Planes, Trains and err… Melbourne

My original plan was to arrive in Adelaide, spend the day there wandering around the city and then catching the overnight Greyhound coach to Melbourne.

It wasn’t a bad plan. Or at least wouldn’t have been had I not just spent the last two days traveling down from Darwin on The Ghan.

The Ghan is a nice leisurely ride from the North coast to the South coast. It passes through the “Red Centre” of Australia and it is fascinating to sit and watch this alien world slide by.

It also doesn’t half make you feel like a peasant if you are in the cheap seats like I was. 

Announcements would come over the speaker making frequent mention of Ghan Radio and other entertainment all available at the touch of a button on your console. That is the console that does not exist if you are in Red Day/Night class. There is a Wi-Fi signal, but you cannot use it for it is only for Gold class and up. 

The Red Day/Night class is the first car behind the engine and the staff car. The staff from the Red Class cafe were polite and helpful. The staff that passed through from the other classes plainly couldn’t give a shit. On my first night I lost count of how many times I was woken up by the door slamming shut as another member of staff passed through the carriage. A good proper slam, every single time and every single time you’d hear the noise of 20 people being rudely awoken.

I purchased a pass to sit in the lounge car. This was the only place where power points are provided.

Let’s just run through that again. 

This was a 47 hour train journey costing AU$431. A not inconsiderable sum of money. For this you get a seat that was roughly the same size as a domestic airline flight, but with much more legroom. This is to accommodate how far it can recline, as this is also to function as your bed. 

There are two toilets, one shower and a water dispenser.

Thank you for choosing the Ghan. Everything else beyond oxygen will now cost you money.

That’s 47 hours with no food, drinks (beyond water), entertainment or power provided. 

47 Hours at $9.17 per hour.

I don’t expect much. But when even the low cost airlines who trim everything they can off of the experience give you a meal on a 5 hour flight, then there are questions to be asked. I’ve done big train journeys before –  at least three 20+ hour trips in America. Even for the journeys lasting a 6 hours or so, the seats were larger, and they fed and watered you – and frankly Amtrak were crap. When crap is outdoing you, you have an issue. Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai sleepers were orders of magnitude better then this.

I frankly wouldn’t have enjoyed myself at all had I not paid to use the lounge. At least there the chairs were comfortable, and as it was open plan the people weren’t all jammed in together. 

I spent most of the journey in that lounge. Which is why is was surprising to overhear a couple of cleaners in Alice Springs talking about how they were going to get rid of the lounge so they could fit more Gold passengers in. This was news to one of them, who responded with venom about how the management were ruining the company. My favourite part of her invective was when she told of how every female member of staff had been sent on courses on how to apply makeup recently but at the same time reduced the amount of cleaning supplies to save money.

I do imagine that the Ghan is a completely different experience when sat in the Gold Class or higher. 

The Ghan is so large that at Alice Springs we pulled up so far from the platform that it was a genuine 5 minute walk. We stopped twice – once to let the Gold Class off, then pulled forward to let the Platinum off. In fact in Darwin the Gold and Platinum passengers were put on coaches and driven along the platform to their respective carriages, as us in Red trudged to ours in the pouring rain. In Katherine I watched as two passengers disembarked from the train, closely followed by a steward who then followed them to the station whilst holding an umbrella over them to keep the sun off. 

You get what you pay for of course, but bloody hell. I mean when you see stuff like that its not difficult to think back to Titanic.

In short, Red Class is the new name for Steerage and you will be reminded of this constantly on your journey.

Amazingly for a train, we arrived in Adelaide early. I took a shuttle bus directly to the airport as I had a freshly booked flight to catch. I’d realised that taking an overnight bus straight after 2 bad nights sleep on an uncomfortable train. It was a wise choice as whilst waiting for the flight I couldn’t stop myself from feeling like the room was moving as my equilibrium fought to rebalance itself. 

I arrived in Melbourne at 9pm. As we touched down the pilot welcomed us and told us that the outside temperature was 41℃. I thanked my brain for overruling itself and not putting my body on a bus for 13 hours. 

My hotel was pretty decent, and as it turns out was in an excellent location. I’d like to claim it was down to excellent planning, but the truth is it was down to them offering the largest discount on a last minute booking. 

My plan was to sit down, relax get decently clean and then sleep. I managed the sleep part, pretty much the second I got in the room. I was only going to close my eyes for a second, and then I found myself looking at a clock that said 3am. Or as my body was used to – 9pm.

Got to love those time zone changes.

I woke again late the next morning and got showered and changed before being picked up by Tony, who I had last seen in Singapore, who was taking me for a bit of a drive where we could get lunch. 

Tony took us to a great pub restaurant in Williamstown, where we also met up with Tony’s girlfriend. We chatted for a while about where I’d been since Tony’s trip had ended, how I was finding Australia and generally had a good old natter. Then we took a short walk along the promenade, and down to the jetty where we could look out on St. Kilda. 

Williamstown is an attractive place. It puts me in mind of a British seaside town. Which considering the countries shared roots, really isn’t that surprising. 

Afterwards we took the long way back into the city and parted ways. It was great to see a familiar face again and not something I’d really been expecting until I returned home. Tony was the first person that I’d spoken to that I knew since I saw Karen in Xi’an, and that now seems a very long time ago. He’s also the first person that I’ve met up with that I have met on my travels. 

I’d love to return the favour one day, but I can’t see him paying a visit to Guernsey from Australia!

After meeting Tony, I made my way to AAMI Park. Melbournes football stadium, where I watched the match between Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix. 

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, or even at what level the sport it. There is something about approaching a sports stadium that gives you that buzz of excitement. It was present here as I joined the thousands making their way through the turnstiles and into the ground. 

AAMI park may not have the largest capacity, but it undoubtably a top class facility. With the Melbourne skyline directly behind it, it also has one of the most impressive backdrops of any stadiums I have ever been to. 

The for the first 30 minutes, my overall impression was that everything about this club was great. They stadium was amazing, the pitch was pristine. There was a hardcore of fans chanting and singing the entire was through. All in all top class. 

Except one thing.

The football.

The match was appalling for those first 30 odd minutes. Every second touch was a 50-50 or a misplaced pass. Melbourne were trying to push forward, but they were rushing it and making basic errors. They had a right winger how was driving me so mad that I asked the guy next to me what his reputation was like here. 

“Oh, he’s one of our best” was the response. 

He didn’t look it in this game. He was pushing so far forward that he was leaving huge gaps between himself and his full back. Gaps which Wellington were easily able to plug with players. The Victory centre-mid was winning the ball constantly in midfield and looking to play the quick pass out to the right. If someone with pace, like Aaron Lennon was out there, hanging back getting the ball to feet and running at the defence they would have slaughtered them. But this guy was so far up that the pass was never or, or a long ball in the air was played that was easily intercepted. 

I was talking to the guy about this, and he mentioned that he normally played on the left. The coach must have noticed this, because he then switched the wingers over and the new right winger was instantly more dangerous. 

Five minutes later the first goal came – with a cross from the right wing. The ball being played from the centre with a quick pass out. 

The manager did a good job at half time, because in the 2nd Melbourne were dominant. They slowed the pace right down, and stopped with the little flicks and tricks that had caused them to give the ball away so much in the 1st half. 

They ended up winning 2-0. It could have been much more but for poor finishing and hitting the post twice. 

It was a much, much more entertaining game in the 2nd half, and I’d quite happily go to more matches if I was living in Melbourne and it was a decent way to end an enjoyable day.

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