I have now been in Melbourne for one week. If this were a normal vacation, that means that right about now I’d be packing up and moving on to my next destination. And in fact, the last week has felt a lot like a vacation. I’ve done a lot of picture-taking, a lot of eating, and a lot of walking. However, in many ways it doesn’t feel like a vacation. I’ve gone grocery shopping, my suitcases are completely unpacked, and my room is starting to take on that familiar feeling of being mine. Obviously, there’s still a huge amount I still need to do and figure out, and some things remind me every day that I’m not planning on staying here permanently, but I feel that in time I’ll feel as comfortable in Melbourne as I ever did in the Bay Area.
Due to my delay in getting to Melbourne, I missed orientation for international students on Monday, but luckily they had a makeup session the following morning, so there were no real consequences. In order to avoid falling asleep and messing up my time zone adjustment, I spent some time walking around and orienting myself, so I knew where my apartment was located in regards to everything else. What follows now is a narrative style description of Melbourne and its immediate surroundings.
Stepping outside, I immediately pull my hood up, for it is winter in Melbourne, and I regret my decision to bring only a light sweatshirt better suited for chilly summer mornings than winds straight from Antarctica. Nevertheless, I endure, and turning left, walk two blocks north to campus. Similar to Berkeley, the University of Melbourne is a potpourri of architectural styles, with buildings from the 1800s sitting squat and low next to sleek, angular highrises with pane-glass windows and ground floor cafes serving $10 artisan sandwiches and carefully crafted cappucinos. The university is shaped like a slice of a domed building, the rectangular main campus topped by a semi-circle around which the residential colleges are located. Walking this semi-circle, I marvel at the imposing stone towers of these glorified dormitories, which remind me more of English countryside manors than Unit 2, the aptly named hunk of concrete that served as my freshman dormitory back in Berkeley.
This was one of the “dorms” that you can apply to live in. Come on Berkeley, up your game!
Having walked the entirety of the semi-circle, I continue east for a couple blocks until I reach Lygon St. While only a 10-15 minute walk from the CBD, Lygon St is to Melbourne as Walnut Creek is to San Francisco (read, wealthy, overpriced, but clean). I stay only long enough to gawk at the prices on some of the menus before hopping on a tram south, to downtown Melbourne.
A quick interlude. I’ll admit that I didn’t do a lot of research about Melbourne proper before I got here, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the city comes equipped with a well thought out public transportation system, which includes a network of hop-on hop-off trams that are conveniently free once you get into the downtown area.
Arriving in downtown, I get off and wander the crowded streets, listening to people chatter in a dozen different languages, while buskers try their luck on every street corner. In one of the many indoor malls, I feast on Okonomiyaki, the indescribable Japanese dish that I haven’t managed to find since travelling to Kyoto with my family many years ago. In the state library, I peruse the huge collection of art and books, and at Flinders Street Station I lean out over the Yarra River and try to find crocodiles in its murky waters (I don’t think there are any).
Hopping on the tram again, I travel another 20 minutes south until I come to St. Kilda. A seaside town, St. Kilda is probably busier in the summer, but even with rain coming down and a stiff breeze blowing in from Port Phillip, a sizable number of people crowd its famous pastry shops. I walk along the beach for five minutes before the wind gets to me too, and soon I’m back on a Yarra tram, headed back to the city and its people powered warmth.
On my way back to my apartment, I walk through the Queen Victoria Market, a huge production that sells certified counterfeits of all varieties, as well as fresh meat, vegetables, dairy, fruit, bread, coffee, etc. And at only five minutes walking distance from my apartment, I think I know where I’ll be doing a lot of my grocery shopping.
Finally, I arrive back home, and looking at the clock, am surprised to find that a week has already gone by, and I start classes tomorrow.
Of course, what you have just read is only the condensed highlights version, and there are plenty of things I did and saw that are not included, and plenty of time was spent not really doing anything. Today is my second day of class, or at least it would be, if I had any classes today, and I can already feel myself slipping back into the comfortable, easy routine of morning bike rides, afternoon cappucinos, and evening “work”.
Never fear, though, I am not going to spend my entire time here relaxing. I have plans, if not travel dates or partners, to visit Tasmania, Sydney, New Zealand, southeast Asia, and the Great Barrier Reef, as well as many other weekend and day trips around Melbourne. I plan to make the most of this amazing opportunity I have before me, and I only hope that when I look back at these posts in a few years, I won’t regret that I didn’t go somewhere I should have gone or do something I should have done.