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First Impressions of a ‘Land Down Under’

As I heaved my back pack from the back of the camper van, I stumbled sideways as I grunted and squealed making a big to do about simply trying to slip my arms through the shoulder straps. I could have sworn it somehow weighed more than when I originally packed it, but I quickly dismissed the idea as impossible seeing as how I already used and trashed a good portion of the toiletries I started with. As I turned and walked away from the camper van and toward the airport shuttle an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and excitement caught me off guard. Out of the blue, I was proud I had just survived more than three weeks living in a camper van, and even better I was headed down under.

Since I was a child, I’ve always dreamed of going to Australia. That’s when an Aussie baseball team signed up for a tournament in Boulder, and we housed several of the players and coaches. It seemed so foreign to me – the accent, the vegemite they carried with them (honestly!) and the stories they told of creatures crawling in the outback.

After more than three hours on the most uncomfortable plane I’ve ever been on, we descended through the darkness toward the twinkling lights in the distance. I closed my eyes and imagined the red, dry earth hopping with ‘roos and poisonous snakes sprawling beneath the plane. If I would have let myself deeper into this so-called day dream, I would have heard the vibrant voices of Men at Work belting “Land Down Under”. Luckily, I put a stop to my knowingly inaccurate visions before they reached complete absurdity. We landed, picked up our rental car and headed into the heart of Melbourne where we were lucky enough to shack up with one of Dan’s friends.

Groggy from staying up all night catching up, we finally drug ourselves from slumber to start the day. First things first – laundry. I piled the clothes into the washing machine and finagled with the foreign buttons until I was sufficiently satisfied it would work before taking a seat on the ground directly in front of the washer. Several minutes had already passed by the time Dan walked into the hallway and found me entranced by swishing water and clothing being tossed around through the glass. It was as if I had never seen a washing machine before. We’d only been living on wheels for three weeks. It wasn’t as if we were lost from society altogether. Never-the-less, I sure acted like it. I quickly pulled myself up from the floor and headed to the bathroom where Dan had momentarily left the water running while it warmed for a shower. He returned to find me once again standing staring blankly at the steam rising from the shower head. Catching myself in the act this time, I pronounced my actions pathetic and wandered out to the couch to rest.

Our boots hit the ground in Melbourne sometime that afternoon. As I walked block after block of the bustling city sidewalks, I become more and more convinced they only rarely saw a pair like Dan and me. I imagined for each time my grey, dust-covered, and to be honest quite butch-looking hiking boot struck the pavement, I could hear ten times the stiletto heels doing the same.

The high-tech, high-fashion, modern culture breeds in Melbourne. Very few women, tourists included, step out without putting on a show. The streets are lined with high-priced boutiques and international fashion houses filled with people who have yet to learn there is more to life than the newest Prada purse. Ok, Ok…that may be a big assumption by me – but, you know the type I’m talking about.

The city itself is an eclectic mix of architecture from beautifully ornate and historic churches to towering, glass-walled sky scrapers and bizarrely designed art galleries and sporting grounds. Melbourne seems to combine the best of the top U.S. cities. As a matter of fact, life here is so parallel to the United States, if it weren’t for driving on the left, trying to convert celsius to fahrenheit and adding ‘er’ to end of most words, you would think you were still in the states.

While I may have been looking for something more “exotic”, I felt a little more at home in Melbourne. Many of the houses outside of the city boast a very similar architecture to New Orleans. The two-story, french-like dwellings with detailed iron balconies stand tall above the small cottages, while although slightly wider, do resemble a traditional New Orleans shotgun with a little twist.

During our five days here, we wandered most of downtown’s busy streets, strolled through the sprawling Royal Botanic Gardens, caught a neighborhood farmers market at the Gasworks Art Center as well as perused the stalls at the massive Queen Victoria Market, grabbed a pair of tickets to our first Australian rules football game also known as “Footy”, toured the National Gallery of Victoria, walked down the funky Chapel and Brunswick Streets in the hip Fitzroy district, walked through an open wildlife sanctuary to get up close with koalas and kangaroos and left the city behind altogether for several wine tastings at the wonderful wineries of the Yarra Valley Wine Country.

Now, we’re headed west in search of the Australia I’ve dreamed of, and yes – I do realize it’s mostly just a stereotype. We fly into Alice Springs today and are heading toward Ayers Rock, also known as Uluru. Yep, it’s back into a camper van again – but this time we’re preparing for 90 plus degree temperatures and something modeled after an ol’ Volkswagon instead of the ‘Cadillac’ of camper vans we so lavishly lived in during our time in New Zealand. Wish us luck!