After 2 days of waiting on mother nature to issue my pardon and allow flights to continue, I have finally found myself in Melbourne! I was feeling a bit down tonight when I finally landed, and after a lengthy shuttle trip to my hostel, I resolved to pick myself up and venture out into the city. After a brief conversation with the hostel staff, I decided to check out the Brunswick neighborhood. With my coat and scarf wrapped around me as tightly as I could manage, I headed out into the cold, dark night. After about 3/4 of a mile I started seeing a variety of shops (all of which were closed), restaurants, and a large number of cafes. Brunswick had an immediately obvious “hip” vibe to it, and, as I would later discover, was the “hipster” area of town. I continued my trek, pausing occasionally to peer through a shop window, or admire some graffiti, until finally arriving at my destination: Bimbo Deluxe Pizza. Bimbo’s multiple stories are littered with couches, coffee tables, and chairs, and felt more of an old victorian home than a bar and restaurant: I loved it! I ordered a pizza (on special for $4) and a beer (not on special for $8), and began chatting up a guy who was placing his order beside me. After conversing for a few minutes, I had found that Chris (my new bar buddy) had just taken his final exam for paramedics school and was out celebrating with his classmates. He invited me to join them, and we spent the next hour or so chatting and enjoying a few beers. After we had finished our beers, one of the girls in the group (known as “Russia” due to the fact that she was from Russia) exclaimed “I want to go get a lap dance then go home and go to bed. Let’s go to the strip club!” First night off to a good start. We all jumped in the car and headed downtown to her favorite club, stopping at the ATM along the way so she could get some cash to pay for her pleasure. Chris and I decided that we didn’t really want to pay the $20 cover at the club, so he suggested we instead head to the Crown Casino on the harbor which boasts $4.50 drinks. At this point I was just sort of following the evening wherever it took me, so I agreed to join him. The casino was quite nice, and reminded a lot of vegas. I had one last drink with Chris, and after watching him drop $300 into a slot machine in the course of 30 minutes, decided to call it a night. Upon returning to my room, I was greeted by my new roomates Ariel and Danielle, both of whom are from LA. If this wasn’t coincidence enough, Ariel’s family is from Minnesota, and the lady (who’s name I didn’t catch) sleeping on the bunk above me was also from Minnesota. It continues to amaze me just how small the world is.
Day 2. Joined by my new friends from LA, I set out to explore the CBD (central business district): the heart of the city. We hopped on the free public tram (which runs a loop around the entire CBD) and made our first stop at the Victoria Market. The market is comprised of a large number of booths, selling everything from clothing, to souvenirs, to produce, and basically resembles a huge flea market. After a bit of poking around the maze of booths (basically all selling the same things), we jumped back on the tram and headed to South Melbourne to check out Eureka Tower. The tower is the highest viewpoint in Melbourne and provides 360 degree views of the entire city. Needless to say, the views were spectacular, and really helped to give an understanding of how the city and surrounding areas were layed out. Once we’d had our fill of the views, we set out to explore a bit more of the city. Melbourne CBD reminds me a bit of the best parts of New York City and San Francisco all rolled into one, without any of the grunge or seedy bits. The streets are connected by small alleyways, which are littered with cafes and graffiti. This was one of my favorite things about Melbourne: no matter how much you explored, there always seemed to be a new alleyway, cafe, or bar you had yet to discover. The other thing I noticed about the city is just how fashionable all its’ inhabitants are. It was almost a bit strange; almost every person you passed was dressed quite chic, and they all seemed to have the same general sense of style. It was almost as if everyone had gotten together and said “ok, this is how we’re going to dress,” and everyone just agreed. That being said, I feel quite at home here. In fact, this is possibly the first city I’ve found thus far on my trip that I could see myself living in.
After spending most of the afternoon exploring the city, the girls and I parted ways for a bit and planned to meet up a bit later for dinner. I continued wandering aimlessly and eventually found myself in a rather unique shopping mall. The building had a huge, cone-shaped, glass roof, and in the center of the interior stood a large brick building. Apparently this building was once used to create lead shot for firearms and was maintained for historical purposes (it now houses a number of chain clothing stores). I met the girls back at the hostel around 7 and, on the advice of the hostel staff, we made our way to a restaurant in Chinatown called “Mr. Dumpling House” for dinner. The line was already quite long by the time we arrived, but we resolved to wait it out, assuming that given the sizable crowd it must be worth the wait. The wait turned out to be a bit more frustrating than any of us anticipated. The problem was that there were only 3 people in our party, and many of the tables in the restaurant sat 6 or more. Rather than breaking up the tables and seating us (along with the other party of 3 ahead of us), the hostess decided to instead seat 8 larger parties ahead of us, while we sat idly by and watched. After a little over an hour we finally got seated. We were all quite hungry at this point and placed our order straight away: 3 plates of dumplings, and one order of spring rolls (bringing the total number of dishes to 4 for those of you following along). The waitress returned about 10 minutes later with our first plate of dumplings which we excitedly consumed within a few minutes. We then sat and watched as she brought tray after tray to all the surrounding tables, yet the remainder of our order never came. After almost an hour had passed, the waitress approached me and asked if we had received the rest of our order. I told her we had not, and again repeated the items that were still missing. Another 10 minutes went by, and she again returned to ask whether we had received the missing dishes. I, once again, informed her that we had not. Another 15 minutes and the dishes finally arrived! Now full, and rather content despite the horrible service, we prepared to leave. It was at this point that the manager approached me and began asking about how many dishes we had received. I repeated multiple times that we had received exactly what we had ordered and expressed my unhappiness with the wait, but he was somehow unsatisfied with the situation. As it turned out, he thought that we had received the dishes more than once and were trying to scam them. He asked me to join him downstairs, then requested that I sit and review a security tape with him to determine whether or not we had received the dishes more than once. After 10 minutes of watching him fast forward and rewind the security tape, he simply said “ok, that’s fine.” Obviously I was less than happy with this, but at that point I just wanted to leave and continue with my night. After waiting for our bill (which did not arrive), we went downstairs to the manager, who quickly printed it out for us (in the full amount, no discounts, no apologies). We paid and left. On a side note, the dumplings were amazing, and quite cheap, and despite all the bullshit we had to put up with I would still recommend this place. Next up was a stop at The Croft Institute, a small, hard to find, cocktail lounge not far from the dumpling house (I had done a bit of research and supposedly this place was supposed to have the best craft cocktails in Melbourne). Wandering through a few dark, graffiti-covered alleyways we found ourselves at a dead-end, the only thing in sight was a small, illuminated sign reading “The Croft Institute.” This was the place! After battling through the crowd, and having a good conversation with the bartender (a 20 year old guy named Chris who plans on heading to SD after he turns 21), I ordered a drink called “The Mad Professor,” and the girls ordered something with absence which was served in a rocks glass with a syringe in it (minus the needle). The drinks were quite good, but the place was packed, and at $20 per drink, we decided to head on to our next stop: “Section 8.” Section 8 is an outdoor bar (down yet another alley) surrounded by a wire fence, with a few tables, and a bar. It was great! We hung out there for a while, enjoying another tasty beverage, then decided to call it a night.
Day 3. The girls took off for Tasmania today, and I spent the entire day wandering around the city. Melbourne CBD is a very lively place to hang out. Street performers and musicians fill the sidewalks, and there people everywhere. I found a Scotch & Soda store (one of my favorite brands) and snagged myself a fancy new shirt (I’ve been feeling like a bit of slob wearing nothing but t-shirts and the same fleece day after day). After spending the entire day walking, I made dinner with one of my new dorm mates, then decided to head to bed.
Day 4. My friend Nikesh has been sending me all of these “friend suggestions” on facebook, and I finally worked out that he was trying to connect me with friends of his who live in Melbourne. I sent them each messages, and managed to connect with Dyxie, who invited me to join her and a friend in Port Melbourne for brunch. I gratefully accepted, and hopped on the train to meet them. We enjoyed a nice breakfast, then they showed me around the area a bit. Afterwards, I walked from Port Melbourne to St. Kilda where I caught the train back downtown and returned to my hostel.
Day 5. I woke up long before the sun, walking a half-mile to a neighboring hostel to catch a bus that would take me on a tour of the great ocean road, and the twelve apostles. The day was long, the weather was cold, and the sites were beautiful. To be perfectly honest though, after living on the west coast for nearly 8 years, the site of the Australian coastline wasn’t as stunning as it might otherwise be. After 12 hours tooling about on the bus, I found myself back at the hostel, and made it another early night.
Day 6. My last day in Melbourne. In the morning I went on a tour of the old Gaol (aka Jail), and learned about the history of Australia’s most famous criminals. I then killed a few hours bumming around the park, watching a movie, and hanging with a few friends from the hostel. I wrapped up the day by finishing up some laundry, and joining some friends from the great ocean road tour for dinner and the Little Creatures Dining Hall. After returning to the hostel, I found that the morning flights (including mine) had been canceled due to the same ash cloud that had me stuck in Christchurch (it strikes again!). I re-booked my shuttle to the airport, and have decided to just head to the airport tomorrow afternoon and hope for the best…