Saturday, November 15, 2008

Melbourne – 2 days in, another 2 days to go (Day 52)

(Where I am now: Nomad Hotel, Melbourne) (What date/time is it: Sat15Nov, 00:50 am- tired but cant’ sleep. What am I listening to: Massive Attack.)

First impressions.
I like it. Not sure if I like it more than Sydney yet but I will give it a decent chance. What strikes you first of all is the weather which is very moody – I guess a bit like me lately. Dry hot air turns into a cool breeze in the afternoon and can hit you with a couple of showers. It’s not as green as Sydney and the port is smaller (or seems so). No wonderful Opera house either. No need to focus on what if doesn’t have, let’s just focus on what you can really see in Melbourne. First impression for me is that it is heavily influenced by asian populations. They told me Sydney has more Asians but here the feeling is more complete – you see it in the numerous restaurant options (I am in noodle heaven here) and also the people and bars. Melbourne is more “bohéme”, little cafés, restaurants scattered all over the place give you a much more relaxed sense to Sydney’s busy center.

I hate my hostel. It sucks. Another 300-bed place full of drunk English & Irish, makes me wonder how the hell they find any interest in flying to the other side of the planet with drinking as their one and only objective. I am tired of the squeaky beds, having to lock up every bloody thing and wondering where my ham and cheese went when I can’t find it the hostel’s fridge.
Anyway, it’s part of the things you need to face if you want to travel the world in a reasonable budget. I wish I had another person with me – we could share some of the costs and have things a bit more relaxed and civilized. But enough complaining, let’s talk about Melbourne.

Arriving in the afternoon and checking in the hostel didn’t leave me with much time (or energy from the 5-days-in a row waking up at 07:00am too go to scuba training in Cairns) so I took a walk in the city center. I discovered a wonderfully squared city center (ah wonderful South American cities) and a large Chinatown. The city has a tram system and one of the lines runs till late for free and takes tourists around the center of town. Sweet. Of course it also has a Greek town (or let’s say a big street with some Greek shops next to each other). Melbourne has 250,000 Greeks so I am bound to find my future wife here – that was part of the plan…! I don’t see it coming through though: I have less than 2 days left and the only “greek” person I’ve talked to so far is a Cypriot (actually Turk) whose grand-ma was displaced to Morphou. At least he understood a bit of Greek and gave me in English the whole story about the typical politics that minorities get into when living abroad… Let’s see tomorrow night.

Immigrants, a story worth telling..
Why do we travel? Why am I on the road for the past 52 days and what are these people around me doing? What drives people to take a bag, a suitcase, a backpack and hit the road? I guess everyone has his own reasons. I visited Melbourne’s Immigration Museum to get the rest of the reasons, beyond those that are obvious and to remember that for some people, travelling to far away places can be an extremely painful experience. Especially if there are reasons that force you to do it. Hunger, war, poverty, political issues or simply the hope for a better life. I am not referring to “immigrants-light”, people like me who had the transport company pack their things in bubble paper, had a “relocation services officer” to take care of the paperwork and a relocation allowance to make things easier.

I am talking about people like my grandfather from Cyprus who left a family of 4 (at that time) to go to South Africa, set up his own business, save money and after a while send for his family. I am referring to the thousands that have come to Australia in the past 2 centuries from all over the world, for various reasons that range from simply better career opportunities to fleeing a regime back home that would eventually take your life.

The Immigration museum in Melbourne has been one of the most emotional days during my trip. There it was all, portrayed in a wonderful way, the agony, the anxiety, the difficulties of securing passage and getting access to the country. It also made a point om Australia’s “Remain white policy” of previous times and how evidently this has changed the past decades – you just have to look around.

It’s hard to explain the feeling I got, the museum is ultimately a museum of hope, a monument to people’s dreams and quest for better life. There are interactive video sections where you can “interview” people and actually decide if you want to grant them passage to Australia. There’s even one with Greeks, the Arvanitis family, husband, wife and little Evangelia – the Australian interviewer asks: What do you do Mr Arvanitidis: I work hard ρε – my hands good work, probably reflecting the desperation of the people having to flee Greece in the 50’s. I had to reject their application. Little Evangelia is deaf, and the Australian government does not allow immigrants that will be a potential burden to Australia’s social security system. So brutally honest, so heartbreaking, I wept while pressing the APPLICATION REJECTED button.

Another section is called Origins, where regardless your nationality, you can trace back peoples’ stories from your country and their settling and contribution to Australian society. Extremely cool. Greece being one of the biggest communities here, numbering +250,000, even has the narrative piece in Greek. Photos from the past complement this great exhibition. The coolest thing though is the fact that you can access the Australian National Archives and trace back from 1929 ALL the people that have officialy entered Australia, when, which port, what ship. Amazing. There are 101 Spyropoulos links, 1 Aplas and even 1 Seimenis (my Cypriot’s family tree name)

I left the place with a strange feeling of hope for all people that dream of a better place to live and thankful I can do it under so diifferent circumstances…

The Great Ocean Road, one of the greatest road-trips.
I don’t mind using a bus to travel, even these organized daily tours have proven to be of great interest & fun. From the Aconcagua Mountain in Mendoza, to the Daintree rainforest in Cairns, the combination of great people and good guides made these trips special. The Great Ocean road trip I booked for Friday was no exception. It proved to be the best so far, again for the same reasons: wonderful scenery, incredibly entertaining and good guide, good company. But I missed my friends. I missed driving around, with them in some sort of van, music on, jokes everywhere.

Let me explain first. The great Ocean road is considered to be one of the best day trips in the world. If you want in one (admittedly long) day to combine amazing seaside scenery, rainforest, Koalas and God knows what else, you have to do it. The Great ocean road is a coastal road heading west of Melbourne that runs for about 380km taking you through some of the most amazing seaside scenery you could see in your life. Rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, roaring sea, in one of the greatest natural shows I have ever seen. And then of course you have Bernie (I am not kidding, that’s his real name) a +50year old Santa-Claus-looking (think oversize with long white beard) guide who just can’t stop making jokes about anything and anyone and really knows his stuff. You always meet nice people on these trips – usually because the average drunk pommy (see English) is still sleeping or has a hangover from the previous night’s beer drinking. I met Maria from Galicia traveling for a few months to improve her English and Søren from Copenhagen a 34-year old (yes! Finally someone older than me!) psychologist. Bro, I will tell you all about him when I see you.

We saw magical places such as the 12 Apostles, an amazing rock formation in the sea, actually sticking out (not all 12 are visible) part of Earth’s million years erosion game with the land and water. I will let the photos speak for themselves on this one, it was plain magic. This is where I started to realize that Australia is a country so huge that deserves much more of your time. And with it you should use differnet means of transport. It would be so great if I could rent a van with two good friends and tour the place with it, sleeping in it, stopping wherever/whenever we want.

I’ve got more to write! About the Melbourne Greeks most of all but that’s obviously a separate post altogether! Have a great weekend!

MELBOURNE PHOTOS (and some funnies)

Immigration Museum: The caption of the photo reads: Greek immigrants learning English on board the Patris, 1964Pretty clear message, and if you can't read, look at the picture
Beautiful Great Ocean Road

Kostas holding on to Australia as best as he can!
Bernie our guide!

Welcome to Koala land!
Royal botanical gardens. +150y old Tree (and 32y old backpacker)
Rainforest with Søren and Maria - please understand the proportions of the tree above us!

Little Anna, the daughter of the cook in the noodle place we stopped for early dinner on the way back...

Heading back to Melbourne
Food, great food in Melbourne, anyplace anytime!
He has his point of view...
Only if you are a good boy & girl!


koula said...

Hi Costa,
Very touching your little bit about your immigrant grandfather from your mothers side... but its also worth mentioning your grandfather from your fathers side. Remember he also left poor Greece in search of a better life and also a better education for your father to countries which were then quite unknown and difficult to live in. Keep going and keep writing lovely pieces like you have so far.......Lots of love ..Mom

Georgios Teriakidis said...

I think he should START WRITING ABOUT THEM...

Mrs Koula, dont worry... let him come back to, at least Europe(!!!!), and we will take care of him !!!!


ΓΙΩΡΓΟΣ said...

Hi Costas,
While reading your mom’s comment I decide so many years after to dare write in English, although I’m sure that it’s too difficult to express myself so. Of course I agree with your mom! Of course I feel strong the need to add something more.
Many years ago (suppose 50) I have also met your grandfather, Costas, visiting my family at our home at Athens, coming with gifts for all of us (some dollars for me), now remember him as a successful businessman who left also his little village “Rododafni” to work and live so far, smoking “grand cigarettes” as I was always curious to ask him, after met him again at “Akoli” spending time for fishing, after…
It will be also unforgettable to me, all my life, the moment when the four machine of SABENA airplane start to run in front of the «good bye» terrace of the old Athens airport “Elliniko”, forcing chairs and tables to fly and some moments later took for first time your father so long away, looking a better life with his father and brother.
We are all proud when our children do success in their life better than us.
Aim sure that also your father would felt as me, as your mom also does it today.
That’s the reason I did dare it. To thank your mom remember us.
I feel proud for all of us!
Ps. I didn’t use any dictionary! I try to write as I felt.