We're in actual Australia. Still takes a bit of getting used to, although I'm already feeling at home in a nation of sports fanatics, in glorious summer weather. We are staying in Melbourne, with Rob & Jan Bell (friends of Rachel's parents), for a couple of nights until heading up to our new home in Albury at the end of this week. It was brilliant to be met at the airport by Rob and Jan, two of the friendliest people I've ever come across. They are great tour guides and even better hosts. Here we are pictured with them at the top of the tallest building in Melbourne. But more of that later...
Our last day in Singapore started with a ride on the Singapore Flyer, their version of the London Eye. As it was Monday morning, most people were at work/school so the wheel was fairly quiet and we were in a pod with five other people. The sky was clear and the views were great, although with little knowledge of the landmarks, it didn't have quite the same resonance as the historic London skyline. You can see the Formula 1 straight (left), which they've flooded for dragon boat racing.
Rachel had booked afternoon tea at Raffles Hotel, which was a real treat. The hotel itself stands out from the rest of those in Singapore because it isn't high-rise or shiny, but it exudes class and offers a taste of England in the heart of the Far East. Every table in the restaurant was fully booked, which always suggests you're onto a winner. On our table was a stand full of sandwiches and cakes and we also had the run of a spectacular buffet table at the other end of the room. The food and service were superb, everything I expected and more. The reason so many people had recommended Raffles was because it's a brilliant place. If you do visit Singapore, get involved.
Having dressed up to visit Raffles, it was nice to get showered and changed back at the hotel. We took a taxi to the airport, having thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Singapore. As we sat in the departures lounge, we could hear plenty of Australian voices around us and not many British. It suddenly became pretty real that we were far from home and heading even further away. I had been told, on Twitter, to check out the koi pond and we found it, a peaceful corner of the airport.
We took off at 12.45am and were fed an evening meal at 1.30am, or 5.35 Australia time. It was all a bit odd but that's areoplanes for you. We had concerns about the tightness of security at Melbourne airport, having emptied our bags of any food or drink we still had knocking about. However, we had no problems at all getting through immigration, despite the insulin cartridges and boxes of needles in my hand luggage.
Rob and Jan took us into Melbourne city centre by train in the evening. We headed for the Eureka Skydeck, a 300-metre high building with a viewing platform on the 88th floor. We rocketed up to the top and got spectacular views for miles around. My eyes were drawn immediately to the sports venues, most of which were within a stone's throw of each other. The Melbourne Cricket Ground is just across the train tracks from Melbourne Park, where the Australian Open tennis is taking place as I write this [edit: and the circuit for the Australian Grand Prix]. We could see big crowds on several of the outside courts, so it made for a great spectacle. You may want to enlarge this picture (above) by clicking on it, to get the full effect. Looking out from another window, we spotted the Etihad Stadium, one of the venues for football and Aussie rules. Further in the distance was Flemington Racecourse, home of the Melbourne Cup horse racing.
Even just a few hours looking around gave us a real taste of this fantastic city. Before we head to Albury, we are going to see penguins and the motor circuit on Phillip Island and we also have tickets for the tennis on Thursday. Sun cream ahoy.