Australia

27th April – 10th May 2016

Arriving in Melbourne as a tourist is, for one of the first times I’ve been somewhere, an extremely pleasant experience getting to the city. The first thing I noticed is that I didn’t have umpteen people approaching me to guide me away from the airport into expensive taxis. Just as I realise that is why the airport seems so empty (that and the fact it’s 1am in the morning) an announcement comes on; “we’d like to remind you that the unauthorised approaching of passengers is strictly prohibited”. They read my mind and I like this place already.

Given that it’s pitch black outside and there’s no shuttle bus that I know of right now I decide to stay in a little coffee shop and try my first iced coffee with ice cream. Delicious. I have a second to keep me awake. I meet a lovely chap who’s Australian but has emigrated to the Philippines where he now has a family. He’s very proud that his wife isn’t like “all the other Filipinos”. I’m not quite sure what he’s insinuating and I think it best not to ask for an elaboration. We have a good chat and it’s a fine way to keep entertained and stay awake for the next 5 hours.

Once enough time has passed I make my way to the Sky Bus which goes right into the city. Once I arrive, there’s either a free shuttle service for tourists to their hotels or a free tram service to ferry around the CBD (Central Business District, I believe). Such a fantastic experience having just arrived and not yet having figured out how to get my Oyster equivalent card, the MyKi.

Other passengers, as well as a friendly ticket patroller helped me get around. Someone ushered me into catching the sunrise over the Yarra River, which is exactly what I did.

Beautiful.

After falling asleep on the grass, I get up and head to the aquarium. It was very nicely done and well worth the ticket price. At the end of the visit I joined a school group to watch a 4D version of Ice Age. Their child like enthusiasm to every sense being awoken was just adorable and I hope none of them lose that sense of wonder as they grow up.

My first week was spent at the typical backpacker’s location of St Kildas. I arrived. Slept. Woke up. Got offered free wine and cheese. I like this place too. Every night had something going on, we partied each night and on a couple of occasions I woke up in different beds. On one of those occasions with two other people. A good, sometimes hilariously awkward, start to my time here.

I will say a lot of these places in Melbourne are super expensive. Once having spent close to $20 for two lemonades after feeling I had drunk too much, had me immediately regretting not choosing an alcoholic drink to help numb the shock of the price.

During that first week, I did meet an incredibly lovely lady, Jodie, from Wales. We met up a second time and visited the Shrine of Remembrance (Anzac day, which is in dedication to all the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps that gave their lives, had just passed) as well as going to St. Kilda beach. When we departed, I also went and checked out the penguin rocks which are habitat to the smallest penguins which hide in the rocks to avoid getting preyed on. Which makes a difference from the sociable penguins in South Africa!

 

In the next couple of days I ticked off the Melbourne Museum (well worth a visit), the ACMI centre, the immigration museum and the Victoria Arts centre. Which ironically has a very artistic building just next door but that’s actually a theatre. The Arts centre is a bit more non-descript until you get to the front door.

The week ended with two reunions with two of the most fun people I know, who I had the pleasure of meeting in Istanbul and Edinburgh last year. A chap called James and the amazing Dee. An enjoyable night by the river, socialising and going to some local house parties with James. Followed the next day by a picturesque (somewhat misty) day out in Macedon, seeing the WW1 memorial that they have, the local national park area. We also were treated to some lovely company and tea and (oh my god, amazing) home baked banana bread. This week could not get any better.

For week two I decided to chill out a little bit more in the comfort of my own space so I went and got myself an AirBnB a bit further out the city in a place called Rosana.

Total glam packer  right now, I know.

As soon as I take a “day off” from it all I start to feel worse for wear. Possibly because I left my jacket at a house party. Possibly because I’ve not had time for a hangover yet. Who knows. Either way, I’m thankful to have my own room, a double bed and a private bathroom. This feels like luxury. It’s amazing how your definition of everything is based simply on comparison. When I had my own flat this would be a downgrade. Coming from hostels this is heaven.

Week two kicks off by checking out the local area. Miss Marie is the local coffee haunt and I frequent it often. The local shop and bakery are equally pleasant and I feel like a seasoned traveller when I’m still buying groceries to eat on the cheap. Fresh bread is just a bonus.

The local Modern Arts centre of Heidelberg is probably one of the oddest exhibitions I’ve been to. It also happens to have one of the best cafés I’ve been in too. The grounds that it is on is lovely, with random art projects dotted around the place. From what I read “Heidi” (that was the house’s name) used to be a sort of artistic retreat for creative people ran by the home owners John and Sunday Reed. Which probably explains the randomness of some of it to allow people to be uninhibited and creative.

Here’s a cow for instance.

Coming up to the end of the week Dee had invited me along to my first swing ball. Something I’m forever grateful for getting pulled into back in Cambridge. I somehow managed to persuade James to come along, who in turn persuaded three other people too. Then, on the day of the ball I go to see Mad Max (the original) in the ACMI centre where I meet three gorgeous girls who also agree to come along having no experience of it whatsoever. I admire their bravery still!

Before we get there they just have to show me their rooftop.

Just. Wow.

We look at the time and realise we need to skidaddle. We make it just in time for the lesson before the ball.

It was incredible. So much more than I even hoped for.

The place is packed. There’s a lesson, social dancing, performances, more social dancing, more performances. The bar on site ensures that me and James feel comfortable enough getting involved in the professional routine. I’m not sure how much they appreciated our contribution but we had an absolute ball!

I’m so glad to have met this lot. Lucy, Alaina and Louisa helped make it into an even more fun night where we all just let loose on the dance floor. Sometimes with partners. Sometimes without. It was all good fun.

At the end of the night I manage to steal Dee away for the last dance. She is just incredible. Beautiful. Talented. With the most natural smile you’ve ever seen. The music ends. We say goodbye to the girls who joined us. We walk outside. We say goodbye to James, Quentin and the others. We say goodbye again. We walk a little down the road. We say goodbye again. Eventually, we get in the car and Dee drives me back home. Home, nowadays, seems to be wherever I sleep. The world feels like home.

For the last night I have checked out of my AirBnB a day early to take James up on his offer to stay at a night at his to see another part of Australia. When I arrive at the nearest station James turns up in a typically awesome car. We go exploring for a while before heading to his where I am greeted by his very welcoming family who’ve also gone to the trouble of sorting out lunch and dinner for us too which was most gratefully received!

In the afternoon, after a quick nap whilst watching TV, we head out in the car. We check out a local winery, which unfortunately has been damaged by the storm which raged whilst I snoozed, before having to head to a second one. Although, again, we weren’t able to do any wine tasting, we were able to get a refreshing glass of red wine. We talked, laughed and tried to get the best shots we could in between the laughing.

After another great day we get some sleep before I have to head back into town. Bags in stow, I meet up with Dee to say goodbye and then go out for a drink with one of the ladies I was fortunate enough to meet and drag along to the ball. Lastly, for one more drink with Quentin who’s company is a pleasure.

She’s gorgeous, funny and has this sweet innocence about her. On my way there I promise myself that I won’t try to kiss her goodbye. I find I’m getting far too confident with myself and think it’s probably best to start toning it down a bit before it transcends into arrogance. Which I really don’t want. Then I see her and I have to remind myself of that same promise seconds later as I hug her hello. We check out a local coffee shop I’d heard about before taking their recommendation for a further drink after that. The conversation is easy and the time quickly goes.

Then she tells me she’s never kissed a guy before. My mouth drops. I can’t believe this is possible. This is the second time an absolutely stunning girl has told me this. I don’t know what to say. All I can think of is….

So….. If I kissed you right now, in front of all these people, that would be your first kiss…..?

Wait. Did I think that or did I just say it?

I think I said it out loud.

What was that promise I made myself again?

And with that, I’m leaving Melbourne with a smile on my face.

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