BALLARAT, AUSTRALIA — This was our last night staying in a small town. We’ll be in Sydney and then Bangkok before we settle in Munich for good, in less than two weeks.

It was an easy drive to the Melbourne airport, but we had a hard time leaving Victoria. We overshot the rental-car return lane and had a moment of anxiety until we saw we could circle back. Then our low-cost airline, Jetstar, told us we could take only 20kg in bags per person, not the usual 23kg, so we had to shed 8kg (18lbs) or pay $120 for the extra weight.

We tossed our sunscreen and moved shoes into Beth’s carry-on. Beth threw away a shirt and Torsten put on additional layers: two pairs of jeans over thick cotton shorts and another three layers over his T-shirt.

Although we were still 2kg over the limit, our luggage went through and everything was OK. Later, we found out we were lucky Jetstar hadn’t weighed our carry-on luggage, because Torsten’s duffle is always way over the allowed 7kg. We think we’re done with low-cost airlines.

Then, at the security checkpoint, Torsten had to say goodbye to his trusty nail clippers, which have been traveling in carry-on luggage for over a decade. He was upset, to say the least.

We made it to Sydney, and our cab driver was an energetic older gent of Chinese descent who still spoke in broken English after 27 years of driving a taxi in Sydney. He wasn’t familiar with the street we gave him, and we thought, uh-oh, just like Minneapolis cab drivers.

This time was different, though. After he consulted his map and found the one-block Emma Street, in the same neighborhood as the “man streets” (John, Alfred, Stanley), he made a bee-line there. “Time is money. Find fastest way.”

When he picked up on our American accents, he told us he has visited New York, the big California cities and Las Vegas, where he won $1,700 at a casino. “Love United States. Everything cheap. Wife go shopping, come back with more handbags. Money finished, but she happy.”

He really did know this city well. As we followed on our cell phones, we noticed that he knew where traffic jams would be and drove around them. Time is money, after all.

We got to our Airbnb cottage in the Leichhardt neighborhood a little early, but our host’s partner Gary was there to show us around. Beth was bemused to see that our cottage looked exactly like an old-time Minnesota lake cabin, with pine-paneled ceiling and walls, a thin synthetic carpet and even a plastic accordion-style pocket door on the bathroom, which had the tiniest sink we’d ever seen, no more than 6 inches wide.

cottageOf course, it’s 2017, so there was also a gigantic flat-screen TV, something we haven’t used at all on this trip.

While Torsten tried to take a nap, Beth walked through the neighborhood. It’s the Italian part of town, and the first person she saw was an elderly man gesticulating at a younger man and speaking Italian. There was an agent for Alitalia airlines, an Italian shoe store and way more Alfa Romeos than you’d normally see.

Walking down Norton Street, she found a string of promising-looking Italian cafes, and the next block was solid restaurants: Korean, Japanese, Greek, Thai, Chinese. Looking for a grocery store, she found one in a spiffy inner shopping mall with a bakery, deli, seafood market and wine seller.

She returned to the cottage with the day’s reconnaissance report and two loaded Opal cards for the public transportation system. For dinner, we walked back to the Italian zone, where we got an outside table at 7ettimo and ate octopus salad, fettuccine with crab and linguine with broccoli and prawns.

crab-dishFor dessert, we had fantastic gelato from the next-door Bar Italia: cherry amaretti for Beth and  chocolate chips and pistachio for Torsten, scooped by a cheerful young Italian woman. We think we’ll be getting to know that place well during the next week.

Next: getting to know Sydney and its citizens, Sydneysiders.