There are a lot of things I have always wanted to experience in life, including a visit to Australia. As a small-town boy from North Freedom, Wisconsin (population 551), I always fantasized about visiting far-away lands, and I suppose the “Land Down Under” was the furthest away I could get, or so I thought. With that said, I was absolutely ecstatic when I had the chance to cross Australia off my bucket list in January.
As it happens, visiting Australia was both a personal and professional goal. Being a senior writer for PokerNews, I’ve always wanted to cover the Aussie Millions, which is the largest and most prestigious poker tournament in the Southern hemisphere. Having the chance to kill two birds with one stone was an opportunity of a lifetime, and while I was going for work, I looked at the three weeks I would be spending in Melbourne as a much-needed working vacation.
Now let me tell you, leaving the cold Wisconsin winter for summer south of the equator is quite exhilarating, provided you can bear the 30 hours of traveling it requires to get there. I won’t lie, going from MadisonàChicagoàLos AngelesàSydneyàMelbourne is a grueling haul, especially the 14-hour leg it takes to get over the Pacific. Nonetheless, I buckled down, brought my PSP and plenty of movies, and zoned out.
When I finally arrived in Melbourne, I was exhausted. I’d ben cooped up in an airplane for more than a day, but I was too excited to sleep. After catching cab to my hotel, the Crown Promenade, I took a quick shower and headed down to the poker room. That’s where I met up with the hostess supreme, Natasha Stipanov. I had never met Tash, but I was told, “She’ll take care of you.” Let me just say, that proved to be an understatement as she consistently went above and beyond throughout my entire stay.
After receiving a tour of the Crown Complex, which includes a casino, food court, movie theater, multiple hotels and restaurants, etc., I went back to my room with the intention of taking a brief nap. About 12 hours later, I was up and ready to cover the Opening Event of the Aussie Millions with a local PokerNews vet by the name of Joshua Bell. While I had never met Josh before, we hit it off right away. As it turned out, we both have an affinity for comic books, and once that embarrassment was revealed, we got along quite well.
I’d like to regal you with numerous adventures from Australia, but as I said before, I was there to work, which is what I spent most of my time doing. In fact, and I’m not exaggerating when I say this, there was a period of 11 days when I was outside for a total of 20 minutes (remember, the hotel was connected to the casino). With that said, I did try to make the most of my days off.
The first opportunity I had some time to myself, I tagged along with the camera crew, Andrew Dorn and Nicki Pickering, as they went to the beach at St. Kilda to film a feature. Aside from the fact that I absentmindedly wore shoes instead of sandals, or thongs as they’d call them in Australia, it was a good experience. The weather was warm, but a nice breeze offset the sun’s warmth that was reverberating off the sand. I picked up some seashells along the beach as they went about their work with the idea that one day I’ll put them an aquarium. We followed that up with lunch in Nicki’s neighborhood before heading back to the hotel. Here’s a look at the beach:
I also had the following day off, which was a Wednesday, and joined Kevin “Kevmath” Mathers and Remko Rinkema at the “Night Market” at the Queen Victoria Market. In hindsight, this was a great decision and one of the best nights I had in Melbourne. You see, the night market features dozens of merchants, food stands, live music, and entertainment. Remko bought us a round of beers and we perused the market alongside hundreds of other tourists, locals, and vendors before deciding to get a bite to eat. There were literally dozens of options, but we settled upon a stand that served ostrich, crocodile, and kangaroo burgers. It was a tough choice, and while Kevmath and Remko went with the ostrich burger (I think . . . they could have had the kangaroo burger), I chose the croc burger. Make no mistake, it was delicious, almost like a sweet and succulent chicken.
Eventually we were joined by poker pro McLean Karr and his girlfriend, poker personality Tatjana Pasalic. The latter actually had a distant cousin who lived in Melbourne, so both her and her daughter joined our ragtag crew of misfits. Together we drank some beers, explored the food options, and just gave way to the festive atmosphere. A couple of hours later, our group doubled as Joseph Cheong and his entourage joined the fun. It was an amusing evening, especially after we shifted from beer to sangria, but alas all good things come to an end. Everyone went about his or her business while Kevmath, Remko, and myself decided to walk back to the hotel (we had taken a tram to get there).
(Left to right: Kevmath, McLean Karr, Tatjana Pasalic, strangers, Remko Rinkema in white shirt)
I had a lot of other memorable experiences during my time in Australia. Just to name a few:
- – Paying $18.50 for a movie ticket and being assigned my seat. I didn’t particularly care for sitting between two strangers. Anyway, I saw three movies during my three-weekstay (remember there was a cinema in the complex) including The Descendants, Tailor, Tinker, Solider, Spy, and Underworld: Awakening. You can check out my reviews on each over at the Buddies Forever Movie Club blog.
- – Being introduced to Tim Tams, which is the best chocolate bar that I have ever had. They reminded me of a Kit Kat, but so much better. I ended up bringing back nine packs of all different flavors to give away as gifts, and they went over quite well.
- – Being treated to numerous dinners by the Crown folks, most notably Natasha and Jim Preston. This also included a night out after the last tournament had wrapped. Let me tell you, being treated to drinks at a beer garden is something I’ll never take for granted.
- – Using the hotel gym. I don’t know why, but I grew to love that place. I guess spending 14 hours a day in the poker room really allows you to appreciate other places in the complex.
This is the first of a two-part blog. In my next post, I will tell you some more about the Aussie Millions, including Phil Ivey’s big win in the $250,000 Super High Roller event.