I was in Melbourne and planned to go to Adelaide for another house/cat sit in a week. Once I finished the sit, I wasn’t sure how I’d spend the next five months in Australia. Each morning, I took some time searching options but also wanted to make the most of my time in Melbourne while I was there. I decided to take the tram to the downtown State Library.
The building was a work of art! It was free to enter, and I wandered around. I ended up in the central circular part. It was a giant octagon with nothing directly above it so that I could see the balconies of several stories above it. On the ground floor, there were rows of tables that originated from the center of the circle. The tables were like something from a movie – lamps lit the table above people studying. Bookshelves lined the outside of the ring.
There was a small museum that was on the floors above. It followed the octagon around, almost like a wide hallway. When you’re up there, you can see down below to the people reading away. The museum talked about the history of literature, including comic books. There was even a timeline of Ned Kelly’s life.
One sign at the museum read, “The 1950s was a golden era for Australian pulp fiction. Import restrictions on U.S. books and magazines in the 1940s and 1950s created an opportunity for local publishers to meet the growing demand for American style commercial novels.” It goes on to talk about Australian publishers and how much they produced during that time. Then it continues, “With the arrival of television, and the lifting of import restrictions in 1959, the demand for locally produced pulp fiction declined. The next generation of gumshoes – characters such as Cliff Hardy and Phryne Fisher – plied their trade in distinctly local settings, a sign of Australia’s growing cultural confidence.”
After the library, I walked around the downtown area. Melbourne is an excellent city for walking. There are shops, restaurants, trams, and it’s safe and clean. Some buildings are modern, while others have the old Victorian design.
For dinner, I walked to the night market that goes on twice a week. It was huge, with hundreds of people. There was a vast canopy protecting all of the booths from any rain that might come. I waited in line for a food booth called The Black Sheep. The food was worth that wait! I ordered the lamb that came with pita bread, fries, and a salad. It was so juicy and flavorful that I still about it to this day.
I walked around the incredibly packed market and realized it was mostly food vendors. There was the occasional booth with handmade goods. In the center, crowded tables were filled with people gorging on their food. There was also a section for some entertainment. At one point, an older man had a circular crowd around him while he did tricks on a super tall tricycle. Later, there was a silent disco party with people wearing headphones dancing on a small dance floor.
I ate some dessert, which consisted of ice cream inside of a donut. Later I got some melted cheese on bread. The man scraped it from a cheese block that was hanging over a fire directly onto my food. It was delicious, but I couldn’t finish it because I was so full. After walking around, I decided to ditch the crowd. On the way out, I noticed a water trough with water spouts for people to fill up water bottles or cups. I wish more places had free tap water available like that.
The next evening, I signed up for a hidden bar tour. It was with the same company that gave the walking tour I was on a few days prior. This time, our tour guide was the owner, Jon. He was from Minnesota (USA), appeared to be in his early 30s, and was tall. In 2009, he traveled for a year and ended up in England and Wales long-term. For work, he gave tours and really enjoyed it. His girlfriend was from Australia, so he had recently moved there. Jon started the tour company there two years prior, and they provide walking tours and bar tours.
There were 13 people in the group: four girls from Columbia, two couples from Melbourne, one couple from Sydney, and one couple from Perth. One of the pair from Melbourne was on the tour in hopes of finding wedding venue options, as well as to explore a little bit of their city. The other Melbourne couple was looking for opportunities for their son’s 18th birthday. The couple from Perth lived in the countryside and were just on vacation.
The first bar that we went to was called Whiskey Den. It was tiny, and I sat at the bar, drinking my whiskey with a lager. Jon gave us some information about whiskey and the bar scene in Melbourne, and then gave us time to get to know each other.
I sat next to Tawny and Johnny from Sydney. They were on vacation and were really friendly. Tawny was 43 years old and came to Australia from Vietnam when she was three years old. She was tall with long, black hair and worked in finance. Johnny was 41 years old and came to Australia from Hong Kong when he was an older child, and he worked in IT. They met on Bumble and had been dating for ten months. They were so cute, always holding hands and looking smitten with each other. It gave me hope in online dating.
To get to the next bar, we walked through the graffiti-filled alleyways. The following bar was called the White Hart Bar. It was still daylight outside, and we sat outside in the covered patio. There was a food truck with a painted picture of President Trump with him saying, “Best Tacos north of the wall. Wow. Tremendous.”
I talked with different people in the group while enjoying a beer. The couple who was looking for wedding venues said they must have live music and a bottle of whiskey on each table at their wedding reception. They expected 110-120 guests. Surprised by prices, they commented, “It’s going to cost $20,000 to host dinner for our friends?”
The next bar was located underground, called Beneath Driver Lane. I ordered the Grand Finale, which had nitrogen in it, and was fun to watch the bartender make a show of it. The final bar was called Loch and Key. I had been there before (after the walking tour), so I ordered some fries for people to try because they’re delicious. We sat outside on the balcony and chatted while enjoying our drinks.
The tour was over, but I was hungry for dinner, and so were Johnny and Tawnie. We walked to a ramen place, which turned out to be closed down, so we Ubered to one farther away. They helped me order the ramen because they are foodies who have quality pallets. The ramen hit the spot! The flavors were just what I needed.
The three of us talked about life in our countries. They have been to the U.S. (Texas, New York, and the West Coast). They said they had excellent experiences there and people were friendly. The conversation turned into health insurance woes and differences in our systems. It was a fun time and felt like I had known them for a long time. Even though I travel solo, I am thrilled when I get opportunities to hang out with new friends.
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