Saturday, October 31, 2009

Victoria, Greek Style

The Apostles...and us...
The stunning Yarra Valley...The incomparable MCG... It is well known that Melbourne is the second (or third or fourth depending on who you speak to) largest Greek city in the world. Thousands upon thousands of Greeks emigrated during hard times before and after the Second World War. Some of these were Christina's forebears. In fact, her grandparents on her mother's side met, married and had children in Victoria. As Christina's mum was one of these children, Chris has the fortune of having an Aussie passport. Our week in and around Melbourne was therefore spent undertaking some serious Greek family time.

This meant loads of humbling, copiously generous hospitality. Only when in Greece itself have I been fed so much wonderful food. The warmth of welcome from Greek family really touched me and the Greek-Australian concept fascinated me. People who have spent a life time at the other end of the earth from their ancestral home, but have kept such a strong sense of origin. I have the feeling this connection is seriously diminishing by the generation. It will be interesting to see how resilient Greek culture is over the next 30 years or so.

The City itself!

Setting out from our base at Mary Lucas's pad (a quite remarkable lady, I have to say), we spent a couple of days wondering around the centre of Melbourne and, all in all, I was not pleasantly surprised. How could I be? I had heard so many great things about the quality of life in this city. It could not surprise me in exceeding these expectations, but I am happy to say the place lived up to them.

With its broad streets, parks, seaside, coffee culture and general laid back attitude it was an instant favourite. Sometimes you have to wonder why we stay (or indeed I stay) in the shit weather stress-pot that is Northern Europe. While I know the draw of Europe's culture and hold of family is my answer, coming to a place like this is certainly tempting.

The highlight for me was undoubtedly a tour of the legendary MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground). A 100,000 people monolith that I have hoped and wished to visit since I can remember. A tear formed at the corner of my eye o viewing this hallowed turf. Centre-stage of this most competitive of people. The home of AFL and Aussie cricket. Oh for it being Boxing Day next year and the Ashes! I have not given up hope yet of returning for that occasion. From visiting the changing rooms to the highest to tier, the place blew me away!

Pleasant walks and a couple of VB in the city were polished off with a sparkling view of this spread out city (every one has to have their quarter of an acre) from the top of the monstrously unattractive 89 (I think) story Eureka tower. Wonderful to take it all in.

The Yarra Valley

We were lucky enough to be taken on a couple of top-notch side trips, one of which was to the Yarra Valley wine region and our hosts were Mary and David.

My memories of a green Victorian countryside are a little scewed by the region being pelted by more rain in the last couple of months than for many a year. Even with that taken into consideration, the Yarra Valley is a rich fertile land. From the terrace of the Chandon winery, the gently sloping hills curve into the distance, lined with row upon row of vine. Below a lake and far in the distance the Dandanong range covered in thick eucalyptus forest.

We were taken to a couple of different vineyards, trying some delicious wines and at lunch devouring my first bit of kangaroo – very tasty!

We drove on through the mouth-watering landscape and up into the hills until we reached burnt out forest. These were the leftovers of the devastating fire that swept through Victoria earlier in the year and, tragically, took many lives. Explained images of the oil from the eucalyptus literally exploding in fire was tempered by the almost immediate renewal of life before us. Many Australian plants require (or at least prefer) fire to regenerate and here, only months on from destruction, green shoots were covering the trees like toilet brush. The occasional bird was flying and small lizards basked amongst the charred remains of fallen trees. A strange kind of beauty.

The Great Ocean Road

Desma and Graham undertook the lengthy and incredibly generous task of driving us along the Great Ocean Road and back in one day. This is a rugged, spectacular piece of coastline that stretches from the West of Melbourne. It did not disappoint.

We drove along the bay in Melbourne and up to Sorento, spotting half a dozen small puffer fish from the shore in the bay. After crossing by ferry over to Queen's Cliff we set off westward. The first stopping point was Torquay. As with so many places around here, it's name mirrors a place back home in the UK (and as in most cases, out does the original). Home to legendary surf companies including Rip Curl and Quicksilver, some quick retail therapy (even I en joy it where surf gear is concerned) was finished with some great views over Torquay and the revered Bells Beach.

Along the winding, twisting coastline, intersected with numerable golden sandy beaches each split by rising headlands and populated by surfers, we made it to Lorne. A highly popular spot in the height of summer, it reminded me of the Garden Route in South Africa - a genteel bay on a characterful coast. To my delight, lunch on the bay was interrupted by a couple of sulphur-crested cockatoos. I know they are two a penny around Oz, but I had not seen some since I was last here over 8 years ago and I was very excited.

On we went through ancient temperate rainforests, past rolling inland scenery and up to the show piece of this famous road – the Twelve Apostles. Just offshore lie seven or eight (they have been falling one by one) sandstones stacks. Quite stunning rising out of the crashing water in shades of yellow and brown. Our view of this scene was lit up by marching walls of sunshine as, in banks, the rays broke through the clouds. Just something else....

So many thanks...

I really can not thank enough all the people who put us up, fed us wonderful food and provided interesting company. Mary Lucas, Uli, Kathy, Stan, Alexi, Fani, Mary and David, Desma and Graham, Vasili and Poppy, Con and Zara, George and lastly, but by no means least, to Chrissie, Steve and Melissa, for putting us up for 3 days on the ranch - I will not soon forget the thoroughbreds gallivanting around the fields and your touching hospitality.
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