If Australia’s primary cities were siblings, then Melbourne is the country’s “red-headed stepchild.” The town is unapologetically alternative and has a unique vibe unlike anything else I’ve yet encountered. While Sydney relies on beauty and cleanliness to stay a favorite, my first impressions indicate that Melbourne is an “anything-goes” type of city.
I am still traveling with new friends, so I arrived in Melbourne with Pauline and Linda. The enormous diversity in Melbourne struck us first. A wash of cultures and subcultures filled the streets — Asians, hipsters, punks, businessmen — everyone commingles on the city’s streets.
Shops dot the corners of the CBD (Central Business District), but I found my favorite cafes were all tucked away on the narrow, vaguely European side-streets running between the tall buildings. Linda and I explored together on our first morning in town. We got a bit lost (normal for me) and sat on a tram for 35 minutes going in the wrong direction. Heh. We finally realized that we were in some random Melbourne suburb rather than the CBD.
Once we righted ourselves on the tram, we landed in the center of the CBD. I was starving, so we headed straight to a crowded side-street filled with fragrant coffee shops and petite cafes with tables and chairs spilling onto the sidewalk. We scored cheap but delicious pastries to munch on as we explored.
We also hit up the Queen Victoria Markets. Your random fact for the day: Queen Victoria Markets is the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere! The market expanded in all directions and contained a tad bit of everything possibly interesting. We loved the farmer’s market section and we scored affordable fruits and veggies by choosing the pick of the bunch from the hundreds of stalls. The market also sells clothes, souvenirs, and the such. It was an exhausting thought to see it all, so instead we wandered the stalls for a couple of hours and browsed through all the intriguing offerings.
Exploring St. Kilda, Melbourne
Rounding out the first few days, the three of us repacked our backpacks and headed out of the city center for a bit of downtime. Melbourne has a dead-simple tram system that reaches into every corner of the city. It was a cinch to find a backpackers hostel in St. Kilda, and we landed in Coffee Palace, which my guidebook said was decent. Truth be told, I wish we had taken longer to compare options. The hostel wasn’t clean. In fact, it was straight-up gross. But unfortunately I had prepaid, so I made the best of it. I slept in my sleep sack to protect myself from the rumored bed-bugs, and tried not to touch anything unless it was absolutely necessary! Other backpackers have said good things about Nomads, so I would likely stay there in the future.
Fortunately, what the hostel lacked, St. Kilda made up for in style and spunk. The town’s Sunday market on the Esplanade had cute local crafts and funky works of art. By the time I visited the Sunday market, I realized that my stateside friend had backed out on meeting me in Oz. As a sort of token to this yearlong round the world trip, and a commitment to go it solo if necessary, I bought myself a sterling silver pinky ring. It’s cute and has little etches and the woman who made it was so happy to help me pick out one that I liked.
During my handful of days in St. Kilda, I came to love Veg Out Time. It’s an affordable vegetarian restaurant just half a block from the hostel. They serve a delicious sweet-potato curry over brown rice. After so long cooking basic foods in hostel kitchens, it’s nice to have something so hearty and nutritious and tasty to boot!
After a few days in St. Kilda, I said adieu to Pauline and Linda. They are here on their Aussie work visa for a year, so they need to earn a bit more money before they can continue traveling. They found a farm in a small town a couple of hours outside of Melbourne and they plan to earn money by picking seasonal fruits on the farm! As a fun way to end our time together, the hostel had dress-up karaoke on our last night hanging out. It was so hilarious and such good fun.
I mean, I just don’t think I can truly express the levels of bonding that take place over listening to five drunk guys serenade the crowd with rollicking versions of every hit the Backstreet Boys made. It was priceless! I will miss these ladies and the fun times we had. But I am continuing my own travels around Australia after Melbourne, so parting ways was necessary.