Wednesday 9 March 2016 to Friday 11 March 2016

Given that this is a long and complex holiday a daily update seems unlikely.  So I have decided on updates by location visited.  Moving on from Singapore felt like a cobbled together compromise by the holiday company.  It is an overnight flight onto Melbourne so collection from the hotel is late afternoon whilst checkout is earlier, meaning most of a day either sat in the room or the lobby.  Then the usual extended wait at the airport – where the most intriguing aspect was that the scan of hand luggage was undertaken at the gate and not earlier on.  When will someone sort out something closer to turn up and go for long haul flights?

The flight into Australia was aboard an Airbus 330 and most unusually I was unable to sleep very much at all.  A brainworm had taken over concerning a radio programme and I could not shift it – leading me to staying awake.  I had finally dropped off when the driver decided that it was a tad bumpy and we needed our seat belts on.  The related bing bong sounder woke those asleep from deep sleeps not aiding the general good humour.  I can sleep on most forms of transport but this journey was very much the exception.

Coach in from the airport inevitably catches the morning peak rush hour and we arrive at the hotel unable to check in until 14:00 (allegedly) although we get issued keys around 12:30.  Scenic need to rethink this one – perhaps pricing in a breakfast somewhere and a city tour to keep travellers occupied.  I was probably unique in lack of sleep; but an egg and bacon sandwich and coffee or similar and a city tour trip until say 11:30 would ease the problem as well as providing some orientation; to be honest the driver does give a good city introduction as we come in from the airport but a slight rethink might make it all seem much smoother.  Jackie says she feels homeless simply as we are not able to unpack.

So a lot of waiting around over the two days.  Eventually we unpacked and then we were able to relax.  Very warm, although not that bright.  At the end of the afternoon we have our first formal meeting of the group and a drink and get to meet some of our fellow travellers plus the tour guide.  Tour size is 44 which is not unusual for Scenic but is larger than we have previously experienced on escorted tours.  Wide range of backgrounds but not such a wide difference in ages; most are retired or at least part-retired and to my slight surprise all are doing the entire trip including New Zealand.

Dinner tonight is quite a highlight as we are ushered aboard a couple of ancient looking Melbourne trams for a dinner trip of about 90 minutes.  The one we are on we are told dates back to 1948 and has been converted for the current use with a small kitchen area and a toilet (presumably retention) with space for 12 diners in our compartment and I think the same number at the other end.  The tour goes by a triangular route with one leg ending at St Kilda which is an attractive suburb on the coast with an old style amusement park; our schedule does not allow a visit.  Starters, alcohol and fillet of beef plus a special fruit selection for me (more than I can eat) is a great start to this leg of the holiday.  The trams do three trips a day – one lunch and two dinners – we are on the early sitting – and are reputedly booked up well in advance (mainly I suspect as block bookings for tourists like ourselves).

This album contains photos of the trams ancient and modern around Melbourne.

The time difference is playing with our brains so we are both awake for some hours in the middle of the night.  Trying not to disturb each other is not easily achieved.  We are in the Crown Metropol which is part of the “Crown” complex and this is owned by James Packer, the son of the still infamous, but late, Kerry Packer.  The Crown complex is a major development along the south bank of the river Yarra, four hotels, casino, shops and numerous restaurants on all levels.

Our planned trip in Melbourne is to visit the Dandenongs and ride the “Puffing Billy” a preserved narrow gauge train about an hour or so from Melbourne.  The preservation commenced in the mid-fifties and is therefore entirely contemporaneous with the Ffestiniog.  As Jackie observes we could be in North Wales – it is wooded, hilly, festooned with sheep, a narrow gauge railway and in Irish terms it is a soft day with drizzle and low flying clouds!  Unlike in the UK we can sit on the window and dangle our legs out of the carriage – I cannot see the Ffestiniog (or UK H&S rules) letting that happen.  The railway was constructed to enable wood to be carried to the coast – the mountain ash trees being used for other purposes.  However the only traffic now is people.  Sadly we only do a part of the line and so there is uncovered track to visit in future.

The photos of this excursion are here.

We make a couple of other visits in the hills – one to try local tea and then to see the small town of Sassafras.  Indeed it could be Wales!  During our first stop we take a brief walk into the forest and I am missing having a dog on the end of a lead until I spot a creature bouncing through the woods.  Having carefully called Jackie we decide we have seen our first kangaroo of the holiday “in the wild”.  Jackie even manages to get a decent picture of head and ears in the depths of the woods.

On return to Melbourne we make use of the City Centre free trams and go around the entire circuit before returning to the hotel.  Of course there is nothing of any great age – the oldest buildings are probably only 150 years old and we are perhaps not greeted as warmly as we were in Canada.  In the evening we walk part of the way along the South Bank; our first choice restaurant – No 8 – is having a private function, but we get a good meal next door.  I have tuna and then barramundi which is the local white fish.  We sit outside and it is warm, although we have seen little sun all day.  We are beside the Yarra river, but there is little traffic along it.

Sleep tonight is still disturbed; but less so than the night before.

Friday marks Jackie’s special day as she is of to Sandhurst to meet the local lunching ladies!  Having seen her to Chelsea I am free to travel onto Frankston which is the end of the electric line – it does continue as a diesel extension but the service is a lot less frequent.   I wander around Frankston (it has a pier), before returning to Chelsea and finding some lunch.  Both towns appear a little rundown.

And you can see the photos.

I have determined that although there appears to be only one type of train on the metro services, there are probably three builds in use – distinguishable by door knobs and windscreen styles.  The oldest (probably) have a single round knob and the passenger starts the door opening and power takes over.  The middle group have a larger vertical handle.  The most recent build all seem to have a door push on the middle of the door itself.  Door opening and closing seems pretty robust.  Units are three car with a pantograph on each of the driving cars.  Not sure if all cars are motored.  They appear to serve all stations on the route with no fast workings.  The service is every ten minutes off peak, all with six car trains which provision seems too much in the off peak but it does save any shunting work during the day.

On the route out to Frankston there is some rebuilding in progress – there are frequent level crossings and with trains passing typically every five minutes on average there must be some frustrating queues.  The purpose of the work is to eliminate some of the level crossings, presumably by raising the railway to a higher level.  From observation at Chelsea there are also good gates for pedestrian road crossing which open and close quickly and prevent incidents.  Certainly once the train has stopped in the station the gate opens pretty quickly to allow people to cross and once the train has cleared the crossing in the other direction.  Jackie also reappears and we return to Melbourne.

Walking back to the hotel we stop at part of the ongoing food festival by the river for a bottle of good local red wine and some cheeses being sold by the Milk Bar.  The weather has much improved and we sit in more normal warm sunshine consuming the cheese before returning to the hotel and then consuming the rest of the wine.  Time to pack, ready to move on in the morning.  Before leaving Melbourne (which it should be noted was our third distinct time zone on this holiday) I should record that we both sleep much better with little interruption.  So 11 hours ahead of home we seem to have finally adjusted to local time.