SARA

I would never be able to include everything I want to include about my recent trip to Australia in just one post . There’s just too much to tell. Therefore I decided to devote a separate post to each destination I visited . It all started with Melbourne…First of, our flight was not the most comfortable. Worries about the possibility of being hijacked or shot down aside, I was under the impression that Malaysia Airlines were a decent, international company. I can’t say our flights were terrible; they were ok but I would have expected much more from an international carrier as both, the short-and long-haul, flights we took were nowhere near of, say Lufthansa or SAS standards. I suppose it could have been much worse though…

We arrived in Sydney on a glorious, sunny day. But hang on, wasn’t I supposed to start with Melbourne? Why yes, however this being us, we like to make our lives a bit more difficult that they need to be and due to that (and budget planning), we flew to Sydney first and then continued on to Melbourne. Sounds like hassle but actually it wasn’t. Both international airports are very easy to navigate and are equipped with helpful staff on hand to assist with any questions one might have. One of those was how to get from international to domestic terminals in Sydney. Turns out you need to take a special coach and to my, perhaps unfair, surprise it wasn’t free. Tickets could be purchased on the spot, I believe it was around 7AUD for both of us.

Once in Melbourne, if you don’t wish to take a taxi, you’re only option really is to take a Skybus, which takes you directly to Southern Cross station. A very comfortable and pleasant ride, aside from the steep (for the short distance) fee of 18AUD each. Luckily our hotel was near the station and soon we were off exploring.

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Chinatown is small but worth exploring, especially during the Chinese holidays

We soon realized that Melbourne’s city centre is very compact and can easily be ‘done’ on foot. How fantastic is the idea of a FREE city circular tram?!Very, I say! How it works-you catch whichever tram going around the city centre (especially pleasant is old No 35) and get off without paying a cent, as long as your stop is within the FREE TRAM ZONE. There is really no possibility of getting this wrong as there are bright green signs on every stop informing of that stop being within the zone and in case you’re a bit too absorbed in your mobile, the commentary on board also informs the passengers when the zone will end. Easy-peasy. If your destination is not in the free zone, you must purchase a MYKI card, which has a daily cap.

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We needed one of those for our next day’s trip to St.Kilda-Melbourne’s waterfront district and topped it up in a Seven Eleven (convenience store). That daytrip was simply amazing. It’s what we needed after a long flight. St.Kilda can be reached by a number of trams from Melbourne city centre and I would highly recommend going there. We got there around 10am (after a 20min ride) and the long, sandy beach was nearly empty. The place has a very casual and relaxed feel to it. You can take a walk along St.Kilda Pier, observe the numerous yachts in the marina, admire the city’s panoramic view from the shore, and even watch a penguin colony at sunset. After a couple of hours on the beach we headed down to the main street for a bite to eat. I was amazed by the variety of eating and shopping options! There were quite a few quirky and cute shops around (OH had to literally drag me away) and some very tempting patisseries (some offered a wide selection of European cakes, including a Polish cheesecake!). It only felt right to get fish&chips for lunch and so we did just that and were grateful as the food was delicious and fresh. Outside the main streets and the esplanade St.Kilda seems like a sleepy neighbourhood but I, for one, don’t mind that at all. And if you’re of a more social/ adventurous persuasion, there are plenty of concerts and events taking place on the weekends.

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Word of warning-even though it wasn’t a hot day, it was sunny and despite smothering myself with a SPF30 lotion all over, I got a really bad sunburn. It resulted in very red skin, painful back and shoulders and skin, which has not stopped peeling off till this day(over a week later!). I’d heard stories about ‘normal’ sun protection not working in Australia but didn’t give them any credit. I was wrong. Do not go there with anything lower than SPF50+, which I quickly purchased and continued to reapply religiously throughout the rest of our stay (together with aloe vera gel to sooth the most painful spots)

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My saviours

The following day we decided to join one of the free walking tours. We started using them during our Honeymoon last summer and have had only positive experiences. So was the case with the Melbourne tour. Our guide, Courtney(?) was very informative and had a good sense of humour. The tour lasted over 2 hours and was really well organized with enough sightseeing and information to satisfy any visitor and not-too-long distances between particular attractions. One of the highlights was the Old Melbourne Gaul, where among others, the legendary Ned Kelly was executed. The now museum offers (paid) ghost tours in the evenings, which sounded a lot of fun but we simply didn’t have enough time for them. As with all tours of this type, one leaves the guide however much one thought the tour was worth and the one we joined was very enjoyable indeed.

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After the tour we went back to some of the places we stopped at to explore them in more detail, for example the charming Block Arcade-a gorgeous Victorian shopping arcade joined with other cozy alleyways lined with cafes, the stunning Melbourne Exhibition Hall and the somewhat dodgy but safe, at least during the day, narrow streets filled with graffiti art. We only had 3 days there and there is so much to see so we really had to choose carefully which locations we’d spend time in.

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Later that day we visited the Botanical Gardens located right by the river Yarra-what an oasis! Simply beautiful and so peaceful. Having enjoyed a proper cuppa on the bank of the boating lake we continued along the river back to the city centre. Along the way we were surprised to note that rowing seems to be extremely popular pass-time in Melbourne. There must have been a dozen teams training on the Yarra just as we strolled along its banks. You hear about the Australians being fitness fans obsessed with their body image and healthy lifestyle but it isn’t until you’re there and see the hordes of office workers cycling, jogging, roller skating after a day’s work (and at lunch breaks!) that you realize the truth about all those statements. We, whose most sporty effort is a weekend badminton game and an occasional hike, were amazed by just how healthy many Ozzies’ lifestyle is.

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Having said that we did also see quite a few homeless people, who did not bother anyone in any way but who nevertheless induced a pang of guilt and wonder. Of course as a tourist I have no idea about Australia’s internal problems and their roots, all I see is smiley, happy faces of people sipping sangrias on the waterfront or downing cups of extraordinarily tasty coffee in an astonishing number of cafes but evidently even there, life is not perfect.

During the evenings we’d walk along the Yarra, admiring the Chinese New Year illuminations, red lanterns and listening to the sounds of erhu (traditional Chinese instrument) mixed with the music played by  or accompanying a variety of street performers. While exploring Southgate precinct, we just happened to witness something extraordinary. At exactly 10pm, the tall, concrete columns (there were maybe 6?) by the river started producing a weird sound resembling a gas escaping the pipes. A moment later we were covered in the blinding light of flames blazing momentarily one by one out of each column. Such a simple but at the same time, super entertaining event! Everyone would suddenly stop in their tracks to admire this strange fire show. We did not read anywhere about this and so were even more grateful for the opportunity to witness it.

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Being budget travelers, we avoided expensive restaurants and instead dined in small, usually but not always, Asian places serving great quality food at around 10AUD mark. Our favourite meal by far was at Wednesday’s Night Market at Queen Victoria Market. During the day this old marketplace, the only one remaining in the city centre, is the perfect spot for those, who appreciate tasty deli products (artisan breads, cured meats, cheeses, home-made honey, Turkish wraps and snacks), the freshest fruit and vegetables at reasonable prices. Every Wednesday though, the market turns into a live venue with a number of music stages and loads of food stalls serving anything from churros (couldn’t help myself), through Jamaican BBQ to enormous burgers.The atmosphere was simply amazing. That wasn’t our only experience with casual, open-air dining though as the previous evening we ended up walking around Melbourne Marina and accidentally discovering the Lunar Markets, organized especially for, you guessed it, the Lunar New Year.

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As you can see, in just 3 short days, my OH and I managed to do, see and experienced A LOT and this post lists maybe half of all of it.We were sad to leave Victoria’s main city as it made a really great impression on us.

Melbourne is an amazing place, get yourself down there!

I’ll try to put more photos (I took hundreds!) in the Gallery section.

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