The Quiet Traveller: Day 5 – Melbourne

Today was Saturday, which meant I was able to explore a bit further afield with my cousin as he was off work. This did mean stepping back into the orange Honda Jazz, but I decided to sacrifice any street cred that existed in the first place to go exploring with him.

For another night, I slept restlessly, falling asleep at 10pm and waking up at 4am, but I had to be up around 6ish anyway, so it could have been worse. The reason for this early start was that we had to take my cousin’s wife to the start of her cycle ride. As mentioned previously, they are both complete cycle nuts. I’m talking the whole lycra hog as well, not just a helmet and couple of lights from Halfords. I’ve recently heard my other cousin is getting into the sport too. Maybe I too will contract the velocipede disease in my more venerable years.

I vaguely recalled having a dream about an exploding boat (don’t ask me why), grabbed a banana and took my seat in the Jazz. We were headed into the Yarra Valley, which is the region just outside of Melbourne. Famous for its wine, the landscape is dry rolling hills dotted with vineyards, but also the occasional scar of forest fire. Forest fires are a serious problem in Victoria, and I’ll come back to this issue later on at the Great Ocean Road.

We stopped for breakfast after swinging by the start of the cycle race, and then made our way to Healesville Sanctuary. This is a wildlife sanctuary which contains a huge variety of animals, including the generic Ozzie top 40 chart line up of kangaroos and koalas.  I was looking forward to this change of scenery, and fact that we got there very early meant there were few other people around. Also, animals don’t talk back, so my introvert side would not be drained as much as a day in the city. The sanctuary was not only a wildlife sanctuary, but also an introvert sanctuary.

So the animal line up verdict:

Koalas – These lazy furballs just sit in their trees munching their fancy eucalyptus leaves, occasionally casting a beady eye over passers by. Usually quite high up in the tree, it’s hard  to get a good look at them. Activities include napping 24/7 and dropping down from their trees to gnaw on Pom’s faces. 4/10.

Dingos – Real life doges. Infamous for eating babies, but apparently it wasn’t feeding time when I was there. 5/10.

Wombats – Being very familiar with the band named after them, I was curious to see what a wombat actually is. Turns out they’re like fluffy pigs, waddling around their habitats. Apparently my cousin had one run out in front of his bike once, which is very dangerous because these fellas are funky and chunky. 7/10.

Tasmanian devils – These are rather terrifying looking creatures. About the size of a dog with a rat like face. Would not want to encounter on a dark night. Interesting to watch from a distance though. 6/10

Kangaroos – The flagship of the Australian animal fleet, kangas are what you come to Oz to see. And unlike koalas, they really live up to the hype. I witnessed two having a bit of a boxing match, and I can tell you what, I would not like to get on the wrong side of them. For an extra fee, you can have them eat out of your hand. If they haven’t already beaten your face in with their mighty paws. 8/10.

Wallabies – Essentially the Tesco Value kangaroo. 4/10.

As well as the aforementioned creatures, there were also a number of bird areas which had very Jurassic Park vibes. I was half expecting a pack of velociraptors to come blundering through the foliage. Given the fact that I was in Australia, this would not have been a huge surprise. I had heard tales of the vicious creatures that resided there, so I was constantly on a guard which I did not relax until I got to New Zealand.

Healesville was all in all well worth the money. It was nice to see animals in a sanctuary wandering around relatively free rather than behind a zoo cage, and it was good to tick off kangaroos from the bucket list. It was indeed a very Australian place, and to seal the deal I heard something that only an Aussie could say whilst I was walking out.

*child trips and falls headfirst into the floor in play park*

*starts crying and runs to dad*

(read in best ‘matter of fact’ Aussie accent)

Dad: ‘You stepped short, that’s why ya faceplanted’

As if an explanation of the trip would soothe the child’s pain. Only in Australia.

So much had happened, as this is much more interesting that yesterday’s entry already, and it wasn’t even the afternoon yet. Now it was time to head out to the Dandenong Ranges, which are a mountain range also not far from Melbourne . It was amazing to see the variety of environments in the province of Victoria. Sub-tropical rainforests, farmland, beaches, scrubland, urban landscapes, it had it all.

Our destination was a place called Sky High, which, as its name suggests, is atop a high mountain near the sky. On days when the weather is clear, you can see many miles into the distance, but naturally because I had showed up the weather had decided to mug me off. Nevertheless, I soaked up what view I could before we headed back down through the ranges to pick up my cousin’s wife.

Before returning to the start of the cycle race, we stopped in a town called Yarra Glen for some refreshment. Now there is very little in Yarra Glen. In fact, there seemed to be very little in many of the towns we drove through. They were simply one road towns, with a few places on each side, giving them a wild west feel. I was half expecting cowboys riding kangaroos to come bounding out of saloons, one hand one their hips, ready to draw their boomerangs in a deadly one versus one quickdraw showdown. The nearby Yering Station is probably the highlight of the surrounding area, where we sampled several tasters of wine for free. Until it became clear that we had zero intention of actually purchasing any.

Arriving at the finish of the local park to a number of sweaty looking lycra coated people, we met up with my cousin’s wife and the friends she had been riding with. One of them was called Conan, which isn’t exactly the most friendly name in the world.

‘So dear, have you got any names in mind?’

‘CONAN’

‘How about Edward? James?”

‘CONAAAN’

‘Are you sure about that?’

‘THE BARBARIAN JR’

Anyhow, as Conan was handing out watermelon and cheese, he did not live up to the implications that his name suggested.

(The featured image is the rear end of a wombat)

Track of Day 5 – ∆ (alt-J) // Dissolve Me

 

 

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The Quiet Traveller: Day 4 – Melbourne

I slept in a haze, trying to force my body clock to submit to the new location in time and space. Waking up unnaturally early, I checked the forecast on my phone – predictions of 36 degrees celsius at 3pm. Toasty to say the least.

Two points of interest were on my agenda today. Firstly, the Melbourne Museum, the main  historical and cultural destination in Melbourne. However, I first had to get there, which was a slight challenge because it was on the other side of the city centre, so naturally the tram I was on broke down en route. Apparently my cousin had never experienced such an issue despite being a resident for a number of years. Maybe this was just Melbourne’s way of making me feel at home. Delayed public transportation is an inherently British phenomenon after all.

Consulting my offline Google Map (very useful for navigation without using data), I abandoned the tram and set off on foot. Then suddenly, they were everywhere. Bobbling up and down like buoys in a urban ocean. Four in a row went past me. I looked over my shoulder. Just where were they coming from? Was this real life? Or was it just fantasy? Or some kind of man bun matrix? Yes, of course I am talking about the much ridiculed yet also much adored by women hair style of the moment. Melbourne, with its hipster vibes, was a natural habitat for these buns and the men who sport them.

I was currently sporting my own attempt at seductive follicular activity; in the form of a pathetic two week growth of mediocre beard. I ditched it two days later – I looked like I’d been dragged through a bush who had just lost his mates in a deliberate forest fire.

Upon reaching the museum, I took a few moments to savour the air conditioning, before checking out what the museum had to offer. It was very similar to the Natural History Museum in London, but with more local and Aboriginal history.  However my favourite exhibits were in the psychology section, in which I found an explanation of different personality types i.e. introvert, extrovert etc. The game below was also cool, and says a lot about the importance of facial expressions. Well, mostly eyes, but you get the idea. Try to guess what emotion the faces are showing – fear, anger, disgust, sadness, happiness and surprise.

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After lunch and another coffee to stave off any post food nap attempts, I made my way towards the Eureka Tower, the second POI on my itinerary for the day. The tower is the second tallest building in Australia, and for a not very reasonable fee you can visit the Skydeck on the 88th floor, which offers panoramic views of Melbourne and the surrounding area. It also contains the highest post box in Australia.

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Highest Postbox. Great band name.

From the viewing platform, you can also see the MCG, aka the Melbourne Cricket Ground. I’m no expert in wacky red ball, but I believe this is where England play Australia for a jar of burnt wood. Howzat.

I enjoyed my time on the Skydeck; it was good to people watch with the people looking like ants. However, the number of selfie sticks was too much. It probably didn’t help the shop up there sold them as well. I don’t have a problem with the idea of them; they do have a very useful purpose. But too many in a small space is simply a decapitation hazard. My travel insurance covered extreme sports and repatriation, but what about the hidden dangers of the selfie stick?

The journey home had 100% less broken down trams so was much more successful. In the evening, my cousin took me around the Grand Prix track, which was being set up for what is traditionally the first race of the F1 season in three weeks time. It takes three months to set up for the race, which seems like a long time, but I guess there are a lot of different aspects to prepare for.

Track of Day 4 – King City // Swim Deep

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 3 – Melbourne

Some of the most rewarding things in life require a leap into the unknown.  Today was my first expedition into unexplored territory, with my first stop being a small coffee shop that my cousin had recommended.

Upon leaving the apartment, I was stunned by the heavy heat, which was already well beyond BBQ weather. It wasn’t far to the  coffee place, and I soon found myself inside a tiny hipster temple. Coffee is big business in Melbourne, with roasters competing to provide the best fix. Although to be fair, where isn’t coffee big business these days?

I could see why my cousin liked this place. It was adorned with old racing bike frames and he and his wife are absolute bike nuts. They live to ride in packs, proudly wearing their lycra and eating up mile after mile of roasting Aussie tarmac. I’ll come back to this obsession later on.

I asked my hipster barista (hipsterista?) for a flat white (when in Rome), which was shortly served to me with a glass of tap water. The coffee was strong and delicious, just what I needed to wake myself up and to keep the jetlag away. I glanced at the menu to see what else they had to offer, when I noticed some strange numbers underneath each item. I wondered about their existence for a few minutes. And then it clicked. They were simply the prices, written without the use of the dollar sign. Clearly, the use of such a symbol was way to mainstream for this particular establishment.

Swigging back the dregs of my coffee, I left a small tip and once again stepped out into the heat. I had decided to walk into the city rather than get the tram, as I thought  a) it was a nice day and I wanted to make the most of the weather and b) it didn’t look far on the map. Turns out I was wrong. It was a couple of miles, but the heat made me feel awful.  Despite my Aussie hat and factor 50, my pasty white frame of a body was simply not used to these temperatures.

Mildly fearing for my life and the embarrassment of dying on the first day of exploration, I ducked into the Collingwood FC store and museum, which was a solace of ice-cold air-conditioning. However this was not a traditional association football club, it was an Australian Rules football one, a sport which is massive in the Melbourne area.  I had seen the sport broadcast on tv back home occasionally, but I found it very hard to figure out what was going on. However, if you type in ‘aussie rules football’ to YouTube, a lot of the videos are simply what they call ‘big hits’, by which they mean the merging of one man’s shoulder with another’s face. That seems to sum it up well.

I wandered round the museum for a good half an hour, mainly to make sure I was not going to be known on the news as the Pom who only lasted a few hours in Australia. I noticed the club had not had much success in recent years, as the majority of their championships were from many moons ago, which basically made them the Liverpool of the AFL.

Feeling suitably refreshed and also confused by the concept of AFL, I walked onwards until I got to the Yarra River. I pulled out a Mars bar to recharge myself, but sadly it was badly affected by the heat. Not that it’s structural collapse prevented me from attempting to stuff it into my mouth.

Below: The consequences of extreme temperatures.

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I thought I was nearing the city, but it turned out that I had been travelling in the wrong direction for a good 20 minutes. Rather than retrace my steps , I decided to find the nearest tram stop to the city centre. However, my detour took me past a place called ‘Guilfoyle’s Volcano’. I couldn’t believe it. It was my first day of exploration, and I had stumbled across a volcano. What a start. Unfortunately, the name turned out to be incredibly misleading,  as I did not discover a mountain filled with frothing magma, but instead part of a botanical garden that was used to store water.  Admittedly it was slightly in the shape of a volcano. But if you’re going to call something a volcano, it better behave like a volcano. No lava, no party.

A couple of hours after I had left the apartment, I was finally in the city centre. And what a nice city centre it was. Melbourne is an interesting mix of architecture. The old and the new sit happily adjacent to each other, and surprisingly, it actually works. Flinders Street Station looks very colonial and regal, whilst the shining tower blocks showcase a modern Melbourne that is one of the best places to live in the world. It has won the most liveable place in the world five times in a row. So the Melburnians must be doing something right.

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Above: The gothic and modernity, side by side. The sign on the building says ‘Welcome Refugees’, which is nice to see.

I wondered round the easily navigable centre, which is a contrast to the narrow streets of London. It was much more relaxed as well. Although I was enjoying the city, my introvert side was getting tired. I needed to find a place to get out of the city, without actually physically leaving it. And that’s when I found what would be incredibly useful whilst in the cities I explored on my trip.

Bookshops. Bookshops are the ultimate restorative niche in a bustling city. They are an urban oasis for the weary introvert. Of course, it’s not complete solitude. But compared to the busyness of city streets, it definitely feels like it. They are generally very quiet, and you get to browse shelf after shelf of books, and it’s interesting to see what titles are popular in different places.

The only problem is that you cannot buy too many books, because a) food and accommodation are the priorities and b) they weigh you down. However I did end up buying a paperback from the ‘Hill of Content’ bookshop in Melbourne. I bought Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’, because I thought if was on a gap yah adventure, I may as well go full gap yah travel adventure pretentious novel reader. I was on the road myself after all, just with less drugs and prostitutes. For the record, I enjoyed the fast and furious nature of the book, although when you step back and look at the characters they aren’t particular likeable.

Luckily for me, Melbourne was chock-full of bookshops and coffee shops, perfect for the introvert looking for a few minutes of escape.

Track of Day 3 – What You Want // Bombay Bicycle Club

The Quiet Traveller: Day 2 – Melbourne

Onwards and upwards, and I was now aboard the thirteen hour flight to Melbourne. To my delight I once again had no human being next to me for the flight. But it was a close call. Shortly after I took my seat, waiting patiently for take off, I watched as passenger after passenger strode towards me. I could hear the Jaws theme tune playing in my head. We were going to need a bigger seat.

Something went in my favour, as the one of the last passengers on stepped into the aisle in front and took the seat at the other end to me. I breathed a sigh of relief. Two empty seats next to me on both flights. Good going.

It was nice to have a bit more personal space on those two flights. The trick to get a separate seat on a flight is to tactically look at the seating plan and where people are already sitting. Work out where will be the most popular seats, although this obviously various by preference, and try to select one that will give you optimal space. Leg room for me is not as important as I’m only 5’8 ½ (yes that is a very real 1/2), but airlines should consider rating seats on personal space as well as leg room. Also, personal space isn’t just an introvert thing on planes; I think everyone would like more of it.

Qatar Airlines have a good reputation for their service, and I was not disappointed. Attendants often brought round drinks and asked if there was anything I wanted. However after my third meal of aeroplane food in a very short space of time, I began to crave fresh air and fresh food. Aeroplane food is great for what it is, and I love the tiny pots of water they give you, but there’s only so much you can handle.

I had another omnishambles moment when I asked for orange juice but for some reason the attendant poured me a Foster’s, yet it took me a few moments to realise what had happened and by that time I had decided to accept my Fostery fate. I drank a bit, but then returned to water, as my body clock was not in the mood for alcohol and Foster’s tastes like kangaroo sweat. Contrary to popular belief, no one in Australia actually drinks that lager.

Arrival

After many, many hours of travel, I had finally arrived down under. It was about 10pm, but the heat and humidity had not ceased. And it would not cease the entire time I was there.  Pete picked me up in his orange Honda Jazz, which he claimed was very economical and cheap to tax and insure. I was glad of the air conditioning; not so much the pensioner vibes. I couldn’t see much of the city as we drove through the late evening musk, but there was going to be plenty of time to explore as I had a whole week in Melbourne.

Pete made another claim, this time that his apartment in the city outskirts was small. So naturally it had huge high ceilings, a leftover from the building’s department store days, and a large open area downstairs with an open bedroom area upstairs. My quarters were a small room/storage facility next to the stairs. I couldn’t wait to sleep after the arduous voyage from the other side of the world, but first I had to fight a tiger.

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Above: The wild feline hides his thumpers under his body, to deceive his prey into thinking he is a loaf of bread.

Admittedly, the tiger was quite small, and with a name like Crackles I wasn’t particularly scared of it. Sadly, without allergy tablets , close proximity to fluffy animals will make me sneeze profusely, and so I had to remove the beast from my room. And it liked my room. I had been told that this was where it liked to hang out during the day. I was an intruder into its territory.  Luckily because I have these thumby things on my hands and it did not, I was able to pick up the animal and remove it from my room. However, the door was made of glass, which resulted in two beady eyes staring at me from the outside. I decided to lean Berghaus against the door to prevent any facial mauling during the night. Stripping myself of the now sweaty and smelly clothes I had spent over 36 hours in, I crawled into bed and began the painful process of adjusting to a completely different timezone.

I did not sleep well, in part due to the heat and in part due to how out of sync I was, despite my tiredness. Tomorrow and the next few days would be a struggle to stay awake. But it was now time for this introvert to explore the unfamiliar.

Track of Day 2 – Moon // Foals