Melbourne, Australia

Its pretty hard to keep up to date with blogging when travelling across so many different places- particularly as I have no computer and the internet over here in Oz is crazy expensive!! We spent about 2 weeks in Melbourne over the Christmas period- a place that so many people had raved to us about before we made our own way there. It certainly didn’t disappoint! I found it more manageable just to break our experience down into different sections:

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Hostels

We spent our first week in Nomads Hostel, North of the city and very near Victoria markets. Nomads are found throughout Australasia and although many people we met praised the ones in places such as Cairns and Queenstown NZ, this one was fairly shite.
We found it pretty hard to meet people- mainly because everyone seemed to work there and be very clicky with eachother. Seriously, there must have been over 30 staff on duty; all of whom had fled the European winter for the Australian warmth and promise of Melbourne- only to become stuck in an incredibly over competitive city to find work in. Emphasizing this point- a group who checked in only a few hours after us, were cleaning our room 2 days later. It wasn’t just that though, the beds were crap, the social spaces were small and it was impossible to cook in the kitchen which was always rammed with staff. For the price, which wasn’t cheap, it was tosh!
Nonetheless we spent a good 5 days at Nomads, its location did provide a decent base for which to explore most of the city and the Victoria Markets.
Following this we moved further north of the city to explore the Fitzroy and Brunswick districts. These are really cool places and we had a lot of fun around here. There are a load of bars which are very individual and extremely quirky or ‘hipster’ -for lack of another ‘cool’ word. Its also a hell lot cheaper than the city itself which was a relief. We stayed at the Nunnery Hostel, which was absolute class; Good bunch of backpackers, decent rooms, really clean and free BBQs in the evening- can’t really get much better or ask for more!
After a few days in the north of the city our intention was to head to the popular Base Hostel in St. Kilda- however as it was the week of the tennis open dorm rooms were in the region of $70- an absolute joke. We did however spend a few nights at their club events- it definitely lives up to its reputation as Melbourne’s party hostel and it would have been fun to stay a few nights here- not that anyone got any sleep though. Instead we checked into Urban Central at the heart of Melbourne, which proved a great choice and one of the best we stayed at in OZ: Great atmosphere, people, nights, bar and games- the happy hour was also one of the better and more importantly cheaper ones for such a central location; We very quickly discovered that Melbourne isn’t cheap!

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Melbourne is Expensive

After checking in to our first hostel we almost immediately made our way to the nearest pub where we were hit for $24 for 2 beers- that’s nearly £7 a go! Compounding to this throwback we quickly realised that ordering a drink is a very laboured process. You can’t just walk into a bar and ask for a pint of larger; Instead, the preferred measurements of alcohol come as a schooner, a pot or a handle- 3 different size of glass that are all smaller than a pint.
Within an hour of being out in Melbourne we had both gone through $50 on a shared round- not too far from what we had budgeted per day! Its not surprising therefore to see why so many people turn to ‘Goon’ as a much more economical way of intoxication- ourselves included.
Its not just the beer though- a bottle of soft drink of water costs $4.50- and although the food is great its also pretty pricey.
We mostly relied on the street sushi, which is pretty reasonable and very popular throughout the city.
But there are some ways in which you can reprieve some cash; The city has an extensive tram network and if you are in Melbourne for less than 6 weeks then technically you can ride all the trams for free, as it takes 6 weeks for a ticket to be processed and you have to have an address for this period of time. We took the tram everywhere and were only thrown off on one occasion- only to get back on the one behind- its a flawless system and rids all transportation fares.

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 City Centre: Buskers galore

The city itself is pretty awesome- definitely somewhere I would feel comfortable living for a period of time. There is a very quirky and exciting buzz within the centre – everyone seems to be free to do as they please and it seems acceptable to do so- it reminded me a lot like Camden- really hip, a bit odd, but everyone is cool with it- each to their own. There are buskers everywhere in this city… Everywhere! We would stop mostly at those who were either amazing- of which there were many, and those who were ridiculously terrible- of which there just as many! Memorable acts included a didgeridoo/ rap duo, a quartet of brothers probably aged between 8 and 13 on guitar and some amazing guy on the drums. Memorable acts for other reasons included a guy dressed as a woman and bouncing a wooden string puppet up and down while blowing into a recorder. Like I said it can be as equally weird as it can be fun, but this is what makes Melbourne cool, its an eccentric mess of do whatever pleases you.

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This eccentricity is not only demonstrated through the people but the buildings. Generally the majority of the newer structures, of which there are many, are very slick and clean, but there are many that are really out of control- in an artistic way; Again there seems to be a lot of ‘whatever you think is cool just do it’ sort of attitude- there are no real limits or restrictions. Coming from London and with a background in the constraints in the design of historic buildings, it was refreshing and bizarre to see such buildings like the library, university structures and town hall all having their own fun tweaks and drama about them. It all adds to the wackiness which makes up the general feel for Melbourne- its a city that doesn’t take itself to seriously- a city that sees the fun in being goofy and  a bit wacky!

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Heading down by the Yarra river and south of Federation Square- the perfect place to waste time people watching- retracts oneself from the crazy bustle of the city centre. Its a lot more conformed and relaxed down these ends. The river side cafes, bars and restaurants are more business-like and generic and the spaces eventually open up to Melbourne’s city parks and gardens where its easy to kick back, chill and watch rowing teams straddle up and down the river or head round to the art galleries and memorials.

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The Lanes

The lanes are a must and its where you will find the true charm of Melbourne. There aren’t too many cities that I would recommend in getting lost down the alleyways and side streets- but the Melbourne ‘lanes’- are famed for their graffiti, artworks, buskers, street-food, hole-in the wall pubs and coffee houses. We spent a good half a day wandering the lanes across the whole of central Melbourne and I would advise anyone visiting to do the same. Deagrave St and Flinders are bustling in the morning and are great for breakfasting and coffee shops; Hardware Lane for lunch and then the lanes around Chinatown, Little Bourke St and ACDC lane for the art, graffiti and tucked away bars. There are some great finds down all of the little alcoves, you just have to get out and explore them. Again, I think this is a cool quality about Melbourne adding to its own uniqueness- these finds are treated as treasures and its almost as if you’re in a secret club by going to certain bars that not many people will come across or know of- when you come across a real cool bar its the same feeling as you get when you hear a pretty unknown band for the first time and follow them before they get famous and mainstream- by which point you want something else to ‘discover.’

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Bars and Nightlife

As mentioned the real good bars across central Melbourne take some finding and most of the real gems are hidden behind pretty unappealing entrances.
Rooftop bars are popular, but again these can be a little difficult to find as mostly the entrances to these bars are single stairwells wedged between shops.
One of our favourite spots in the city centre was Section 8- a parking lot down one of the sidestreets that with the help of shipping crates and other recycled crap has been done up and converted into a pretty decent pre-bar.

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By far our most favourite spot was around Brunswick in the north- where rows of bohemian bars line the streets. Naked Devil Bar is a great a bar with awesome tapas, that is served on an honesty- pay when you want system- which sets the general tone for the Brunswick area. Even better is Naked in the Sky a rooftop bar which is situated an elevator ride above the Devil Bar. The beer is great, its always busy and the view across Melbourne is awesome. There are loads of great finds across the district many which offer their own brewed ales and beers and many with signs saying ‘no pub-crawls permitted’ -something I’ve never seen outside a bar before!

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Further South of the city, St Kilda also offers up a pretty decent nightlife. There are a lot more space-heads and skateboarders around these parts and the scene is a lot more crazy and less formal than the central city. Mixing a beach-life with some great seafront bars and a very young crowd generally resides in pretty crazy days/nights out. The beach down at St.Kilda would become flooded with young people at around sunset- all pre-drinking and listening to music- its a pretty cool scene to start the early evening before heading out.

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Sport

Melbourne is crazy for its sport; Over the Christmas period they housed an Ashes test, the Tennis Open, F1 Grand Prix, domestic cricket matches and domestic AFL games.
The great thing about the city is that its so easily accessible to get to these events; Almost all of the major stadiums are located in the same district, just South of the river and are only a short,free trams ride from the city. We managed to get to a few matches at the Tennis Grand Slam and it was just incredible…(see post http://wp.me/p3Mm4F-dc)
The buzz from these sporting events is spread throughout the city making Melbourne such a great place to visit over the Christmas periods. That being said, if you’re a fellow Brit, expect a fair share of ‘pommy’ abuse.

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