Sorry for the late start on the blog. We’ve had a busy couple of days since we arrived in Melbourne and it’s been hard to find a spare minute.
Our actual flight to Australia took an unexpected early turn after an unremarkable start. All of us arrived a day early to campus to prepare, before we all boarded a flight from Philadelphia to Dallas. In Dallas, we connected to a flight to LA where we would finally catch our flight for Melbourne. On the Dallas to LA leg, we even got a PA announcement from the pilot in honor of one of our defensemen who had never flown on a plane before. We’re all so proud of him.
Unfortunately, upon our arrival in LA we found out that our flight to Melbourne had been delayed until the next morning. The plane they used for their Melbourne-to-LA flight had suffered some sort of mechanical issues and had to be grounded, and there was no alternative aircraft. Ironically, because of all the time zones, this delay only meant that we would arrive later on the same day in Australia, and after flying cross country it was probably good that we got a break. Qantas Airlines put us up in the Crown Plaza Hotel at LAX and comped pretty much everything you could ask for, including our rooms, food, and transportation. So, we took advantage of the opportunity and combined our meal vouchers for some pretty incredible 4-star hotel meals and went to sleep satisfied.
The next morning we finally got on board for the 16 hour flight to Melbourne. Much to our surprise, it turned out that the reason for the mechanical problems was that we were going to fly on a brand new Airbus A380, which had only been put into service 2 weeks before. Plus, the plane wasn’t even a quarter full, so that almost every member of our team had an entire row to themselves. Each seat even had a state of the art entertainment system. I was more than content to sprawl across all 4 seats and take in “The Hurt Locker” on my screen (by the way, that movie is highly recommended by everyone on the plane who watched it, so check it out if you have a chance.) All in all, we agreed that this was by far the best possible way a 16 hour flight could possibly turn out. Still, it all worked out so well, too well even, that some of us think we might have all collectively imagined it.
We arrived in Melbourne around 8pm local time and met our guide to the city, Lynne, at the airport. Fortunately, only one bag was lost in transit (mine,) so we were able to pile onto the bus and make it to our hotel without too much delay. We tracked down some late night dinner and passed out almost immediately.
The next day started at 7am with an early morning run. It was a good chance for us to take in some of the city and get a sense of its scale, since we hadn’t been able to see anything the night before. We ran along the Yarra (the river that cuts through the heart of downtown) to a local park for some conditioning. Afterwards, we jogged over to the stadium district, where we got to see all the stadiums left over from the 1956 Olympics, as well as the cricket pitch which can house over 100,000 fans for Australian Rules Football matches. We even got to stretch on the lawn next to Rod Laver Arena, the site of the Australian Open.
The bulk of the day was spent getting acquainted with Melbourne and Australian history. We took a bus tour of the city, where we saw many of the important sights of Melbourne like the World War I memorial and the Queen Victoria Market. Then, we took a bus over to Melbourne University, where we were greeted by our hosts Nigel and Keira. Nigel gave us a rundown on Melbourne University and its role in the city. Next, Keira, a history professor at the University, gave us a primer on Australian culture and history. This didn’t just include its origins as a prisoner colony; she wove in how the influences of the terrain, location, and colonial status had guided their society’s development. Some highlights included the settlement and glorification of the “Bush,” a sort of inland Australian “Wild West” equivalent, and the story of Ned Kelly, an outlaw who built a suit of armor for a final climatic showdown with a regiment of soldiers, yet was saved from the death penalty when over 60,000 Aussies signed a petition making him a national icon.
In the afternoon, it was back to work for us. We lifted in the Melbourne University gym and held a practice with many of the University’s players. Exhausted, we wolfed down dinner and went off to experience the nightlife Melbourne had to offer. Members of the team scattered all over the city, from the bars and clubs of Brunswick Street to concerts at the Corner Hotel. At the Corner, many of us were excited to find that one of our favorite DJs, Diplo, was playing. For those of you who don’t know Diplo, you might recognize him from his “Hip Hop Remix,” which was a consensus favorite from our warmup mix last year. All in all, everyone seemed to have a great time, and was excited for our first game with the Australian National Team the next day.