Back in Melbourne

After a week at home I returned to Melbourne on a late night flight with a friend. We arrived at our hostel around 1am on Saturday night (or Sunday morning, depending how you look at it) and quickly called it a night. The trip had been booked before my flight home had been arranged and gave us a chance to catch up after a hectic week. We woke late on Sunday morning and took a leisurely walk to breakfast in a diner near the Queen Victoria Markets. We spent a few lazy hours exploring the markets focusing on the trinkets and crafts, rather than the food (though we did make a special visit to the Koko Black chocolate stall). I enjoyed our wanderings and certainly saw the markets differently than I had when I was there on my own.

After a rest at the hostel we hit the streets again for a long evening stroll to Docklands, South Bank and the CBD. It was fun to explore some of the shops at Docklands, especially after I haven’t done any normal mall-style shopping in a long time (outdoor shops do not count). The t-shirt and book shops were my favourite, though it was in the stationery shop that I came closest to parting with my money when I saw the journals (fortunately for my wallet, none had any lines in them and I can only journal if I have lines).
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And then there was another chapter in my friend and my food adventures. This time we ventured into unknown territory by dining at an African restaurant and eating the two-person set menu. The food was delicious and presented beautifully. The flavours were unlike anything I’ve tasted before especially the bread, which had a sour taste to it. It was certainly a wonderful way to end a lovely day.

Docklands, Southbank and Ghosts

After another day spent working on my ethics in education university paper, I was happy to stretch my legs and check out more of what Melbourne has to offer.
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I wander almost aimlessly in what I believe might be the direction of the Yarra River. I make this deduction from the lie of the land and soon find myself at Docklands. Being 5:30pm, the shops are already closing so there’s not much point exploring this retail precinct so I walk in what I now know is the direction of the river. I am soon greeted by a large dock with statues and other artistic references.
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I chuckle at the cow in the tree sculpture outside Etihad Stadium. I have no idea what it means but it sure is very Melbourne.
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I reach South Bank as commuters make their ways home and the first of the diners start to appear at the restaurants. Bicycle headlights are so bright they blind me as cycle commuters weave their way precariously through the walking throng. As a former cycle commuter I make a mental note to carry a spare low-lumen headlight to use when cycling through well-lit shared pathways like this one and to reduce my speed to 10-15kph through these areas because cyclists traveling quickly ringing their bells at pedestrians is actually unpleasant and unecesssary in the bigger scheme of things (ringing bells is fine but not when it’s done out of entitlement when the cyclist is traveling at 20-25kph or on the drops through a built up pedestrian space).
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The city lights reflect off the Yarra River’s waters. It’s a beautiful sight and makes for lovely walking. While I love the bush and natural areas, I am quite partial to city lights.
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I make my way to the Old Melbourne Gaol where I have booked a ghost tour. I don’t want to give too much away about the tour because surprise and mystery are definitely one of the best things about these experiences. Let’s just say it was a spooky experience in which we walked through the dark old prison listening to ghostly stories of prisoners, guards and more recent ghoulish encounters. There’s tiny dark cells, a gallows and the knowledge that Ned Kelly was among the 174 people hanged here.

The Comics Lounge (Melbourne)

After a long day sitting behind my laptop in the hostel common room I need to get out. The hostel has advertised free entry to a nearby comedy club, The Comics Lounge so I decide to check it out. I’ve never been to stand up comedy before so I can chalk this up to another new experience brought about by travel.

The laughter and frivolity begin the moment we step out of the hostel doors. There are six of us: two South Africans, three Irishfolk from Cork and me. I discover that Irish humour is similar to our Australian humour. The Irish girls are soon teasing me about some wonky directions I gave them earlier in the evening and that cheeky humour continues for the short walk to the venue. By the time I am there it won’t matter how good or bad the comedians are, I’ve already forgotten about the ethics in education paper I’ve been slaving over and am ready for a good time.

Doug Chappell warms the crowd. He’s hilarious, playing off the audience members who he has decided to talk with. His comedy is not for the feint hearted as the f*** word makes frequent appearances and he either mentions or alludes to sex many times. But in the context of a local comedy club it’s hilarious. Unfortunately, the first act didn’t quite measure up to Doug’s introduction and his timing was slightly off for me. I can’t remember the comedian’s name but he seemed relatively young and it was probably just a matter of experience rather than lack of skill. I still had a few chuckles but was grateful for a short set. Dave Ivkovic, by comparison has me belly laughing and wanting more. His joke about Collinwood football supporters has me cheering because, as a Brisbane local, I support two teams: Brisbane and anyone who is playing against Collingwood. The night finishes with Doug taking the Ice Bucket Challenge and making a couple of prank phone calls to people who were nominated by audience members.

If you are in Melbourne and want a laugh, get yourself along to The Comics Lounge. It’s quite a good night out. If you are staying in a hostel, you might find that free ticket are available because there were groups from other hostels at the venue too.

Churches of Melbourne

It’s Sunday morning and the sun is shining. There are two beautiful churches across the road from the hostel I am staying at and yesterday I saw some impressive church spires poking up in the distance when I was in Melbourne. So this morning I use the internet to locate some churches of various denominations around the CBD area, mark up a map and set off.
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St Mary’s Anglican Church is quiet and relaxed. Like other Anglican Churches I have seen during my travels, St Mary’s reminds me of someone relaxing in a garden. It was squat and sprawled comfortably under the shade of a tree.
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The nearby St Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church is almost medieval in style. Yesterday a wedding was taking place here. This morning, a few of the faithful are gathering for Sunday Mass. When I say a few, I mean that a quarter hour before the mass there are still less than twenty people at the church. Inside, the church is beautiful. I stay for a few moments to take in the atmosphere but leave before the mass starts to continue my wanderings.
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My next stop is the Romanian Orthodox Church where a few elderly women with walking canes are making their way through the gates. They are well-dressed in dark-coloured dresses. The mosaics on the front of the church are a beautiful touch.
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After a walk up Lygon Street, which is quiet this early in the day, I circle the Corpus Christie Seminary a few times before I find St George’s Church hidden behind locked gates. I could see the spire but couldn’t find my way there until I saw a driveway. There was an 11:30am mass advertised outside the church but at 11:05am the gates were still locked and no access is possible. It’s a shame because this church looks absolutely beautiful and must be a lovely place to sit and contemplate.
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The Sacred Heart Church is a bonus on my walk. This church seems to be part of a school and didn’t come up on the map that I checked this morning. The round tower makes me think of fantasy films and novels.
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The low key exterior of the Greek Orthodox Church belies it’s popularity. There is a crowd of men, women and children outside the church where some sort of cakes are being given away or sold. The dress code is conservative and the older people wear dark colours. Greek language hums through the air and it is almost odd when I hear a couple speaking English in this setting.
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Around the corner I come to St Patrick’s Cathedral. These are the spires I could see from the city yesterday. I feel like I might be somewhere in Europe. Mass started half an hour ago so I don’t want to go inside lest I disturb the faithful. But even from outside I can tell the cathedral must be incredibly grand.
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Across the road the German Lutheran Trinity Church is tiny by comparison and I can’t help but wonder what parishiners of the two churches thought of the other’s buildings. The German Lutheran Church still has all its signage in German, indicating that mass might even still be conducted in that language.
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Down on Collins Street St Michael’s Uniting and the Scotts Presbytarian Churches stand opposite each other. Both are beautiful examples of structure and calm amidst the bustle of the busy city streets.
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And finally I come to the unobtrusive little grey Welsh Church nestled between modern buildings. It seems modest in comparison to the other churches I have seen and is a pleasant end to my explorations.

On markets and street art (Melbourne)

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The Queen Victoria Markets are a Melbourne institution. I almost always end up there when I travel to Melbourne. I am drawn there not by the prospect of buying anything interesting because heaven knows they only sell an array of stuff that I don’t need: footy jerseys and scarves, touristy tea towels and stuffed koalas, soaps, tacky t-shirts, cheap jewelry and food. But they have a fantastic atmosphere on a sunny Saturday when tourists and locals rub shoulders.
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The array of fruit and vegetables on offer is wonderful. You can buy many different varieties of mushrooms.
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Less common vegetables like parsnips and globe artichokes.
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Vine ripened tomatoes galore.
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And seasonal fruits, like mandarins, apples and strawberries.
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Even the items that don’t interest me attract my eye by their pretty bright colours.
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Or the jumble of shapes.
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The morning sounds are dominated by the songs of musicians and the hubbub of people talking. By afternoon the call of bargains takes over and muffles everything else. “One dollar one dollar one dollar” comes the call of men’s voices. Old hands with Mediteranean accents compete with muscular young blokes with ocker tones to their calls. I don’t hear many women shouting bargains and, in fact, a few men have materialised at stands where women have stood all day. Perhaps men have louder voices than women for shouting over the top of each other; I only report what I hear. By the time I return to the hostel I have bought quite a good selection of fruit and vegetables to self-cater for my seven remaining nights here in Melbourne.
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The colour and sound of the market is complemented by the colour and creativity of the street art I see painted in laneways around the city.
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I can’t help but wonder whether some of the more aggressive or harsh art is confronting to some passers by.
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I personally like it all.
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Even some of the more abstract works.
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I can’t help but wonder how many hours have gone into creating these works. Probably more hours than it’s going to take me to find more urban art in this Australia’s second largest city.

Hostel people (Melbourne)

Youth hostels: an interesting mix of cultures, goals, experiences, ages and personalities. When you first check in, there’s no way of knowing what the strangers you are about to live with will be like.  But within a short time, you’ll work out which of the following four categories they fall into.

1. The wide eyed traveler
This person is usually under 25 years old and on the trip of their life. They have worked hard in school and saved as much as they could to travel. They stay for 1-3 nights before continuing on a bus or train to the next place. They are fantastic company because they are always smiling and laughing and want to talk with as many people from all over the world as they can. Last night I had two such room mates and it was midnight before we finally turned out the lights on our conversations and stories.

2. The working holidayer
These are the long term travelers. They are often on their trip for one year or more and have been in your country almost long enough to seem like a resident. They often stay in the hostel for one month or more, going to work during the day and partying at night. They know all the cheap places to eat and the best places to drink. Their food shelf is overflowing with half full jars and their meals are often big enough to feed the small crowd they eat with every night. They have a routine going. I have found these to be the most common guests in Australian hostels over the years. They tend to be less social with those who are passing through because they see so many of us. But they always seem to have great fun with their new working holiday friends.

3. The local looking for cheap accommodation
At more established hostels, this group is increasingly common (and is the group I have most fallen into over the years). They love the vibe of young people traveling who tell stories in the kitchen. These guests are usually incredibly social and fun. Often aged 35-60 they like to share stories of their previous travels but mostly like to give hints and tips about the best places to go in their home towns. They travel light, attend business meetings or conferences during the day and hang out in communal area at night.

4. The permanent hostel resident
This small group are often pensioners or people down on their luck who are using the hostel as cheap accommodation. The less I say about my experiences with this group the better because they have rarely been positive.

So last night I checked into the youth hostel for a night before today’s travel to the snow. I started by offending an older lady who is in the fourth group who reacted poorly to my attempt at being friendly. She then proceeded to muscle in on everything anyone said. She had done it all bigger, better and badder than anyone else (apparently she cycle toured fully loaded at 48 years old covering 80km every morning before lunch and implying that she did more in the afternoon). When I didn’t react in competition (I said that I was probably a bit soft) she turned the television up so loud no one could talk and settled in. Not a great start to my stay.

Fortunately, things got much better. My room mates turned out to be cool guys from Germany, Italy and Canada. In the second kitchen was a group of friendly nurses who fell into the third group. They were enjoying a wonderful meal engaging everyone in conversation making the kitchen feel like a home away from home. I spent the night chatting in my room and in the kitchen. I laughed until midnight and I got some great tips on things to do next week when I return to Melbourne. It’s been a long time since I stayed in a proper travelers’ hostel and it was a breath of fresh air. There’s nothing like the pure joy of someone raving about the fantastic meal they just ate or seeing someone’s eyes light up when they hear they can see penguins. And it’s lovely when there are others around who create an atmosphere of respect and friendly conversation.

Personally I think it will be a sad day when hostels become impersonal cheap accommodation for long term residents. The coming and going, mixing and matching, swapping and sharing is what makes them a joy. They run on laughter and exploration for all no matter their age. And as I make my way to the youth hostel at the snow, I am left to wonder what my next experience will be like.