The beginning of the end

Following my stay in Mildura, I rushed back to the city with open arms, thoroughly enjoying the crowds of people, flocks of pigeons and general city-ness that comes with walking through a main train station at rush hour. I’d chosen to leave the CBD hostels in favour of a smaller place off Chapel Street in Windsor. On arriving at Back of Chapel and being offered alcohol before stepping through the door, I knew I’d made the right decision.

I’d previously been staying on Flinders Lane, in Greenhouse Backpackers, and while it was clean and central, it had the atmosphere of Tescos and the key-cards required the precision of a surgeon to buzz in correctly. Having explored St Kilda and the surrounding streets while in Sandringham, I knew this was the place I had to be in: Chapel Street is perhaps the best street I’ve ever walked down in my life. The smells, colours, people and shopfronts are utterly overwhelming, and it takes a lot of willpower to not blow my entire budget on sampling food, cocktails and coffee from every cafe and bar I walked past.

So, feeling much more settled and almost at home, it was time to make the most of being in Melbourne for the last time (this month, anyway). First up was another trip down to central St Kilda, namely Aclan Street, the pier and the beach. Everything about this place makes me want to cancel my flight home and live here permanently: from the art-deco shop fronts, to the leftover gothic architecture, no two buildings are the same. The lack of chain stores and name brands is refreshing, while the rows of bakeries and patisseries are too tempting for their own good.

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My roommate and I struck gold with the day we chose: it was hot and sunny, and a school of sailboats were hovering over the horizon. The warm, crystal clear (crocodile free) bay water is something I’ll miss the most once I leave the state. We headed over to the St Kilda pier next: it doesn’t look like much, but the colonies of water rats and fairy penguins make it a top destination for most people visiting the city. Sadly, the penguins were playing elsewhere when we went, but had they been there I just might have been arrested for stealing wild animals.

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After having tried to get to the Melbourne Botanic Gardens about four times, I finally made it with the help of a few friends at the hostel. Before we made our way into the Gardens, we visited the Memorial Shrine: a combination of monuments built to commemorate the lost soldiers in the World Wars, and every war the army has been involved in since. The World War One memorial was majestic, towering over the surrounding forecourt and Gardens. Inside is a sunken plaque, reading ‘Greater Love Hath No Man’, and at 11am on Remembrance Day, a gap in the ceiling is opened, allowing a beam of sunlight to travel across the stone, resting on the word ‘love’ after 11 minutes. It was a poignant place, built for widows and families to grieve for their loved ones, especially when bodies could not be returned, or even found graves for.

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The Gardens themselves are stunning: we visited as a family years ago, and there are many, many awful pictures of my brother and me posing with giant trees, and despite barely remembering much from our last trip, I could still recognise the trees from our photos (though I suppose they don’t change much in ten years). Despite being 23, 25 and 19, the hidden pathways and bamboo tunnels proved too hard to resist, and instead of following our strictly planned route, we ran in and out of paths in the forested areas.

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Melbourne is full of so many things to do for free – or incredibly cheap – that it’s every budget traveller’s paradise.

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