Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

200603 1 Australia-Vic SA Malaysia

WEDNESDAY 1 MARCH 2006 – Following Bernie’s directions we easily and quickly drive in to the city.  From today onwards you can collect pre-ordered commonwealth games tickets from Federation Square and we have 4 lots to pick up.  As we approach the square there don’t seem to be any queues at the booths so I hop out whilst Steve heads up St Kilda road to park.  Before Steve has had time to put money in the parking meter, I have got the tickets and walked back to him – the only disappointment being that there were none of the other tickets we wanted available.  The city is busy with games preparation, huge fish are being floated on the Yarra River ready to be lit up at night.  Our exit from the city is equally quick and as we head down the motorway to Geelong I comment that the next time we are on this journey we will have Claire with us.  Make a small detour to check out the Sphinx casino, moderately impressive from a Disney point of view but a very small casino.  After a quick shop in Geelong we head out to Wallington and find Bev at home and Norm out fishing.  We’ve visited so much it now feels like we are coming home.  Norm arrives back soon afterwards with a reasonable catch for the day.  Spend the day unpacking, sorting out Billy’s appointment for his Warrant of Fitness to sell and getting Steve a fishing licence.  Needless to say fresh fish on the menu for tea.



THURSDAY 2 MARCH – Norm wakes Steve at 6am to go fishing.  For the warrant of fitness Billy needs a new windscreen as the old one had a couple of small stone chips, sandblasting and an area of delaminating.  Under our insurance policy we can call out O’Brien’s, have them do the job at home and just pay them the $100 (£45) excess.  This system works really well and by the time Steve & Norm get back at dinnertime the job is all sorted.  Sadly they return with absolutely nothing, the few fish they caught having all been under size.  I join Bev & Norm for an afternoon trip in to Geelong, their daughter Louise gets married next month and they are sorting out Norm’s outfit.  We need malaria tablets for Malaysia and by shopping around I get the price for 100 doxycycline down from almost $1 tablet to $46 (£20) or the lot.  It’s a very warm evening so we sit outside to eat the hot curry I have cooked.



FRIDAY 3 MARCH – A very hot day with temperatures of over 35C predicted (14C above seasonal average).  With this in mind we all head off the naturist beach, Point Impossible, at Torquay.  They are working on the track in so we have to park further away and walk along the beach to the nudist section.  It’s low tide and very easy walking.  With the day being so hot we make an early walk to the far end of the beach then settle down to a mixture of sunbathing, reading and dipping in the warm ocean.  Just after we have enjoyed our picnic lunch we relocate further back up the beach, with the exception of Norm who is convinced that the water will not come above yesterdays high tide mark.  A big surge gives him a complete soaking and he soon moves up to join us.  Once we have walked back to the car park it’s almost 3.30pm and time for the Queens baton to arrive in Torquay.  We drive to the area where the runners are expected and get handed Australian flags to wave by the rent a crowd stewards.  The town criers are dressed in old style outfits and must be very hot.  A police escort precedes the publicity and motorhomes.  The runner appears and pauses for photographs with the town criers who have announced the arrival of the baton in Torquay.  We cheer and wave our flags as they pass, Bev so exuberantly that the flag falls off. Once we have gone back to Wallington to shower we head back to Geelong to catch the final part of the days baton relay.  Tracy Grimshaw,  “A Current Affair” presenter brings it into the park where a small crowd has gathered.  It looks like they were expecting bigger crowds judging by the roped off area, stage, big screen and a number of side stalls.  We take photos of the three people dressed up in costumes depicting the games mascots and have a brief wander around before returning home.  It’s still over 30C so we sit out for most of the evening and Norm gets the short straw of cooking the steaks over the wood fire BBQ.



SATURDAY 4 MARCH – Bev & Norm head off for the weekend to go to a wedding and we are left “Home Alone”.  Once we return from a brief visit to Ocean Grove and before it gets too hot I do lots of work clearing out Billy with a bit of assistance from Steve.  It’s a complicated process, as I need to work out things to take to Malaysia, stuff to go back with Claire, what we want to store at Bev & Norm’s and the things that are being sold with the van.  Even after doing this I have to put lots of it back into the van in a way that I know what is to go where later. 



SUNDAY 5 MARCH – Steve’s turn to work on Billy whilst I tidy up few loose ends on the computer.  At 12.00 we try to apply for the latest release of games tickets but the phone line has an answer machine saying the office is closed and the Internet page for ticketing is overloaded.  Luckily when I do get through on the Internet in the afternoon there are still Athletics tickets at $30 (£13) for the Monday evening and I book 3.  Only 1 week until Claire arrives and we are both very excited and have a tour plan at the ready.  Bev & Norm arrive back in the evening after a good weekend.



MONDAY 6 MARCH – I join Bev & Norm for their 1 hour morning walk around the block.  After breakfast Bev & I head in to Geelong then return for lunch before a visit to Ocean Grove.  A quiet evening in watching a DVD.



TUESDAY 7 MARCH – It’s a cooler, dull and windy day so no good for Steve and Norm to go fishing.  I drive up to Drysdale to try and pick up a few things then return to a champagne and crayfish (lobster) salad lunch.  Crayfish season is just about at an end so Norm thought he would get in one last feed.  Norm goes off to work in the afternoon and we fester. 



WEDNESDAY 8 MARCH – Steve and Norm head out fishing and I take Billy to the garage.  Bev picks me up in town after I’ve shopped.  The van is ready mid afternoon with nothing needing to be done and the bill just $66 (£30) for the certificate.  The lads arrive back after many hours on the water and only 6 fish to show for it, at least it has been a nice day to be out there.  Brad and Joan join us all for an evening roast dinner.



THURSDAY 9 MARCH – We all head off in different directions, the fishermen back to the bay, Bev goes to Ocean Grove to take Joan out for dinner and I drive to Drysdale to take up the op shop sale offer of $5 (£2.25) for a bag full of clothes.  I return with 7 items priced normally at $20.  The fishermen return with even less fish than yesterday.   Bev returns after and enjoyable lunch. 



FRIDAY 10 MARCH – Not easily defeated the lads set out on a later morning fishing trip.  I join Bev on her morning walk before nipping down to the Grove to the library and shops.  It’s really bush in town, today is the start of the long weekend with Monday a public holiday for Labour Day.  This year they have brought the school holidays forward to continue from Labour Day for 2 weeks enabling families to go to the Commonwealth Games.  At about lunch time Ken & Kay, our mutual friends, arrive with their caravan and soon set up camp at the bottom of the garden.  The fishermen arrive soon after having thrown the towel in on their meagre catch.  The rest of the day is spent out on the terrace in the hot sun with us chatting right through happy hour and the evening BBQ.



SATURDAY 11 MARCH – A glorious morning so we all head down to Ocean Grove in two cars.  I join Bev & Norm for a fast walk along the beach whilst Steve ambles along slowly with Ken & Kay who recently had a pacemaker fitted and is still taking it steady.  We pick them up on the way back and enjoy coffee at the Dunes café overlooking the beach.  There are lots of surfers out on the water and youngsters are gathered for the surf classes so it’s a very interesting spectacle.  Bev & Norm head off to visit her Mum Joan who is 83 today.  We join Ken and Kay for a look at Barwon Heads, Point Lonsdale and then Queenscliff where we stroll through town.  Arrive back early afternoon for a relaxing spell before the evening party in celebration of Joan’s birthday.  Brad, Bobby & Rhinda arrive for the roast dinner making 10 of us in all.  The meal is delicious and we linger afterwards chatting mainly to Bobby & Rhinda picking up tips for South Africa.  During the evening we get text messages from Claire who is now on her way to join us.  She got off to a bad start at Manchester airport having gone to Terminal 1.  After killing an hour before check in she realised she should have been at T2.  She asked a police man directions to T2 and he took her in his car and she was escorted to check in by an armed officer.  She then got searched at security and had to take her boots off.  Her next text was from Amsterdam airport, which she found to be so big she reckons to have lost weight walking through it.



 SUNDAY 12 MARCH – Surprisingly I sleep more than on the previous few nights.  Guess that now Claire is on her way I can relax a bit but the excitement is still there.  It’s a very hot day so we head to Point Impossible where I manage to catch a couple of good waves to body surf.  Walking along the beach reveals the sad sight of a dead seal accompanied by a terrible stench.  It’s so hot that we leave just after 1pm.  With the temperature in the high 30C we all find it cooler inside the house and settle down for afternoon siestas.  Geoff & Ruby have invited Bev & Norm down for a BBQ evening and we are joining them until 7pm.  They are staying down at their Ocean Grove beach house on The Terrace with magnificent views all around the bay enhanced by Geoff’s powerful telescope.  Their cousin Bruce and Wendy are also there and we join in until we have eaten the fish starter and then take our leave to head to the airport.  Traffic is very heavy but we arrive at 8.25pm with Claire’s flight due 5 minutes later.  I hope out to check the board and find it is delayed until 9.15pm so we drive around to McDonalds and wait on their car park.  It’s a ½ hour free parking so when we see the man come out to take registration numbers we make a quick exit.  Steve drops me at the arrivals and returns to McDonalds car park whilst I wait with the hoards of other people.  There are many commonwealth games volunteers awaiting their assigned guests.  Luckily Claire travelled with only hand baggage making her only the second person to emerge.  I race towards her as fast as my sweaty feet slipping in my sandals will allow!  It’s been 10 months since I saw her so a very happy reunion.  She explains that they were late because as they began their decent a sudden dust storm caused the pilot to abort the landing and jerk the plane back up.  As planned I telephone Steve and he drives around to pick us up.  Chat all the way home and learn that the Bangladesh commonwealth games team were on her flight.  Bev & Norm are there to great her and escort her to “The Wilson Wing” where Norm has provided a Swatours complimentary hat.  Claire has had little sleep so settles in to bed soon after, having been briefed about all the strange noises she may hear.  I offer to leave the hall light on but she tells me she is not a little girl and will be fine!  A few minutes later she comes out asking for it on, unused to places without street lights she find the total darkness quite strange. 



MONDAY 13 MARCH – The anticipated cool change in the weather comes early and we have a rainy night with gusting winds.  At one stage Claire’s bedroom door slams shut and wakes us all up, unfortunately it was not one of the noises I warned her about and in a deep sleep after the flight she is quite shocked.  She manages to doze a bit after that but is up and raring to go by 8.45am.  Norm and Bev take us out on the grand Bellarine Peninsula tour.  At Point Lonsdale we get views of the entrance to Port Phillip harbour, in Queenscliff we see the squid boats in port.  At night these boats use powerful lights to attract the squid and can be seen from miles away.  St Leonards is where we walk along the beach to see the pelicans.  Lunch is taken in Geelong at Smorgy’s on Cunningham Pier where we all do justice to the $17.95 (£8) all you can eat buffet and then spend a few hours walking it off.  It’s just perfect along the waterfront with sunshine between the clouds and a pleasantly cooling breeze.  The bollards and swimming area look superb and we finish off with a brief spell in the shopping centre.  By the time we get back it’s teatime but we are all too full to eat anymore.  Bev & Norm settle down to watch TV, I work on the computer, Claire does her hair and Steve takes a shower.  All of a sudden I hear a big crash.  Claire comes running to get me.  Whilst Steve was taking his shower a whole wall of tiles fell off and crashed all around him.  Luckily he just has a small cut on one toe but is a bit shaken as are Bev & Norm.  They say the tiles have been up for almost 30 years and the glue must have dried up but we are all still surprised at the way a whole wall full fell off at once.



TUESDAY 14 MARCH – We are ready to hit the road by 8am and begin the Swatour tour in Ocean Grove then out to the Barwon Heads lookouts.  It’s a dull start to the day but at least it isn’t raining.  In Torquay we show Claire the sundial clock and windswept trees before moving to Anglesea where we see lots of kangaroos on the golf course.  We join the Great Ocean Road but turn inland at Skenes Creek and along a narrow rain forest track to Beech Forest.  The Otways fly walk is a new tourist attraction and for $17 (£8) you can walk along a track suspended up in the tree canopy to give you a koala’s eye view of the forest.  Platforms take you up to 26 metres then you can climb the tower to 47m for views above the treetops.  A favourite with children is the cantilever section of the walk, which can be bounced up and down and moved side to side.  Whilst we see no birds in the trees the whole experience is great, so much so that the BBC are filming for “A Race for Life” programme.  Back on the coast we start on the main tourist attractions of “The Apostles” and “Loch Ard Gorge” where we are lucky to have the sun shining on us.  A little further along the coast “The Arch”, “London Bridge” and “The Grotto” all impress.  Our final rock formation visit is “The Bay of Islands”; we are on a tight tour schedule and pushing for time so have to give a few other sights a miss.  At Tower Hill we find a number of koala in the trees and a few emus for Claire to photograph.  Reach Portland just before 6pm and call in to our Global Freeloaders contact Christine.  She shows us the bedroom and introduces us to her friend Cathy who will be in when we get back later.  We are hoping to catch sight of the fairy penguins but local knowledge is scant.  Opinion favours the main foreshore where we find BBQ facilities so pop out to buy food to cook there.  We have a good BBQ and see a lovely full moon but no penguins.  Return to Christine’s place where Cathy invites us make ourselves at home.  It’s a lovely federation style house and is in the process of being renovated and extended.  We have the front bedroom with a double bed and Claire has an airbed on the floor.  The bathroom is brand new and all white with a large bath, open plan walk in shower and unusual shallow wide sink.  Christine is not due back until late so we excuse ourselves and settle down for an early night after our busy day.



WEDNESDAY 15 MARCH – We chat to Christine whilst having breakfast and before we leave she insists we take some of her homegrown tomatoes and pears.  So all in all a very good first experience using the Global Freeloaders network. At Cape Bridgewater we park up to walk out over the cliffs to the seal colony.  Viewing is from a platform 50 metres above but with binoculars we can see a few on the rocks and others swimming in the sea.  Steve returns the way we came whilst Claire and I continue along a stretch of South West coastal track, which turns out to be a very long but scenic walk via the Petrified Forest.  This area has lots of sandstone solidified tree stumps and is quite eerie.  Eventually make it to the car park where Steve has brought Billy to meet us, a good wake up walk taking over 2 hours.  Near the Bridgewater Lakes we clamber up to the Tarragal limestone caves.  Cutting across country on a dirt track we see a long black snake crossing in front of us.  Back on the main highway the roadside is full of pine plantations at various stages of growth including some barren scarred hills.  Just over the border into SOUTH AUSTRALIA (should put our watches back ½ hour but don’t) we turn off to Piccaninnie Ponds where you can snorkel and dive in crystal clear waters over various caverns.  You need a permit to do this and also a wet suit as the water is bitterly cold but it does look good.  Lunch stop at the nearby beach where the campsites are just $4 (£1.80).  In Mount Gambier a photo stop is called for at the magnificent Blue Lake.  Check in to a $40 (£18) cabin on the Central Caravan Park where we stayed with Mum and John.  Steve watches TV whilst Claire and I take a walk to the shops then return for her to sunbathe.  Our early evening tour begins by the lake at the Wildlife Park, which turns out to be a bit disappointing with only kangaroo sightings.  Drive past the showground where the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia are holding their 20th anniversary rally.  We have never seen so many motorhomes in one location.  The attractive gardens at Umpherston Sinkhole look superb lit up at night.  They are a big hit with Claire as she builds up her courage and manages to both feed and pat some of the possums that live there.  Race back to the cabin to watch the opening ceremony of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, it’s excellent.  Part of the show is outside the stadium with athletes running along pontoons on the Yarra River.  Claire’s the first to fall asleep with me soon after.  Steve’s the only one to stay the course and see the whole show.  It’s a rainy night so we are glad to be in the cabin rather than huddled up inside Billy.



THURSDAY 16 MARCH – In true Swatours fashion we manage our start to fall between 8am and 8.30am.  The rain has stopped and it brightens up a bit as we head towards the Grampians.  Pass back in to VICTORIA and stop to show Claire Wannon Falls, except they are completely dry.  Make it our morning coffee stop and a man with 3 children comes over.  He has broken down but the best we can do is offer them all a lift to the next big town of Hamilton.  Claire sits in the back with the 3 children and by the time we drop them off she has had a very interesting conversation with the eldest girl and learnt lots about Australian children.  We enter the Grampians along the pretty Victoria Valley Road and towards the end get our first sight of the damage caused by the recent bush fire.  Almost half of the park was burnt out at the end of January and the devastation is easy to see.  Huge areas of forest are now just black stumps and the mountains charred black rock.  However on the plus side the views are terrific and it’s very interesting to see the new vegetation coming through.  At the Brambuk visitor centre we get lots more information about the fires and what areas of the park are still open.  Unfortunately the big walk we intended doing to the Pinnacles is closed.  At the café we order mixed meals to give Claire a chance to try crocodile, emu and kangaroo.   Back on tour at the Baroka lookout you get superb 180-degree views with a good look into the valley enabling you to see how the narrow corridor surrounding Halls Gap town is the only area unaffected.  Further on the Reed lookout gives us the south west perspective.  The adjoining walk to the Balconies is really impressive going right through the heart of the burn out.  Where trees have been cut down many stumps have been carved in to seats and logs used to line the path.  Close up the new vegetation is amazing and we really enjoy the experience.  With no trees to obscure the view you can now see MacKenzie Falls from the road.  At Zumstein Claire gets really friendly with a kangaroo and manages to feed it some apple.  After showing here the old holiday resort we press on and take Roses Gap Road to Troopers Creek.  We intended staying the night as there is a pub with legendary evening pig roast but it seems to be all closed down.  With time on our hands we decide to drive further and just past Stawell make a brief photo stop at the graffiti strewn Sisters Rocks.  Just beyond Ararat we turn off down Dobie Road to a free camping spot by the dried up river.  Out bush gives us a chance for Claire to hear kookaburras.  For the first time, amidst much giggling, we set up the roof bunk for Steve then sit on the bed reading and playing cards until bedtime.  As Steve climbs up into the bunk it begins to creak and grown.  Claire and I roll to the edges of the bed in case he falls through!  Other than creaking noises when he rolls over it works quite well.



FRIDAY 17 MARCH – It’s ¼ to 8 when we all wake up and cold outside.  Getting dressed and breakfasted is a little more complicated but we manage well.  In Ballarat we show Claire the Victory Arch, War memorial, dried up Lake Wendourie and the Botanical Gardens area.  Fit in ½ hour free Internet at the library before driving to Sovereign Hill.  We’ve both been before and I went a second time with Mum so when Claire sees the admission price $32.50 (£15) she suggests going in on her own.   She fast tracks the suggested 2 to 3 hour tour to complete it in just over and hour.  A quick visit to the museum and we are away.  At Creswick we pull up at St Georges Lake where you can swim.  After cooking up egg and chips we settle down to relax for the afternoon under the hot sun.  Claire has a swim in the lake before we leave around 5pm.  We only need a brief stop at Hepburn Springs to show Claire the area before pressing on to Bendigo.  With difficulty we find the Commonwealth Games live festival site and settle down in our chairs in between the big stage with acts and the big screen showing the games.  There are not too many people around but it’s still a good atmosphere.  When it winds down at 10pm we head up the road to the rest area at Huntly.  It’s a shallow parking area quite near the road but with flushing toilets, BBQ and picnic facilities.  We park right at the back and settle in for the night.  The traffic isn’t too bad but we are disturbed by a group of people arriving at the picnic tables in the early hours and sitting out for a few hours drinking and talking noisily.



SATURDAY 18 MARCH – When we are ready to leave we can see the area where the “party” was held as the table is full of empty bottles and the ground strewn with beer boxes.  It’s a really hot day with clear blue skies.  We’ve seen a few hot rod cars on the road so are not surprised to learn that there is a rally in Echuca over the weekend but we are surprised to find that most of the caravan parks are fully booked.  The visitor centre book us into one leaving us free to walk through the historical port.  We book the 11am Pride of The Murray 1-hour cruise $15 (£6.50).  Before we board the boat we pause to look at a number of the hot rod cars driving past.   Claire really enjoys the paddle steamer trip.  Walking back through the historical area we stop to do some wine tasting before heading out towards the caravan park.  En route we see lots of fire trucks attending a bush fire that looks in danger of getting quite bad.  At the Riverlander Caravan Park we take a $22(£10) powered site.  Margaret, the lady who is buying Billy, is meeting us this afternoon so we immediately begin a quick clean and tidy up.  There’s a swimming pool on site so once we have go the washing done Claire and I sit by the pool.  Margaret arrives with daughter Louise and grandson Elijah.  She has had to make a detour as the road is now closed because of the bush fire.  She pays us the balance and we complete the paperwork for Billy’s adoption with us using the van until Margaret collects it on Friday evening – perfect.  Steve BBQ’s potatoes and steak to go with the salad for tea.  It’s a balmy evening so Steve and Claire take a walk down to the river. 



SUNDAY 19 MARCH – Heading back into Echuca we can see where the bush fire reached the road and is still smouldering.  First stop is Shepparton where we can’t resist a quick shop at the Armona SPC factory shop before making a photo stop at the Moo-ving art display of painted cows.  Cutting across country we spot a snake at the side of the road and do a U turn.  It seems to be dead and this is confirmed when Steve is able to pick it up with a stick, think it’s an olive green python so quite a good sighting for Claire.  We have no idea what Gooram Falls are like but it’s only a 400m walk and we are rewarded by the spectacle of an unusual horizontal type waterfall.   Higher up the waterfalls are lots of pools where you can wallow and get pummelled by the water tumbling over you.  Needless to say a dip is in order for Steve & I whilst Claire takes lots of pictures.  Merton Common makes a pleasant lunch stop before we press on to Marysville.  At weekends Bruno’s art gallery is open in addition to the garden and for $6 (£2.50) you get to see both.  Claire is as impressed as we were on our visit in January.  By the time we get to Healesville it’s 4pm so we walk over to see what time the sanctuary closes and how much it costs.  It’s $21 (£9.50) and only open for another hour but when venturing further to see what it’s all about we find that we have by passed the ticket desk and are actually in the park.  Once we realise what we have done we set off at a cracking pace to take in as much as possible.  Unfortunately nothing is happening in the hospital but we can see how impressive it would be as you can view operations and post mortems on the animals.  The Tasmanian tigers are very entertaining, as two of them seem to race around a circuit chasing one another.  By the time the park shuts down Claire has seen examples of all the native animals that she hasn’t seen in the wild.  Back in Melbourne we stop at Bell Bird Park for tea and give Claire a chance to see all the bats in the trees and to get a good view of the Melbourne skyline as we leave.  Just before dark we arrive at Michael and Tania’s.  Michael is the only one home and Steve sits and chats to him whilst Claire and I bring things up to the flat.  Claire and I will share the double bedroom whilst Steve will sleep in Billy and just come up to use the bathroom. 



MONDAY 20 MARCH – We are in Melbourne to catch some events during the 18th Commonwealth Games.  Games tickets entitle you to free public transport for the day.  We catch an early train to the city and connect with a tram to take us to the place that mends Acer computers.  I have a fault with mine and have it booked in for repair under warranty.  With that out of the way we walk back over the Yarra River and out to the docklands where the walking races are being held.   Along the course there are few people so we get a good look at the competitors then move nearer the finish line where it is busier.  Claire manages to make her way to the front and the crowd roar as the Aussies come in 1st, 2nd and 3rd with the English entry, Johanna Jackson came 7th and our other entry came last and got an equally big cheer.  There are lots of Festival events on during the games so we head into the city to see “Urban Dream Capsule”.  Four performance artists have taken up residence inside the Myers store shop windows for the duration of the games.  They live in a 4 room home – kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom in full view of the public whilst they carry out their daily routine.  It’s all very hard to explain but tells you more about it.  For us it is extremely entertaining and funny to watch them interact with the public outside.  You can write messages to them and they have white boards to write out replies.  Another tram takes us up to Melbourne Museum where there is a free exhibition of the props used during the opening ceremony of the games.  When we arrive there are some Aboriginals doing a show and we make our way over to it before realising that we have accidentally entered the fee-paying part of the museum.  Make the most of our luck and explore a few of the rooms including one with a Neighbours set.  The games props exhibition is excellent but we only have time for a brief look before heading to Hard Rock café where Claire treats us to lunch.  We end up sharing a massive dessert and struggle to get through it.  Walking back to the river we duck up Hosier Lane to show Claire the famous graffiti.  Walk through the packed out Federation Square then over the River to Alexandra Gardens where we are hoping to meet Ken & Kay.  Throughout the gardens there are different stages with shows so we settle in a conspicuous place and text them our position.  Steve heads off to intercept them and unbelievably bumps in to Bev & Norm.  They have come up for the day but didn’t get in touch with us as they thought there would be no chance of finding each other!   Ken & Kay soon arrive and we all sit down together to watch a show.  It’s all go as we rush to a different stage to watch the English juggling comedian act The Chipolatas.  Bev & Norm head off to explore the city.  A half an hour of that and it’s back to the first area to see “Strange Fruit”.  This is a most unusual act where 3 girls climb up and strap themselves on to a narrow platform at the top of a 4-½-metre pole to swing like metronomes and perform a sort of dance routine.  It’s a really hot afternoon and with the exception of Claire we are all looking for shade.  The Athletics events don’t start until 6.30pm but you are advised to arrive at the stadium much earlier so we leave Ken & Kay and head back over the bridge only to bump into Bev & Norm yet again.  It’s a pleasant but hot walk along the banks of the Yarra where we get a close up of the floating fish, one for each nation entered in the games.  The MCG looks very impressive and we are quickly through the security checks and looking for our seats.  Our $30 (£13.50) seats are very high up but directly above the finish line.  Claire is really excited about it all but I am not that bothered until there are 3 false starts in the men’s 100m. I enjoy the Mexican wave going through the stadium but without the English doing well I find most of it quite boring.  There’s a bit of excitement in the last race, the men’s 5000 metres when the Aussie Craig Mottram takes the lead for a short time and the crowd go absolutely wild.   Unfortunately he is piped to the post but still happy to have got 2nd.  With no English getting a placing we leave the stadium early and manage to get on the first train back to Northcote arriving back absolutely shattered.



TUESDAY 21 MARCH – Steve and Claire have tickets for the 9am badminton so head off early.  I set out a bit later and visit the Urban Dream Capsule for a “chat” with the lads.  We need a new battery for our camera and I’m pleased to pick up a Japanese copy at $49 (£22) as opposed to the genuine Minolta at $129 (£55).    At the Victoria markets I buy some sandals and a cardigan ready for our back packing trip.  Claire texts me to say there are no English in the badminton and they will leave early and meet me in the casino around 1pm.  I arrive early and suss out the $12.95 (£5.75) buffet at the Sante restaurant.   There’s a good choice of food and we all leave replete.  We’ve been given free raffle tickets for the 2pm prize draw so head down to that.  Our numbers don’t win but they begin asking for people living in different places and giving them other prizes.  From the people who live furthest away a Welsh girl and myself are chosen.  The announcer then says that as he can’t be sure who lives the furthest away he will hold a singing contest between us a give the best one the prize.  We are equally bad so he gives us both the free meal prize plus a hat.  In Alexandra gardens we hoped to see one of the many circus acts but it’s such a popular show that people are queuing for over 2-hours to get in to the big top.  We settle for watching a demonstration of juggling and trapeze by students at the circus college.  It’s an even hotter afternoon so we head along the south bank of the river then over the bridge towards the MCG.  We find a shady spot to rest up whilst Claire lies out in the sun again.  We have tickets for the 6.30pm Athletics and this time get there even earlier and walk all around the inside of the stadium behind the lowest bank of seats.  One of the volunteers tells us that last night people from the higher seats were asked to move down lower to make the stadium look full for the cameras.  Our seats are just beyond the finish line and one row higher than last night.  There are still lots of empty rows in front of us so just after the races begin we jump the gun, make our move and get seats directly above the finishing line and near the front of the top stand.  Soon after the other people seated high up are offered the chance to move lover.  It’s more fun tonight as the English do much better than expected so for the first time we get to hear “Land of Hope and Glory” played when Lisa Dobriskey wins the women’s 1500 metres.   Nadia Williams then gets bronze in the women’s triple jump.  The excitement continues as Dean Macy takes the decathlon.  Steve heads down to get a better spot for a photo of him doing his victory lap.  He comes back and tells us he has managed to get down to the ground level stand between the finishing line and the presentation stand.  We all head down and secure seats just 6 rows back from the track.  The majority of people in this area are English fans and when Dean receives his medal they go wild and loudly sing the anthem.  Dean comes over our way and Claire manages to get his autograph and Steve congratulates him.  He gives his bouquet to his Mum who is sitting in the row opposite to us.  We now realise that we are probably in the most expensive seats in the stadium in amongst athlete’s family and VIP’s!   Can’t believe how close we have got to the action.  Finally we watch Yarra Yamauchi receive a bronze for England in the women’s 10000m.  An added bonus comes when we are leaving and see Nadia Williams being interviewed outside the stadium.  As soon as the interview is finished we walk over to congratulate her and I get to shake hands for a photograph and touch her bronze medal.  What a night.  It’s still very warm so we walk back along the river where the floodlit fish and city look superb.  Just time for a “chat” to the men in Myer, who now recognise us, before catching the tram back.



WEDNESDAY 22 MARCH – We all head off in to the city and say “Good Morning” to the Dream Capsule lads and watch one of them entertaining us as he takes his shower.  The cubicle is on full display but the mid body section is blanked out.  Their toilet is the only thing hidden from view.  Next stop if the Rialto Tower.  $13.50 (£6) gets you up to the top floor where there are superb views over the city and beyond.  Back at ground level we watch a film about Victoria and Claire recognises many of the places she has visited.  Meanwhile Steve has been more than happy in the foyer sat on a sofa watching a big screen showing the games.  Make our way to the casino to pick up my free lunch and buy others at the snack bar before Steve & Claire go off to their 1pm boxing event.  I go round to Acer and learn that my laptop will be ready at 4pm.  Returning to the city I have another brief chat with the Myers men, nearly all our trams change outside the store so you see them every time and it’s just so tempting to take a peak and see what they are doing!  Steve & Claire arrive back at 10.30pm and although they enjoyed the nights Athletics they say it was not as good as last night.



THURSDAY 23 MARCH – Together we set out to the city on the tram.  After saying Farewell to the Urban Dream Capsule we stop off at Victoria Markets for Claire to browse.  It’s hot and sunny so off to the beach resort of St Kilda.  We get off the tram at Luna Park (anul krap if read backwards!), the theme park then walk to the beach to sunbathe on a grassy bank. A walk along the esplanade reveals a number of excellent sand sculptures depicting building in the town.  For lunch we visit “Lentil as Anything” on Blessington Street.  It’s an ethnic style vegetarian restaurant where there are no fixed prices and you pay what you feel the meal was worth.  We order a mixed curry platter for 3 and it is excellent.  After walking along Ackland Street and resisting the tempting cake displays we catch a tram past the Grand Prix circuit to alight at the games Aquatic centre.  The swimming events are over and they are dismantling the stand surrounding the 50m pool.  Having arrived early we find a spot to rest until the 6pm squash doubles.  The main show court is glass on all four sides and there are 4 other conventional glass backcourts in another area.  We get a prime seat directly behind the centre line at the back of the show court.  When we find out that an English mixed couple Adrian Grant and Alison Waters) are on the other courts we head there to watch them win 3-0 against Zambia.  Next England is playing in the women’s doubles on the show court where Tania Bailey and Vicky Botwright beat the Scottish ladies.   Two more English couples are on the show court and it’s a great evening with them all winning their games.  We try watching the show court from the back and sides but find it very confusing.  The boys who win for England come from Yorkshire so we pop over to shake their hands and congratulate them.  A fitting end to our games visits, although Steve and Claire say they could have happily done an event every day for the whole games.  We’re all very tired once we arrive back.



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