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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

04 October 2017

Australia, 1st-4th October 2017 (Melbourne)

It's been over a decade since I last visited Australia. As I was already on holiday in Malaysia, I decided it was worth a hop over the sea to Melbourne to catch up with some friends (given that there are only two cities I'm keen to visit Down Under, both to meet up with online and offline friends). Apparently you now need a visa for Australia, which I totally didn't realise.

Fortunately, it was quick to do at the airport, though I am sure you can get it cheaper than 45 Singapore dollars elsewhere. Unfortunately, my flight with Scoot was euphemistically 're-timed' from 01:15 to 05:00, then another two and a half hours sat on the plane waiting for it to leave. I had a bit of slack in the way out, rather less on the way back, as my flight on to London was at 23:15. I was due at 16:50 into Singapore, but given the sudden and unexplained 're-timing', I spent a good chunk of my Melbourne trip fretting the plane to Singapore would suffer a similar fate. So, lesson learned, never fly with Scoot. :)

I went with the best reviews when looking for a hostel, which was United Backpackers. It's very central, directly across from Flinders St station. There's free WiFi, if only in the basement, plus it has two lockers under each bunk bed (bring a padlock). Working out the trains wasn't too tricky, though be aware there is a difference between the tram and train stations (quite a few places have both, it appears). The train is quicker, so I didn't try the tram. For either, you'll need a myki card, which is a non-refundable $6. If you're travelling within 2 hours, you'll want to top up $4.10 or so, any longer than that and it's $8.20. That will last you the whole day.

My plan for the first day was spoiled by the 7 hours Scoot delay, but my second day went according to plan. I headed on a morning train to Ballarat (about $28), to hang out with a blogger I've known online for years, Chris B. She was super hospitable, driving me to her horse stud from the station, giving me breakfast and even lending me some shoes! It was great to catch up with her and learn all about her horses, managing to squeeze in a brief bit of riding too. Next time, I must remember to bring long sleeves: contrary to what childhood soaps told me, Australia can get cold. :)

Chris also showed me some of Ballarat's history (it's a 19th century mining town), talked about her precision agriculture PhD and also her horse breeding. I'm not sure I fully understood, but she is a specialist that breeds gaited horses with a specific gene, determining whether they do a fast walk rather than canter. Chris is an excellent horse-riding instructor too. I'll try to remember for next time. The main points IIRC were turning your whole body and looking where you want to go, pulling on the inside rein. Squeeze to go, keep an upright posture and have your hips forward like you were passing guard with a pressure pass. To stop, bring your legs away from the horse's body and pull in, then give rein back. My first bit of instruction since pony club as a fourteen year old. ;)

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After that, I returned to Flinders St (via Southern Cross, the main interchange for longer travel) and my hostel to get ready to train at Absolute MMA. Liv is another person I've known online for many years. She trains at Absolute, which is one of the premier Aussie BJJ schools. Liv was incredibly welcoming and even rolled with me, which was cool, given she's a world class black belt. It was also brilliant to catch up with Hannah (who has started her own BJJ clothing company, She Beast Apparel), who loved my colour combinations, big fan of the Bosch spats too. 😜

Tuesday kicked off with the National Gallery of Victoria International (not to be confused with NGV Australia, which is nearer Flinders). The building is very snazzy, entering through a wall of waterfall, through a huge hall with a spectacular stained glass ceiling, walking out onto a huge flower painting. In terms of my favourites (Flemish, Dutch and a few Spaniards), it isn't a huge collection, but of course I'm used to galleries in Brussels, Madrid, Amsterdam, London etc. Rather easier to build a Dutch/Flemish collection there than in Melbourne. 😉

Having said that, there are a respectable number of examples, plus a few bigwigs (like El Greco and Rembrandt). The top one in that collage below is from Jan Brueghel the Elder, which also had a good audio guide entry (from one of the NGV staff, I think?). Unfortunately the NGV audio guide is rather lacking in numbers (not many entries) and there is no indication by each relevant physical painting to show it's got an audio entry. Still, the NGV guide is new, so work in progress. Also, the free guided tours (on the hour) are excellent, making up for it. That makes me think I need to do more of the guided tours, something I often forget in art galleries. ;)

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As ever I was on the look out for female artists. That's an area where the NGV performs comparatively well, especially considering the European collection I was looking at isn't all that big. Along with familiar names like Mary Beale (bottom left in the collage below) and Vigee Le Brun (top right), I encountered paintings by at least two other artists I don't think I've heard of before, such as Dutch painter Maria Margaretha La Fargue (1743-1813, bottom right) and Françoise Duparc (1726-1778, born in France but emigrated to Spain at 4yrs old).

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All this is free, plus the paid entry exhibitions looked good too. I only had two hours, but could easily have spent much longer. For a start, I would have gone on all the gallery tours, I think they vary them up. A friend from Canada met me after that, Ruth, who I first met way back in 2002. She and her family have recently moved to Melbourne: it was very cool to catch up, as well as admire her awesome Peppa Pig crafting skills. ;)

My trip finished off with the highlight, training at Academy Jiu Jitsu with my ex-student, Erin. Not only was she extremely welcoming (like everybody has been in Australia), but so was the whole team. It's a lovely atmosphere, which really made me feel at home. Chilled out rolling with lots of laughter. Great class by Dylan too, who gave me excellent tips at open mat.

Thanks so much for the incredible hospitality, everybody I met in Australia: you are all amazing! 👍

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