The mobile phone alarm rang and woke me up as if I was in some kind of trance courtesy of some late drinks the previous night! It was my first and last full day in Melbourne and I had to use my time wisely and efficiently. There was no time to waste!
So I had to wake up early!
I had a shower and by 7.00 I was out. My plan was to get a good breakfast and then go around the city. The cloudless sky and the shy sun that was gradually rising in the Melbourne sky – as if the sky was under the Melbourne ownership – created an atmosphere that was calling me for exploring and discovering the city’s secrets.
My 3-week stay Down Under was coming to a close – Melbourne was my final destination after Sydney, Fraser and Cairns – and I had to finish in style. If the first destinations were about partying the Sydney Harbour, trekking the Fraser sand lands and diving the blue waters of the magnificent Great Barrier Reef, Melbourne had to be all about sentiment, history, recollections and recap of this marvellous, exciting, exhilarating and i-cannot-find-the-words-to-describe trip that few people are lucky enough to at least execute it once in their life time.
I started my walk by walking north into the city centre aiming to find a cosy café for my breakfast. The previous night I had pictured exactly in my mind how I wanted it to be. I have to confess I was too strict with the criteria I had set to myself. Of course the word criteria maybe quite of an overstatement as I was just looking for a place that would suit me. Just by looking at it I could tell I would like it.
Melbourne was waking up on a weekday, but yet with very easy going rhythms even though it was a Monday. People were walking peacefully in the streets, greeting friends, opening their shops, sprinkling water to clean the pavements. Trucks were off loading gear for shops. Milk and fresh bakery was “offloaded” in the local bakeries. Coffee shops were preparing their morning “display” fridge windows adding pieces of cheese, bread, eggs, oranges or bottles of water. Some people were already placing their orders for a coffee and a sandwich and have a great day start. Traffic jam was almost non-existent. Few cars were in the streets. Although summer was coming slowly to a close – it was February – the weather and the sun were trying one of their best shots before leaving the place to cold and rain.
Of course the process of looking for a café with the “strict” criteria I had set did not get me anywhere because I think I was wandering around the streets for almost 30 minutes and I still had not found the right place. I had seen some places that were close to my likeness, but as I was too keen – or too stubborn to say the least – I would just keep on searching.
Well, they say that good things happen to those who wait and I have to confess that I was rewarded wholeheartedly as just as I was coming to a point of finding any place to sit, I was presented with a great café! (The other way of looking at it is that people get greedy as if they expect to get paradise and they are not content with a less-than-perfect option. Whatever…)
After turning onto Lonsdale, trying my final bits of luck further north-east and walking towards the outskirts of the city centre I saw on my right a small, cosy café that looked just perfect! To be frank, when I was first writing these lines, I did not have a vivid recollection of neither the name nor the exact place. However, after going through my archives I found a photo I had taken when sitting in the café. Apparently the main focus of the photo was a Mediterranean goddess passing by just that time in-front of me, but on the back ground there was a building with a sign Lumiere. I used Google to look for “Lumiere Melbourne” and it came out with some hits. I tried some of the locations and one looked promising. Actually, when I used Google Street View I saw the same building in-front of me. I moved around the small Google man and there was the café in-front of me! Modern technology can really make miracles happen!
Without losing any time, I rushed and marked my table by living my stuff on top of it, just like animals in the jungle pee to mark their territory!
It was a nice, little Italian café. The inside had the typical fridge will all sorts of bread, cheese, pastries, fruit and salads and even by looking at all these I could be content. (Well, not actually.) The chef was a guy in his 50’s, looking tired from life, but apparently very polite and very helpful. He seemed to be taking his time when fixing a sandwich to the person waiting in-front of me to get served. The great thing with the café, though, was the outside. It was not fancy, it was not stylish, but it had just three tables, two of which were squeezed next to each other on a small veranda- just 40cms above ground. When I looked at it, I just saw myself enjoying my big omelette there…Awesome! Just what I had in mind!
So I placed my order of an extra full – not English – breakfast, which consisted of a complex omelette, jam, milk, cereal and coffee. (An Irish friend of mine used to say that after such breakfast you can go directly to ER with a heart attack).
I enjoyed my 10 minutes before my order was brought to me as I enjoyed two cigarettes and by the time the second one was finished, coffee was served. A nice, big cup of cappuccino, properly made – not like those you get in these “supermarket” coffee shops where they serve these huge saucepan-like cups where you can boil a soup for a whole army with probably the same quantity of coffee as in a single espresso- tasting almost like water. This one was properly made. I drilled a whole on the foam, offloaded some beans of sugar in the hot coffee fluid, stirred and then let it settle for a bit while I continued my bad habit of inhaling dangerous gases.
I took small sips of my coffee enjoying every tiny bit of the coffee and every tiny second of the view of Melbourne waking up.
Like a small child I was looking anxiously around – as if I was about to lose the chance – sucking every bit and every details of the scenery around.
Like a grown up I was distilling every tiny bit of information I was getting in my sensors, trying to see “behind the picture” and make up stories of all the mini-action themes that were taking place in-front of me and make up a full Melbourne story. Just by looking at the everyday, plain, quiet neighbourhood of Melbourne and the people doing plain everyday stuff was enough to make me feel part of that place.
I felt I started losing my tourist skin and becoming one with the city!
You see, what people ought to be looking for, among other things, in travel destinations – and I am not trying to be patronising here – is the “human geography” of the place one is visiting.
Of course, going back to one’s home country one will embark in the usual exclamations about how tall Eiffel tower was, how romantic Paris was, how extravagant Dubai was, how fantastic the Acropolis was or how breathtaking Machu Picchu was. For those that haven’t seen these landmarks, a trip there can make a difference and can be a life-changing instance – a turning point, even though such exclamations usually sound in the ears of slightly experienced travellers slightly cheesy. But that is not and should not be all.
People – and especially those boasting frequent international travelling – should aim for a more adventurous travelling style. By adventurous I don’t mean of course walking among blood-thirsty lions in Kruger Park or diving among a great white herd off the coast of California or eating in poor hygiene locations in Bolivia or walking barefoot in Antarctica, but just doing the different from what normally guides or agents describe as … “different”.
Meet the locals. Taste the local food. Try a different – still reasonably safe – neighbourhood. Go out and try to get the pure and real country you are visiting. Yes, Parthenon or the Twin towers or the Sydney Opera or Big Ben are important. Seeing the Parthenon and marvelling Machu Picchu can be an exhilarating thing to do but the true essence is down there with the local Peruvians or the local Athenians and stories you will hear and the discussions you will have. After all, in 30 years’ time I am pretty sure Virtual Reality Technology will be commercial and then you could walk, see and virtually touch the Eiffel tower without moving an inch from your sitting room. What then? Would you be content with “seeing” the Eiffel tower?
Is it the actual presence or is it more than that because Virtual Reality (VR) could offer just that; the Virtual presence. In the TV Series Star Trek when they wanted to get away from their boring daily space life they entered a room that created a virtual surrounding of any time or place of the earth’s history e.g. medieval times. Fair enough. But what VR may not be able to replicate may be the true feelings and emotions that one feels as a fusion of all senses on all aspects of a trip when physically being there – at least to its full extent or at least in the next 50 years’ time because after hundreds of years matrix-like technologies may be developed to even control our feelings and emotions. But then again, we will have come up with new definitions and travel as know it today may be ceased!
Travelling is not eating but tasting. It is not seeing but watching. It is not hearing by listening. It is not grabbing but touching…Travelling is the celebration of all true senses. And no matter how technology can help bring closer to us the travel destinations, it will not manage (probably!) to help us cherish and appreciate deeply all the beauties that travelling – physically – the world, can offer us today.
Thoughts about European immigrants started flooding my mind. Seeing all these diverse people around me, I could make up a story for each one of them. Of course you could mix and match different stories for different people but yet the important thing was coming up with a story. And even though each story one makes with one’s mind may have nothing to do with the person he is inspired from, one thing is for sure – there is somewhere there in the crowd of all people one person that the story fits… almost exactly.
An old lady, looking at first sight slightly Mediterranean – and then sounding Italian – entered with what seemed to be her grandson the coffee shop and happily interrupted my thoughts. She ordered an orange juice for her grandson and a coffee for her and they sat in one of the tables.
I started making up her story.
She looked tired from life. She migrated in Melbourne many years ago, around 1950. She got married and her son married a Scottish girl – another immigrant in Australia – and now she has grandchildren. Some years ago her husband died and now they all have moved to Perth. However, from time to time they come back for a week in Melbourne to see relatives and good friends. She gets the chance to take her grandson out for a walk to the places she first walked when she first arrived in Australia as a young girl. She seemed greatly excited, even for her age. She was glowing like a young child. How couldn’t she be? In a week’s time she flies for the first time after 20 years back to Sicily to see relatives she hadn’t met for many years…
Such are the fiction stories one can create. And the funny thing is that sometimes one is not far away from reality. (I believe this “making up a story” is not some kind of weird virtue but rather a way of coming closer to the place one is visiting)
Without realising it, I felt somebody talking to me and a huge plate arrived in front of me. My thrombosis-causing omelette, with all sort of herbs – a fusion of garlic, onion, oregano, olive oil, pepper – and 3 huge slices of freshly baked bread with sprinkled oregano smelling slightly burned that had just come out of the oven had just arrived and I jumped straight into my breakfast. I was starving from the previous night. It was a feast for all my senses – my eyes, my tongue and my nose. Even for the ears. The clatter of the fork and knife hitting sometimes gently sometimes abruptly the plate was like music to my ears. If one can get content also by his ears, then that was me at that time. I felt like a music conductor, but instead of a baton in my hands I had a knife and a fork.
After finishing my omelette and rubbing the last pieces of it from the plate’s outer part with the last pieces of bread, eating even the bread crumbles – I continued with the small ball of cereals and after a last 5-minute cigarette-inhaling process into my lungs, I took out my guide and reviewed a small, but smart walk itinerary that I had composed months ago but had finalised the previous day. In 15 minutes I was ready to get to know the city.
I stood up, paid my bill and made my way back to the “Clocks, ready to cross Yara river and start my Melbourne walk full of energy courtesy of my great breakfast!
END of PART ONE