Marvelling at Melbourne

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February 2nd 2010
Published: February 2nd 2010
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...from the YHA Hostel roof

Cancelled trips

Road trips: Australia is great for 'em; the seemingly endless tarmac, the wind in your hair, loud music pumping from the speakers, and that glorious scenery. The fact that I can't drive nor hold a driving licence is not an issue! In fact I quite like NOT driving - all that concentration and no alcohol. Borrrrring!

But, maybe I should grow-up - learn to drive...

I waited for Doreen’s arrival in the foyer of the hostel, I was fully packed and it was a beautifully sunny day. Doreen arrived in tears. Thrifty the hire car company - renamed Shifty by me - refused to let her have the car. They wouldn’t accept her international drivers licence without her actual driver’s licence from Germany - for some reason Doreen hadn't thought it was a useful thing to have with her on her travels. I was of no use to anyone as I don’t drive (and until this point didn’t even want to drive).

Much to our irritation, we found out that other hire companies like Europcar and Avis accepted the international licence on it's own, in fact Doreen had already hired a car in Cairns with it. But they didn’t have any cars left (two days after Christmas). So we were left in a rather sticky situation. We looked at our options:

Tours along the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne were not running that week, so we decided on getting to Melbourne and hiring a car there instead (dependant on Doreen’s licence being accepted of course).

However, trains didn’t leave until another two days; the bus took 11 hours overnight and cost 160 dollars (85 quid) - so no sleep and the following day we'd be knackered. Doreen was on a schedule and I'd been in Adelaide long enough so flying was the only option.

A couple of hours and 500 bucks later we are in the air flying across to Melbourne. Upon arrival we had second thoughts about hiring a car because of the expensive quotes we received, instead we would hire one after the New Year. It was time to enjoy Melbourne for a few days...


So I'm in Melbourne, at the height of an Aussie summer and it's all rather wonderful - I've regained my interest in new places it seems.

Oh and Melbourne has trams - trams! And lots of them too - they’re not my fave mode of transport - slow and jumpy and their tracks a bloody hazard for the cyclist - but they are romantic and a glance back to yesteryear. Because of this a peculiar and rather frightening occurrence takes place on the streets of Melbourne. Car drivers have to do an elaborate 'hook turn' in order to avoid the trams, to make a turning into another street they have to go very wide as they turn. It looks weird and dangerous but seems to work (for the most part).

The Lonely Planet stated in its little box of words that travellers who stayed at the YHA Metro hostel in North Melbourne raved about it. Raved! That’s unusual to say the least and I was dubious particularly as YHA’s are usually a bit like boarding schools - TV rooms and chill out areas closed at 11pm etcetera. Anyway, the place was spotless, facilities very good (a large kitchen and dining area) but the atmosphere as usual was a bit cold. Germans everywhere too - sprinklings of French and hardly any Brits/Irish. Where are all my peeps? Anyway there was a lovely lounge on the roof above the third floor which over looked Melbourne’s skyline - and a fabulous skyline it is too.

I really liked the neighbourhood of North Melbourne too - one of its oldest with lots of lovely 19th century houses (Melbourne getting rich from a number of gold rushes in the 1850s and becoming “Marvellous Melbourne”). It also has lots of vintage clothes shops and interesting cafes. I immediately noticed that people care about what they look like here, they are fashionable and chic - which can translate to snobby fashionistas - but I welcome a bit of that after Brisbane.

Melbourne was somewhere I could live, it was lively, busy, with people living in the city and not just retreating to the suburbs. In fact, like London, there are cool neighbourhoods outside of the CBD and I’m looking forward to visiting those in the near future - in particular Fitzroy.

Drinking to Burma

I’d thought I’d meet up with an old travel partner of mine who was now in Melbourne. I’d met John at the airport in Yangon (Rangoon) and we couldn’t shake each other off so for the next month we explored Burma together (February-March 2009) - seemingly years ago now. We met up with a friend of his in North Melbourne and then went to the pub, talking pubs, booze, history (his friend a history teacher) and travelling to Iran (John had been a few years back and loved it). We started off in The Albion Hotel pub and apparently there are Edinburgh, Cardiff and Dublin hotel pubs in the vicinity. This is the closest I've gotten in Australia to a British pub, a traditional one that is: sticky carpet, wooden furniture, a wooden low bar, odd men idling oh and a seriously pissed worker who was barred for "three months". After a few shared jugs of Carlton with three half-pint glasses we got onto a Melbourne fave of a “pot and pieta” - basically a meal deal of a jug of beer and chicken schnitzel with chips. Yeh, they have a lot of chips here.

Anyway, it was dusk by the time we left the pub (9pm) and we then looked for another pub - our mate knew where they all were but each one was closed. Again it's that time of the year in Oz where lots of things are closed and for an extended period (it's their summer after all). Anyway, we walked around a seriously atmospheric North Melbourne looking for a pub that was open and finally found one at the borderline poncey up-market The Leveson - every town has to have one. We only stayed for one more pot (jug) - a backpacker stands to loose a fair amount of valuable cash if he goes on the lash of an evening - and I am am one of those I'm afraid. The hostel was around the corner and so I walked it back to my dormitory.

What I'm listening to:
Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle by Bill Callahan

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