In a Continent Far Far Away

In early December, London is freezing; the weather has never been one of the perks of this city. Nonetheless, I am experiencing one of the most astonishing and incredible periods of my life. After the nightmare I went through during my Ph.D., I had a great year, and December seems to be the icing on the cake. Just one week has passed, and so many things have happened; it’s strange that it’s already time to leave. Yeah, because December, usually one of my favorite periods of the year when Christmas comes, still had a lot of surprises.

This has been a long-desired trip, and I was enthusiastic when my colleague and friend, Robert, proposed to go together to Australia. He’s from Melbourne and wanted to go back there for the summer. Yeah, because while London freezes, Australia is embracing the warm summer atmosphere. We left the office Friday evening; as usual, train strikes made it difficult to reach the airport, where a 23-hour flight (with a stop in Abu Dhabi) was waiting for us.

I was quite lucky; in the second flight, the longest one, while the plane was fully packed, my row was empty, and I could sleep like a baby. On the other hand, I used the first one to watch the whole Matrix trilogy, which I don’t recommend to anyone.

We arrived in Sydney on Sunday, where we parted as I went to the house of some friends of mine, Davide and Luana, whom I’ve known since I was 14. They just moved there. Ironically, when I moved to London, they were the first to visit me, and now, totally unplanned, I am the first to visit them in their new place in the southern hemisphere.

I was well-rested, so we could immediately go out and visit the city. Sydney looks to me like a very large vacation village. Many things carry names of places you can find in London: Hyde Park, Paddington, Covent Garden, etc., but the city is not at all similar to London or any other European city. There are not many historical monuments, as it’s a very modern country. The Cathedral, even though it tries to emulate the Gothic-medieval style of European churches, has clearly been built in the last century, so in the end, it is an example of Gothic revival architecture. Parks and green zones are abundant, and one thing that immediately struck me was the massive presence of ibis around the town. We went towards the opera house, probably the most relevant and only well-known monument of the whole country. The most amazing thing about it is its position, right on the sea!

Then we had a typical Australian lunch, as expected for every first lunch on a trip, a pizza at an Italian stand in the nearby food street festival. We took a walk along the sea, in the Barangaroo reserve, definitely my favorite part of the city. Full of restaurants and clubs and a wide walkway with quite a view of the Sydney harbour and skyline. We concluded our day with a dinner with Robert, his girlfriend Kelsey, and his cousin’s family, again at a very typical Mediterranean restaurant, where I could try a “scrumptious” dessert called tiramisu, which has nothing in common with a real tiramisu…

The day after, Monday, Davide went to work, blessing me with a kiss on the forehead before leaving, and Luana and I, on the other hand, started our day with the facilities present in their building: gym, swimming pool, sauna, and spa, before having avocado toast for breakfast. We then spent the morning discovering the city; in particular, we visited the inside of the Cathedral where a replica of Michelangelo’s Pietas can be found. We joined Davide for lunch in Hyde Park, just in front of his office before heading to the Taronga Zoo, on the other side of the harbor. Usually, I don’t like zoos; I feel animals suffer in those, but here, in Sydney, animals live in large “open” enclosures. There are a bunch of experiences every day to let people come into contact with the animals and learn about them. It also has a prominent role in the preservation of the local Australian fauna. In addition, I only found here some of the animals I have been able to stare at on this new continent: Tasmanian devils, dingos, quokkas, and platypus, as well as my little cousin’s favorite animal, the Capybara. I also bought him a plush of the aforementioned for Christmas (with hindsight, definitely his favorite 2023 Christmas present). One more reason to go there is that it has an amazing view over all Sydney’s Bay.

The day after, I had my first, and only for now, surf lesson, at Manly Beach. The tide was low, which is quite good when one has to learn. Our teacher was a very extroverted Japanese guy, which was surprising for me! It was a lot of fun, but I don’t think I have been able to remain on top of the board for more than two full runs, one of which is proudly reported here. Robert had a much higher success rate. I also burned myself as I did not use any protective cream while surfing.

Last day in Sydney, started as usual, with Davide leaving for work and blessing me in the usual way ahah, me and Luana went on a long walk along the whole costline, from Cooge Beach all the way down to Bondi Beach. It was fun, but incredibly hot. Some incredible houses are built on the coast, and it was interesting to observe the presence of cemeteries, adorned with banana trees, instead of cypresses at the very top of the cliffs. I concluded my last day in Sydney with a steak in a restaurant on the harbour at Barangaroo, with Davide and Luana, and then a scrumptious gelato from an italian ice cream shop.

Me, Robert and Kelsey left Sydney with a rented car; our final destination: Melbourne, Robert’s home town. But before that, we planned a road trip and various camping.

Firs stop was a cave in a mountain, with stallatites and stallagmites. Actually, the beginning of this road trip didn’t go as planned! As Robert forgot that the reservation for the cave was the day before. Anyway, Australians are very kind and they modified our reservation without cost. I am not sure this would have been possible in UK. Lucas’cave was nice, temperature inside the mountain are very low, at the end I was feeling cold with just a T-Shirt. There are some really astonishing rooms, such as the cathedral room and some calcareus formations shaped as curtains which were enchanting. One of the room had also an excellent acoustic, and our guide asked Kelsey to sing in front of everybody.

During our road trip, we always slept in a tent, either in proper camping areas or in the forest. I was surprised that I couldn’t find any giant spiders, black widows, or large snakes during these days. My expectations, raised mostly thanks to Instagram reels, were quite deluded on this point. The closest thing was the track of a snake in the forest, but I must admit I can find them also at the Mercadante Forest near Bari. Anyway, the places where we camped were astonishing, usually next to shores, and the music was adapted to the trip, such as the mostly iconic Australian songs (my favorites were Slim Dusty’s ones, above all “Duncan” and “G’Day G’Day”) and Christmas songs, the latter were obviously chosen by me. Sometimes we had dinner on the shore at sunset and stared at the southern hemisphere starry night.

The following days were spent between small villages and nature, walking along immense beaches where I could also draw a heart with Robert and Kelsey’s initials within it and a much more insightful pictorial description of Riemannian integrals. We hiked inside a natural park, where we could see Kangaroos, Wallabies and Emus.

Before reaching Melbourne, we stopped at Phillip Island. Here we walked inside a natural reserve and observed Koalas in their habitat. These are the perfect animals; they eat and sleep, and that’s it. They sleep 20 hours a day, something I often crave. At night we went to the beach, facing the Pacific Ocean to stare at the Fairy penguins’ parade.

Fairy penguins are the smallest penguins in the world; they are around 30 cm tall and are kind of cowards. Their predators are large birds and seals, and even if there weren’t any of those nearby, they may still get scared by seagulls, which, on the other hand, are not interested in them.

Every night they come back from the ocean to their nests, just beyond the shore. They march in groups on the shore, but if a seagull makes some unexpected movement, they immediately revert and run back to the ocean. Getting back home is a long process, and we had to endure rain to see it completed by some groups. But it was definitely one of the best, if not THE best experience of the whole trip.

Finally, we arrived in Melbourne. The first thing we did, without even going to the apartment, was going to a climbing gym. Robert was suffering from his abstinence. I “learned” roping, and I had some very frightful moments while climbing (even with the rope), as I suffer from vertigo, and I was more than 10 meters from the floor.

Melbourne is a city to live; there is probably nothing to visit. I went around the city, and it has some nice zones, like St. Kilda, next to the sea. The seafront was also enjoyable. There is a model recreating the solar system in scale along it, so if you run near the sea, you can claim to have run between Mars and Jupiter. Among the many activities we did: I tried my first escape room, and we had dinner in a sort of “Little Italy” part of the city, a street with only Italian restaurants. I must admit it was good. We had a tris of pasta, and ravioli were the absolute winners of the dish. In Melbourne, I also tried the Pavlova cake, whose origin is contended between Australia and New Zealand, and we had an orienteering challenge. Kelsey is a professional orienteering athlete, and she convinced us to do it. Anyway, I don’t think I will repeat it anytime soon. We concluded our trip with a barbecue on the Yarra River, just in front of the Rod Laver Arena, where the Australian Open takes place. It was known that the winner of the Australian Open had to dive in the Yarra river soon after the victory. We had Kanga-Bangas, namely kangaroos sausages, on equipped grill areas provided freely in parks in Melbourne.

I only visited a small fraction of Australia, so the conclusion is that I will need to come back and see the Quokkas smiling in their habitat on Rottnest Island.