It has been nonstop full on since I arrived in Melbourne. On the 19th, Susan and I left Aireys Inlet at 8am and we headed towards the city that I'd flown into but hadn't seen yet. We arrived after 10am in St. Kilda and went to see Angie and her 5-month old, Aiden. Aiden looks startlingly similar to his father, Mark. It was spooky! We chatted for a bit then Susan kindly took me to Dandenong where I was meeting Alisdair, a CS contact that truly embodies what the project is all about. I was exhausted so I took a quick nap before we headed off.
That afternoon we went all over the Dandenong Ranges National Park - the weather wasn't great, with intermittent rain, but we didn't let it bother us and we explored a variety of places. We stopped by Emerald Lake and saw the Puffing Billy, a steam train that's mainly just there for tourists but fun nevertheless; we checked out the Alfred Nicholas Gardens, which was breathtaking in this manicured yet natural layout with rainforest and eucalypt forest; and we got to the Mt. Dandenong Lookout, which offered views over Melbourne and was really impressive.
I headed in to the city on the train, and so I was alone and on public transport the first time I got to see central Melbourne; perfect. My immediate thought was that it was just like San Francisco; its location by the water, in my opinion the area around Flinders Street Station is just like the Market Street area in SF, and the bohemian alternative food/drink/nightlife vibe of the city is so nostalgic - I love it.
I went to Bimbo's to meet Conor and Joao, for our pre-CS meeting meeting. This cute pub/restaurant has $4 pizzas on Sun-Thurs, and they're yummy. A great deal and great atmosphere, smack bang in the middle of Brunswick Street, one of the main nightlife centres of town. Met a few others there then we headed over to Polly for the meeting I had arranged. It was a good turnout for a weeknight, probably about 12 people. Polly was awesome - red velour furniture, chandeliers, old wooden pieces, and a killer cocktail list. It's shocking how overpriced cocktails are in Australia but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and drink (haha that sounds horrible). Had some really great chats with people and decided it was the best way I could have spent my first night in Melbourne.
A few of us headed over to Bar Open, drank more, then Lee, Conor, and I went to Souvlaki King...mmm. I haven't had anything resembling that since I arrived in Japan almost 2 years ago. Fantastic. Lee drove me home in the cold rain; he struck me immediately, a really tall, lanky guy that just exuded thoughtfulness and a bit artistic and I don't really know what else but it was instant. He leaves for Germany in a few days which is unfortunate as I would have loved to have more time to get to know him better, but such is life.
On Friday, I met Declan in St. Kilda. Declan - how to describe? Irish, soulful, hilarious, kind, curious, inquisitive, one of my favorite people I had in Japan. We did a bunch of walking around St. Kilda and got lunch at Lentil is Anything, a vegetarian restaurant that is "Pay as you Feel" - there is a donation box and you give however much you felt that the food and experience was worth. We had the 3 curry platter which could have fed a family, and yes, we finished it all ;)
Acland Street is one of the main spots in St. Kilda and I really like it; lots of cafes, restaurants, pubs, shops, it's near the water, it feels a bit like Venice Beach and it just oozes laid-backness. It's good.
I hung out with Angie a bit in the afternoon and then went up to Brunswick Street again to meet Bec. Bec is an accountant for Intrepid, and she came on one of my trips to Japan. We met at Bar Open and after chatting for awhile went to Labor in Vain, also on Brunswick Street. Lee from the previous night was going to be there, and perhaps some other CSers, and Bec's mates from Intrepid were there as well. A good few hours of banter and beer.
I then headed to St. Kilda to meet Luke, and his CS friend Simon at the Village Belle on Acland Street. Both guys had spent much of the past 2 years living in South America so it was a refreshing break from the really-not-Latin America vibe of Australia - not that there's anything wrong with that anyway. We then went to Velado, which didn't really do it for me, being a bit of a yuppie nightclub, then over to the Espy. The Espy is great; free live music every night, a really eclectic crowd, and it's located right on the water in St. Kilda. I stayed as long as I could keep me eyes open and headed back.
Saturday was a lazy morning at home, then I went to Southbank as I was going to the footy with Sue and family. When I arrived at their flat, I learned that Sue and Ian had hit an emu on the road and their daughter Emily had gone to pick them up; Sarah, Emily's flatmate, had stuck around for me and so we went on a walk through the city. We walked along Southbank, up to Flinders Street, Bourke Street, Collins Street, and all that CBD stuff - tall high-rise buildings, shops, shops, and more shops, mainly of the mainstream variety, and restaurants and cafes. I had a Koko Black chocolate which made me very very happy (thanks Sarah!)
Got some lunch at Lord of the Fries just outside of Flinders Street Station, a chips place that has international sauces - we had the garlic aioli - yum. We then met Emily and went down to the MCG. Wow! - what an experience. The Melbourne Cricket Ground is huge, and holds nearly 100,000 people. The game we went to was Collingwood vs. Essendon. AFL, Australian Football, or footy as it's commonly referred to, is something like a religion here in Oz. It's shocking how obsessed people are with their teams, being raised from a very young age to support their teams; infants, toddlers, children, adolescents, parents, and grandparents all decked out in jerseys, scarves, flags, hats, whatever, with their team colors. There were about 60,000 people there today and it was great to see how into it everyone was.
After the game ended, we walked back and Sue and I did a walk-through of Crown Casino, which was just like Las Vegas, then I headed back home. Angie had prepared an absolutely gorgeous paella with chicken, prawns, sausage, mussels, and fish and we feasted. Stayed in tonight to recover from the past two nights, both financially and physically, also because I'm headed off early in the morning to Wilson's Promontory with Alisdair and Keriann.
My impressions of Melbourne are contradictory and perhaps a bit odd. It had been built up a lot before me getting here; Victorians and Melbourne people are extremely proud of their home and a huge number of them will claim that they live in the best city in the world. In many ways, I agree that it is a wonderful city. There is a lot of green space, and there is no doubt that the music scene, culinary scene, and nightlife is vibrant, eclectic, and of a very high quality. It's certainly a very livable city. But for some reason, it's not making me want to stay here forever. Not that that's a bad thing at all; I just suspected that it may have had that effect on me. We'll see, as I still have over a week in the area. People have definitely been friendly and I've met a good number of great Australians and other nationals, and been in some really funky, atmospheric restaurants and bars. A good start for sure. I also really love being with Angie, Mark, and Aiden and their home really just feels like home.
I also decided that I'm going to Tasmania to see Chris and Jeff; when they were in Japan in June I told them I didn't think it was doable this trip both due to my limited time and the wrong season (bloody freezing in Tasmania in winter eh?) but I started thinking about it and how I may not be able to head back this way for quite some time after this current trip and I decided I'd regret it. So, I head over to Tas from 31 July to 4 August. Can't wait.
On that note, I really must get some sleep so I can stay awake for the breathtaking scenery tomorrow.