Trains, trams and trying to cycle

Public transport, as expensive, unreliable and daunting as it can be, is my favourite way to get around. As long as I have my iPod and a book, I’m happy to sit and while away the hours simply staring out of the window (note: none of these feelings apply when you’re squashed up against the side of a bus with a fat, smelly man sat on your leg for seven hours). Once you can master the trains and buses of a city, you’re sorted: you have the freedom to move wherever you want, without looking like an awkward tourist, or figuring out road rules and map-reading.

Being on my own has meant I’ve had to get it together quickly when it comes to getting around: it’s just me and Google trying to figure out routes, changes and timetables now, instead of the pair of us working it out together. Similarly, being on my own means cars are too expensive – and boring. I’d love to be travelling around the coast in a campervan, but with rental fees, insurance and fuel, I’d last about a week before running out of money and having to hitch-hike home.

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In Melbourne, get hold of a myki card – the city’s version of London’s oyster card. These are simple touch-on touch-off cards that work on any of the state’s train, tram or bus lines. Easy to top up and get hold of, they’re a necessity for working your way around the city. Stations have modems for checking your myki’s balance, for topping up, and for tapping on. I’d love to say it’s hard to tell them apart, but no – it was just me frantically trying to figure out how to tap onto my train while using an account-checker.

Trains

Despite what I’d heard, Victoria’s train service is good: although it feels like you’re sat on a roller-coaster, the trains run regularly into the city, and compared to British trains, are cheap. The city is at the centre of the service, with a loop running between the main stations in and around the CBD, while lines run out to far-flung towns in Victoria. Trains run regularly and are easy to figure out: the PTV website has a great journey planning service that not only tells you which trains to get on, but how to get from your starting address to your finishing address, including any trams, buses and walking directions that might also be involved.

Myki’s are perfect for exploring: as you aren’t buying a ‘here-to-here’ ticket, simply hop on at your station, and jump off when something catches your eye. This has been my favourite way of getting around recently, and the best way to get off the beaten track and into the tucked away suburb towns.

I’ve been staying in Sandringham for the past week, with one of the most brilliant families (complete with a talking macaw and a golden lab who gets into bed for cuddles every morning), and due to this, I’ve been able to see a different side to Melbourne. As well as visiting the area my dad grew up in, I’ve found towns that may or may not be on my list of places-I-might-have-to-move-to. Elwood is worth checking out, with its edgy (but less edgy than St Kilda) vibe, as is Brighton. As Sandringham is one of the main train lines into the city, living five minutes from the beach and 20 minutes from the CBD has been perfect. The town’s worth visiting for the day: it’s got gorgeous beaches, and Cerberus, a sunken war ship acting as a breakwater. There’s apparently a manta ray living under the pier, but I’m not sure whether this is truth, or something similar to the pet kangaroos and crocs in the pool lines.

Excuse the bad picture (I'm still camera-less, sob), but here's Cerberus

Excuse the bad picture (I’m still camera-less, sob), but here’s Cerberus

If you’re planning on going further afield than the city train lines, you’ll need to take the V-Line: the country trains that help get you out nearer to the South Australia/NSW borders. I’m embarking on my first ‘posh train’ trip tomorrow on the way to Mildura, and form what people say about them, I’m genuinely quite excited (lame).

Trams

Trams genuinely scare me. I don’t understand them, and I don’t quite get how to read the timetables. However, for getting around Melbourne it’s vital to use them, especially if you head across to Fitzroy or St Kilda (which everyone should). I’ve now given up trying to understand how the routes work or where the stops are, and instead just jump on ones that look like they’re headed in the right direction (/the ones I’ve been on before and therefore know how to use).

For travellers using trams at night, keep an eye for the Tram Sessions: think flash mobs in the form of bands or solo artists taking over a carriage for the evening. Live music while circling through the city lights at night; there’s not a lot better than that.

In all seriousness, trams are easy to use, and get you around the city in an easy way. Each tram has a route map posted inside it, showing you a list of stops, and as long as you know what number you’re looking for, it’s (theoretically) hard to go wrong. Trams and I got off on the wrong foot: my first experience involved having no clue what my stop was, deciding to leave at the next one, tapping off with my myki, wondering why the doors weren’t opening, desperately looking for a way to open the doors, getting laughed at by a group of school boys, realising that we had been stopped between platforms, trying to look cool after panicking, leaping off once the doors opened, and running away.

No matter what form of public transport you’re using, fare dodging is risky: PTV employs undercover ticket checkers, and the fines are high in comparison to an under-$15 fare.

Buses

Still not ready to face these, not yet.

Bikes

Whoever said that you never forget how to ride a bike, lied. After being offered the use of a beautiful yellow bike, with no gears and a wicker basket in the front, I decided it was time to start cycling again. Here I was, with a gorgeous town down the road, avenues lined with orange trees, the air thick with the smell of autumn rain and pollinating flowers, and a coastal beach track to ride along: it would be a waste not to.

So, after one short ride to town and back (where I realised corners are very hard and it’s not great when you end up on the other side of the road), I embarked on a 30k cycle from Sandringham to Port Melbourne and back. The cycle track stretches all the way from Sorrento to the city, and keeps you off the road with glorious views of the bay and the city skyline guiding you. With numerous lawns, parks, benches, cafes and beaches to tempt you along the way, I made a day of it and meandered my way along (quite literally, I can’t cycle in straight lines), and fell in love with both cycling and St Kilda.

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Apart from nearly being taken out by a boy in a tux holding a bouquet of flowers, and genuinely believing I was going to die in the last 3k home, it was a stunning cycle, with very corners, no road work, and plenty to see and do along the way. Considering I’ve only ridden a bike twice in the last twelve years (the other time ending with wet feet and a river), I was v. proud and have started to make plans to cycle around the world (sorry mum).

As most travellers don’t tend to pack a bicycle or helmet, borrow one of the city’s. Dotted around the cycle tracks are blue bikes which can be hired for the day (think Boris Bikes, but less weird-looking). Helmets can be purchased from any 7-11 for about $5, and these are compulsory, as state laws dictate that all cyclists must wear helmets (and so they should). There are heaps of cycling routes to pick from: whether you cycle out of the city, or into it, or choose a track that follows the Yarra down, it’s a great way to see the CBD and the surrounding areas, without spending money on travel, or adding to pollution.

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