25th November - 13th December
25.11.2011 - 13.12.2011
My last few hours in the USA involved battling the infamous LA public transport system to LA airport; made worse by the fact that it was the last day before Thanksgiving, and half the bus was weighed down with turkeys and other travelers escaping the madness. I was most excited however by the prospect of flying on the new(ish) Airbus A380; the double-decker mammoth of the skies. It was awesome, but even though the flight involved perhaps one of the smoothest take-offs and landings I've ever experienced, the leg room was one of the worst.
The flight was also funned up by the fact that electro pop kids LMFAO and their entourage were traveling to Australia to play some shows; and as they were in the check-in queue in front of me, I was able to hear frontman Redfoo shout down the phone at his lawyer for a good 30 mins whilst they lost 'hundreds of thousands of dollars' in royalties. The 'party rock' lifestyle was obviously however taking its toll, as their band and entourage passed out cold in their seats in front of me as soon as we took off.
Flying westward from LA to Melbourne also meant that I lost a day, so strangely the 13 hour flight left at 11PM on Wednesday and arrived at 10AM on Friday.
I was greeted upon my arrival by a cloudy, drizzly Melbourne and a family friend who I stayed with for a few days; allowing me to update my online life and avoid the wet and somewhat British weather which continued throughout the weekend.
Following a few luxuries including a day touring the Yarra Valley vineyards (a bit of flashpacking is healthy...), I checked back into hostel life, 'Hotel(?) Discovery; a huge place in the centre of Melbourne, close to the huge and diverse Queen Victoria Market (where I once or twice treated myself to some foodie 'flashpacker' luxuries) and was a place worth visiting just for the amazing array of smells.
The first thing I realized from talking to people was a huge difference in the hostel population; with a vast number of people looking and in work, rather than backpacking. This didn't become a problem however, as other guests pursuing a new working life in Aus were just as keen to explore the city as I was, and I found myself some good friends as well as in the role of 'business psychologist'; eyeing over CV's and job applications.
Overall, I spent about 10 days in the city, which was one I had been told numerous times was a great one for chilling out and catching loads of cultural highlights. One thing I loved about Melbourne was how multi-cultural it felt (and it truly is, with incredibly vibrant Chinese, Greek and Italian communities and districts [among many others]). I felt it here more than other cities I'd been to (even NY), because of the such intimate feel of the city.
What's more, the occasional spell of bad weather allowed several museum days, which were some of the best i'd ever been to. In particular, was the old Melbourne Gaol; home to 180 odd hangings including the notorious Ned Kelly and where we also participated in an interactive tour in which we were cast into the roles of convicts and an Aussie 'guard' had a fun time grilling us; especially us Pom's.
The other highlight was the Melbourne Museum; a huge place complete with its own indoor rainforest and a highlight for me, an awesome exhibition on the mind which basically fit the past 5 years of my university education into an hour.
Melbourne was also a great city for music, and a good few hours were spent watching free concerts in Federation Square; a space at the heart of the city, paved with red rock sourced from desert filled Western Australia. Further time was also spent exploring and getting lost in the maze of lanes which ran through the city which were lined with walls of street art. We found a few gems however, namely 'Bennet's Lane Jazz Club'; the 'Worlds best Jazz Club' according to Lonely Planet (although my loyalties lay in NYC...) which was tucked away at the end of one discreet lane. Another gem came in the form of a club called 'Cherry Bar' on 'AC/DC' lane (whose sign regularly got stolen); where we ducked into one Thursday night when they played back-to-back soul and funk into the early hours.
A nice break from city life came from spending a few days down the coast in the sea side town of St. Kilda, which was lively with backpackers and penguins at sunset, as well as 'Brighton Beach' (the best beach in the Melb area); a sandy beach lined with vibrantly coloured beach huts (which I discovered sold for a crazy couple of hundred thousand dollars). St. Kilda was also home to penguins who at sunset each day launch their attack on a beach of tourists following a day of hunting; (the penguins, not tourists). After 45 minutes of waiting, we finally found ourselves surrounded by three tiny and plump penguins who seemed to love the limelight.
Another rest from city life came during a 3 day trip along the 'Great Ocean Road' (stretching for 150 miles along the Australian south coast); which followed some incredibly dramatic, rocky coast including the 'Twelve Apostles' [of which only 8 remain, supposedly), plenty of golden beaches and southern sprawling sea.
We also spent two days driving through and hiking 'The Grampians National Park'; consisting of miles and miles of stunning and unspoilt mountain ranges. Our final day included climbing one particular range, on which our tour guide managed to get us lost on, resulting in a rocky de-tour which I'm sure was not covered on any of our travel insurance policies. Despite a few tears from my fellow group members, we all survived and all problems were remedied by one more flashpacker wine tasting during the 6 hour drive back to Melbourne.
All in all, Melbourne is a great city for getting lost in its maze of lanes and arcades, soul clubs, beautiful parks, people watching, museums (particularly cramming a psychology degree in an hour) and providing a base for some great trips down the coast.
Lots of people I spoke to seemed to mention the great Melbourne-Sydney divide; suggesting an alliance with one or the other after visiting them. As I continued my journey north-easterly to Sydney, I couldn't wait to return to this city as a backpacker and see whether this was true.
- MELB TOP THREE *
1. Queen Victoria Market - Home to every kind of cheese, meat, fruit and Aussie souvenier.
2. Melbourne Museum - Complete with indoor rainforest, a taxidermy army and dream simulator (truly addictive and time consuming)
3. Cherry Bar - Who needs alcohol when you have a soul and funk DJ spinning into the early hours? And it's on AC/DC Lane baby!