Thursday, 15 May 2014

Easter in Australia

I was waiting until the right time to write about my trip to Melbourne at Easter, but that time never came. Perhaps subconsciously I think if I write it all down then the holiday is really over. But that's not the case. I know it means I can re-live it through the photo narrative.

Matthew and I traveled separately to Australia, very much against our wishes, due to some important work commitments that Matthew had no choice about scheduling. It was already so expensive to reschedule his trip that we honestly didn't think it was worth it to reschedule mine as well. (Matthew did go to Melbourne, but he went the next week, while I was in Japan. We missed each other by a matter of 4 hours on the Sunday after Easter).

We flew China Eastern for two reasons:
1. Cheaper by several hundred dollars than a more bourgeois airline
2. I needed a deal that would get me through Japan, and that meant flying through somewhere in Asia. Shanghai was it.
This is why we have not flown China Eastern in the past:
1. The food is horrible and the entertainment wasn't great.
2. More importantly, it made a 14-hour journey from Vancouver to Melbourne into a 30-hour journey. I'm not even kidding.

I was so tired and cranky when I got off the plane in Melbourne on Easter Saturday that I burst into tears. Dad and Mum, who had come to collect me from the airport and whisk me away to the countryside for the long weekend, were pretty cool about it, so this is the first of many thanks I owe them.

The first thing we did when we got to Harcourt North (my hometown) was make Hot Cross Buns. Actually, Mum made them and I sat watching. She let me put the crosses on at the end, though. That shows what a big heart she has. Everyone knows the crosses are the funnest part.

Glorious golden HCBs

 My sister Jessie joined us early on Sunday morning, with her pet rabbit Dandy who had recently had surgery, and we launched a fullscale Easter Egg Hunt. This tradition goes way back in my family. We have been Easter Egg Hunting every year that we have been in Harcourt I think. (Funny story: the first Easter we spent in Vancouver, Matthew and I turned up to my Canadian family's home with a large basket of easter eggs. They were all like "um, what do we do with these?" It was a bit of a "you're not in Kansas anymore" moment, one of many we experienced in that year).

Dad, Mum, and the MOUNTAIN of chocolate, out on the back patio.

Jessie getting in on the action.

Millie the dog, testing boundaries. Chocolate is of course bad for dogs.

Gratuitous Millie shot. She's so loveable. And so fat.
After scouring the back garden for all Mum's best hiding spots, and eating as much as possible with a cup of tea on the patio, Jessie took me into Castlemaine to visit our aunt Liz (and her magnificently landscaped new fishpond!), and pop into the Castlemaine Food and Wine Festival. Funny story: on the way from Harcourt into Castlemaine, Jessie was pulled over for random breath-testing. The police asked "Where are you headed this Easter Sunday?" and Jessie very truthfully and with a straight face replied "The Castlemaine Food and Wine Festival". Bless him, the policeman didn't raise a brow. He said "Nice day for it" and told her some good places to park nearby. We laughed pretty hard when she finally drove off.

Castlemaine Botanical Gardens. I realised later I didn't take any photos of the actual festival, but you have to imagine it was happening close by. And it was hopping!

Easter Monday Matthew's mum Hilary came to Harcourt for lunch and a catch-up, as well as aunt Liz. We had a good gossip about London (where Matthew's other family is, and where we were in February), about Matthew, and just life in general. I very much hope Hilary will be back to see us someday soon in Vancouver. When she visited in 2012, she covered much ground and spent good quality time with us, and yet, because she is a Mum, it's like no visit is quite long enough. It is so SO far away, but when I am back there in Harcourt, the world feels small.

Liz, me and Hilary

Mum, me and Hilary

Uncle John popped around briefly in the late afternoon. (Dad and John)
Some other things we did over the weekend include:
  • A nice long walk in the evening sunshine over the hill with the dog.
  • Listened to Dad's awesome progress on the piano (he has been honing his skills with regular lessons)
  • Took a sad peak in the sheds to unearth any old treasures. This activity was cut short (by me crying). Going back in those boxes of stuff felt like moving back to Brunswick *shudder*. Found the odd treasure, including an awesome takoyaki (Japanese octopus balls) mold hand-me-down from Akiko.

Monday evening Jessie drove me back to her apartment in North Melbourne. It was so blustery and windy by the time we got there, and it was stormy all night. On Tuesday morning we got up and had breakfast with lots of furry friends. Jessie shares her apartment with a woman, a dog, a cat, two rabbits, a parrot and some goldfish. When I sat on the couch, this is what happened:

Dog Remi on one side and cat Rafi on the other side. No personal space.

Jessie chasing her newest addition, Delilah the rabbit, around the courtyard.

Delilah up as close as possible. Her ears are even bigger in real life.
Dandy the Parrot
Tuesday was what I like to call an Achievement Day. Jessie kindly accompanied me to Lygon Street: VicRoads (updating my driver's license), the bank (updating my credit card), Threshermans for a cup of coffee, back home to Jessie's for a quick chill. Then back to Lygon St, Trotters, for lunch with Ruth (who has since moved to Paris! She is my personal hero, and I have made it no secret that I hope she stays there for a good long time).  Then to D.O.C. for a coffee with cousin Gypsy and her fiance Kale (Since then they have married! In a castle in Scotland! So happy for them, and so inspired by their epic elopement!) and Jessie. Then on to the city for an evening with the lovely Erin (my former flatmate and always friend). Even though the day was thrashing with rain, it eased off in time for dinner, so we settled on a restaurant on the Southbank promenade. It was SO GOOD to see all these friends and cousins, and reconnect with all the gossip and people's future plans. I am so proud of everyone I saw for dreaming large and going about their lives with such adventure and spirit!

Erin and me at dinner on Southbank.
Wednesday I visited Matthew's dad and step-mum, John and Sally, on the other side of the river. We had a lovely lunch in their home, and I tried to describe to them what life in Vancouver is like for us day-to-day, week-to-week. It was good to see them, and we all realised that it is the first time I have ever seen them without Matthew present. We talked shamelessly about Matthew. Their home is looking even more lovely than when we visited last.

Wednesday evening, I sadly left Jessie's Apartment of A Thousand Sentient Beings. It was a bit hard to move on, because I really enjoyed staying with Jessie and we had some Real Quality Sister Time (maybe the most we've ever had), but I would see her again later in the week.

Jessie (again, so kindly) drove me to dear friends Jess & Aaron's (who visited us in Vancouver in 2012!) new house in Brunswick. They had only just moved in Easter weekend, but gosh the place was together. It was the most put-together newly-moved-in house I have ever seen. It is a pretty house (lots of stained glass!) on a picturesque street (lots of trees!), close to transit, shops, restaurants, everything: real estate gold. I was twitching with envy the whole time I was there (although I do feel my days of Brunswick are over).

On Thursday (while Jess and Aaron worked) I wandered down the street to my friend Monique's house for a cup of tea, a wander, some lunch, and an epic Savers shopping spree on Sydney Road. We talked about life, the universe and everything. I didn't see Monique last time I was in Melbourne, so this was the first time I had seen her in 3 years! All good.

Then back to Jess and Aaron's for afternoon tea, and then a quick turn-around to catch Mum, Dad, and Jessie for a Lebanese feast on Lygon St. Lygon Street in Brunswick has transformed in the last three years. There are a hundred new restaurants and cafes. The evening was cloudy but not cold, so I walked for about 20 blocks, saw all the new trendy spaces.

Friday morning was ANZAC Day. Jess had invited me to the Dawn Service about a month in advance, and I quickly agreed, although it was not something I was ever remotely interested in doing when we lived in Australia. I just figured it was a) about time I went, b) an interesting cultural experience, and c) more exciting than sleeping in.

So the ANZAC Day Dawn Service is a HUGE deal in Australia. In Melbourne literally thousands of people walked from all over the city to the Shrine of Remembrance. Jess's mum and dad picked us up at 4:45am, and drove us into the city. It was very dark (5am!!) when we arrived, and very crowded. We didn't get anywhere near the actual Shrine, but there were lots of large screens set up at points around the park. Everyone was silent, even the children in their pyjamas were moved by the atmosphere to observe silence. The same people who that weekend would be screaming their lungs out at the footy were sombre and silent there then. It was pretty unreal. And noone was telling them to be quiet, either. I think that's what impressed me the most about the whole experience. That such a huge crowd could be motivated to share and maintain such a profound silence.

Afterwards, we walked in the streaming sunshine down an empty St Kilda Road (quite a novel experience in itself!) and headed over to... you guessed it, Lygon Street, for breakfast. I can't thank Jess and her family enough for inviting me to share this experience. It was a lovely way to start the day, and a very peaceful and moving example of public remembrance and memorial.

In the pre-dawn, a view of the hoards surrounding the Shrine.

Jess and me in our coats and woolies after the service.

Several hot air balloons in the pre-dawn.

Jess and Aaron's beautiful new home, and the happy couple.
I had a few more precious hours with Jess and Aaron drinking tea in their kitchen, before they took me to meet my dear friend Judith in West Brunswick for lunch. She also has just bought a house, and what a different house! It is a gorgeous duplex with the hugest back garden I have ever seen! Also newly moved in, Judith showed me her generous and visionary plans for the interior and garden design. Judith went we me and Tess to Japan in 2009, and it was sad to leave her in Brunswick, knowing that I would be in Japan again without her. But timing, house, adult life. We enjoyed a delightful pie lunch at a local cafe, and a nice walk in the sunshine. I miss her already.

Then in the mid afternoon, Jane came and (who visited Vancouver in summer 2013) whisked me away for a stroll around Princes Park. We had both recently eaten and it was too early for a cider (we did that later), so a walk in the park seemed like the best solution. We only managed one lap before we were called to cider at the Cornish Arms on Sydney Rd, but it was a nice lap. I'm not sure what I can say but that I miss these people. As much as I am settling (is that the right word?) into life in Vancouver, I am reminded of the life events and personal connection that I am missing in Melbourne.

Jane took me to Nyssa and Neil's place (also in Brunswick, man when we lived there, we never went anywhere else... it's like the centre of our universe). Nyssa and Neil, consummate hosts, sat me down in front of a bottle of wine and a massive block of cheese, and we got to talking. Around this time I was at the most gross moment of a headcold that I had acquired in my travels, so I was not the life of the party. But N&N graciously looked the other way. We polished off the bottle and set out on foot for the Brunswick Mess Hall (Asian fusion bar newly opened since I was last in Brunswick) for dinner and serious marriage discussions (these lovers have been betrothed since before they joined us in Las Vegas! And I agree with them that you have to pick your moment). It was a comforting end to the biggest and most sociable day I have ever done. Sometimes, when your time is limited, you just have to pack everyone in. And I much prefer meeting people one-on-one than in a group, so this plan (as complex and scheduled as it was) allowed me to feel like I was spending quality time with everyone. I think I've written "quality time" about a million times so far in this post!

Nyssa and Neil, best friends to us for life.
Saturday morning Tess came round (to Nyssa and Neil's place) and we all had a cup of tea. Then Tess drove me to the Dandenong Ranges (omg actually we got really lost and ended up 50km out the other side in the wrong direction...) to visit dear friend Grace. Grace lives in a beautiful house nestled in the half-forest half-plantation countryside. It was a cloudy and raining day, so it felt like we were in a real rainforest. Grace, Tess and I went to a local cafe in Mount Evelyn (I think?) for organic-everything lunch. It was delish. Grace lived in Sydney when Matthew and I moved to Vancouver, so I had not seen Grace in over three and a half years! I feel like we had a world of catching up to do, and I think we bridged some of that long gap. But it didn't feel like enough time, certainly.

On Saturday evening we met up with my parents and Jessie, and with Tess's dashing man James, for a vegetarian feast at Shakahari (off Lygon Street). It was only the second time I had ever met James, but I knew I would like him, because I like Tess.

It was pretty hard to let Mum, Dad, and Jessie go at the end of the evening. They will be back in Vancouver over the next couple of months, but I feel like we just had the most peaceful and relaxing and meaningful week/end together in a really long time.

Family photo! At Shakahari.
Tess took me back to her stunning, spacious, hardwood, multi-balcony, two-storey new apartment in Ascot Vale (all these people being so grown up with their real estate! shiver of envy!) and we got about four hours of sleep before...

Japan! (coming soon...)

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