4 years ago

Aussie rules, reunions, and ‘roos | Melbourne, Australia

With the end of A Great Journey on the horizon, I was unsure about where to go after New Zealand. I was of two minds:

  • Hit Australia briefly to check out a couple cities and say hello to friends.
  • Get out of my English-speaking comfort zone/expensive countries and into some Seoul food.

Alas, the proximity, ease of entry, and prospects of seeing friends old and new in Oz won out over the potential costs (Australia ain’t cheap). So, Auckland to Melbourne on Emirates it was, which meant I finally got to see La La Land. Loved it.

As a testament to how deeply travel is ingrained in Aussie culture, my visit to Australia included several reunions with locals I’d met on A Great Journey.

Reunion #1 was with Michael – whom I’d met at the Rayuela, er, Rashuela, Hostel in Buenos Aires in March 2016. My Australia 101 class began less than 24 hours after touching down in Melbourne.

Of course, after grabbing a one-week Myki card that fine Thursday morning (good on all trams and trains; a must when in Melbourne!), I regretfully left it at home. Luckily, Michael had an extra and off we went on a very Australian excursion to the legendary Melbourne Cricket Ground.

It started with randomly running into his parents on the train, a smartly-dressed couple who shared that a coat and tie is required to get into the MCG’s Members Dining Room area. We soon parted ways and Michael and I got into a pot & parma – a traditional working-class meal consisting of chicken parmigiana and a pot of beer (285 ml in Victoria; 585 ml in Western Australia, apparently). Afterward, the night culminated at the MCG with an Australian rules football match between Richmond and Collingwood. A proper good time, mate!

Parma and pot, Melbourne
A little parma and a Victoria Bitter pre-game. Never saw a Fosters in a whole month in Australia. It’s definitely not Australian for beer, as they claim.
Melbourne Cricket Ground, AFL, MCG
The legendary Melbourne Cricket Ground. Huge field. I was impressed with the athletes.
At Richmond vs Collingwood at the MCG in Melbourne
Good times at the MCG! Loved learning about Australian rules football with these two.

Aussie rules football turned out to be a better spectacle than rugby (sorry, South Africa, New Zealand). The sport is an Australian original, and really big in Melbourne and the surrounding area. A fast-moving, very physical game with quirky ball movement on a huge, oval-shaped field, and a raucous crowd in the stands, I enjoyed it very much.

So much so, in fact, that after playing tourist in the city center the following day and running into a bunch of people going to an AFL game on the train, I decided to go, too. This one at was at Etihad Stadium, and the quality of football and crowd was even better than the day before.

Etihad Stadium Cricket Melbourne
Australia is almost the only place to see an AFL game, so I went on back-to-back nights.

Really grainy video due to crap phone I bought in Melbourne, but good example of the fluidity, scoring, and energy of the AFL.

The travel gods smiled upon me once again the following day, as I entered The Book of Mormon ticket lottery and won the right to purchase a pair of tickets for $40 each. Maureen, my AirBnB host, joined me for the absolutely hilarious show (although Uganda, sadly, took a worse beating than Utah), and kindly showed me around some locals bars afterward.

Book of Mormon Melbourne lottery
The show was sold-out well beyond my stay in Melbourne, but luckily I gave this a shot.
Book of Mormon ticket lottery, Melbourne
With only 24 tickets in the lottery, the odds were terrible, but I wasn’t too optimistic, as most people request a pair.
Book of Mormon, Melbourne
Oh, my heck! Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Hilarious show, especially since I lived in Utah for a while.

Reunion #2 took place on Sunday funday, with my friend Steph. The good Doctor and I had a great time in Rwanda, drinking Virungas, listening to a terribly choppy DJ, and watching a couple ladies of the night rob an absolutely shmammered muzungu.

We settled on tiny Batch Espresso in St. Kilda soon after meeting. As a millenial in Melbourne, I ordered the avo mash. Hey, some demographers include 1980 in the generation, so I’m going with it. After feasting on that generous pile of, surprise, mashed avocado + feta crumbles on sourdough, we hit the Sunday Market.

I planned on leaving for Sydney the next day, but Steph suggested I stick around. So I did, primarily because Melbourne is better than Sydney, I kept hearing. Besides, I had nowhere to be and nothing beats seeing a new place with a local.

I joined the Sims for a few days at their amazing home; their warm hospitality won’t soon be forgotten. Nor will my first vegemite experience or the many kangaroos I saw just hopping about their ‘hood. That was really, really cool and so very Australian. Yet I felt like a total tourist getting giddy over seeing kangaroos bouncing about in a city.

with Steph in Melborne.
Kicking it at the Sims’. They treated this stranger so well and truly made my time in Melbourne memorable.
vegemite in Melbourne
My first time trying Vegemite. Light coating worked well and tasted just fine.

Over the next few days, I got a good look at Melbourne’s city core: the State Library Victoria, Old Treasury, Parliament House, University of Melbourne, etc. Sometimes solo, other times with Steph and Vic, her brother. We ate Mexican food (and kangaroo; it’s so good/lean!), hit a few cool bars, and even a rooftop movie. Definitely glad I stayed and got to know Melbourne better.

Parliament House, Melbourne, Victoria.
Got a great little tour of Parliament House in Melbourne and learned about the history of the English settlers, achieving statehood, and how the state of Victoria runs its legislative body.
The State Library Victoria, Melbourne
The Latrobe Reading Room inside the State LIbrary of Victoria in Melbourne.
The State Library, Victoria Melbourne
Spent some time at the State Library Victoria whilst exploring the city. Some great exhibits & fast Wi-Fi inside this immense, beautiful library.
Whiskey with the Sims, Melbourne
Cheers to Vic! He kindly shared his good whiskeys and provided some advise on Japan, which was one of my next stops.
Kangaroos in Melbourne.
So many kangaroos, just hanging out at the park. Didn’t get too close as I didn’t wanna be on the receiving end of a kick or punch.

Albeit brief, I was able to have reunion #3, with Lauren, whom I met in Argentina and went hiking with in Chile. It was good to reminisce about the awesomeness of Patagonia (don’t miss Torres del Paine) and catch up on life.

Before long, I hopped on the train from the Sim’s and into the city one last time, backpack in tow. A nice walk and a couple of hours later, I went to pick up my Spaceship, which I’d booked on Transfercar.com.au and would be driving to Sydney. It was another fortuitous booking, where their needs matched my dates and route, so I got around for free. Can’t say enough good things about Transfercar, which worked like a charm in NZ and Oz.

Spaceship Australia, Melbourne
Bed, kitchen, wheels. I arrived in style and fit right in in Sydney, the 2nd most expensive city in the world, haha.

Because my sweet ride wasn’t quite ready, they let me use the washer and dryer – two machines I desperately needed – while I waited, so it really was a good little morning. I dug into some more Explorers of the Nile, one of the books I liked most on A Great Journey; it made me miss Africa, for sure.

Explorers of the Nile, Tim Jeal, Melbourne
Brilliantly written by Tim Jeal about the brave explorers who arrived in the period just before the scramble for Africa. Informative, insightful, and entertaining.

When the repairs on the van were done, I hit the road to Wollongong. My friends Tim and Beth live in this idyllic little surfing town an hour south of Sydney. En route, I stopped at Glenrowan, where infamous Australian outlaw Ned Kelly had his last stand in 1880. Reunion #4 awaited, almost exactly a year after I’d met the dynamic duo in Argentina. More on that another day.

Dookie, Australia.
On the road to Sydney. Green Day album, crude synonym, or town? Made me laugh.

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