23rd June  -  Melbourne

We arrived in Melbourne to be greeted by Kate & Maeve, looking resplendant in her Wallaby jersey and bursting to yell out her newly rehearsed "Go Wallabies". Mark had also travelled up from Frankston so between them we were whisked off to our apartment on the Southbank, which turned out to be every bit as good as the photos had suggested. Robbo & Chris were staying at the nearby Langham Hotel, reputedly one of Australia's finest, and we'd arranged to meet up on the way out to investigate what, for the next 8 days, would be our home city . Contact had also been made with Jordie Coffin so we met up with him and his travelling buddy from Millbronx, Mike Phippard, at the local Irish bar (there's always one!) PJ O'Briens before seeking out somewhere to eat that night. To our surprise, they all had 'Brook stalwart John Kidd in tow.

I've neglected to mention that today is a very special day, it's Rays 60th birthday so we had to make it a meal worthy of the occasion and The Waterfront restaurant didn't disappoint. As we were to discover, Melbourne has a dining scene it is justifiably proud of.

Monday was spent beginning to explore the CBD, each turn of a corner uncovering unexpected & interesting places the like of which seem to have disappeared from Britain mainly due to commercial pressures rather than lack of imagination, it's a real shame as some of the discoveries brought a real smile to your face. The Laneways are awash with every manner of eatery & coffee shop imaginable and were a favourite breakfast place throughout the week. Hopestoun Tea Rooms in the Block Arcade, which had the most wonderful array of delicious cakes,  was a particular favourite with everyone.

The focus of Tuesday was the Rebels match at AAMI Park that night. Before that we decided to experience the trams with a trip to St Kilda for a walk along the promenade and afternoon tea & cookies at a cafe by the beach, Michael Lynagh & Jim Rosentahl were also there at a nearby table. Amusingly we came across a rather eccentric lady out walking her pet piglet which was rather tastily named "Crackling", he's lucky Razz wasn't with us! Armed with our new-found tram expertise we met up with Kate & headed to Richmond for pre-match drinks on Swan Street, it was then on to the architecturally & aesthetically impressive new stadium for a match the Lions won at a canter. After a pleasant riverside stroll back to Southbank we finished off with a few celebratory beers in PJs.

On Wednesday I took the ferry to historic, maritime Williamstown to spend the afternoon & evening with Kate & Maeve, meanwhile, having been impressed with the plethora of stadia within throwing distance of the CBD, the others did a tour of one of the worlds’ greatest, Melbourne Cricket Ground, something I'd hoped to do by watching my beloved Collingwood (The Pies), unfortunately fate decreed that wasn't to happen.

Thursday included a visit to Queen Victoria Market, with produce you'd crave to have as readily available back home. There was also a trip up to the Skydeck, which is on the 88th floor of Australia's highest building. That night we went to Brunswick Street, which is renowned for great bars and restaurants and it didn't disappoint. After a delicious Thai meal where, under direction of aficionado Neil, I had my new favorite soup Tom Yum Goong for the first time, we went to Naked For Satan, a really cool bar whose roof garden, Naked In The Sky, has an awesome nighttime view of the city. You can imagine our surprise when, first, Matt Stephens appeared and obliged with a photo, then the rest of the midweek squad emerged from the lift.

Spirits were high when someone decided we had got a bit too excitable and imposed an obligatory glass of water needed before being served more drinks. Hilariously, we indignantly drunk the water then left the bar anyway!!! Good call as it turned out as the bar over the road had a half-decent singer performing to an adoring crowd of groupies, another good bar which finished off the night well. As usual Ray & I dipped out first leaving the Angells to sample the vast Crown Casino long into the morning.

The next morning was to be one of recuperation for the boys so Ray & I headed out to explore the city further. Later that afternoon, after a lunchtime pint & cheesy chips with Kate in a cool roof garden bar near her office, we bumped into the Robinsons waiting to meet up with former Fawley player Keith Wilson and his wife. After a couple of pints in the Charles Dickens pub, which turned out to be more Testwood Club than quaint “olde English”, we returned to base after a tasty box of noodles en-route from one of the plethora of street stalls. The Angells had by now headed to Frankston for what was to be another late night with Mark, unbeknown to Ray & I that would be our lot for the day. Ray went for an hours kip and emerged 14 hours later! No bother at all to me as I was more than happy watching Friday night AFL, a much needed rest night and also a chance to source the extra match ticket we still needed.

Saturday had finally arrived, day of . . . . . . . THE SECOND TEST

Thankfully I’d managed to get the extra ticket so that would need to be picked up later. Bright & breezy from a rare alcohol-lite day we met up with the Robinsons for another fine brekkie after which we even resorted to a mammoth clothes washing session to avoid hitting the bar too early. I ventured out to finally get some Uggs for my darling daughters from a shop Christine had recommended in the impressive Shot Tower Mall

Dave & Ally Palmer had once again travelled for the match so we arranged to meet them at Left Bank bar on the Southbank. The place was absolutely rammed when we got there but we’d soon perfected our technique for getting served. Hilariously the Palmers mate, Steve, had flown in seperately from Noosa dressed as The Queen. I swear he couldn’t have got more attention if he’d been the majestic one herself! Hundreds of photocalls later it was time to head to the Etihad Stadium. Unfortunately, as Steve has a chronic back condition, this would mean Kate and another mate, Gary, virtually carrying him the half hour walk to the stadium. Once again the atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic, unfortunately the match itself didn’t really hit the heights, though I thought we were pretty much in control until the last 20 minutes when the Aussies upped the pace whereupon we cracked with 5 minutes to go. I tend to believe that if you haven’t tried to play any rugby for 75 minutes you’re not going to succeed if you then try in the last 5 and so it proved. Much to Kates delight, the Wallabies held on for the win they needed to keep the series alive going into the last test. It’s quite surreal to be enjoying yourself too much to get bent out of shape by the defeat but so it proved. Back at the Left Bank we finished off the night with a few more, reflective, pints.

Sunday was the final day of an awesome stay in Melbourne, we’d been unbelievably blessed with sunshine throughout, which certainly played no small part in our regard for the city. The Robinsons had kindly invited us all for lunch at The Langham, a culinary experience revered as one of Australia’s finest, I can assure you it didn’t disappoint! There was a fine and varied array of food on offer, from Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, seafood to the good old British roast. Rest assured, we had the lot! Absolutely delicious and made all the better by the table overlooking the busy riverside Robbo had specifically reserved. As everyone had eaten way more than comfortable, a long, slow amble along the riverside in the evening sun was much needed, after which we said fond farewells to Kate as she was picked up by Damir & Maeve.

As Dave Palmer had been unable to make lunch (lightweight!), we arranged to meet up again at Left Bank that night. As we had a 4am taxi booked for the following morning, the plan was to just have a couple of beers then an early night, which you might guess just didn’t happen. So it was that we were boarding the plane for Cairns after 3 hours sleep.