My flight from Sydney left at 1:15pm, arriving into Melbourne at 2:45pm. It was here that I would be meeting up with Katie R, one of my best mates from Uni, to explore Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road together. Katie was coming in from Beijing after a work trip, her flight due to arrive at 3:30pm – however, with her flight delayed by 15 minutes and the time it took for her to get through arrivals from an international flight compared with my early-arriving flight and the speedy process of exiting from a domestic flight, I had a good couple of hours to kill and naturally took this opportunity to grab a coffee and browse through various Melbourne brochures.
Eventually she walked through the arrival doors and we had the standard “oh my god it’s YOU; look at you, you look so well, how are YOU?!” conversation before purchasing $18 AUD sky bus tickets to catch the bus into the city centre. After arriving at Southern Cross station we popped to the 7-Eleven to purchase a Myki card each; these are needed to use the trains and trams across Melbourne, and you have to put at least $10 AUD on your card to begin with (each journey is a set fee of $4 AUD and the purchase of the card is $6 AUD). We then caught the 96 tram from Bourke St to Tempany St in Fitzroy, where our Airbnb accommodation was located. I know, I know, I know – Airbnb isn’t exactly the typical backpacker way, but with Katie’s trip being a holiday rather than a backpacker experience and with hostels being so expensive in Australia anyway, it felt appropriate and was actually roughly the same price as a hostel would have been.
After dumping our bags and freshening up we left the house to go grab some food, taking up our hostesses suggestion of Moroccan Soup Bar, which was only a 10 minute walk away. A really popular place it was packed when we arrived at 8pm so we put our names down for a 9pm reservation and wandered down the road and slipped into a bar to enjoy an Aperol Spritz and toast the beginning of our a Melbourne adventure. Having predominantly had wine or cider over the last month and really enjoyed an Aperol Spritz during my Italy trip 2 years ago (ok, and as the drink I powered through on Christmas Day the year before) this made a wonderful change and it was lovely to be able to sit back at the bar with a friend like I always did back home.
Battling through the icy winds, we got back to Moroccan Soup Bar for 9 and ordered the $23 AUD banquet menu, receiving dips and bread for starters followed by 3 vegetarian mains of chickpea bake (now I don’t normally rate chickpeas but this was AMAZING), eggplant and pumpkin tagine with couscous and some red bean delight with olives and dips. Now, I love my meat (like, LOVE – my favourite is meat from the bone so I can often be found sat in the corner of a room, alone, happily destroying the remains of a carcass) but this food was insanely good, if not incredibly rich. I would definitely recommend here. Stupidly full (and therefore happy, of course) we waddled back to our home for the next 4 days, layered up in pretty much all of our clothes (goodness me, Melbourne is cold – I still do not understand the porch structure of their houses, literally blocking out any sun that might possibly warm up the inside) and snuggled up in bed together.
Our first full day in Melbourne, we set out of the house to explore the city and get our bearings. We walked down Nicholson St, passing by cute bungalows partly obscured by trees out the front and wandered through Carlton Gardens to reach the State Library of Victoria. A grand building and an inviting place to be, whether that is to read, study or wander round the various exhibitions and rooms. My favourite was the one on books and reading, getting almost as lost in what they had to say about books and the imagination as I would in a good book itself. Oh and the view of the study room below, the walls adorned with books, reminded me of the scene in Beauty and the Beast (my favourite Disney film) where Beast gives a library to Belle. I was in my sanctuary.
Afterwards we looped round the centre of the city, wandering down Bourke Street and Collins Street (the “Paris” street, presumably named due to the trees lining the pavements dotted by the outside seating areas of cafes and restaurants), perusing the shops and passing by monuments such as the Town Hall and St Paul’s Cathedral. We then reached Hosier Lane, famed for its graffiti street art. Now, I have seen a lot of street art, both in Australia (Brisbane, Byron Bay) and Asia (Penang, in Malaysia, being renowned for it) but this was something else entirely. Not only was it hard to find a section of wall without graffiti, every dustbin and street lamp pole was also covered, as was the outside of the coffee shop (from memory, one of the only outlets down the lane). It was like entering a world of colour after living in black and white.
It was a bright but crisp afternoon and we heading towards early evening so we wandered past Federation Square (an area designed for the very purpose of inhabiting gatherings of people, which I find less appealing to hang out at than places not deliberately designed for his specific reason) and across the St Kilda Road bridge over Ybarra River towards Southbank. I love a good bridge, especially one that also offers the view of another bridge, and this one didn’t disappoint, with a landscape made up of tall financial buildings, the Alexandra gardens, rowers along the river, and locals drinking at bars lining the bank.
After discovering that the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) was just closing, we picked up our theatre tickets from Arts Centre Melbourne for later that evening and walked to Ponyfish Island bar – literally a bar floating on the water underneath a footbridge across the Yarra River. A drink set us back 9 dollars each but, with a relaxed and warm atmosphere as the sun was slowly setting, it was a great way to spend a late afternoon.
We then met up with Jenni – a friend of Katie’s from home whom had lived in Melbourne for the last year – and had dinner at Hophaus Bier Bar Grill, a Bavarian restaurant inside the Southgate complex along the Southbank side of the river, where we all had the $20 AUD set dinner of lamb with rye bread, cabbage and a glass of wine (it was actually really really good and a decent size, too) as we sat on the outside terrace overlooking the river.
Afterwards it was time to head back to Arts Centre Melbourne to watch Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, a National Theatre of Scotland show that made its way to Melbourne as part of the city’s Arts Festival. Now, as a drama student, I have spent many hours inside a theatre, both as a crew and an audience member, and the 2 hours spent watching this performance would be some of the best I have encountered. The top 10%, easily. I laughed loads, cried embarrassing amounts, and gazed in awe at the talent of the actresses before me. It was well worth the $80 AUD (man, I really need to start spending like a backpacker again, soon).
Today, 13th October 2016, marked 5 years since my Grandad died and was a day I had been acutely aware of in the lead-up. I can often be hit harder by the pain of his loss on a seemingly innocuous random day and never know how I will feel on the actual day, and it was good to be out and be engaging in life, yet my emotions were triggered by the performance and suddenly I was consumed by grief of it being 5 years without him in my life and devastation that I had somehow survived this. The older you get, the more losses you have to live with – somehow live around – and this one left a huge dent; I took myself off for a walk along the river and a good sob, before we ventured home for the night.
The following day was scheduled to be hot so Katie and I decided to take this as an opportunity to go for a cycle round Melbourne using the city bikes. Similar to Boris Bikes for you Londoners (yet providing helmets with each bike – safety is a priority in Australia, as opposed to England where robbery is more of an issue…) there are 30 odd bike stations dotted around the city and you lay a $3 AUD subscription using your card and you can then use the bikes for free for 30 minutes a time. You have to get it into another station within the 30 minutes to avoid being charged (2 dollars for every 60 minutes over, 7 dollars for every 90 minutes over, then 10 dollars for every half hour thereafter), but you could easily do a block of 30 minutes alongside each other if you so wished. We wanted to be able to cycle for a good length of time so ended up going into an additional 60 minutes as we looped round the city roads and through the gardens lining the Yarra River, taking in the heat of the sun and the views of the city.
After setting our bikes in the docking facilities along south bank, we took the bikes out another time to avoid higher charges as we cycled down to St Kilda Beach, located 6km south of the city centre. It technically shouldn’t take very long to cycle, and is pretty much accessed by one straight road, but the number of traffic lights in Melbourne (hell, Australia) and how long it takes to get through one set is ridiculous that it ends up taking so much longer. But still, we reached the beach by mid afternoon, docked our bikes, grabbed a smoothie and planted ourselves on the sand for a couple of hours.
Peckish and in the beach mood, we walked 10 minutes to the street lined with shops, restaurants and bars and headed straight for a fish and chip shop, paying $10 AUD each for a set meal of battered blue grenadier with chips and salad. We carried our food (and bottles of Gordon’s Sparkling Gin with Elderflower purchased from the BWS) back to the beach, where we sat along the shore and devoured the most amazing fish and chips I think I have every had – the fish was so tasty and moist, I honestly don’t believe I have had chip-shop fish this good before. Like many things in Oz it was like being back at home, without actually being there – both wonderfully familiar yet a stabbing reminder.
St Kilda is popular for the penguins that venture out by the rocks as night falls, so after inhaling our dinner we walked down the pier just as the sun was setting to wait patiently (haha, who am I kidding – I’m never waiting anything other than impatiently, something travelling hasn’t quite managed to rectify) for them to emerge. Despite freezing our ears off (WHY are they always hit the hardest?!) it was pretty spectacular to watch the changing colours of the sky behind the panoramic view of the city of Melbourne, through the sail boats settled on the harbour in front of us.
It was also super cool when, way after the sun had set, a penguin suddenly appeared from out of the water and waddled to the rocks underneath us. It was really hard to spot one and they were pretty darn quick at disappearing again, however there were two that weren’t quite so fazed by the limelight and happily posed for us on the rocks. I have David Attenborough to thank for my recent love of penguins, and it was fascinating to watch these two relate with one another and respond to the crowd.
The next couple of days Katie and I spent doing our own thing, both being people whom enjoy (and crave) time to ourselves. On the Saturday I walked the 30 minutes to Rose Street Artists Market, where I spent the good part of an hour perusing the trinkets, jewellery and art work, splashing out on an A4 piece of art by a Melbourne artist and two rose gold rings – one a crescent moon (relevant for similar reasons to my tattoo that contains a crescent moon) and the other a compass, something that I have found resonance in due to my travels of the world and my (in ways interlinked) own personal discovery.
I then continued south down Brunswick Road towards Queen Victoria market, a market that is open most days of the week until 2pm (although 3pm on Saturdays) and part of which felt like an Asian market (albeit much much more expensive) with their clothes, shoes, bags, belts and trinket stalls, with the other part feeling much like Borough Market in London, with organic, cheese, bread, cake, oil and wine stalls. Much to my delight, many of these offered samples of their treats, my favourites being the gluten free fruit cake, white caviar, and the wine stall where I went through a combined amount of a large glass of wine on an empty stomach (ok, no, not EMPTY as I’d been snacking on free goods, but certainly not FULL).
I quickly devoured the two pieces of sushi I had picked up on my walk down Brunswick Road before heading to Off Ya Tree tattoo and piercing parlour. I first wanted a nose piercing when I was 17 and then the younger sister of my boyfriend at the time got one after I mentioned it so I didn’t, and then life happened and I started to fear things a bit more and never got round to it. Over the last year or so I have given myself a good shake and started to do the things I have put off or dismissed – including tattoos and ear piercings – and, since travelling, I have really rekindled my desire for a nose piercing and have been waiting for a time and place where it could heal properly (night buses, scuba diving and camping didn’t seem like the best healing conditions). And where better than in Melbourne – the place of piercings, if not nose piercings specifically! Besides, $30 AUD for the piercing and the stud of my choice, plus $10 AUD for the healing solution, carried out by a guy whom had been piercing for 10 years, felt like a good deal. Sure, it hurt, but not much more than any ear piercing I have had (although being right in the middle of your face it does feel like more invasive, less welcome pain) and it was over pretty quickly.
Adorning new jewellery on both my fingers and nose now, I walked through the city, crossed the bridge over Yarra River and wandered into Alexandra Gardens to sit by the river in the sun and read my book while I waited for Steve – a friend from uni whom moved to Melbourne 5 years previously (and now has PR status, don’t you know!) and whom I hadn’t seen in 7 years, which is pretty atrocious really. Anyway, he joined me at 5pm, just as it started to get cold, and we headed to Riverland bar on the other side of the river and made our way through 2 ciders, 2 beers, a bottle of wine and a bottle of cava as we caught up on our lives over the last 7 years and reminisced about the 4 years before that. It’s nice when you catch up with an old friend and are reminded of why you got on in the first place.
We met up with a friend of his at a bar in the CBD and then somehow ended up at a place called Ding Dong, drinking even more as we went, and I eventually stumbled home in the wee hours of the morning. That is, if you can call an hour walk interspersed with various stops at petrol stations and 7-Elevens to purchase an array of junk food in a too-late attempt to absorb the alcohol after smartly skipping dinner (turns out there’s no such thing as getting wiser with age, ladies – still just as foolish, but without the acceptable notion of being young) a “stumble”. Upon reflection, my haphazard shopping trip home was more like taking part in the Sweep Round of Dale Winton’s Supermarket Sweep but in the style if I’m a Celeb’s Cyclone; my shopping list being of the Drunk and Disorderly theme (double mars bar, macadamia and chocolate cookie, dirty microwaveable burger, banana and walnut loaf…) as I am knocked from side to side by invisible flying balls and gusts of water.
I should have woke up in tatters. I deserved to. Yet, somehow, consuming approximately 5,000 calories in the space of an hour counteracts some of the impact of alcohol and I managed to feel at least a quarter human. Once I managed to fully open my eyes, that is. Turns out Katie had a pretty heavy night, too, so with both of us unable to engage in conversation beyond the occasional grunt and one-syllable replies we again ventured out on our own for the day. As I wandered down Brunswick Road, music playing in my ears to block out any sounds of the world, I suddenly felt peckish so I slipped into Gutz Cafe to have a brunch of smashed avocado, poached eggs and tomato, onion and rocket salad on sourdough bread, washed down with a honey-infused chai latte as I sat on a stall overlooking the street and read my book.
I then took a chilly walk through the CBD and down to the river to pop into the AMCI – they have a whole section on the history of film and television, with my particular interest being the stuff they had on Neighbours! I then wandered next door to the Ian Potter Centre (part of the NGV) to look at more aboriginal artwork and history before walking across the river to the NGV. All of these were free to enter, which is so good and so worth doing, and my favourite section of the NGV would be the works by David Shrigley in the contemporary section on the top floor.
Also, on the ground floor by the entrance/exit (and the glass window with natural rain water pouring down the side) there are colourful flowers; they encourage you to pick one, seal it and add water using the tools they provide, and to give to a stranger on your way home as an act of kindness.
I picked the one that I was drew to the most and took it on my walk with me through the gardens opposite the NGV, all the way back to Centre Place where I met Katie for dinner, then on the tram to get to Naked For Satan where we had a drink on the rooftop -overlooking wet but colourful Melbourne – where I chose to then leave it on the table for the next person who happened to come along.
Maybe not quite what they had in mind but, after becoming quite attached to the flower and finding conversing with even Katie – someone I have known for 10 years – a challenge, let alone having to speak to a random stranger, this was the best I could offer in my alcoholically-fragile state.
Back at the house we packed for our early morning departure for the Great Ocean Road – despite the at times dreary weather (and our hostess having loud, not-all-discreet sex with her bedroom door open on our last night) I really enjoyed being in Melbourne. With a lot of character, a hip arts and coffee culture, and being a city close to the beach, it felt like a more relaxed and quirky London. But, as with a few places in Australia, maybe a bit too “cool” for me to live in (or maybe I’m just saying that as I will be living in Sydney and I am bitter!) Either way, after 4 full days and one very drunken night, I was ready to get out and travel the GOR.
Before I write about that, however, I am going to include in this post our trip to “Ramsay Street”, which took place on our return to Melbourne after GOR. We had driven back into Melbourne mid-afternoon and needed to return our hire vehicle by 5pm, so we continued driving towards Pin Oak Court in Vermont South, which is the street used for filming in the fictional suburb of Erinsborough for popular Australian soap Neighbours. I was a massive fan of Neighbours as a kid and then got back into it during University, but it will always feel nostalgic for me. It was a bit of a nightmare getting there, though, as we completely forgot it would be school traffic and the roads were ridiculously busy, meaning we didn’t make it to Ramsay Street until 4:30pm; I had to dash out the car, hop from house to house for photos after the kind security guard gave me permission (so long as you don’t enter the driveways).
Despite my stress upon approaching Pin Oak Court, this all dissolved as soon as I took in Ramsay Street and the little girl in me had her dream come true. I was literally giddy. After jumping back in the car and heading back into the centre of Melbourne we called the hire car company and managed to push back our return time, and we literally made it with 5 minutes to spare. I’m not sure it was worth the anxiety for Katie – who was never a fan of Neighbours – but the experience was worth it for me!
Now, back to the Great Ocean Road…