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New Year’s Eve Down Under

The $120 all-you-can-drink and free appetizers with 2,500 of your closest friends at a swanky hotel was never convincing enough. Enjoying time with friends where the prerequisite for a conversation does not include screaming and rubbing up against sweaty strangers is more our style. Thankfully, we were able to arrange a gathering of like minds in Melbourne to ring in Twenty-Ten. 

Imposing Stingers at St. KildaWhile we are accustomed to dawning our heaviest winter coat, gloves, hat, boots, and wishing taxis were available on frigid December 31st nights in Chicago or Wisconsin, Melbourne couldn’t have been more different. Imagine wearing all of the above then rolling around in a bathtub of honey. That is how sticky and sweltering Melbourne felt just before 2010 was ushered in with pomp and circumstance. Carolyn and Holly met us at the Miami Hostel and we met Army Andy at Federation Square before taking the trolley to St. Kilda Beach. With the 100+ degree Fahrenheit temperature coupled with immense humidity, our world was inside a toaster oven. Arriving at the beach, it was a race to see who would enter the refreshing saltwater first. But the competition’s starting gun failed to fire when it became apparent that thousands of stingers (what Aussies call jellyfish) had crashed the NYE day at the beach. If they had not yet washed up on the beach, they were lurking in three feet of water. Carefully, the five of us enjoyed the now dangerous waters with an occasional yelp of “watch out!” Having risked our well being long enough, we grabbed a bite to eat and some drinks in the charming street-scape near St. Kilda Beach. Some Aussies were certainly getting after it early as evidenced by one disruptive drifter who randomly grabbed a girl’s glass next to us, spit in it, placed it back on the table, then knocked it off with a sweeping hand motion. He was gone in a jiff after the glass shattered on the stone sidewalk. Rude. With that, it was time to manufacture NYE plans other than avoiding the drunkest man in the Southern Hemisphere.

Miami Hostel DigsThe terminating trolley stop from St. Kilda Beach dropped us at Federation Square along the Yarra River. A hip looking bar had an advertisement for their party that evening so I ran across the tracks to have a look. $20 for appetizers, one drink, and cover charge. It seemed reasonable considering how expensive the Land Down Under can be. Our plan was hatched and Army Andy went back to his modern hotel while the three gals and I went back to our private hostel room. Surprisingly, three girls got showered and ready in record time considering the tight confines of our room featuring a steel bunk bed. The girls looked dazzling in their colorful dresses and tall heels. Me? Not so much. The dressiest shirt I had was designed explicitly for fisherman and my shoes for wilderness hikers. Three perfect tens and one trekking angler walked out of the Miami Hostel.

NYE 2010 Pretty Ladies 3D Glasses are Cool, Right?

Sweating again, we waited patiently in line, paid our $20, and crowded around the kitchen exit. We were starving and ate anything and everything that penetrated the swinging doors. Sushi, bite sized sandwiches, and mini burgers were inhaled. We were quite proud of our frugality considering a beer is $7 and we each ate well over $20 in food. We set up shop near the window line with a view of the Yarra River as families laid blankets along its banks in anticipation of the midnight fireworks. We felt badly when a massive thunderstorm rolled through sending thousands of people running for shelter. Enjoying the lightning lightshow, the five of us sipped drinks and mingled. I secretly brought our Avatar 3D glasses from a viewing two days prior and we took turns looking like the biggest nerds in eastern Australia. Carolyn returned from a mission to obtain a sparkly hat with a silly looking balloon human, much to everyone’s enjoyment. Balloon boy was passed around like a first grandchild, each of us checking his blue diaper or combing his rubber blond hair. My favorite New Year’s Eve past time is the “fake countdown” where I start counting 10…9…8… well before midnight. It worked twice, but then the clever Aussies caught on to my simple American brain. Then the real thing came and we shared hugs, kisses, and camaraderie with one another as fireworks reverberated off Melbourne’s skyline. Next it was time to dance to some awful techno with four middle-eastern men providing ample amounts champagne. Last call sounded and we joined other jubilant merrymakers on the streets of Melbourne en route back to the hostel via the trolley. But not before indulging in some delicious Indian lamb kebabs. Ash and I climbed into the bottom bunk while Holly and Carolyn snuggled above us, all dreaming about a prosperous 2010.

Ash and Carolyn Getting All 3D in Fed Square Balloon Boy Midnight Smooch Take Two

Ash and I talk often about how we might spend each holiday next time back in America with dear friends and family. But that is what makes each Thanksgiving, Groundhog Day, Christmas, New Year’s, Flag Day, etc. special while traveling the world. Each one is unforgettable.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. The trolleys in Melbourne are expensive and the fare system is confusing, even to the grizzled traveler. We spent two days trying to make correct change and guessing how much we owed. That was until Carolyn and Holly pointed out that less than 5% of riders actually pay to ride and they never heard of anyone being caught and fined. Thereafter, we rode the trolleys with ease for free.
  2. No matter what city in which you are celebrating New Year’s Eve, there are countless options. We have found the expensive all inclusive packages to be a waste while the cheaper options turn out to be more fun and worthwhile. We lucked out in Melbourne by only paying $20 while neighboring establishments were asking $80+ just for entry.

The Melbourne Identity

Trained to kill when activated. Ashley, a CIA trained international operative, was dispatched to Australia. Her objective: locate and destroy Matt Damon in Melbourne, his Identity’s namesake. At her disposal was one globetrotter (Greg) and a pair of wily ex-patriots (Carolyn and Holly) working in Oz on one year visas.

Alley to Croft Institute Boag's Brewery, Carolyn Hiding Her Wine in Shame Rooftop with Little Creatures

Like any mobile hunter, Ashley aimed to get a lay of the land and become acquainted with Australia’s Second City. With the help of Carolyn (Greg’s former co-worker) and Holly (Carolyn’s friend) a walking tour of the sprawling metropolitan area was tackled. A delicious tapas dinner was consumed while we caught up with Carolyn and got to know Holly. It was clear as day after 5 minutes of conservation that we were going to have a ball together. Walking through alleys of graffiti that looked more like an art exhibit than a home for trash receptacles, we approached The Croft Institute. Perhaps we were lucky that this insane asylum turned dance club was closed at the moment. Instead, we planted our bums at Boag’s Brewery and sampled six varieties of beer. Well, three of us did. It seems six months in Australia had turned Carolyn to the dark side as she imbibed on white wine. In a brewery? I digress. The sun was put to bed so we headed for one of Melbourne’s iconic rooftop bars on this warm evening. Contrary to some bozos informing us the establishment was closed as we were halfway up the eight flights of stairs, we were welcomed by hundreds of revelers taking in the night skyline. It seemed like a hippie commune with people sitting in circles on the AstroTurf surface. When Holly introduced us to Little Creatures, we knew Australian for beer certainly was not Fosters. In the midst of all this, Ash seemingly forgot her mission, but recalled her target’s love for cricket.

Ashley Taking in the MCG Action... Finally Fast Pitch

Thankfully, the Boxing Day (day after Christmas) Match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) was in full swing. Australia versus Pakistan. Ashley pleaded not to go, but I kindly pointed out that her CIA Dossier had clear instructions she was to attend. We arrived just as the players were having their afternoon tea and that began what was to become lots of questions about this peculiar sport. Wickets, stumped, spinner, overs, bowls? After fifty minutes of players standing motionless, checking swings, or fake running, our thirst for knowledge needed relief so we inquired with the sweatiest bloke in Section Eight. Twenty minutes of explanation left us more confused and Ashley apologizing for my endless line of follow up questions. Slowly though, the rules of cricket became more evident and I found myself enjoying the match. Ashley, not so much. In many ways, the sport reminded me of watching America’s baseball: an exciting moment here and there, opportunity for casual conservation, and simply relaxing. Alas, Ash’s boredom was unbearable and I was sliding off my seat from perspiration. So Jason Bourne wasn’t at the MCG after all, maybe in the suburbs of Melbourne?

And I'm Proud to be an American American Girls BBQing

It was late afternoon when the train pulled into the suburban rail station with Carolyn and Holly awaiting our arrival. Andy (Holly’s family friend on leave from Iraq) arrived on the next train and with that we piled in the car for the short drive to Holly’s Aunt and Uncle’s home for a good old BBQ. A real home with a family, dog, and home cooking. We were ecstatic. Aunt Ann and Uncle John and Holly’s cousin Jeff took us in like their own. The way the three of them interacted was hilarious and for an instant it felt like our home. Knowing full well that Aussies don’t call a grill a barbie or shrimp prawns, I could not help but ask. With a sly smile, Uncle John replied, “that damn Crocodile Dundee.” Being a proud American transplanted in Australia, Aunt Ann was thrilled to have a home full of USA Passport holders. The neighbors were probably sneaking a peak through their blinds when the six of us posed under the Stars and Stripes displayed high in their front yard. Army Andy (my secret nickname for him) valiantly handled a steady line of questions concerning what Iraq is really like over some cold ones on the porch. May God watch over our soldiers in uniform. Conversation continued into the night and we seemingly missed the last train back to Melbourne. Jeff then taught Army Andy and me about footy, the other Aussie sport, while the girls gossiped over wine. We watched 1980s highlight tapes of players resembling American Gladiators with the “footy fanatic” providing biographical info on his heroes. I stretched my legs on the couch for the night while Ashley and Carolyn shared Holly’s bed upstairs. Home sweet home.

Turns out Ashley is a terrible international operative and never even sniffed Jason Bourne. But her mission sent us to Melbourne, why not stay awhile?

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Attaining an Australian Visa is a piece of cake. Do it online before you travel as they do not issue visas on arrival. Here is the website: http://www.eta.immi.gov.au/
  2. It is tempting to arrive at an airport after a long flight and hop in a cab to your hostel or hotel. Fight this urge in expensive countries as most international airports offer economical buses or trains to the city center. Hop in a cab from there if necessary, your budget will thank you.

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