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Down Under for a break
Getting away always nice but nothing beats Calgary
By BRET HART


I'm happy to be back from a three-week holiday in the land Down Under. I enjoy Australia because it reminds me of a strange upside-down version of Canada. It might surprise you to know there are more similarities than differences.

One might ask just what does the Hitman like to do on a vacation? I load my backpack with books and 10-speed up and down the Yarra River taking in the never ending beauty pageant.

I was surprised at what I saw as a even split between overly health conscious people and chain smokers. Everywhere I went, people smoked one cigarette after another and it definitely made me appreciate our strict non-smoking by-laws.

On a trip to Glenrowan, 250 km north of Melbourne, I took in some of the history surrounding Australia's infamous outlaw hero, Ned Kelly, a cross between Jesse James and Robin Hood.

It was on the way back from Glenrowan that I noticed kangaroos leaping alongside the road.

An echidna, the Australian version of a porcupine, scurried across the road and it made me think of the big, fat porcupine that's been hassling my pug at home.

When I called home, I was pleased to hear how I was missing the winter weather but I wasn't so lucky either. Melbourne was drenched by the worst rain in a century to the point where the flooding was so bad people were stranded on the roofs of their cars.

At the Melbourne Zoo, I finally got a glimpse of a platypus.

I always had the impression they'd look like a cross between a beaver and a duck but they're much more like a cute little otter with a duck bill glued on.

One thing you probably won't read in any tourism book is Australia has the most tenacious, aggressive, annoying flies! They'd follow me along the bike path and it was pointless to shoo them. They flew up my nose and back out my mouth. The locals were oblivious, puffing on cigarettes with flies on their foreheads!

I was walking down the street, minding my own business, when I was suddenly surrounded by a horde of vacationing Calgary university students who couldn't believe I was there.

We joked about the weather back home and I left them with the reminder to stop by and see me sometime at a Calgary Hitmen game, my usual winter hangout.

And just like that, I arrived home late last Saturday and there it was -- home.

Rocky Mountains.

Snow.

What would Christmas be without snow? Not the same. Driving along the road to my house, I saw a caribou loping along and in minutes I was greeted by my number one fan, grinning from ear to ear -- my dog Coombs.

He likes to think he's chased off that pesky porcupine again and I'm not gonna break it to 'em that he's only hibernating until next year.

I collected myself and a handful of kids and headed off to the 'Dome to watch the Hitmen battle it out with their arch-rivals from up the road in Red Deer. As I watched more than 9,000 Teddy Bears fly though the air destined for needy kids at Christmas, it made me feel good to be back.

It's nice to get away but it's always better to come home.

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