Christmas takes on a feverish-like intensity in Australia. Even though the 30degree temperatures and bright sunshine contradict the snowy images emblazoned on the Christmas cards, every thing else is festive season in full force. The streets are lined with decorations and many of Melbourne’s houses are lit up by lights. The shopping is just incredible. Australians spend over 30% more on Christmas than Americans! Sarah and I are attempting to curb our spending as much as possible, although it is difficult not to want to replace every single item in our backpacks. Africa did not treat our clothing nicely. The traditional Christmas dinner over here is shrimp on the barbie. We may have a little taste of that when we get to Sydney, but for now our Christmas plans are completely up in the air. It doesn’t feel like Christmas over here, although sitting in my first Starbucks in over three months, drinking a gingerbread latte and listening to “White Christmas” on the radio made me feel a little more at home.
Monday night is “Neighbours Night” in St. Kilda’s. I remember Neighbours fondly from my childhood; an afterschool ritual often combined with “Home and Away”. I haven’t seen an epsiode since leaving England, but Neighbours is still must-watch television for anyone from the UK. Even Australians don’t possess the same mad love of Neighbours as the brits, and hence everyone at Neighbours Night (with a few notable exceptions, including myself) was British.
We opted not to do the Neighbours tour, since our lovely friend Leahanne (who is very graciously putting us up for the week) knows where all the key locations are in Neighbours-land. Ramsay Street is the main draw, and we showed up on Monday. Unfortunately they were filming at the time, so we were unable to stand in front of the houses. But we came back on Wednesday and fulfilled all of Sarah’s “Neighbours” dreams.
Neighbours night itself was an amazing night. They announced upon our arrival that Neighbours is moving from BBC to Channel 5 in England (to the chorus of many boos). But funnily enough, Channel Five were filming a documentary on Neighbours and its rabid English fans on that very night. That means we get to be on TV! Anyone in England reading this, be sure to look out for the documentary in early February. Sarah was filmed up on stage dancing in a black tube top and jean skirt, while we both stood centre stage as the Neighbours stars came out. If you see our faces, be sure to let us know! Also, we are in a TV spot for Channel Five saying “Same Ramsay Street, Same Time.”
Sarah and I have a special spot in our hearts for Penguins. We made a special trip out to see them in Boulder’s Beach in Cape Town and we made a special trip in Melbourne! The penguins here are out at Phillip Island, about 2 hours from Melbourne proper. At around sunset every night (about 9pm yesterday), the smallest penguin species in the world – the aptly named “little penguins” – arrive in droves at the shore. This “penguin parade” has become a highly commercialized and tourist-friendly spot in Australia and was so well put together that it reminded me and Sarah of Sea World! We sat down on concrete bleachers on the beach amidst hordes of Japanese and British tourists. It was absolutely packed. And then the penguins began to arrive. One of the most surreal natural events I have ever witnessed, these tiny penguins materialized out of the water by the hundreds. Reluctantly they would sit in the water’s edge, occasionally getting pushed over by waves. One would sneak out onto the beach, take a look around, then run back in. Twenty of them would get out onto the sand, look up at the sky, look over at the grass knolls where their homes were, look inquisitively over at us humans, then run back into the water. Then finally, a group of about twenty-thirty of them would make the push across the sand, waddling like wind-up puppets over the grass. This happened for an hour, with over 900 penguins crossing the beach in total. Up on the boardwalks through the grassy cliffs, we could watch the penguins as they continued toward their homes. It was absolutely magic. Unfortunately, absolutely no photographs were allowed to be taken during the parade itself, as the flashes would terrify the penguins.
Melbourne is a city that loves to party. The fashion is uber-trendy, and all its occupants are highly image conscious. It has the habit of making dirty backpackers like us feel a little uncomfortable – and certainly makes our wallets feel tight – but it’s a beautiful and lively place to visit. Check out my friend Jessica’s blog too; she is going to be living outside of Melbourne for the next year and has visited many cool places around Australia.