Sunday, December 21, 2008

the races

I now live in a state that has a civic holiday for a horse race. That’s right, Melbourne Cup Day (November 4th, oddly enough – yes I’m late in posting this) is a public holiday that honors the annual, much anticipated, boisterously celebrated pivitol competition of Melbourne’s season of the sport of horse racing. The races are held at historic Flemington race course in the northern suburbs. Everyone gets extremely dressed up (I wasn’t allowed to enter our picnic area with flat shoes – had to be heels), and some people (ladies especially but not exclusively) spend more time, money, energy, and attention on their race-day outfits – especially their hats – than can possibly be healthy. Done moderately, though, it can be a blast. Basically, it’s like the biggest, fanciest tailgate/barbeque party you’ve ever seen. Some people even seem to watch the horses run, but for most the sport isn’t really the point: to see, be seen, hang out with friends and family, and get drunk seem to be most people’s priorities. We couldn’t even see the racetracks from our spot. Personally, I enjoyed making my “hat,” getting dressed up, and spending the day with my cousins and family.

around the bay in a day

My uncle John drove us all the way around Port Phillip Bay last weekend. We’ve been looking forward to this “around the bay in a day” drive since we arrived, and had the perfect weather for it: it was pouring in Melbourne and its suburbs, which kept most people at home. Leaving the rainclouds behind with the city limits, we had the sunny roads and beaches to ourselves.

Three highlights of the day were vanilla slice, the ferry, and the pier: vanilla slice is a classic Australian dessert consisting of a thick layer of vanilla custard resting between pastry slices with thick white sugar frosting on top. As you can imagine, it squirts out everywhere as soon as you bite into it, making it delightfully impossible to eat politely. A small café at the furthest tip of the bay has what is consistently rated the best vanilla slice in the state of Victoria, which largely inspired our trip in the first place. I truly have never had such delicious vanilla slice. It was the best. Lucky for us, upon arriving we got the very last slice the café had, even though it was still midmorning.

From there, we took a 1-hr ferry ride across the channel that joins the bay to the sea, and enjoyed the views out to the Southern Ocean, with nothing but water between us and Antarctica. The fierce currents, stiff wind, pretty little towns, and bluegreen water made for a gorgeous ride.

On the way back home up the east coast of the bay, we stopped in the town of Rye at a pier where I had gone fishing with my Nonno (grandfather) as a child: it was just as I remembered it, with white sand and the clearest turquoise water deepening so gradually that even a toddler can wade out quite far. I still remember Nonno, an ancestral fisherman from Stromboli, taking such great pride in my catching two fish on the first line I dropped.

Thanks, John, for such a great day!