After a hearty helping of free toast, peanut butter, and Rice Krispies, we ran to catch the tram into the CBD and the starting point of the free walking tour. Our guide took us all around the city: The old gaol (where Ned Kelly had his last words before being hung), the old police station, Queen Victoria Center, Central, Chinatown, street art (glorified graffiti) on Hozier Lane, Federation Square, the arts center, and more. As per the tour guide’s suggestion, we went to check out Brunswick Street, in the neighborhood of Fitzroy. We retraced our steps from the entire two hour tour since that was the only way we knew to get there.
Finally we arrived in Fitzroy, a trendy area with crumbly old buildings–not because they were neglected, but because the hipsters thought they were “cool” and had “character”. All the guidebooks say you simply must go to the Naked for Satan bar to enjoy the rooftop view with the locals. I had no idea what to expect from a bar with a name like that, but it was tamer than I expected and had tables of middle aged people enjoying their beers and snacks. It was cloudy and spritzing rain (typical Melbourne), but the view of the city was incredible and the home brewed beer was scrumptious.
Our hostel was located in an area known as St Kilda, the former home of seedy bars and prostitutes. The area has been cleaned up for years and was full of wholesome people walking along the St Kilda pier trying to spot penguins, or sipping fancy espresso drinks in one of the many outdoor cafes.
It wasn’t sunny, but it wasn’t pouring rain either–just that “meh” in between weather that Melbourne is known for. We pushed ourselves out into the dreary weather to do a self-guided walk of the Queen Victoria gardens, the Shrine of Remembrance, and the botanical gardens. Eventually we got bored of the endless gardens and walked to Queen Victoria Center food court for sushi and noodles before walking to the Queen Victoria Market. The market was a mixture of indoor and outdoor space filled with vendors putting their goods on display and shouting out deals to the shoppers meandering through the rows. There was a variety of veggies, fruits, meats, pastries, and a whole array of non-food items, like stuffed koalas, Walkmen, and clothes.
We bought fancy pour-over coffee and “flat white” espresso drinks at one stall and enjoyed a street performer’s ragtime clarinet music to accompany the relaxed atmosphere.
Next, we walked to Lygon Street, the Italian Precinct. I haven’t been to Italy yet, so, to me it looked similar to Paris, with outdoor cafes spilling into the sidewalks selling coffee, pasta, and gelato.
To save money, we decided to switch to a hostel down the street that would be cheaper for a few days. The Ritz for Backpackers had a welcoming receptionist, but as soon as we walked through the lounge to our private room, it felt like we were in a frat house where everyone was initiated but us. Everyone seemed to know each other and ran and stomped up and down the hallway shouting and teasing each other. We hid out in our single room for a while contemplating whether our hostel move was wise. However, we heard there was free BBQ, so we ventured out of the room and were immediately welcomed by some of the group. Apparently 90% of the residents there were long term, some of which had been there for over two years while working menial minimum wage jobs!
The delicious burgers and friendly people created a laid back vibe, and soon we were invited to play drinking games with them, right there in the hostel lobby. Meanwhile at other hostels they try to scare you away with fines and punishments for consuming alcohol. Soon there were about thirty of us all smushed together on the couches having fun, and I knew that this host was not a mistake. So often during traveling, it’s just Byron and I, which is incredible, don’t get me wrong. However, we both agree that it’s great getting a chance to mix it up and hear opinions and stories from other people once in a while. A club promoter came to the hostel and gave out free drink coupons like candy, and even gave Byron a free $50 bar tab, so of course we weren’t going to let that go to waste. The rest of the night consisted of dancing and camaraderie with the hostel kids.
Not only did the hostel offer free BBQ, but they also had free pancakes for breakfast, which I was very excited about. After lounging around, we ventured out of the hostel and walked along Fitzroy street, through St. Kilda, past Luna Park, past shops and beaches and marinas until we finally found ourselves at Brighton Beach. This is the beach that’s famous for all the multi-colored bath houses. We were exhausted from the walk, so we took a few photos and then left to start making dinner before going to the cricket game.
Now, neither Byron nor I have ever seen a cricket game, let alone even know how to play, so we thought this might be a great learning experience. The Melbourne Cricket Grounds (or known as The G to locals) was packed with fans supporting The Stars with green inflatable bats, hats, and other gear. Sounds like the other team didn’t stand a chance according to the fans. We had seats close to the field, which gave us the opportunity to try and figure out what was going on. Our best interpretation was that there are pitchers and hitters and one team pitches and tries to get the other team out as they run in between two “wickets”. Then the teams switch and the other one pitches. It was an exciting ending with only one ball needed to win, but one out away from loosing. Even in our confusion we were excited! The Stars won, all the green-clad fans cheered and there were fireworks on the field. Can’t say I’d ever watch a game on TV as it gets rather boring, but it was great to be there figuring it out live.
After the game, we walked past Federation Square with the hoards of people and continued to Chinatown to check out the infamous Croft Institute Bar. The venue for the bar was an old mental insane asylum, and they basically kept it the same for the bar. We had to walk through a sketchy alleyway to find the place (all part of the creepy effect), and were then ushered into the first floor, decorated as a laboratory with people drinking out of syringes and test tubes. The second floor was styled like a creepy hospital waiting room with a rust old wheelchair suspended from the ceiling. The third was an unnerving gymnasium look.
We had no desire to stay out that night, so after seeing the madness of Croft Institute firsthand, we headed back to the hostel and tried hopelessly to sleep with the music from the bar underneath us so loud it was vibrating our floorboards.
For our last full day in Melbourne, we felt like we had done most of what we wanted to already. We lazed around, enjoyed more free pancakes, walked around the St. Kilda Esplanade Market, and finally gave up doing touristy things and just researched this to do in our next destination, Byron Bay. We signed up for surfing lessons in Byron, blogged, scrapbooked and enjoyed some goon and grocery store dinner before bed.
It’s interesting because most people I’ve talked to that have stayed in Melbourne for a few months say it’s their absolute favorite city. However, people that only stay for a few days much prefer Sydney. I think I fit into the latter crowd, and would definitely come back to Melbourne to live, but not again as a tourist.