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Saturday 8 Mar 2014
Melbourne, Australia

Beers, Bars, Backgammon and Balls!

I had breakfast back at the market, then caught a bus to the airport.  My good friend Ali lives in Sydney and, like my cousin Jill, had decided to fly down to meet me for the weekend as I couldn’t make it to her.  She landed in Melbourne shortly after me, so we shared a taxi back to the city.  Ali’s started brewing her own beer and got a real taste for ales, so she had done her research for the weekend and arrived armed with a list of good beer pubs around Melbourne that she wanted to try.

We started with Penny Blue, a little bar tucked away in an alley off Little Bourke Street.  We almost missed it as the entrance was hidden behind some construction works, but it turned out to be a great little place full of knick-knacks and old books with a very impressive array of beers.  Ali had a long chat with the barman and made her choice carefully, then we settle into a corner nook and had a good catch up.  The next stop was the Charles Dickens, a basement bar on Flinders Street, which was more like an RSL club than a real ale bar, but still had a few good beers.

Our last stop was at Young and Jackson, a long-established brewery pub on the corner opposite the Flinders Street station clocks.  Ali waltzed straight in, but I caught the look on the bouncer’s face and stopped to get my ID out before he’d even asked.  Ali couldn’t believe I was still getting ID’d at 35 and proceeded to tell the bouncer so, much to his amusement, convinced ‘there’ll be no living with her now!’  I didn’t like to tell her how many times I’d already been asked for ID on this trip…

When she lived in England, Ali and I would always watch the Six Nations Rugby together, usually in the pub, and always accompanied by beer.  On a few memorable occasions, we went to the pub for a lunchtime game and didn’t make it home before midnight, usually giggling helplessly and getting lost on the way (it turns out Ali knew the route home to my house better than I did).  Since she moved to Australia five years ago, I have missed her most of all during those few weeks in February and March.  For her part, she has to stay awake well into the small hours of the morning to be able to text me her opinion of the French ref and the state of England’s kicking ability post-Johnny Wilkinson.  The best part of the weekend was to finally be able to watch a game with her again, especially our favourite: England v Wales. Our main goal for the next day was staying awake for the 2am kick-off. 

We had a late breakfast at the QVM food court and then headed into town to follow Ali’s magical mystery brewery tour.  Unfortunately, some were closed on Sundays so we didn’t find all the ones she was after.  We got sidetracked in a board game shop for a while and came out with a backgammon set.  I’d never learned how to play, so we decided that would be a good means of keeping us occupied while we waited for the rugby. 

Cookie is a big open bar on the upper floors above Swanston Street.  The main bar was brightly lit by huge windows down one wall.  It had very high ceilings, dark panelling on one end and a long bar down the full length of the back wall.  They served a huge selection of wines and craft beers and the kind of welcoming atmosphere which invited us to take a drink and a paper and stay a while.  Ali taught me the rules of backgammon and patiently watched me go on an emotional rollercoaster from ‘I don’t understand’, to ‘I think I get it now’, laughing at my body language as I passed through alternate stages of ‘oh, I’m never going to beat you’ and ‘YES! Hahahahaha!’… Competitive much? Who me?

When the waiter brought our food over later on, he noticed us playing on the travel-sized board and told us they had full sized sets for customers to use, upgrading us to a beautiful leather bound board (including a couple of replacement counters which looked suspiciously like slices of Champagne cork). 

We finally left Cookie in the late afternoon and found a tiny Japanese restaurant tucked in another alley off Little Bourke.  After delicious sushi, we carried on up to a pub named Mrs Primrose’s – another on Ali’s list – which had at least 20 hand pumps and even more beers served straight form the barrel. We had a lot of fun bantering with the barman once he found out we were staying up for the England v Wales game (he wasn’t English).  He knew his beers well and helped Ali try several before deciding.  We stayed and played more backgammon until they closed at 1am.  We had planned to go back to the hotel and watch the game on Ali’s laptop, using the live stream on her sports channel subscription, but when we asked where else might still be open to kill the last hour, we discovered the pub round the corner showed all Six Nations games live.  Brilliant!

The Imperial turned out to be the venue of choice for Brits abroad during rugby season.  By the time the game kicked off, there were at least 40 red-shirted Welsh supporters in the main room and 10-15 English near us in the bar.  We chatted to a group of English lads initially, but they were falling asleep into their pints by halftime and gave up.  The game was brilliant, the young English side really showing their potential by scoring a try in the first 5 minutes and maintaining the lead right through.  Wales may be my second loyalty after my uni years there, but there’s nothing more satisfactory than trouncing them at Twickenham!

It was 5am by the time we’d walked back across Melbourne, so we slept late and only just made our late checkout at noon.  We headed towards QVM for breakfast, but got distracted by a post-rugby tradition and ended up in MacDonald’s instead.  We walked back through one of the shopping centres and discovered an entire factory chimney preserved in the central atrium.  The brickworks had stood on the corner site for many years and the old brick tower was protected from development.  Instead, the developers had added a sweeping glass tent roof over the top and built the whole shopping centre around it.  Coloured flood lights illuminating the sides created a clever effect that tied the whole building together.  It looked fantastic. 

We discovered a bowling alley in the basement level and decided to play.  As I mentioned in the Laos blog, I am fairly unpredictable at bowling.  Some days it works and I can bowl strikes, while other times it goes to pot and I hit the gutters time after time.  This time, I got better as the game progressed and beat Ali.  She insisted on a rematch and then regretted it when I managed 5 strikes in a row, but still agreed to a third game after that.  After bowling ourselves out, we had a drink in Cookie and played backgammon again until Ali had to leave for the airport.  Two days was too short a time, but it was great to catch up with Ali and watch the rugby together again.

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #4 New Zealand and Australia

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