It’s 9:30pm local time as I write … and I’m awake, having been disturbed by a phone call from reception, who tried to bring us a pillow we’d requested, but found a ‘do not disturb’ notice on the door … !

We landed on time, and since we both have electronic passports, there was no delay in customs once we’d retrieve our bags. However, it then took us the best part of an hour to work out how to use our mobiles to contact the shuttle bus we’d booked (we had to buy a local SIM although we’d already bought one that promised to work down under) and then find the meeting point – we couldn’t actually find our way out of the terminal at first! At that time in the morning it was cool, the sun was rising just as we landed, and there was a gentle breeze.

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An airport shuttle was the ideal way to get our first impressions of the city …

  • Wide busy roads (we may rethink our plans to hire a car)
  • The fusion of architecture – everything from colonial (which often looks almost Cuban or Caribbean) to stylish and modern
  • US style road signs (see above)
  • Pedestrians are generally treated quite well, motorist often giving way at junctions for them to cross (for all we know it may be the law around here, but we found it impressive by comparison!)
  • Familiar names – Topshop, Subway and the long-lost Woolworths among others
  • Unfamiliar names – everywhere
  • Unfamiliar bird life … which we expected, but it’s surprisingly exciting to hear strange birdsong everywhere you go
  • Trams (which just adds to the similarity to the America we see on TV, never having been there) and overhead cables (think San Francisco with less steep roads)

And it was still only just after 8am.

We left our bags at the hotel, and started to explore the immediate area. Toorak Road and Chapel Street are only minutes away and appear to be full of designer shops and places to eat. We found the local train station, and a place to buy breakfast. There are plenty of superior eateries around, but also smaller places, bakeries, coffee shops etc and we ate simply … but my chicken wrap was absolutely delicious, which had nothing to do with the time of day our appetites suggested it should be, it was just very, very good.

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Toorak Road

We walked one way along one side of Toorak Road, before coming back the other … and then we turned up Chapel Street towards the River, which leads alongside the Botanic Gardens directly to the edge of the city centre at Flinders Road station and Federation Square (we drove past there earlier, but didn’t really get much of an impression of it). There isn’t much of a park or anything alongside the river, it’s just a pavement along a busy city street, but it’s clean and there are bushes and trees all the way … and birds. I’m sure the locals raised their eyebrows at us stopping to exclaim over the common and everyday birds they routinely ignore, but they are unfamiliar and exotic to us … though we also enjoyed the occasional familiar site of starlings, sparrows, pigeons, ducks and gulls … probably not identical to those in the UK, but it was comforting to recognise some of the local wildlife, all the same!

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Alongside the River Yarra

We decided not to venture into the city centre on our first day, so turned into the Botanic Gardens, wandering here and there, getting lost and making discoveries, always surrounded by the now familiar raucous birds calling – I hesitate to describe it as birdsong. Eventually, after what felt like quite a full day, we found ourselves at the tearooms by the lake, and ate our lunch there – it was still only just before noon. Once again the food was delicious … and we are getting a little more used to the prices. Most things here seem rather more expensive even allowing for the difference between sterling and the Aussie dollar, but particularly food.

It was considerably warmer by now, so we chose to eat outdoors in the shade. As everywhere in the world, birds know where easy pickings are to be found, and we had a grandstand seat for their performance alongside the outdoor seating area. So when we passed an information stall a few moments after leaving, we were able to use the charts on display to identify our first native birds, the magpie lark, the Australian magpie (think of a UK magpie after having a fight with a tin of white paint) and the delightful Common Myna. Of course there were other, far shyer birds, darting in and out of the plant life throughout the park (and indeed alongside the river) … we’ll get around to them eventually.

We headed back to the apartment, fully intending to stay awake as long as possible to help with our adjustment to the time zone, but it was a battle to think straight as we unpacked and reorganised our rucksacks for day to day use, and once we sat down for a moment …

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The view from our apartment

We didn’t sleep long, perhaps an hour or so, enough to regain a little energy. It was now about 3pm local time (4am GMT), so we ventured out once more to find food and supplies. We walked Chapel Street again, in the other direction this time, away from the river, and found a familiar name, Aldi, alongside the Prahran market (closed by this time, so we’ll head that way again). We found enough supplies to keep us going and headed home once more.

Chapel Street

Chapel Street

I started to look through photographs – there are already a couple of hundred images to sort out – but my mind was too fuzzy to compose or compile, so we drifted to bed within an hour or so of each other … where we stayed, insensible to the world, until the phone rang.

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