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.
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.
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