When we were eighteen, my friend Chantal’s parents decided to up and move, relocating to Australia and taking herself and her three brothers with them. It was a change that was a long time coming, and we had plenty of time to prepare our goodbyes, but their leaving was difficult for all of us. I saw Chantal (and her family) almost every day from the age of about thirteen, right up until the day they flew out. Needless to say, we were best friends, and losing a best friend at eighteen is incredibly hard.
Luckily, social media is a godsend, and since her leaving, I have spoken to Chantal at least once a week, if not every other day, through Facebook and Twitter and Skype and even, at the beginning, emails. In November 2014, she and her boyfriend Kaedin came over to visit, and she hadn’t changed one bit, except for the incredibly twangy Australian accent she has picked up.
This December was my turn to go and visit her. We planned it for months, and I guess part of me wasn’t quite sure that it would really happen. But, here I am, I have returned from what was one of the happiest trips of my life, and I don’t think I’ve laughed so much since she first left the UK. And I wanted to talk about it because, and I will say this until I can no longer speak, Australia. Is. Awesome.
There will be three posts about Australia because I visited three major cities there. I hope to soon return and do the rest of the country. But I will, of course, always return to Melbourne, because I have never fallen in love with a city so fast and so hard.
After twenty four hours of travelling, most of which I could not get any sleep on, I thought that I would be exhausted arriving in Melbourne airport. But from the moment I stepped outside, got into a nice, cool, air conditioned car (we Brits are not used to the heat) and saw the city, I suddenly felt like I could stay up for hours. It is hot in December, but not quite as hot as it is in January, I was told repeatedly. I’d like to say I got used to the heat, but I really didn’t. There were days when it was so hot that I could only stay outside for about five minutes before giving up and having to go back into the shade. Those were not good days.
Chantal’s family live about forty minutes from the city by train, just on the beginning of the Mornington Peninsula, which meant that I experienced both the beautiful beaches nearby, and the glory of the city. For me, Mornington was a sunny little seaside town, with clear, calm water, a relaxed, laid back atmosphere and absolutely delicious gelato, which Chantal and I ate too much of. It took two hours in the sun for Chantal to remind me that there is no ozone layer over Australia, but by that point my base tan was set anyway. There were stingrays by the pier, although I didn’t get to see them, and sharks are apparently quite common, on top of the jellyfish. No swimming for me then, just a bit of a paddle.
Not that the idea of sharks usually puts me off going in the sea…
We also went, in Chantal’s spare time, to the hot springs, which are about an hour out from Frankston, and where hot pools follow a leisurely climb up a hill to a gorgeous view above, which I was misfortunate enough not to bring my camera for – where can you put a phone when wearing a swimming costume, really? The beauty of the Australian countryside, despite being a strange mix of browns and greens, is truly breathtaking. I don’t think I’ll ever get used the lush gorgeous sight of the landscape and the sea, and in Aus, where everything is bigger, it was even more dazzling
But the city is where I fell in love. I was lucky enough to be shown the city twice, once by Chantal (we frequented a lot of shops) and once by my dad’s childhood friend and his son, who took me to the library, to architectural wonders across the city, and to one of the cool, hipster lanes where I was lured into the trap that is Melbourne coffee. Nowhere will ever have coffee quite like Melbourne does. The rumors are true. I’ve come back to the UK to realise that we burn coffee. We’re much better at tea.
My dad’s friend also took me into some of the bush you can find right there in the city, up to another spectacular view of Melbourne. Having someone who loves the city show you around is an amazing experience.
But exploring alone was just as fun. I went to galleries and museums, I used the tram system, I found Minotaur, the gigantic pop culture store, I walked all the way up from Flinders Street to the Queen Victoria Market and ate amazing food and drank more delicious coffee (they have a thing called cupping which I still don’t really understand) whilst watching the fruit merchants sell their fresh, amazing smelling produce. I sunbathed in the Botanical Gardens and walked along the Yarra River. I spent time on an adventure with myself, in a city where you fit in whatever you look like, and where no one ever shouted at me or gave me disgusted looks. Nobody is weird in Melbourne, or everyone is, and that is why it is so easy to want to stay there.
During my second weekend in Aus, we went to Phillip Island, about an hour and a half drive along the coast from Melbourne, where you can watch fairy penguins come in at night and waddle into their little penguin houses. I decided on that evening that if I can’t live in Australia and spend half my time on Phillip Island raising money for the penguins and half my time in Melbourne city with the friends I have, old and new, who live there, then I will have wasted my life.
There are of course, so many things I’ve missed out, the little moments, the tiny things you notice that are different from where you are from. But the simple fact of travelling in Australia is that you really do have to be there to experience it for yourself, especially Melbourne. Maybe it’s because I spent the most time there, who knows. But any chance I get, I’m going back to Melbourne, and I’m determined to spend longer than three weeks there.
Three weeks is never enough time.