Culture shock in Australia and Christmas at the beach

Our Christmas-bike tour along the Melbourne Beaches

Our Christmas-bike tour along the Melbourne Beaches

Culture shock in Australia and Christmas at the beach

Country: Australia

Lesson learned: There are always some cyclist friends somewhere around the corner

Laughed about: Australian diminutives

Most wonderful miracle: Christmas at the beach

Food we ate: Kangaroo, potato salad, seafood, cheese cake, salads and tzatziki

Greatest challenge: Finding curd

Total Kilometers cycled till Melbourne: 14464.01

April 2014: By bike to Australia

 

So we got on our way into the big city. The airport was closer to the city that the one in Kuala Lumpur and fortunately we had already been used to driving on the left side of the road. A young Aussie named Mohammed showed us the way towards Melbourne and off we went with our heavy bikes. It has been a while since we last cycled with all our equipment. Most of the winter gear had been waiting for us somewhere between wardrobe and wall in Apit’s home while we went off and explored hot and humid Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. I felt as if I had jumped from the seat of a little VW Golf into the cabin right behind the steering wheel of an Aussie road train. It was hard to pedal and even harder to keep the handlebar straight.

Melbourne by bike

Melbourne City

We had just cycled a few kilometers, when I saw a very familiar logo. Aldi! The Aldi is owned by the two richest Germans and provides less rich people with cheap groceries and German Christmas-treats. I could have stayed for hours, but Roberto grew really hungry and rather preferred eating food than staring at it. I rather preferred him full and happy than hangry so we grabbed some Tzatziki, sausage, potato salad and bread and took a seat on the bench outside. The sun had grown stronger and soon it was too hot for the big fleece. We enjoyed our treats and observed the people around us.

Aldi in Melbourne

Home sweet home

They all spoke English – even to each other! It felt so crazy to actually be able to understand everything. We watched a young woman carrying a big TV and an older man offering her a hand. She declined his offer with thanks, as she had her car parked just a few meters further. Both said “Merry Christmas” and continued their ways in different directions. I was amazed. People were so helpful here!

Lost in the city park of Melbourne

Lost in the city park

We finished our late breakfast and continued. I got used to the bike’s weight quite quickly and really enjoyed cycling through Melbourne. It had been a while since cars, buses and even taxis gave way for us whenever the street signs told them to. We were equal road users and we were finally treated as such! When we reached a park I had the idea to take a shortcut through it. I should have known better, because there are no maps in a park and without maps I am useless finding the way. Yet the grass was green, the bunnies scampered quickly and the flowers smelled nice. It was just too tempting. Six minutes later we were completely lost.

Bike path along the river

Bike path along the river

Several people stopped for us, explained the shortest way, the most bike friendly way, the most beautiful way, sightseeing spots along and near the way and then double-checked everything in their smartphones. They took all their time making sure that we would have no troubles finding our destination.

In the early afternoon we reached Sherlock’s house. His flatmates Eloise, Sarah and Cher welcomed us like old friends and we gave good old Sherlock a big hug. We had not seen him since Thailand when we got attacked by leeches. An adventure that binds together.

Sherlock, Eloise y Sarah

Sherlock and his flatmates Eloise and Sarah

We were still unpacking our bikes when Sherlock answered a call from his work mate. She told him that she too had some cycling visitors from warmshowers and when we heard their names we could just not believe it. We had followed and been followed by Bärbel and Johan ever since Bangkok. We had been separated by few kilometers some nights, not knowing that the others were so nearby, but even though we had stayed in contact all the time, we had never met in person before. Of course that had to change now. We all met in a pub nearby and chatted till late. Bärbel and Johan wanted to leave Melbourne by the following morning so it was perfect timing to finally meet them.

Finally we met Bärbel and Johan!

Finally we met Bärbel and Johan!

When I woke up it was 2.30 pm. I was so startled that I really woke up. It was 12.30 pm. That’s 9.30 am in Malaysian time. I had slept for 12 hours straight.

I took a seat in the garden. The sunshine was strong and hot, but the air remained cold in the shade. I went out to explore the vegetables while Roberto assembled Sherlock’s new barbeque.

Roberto and the "Barbie"

Roberto and the “Barbie”

The Aussies call it “barbie”. Instead of breakfast they say brekkie and their alcoholic beverages are “grog”. Dinner is called “tea” and tea is “cuppa” from “cup of (tea)”. The ice box (usually used to keep the grog cold) is called esky and I wonder if that derived from eskimo. The Aussie English is kind of cute.

We had a great evening with the flat mates, ate salads, grilled kangoroo (Aussies say “roo”) steak and played quizzies.

Aussie Barbie with Roos

Aussie Barbie with Roos

One morning, Roberto’s helmet and my handlebar bag had disappeared. We searched everywhere because we just did not want to believe that we have been stolen from in this calm and peaceful family neighborhood. Fortunately we started locking our bikes again and did not stick to our lazy habits from Southeast Asia.

Local birds

Local birds

I was very upset for my basket because it had taken me months and months to find one that fits my type of bike, of handlebar and even had the exact shape of my waterproof container. It was dirt cheap but the company only distributed in Japan and Thailand.

Eloise borrowed us a spare helmet (my 15 € helmet apparently was too cheap or old to be taken and the thieves had left it) and we rode off to explore the city.

Cycling along the "Capital City Trail", one of Melbourne's longest bike trails

Cycling along the “Capital City Trail”, one of Melbourne’s longest bike trails

There were plenty of other cyclists in the streets, many on vintage bikes with racing handlebars, colorful frames and brooks saddles. I have never seen so many Ortlieb Limited Edition panniers in my life. Style is what matters in Melbourne.

The bikes are trendy and so are their riders. Fringy cut jeans, exotic sheer scarves, tight yellow and pink pants, glassless nerd glasses, bright blue socks pulled up half way to the knees, fluffy check shirts, self-knitted scarves and giant earphones were present everywhere. Even the obligatory bike helmet was seen as a stylistic challenge. Who had the most creative design and shape? Skating helmets were the winners, either painted in vivid colors or topped with a knitted hood.

Save the Possums!

Save the Possums!

It was interesting to see all plenty of tattooed skin. Even our immigration officer had both his arms full of them. He had also been as beardy as most men we saw on vintage bikes. Many women either wore their hair in a very high messy bun or they shaved both sides off and wore the remaining hair short and colorful.

Melbourne's famous reading room in the Library

Melbourne’s famous reading room in the Library

Roberto and I were stunned. The trends in Malaysia had been so very distinct to these here. We have pretty much missed the rise of the hipster empire. We asked ourselves which stylistic subgroup we would belong to, but did not find an answer. Fortunately we did not have to fit in to make friends with the locals.

Melbourne's bike trails

Melbourne’s bike trails

After some days we left Sherlock and his lovely flatmates and moved into another house. Fiona had invited us. She is Mark’s mother and we had met Mark and his wife Chrissie (who live in Sydney) back in 2012 in Kyrgyzstan, where we crossed the Chinese border together. We had been forced to spend the night together in bunk beds in the no-man’s land between both countries and only found out later at night that it had been their first wedding anniversary. Ever since we have been friends and they were happy to hear that we would come and visit them in Sydney. But first we would meet Mark’s mother Fiona and her sister Vanessa. Together with cat Bruce and Dog Fev they welcomed us in their beautiful home in Brunswick. We felt like home from the first moment on and loved getting to know our new friends over a Middle Eastern “Barbie”.

Christmas mood in summer

Christmas mood in summer

We spent the days cooking and baking a lot, me in a Santa Claus hat with German Christmas music and our friends with Christmas tree earrings.

The forecast for the Christmas day was great: warm and dry. Our original plan – to find a nice beach to pitch the tent and celebrate Christmas – was changed, as Fiona and Vanessa also wanted to celebrate Christmas on the beach. They invited us to join their family celebration and we felt much honored to be a part of their tradition.

Gingerbread Roberto

Gingerbread Roberto

The Aussies don’t eat duck, goose or turkey for their feast. When it’s hot outside you’ll want a lighter and fresher treat. Many people have seafood. But seafood is limited. That’s why we found ourselves in Victoria market at 6 am on Christmas Eve. Vanessa had explained us that sometimes all seafood was sold out by 8 am. But we were lucky enough to get all we needed – including curd. I had been searching curd all over town for days. It cost 21x more than home but that’s how it is. Some things are cheaper, others are more expensive.

Encounter with Santa Claus

Encounter with Santa Claus

We spent the rest of the day writing Christmas cards (far too late again), baked two cakes and wrapped some gifts.

We got up early again on December 25th because we had 47 kilometers to cycle to Thalia’s beachhouse in Chelsea beach. Thalia is Fiona’s and Vanessa’s sister and we were really happy how she was so hospitable to even invite strangers to her place on Christmas.

How to behave on the beach promenade

How to behave on the beach promenade

We enjoyed the way to Chelsea, as we mostly followed one of the many bike paths. First we rode through an empty river bed, then we followed a park, rode straight through town and harbor until we reached the beach.

Cambodian Santa Claus

Cambodian Santa Claus

We followed the beach promenade, watched young couples in bathers (Aussie for swimsuits) with cold beers and Christmas hats. Then the path led us into the dunes and further along the seaside, where we met a Cambodian man who grilled his family BBQ in a full Santa Claus outfit and a young Aussie father who for the first time had cooked the Christmas feast all by himself and a nice man from Uruguay who walked his dog. Apart from that we spotted two dolphins! We reached the house just in time for lunch.

Cycling through the dunes

Cycling through the dunes

Vanessa’s son Tom and his girlfriend Sarah prepared Christmas crackers and we were all excited about the feast. We had prawns with sauce based on coconut milk, the ham, two salads, asparagus and potato salad. It was mouthwatering. Later we went to the beach to play bocce, fly Fiona’s new kite and play Frisbee in the shallow water.

The Chelsea beach houses

The beach houses

When Roberto proposed to prepare the fresh Guacamole we were all far too full to even think about food. Nevertheless it took barely 10 minutes for us to finish everything down to the last crumble.

"The Beach"

“The Beach”

Dessert time was spectacular. Everybody liked my peach-cheesecake. I was happy to have found the curd in the market. But the three sisters had prepared a delicacy that I had never seen like that before.

Tom and Sarah in the little beach paradise

Tom and Sarah in the little beach paradise

It is called Pavlova and apparently it was a rather famous Aussie dessert. Theor Pavlova was a four-storied cake with meringue, cream and plenty of berries. It looked absolutely stunning and tasted even better.

Pavlova Time!

Pavlova Time!

We returned to the beach for sunset. As Melbourne is situated in a bay and we had cycled southeast, we could now for the first and last time in Australia, watch the sunset in the sea. From now on we would follow the east coast and the sun would set in the countryside.

A beautiful Sunset in the sea

A beautiful Sunset in the sea

Two days later we said goodbye to Fiona, Vanessa, Bruce and Fev and moved in with our new friend Andrea. She comes from Cuernavaca, Mexico and worked part time in a Mexican Café that we had spotted by accident. We stayed with her for another few days and planned to celebrate New Year’s Eve with her and her friends, as last year’s New Year’s had admittedly been very unique but however we had been asleep at 9pm.

White christmas? Well, the hot sand on the beach was rather bright.

White christmas? Well, the hot sand on the beach was rather bright.

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