Monday, November 21, 2011

Kiwis, Koalas, and Kava... Oi, Mate!: Chapter Five, "Melbourne, 'Victoria's Secret'" (Sunday and Monday, 16 and 17 October 2011)

First thing this morning, I was took!  I was hoodwinked!  Bamboozled!  Led astray!  Run amok!  Just when I thought nothing could top fried chicken in a remote area of New Zealand's North Island (See Chapter Two), this happens: I boarded my Queenstown to Melbourne flight, checked the in-flight menu, and discovered that - WAIT FOR IT!!! - Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnuts were available for purchase!  I waited anxiously and patiently for the cart to wind its way down the aisle to me.  The flight attendant looked my way.  We made eye contact.  I smiled.  She smiled.  I pointed to the menu card and asked if the Krispy Kremes were available.  She smiled... and told me they were NOT.

You go to Hell, Ma'am.  Go directly to Hell.  Do not pass "Go."  Do not collect forgiveness.

It was a beautiful, but windy Sunday afternoon when we arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.  Customs and quarantine were a breeze, and once out in the airport, we met our guide for the Australian tour.  Hey, what do you get when you cross Brigitte Nielson, Carol Burnett, and Pee Wee Herman?  Normally, a hot mess... but in our case, we got Lara, our German-born, Australian-bred, "six foot twelve" tour guide.  Lara highlighted a few of the sights of Melbourne and previewed some of what we'd see on our city tour the next day on our way to our hotel.  The Crowne Plaza Hotel Melbourne is in the thick of everything, adjacent to the Convention Center, the Maritime Museum, the Aquarium, and the Crown Casino and Entertainment Complex, on the North bank of the Yarra River.   It was here, in a cramped, dim, unfurnished conference room, that we met "The Others."

How could we have known that while we toured New Zealand, there was another tour group out there touring at the same time?  How could we have known that we would encounter them here in Melbourne?  And is it a coincidence that Australia and New Zealand are known as Oceania, thus making this an "Oceanic" tour? 

We sat on one side of the room.  They sat on the other.  Lara talked of excursions and lanky siblings and luggage tags, but we weren't listening.  Their eyes were on us, and ours on them.  Not since Lord of the Flies has a group been so violently divided, clashing over such polarizing issues as what time to come down for breakfast, which side of the street to walk on, and how to democratically decide who gets to sit in the front seats of the coach.  It was the Montagues and the Capulets, the Hatfields and the McCoys, and the Smurfs and the Snorks all over again!

On our driving tour of the city during rush hour the next morning, we learned why Melbourne has been nicknamed "The City of Black Suits": there is a SH*TLOAD of men and women wearing black suits here!  Our first stop was a photo stop at The Melbourne Museum and the adjacent Royal Exhibition Hall on our way to Fitzroy Gardens, a collection of landscaped, Victorian-era gardens that include the whimsically decorated Fairies Tree, a model Tudor village, and Cook's Cottage, the childhood home of Captain James Cook, transplanted from England and reconstructed brick by brick in the heart of Melbourne.  From there, we visited the placid Shrine of Remembrance to Australian war veterans and the Royal Botanic Gardens across the street.  Our driving tour continued with The Parliament House, Flanders Station, Federation House, all of Melbourne's stadia and arenas (including the Royal "Go Fish" Stadium and the National Checkers Arena), Queen Victoria Market, and Port Phillips Bay.

Oysters Kilpatrick is a tasty seafood appetizer consisting of an oyster on the half shell, broiled with cheese, diced bacon, and barbeque sauce.  I tried Oysters Kilpatrick with lunch today... and they quickly replaced meat pies as my favorite "nummy."  It was also at lunch today that I remembered I have a friend from Austin who now lives in Australia.   I thought she lived in Sydney, but she lives in Melbourne.  Oddly, she's in Sydney on business, but will be back in Melbourne by the time we get to Sydney, so we won't connect there either.

Yep.  True story.

What else can I say about Melbourne?  The city is known for its "laneways," bars, clubs, restaurants, shops, and galleries with hidden entrances in alleys beside and behind buildings on the main streets.  In fact, many of the finest restaurants and nightspots in Melbourne are in laneways.  I tried my luck at the blackjack tables at the Crown Casino across the street from my hotel and turned $90 in to roughly $500,000... only to lose it all.  Also, there are about 3 MILLION 7-11 convenience stores in Melbourne, answering the question once and for all, "What's a brotha gotta do to find a Slurpee up in this island continent?"  Oh, thank Heaven....

Tomorrow begins on a crispy note and just gets creamier after that.  We're about to expose Cairns!