The flight down from Darwin was mercifully only about 4 hours, as I was sitting between 2 not so petite ladies who insisted on encroaching on my space. The younger one's opening words to me were "So how does it feel to be the thorn sitting between 2 roses?", and things didn't improve from there.
As expected, Melbourne was cold and foggy, and I was the only person wandering around in T-shirt and shorts and sporting a tan. When I'd booked the hostel a couple of days ago, I'd specifically asked if I could check in at 7AM, which I'd been told would not be a problem. When I actually arrived at the reception though, I was told the earliest I could check in would be 10AM, which I accepted with resignation and headed to a nearby cafe for a greasy breakfast. I will happily endorse Amici's for providing the only genuine big breakfast I had in Australia - sufficiently big that I felt ill afterwards.
When I finally got into the dorm, there were 2 residents still sleeping. Though it was by no means cold, one of them was wearing a beanie. I spoke to them later, and
they had both come over from India - seems as though their university course there had suddenly lost government accreditation, so they had come to one of the Melbourne universities to finish off their degrees. They were finding the weather somewhat colder than their home states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.
I hadn't really seen much of Melbourne when I'd arrived at the beginning of my Australia trip, so I got down to a spot of sightseeing and some souvenir-hunting. First port of call was the Queen Victoria Market, which had been heavily plugged by Kat and Beth (though Kat may have been biased as she's from these parts). I spent a couple of hours roaming the aisles of the food section, seeing any number of cheese/olive/sausage/fish/etc stalls, and sampling a few freebies.
East of the market was Carlton Gardens, containing the Royal Exhibition building (apparently the only surviving such building from the 19th century anywhere in the world - it's been UNESCO listed). The fountain outside had a few stone platypuses gaily spurting water, which reminded me that I hadn't yet seen one of the blighters in the flesh.
After stocking up with stubbie holders, animal warning
signs, fridge magnets, and assorted other merchandise for friends and family, it was time for me to begin the long haul home, which was to be broken by a few days in Singapore. I got to Melbourne airport early, and my cheery smile to the check-in lady was rewarded with the allocation of an emergency exit row seat.
The few hours before boarding gave me a chance to reflect on my Australian experience. Though I know I'll be coming back again in less than 2 months, it still felt a little depressing to be leaving - especially with the prospect of an airconless English summer ahead. My travels in Australia have been completely different to the jaunt around India. Here has been less about sights and more about interaction with people, less about novelties and more about spending quality time doing things I could only skimp on when I was in the rat race. I'm not sure how much of this has been due to Australia itself, and how much has been due to the hostelling lifestyle - I suspect more because of the latter, but without the former the latter wouldn't exist. I've learned a few more things
that are deeply meaningful to me, and a few things that I really don't need in my life (decent chocolate biscuits fall into one of these categories). One thing I do know is that, when (if?) the travel bug finally leaves me, Australia is definitely on the short list of places where I want to live next.
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