Melbourne, goodbye for now

During my last week in Melbourne, I was determined to fit in as much as I could, so my roommate and I went on the speediest tour of the city’s cultural points. We visited the Old Treasury, where blocks of gold were stored during the gold rush, and got the closest we’ll probably ever get to $26m.

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Next up was Parliament House. Both the Old Treasury and Parliament offer guided or self-guided tours for free, making it perfect for any travellers on a budget looking to explore the city’s history. We did the self-guided tour at the Old Treasury, and wandered around the spooky brick holes underground. Understandably, you aren’t allowed to walk around Parliament House unguided, but the tours run every half an hour, and are incredibly detailed. Ours was 45 minutes long, and we were taken into the chambers, the library as well as down numerous corridors and open spaces.

Stepping into Victoria’s Parliament was just like walking around Westminster; they even have the embarrassingly few number of women MPs and speakers as we do back home.

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Being poor and eager to get out of the rain, we were all too happy at the amount of free things you can do in the city, so we ventured over to the National Gallery of Victoria. It’s free, and has an amazing variety of exhibitions: from Aboriginal art to modern art installations, it comprised everything that makes Melbourne what it is today.

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As my last week drew to an end, Melbourne slowly started to resemble home more and more. The temperature dropped, barely making 16/17-degrees every day, there was constant drizzle in the air, and the grey clouds were permanent fixtures. One night we went out down one of St Kilda’s busier streets, and the club we were in was full of northern English men, bringing to Australia exactly what I’d hoped to be escaping from. On that note, it was time to leave, and start my journey up the east coast. Melbourne is the most incredible place – the people, the buildings, the spirit, the atmosphere – and I’d be incredibly surprised if I’m not back within a year.

It was the perfect place to start my time in Australia, and start my time travelling alone, and I’ve been so overwhelmed by the kindness and love I’ve been shown while in the city.

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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.

Houseboats and the Hawks

Apparently I’m unable to write titles that either a) don’t include alliteration, or b) don’t include bird breeds. Ah well.

So, in the penultimate week of my stay in Victoria, I decided to brave the rural part of the state, and leave the safety of the city behind. On telling people that I was visiting Mildura, without the intention of grape picking or getting a harvest job, I was met with many strange looks, and the phrase ‘well in Australia, you’re a city person or a country person’. I shrugged this off – you can be both! I am both! I love the city (20 minutes in one direction from my house) and I love the countryside (ten minutes in the other direction). No no, I was told, you’re one or the other here.

An eight-hour train and bus journey takes you to the far reaches of Victoria: board the V-Line train from Southern Cross station, change at Swan Hill or Bendigo, and continue on a coach. The journey cost $45 one-way, which is a bargain when you consider that a two-hour train journey at home can cost up to £30. The V-Line trains are pleasant: air conditioning, free water, and a buffet cab, as well as spacious and comfy seats.

Travelling through Victoria, I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. The majority of the stops had fallen into utter disrepair. Towns were boarded up and the streets were empty. Colour had disappeared from the landscape, and you were only left with yellows and browns, arid and stark against the bright blue skies.

Mildura was greener, thankfully, but after the vibrant city and throngs of people, it was hard getting used to the desolate streets and silence. The agricultural town depends solely on the Murray River: it uses the water to irrigate all of its crops, as well as its rice fields (obviously an environmentally and economically viable plant to grow in the borders of the outback…). A cold winter’s day can reach the Arctic lows of 18-degrees, and the town usually tops the state’s temperature charts in the summer: I was looking forwards to sun and blue skies, but for my time in the town, it was grey, drizzly and cold (so, 22-degrees. England’s going to be fun…).

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What the town lacks in atmosphere and noise, the Murray makes up for in beauty: its olive coloured waters aren’t the murky green of many English rivers, but fresh, matching the borders of eucalyptus trees along the banks. It meanders its way through three states, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, in its own lazy fashion: much like the Australian way of life, it goes in its own way and its own pace. As the bird flies, it near enough goes three kilometres sideways for every one kilometre it moves forward. Flocks of cockatoos and pelicans make themselves at home on the banks, mixing in with the usual assortment of ducks and magpies.

The Murray, and Mildura in particular, is known for its water traffic – houseboats and paddle steamers that gently make their way along the river’s course. When you look at the river, and its last wood-burning paddle steamer, The Melbourne, you can see black and white films unfold before your eyes, of women in Victorian dresses and parasols, and men with cigars and boaters. You can’t visit Mildura without going on the river (and thereby entering – floating on? – NSW), so we spent the day on a private houseboat, passing the looping bends and multi-million dollar properties.

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Driving a houseboat is very slow, and much harder than it looked, but armed with my Captain’s hat and four year’s of sailing experience, I managed to steer it for a good few kilometres, without killing any kayakers, or grounding the boat in the shallows. Once off the boat, we visited the meeting point of the Murray and the Darling, a spot that is the epitome of serenity.

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I’m not the world’s best sleeper, and even less so in strange places (I think on average I’ve been running on three hour’s sleep a night since leaving the UK), so the odd noises coming from the other side of the patio door to where I was staying were slightly disconcerting. However,  two dogs lived at the property with free range to go outside at night, so that was that. By the third night, however, when the dogs had been dropped off at a boarding kennels, the footsteps continued. Having been told earlier that there’s a fair whack of crystal meth produced (and consumed) in the area, I realised it was probably definitely a drug addict skittering around on the decking, about to attack me, and spent the night lying very still, coming up with escape plans, and vowing to take self-defence classes on my return to England.

After my stay in Mildura, I quickly realised that I am very much a city person. Give me the people watching, the traffic, the crowds, the laneways, cafes, boutiques, book shops and nights out that Melbourne offers.

Since beginning my travels, I’ve started to get into the whole team sports thing more and more (i.e. I enjoyed watching ice hockey in Canada), so when an opportunity arose to go and see a game of AFL, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. The team I wanted to see play, Hawthorn Hawks, have been my honorary footy team since before I can remember (I’m sure we still have a very ratty bobble hat that’s sat in our coat cupboard for about three-hundred years), and is the team of choice for most of my friends and family over here, as well as dad. The match was being held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity of 100,000 – 110,000), and were scheduled to play Fremantle – the team they beat in the 2013 Grand Final.

After trying to find directions to the MCG (with Google Maps being incredibly helpful and having no public transport information for Australia – use the PTV journey planner), I gave up, and simply followed the flood of gold and brown. Even with my complete lack of direction, getting to the G is pretty easy: hop off at Richmond, and head to the giant stadium that cannot, in any way, be missed. Entry was $25, which for a three-hour Friday night game, I thought was cheap (although I’d have no clue how much you’d pay to see an Arsenal/Man City game at home).

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Having no prior knowledge of the sport, bar that it’s a bit violent, I didn’t expect to follow it at all, but luckily, it’s a fairly easy game to get the hang of (at least from a very basic spectating point of view). As far as I gathered, getting the ball between the two middle sticks (goals?) is six points, and one point for getting it between the two outside sticks (real name for these being…?). When the ball travels over a certain distance, the team passing it gets to have a free throw/kick/pass. This may however all be made up. In terms of tackles and take downs, it seemed like anything goes (slightly confused over the guys being tackled when they didn’t have a ball).

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The atmosphere was great: Hawks dominated Fremantle, and seeing as it was their home ground, the stadium was electric. Unlike the vicious (and often offensive) chants that accompany soccer games, there was only the Hawks chant – no swear words, no racism, no homophobia. It felt safe, and judging from the amount of young kids walking around on their own, and the amount of families, it’s a good place to be. There were also loads of women – I’ve never seen that many at soccer games, but when there are AFL players running around in teeny tiny shorts, I’m not surprised there were so many (joking, kind of).

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.

Parrots and panic attacks

As most people who know me can tell you, I’ve always preferred animals to people, so it was taken for granted that my travels were going to include a lot of nature. Australia’s wildlife is so far removed from home; seeing cockatoos, rosellas and galahs flying around the back-garden is ever so slightly different to the normal flocks of blackbirds, pigeons and magpies at home.

My last week in the Mornington Peninsula was chock-full of plants, birds, animals and trees, starting with a visit to Australia Gardens, the botanic gardens in Cranbourne. I’m not the biggest fan of looking at hedges and flowers, but these were landscaped in such a beautiful way that it felt less like trawling through a garden centre, and more like exploring different parts of the Australian bush. From red sand deserts to waterfalls and wetlands, Australia Gardens incorporated segments of the country into a bitesize section.

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Next up was Healesville Animal Sanctuary. I can never decide how I feel about zoos: is it ever acceptable to keep a wild animal locked up, in a country it isn’t native to? Main example being Calgary Zoo – animals like lions and zebras were living in minus temperatures (and housed next to each other; the male lions were agitatedly pacing up and down the wire fence, staring at the lone zebra opposite them). However, Healesville is different. It only keeps animals native to Australia, and in enclosures suited to their size. It has a huge emphasis on conservation, and much of the park is geared towards education: even the birds of prey and parrots in the Spirit of the Sky demonstration (which is definitely worth watching), come with a message of ‘Wipe for Wildlife’ (which is about asking people to buy recycled loo roll, to save on the millions of trees destroyed every year).

What impressed me the most was the Tasmanian Devil work. While many zoos boast brilliant conservation schemes, I’ve yet to hear about any that work – or that release back into the wild (although this is partly due to the fact I don’t do much research on zoos). At Healesville, they’re working to repopulate Tasmania with the near-extinct animal, and are doing well at combating the contagious facial cancer that destroyed so many of the species. The animal, despite its name and reputation, is obscenely cute. We met a young female who was hand-raised, and due to this, followed the handler around like some weird cat-dog hybrid. She won’t be released, but her future children will.

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After a brief visit with a pet dingo (the next reason on my ‘why I should move to Australia’ list), I went for a swim with seals and dolphins. Here’s a bit of background information you should know: I can’t swim very well; doggy paddle is the only stroke I’ve mastered, and I’m as happy in water as a cat in the bath. Despite this, it sounded like a good idea, and we set off into Port Philip Bay.

Decked out in a wetsuit, flippers and a snorkel, I sat on the gently bobbing boat and wondered how hard all of this could actually be: the sea was calm, all you have to do is kick, and the distance between the boat and the first dive spot (a hut structure swarming with seals) was minimal. The instructors offered us foam noodles and buoyancy aids, but feeling rather positive about the whole thing, I slid off the boat with nothing.

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As soon as I hit the water, I realised this was possibly the stupidest decision I’d ever made, and I was most likely going to drown as a. the water was actually very wavey and the two colliding tides very strong, b. there was nothing to grab on to, c. I cannot swim, and d. the instructor and the seal hut was about two-million miles away. Luckily survival mode kicked in, and I managed to doggy paddle for my life in the direction of inflatable help, and only disappeared beneath the surface a few times. At one point, I almost grabbed hold of a seal for help, but realised there have been no animal-rescue films involving seals. Had it been a dolphin, orca or dog, things may have been different.

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So, despite a rocky start, once I found myself a foam noodle and paired up with a couple from England, I felt a lot calmer, and could enjoy the sights of the seals. They were completely unafraid of us, and spent half an hour looping around us, swimming beneath us, and playing with our flippers, their graceful, sleek bodies cutting through the waves.
Once we finished with the seals, it was off for more dolphin spotting (unsuccessful), and another swim in a marine park. As the water was much calmer, swimming was easier and almost fun. Snorkelling took a while to get used to, but the novelty of seeing underwater outweighed the fact I forgot how to breathe. I may have survived, but sadly my camera didn’t – so if anyone knows where the best (and cheapest) place to get a decent digital camera in Melbourne is, please let me know!

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Water is so far out of my comfort zone: I love to sail, but being in it – well, it terrifies me. However, I did the swim, I survived and am now contemplating a scuba dive with sharks.

Falling in love with Melbourne

When a city combines literature, street art, beautiful parks, hidden boutique cafes, and a world of laneways and culture to explore, it’s unsurprising that your travel plans change. Melbourne is perhaps my favourite city so far: it has a clean, glossy surface, with their classic buildings and high powered events like the Grand Prix and Melbourne Cup, with an undercurrent of fast moving art, music events and a whole new sub-culture within itself.

It’s the sort of city you can wander through for days on end, and never quite stumble across the same cafe you did the day before, or walk in on a pop-up event that you never saw advertised. Being born in Melbourne, and having a spider-web of family and friends snaking their way around the city and into the outlying suburbs and towns, it was always going to be more of a personal visit than a touristy one: it was the chance to see where I was born, and where my parents spent a great deal of time. However, after arriving and stepping out around the city, I felt instantly as though I was home.

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Melbourne is one of few places around the world to hold a UNESCO City of Literature title, and the Victoria State Library is guaranteed to take your breath away. It’s an imposing building, towering over the surrounding streets, and everything about it screams books and the love of reading – rather than the stuffy, look-but-don’t-touch feel of many public libraries. Bean bags and ice cream vans litter the sloped grass lawn in front of the building, and every available space was occupied by groups of people chatting, or people sat alone, heads in their books. The State Library is home to the Wheeler Centre, a space set up by the couple who started The Lonely Planet guidebook series. Being Melbournian, they wanted to invest money in the city’s passion for books and reading, and the Centre is home to many courses, talks and discussion panels from national and international authors, and on topics affecting people in socio-political sense, as well as an academic-literary one. Seeing these amazing facilities, and pure love for literature is making the decision to go back and complete a masters’ degree a lot tougher.

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Surprisingly, visiting the library was top of my list, and after that was completed, it was onto the laneways. Melbourne has plenty of things to do if you stick to the main streets: there are huge department stores, shops selling anything you could possibly ever want, as well as an abundance of cafes, restaurants and street food. However, to truly understand what Melbourne’s about, and why it’s so addictive, you need to delve deeper. The laneways – narrow alleys branching off the main streets – may look empty and uninviting, but on closer inspection, hold the heart of the city. Whether you’re after street art, the best coffee in town, independent fashion designers, or one-off cafes, you’ll find it down these streets.

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Manchester Lane, next door to the hostel I was staying at, was one of Melbourne’s worse laneways at one point, with high crime levels and abundance of heroin. However, the council gave the street a clean slate, and refurbished it, turning it into one of the more interesting lanes to walk down. Now it’s full of independent designers, namely fashion students at university, who can rent the space for next to nothing, and sell their creations. This is only one example of the forward thinking of the council; from inviting street artists to paint down selected laneways, to auditioning buskers, it’s nice to see the authorities helping to develop the heart of a city, rather than stifle it in favour of the mainstream.

Dropping off the radar

Australia is brilliant. I’ve only been here a week but it feels like forever, I’ve not done a lot but it feels like tons, and I’m constantly overawed by how generous and helpful people are. I’ve been staying with grandparents in Blairgowrie, a small beach town at the bottom of Port Philip Bay. It’s been so nice to relax, be in the sun and defrost after spending so much time in minus-one-hundred temperatures. It’s weird sleeping in a room by myself, and even weirder to be walking around in shorts, but this country already feels like home.

Thanks to all of the brilliant family and friends I have over here, I’ve managed to squeeze in beach visits, a trip to the city and finally gotten back on a horse (although I’m still aching from that).

Melbourne is possibly the best city in the world, and that’s without exaggerating in the slightest. It’s a mixture of all the things I love about my favourite cities back home, but with something extra on top. Whether this is the abundance of independent cafes, the lack of Starbucks, the people, or the weather, I’m still unsure. We visited the day after White Night, and the city was slowly beginning to wake up: bottles were scattered over the floor, and people were alternating between wandering alongside the river, and dozing on the sections of grass.

We drove down to Quarantine and Point Nepean today, the headland that ships pass through to leave Port Philip Bay, and get out into the ocean. If the name doesn’t give it away too much, Quarantine is the area that ships landed in from Europe and the UK, and where people were forced to stay if their ship carried diseases. We explored the old military tunnels and hospitals, and I managed to bump, quite literally, into a wallaby (I’m not sure who was more shocked).

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The beaches are stunning: where I’m based, we have the ocean on one side, and the bay on the other, and the difference couldn’t be bigger. The water’s warm in the bay, but fierce and strong on the ocean-side, and while I’m being told to try body-boarding, I think there’s a very high chance of me drowning.

I’ve only encountered one big spider so far: he lives in my bathroom, and we’ve struck a deal that if he sits still on the windowsill, I won’t throw him outside.

Although it’s only been a week, it’s easy to see why so many people arrive and don’t leave – the prospect of having my horse in my backgarden is enough to tempt me into changing passports (joking mum).