Champions League build up

It’s the Champions League Final today — kick off is in a little over 14 hours, at 4:45am here in Melbourne. |-)

I’ve got the house to myself while Sara and Charlotte are overseas, so I’m having a United day today. I’ll be watching the Treble season DVD, the Road To Moscow DVD and as many previews and TV build-up programmes as I can download (like the excellent YouTube clip, above). I might even have a silly online bet or two. \:d/

It feels like FA Cup Final day used to be when you were a kid, long before the days of Sky. I just hope the real United turns up this time, unlike the last time we met Barcelona. ~X(

I’d better pop to the shops and make sure I’ve got enough supplies to keep me going. ~o)

Edit: Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United. It looked promising for the first ten minutes, then Barca showed their class. That was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from any team, we were completely outplayed. No complaints, there’s a reason they’ve won it three times in the last five years. Ah well, we still got title number 19 this year and there’s the massive Charity Shield to look forward to in 10 weeks. =d>

A few beers in Melbourne

Yesterday Andy, John and I spent an afternoon wandering around Melbourne city centre. Having lived here for five years, I can’t believe we haven’t had an all day pub crawl before now. :-??

First stop was the Charles Dickens Tavern on Collins St where, over a pint of Tetleys, we reviewed the itinerary that I’d put together the night before. Most of the pubs on my list are quirky, which either serve Aussie craft beer or have a good range of imported stuff. I like the Charles Dickens; it’s hidden away in a basement below one of Melbourne’s busiest streets, but inside it’s like stepping back to the 1970s, it has a few English beers on tap and it’s also a great place to watch football (they show every big game).

Next up, just across the road to the Sherlock Holmes Inn. This is another low-ceilinged downstairs bar which you could easily miss if you didn’t know about it. It’s only a small place and, on a Friday lunchtime, it was packed to bursting. Hobgoblin was on draught here.

Third was the Mitre Tavern, pictured above, which was possibly my favourite find of the day. This claims to be the oldest building in Melbourne, dating back to 1837, tucked away in a laneway between Collins St and Little Collins St. It’s a real gem — lots of interesting drinks on tap and a shady beer garden. Our choice of Mountain Goat Steam Ale wasn’t great, but you’ve got to try these things. I’ll definitely go back there, it’d be fantastic in summer.

The Saint & Rogue, a little further up Little Collins St, was next. A pint of St Arnou and some food to soak it up. Although the food was good, the beer wasn’t up to much. We were also asked to move from the nice comfy Chesterfield seats to make way for a private function which didn’t seem to materialise, so I wasn’t too impressed with this one.

Heading back into town, we stopped off in the Irish Times Hotel, supposedly Melbourne’s smallest Irish pub. Nothing special, would probably skip this one next time.

No day out in Melbourne would be complete without a visit to a James Squire Brewhouse, so we called at the Portland Hotel on Russell St for a pint of their porter.

We then paid a visit to The Elephant & Wheelbarrow on Exhibition St, always worth a visit for the range of English beers on tap.

Our last stop, just across the road, was the European Bier Cafe which was packed to the rafters, as you’d expect on a Friday evening. I reckon this place would be great at a quieter time, but it was just too loud to be enjoyable despite the excellent draught Hoffbrau.

We hopped on the train where we finished the day off with a really good curry in Bayswater. (Thanks for picking us up, Johanne.)

Considering most Aussie pubs are rubbish — they look the same, serve the same range of uninteresting mass-produced licensed beer, even serve the same food — I think we did pretty well for a first attempt at a Melbourne pub crawl. It’s all about doing a bit of homework and planning the route. Next time we’ll probably focus on a different part of the city, such as Richmond or Collingwood where there are a few interesting places.

On my way home

Well my 2011 European tour is about to draw to a close; I’m currently sitting at Manchester Airport waiting to begin my long journey home. :-h

After working in Belgium and Germany, I spent just over a week in England but feel like I squeezed even more into it than in our previous visits. Sara and Charlotte were already over here, of course, so I joined them at Granny’s house last Saturday and they’ll stay on for another couple of weeks.

The first thing I noticed was how much Charlotte’s speech and behaviour had changed in the two weeks while they’ve been away: she’s turned into a real little chatterbox and plays differently than she did before, but she has somehow managed to pick up some very naughty words which, to be fair, she uses in correct context, but we definitely need to nip that habit in the bud! [-x

It was great to catch up again with family and friends, including the traditional all-dayer in Manchester with Adrian, Duncan and Paul; the evening pub crawl around Lees with Max & Diane, Rob & Lynda, Stuart and Phil; and the football in the Black Horse and a curry out with Tom. We even managed a day on Blackpool beach — 10 degrees C with gale-force winds! As usual the time flew by all too quickly and it wasn’t possible to see everyone this time.

My edible highlights included:

  • Four curries (Vamasaki at Grains Bar [x2], Blue Tiffin in Higginshaw, Swadesh in Manchester
  • Two “Village Special” kebabs from Lees
  • A fabulous 7-course Tasting Dinner with matched wines at Hipping Hall, in the Lake District — worth a separate blog entry
  • Countless pints of real beer, often accompanied by proper Pork Scratchings
  • Pork pies galore, black pudding and even ‘duck a muffin’

My final challenge will be getting back into Australia tomorrow. Sara and I both stupidly allowed our Australian Permanent Resident visas to expire and therefore, as we left Melbourne, discovered that we wouldn’t be allowed back into the country. It’s really just a formality (and $260) to get a new one, but it does take time to process: Sara applied for one via the High Commission in London when she arrived and has now received it.

But, as I knew I wouldn’t be staying in England for more than a week, I tried the “quicker” method and made my online application four days before I left Melbourne (as advised by Immigration officials at the airport). Unfortunately due to the long Easter weekend (plus Anzac Day public holiday in Australia), my “on shore” application wasn’t even looked at until I was already out of the country (and therefore no longer eligible for an “on shore” visa), so they suspended it. :-< After exchanging several emails with Australian Immigration, they've advised me to request a temporary "Border Visa" which will be issued on my arrival in Melbourne. However convincing British Airways to fly me to Australia without holding a valid visa has been a real pain, including having to check in at Manchester some 12 hours before my scheduled flight (to ensure they could speak directly to Canberra for approval). :-ss Anyway, they've just checked my bag through to Melbourne and I've got two boarding cards in my hand, so I think I'll be OK. That said, I'm expecting to be held up at Melbourne airport for quite a while when I arrive tomorrow -- I'm on the A380 via Hong Kong, so it's a good bet that some of the 525 passengers will be trying to smuggle tiger penises and suchlike through customs; I don't think dealing with some idiot who forgot to renew his visa will be very high on their list of priorities. :-w If you don't hear from me, I'll probably be stuck somewhere in transit like Tom Hanks in "The Terminal“.

[Edit: Picture to follow]