks with a vague plan to drive to Ballarat and Sovereign Hill for the afternoon. Unfortunately, the city branches all closed at 6pm so we would be left spending extra cash to park the car overnight on our return to Melbourne. Instead we just used our prepaid voucher to catch the Skybus to Southern Cross Station in the city. It’s not cheap and I wish there was a train.

Alex fell asleep on my lap as I admired the architecture along the motorway. There’s a pride in the city that is lacking in Sydney. It felt good to be back in my city of birth on this bright sunny day.

From Southern Cross Station we transferred to a minibus that delivered us straight to our hotel, the Novotel on Collins Street.

Our very nice room looked inwards to the Australia on Collins shopping arcade. But there was no time to stay as we were all hungry. It was only a short walk to Melbourne’s wonderful little dining lanes, but the prices were rather more than we wanted to pay right then.

Instead we found a busy Chinese cafe serving a range of cheap, but not particular good, Asian dishes to what looked like a student crowd. It was food and it was filling.

We then headed up to the metal wonder of Federation Square for a return visit to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). B wasn’t so enthused, but this was for Alex. And he did love it – because there were computer games to play. Plus other buttons to press and special effects to generate. Definitely a museum for the iPad generation, though one day he might appreciate some of the historic game and television displays.

The nearby Melbourne Visitors Information Centre provided maps and brochures, as well as pointing out where the nearest children’s playground was, a short walk down along the Yarra River.

Despite the heat Alex loved the climbing ropes, slides and the swing of this colourful and well designed playground.

Then time for some shopping. I found some shoes, but what we were really after were runners for Alex. We tried Myer, but it is half the size now, with their other building under renovation. There was no scent of warm nuts and the toy section was a mere shadow of my childhood memories. Sadness.

It was Chinese New Year and there were supposed to be stalls and a giant dragon at Docklands’ Victoria Harbour, so we caught the tram down Collins Street out to lonely, quiet, still under development Docklands. The sun was setting as we strolled along the promenade beside the harbour, the light reflecting purple off the buildings.

There were a few expensive looking bars, but where the long brightly coloured dragon was mounted there were white tents but no stalls and no food, just a platform for getting paid photos with the dragon.

This far south it stays light until late and we were tired and hungry when we boarded the free historic W-class City Circle tram back towards Flinders Street Station. Though it was past 9 pm we had eaten no dinner, eventually stumbling into one of the still busy laneway cafes for pasta and pizza. And salad in B’s case as she didn’t guess what insalata meant. Then straight back to the hotel.

The next day we slept in, then ate a big hot buffet breakfast at the hotel. With the morning free before the concert we caught the tram to trendy, alternative Brunswick Street. If we hadn’t eaten such a large breakfast the many cafes would have tempted us as we wandered along. At one corner sat a thin tattooed old man with a long grey beard split by decorative ties. The first impression was one of a druggy, but he held up a sign pointing to the Rose Street Markets and joked in a friendly voice about my Doctor Who t-shirt and the band The Who.

The Rose Street Markets must be something of an institution, though I had not heard of them, as I heard other tourists searching for them. If we had been in the mood to shop we would definitely have been enticed by the tiny cactus pots, the Mr Bucket t-shirts or the various other crafts on display.

But time was getting on and we had a concert to go to and it was hot outside. Needing some lunch now, we crossed the road and ended up in a Mexican cafe. We don’t know real Mexican food, but the nachos and tacos were the best we’d ever had. Such smoky chorizo, tasty black bean, sweet salsa. Unfortunately, Alex soon fell asleep and so didn’t eat much, which had ramifications for the concert.

I was concerned if we could make it to the concert. Fortunately, the next tram on the line ran all the way to the Convention Centre. A kind African lady gave up her seat to let me sit down with a sleeping Alex on my shoulder while a strange young overweight guy wearing a t-shirt that said “nerd” explained Aussie Rules to a young English girl on bail for some crime.

Other Doctor Who concertgoers joined the tram in the city and we made it to the Convention Centre with time to spare. I’ve written about the concert on my other blog. Suffice it to say that I loved it, though Alex got a little upset.

The previous night we had glimpsed the gas flames of Crown Casino on the south bank of the Yarra and had seen the white tents of many stalls. So our plan was to have a wander through there and perhaps eat dinner from a stall, before watching the Chinese New Year fireworks show at nine. It wasn’t far to walk from the Convention Centre, which is also at Southbank, so we had some time to kill.

As we were walking we spotted a Ford vehicles demonstration which included electric cars for kids. Discovering it was free along with a test drive in one of the “adult” vehicles on display we signed up. Unfortunately there was no kids booster seat for the Ford Territory, which did an amazingly steep run up and over some stacked shipping containers, so we had to settle for a Kuga instead.

The actual driving was done by a professional, or in this case by the car itself when it came to automatic reverse parking and emergency stops, which was quite impressive. Then Alex got to have his own drive around a track in a mini electric car, which he did very well, after which he played Disney Cars on a PS3 situated in the back of a truck.

Now he couldn’t nag us about playgrounds again!

Further along the banks of the Yarra, near the stage for the Chinese New Year celebrations, was a mini farm with calves, goats, ducks, geese, chickens and alpacas. Alex had a wonderful time and even managed to catch and carry a couple of chickens. I joked that this was fresh food for a CNY banquet.

The compere of the CNY celebrations sounded like a southern European, which grated a bit. There were stalls where kids could make lanterns, some selling Asian crafts and ingredients, rather commercial. Further down were food stalls, including a Malaysian section with a number of stalls selling a fair range of Malaysian dishes. We had satay, rojak, stingray, roti canai and jala. The food was not always the best, but at least the selection was far superior to the Sydney CNY offerings. There was even the traditional Malaysian CNY dish yee sang available.

Sated, we bought some ice cream from Baci, then sat on the grass by the river to wait for the fireworks. At 9pm big flames shot out of the towers around us, eliciting wows from Alex and tears from an adjacent young child.

The fireworks were closer to 9.30pm, but they were pretty impressive as they burst over the river.

Walking back through the crowd was challenging, but the red lanterns and decorative lights around the trees were very atmospheric and festive, like a Japanese night time hanami.

We crossed over the pedestrian bridge to Flinders Street station, admiring the night skyline, stopped to buy drinks from a small Coles supermarket, then return exhausted again to the so comfortable hotel.

On our final day the temperature was supposed to reach 41 degrees. I don’t mind Melbourne heatwaves, as it is a dry heat and far more tolerable to me than Sydney’s humid summers. On such a day I love to walk towards the Carlton end of town, where the streets become quieter and the city takes on a sepia tone. I call such days “brown days”, when Melbourne is open, but empty of people, enjoy the solitude of the city.

But after another buffet breakfast we had a task to do. Alex’s shoes. They don’t sell as many school kid shoes in the city, due to the lack of school kids there. That’s for suburban stores. And so the shopkeeper at Melbourne Central told us. But try Docklands, they said. So we caught a tram down to the Harbourside brand discount stores.

It was hot and harsh and the airconditioning in each shop was welcome. But we found nothing. The huge Melbourne Star ferris wheel towered over us, but Alex was more interested in the fun park. The rides weren’t cheap and the air was hot, so we steered him towards his other choice, a Monkey Mania indoor play centre. The things we do for kids. But at least adult entry included a cold drink each. So we sat and played on our phones while Alex built up a huge sweat running, climbing and sliding.

Eventually it was time to go, so we caught another free City Circle tram back. These old wooden trams have a lot of character and don’t require the inconsistent tapping of our stored value Myki cards that are required for all other public transport in Melbourne. Tapping on and off in trams is a pain, especially as they aren’t read very well, and many passengers don’t seem to bother with it.

Alex wanted one more Slushy from a 7-11 store, a brand he knows from across Asia.

In this heat we couldn’t be bothered walking down to Southern Cross station to catch the bus back to the airport, so for a few dollars more we caught a taxi instead.

Despite our short stay I was going to miss Melbourne. Sydney has its wonderful harbour, but Melbourne has an elegance, a blend of history, modern design and art that make it a beautiful city. It’s almost like visiting another country when we go there.

I had checked in on my phone, so again at the airport we went straight to the Qantas Club. It was very busy and unfortunately the smaller kids area was tucked away in a darker corner without runway views. As Alex busied himself playing games on the PS3, we grabbed some snacks and drinks. Had some very nice white chocolate brownies and I had to laugh at the “Jammy Dodger” biscuits – one of the Doctor’s favourite snacks (and used to threaten the Daleks).

We were one of the later groups to the gate, the lounge being quite far away. Our aircraft had been changed again, but this time from a 767 to a 737-800. I was happy about this as we all sat together with me, after some argument with Alex (who wanted me at the aisle and B in the middle) at the window.

This wasn’t one of the newer 737-800s with the Boeing Sky Interior and seatback screens. A pity, as I have not flown on Qantas’ version of these. But no matter, it would be a short flight and I had my entertainment – a window.

We took off into blue skies over baked golden lands. It looked dry below, reservoirs of water retreated far from their banks. I tried listening to the audio system, but nothing piqued my interest, so I changed to my phone’s collection of music instead. Alex played on our iPad.

We were handed “grazing boxes”, crackers with cheese and a tub of “ploughman’s pickles”, along with a can of soft drink each. It might have been small, but I really enjoyed the snack.

Despite the lack of a flight map, the pop-down cabin screens showing news or comedy instead, I could recognise the Victorian-NSW border crossing of the Murray River at Albury-Wodonga. I felt a little sad leaving Victoria again.

The 40 minute descent seemed to begin surprisingly early. As always the ridges near Warragamba Dam looked like great walls in the late afternoon light. We approached Sydney Airport from the south, passing by our suburb.

After a very smooth flight there were some shakes from the crosswinds as we crossed Botany Bay and touched down on the main runway.

I stared at the international terminal as we taxied along. At this time, in this light, is when I feel most like travel to a distant land. And indeed I had no wish to return home, only that the adventure should continue. In time and in space.

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