Sunday 9th January
With my new tour group departing for Canberra at 9.00am this morning, plus some of the group heading to the airport for their onward travels or journeys home, we were up fairly early so I could finish packing my bags. I had some breakfast, said ‘goodbye’ to Jenn, then headed over to the Four Points to meet the group, who had hopefully enjoyed a good first nights’ sleep in Australia. On arrival at the hotel, I did find out that new Howzat Traveller Jim – whilst trying to find the toilet in the night – had found himself locked out of his hotel room wandering the hotel corridors in his underwear! It reminded me of an old Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes TV advert!
The ‘Wombat Tour’ group initially consisted of 15 people, although more were to join us as we made our way around Australia following the cricket. The coached departed on time – on our way to Canberra, via Bowral. The reason we were going to stop at Bowral – a small town in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales – was to visit the world famous Bradman Museum and to catch a charity cricket match being played there, due to feature many celebrities and ex-England and ex-Australia cricketers. However, as we left Sydney on the coach, the weather deteriorated and be soon had huge doubts that the match would go ahead.
As we had feared, the weather in Bowral was miserable and wet, with little sign of things improving in the few hours we were due to spend there. The cricket match – featuring Mark Nicholas’ ‘Chance to Shine’ XI vs the Australian’s ‘Bradman Foundation’ XI – unfortunately fell victim to the weather. It was to be a star-studded affair (more details here: www.internationalcrickethall.com/chance-to-shine-celebrity-cricket-match-bradman-oval) with the coin toss conducted by Sir Michael Parkinson and it was a real shame that the match did not take place. We did however get a good look around the extremely impressive Bradman Museum. Sir Donald Bradman is a cricket legend, not just in Australia but around the world, with a career that clearly places him as the greatest batsman of all time. Bradman grew up in Bowral, and the museum – which features lots of artefacts, imagery and information about him and the history of Australian and world cricket, is a must-see for any cricket fan. As the match did not go ahead, we were also treated to an entertaining Q&A session with some of the stars who were due to play.
So, with a little disappointment, we boarded the coach at made the second half of our wet journey to Canberra. On arrival in Canberra, the rain had slowed but we all had to admit that the weather and general blandness of the city (we all remarked that it reminded us of Milton Keynes back home) made for a grey start to our two-night stay in Australia’s capital city. We all checked into the very pleasant Rydges Capital Hill hotel and soon discovered that the England team were staying there. A few were to be found strolling around the hotel.
That evening, we had organised our tour group welcome meal at the restaurant in the hotel. We all enjoyed some delicious food and nice wine, and it was a good chance for those people who had not yet had the chance to meet to do so. It was also a good opportunity for me to hand out tickets for tomorrow’s PM’s XI v England match. For most, the meal was followed by a few drinks in the bar – a very enjoyable night and a great way to start the tour, despite the disappointment of the cancelled cricket match earlier that day.
Monday 10th January
We awoke to a fairly bright morning, but weather reports were claiming that showers would come and go over the course of the day. After breakfast at the hotel, everyone made the short walk to the nearby Manuka Oval to watch the PM’s XI v England, unsure if it would start at the schedule time of 9.45am as rain had come already.
The ground was delightful and we took up our seats. England fielded a team that would look very much like the team due to play the Twenty20 matches in Adelaide and Melbourne in the coming week. Today’s match was supposed to be a 50-over, but it was eventually shortened to 33 overs and the score determined by D/L as a result of a couple of rain delays. We all enjoyed the match and the atmosphere in the stadium was great.
England won thanks to a superb 124 off 102 balls, and Trott scoring 48, to take England to a 225-3 score (33.3 overs), beating the PM’s XI score of 254-9 (43 overs). Yardy and Shazhad were the pick of the England bowlers, taking three wickets each.
After the match, we all headed back to the hotel to freshen up, then some us headed back toward to the ground to the nearby Kingston Hotel, which had been recommended by Peter our bus driver the day before. The pub was busy and full of cricket fans. We all had something to eat – some of the group choosing the ‘cook your own steak’ option. We all had to laugh as John T spent much longer at the grill than everyone else, and we thought he was cremating his dinner! He claimed he had to cook it longer as it was larger than everyone else’s…
After a couple of bottles of $10 wine (very cheap for Australia!) and a jokes and trivia session, we made our way back to the hotel, bypassing the hotel bar and heading straight to our rooms.
Tuesday 11th January
Today, we were departing the hotel at 4.45pm, so the group had the opportunity to explore the city before we left. However, the miserable, wet weather we awoke to today meant that most people’s plans had to be modified.
Although Canberra has a reputation for not being the most exciting of cities, it does boast some very reputable and impressive museums – the National Museum of Australia and the Australian War Memorial Museum. The poor weather made a visit to the museums the ideal way to spend the day, and those who did so came back to the hotel with glowing reviews.
Personally, I was planning to go into Canberra, but instead decided to stay in the dry of the hotel and catch up with some work, including re-scheduling the plans of one of our customers – Pete – who was currently in Queensland experiencing the awful weather. We managed to re-arrange his itinerary and get him to Melbourne two days earlier.
At 4.45pm, we boarded our coach and headed to the airport for our (very bumpy!) flight to Adelaide.
On arrival in Adelaide, we checked in at the Grand Chancellor on Hindley and headed straight to the hotel bar for a drink, after which I joined Gordon, Lynn, Raymond and Joy to go to the Stag pub at the other end of Rundle Mall. We rounded the night off with a kebab! How very civilised…
Wednesday 12th January
After breakfast at the hotel (alongside the England women’s team, who were also staying at the hotel), my first task was to head to the nearby Intercontinental Hotel to pick up a few more tickets. After I had returned back to the hotel, a group of us headed to the coastal resort of Glenelg, taking the tram. We enjoyed a relaxing morning and lunch strolling around the marina, sea front and promenade. We also bumped into some more of the group, some of whom had relatives and were meeting them for the day before going off to the cricket later. We enjoyed a few lunchtime beers and a spot of lunch, before heading back into Adelaide on the tram, and on to the Adelaide Oval to catch the second half of the Australia v England Women’s Twenty20 match, which England won.
The Adelaide Oval – now even more impressive than ever with the addition of the new Western Grandstand – filled up over the course of the afternoon, and by the time the men’s match was due to start, the stadium had filled and the atmosphere was superb.
The match itself was amazing, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you. To witness England winning with the last ball was truly magical and we all left the stadium absolutely buzzing! A world record Twenty20 win – against the Aussies – in a beautiful stadium under floodlights… you couldn’t script it!
Celebratory drinks were in order, and most of the group made a beeline to a nearby bar where we enjoyed some beers and banter with some locals into the wee hours…
Thursday 13th January
Just as what had happened in Canberra, we awoke on our second morning in a city to rain – and it didn’t stop! Most people’s plans to explore the city and walk along with the river were dashed and they had to make do with exploring the shops or simply relaxing with a book in the hotel after they had checked out. Again, I took the opportunity to catch up with some work and set myself up in the business centre at the hotel for a few hours.
We departed the hotel at 2.30pm for the airport. The flight was straightforward and we when we landed, we found Melbourne to be even wetter than Adelaide! We jumped on our coach and made our way into the city to check into the Mantra on Russell hotel. I immediately met up with a few more customers who had already made their way to Melbourne – Pete, Nigel and Lynn – to let them have their tickets for the two cricket matches taking place here in Melbourne.
Despite the awful weather, some of the group still ventured out to explore and find somewhere to have a drink. I personally had a relaxing evening and popped downstairs, out of the hotel and into nearby Chinatown – to pick up a takeaway.
The rain came down throughout the warm and humid evening, and we all hoped that it would dry up in time for tomorrow’s Twenty20 match at the MCG.
Friday 14th January
Well, the weather we were faced with when we awoke on our first morning in Melbourne was dreadful; torrential rain that looked like it would never end! It was not much fun going out as you got drenched immediately, so I personally decided to catch up with a few jobs, including some laundry at the nearby launderette. Amazingly, the rain cleared by 2pm and even the preceding women’s match at the MCG was able to be played, albeit in shortened overs. England women won again!
I made my way down to the MCG later in the afternoon, to soak up the atmosphere for a couple of hours before the second KFC Twenty20 match commenced. The awful weather earlier in the day had clearly put quite a few Australians off coming to the MCG, so the stadium was a long way off full at the time the match started. However, it did fill up over the course of the evening and the official attendance was 58,000-odd. The MCG is a truly remarkable sporting arena, and watching a match under the giant floodlights made the experience even more enchanting.
In terms of the match, the wet weather had clearly affected the playing surface and the pitch was very slow. Australia won the toss and chose to bat, knocking up a seemingly-reachable score of 147-7. We were all confident that England would win again, and in more comfortable fashion than in Adelaide. However, it was not to be and England pulled up short on 143-6. Another close match that came down to the last ball again!
On the way back to the hotel, a few of us stopped at the James Squires pub on Russell Street to enjoy a couple of ales. This was a watering hole discovered by some of the boys who had highly-recommended the selection of locally-brewed beers available. It was a Friday night in Melbourne and the pubs were busy, and after two or three drinks, I made my excuses and took the short walk back to the hotel to hit the hay. The guys stopped out for another one, and headed back not too long after me.
Saturday 15th January
After breakfast this morning, we had a few more customers joining the tour – I met Margaret and Barbara who had just flown into Melbourne from the UK, and let them freshen up in my room as theirs was not quite ready yet. An hour or so after that, I popped downstairs again to meet Vicki – who had been with us in Sydney for the fifth Test Match, and since then had been doing her own tailor-made itinerary in New Zealand. After welcoming all three new tour group additions to Melbourne, handing them their tickets and some useful information, I got myself ready.
My friend from home who now lived in Sydney – Ben – was joining me in Melbourne for the weekend, and he arrived mid-morning. We enjoyed a day in the sun, catching up with some food and drinks on the South Bank, and a trip up the ever impressive Eureka Skydeck – the highest viewing platform in the southern hemisphere.
The rest of the Howzat Travellers spent the day in various ways – either exploring the city, or heading down to St. Kilda. Some of the boys even walked the 4.5 miles to St. Kilda, enjoying a well-deserved few drinks in a pub on their arrival. It was a gorgeous day to spend outside enjoying what Melbourne and the surrounding area has to offer.
Ben and I met up with my friends Jules and Kate later on, and enjoyed drinks in some bars we never would have found ourselves, including a couple of rooftop bars. Our night was finished off by a Chinese meal in Chinatown then a drink in the nearby German pub…
Sunday 16th January
Today was a beautiful day and I woke fairly early in preparation for my morning jobs. After breakfast, I headed down to Melbourne Park to pick up some extra Australian Open tennis tickets, then made the very pleasant walk along the south bank of the Yarra River to the Crowne Plaza hotel to greet a new customer – Gerry – who had flown in to Melbourne for a nine-night stay specifically to watch the tennis. After having a good chat and providing him with his tickets, I made my way back up to the Mantra on Russell to meet Ben. After a quick trip to the supermarket to stock up on supplies for the day, we then met Vicki back at the hotel and three of us walked down to the MCG and took our positions for the first ODI between Australia and England. The rest of the group made their own way down and joined us in our sun-drenched seats.
When the match started, the MCG was again far from full, with just 36,000 people in attendance, but the atmosphere was still good. It was a very hot day – one of the hottest we’d experienced yet on tour – and we all made sure we had out sun cream and hats on. Today was exactly 40 years since the first One Day International was played – and coincidentally at the MCG – so there was a retro theme to the game, with many of the crowd and even the players at the start, sporting retro clothes, wigs and moustaches. It was a very funny sight!
The shock news today was that Collingwood had been dropped as a result of his recent form batting form, with Trott coming in. The match started with England winning the toss and electing to bat. They amassed a score of 294 –their highest total against Australia on their turf. Pietersen struck 78, Strauss 63 and Davies 42, but it was not enough to go up against awesome performance of Shane Watson who put in what was described by Strauss as “one of the great one-day innings” after he scored a superb 161 not out, leading Australia to 297 for 4.
We all walked out of the MCG disappointed with the result but acknowledging that when faced with such a performance as Watson has given us, it seems only right that he was on the winning team. Some of the group popped into the James Squires on the way home – while most continued back to the hotel with the aim of getting a good nights sleep in preparation for the tennis tomorrow.
Monday 17th January
After breakfast, we all took the walk down to Melbourne Park to attend the first day of the Australian Open Tennis. It was a slightly overcast and cooler day, so no repeat of the intense heat we had experienced the day before.
We all had Rod Laver Arena tickets and excellent seats, and were treated to matches between Maria Sharapova and Tamarine Tanasugar (Sharpova won easily 6-1 6-3), women’s world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and Gisela Dul (Wozniaki won 6-3 6-4, despite a spirited [performance by Dul), and then the mighty Roger Federer against Lukas Lacko, in which Federer put on a masterclass performance to win 6-1 6-1 6-3, despite Lacko playing very well himself. Everyone enjoyed the day at the tennis, which was a nice variation from the cricket we had primarily come to Australia to watch.
After the day session in the Rod Laver Arena was over, some of the group went back into the city, whilst others headed out into the grounds of Melbourne Park to take in some of the other matches. A few of us witnessed some of the Tomas Berdych v Marco Crugnola match, which Berdych won 6-4 6-0 6-2. Alison and Joy had tickets for the Rod Laver Arena night session, so they had that to look forward to. After the Berdych match, Ben and I then headed back to the hotel for a quick turnaround, then back into the city along Collins Street looking for some bars that had been highly recommended to us by some of the group, who had found this highly-recommended mini pub crawl a couple of days previous… so, we went in search of The Charles Dickens Tavern, The Sherlock Holmes Inn and The MitreTavern. We found them all, and although we were too late to order food, we enjoyed a few ales then headed back toward the hotel and enjoyed some Thai food, washed down with some BYO wine.
Tuesday 18th January
With nothing in the diary today, I took the opportunity to stay at the hotel and spend the day catching up with work. Seven of the group had taken up the option of a second day session at the cricket, and as I chatted to some of them over breakfast I discovered that today they would get to see Rafael Nadal play Marcus Daniel. In fact, as it turned out, the three matches scheduled for the Rod Laver Arena were very one-sided and over very quickly, so the organisers moved one of the other matches originally due to play in one of the outer courts, into the Rod Laver, and everyone was thoroughly entertained by a gripping three-set match between Molik & Vinci.
Back at the hotel, I saw off one of our group, John E, at 2.30pm. He was heading back home after being out in Australia since the start of the Sydney Test. We both had to laugh when his airport transfer turned up – a stretched white limousine! We were only expecting something like an executive saloon, so were surprised to see that the chauffeur company had sent such a vehicle. John did ask the driver if there was any champagne in the car, but alas, there was not.
Some of the group had used the free day to explore the city and also do the MCG tour, which they thoroughly enjoyed. Mark and Jo did the Penguins, Koalas and Devonshire Tea tour, which they also said was excellent…