The Great Ocean Road brought us all the way to Melbourne, where we’d settle in for the next 10 days. Our first stop brought us to the suburbs of southeast Melbourne, in a little town called Frankston, where we rented a super nice home in town called Frankston. For the first time on our trip, we experienced significantly cooler weather. We actually had to run a heater during the night, bryyy, we miss our Florida sunshine! Since Halloween was right around the corner, we made a trip to Target and found costumes for Leo and Mila - they have been in love with Paw Patrol so this year they will be Marshall and Skye!
Our first adventure on our Melbourne tour took us to nearby Phillip Island www.visitphillipisland.com, a place full of nature! This gorgeous island is located on the eastern side of Victoria, about 1.5 hours due south from our house. We did some research but kind of went down there without a plan. We had no idea what amazing things were about to happen to us. First, we drove all the way to the most western point of the island called The Nobbies Centre. There was a network of boardwalks right outside of the information center overlooking Seal Rock, The Nobbies and The Blowhole. Although it was too rough to get on the boat and see the seals from up close, we were able to spot hundreds of them via binoculars chilling on the rock. Over 16,000 seals live here, the largest settling in Australia. I think Shark week may be filmed here, as we were informed Great Whites frequent this area because of the large seal population. The color of the water was unreal, beautiful turquoise with some intense waves hitting the rocks, hence the name The Blowhole. Literally 15-20 feet waves just constantly crashing into the cliffs. The whole boardwalk is surrounded by amazing green hills, makes you feel like you are in Scotland. It was super windy and a bit cold, but we absolutely loved exploring this little gem.
Next, we drove to a local beach called Woolamali, where for the first time ever, we witnessed a surfing competition! Although we do not know much about the sport, it was super fun to watch them catch a wave. While it was really cold sitting out in the stans, we enjoyed every second of it! Even Leo and Mila were into it : ) Funny story, there were tons of grey geese walking everywhere. Leo decided to chase them and as we was running after them on the boardwalk, one of the geese got mad at him and tried to attack him! He got so scared and I have never seen him run this fast, hahaha.
Right after the surfing competition, we stopped at the local Chocolate Factory and enjoyed some delicious sweets. Maybe it was not the best chocolate that we have tried (Swiss coco is still number one in our books), it was something different and of course, a fun place for our children.
We saved the best for last…so as we were arriving to Philip Island, we saw a sign for a penguin parade tonight. We found out at the tourism office that this extraordinary natural spectacle was happening that evening at 8pm. Every evening, at sunset during most of the year, hundreds of little penguins come ashore at Summerland Beach and waddle across the sand to their burrows in the silky clumps of grass and rest. We were not prepared to stay day for the whole day, but after learning more about the penguin parade, we decided to suck it up and do it! We purchased our tickets and at 7pm arrived at the sitting arena on the beach. Boy oh boy, it was cold! In the 40s with strong winds and grey skies. As we were sitting there and freezing our bums, I looked at Rick and said: “Did we really just pay $50 to sit in the freezing cold and watch penguins!!!”. Luckily, we had our jackets and beach blanket. Leo has been so excited for Halloween, he has been wearing his Paw Patrol costume - Marshall, for the last two days :) We were all bundled up and ready for the penguins to come. Sitting out in the cold felt like an eternity, but as soon as we saw group of little penguins emerging from the ocean, we completely forgot about our frozen bodies. It was something new, something spectacular to see these penguins in their natural habitat, return from a day of feeding and waddle back to their nests! They all looked so scared and so cute, I wanted to run down and give them a kiss. In order to protect them, you are not allowed to get close to them, and you can’t take pictures and videos (They are super strict about this). They allow you to download pictures from their website and thats exactly what we did. I don't think I have ever seen Leo this excited. His eyes were shining like two little diamonds and his smile said it all :) Back on the boardwalk you could see the penguins much closer and follow them around. Both Leo and Mila were in true penguin heaven :) Leo kept telling Mila to be quiet and not to scare them. He was even trying to teach her how to waddle. The long wait in the cold was totally worth it. I have only seen penguins in the zoo and this experience does not even compare to that. We totally loved watching them so close in the wild nature. It was another amazing day that will stay with us forever.
So Rick’s coworker - Jake, who was born and raised in Melbourne graciously invited us to stay with her mum, Miss Maria. A few weeks ago we made the call to Miss Maria and arrange everything with her and the next week her house will be our house : ) We arrived there on the day of Halloween and were greeted by this lovely lady - another amazing person that we encountered during our journey. She prepared for us a delicious dinner and in the evening, we all went trick or treating. Leo and Mila have been waiting for that day for a very long time! Leo was so amazing, each time he collected a piece of candy, he grabbed one for Mila (she was taking her good old time during the walk). One gentleman gave him a handful of candy and Leo told him he needed only one piece, no more. After 30 minutes he told us he had enough sweets in his bag and wanted to go home. He is very disciplined with his candy and eats one piece in the morning and one after dinner. Mila on the other hand could eat all of it at once :) It was a super nice day and a fantastic start to our stay with Miss Maria :)
The following morning, right after breakfast we all drove to a KingLake National Park, right outside of Melbourne. Boy was it COLD outside!!! But it didn’t stop us from getting our and exploring. On the drive there, we saw several wallabies, it was so cool! One of them was standing right by the road and posing for us. We also witnessed a kangaroo jumping right in front of our car and that was a bit scary. Nevertheless, it was another unique experience with this typical Australian specie. We went for a short hike to a waterfall and on the way back we passed a group of kindergarten children. We talked to one of the teachers who explained to us that once a week, as a part of their curriculum, they take the kids to the park and spent the day out in the nature teaching them about the local flora and fauna - I absolutely loved this idea. Besides, this teacher had more enthusiasm than any other teacher we have met before and you can tell that the kids were so engaged with anything she had to say. At the picnic area, all of these kids were jumping and splashing in the mud and puddles (the weather was pretty cold, low 50’s, grey skies and sporadic rain). Few of them had only pants on and anything else and they were having a time of their life. Leo and Mila were very tempted but did not have enough courage to join them :) Although Mila did slide down on her bum on a very muddy hill.
We finished that day with a visit to Oakridge Winery www.oakridgewines.com.au, right in the middle of the Yarra Valley (right outside of Melbourne and a popular wine region). It was another kid friendly winery, with plenty of toys and games for the children. Miss Maria offered to watch the kids while Rick and I did a short wine tasting - what an amazing woman?! I am not sure what we have done to deserve such a special treatment but are so grateful and thankful for all the good that we’ve received : )
The next day, our first trip to central Melbourne took us to the famous Queen Victoria Market. We absolutely love visiting local markets. This experience allows you to feel like a true resident as well as you get to see and taste different types of produce. This market was quite big and sold everything from fruits, veggies, meats, fish, cheeses, clothes, fabrics etc. Leo and Mila were fascinated by the seafood section and even had a little educational moment with one of the salesman. Speaking of education, we witnessed another amazing outside of the classroom lesson experience. Kids from middle school were learning German right in the middle of the market. Each child held in their hand a piece of paper with a recipe of a dish written in German and they had to find given ingredient in the market. What a cool scavenger hunt! It was amazing to see these kids so engaged in learning outside the classroom. After gathering all of the ingredients they went back to school and together cooked a meal - such a wonderful idea. Another group of students were given a lesson by the local cheese salesman who explained to them the process of making cheese - while ear dropping I learnt quite a lot that day. We had a delicious lunch at the market, did some shopping and then visited a playground where Leo and Mila had a chance to let loose. We ended our day by taking a tram around the central part of Melbourne.
After a day of relaxation, the weekend was spent back in the city. Miss Maria planned the day and we spent Saturday strolling through the streets of Melbourne. The weather was not too great that morning - low 50’s and rain. We parked our car on the east side and walked to the St Patrick Cathedral. It was quite beautiful building with gorgeous stain glasses and beautiful alter. Since our Florida bodies were a bit cold, we took a turn at Collins Street, which is also named the “Paris End” and stopped at a french bakery. We all warmed up with a cup of tea and some yummy pastries. This coming Tuesday the whole city of Melbourne will be off work and people will be celebrating the so called Melbourne Cup, which is the equivalent of the Kentucky Derby in The USA. We passed tons of people dressed up for the pre party Cup in the City. All of the women attending the event wore beautiful dresses and big, fancy hats.
We continued our Melbourne tour by crossing the Yarra River and strolling though Queen Victoria Gardens, Kings Domain, and finally the beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens. The weather improved significantly, it honestly reminds me of London weather, you go from clouds, rain, wind, to full sunshine in a matter of minutes. We were able to enjoy this green and picture perfect park. At the end we stumbled upon a little kids play area where Leo and Mila had a chance to release some energy. After a good hour of relaxation, we headed back to the central Melbourne and walked along the river through the Southbank. We bought lunch, had some ice cream, people watched and simply enjoyed each others company. Leo and Mila kept chasing the birds and constantly kept asking to go on the train. We ended our date with Melbourne by taking a tram ride back to our car. On the way back home we stopped at Maria youngest son’s house. Leo and Mila played for a bit and we enjoyed a nice beer and good conversations. Maria has been an amazing host, our kids absolutely adore her, and are so grateful for everything she has done for us. It is unreal how lucky we have been throughout our journey.
When we woke up on Sunday morning we finally saw beautiful, sunny skies. Maria brought a Sunday paper and when we opened one of the pages we saw the ex-Prime Minister attending the Derby Cup. We quickly realized we saw her the day before strolling down the Collins street wearing her fancy outfit and quite interesting hat. She was all by herself, no bodyguards and security, which we found a bit strange but I guess that’s Australia for you - the relaxed state of mind for sure : ) Today we headed back to Lee’s house for a barbecue or as they call it here, barbie. When we arrived to Lee’s place Maria offered to take Leo and Mila to the playground - this woman is truly amazing. We did not protest at all! We walked with Lee and Claire down to Brunswick street - a very hip/trendy part of Melbourne with tons of pubs, bars, boutique shops and cafes. We stopped at place called Naked for Satan - we grabbed a table on the rooftop, ordered coffee and admired the city skyline. It was our first time away from the kids in a very long time and we are so appreciative of it. Leo and Mila are in love with Maria, and so are we. The rest of the afternoon we stayed in the local park, barbecued, played Aussie football, and embraced the Australian culture. On the ride home, we stopped at Yarra Park where we saw something very unique - all over the trees there were bats (or Flying Foxes as their called in Aussie), thousands of them, hanging upside down and sleeping. It was very interesting experience seeing so many bats only about 10km outside of the city.
Our last day in Melbourne we spent packing and getting ready for Tasmania. Maria was so kind and offered to babysit Leo and Mila, so Rick and I could run few errands - this woman is a true saint. That evening, Maria had the whole family over for another barbie, and let me tell you, we have not laughed this hard in ages. Her family is super funny and very entertaining. We ate, drank, laughed and truly enjoyed each other’s company. It was such a lovely evening, honestly the last 2 days made me miss our families as Maria brought us in and made us feel as though we were a part of their family. It was really the highlight for us, having good food and drinks amongst amazing people who have treated us so well.
Melbourne is a cool place and apparently, it has been named the most european city in Australia. It reminds us of London - the architecture, landscape and the unpredictable weather. It is a true melting pot, mix of cultures from all around the world. It is quite expensive since you pay $73 dollars a day to park in the central Melbourne, but hey, I think most major cities are like that. We had a lot of fun exploring Melbourne and meeting new people. Maria and her family were so amazing to us, there are no words to explain how grateful we are for their hospitality. On that note, we will finish packing and get ready for a full day of travel - Tassie, here we come!