As Rohinton Mistry would say ...'Such a long journey'! Even if the two cities, Sydney and Melbourne, are divided by just an hour and a half of flying time, they are worlds apart! Melbourne is more celebral and snob. Sydney, sexy and frisky. Take your pick. I enjoy both, so I refuse to take sides. But to quote a die -hard Melbourne lover, who shall go nameless, "Sydney is like a beautiful woman, a seductress, who cannot possibly hold anybody's interest once her looks fade!" Oh dear, oh dear. Cutting edge comparison? Or just cutting?
I have been in and around Melbourne for the past three days. The reason you didn't find me here was because of a techno hiccup - no internet access! I'll be leaving Amazing Australia and Marvellous Melbourne a few hours from now. But somehow, I know in my heart it is a temporary goodbye. Please note, nobody pays me to say any of this! Put simply, Australia remains one of my top destinations. I have never had anything but the best time here. I find the people disarmingly casual and appealingly unfussy about everything they enjoy in such abundance. The word I keep hearing over and over again is "lucky". Nearly every Australian one meets uses that word after a short conversation - " Aren't we lucky to have all this?" they exclaim , almost incredulously. Indeed , they are. Australia has managed to ride the global economic breakdown better than most other countries, and one sees happy faces despite the recession and loss of jobs, since people have faith in their government and realise it could have been a lot worse.
Melanie de Souza is a Mumbai girl who has made Melbourne her home. Talking to her and Greg Hywood at 'Gingerboy' ,a high concept restaurant featuring robust street flavours of South East Asian cuisine, I got the impression the Premier is tackling the racial attacks on a war footing, and ensuring our Indian students feel safe and welcome. Just as well.... it has been a two way arrangement that was working for both parties till the 'incidents' took place. I have to say this, there was a much more visible cop presence in Melbourne on a busy saturday night than I'd observed in Sydney. The crackdown on binge drinking is underway and I hope we can enforce it as effectively in Mumbai, too.
I have kept the best for last - The Great Ocean Road! The hands down , piece de resistance of our Australian trip has to be this magnificent stretch. It is nothing short of a miracle. I saw it as a touching poem to the pioneering spirit of Australia, that says so much about those World War 1 servicemen who built this 250- odd kms road, starting in 1919 and completing it in 1932. It is as much a moving memorial to those who lost their lives in the war, as an unbelievable engineering feat that was achieved by men labouring with nothing more elaborate than picks and shovels. Today, it rates as one of the most scenic routes in the world, with good reason. The sprawling National Park through which The Great Ocean Road winds its way, is treated as a precious treasure by all Australians, and you won't find a single empty bottle or scrap of paper anywhere. We were 'lucky' - yes, just like the Aussies - Tony Poletto had organised a glorious day, with fluffy , white clouds and mild temperatures.Which was perfect chopper weather for a scenic spin along the coastline in a dazzling yellow helicopter. We took off and hit 1,000 feet above sea level within minutes with Grant Braban,the English copter pilot ( who drives a James Bond style Jaguar on the ground). He pointed out all the main features of the spectacular Twelve Apostles - the world famous limestone formations along the Shipwreck Coast in the South Seas. Unfortunately, the white whales had left for cooler waters after calving here, but that did not take away from our excitement as the chopper soared over the crystal clear, turquoise blue ocean below us.
Earlier, we had driven to what is rapidly becoming a very upmarket, chic destination for well heeled tourists in search of serious pampering. Daylesford is at the heart of Victoria's Spa Country. I was enchanted by the art on the walls of the gourmet paradise, Lake House. Turned out the satirical and witty canvases were painted by the owner Allan Wolf Tasker. His chef-wife Alla is featured on the menu card, and that work is titled 'Rousseau's Sleeping Chef'' - an obvious tribute to the original - Henri Rousseau's ' The Sleeping Gypsy'. This Russian emigre couple is credited with having carved out and created this special destination which is now renowned for its superlative cuisine and also for attracting an artistic community from around the world.
The person I most wanted to kidnap was the gorgeous Tina Binitska, whose Greek parents came to Australia when she was a little girl. The story of how Tina bid for and finally bought an abandoned convent to set up an arts complex aptly called 'The Convent', that is also a top rated wedding venue in Australia, is a story by itself. All I can tell you is with her dancing eyes and dynamic managerial skills, Tina, a Piscean, rules!
Aah well... some good things in life do come to an end.
I bid 'Adieu' to Melbourne and Australia.... but like Napoleon famously boasted, I shall be back.
I have still to sip the Sparkling Chandon. Reason enough!