Melbourne from the south bank
As soon as I checked in and even before I walked into my dorm room at the YHA Metro in Melbourne, I jumped in the shower and soaked up for a good half hour! A wise choice, considering that I could have killed a roommate just by taking my shoes off! The next priority was to wash my clothes, though it might have been more appropriate to burn them and buy new ones.
Feeling fresh and smelling of aqua cool, the cheapest washing powder on offer, I jumped on my bicycle and set off to explore the city every backpacker raves about.
I must agree, Melbourne is a very nice city. The streets of the CBD are set up in a grid, so it’s very hard to get lost, and most of the interesting sites are within walking distance form each other.
I parked my bike outside the State Library and walked along Swanston street to Federation Square. As you’re walking, you realise just how cosmopolitan this city is, with many restaurants and takeaways catering for the Asian community, the Greeks, the Italians and so on. Interestingly, you don’t see many traditional pubs or bars on the main streets. Most are above ground level, on roof tops or tucked in obscure alleyways, and you wouldn’t find them unless you knew where to look. I popped in a barber for a hair cut and to no surprise the chap who served me was Italian, Vito. He was very eager to brush off hit Italian and I was happy to listen, mindful that the more he talked the shorter my hair was being cut. He spoke of how the Italians and Greek had been badly treated in the late 50 when the first migrants came over.
Melbourne from St Kilda
Anyone with a dark complexion would get a good beating, and he had been victim of a few nasty fist fights. It was terrible he said, mamma mia! Yet there was still more work and a better future than Italy could offer after WWII. I stopped him an inch away from my scalp, just as he was changing the clippers to a smaller size… grazie Vito, any shorter and you might be in for another good kicking! Just joking of course!
So, looking like a monk without his sarong, I carried on to Federation square, which has a nice European feel about it. The floor of the square is tiled and slopes upwards like a shallow amphitheatre. In the middle, there’s a massive TV screen, currently showing the Olympics in Beijing. You can sit around and have a coffee and a bite to eat from one the bars, or you can visit one of the museums around the square; the Ian Potter Centre of Australian Art; the Australian Centre for Moving Images; or the museum of racing.
The buildings alone are quite an artistic statement, with different textures and many walls of complex geometry, someone must have had a real good laugh designing these structure
One of the highlights of this week for me was a visit to Queen Victoria Market, on Victoria street. After a week of munchies and microwave meals in Loch Sport I was truly longing for a good salad and at the market you are totally spoiled for choice. I walked in to buy a few veggies and some fruit and inevitably I walked out with a few bags full! The prices are good and the quality of the food is great. Well worth a visit. Oh, and the ‘deli for your belly’ are terrific!
More sights and a few beers with an old friend.
In between free internet visits at the State Library, I walked around the CBD and the South Bank to visit some of the other tourist sights.
I paid an extortionate $16.50 fee to reach the 88th floor of the Eureka Tower in 38 seconds (blooming fast elevator), the so called Skydeck. Apparently, this is the tallest residential tower in the southern hemisphere, and from up here the view of the city is pretty impressive, if anyone is afraid of heights you might want to pack a clean pair of pants! There’s also a feature ride called ‘The edge’, where for a further $12 you can enter a glass room which swings out from the side of the building by 3 metres and leaves you suspended, make it two pair of clean pants :-) I took a video of it and as soon as I find a decent wifi connection I’ll post it.
Remember Dave I met in Tokyo? The chap who slept in MacDonald because he forgot that all transports close at midnight? Well, he lives in Melbourne and I though it would be nice to catch up, so I emailed him and we met up for a few beers.
Foot bridge over the Yarra River
I was glad to have someone local to show me around town, more importantly someone who knew where the pubs were hiding! I met him and his girlfriend and we had some tucker in a Japanese restaurant for old time sakes, then we moved on to a cool pub where we stayed all night. On Saturday Dave took me to a welcome home party of a friend of his. It was great until the bar shut at midnight and we all moved to a flat. I went along and when I got there I realised Dave had gone home, so I was stuck in a private party of tight friends where I didn’t know anyone, and no one was particularly interested in talking to me. Normally these situations don’t bother me, in fact when I was younger I used to prefer parties where no one knew me, because I had the tendency of making an arse of my self.
This time though I felt quite uncomfortable, so I took the first opportunity I had to slip out and find my way back to the hostel. Luckily I wasn’t too far, just half hour walk.
A note on Australian History.
It always makes me smile when I hear Australians talking about their history, and every time I visit an historical site like a church or an old museum, I like to find out how old the building is. For example, St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne was build between 1880 and 1891, and the mother of all Australian Catholic Churches, St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, dates back to 1868, when the foundation stone was laid. Well, a few years ago at an auction in Wales, I came across a lovely old piano, which nobody wanted because it was falling to pieces.
Giant screen in Federation Square
It’s a Collard and Collard, I believe one of the first production pianos in the UK. I love this crap, so I bought it for a mere 5 pounds (that’s like two pints of beer!) and spent many nights taking it apart to repair what I could. I’ve had it tuned and it does actually play, but the point I want to make is that when I detached the action (the bit where all the little hammers are), it revealed a strut of wood with all the signatures and dates of the people who have tuned it and looked after it over the past years, and the very first date is 1868! So my piano is older than St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, that’s what makes me smile. When you think about it, you realise just how young is Australia as we know it, and how much of the real history you don’t hear about, maybe lost or forgotten.
Arts Centre from the Skydeck
Room for one more
On my last few days in Melbourne I noticed a message on the hostel’s board from someone who was looking for a ride along the Great Ocean Road. I was going that way and the last time I gave someone a lift it worked out ok, so I txt the number and arrange to meet up with Carola. Just before she turned up I was wondered which one she was from the girls I had seen around the hostel and a terrible though came to my mind… God what if she were the freaky looking one who cooked that disgusting concoction, which stunk the kitchen for three days? What could I say to get out of it… maybe I could just pretend to be even more weird, like fake a nervous tick and wink at her every now and then…or put on a strange accent and laugh like an idiot at everything she says? Well, I didn’t have to do any of these things because she turned out to be quite normal and fine.
Melbourne CBD from the Skydeck
In fact I couldn’t have asked for a better travel buddy as she is also a registered wwoofer, and I was planning to make four week-long farm stops along my way to Adelaide. Then later in the evening I realise that I was going to spend the next 4 weeks with a complete stranger, would this be a regretful decision? I didn’t know, but I was willing to give it a go, and if it really didn’t work out I could have always dump her stuff on the side of the road and legged it when she was using a public toilet!