Chapter 15: Back to the beach!

Trip Start Oct 01, 2003
Trip End Nov 2004

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Where I stayed
Market Hotel

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Sunday, December 7, 2003

I spent the rest of Thursday afternoon walking around downtown Melbourne. It's a clean, modern downtown area with some great shopping opportunities, but I decided it really could be anywhere. Like Toronto, for example. The afternoon was notable, however, because I felt my first pang of homesickness. OK, that's the wrong word, because I don't want to be home or anywhere else specific; it's just that for the first time since traveling I didn't want to be on the road. You'd think that kind of feeling might have been brought on by receiving a touching e-mail from a friend, or hearing a song that reminded me of someone or someplace far away, but no... I got that feeling after walking into an HMV store and laying my hands on the newly-released (in Australia) "Wrong Turn" DVD. I would sacrifice my right pinky just to hear 10 minutes of the Desmond Harrington commentary track. So, basically... I missed my DVD player.

The feeling passed quickly once I got a substitute dose of backwoods bloodletting at the Village Cinema on Bourke Street that night. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (2003) was brilliant, and it achieved the rare horror movie trick of making me feel physically ill (the scene in the basement with the meathook and the salted leg stump - 'nuff said). It's been a banner year for teens-in-the-woods terror!

OK, this is supposed to be a travelogue, so back to the traveling. I checked out of the YHA first thing on December 5th, figured out the public transportation system, and made my way to Chapel Street Backpackers. The hostel is midway between the southern Melbourne suburbs of St. Kilda and Prahran, which was perfect for my interests (namely the beach and the too-cool-for-school cafe & club scene). I spent most of my birthday afternoon wandering around the Prahran & South Yarra sections of Chapel Street and getting my bearings. Prahran is the perfect antidote to downtown Melbourne: it's laid back yet trendy, and many subcultures and a variety of ethnic influences are apparent. I immediately liked it, and decided I could easily spend the rest of the weekend hanging out in sidewalk cafes watching people.

That night was a bit of a letdown. I never got in touch with my friends of friends due to miscommunication (who, me?), and I was too tired to motivate for the club scene, so I spent the Friday night of my 30th birthday lounging around the hostel watching the Simpsons and the old Bill Murray movie "Stripes." Definitely not a highlight of the journey. It didn't help that I was in a foul mood because I didn't want to be 30 in the first place (let's be honest, I still feel like an awkward 18 year old sometimes), and I'd only received one birthday e-mail by the time the day actually came (thanks, Chad!).

Since I'm a day ahead of the US, all of the b-day wishes came on the 6th, which I had assumed would happen. Thanks for those! I decided that because the 5th wasn't so hot, I should celebrate on the 6th instead anyway, since it was still the 5th back home. So Saturday pretty much rocked. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I walked down to Fitzroy Street in St. Kilda. Had some amazing gourmet pizza at Cafe a Taglio, watched some cricket in Albert Park, and then wandered over to the St. Kilda pier and the Esplanade. The enormous scary face/sun/mouth/thing that serves as the entrance to Luna Park was as freaky as I'd imagined, but the $34 entrance fee was too steep so I skipped the rides. Instead I treated myself to a gelato and enjoyed a relaxed tanning session on the beach. St. Kilda's got a cool vibe and a lot of character. It was formerly a seaside resort town, and now it's home to countless boutiques and flash cafes where beautiful people hang out to be seen. Kind of like a less-snobby Miami Beach.

Last night I committed myself to checking out the clubs here, so I hiked back up to Commercial Road in Prahran. It's the unofficial gay center of Melbourne, and the Market Hotel was getting crowded by the time I got there at midnight. After the small scale and friendly nature of clubs in New Zealand, I was a little intimidated by the comparatively huge and impersonal feel of the place. After a few drinks, though, I found my way to the dancefloor where I met some fun guys & girls. I danced for a long time, apparently, because the sun was coming up when I left at 5:30, and I had blisters on my feet!

Today was another stunner - 80F and not a cloud in sight - so I had another perfectly good day in St. Kilda browsing stores and soaking up the sun. Melbourne definitely grew on me after a rough start; it really helped to get out of downtown, and I'll be sad to leave Chapel Street. Tomorrow morning at 7am I'm jumping on the Autopia Bus and heading for the Snowy Mountains (ever see "Man from Snowy River"?). Then I get a night in Canberra, which I'm looking forward to after Bill Bryson's awful experience in "Down Under." I'll update again once I'm in Sydney at the end of the week!


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