"I told you I didn't want to drive in the city, but you guys insisted!"
I've just missed the turn to the hotel, after previously being stuck on parts of the motorway that the November 2021 GPS update doesn't know and now I have to go on a long detour through the centre of Melbourne. I knew my city navigation luck would run out and I knew it would be on this trip. Now I'm fuming.
Already I miss the quiet and simplicity of the beach towns. No pressure, no crowds, no rush. We packed up this morning shortly before checkout time and drove up to the bluff. Fortunately the walking trail was open today.
We watch the waves roll in, razor edges exploding with spray and white foam, stirring the sands below as surfers ride their crests. The crashing of the waves is white noise against the breath of the air.
I feel like I could watch this for eternity, but we have to go.
We set off to Geelong, stopping for an unsuccessful foray into Kmart in Liverpool in search of replacement sandals for Alex. Returning to Asian Essence in Geelong's city centre, we have their beef rendang and other curries for our lunch.
Frustration mounts on the busy motorway to Melbourne as cars speed and tailgate and don't give way. When we enter the city the GPS is confused by the Westgate Tunnel construction changes and we find ourselves stuck in the wrong lane and forced to exit.
When we return the traffic is horrendously slow and dense and it is hard to know if we are in the correct lane for a future exit. Somehow we get off at the right place, but I miss that the third, rightmost, lane is the correct one for the next turn and end up heading back across the river and into streets with trams, pedestrians and idiots on electric scooters.
Thankfully I'm not forced back on to the motorway to correct my error, but it is still very stressful. It's hard enough trying to navigate when you also have to keep an eye out for somebody speeding through any vacant gap.
Finally I find the carpark and switch the engine off with great relief. I hope the drive out is easier because I refuse to drive anywhere else around the city during our stay.
We decided to treat ourselves during our time in Melbourne and book the Pan Pacific Hotel. It was actually one of the cheaper options due to its location and the fact I have somehow acquired status despite very infrequent stays with the brand. Even nicer was being upgraded to a family room with amazing city views.
But no time to enjoy, because the DFO stores are adjacent to the hotel.
One of the most wonderful aspects of lockdown was not going on big shop ups. Endless stores, endless browsing and standing, waiting for B to make a decision.
I know I need more clothes, but mentally I just cannot cope with the shops, the crowds, the pressure here. My feet are sore and my head hurts by the time we return.
Then the next problem awaits: Dinner. It was so easy in Barwon Heads, only a few choices and the option to cook for ourselves. Here, so many eateries, but scattered all over the city.
How to find one that satisfies the demands of the others without requiring us to travel too far?
In the brilliant golden sunset light I take us to Food Hall, a collection of five individual stalls selling Thai, Korean, Malaysian, Japanese and Italian dishes around a common seating area. Surely we should be able to satisfy differing demands there.
I love the ambience of the place tucked away behind the other buildings and almost beneath the busy suburban railway line, the big neon sign, the gritty-funky decor, the festoon lights outside. I felt a bit like I was in Blade Runner.
There were only a couple of staff and the Cantonese speaking cook flitted between the individual stalls to prepare the different cuisines. My sambal Maggi mee with acar and beef rendang is actually really nice and so is B's nasi lemak, though her "curry chicken" is actually deep fried chicken in some sort of sauce. The Korean fried chicken is nothing special and Alex's tonkotsu ramen is not proper tonkotsu soup and not the normal ramen noodles, more Chinese than Japanese. But still very nice according to him, a comfort food.
I am just so taken with the atmosphere that I would be happy to return.
We cross back to the southern side of the river and walk past the brightly lit casino to the hotel. From our room we can watch the hourly flame shows, which lend an even greater Blade Runner feel to the city skyscraper lights.
I hate to think what the skies would be like if we had Blade Runners' flying cars. Right now I am happy to get around on my own two legs.