Tag Archives: melbourne

Movie review – Lion

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A 5 year-old boy lives in poverty in rural northern India, but is much loved by his hard-working mother and older brother Guddu.

Tragically, he is accidentally displaced to the mean streets of Calcutta, where he survives with other lost children, until swept up into a secure facility. Unspeakable things happen here, but young Saroo is fortunate and is adopted by a caring Australian couple.

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He settles in well – Nicole Kidman as your new Mum can’t be a bad experience, after all – but the family unit is destabilised by another arrival from India. Saroo’s newly adoptive brother Mantosh struggles with demons that he sadly never really overcomes.

Saroo thrives in Tasmania though, and qualifies to study hospitality management at university in Melbourne. He embraces the cosmopolitan environment there, and meets and falls in love with Lucy, sympathetically played by Rooney Mara.

But 25 years after being separated from his real family, Saroo becomes desperate to track them down, with inevitably damaging consequences for his Australian family and friends.

Based on a true story, this is a charming film, if a little mawkish at times. I defy you not to be reaching for the Kleenex when Saroo, played by Dev Patel, finally locates his village and family in India.

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Two things linger in my mind after seeing Lion. The scene where Sue Brierley tells Saroo that she and husband John could always have had children of their own, but wanted to offer a better life to parentless children from a poorer society.  And the caption – as the closing credits roll – that 80,000 children are lost in India every year.

 

 

The Grand Slam Tour 2015 – it’s a wrap

Tuesday, February 17

We’re sitting in Singapore’s Changi Airport, trying to get through 5 hours in transit during the long trek home.

The Grand Slam Tour 2015 is nearly over, after 5 amazing weeks exploring Adelaide for 10 days, a couple of road trips in South Australia, a fun train journey across the border to Victoria, a week in Melbourne – including seeing the Aussie Open tennis – and 2 weeks in Tasmania, 10 days on the road in a camper van and a few fun days in Hobart.

So what have we learnt?

That the earth is round, that Aussies are the friendliest people on the planet, that wallabies are like kangaroos with thalidomide…and that Andy Murray is still mentally weak against Novak Djokovich.

Thanks to all Gill’s Aussie family, old friends John & Eileen and new friends met along the way for making us so welcome and for ensuring we had a really memorable Grand Slam Tour Down Under.

And huge thanks to Gill for being away from home for 5 weeks with me, and for sharing our Great Big Aussie Adventure. Pretty amazing, eh?

We’ll be back…..

Melbourne – a sporting finale

Day 19 – Monday, February 02

Our last day in Melbourne and it all seems to be about sport…..

The post mortem of the mens final of the Australian Open continues. Was Novak Djokovich faking injury? Why did Andy Murray collapse, again, so comprehensively….was it physical or mental weakness? And what was that demonstration all about, not covered on air but suspending play for quite a few minutes while the security guys ejected the culprits?

No matter. It’s no wonder the players call it The Friendly Slam, the Aussie Open is a fantastic tournament – for players and spectators alike – and having now completed my own personal Grand Slam, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to any tennis fan.

The Socceroos won the Asian Cup and all the newspapers are full of admiration for their boys.

And Cadel Evans, that Aussie cycling legend and only Aussie winner of the Tour de France, competed in his final pro race yesterday – The Great Ocean Road Race – and has now hung up his bicycle clips at the grand old age of 37.

A split party for Gill and me today. Gill has ventured out to the laundry and to explore the Botanic Gardens. I’m making another sporting pilgrimage to the magnificent Melbourne Cricket Ground, home to 100,000 spectators and scene of many more English defeats.

The Adelaide Oval tour was probably more enjoyable, the sheer scale of the MCG is overwhelming. But it’s hugely impressive, especially as it’s gearing up for the ICC World Cup in 10 days time. There are over 250 TV screens dotted around the stadium….the usual maker’s logo has to be covered up and replaced by the World Cup TV sponsor. Similar attention to detail is in evidence everywhere.

The tour gives a fascinating trip into the bowels of the stadium – the physio room, the players’s changing rooms, the press area, the dining facilities, the members’ Long Room and Committee Room, and much more.

And also in the MCG is the National Sports Museum.  For a relatively small country – in population rather than geographic terms – Australia punches way above its collective weight.

 The Museum houses impressive memorabilia about its wide-ranging sporting success through the years, and much film reel about the MCG hosting the Olympics of 1956 and the Commonwealth Games in 2006.

My favourite parts of the extensive Museum exhibits were Ian Thorpe’s trainers – roughly twice the size of my own pathetically delicate feet – and the hologram of Shane Warne, talking about his career from the very MCG changing room that we had just explored.

If you love sport, Australia in January and early February is a pretty special place to be…although I suspect that’s the same for the rest of the year.

We’re off out now for our final supper in Melbourne, as glorious evening sunshine bounces off the Yarra river through our hotel room.

Not sure about connectivity in the Tasmanian wilderness for the next couple of weeks, so daily blogging might not be possible. And spending time in a camper van will be a far cry from luxury hotels in Adelaide and Melbourne……see you on the other side.

 

 

 

Melbourne – a nearly day

Day 18 – Sunday, February 01

Yesterday was our penultimate day in Melbourne before moving on to Tasmania. It was one of those days when everything was nearly good….but ultimately wasn’t. And ultimately is what counts, right?

I’ve admired crazy and original Aussie Baz Luhrmann for years. He announced himself to the wider world with that thrilling, ground-breaking version of Romeo & Juliet in 1996, starring a very young Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes.

Back in 1992 he had written and co-directed the Aussie film Strictly Ballroom. Well, he’s now directing a stage musical version here in Melbourne, and we had got hold of tickets for the Sunday afternoon matinee.

If you can suspend your disbelief completely, love sequins and a soppy storyline, this one’s for you. But you could smell the cheese in Adelaide, I reckon. The best part for me was the brilliant Latino dance that closed out the first half, and the rousing adage a life lived in fear is a life half lived, epitomising the need to be creative rather than to conform.

But sorry Baz, this musical was only half good, and a little piece of me died on a grey Sunday afternoon in Melbourne.

The pre-match curry at the Red Pepper Indian restaurant just missed the mark too. Well reviewed, the first signs were promising….pale wood floors, exposed brickwork on the walls, gentle service and intoxicating smells emanating from the kitchen.

But our Lamb Pasand and Chicken Tikka Masala dishes were so-so, served on cold plates and not overly generous portions. The best part of the meal was the tandoori roti bread….but man cannot live on bread alone. So near and yet….

And then it was time to watch Andy Murray play Novak Djokovich in the final of the Australian Open. We’d seen both semi-finals and were looking forward to another epic match between these two warriors. It would have good to be there at the Rod Laver Arena ourselves, but we’d been quoted A$395/£200 for a single ticket a few days ago and had already pushed the boat out for our Melbourne hotel and semi-finals package with Sportsnet.

So we found a good pub, the Duke – Melbourne’s oldest licensed premises – on Flinders Street, from where we could see the stadium lights. And the screens were so large it was almost like we were there….

That gruelling 1st set lasted for well over an hour and Novak edged it 7-6. It was going to be a long night.

We watched the 2nd set in the cavernous outdoor/indoor space by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, further along Flinders Street. Even longer than the 1st, Andy won another tie-break.

We watched the denouement from the comfort of our Langham hotel suite, but sadly Andy Murray succumbed all too quickly and lost his 4th AO final, and the 3rd to the Djoker.

Andy seemed in better physical condition than Novak, especially after Djokovich wobbled around like a drunken Bambi during the second set. But there are now accusations that Novak was play-acting and Andy admits he was distracted by these antics. After being a service break up in the crucial 3rd set, Novak won 12 of the last 13 games to win his 5th AO title.

Andy’s collapse in another Grand Slam final was woeful. He worked so hard and played outstanding tennis to get there, but he must control his emotions better if he is to achieve what is so tantalisingly within his reach.

But nearly just isn’t good enough, right?

 

 

 

 

Melbourne – less is more

Day 17 – Saturday, January 31

When you’re travelling it’s nice to push the culinary boat out occasionally, but it’s just as rewarding to eat simply – as the locals do – to get under the real skin of a city.

Strolling through Melbourne’s main shopping precinct on Bourke Street on a busy Saturday, we wandered off into the maze of more atmospheric laneways and narrow covered malls.

 

Within earshot of an ageing accordionist playing hackneyed but romantic old tunes, we ate in a tiny and basic cafe, hunched up at a narrow counter and surrounded by industrial-size bags of quinoa and enough coffee beans to keep neighbourly barista Simon Ware grinding away for a year or two.

Delicious, healthy and generous portions of chicken waldorf and pumpkin & chickpea salads were just $6.90 each, about £7 for both, eaten reading the local Melburnian newspapers, listening to the old accordionist and people-watching.

In the evening, we ended up climbing the dingy stairs off a dark alleyway between Bourke and Little Collins Streets to eat at The Waiters Restaurant. Opened in 1947 – and with decor, tables and curtains barely changed since then – this humble eaterie was once a place for Italian & Spanish waiters to unwind after work. Anyone can go now, but the simple ethos remains the same.

No wine list, just red or white offered verbally. We had a couple of glasses of excellent Shiraz in petrol-station giveaway tumblers.

No menu, just a blackboard of regular dishes and one with the specials.  We both had pasta, with garlic bread on the side. Honest, wholesome food delivered without pretension. Buonissimo! And all for A$60/£30.

The service was equally simple, but friendly, from two young English girls…one from The Wirrall, studying at St Kildas for a year as part of her International Business degree course in Leeds; the other from Stamford, having fun and with no idea how the rest of her life would unfold.

The Aussie boss wandered amiably around, until huddled by the side of the radio blaring out by the open kitchen counter……The Socceroos were in the final of the Asian Cup against South Korea, and were 2 minutes from glory when the Koreans equalised. The food might have suffered from that point on…..*

Earlier in the day, we had done the official Neighbours tour. Gill is ever so slightly addicted to this Aussie soap, and this was a small price to pay for inflicting 3 days of tennis on her.

It was a fun way to spend a few hours, but somehow the functional, small street (actually suburban Pin Oak Court) and outdoor sets back in the Fremantle Media TV studio lot undermined the glossy vision of what end up on our TV screens. Another dream shattered….

But fortunately the subsequent dining experiences, as humble as they were, reinvigorated the soul.

Less is definitely very much more.

* the Aussies scored again in extra time to win the Asian Cup. Phew!

Melbourne – all strung out

Day 16 – Friday, January 30

Midnight in Melbourne and just back from an epic day at the Australian Open tennis tournament.

 We were there for the twilight session as part of our package today, compared with the night session yesterday when we saw Andy Murray edge past Tomas Berdych to reach his 4th AO Open final.

The afternoon part of today’s order of play gave us a mixed doubles semi final and the ladies doubles final, both on the Rod Laver Arena main show court. Good tennis in both matches, but lacking in atmosphere with a huge number of empty seats….which did at least allow us to creep down to the posh seats just a few rows back from the court.

The main event was the 2nd mens semi final between defending champion, Stan Wawrinka, and the current world no. 1 Novak Djokovich. True to recent form between these two, they served up a 5 set epic. It somehow epitomised the ebb and flow of life….one moment you think you have life figured out and with your goal in sight, but if you take your eye off the ball for a brief moment – BAM – you’re behind the curve again, have to re-energise, refocus and steel your nerves for another monumental effort to reach the winning post.

As I saw it, Novak would win in the end thanks to his remarkable consistency, and defensive retrieving ability. I haven’t seen the stats, but I can’t imagine he made that many unforced errors. Stan, conversely, has a backhand as pure as unrefined silk and can fire off outrageous winners at will. But he is prone to making too many errors.

Another classic.

Just maybe Novak has lost some of the gas from his legs as a result of tonight’s long and emotionally draining match, but I still fear he’ll have the edge over Andy Murray in the final on Sunday. And he’s already beaten him in two AO finals.

But I’d like to be wrong………

 

Melbourne – life and love

Day 15 – Thursday, January 29

Two of the enduring passions of my long life have been sport and travel. I’ve fallen painfully out of love with some things and a few people, but those two addictions have remained remarkably constant.

To be in Melbourne today to see the Australian Open mens’ semi final between Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych  combines both sport and travel in an intoxicating alchemy. Walking from the city along the Yarra river, leaving the shiny skyscrapers behind and approaching one of the world’s greatest sporting arenas is a rare privilege.

Thanks to our Sportsnet package, we’ve got excellent seats about 12 rows from the front, on one corner of the court. We’re in position about half an hour before the 7:30 pm start, chatting to the elderly US couple next to us…he’s surprised her with a trip to Australia and to the Open, and then on to New Zealand, to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. Passion.

The Rod Laver Arena is gladiatorial. The retractable roof slides effortlessly closed as the appointed hour approaches, presumably to accentuate the drama through lighting and music…because as the players warm up, they open it up again to reveal the still bright Melbourne sunshine, and to let in the surprisingly lively and cool wind.

Andy starts the first set as though he doesn’t want to be there. Tomas is hitting the ball much more cleanly, and producing searing winners. Andy is fiddling with a dodgy left ankle, and then a right thigh or knee, casting anxious glances towards his entourage and struggling to stay in the set.

Slowly, alongside his renowned defensive qualities, his confidence and momentum seem to improve. But not enough to save the first set, which he does well to take to a tie-break.

But thereafter he’s in the ascendancy, taking the next two sets 6-0 and 6-3. He’s in control of more rallies, moving his opponent around the baseline like a marionette and his puppets. Berdych’s energy is being sapped.

As with all sporting occasions, it’s as much about the peripheral incidents, people and smells around you that create a compelling occasion.

The 4 Andy Murrays stand up during end changes to belt out eulogies to their man, clearly well rehearsed over a few beers in one of their Scottish living rooms during the dark days of winter. A few other Brits closer to us chug pint after pint, are less rehearsed and become more and more abusive. The corporate suits immediately behind us discuss telecoms deals. Seagulls inhabit the night sky and float around the open roof, illuminated like dancers in a ballet. The smell of an Asian noodle dish tickles the nostrils.

The 4th set is closer but Andy takes it 7-5 and is into his 4th AO final…having lost the other three. In the immediate on-court interview, he pays tribute to his female coach Amelie Mauresmo and hints at the tension in the first set being due to his ex-trainer now coaching Tomas.

A great night. A great sporting – and travel – occasion. A great result.

And the perfect conclusion to a day in which we had earlier dub beneath Melbourne’s skin, after the previous day’s circular orientation tour.

We had enjoyed a brilliant brunch at Sally’s Kitchen,  spontaneously bought tockets for Baz Luhrmann’s musical production of Strictly Ballroom on Sunday afternoon, admired the architecture of the Royal Exhibition and Melbourne Museum in Carlton Gardens, stood in Ned Kelly’s cell during the moving tour of Melbourne Gaol, whizzed through the free Bohemia exhibition at the Melbourne Library, and enjoyed sundowner beers on the remarkable Ponyfish Island in the middle of the Yarra.

And then enjoyed a satisfying pre-tennis tapas supper at La Citta in the dingy Degraves Laneway, off Flinders Street. Crumbed eggplant chips with chipotle mayonnaise. Pork & beef meatballs with Napoli sauce. Lamb shank arancini. Smoked confit duck with croutons and cournichons.

Travel. Sport. Food. Beer. Wine.

So many passions in one short day.

Melbourne – a circular city

Day 14 – Wednesday, January 28

Orientation day for us in Melbourne today. A city sandwich, between a tennis hors d’oeuvres session yesterday and our main course on Thursday & Friday, the Aussie Open semi-finals, out at Melbourne Park.

Smug from our morning gym & swim session in the posh Langham’s spa, on the 9th floor and with a rather spectacular view across the Yarra to the skyscrapers on the north bank, we strolled across one of the many bridges at about 11 am, in warmer temperatures than yesterday and almost cloudless skies. Thinking about the wintry conditions back home and snowmageddon forecast for the east coast in the US, obviously.

We’d been impressed by the free city buses and trams in Adelaide, now we were hopping on the free trams trundling along Flinders Street, past the historic station, seemingly every few minutes.

 

The plan was to ride number 35, which does a full circuit of the inner city, to get our Melburnian bearings. But we eventually realised that doesn’t run until 12 pm, so jumped on the next one heading west and ended up at the Waterfront area, by the impressive Etihad stadium. These Etihads seem to be taking over the world…or sponsoring it, at least.

The Waterfront and Dockland areas were rammed with office workers heading out for a smoke or early lunch at the many eateries. New apartment blocks pierce the skies and shiny bling-boats bob around in the water as evidence of an affluent economy.

We successfully hopped onto a number 35, differentiated from the other trams by its period livery and enlightening on-board tourist commentary on points of interest around the route.

Heading east, we trundled along the length of La Trobe Street, past Flagstaff Gardens where we had Airbnb’d our first night, near Queen Victoria market to the north (on the list for later), past the imposing State Library of Victoria building, close to the Old Melbourne Gaol before hitting Carlton Gardens for the turn south.

Spontaneously we jumped off at the impressive Parliament building on Spring Street, wanting to roam the city’s innards on foot, like feral animals looking for rich pickings away from the main feeding grounds.

We’d heard about Melbourne’s famous laneways, the smaller streets tucked away off the main intersections, so we zigged and we zagged our way south and west. We were rewarded with the city’s treasures….boutiques, restaurants and bars concealed down atmospheric alleyways, or in well-preserved covered Victorian malls, like the famous Block Arcade.

But we ventured east again, and south, to Gazi’s at the junction of Exhibition and Flinders Streets, for a late lunch. Why? Because we’re sad Masterchef fans and the owner George Calombaris is one of the Aussie version’s star presenters……the bald Greek one who can cook. Like a more talented Greg Wallace.

Gazi’s is a cool, relatively new restaurant in a cavernous, shabby chic space. The menu has dirty Greek food as one section. Apparently that’s a good thing, and we enjoyed the waiter’s suggestion of combining calamari (with pine nuts, capers, cucumber & grilled apricots) and grilled saganaki cheese (with balsamic honey and lemon). Greek tapas…social & sharing. But we also wanted some clean anti-social nourishment so we added chicken souvlaki (with parsley, onion, and mustard mayo) and roasted beetroot salad (with hommus, goat’s curd, purple carrot, toursi red onion and cherry dressing). Washed down with a couple of glasses at rose……at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Outrageous behaviour.

All lovely, thanks George….I think we’ll put you through to the next round.

Just about time to complete the circuit – by foot – back to Flinders Street station and then across the river to see the movie Wild at the Crown complex.

Phew. Thanks, Melbourne….I think we’re going to like you.

Later, at the al fresco riverside Foxtel set-up, we saw the final set of Novak Djokovich sweeping aside the young Raonic as if extricating a small piece of grit from his eye.

So the main course is now ready to eat…..Murray v  Berdych tomorrow, Wawrinka v Djokovich on Friday. Mouth-watering.

 

Melbourne Park – The Aussie Open

Day 13 – Tuesday, January 27

Checked into our rather posh Melbourne hotel – The Langham – late morning, and I was as bouncy as a kangaroo on speed to be handed our welcome pack from Sportsnet by the liveried concierge.

I’d booked the tennis and hotel package almost a year ago, and wasn’t expecting much more than the tickets for the semi-final sessions on Thursday and Friday.

But in our sumptuous 19th floor room, overlooking the mighty Yarra river, we unearthed a quality rucksack each,  baseball caps, sunscreen, folding seats for those sensitive Pom bums, a poshly printed itinerary, our Myki visitor value pack for exploring the city….and a rather fetching leatherette man-bag containing the all-important tickets and dangly lanyard thingies.  Strewth mate, welcome to the Aussie Open.

I’d also joined the official AO body a while back, which gave us general access to the grounds and outside courts for 1 day….so we ambled in the direction of Melbourne Park, crossing the river and dodging energetic joggers and cyclists at the same time as dozens of rowing crews were put through their paces by megaphoned coaches on the other bank. Sporty bunch, these Aussies.

We enjoyed a cracking few hours introduction to the Open, watching some snippets of games on outside courts as well as on a couple of the show courts, seeing Sharapova The Grunter outclass young Ms Bouchard on the big screen as we munched through dodgy hot dogs, and then witnessed the sad demise of Rafa Nadal at the hands of Berdych, from the comfort of the Game, Set & Match suite, courtesy of the AO membership.

A good warm up for the day’s main event, young Aussie pretender Nick Kyrgios taking on our very own – well, Scotland’s – Andy Murray, being played out in the night session on the main Rod Laver Arena.

We ended up watching that start in the Crown Riverside area, cold tinnies in hand, and conclude back in the comfort of our hotel suite. Andy Murray played really well to squash the hopes of the young pretender – and the entire Australian nation – and we’re really excited that we’ll be at the Rod Laver Arena to see him play against Berdych for a place in the final. Andy, not Rod.

 

Adelaide to Melbourne

Day 12 – Monday, January 26

Australia Day, and we’re spending most of it on a train covering the 828 km from Adelaide to Melbourne.

Not just any train though…The Overland, operating since 1887 and a chance to see some of the real Australian landscape in relative comfort. Much slower and more expensive than flying, but it’s better to travel than to arrive, right?

An early start with an 07:40 departure from Adelaide, arriving in Melbourne at 18:50 after moving the clock 30 minutes forward for a time change difference between South Australia and Victoria.

The Overland train is a bit of a functional relic from the past but retains a faded charm. It’s not overloaded with contemporary facilities but its few carriages are wide and each seat has enough legroom for the Harlem Globetrotters. And we’ve upgraded to Blue Premium, whatever that means….

The train trundles, wheezes and squeaks through mile after mile of stark Aussie landscape, the scrub-like plains enlivened only by the more fertile, rolling hills outside Adelaide, and when we cross the mighty Murray River on a historic, rickety bridge. Otherwise there’s not much evidence of anything other than industrial-strength agriculture.

At Nhill, the hamlet is dominated by wheat and sheep, and the train rumbles past the largest grain silo in the northern hemisphere, built way back in the 1920s.

What houses there are along the entire route look flimsy, and everyone seems to collect rusting second-hand cars and obsolete fridges behind their corrugated iron fences.

There’s a driver change in Dimboola, a wheat town on the Wimmera river and pretty much halfway to our Victorian destination.

The onboard train staff are friendly and informative and, thanks to our upgrade, we’re served regular meals and refreshments at our seats…although it’s good to stretch the ageing legs by exploring the adjacent dining car a couple of times.

Sadly we only spot 1 kangaroo in the entire 828 km….although we may have been dozing for approximately 414 km. He was bouncing along a starkly bare field, in splendid isolation and looking for all the world as though he was late for an appointment.

In the carriage, our immediate neighbour for the whole journey was a menacing-looking, wiry middle-aged Aussie. He could have been the love child of genial Harry Grout, the gimley-eyed fixer in Porridge’s Slade Prison, and a tethered British bulldog. Evil tattoos etched on his punching hands; short, muscled neck; gold earring glistening on his left lobe; chunky knuckle-duster rings on his pinky fingers; sunglasses perched on top of his tanned, almost bald head. I let him use the toilet first.

We pulled into Melbourne station a few minutes ahead of schedule, despite taking almost 45 minutes to trundle through its sprawling, graffitied suburbs. A short walk later we were meeting Linda Pk and being taken up 21 floors to her apartment on 350 William Street….ours for 1 night only, thanks to the miracle of Airbnb.

I just about noticed the spectacular unrestricted views from the balcony, across the north and western suburbs of the city,  before collapsing in bed from the sore throat and flu bug that had lurked for a couple of days.

No Australia Day fireworks for me, I’m afraid, but still looking forward to a week in multicultural Melbourne and especially to the Aussie Open, the raison d’etre of the Grand Slam Down Under Tour.