Pro tip: In an Australian accent, “Melbourne” sounds a lot more like “Melbin” because their R’s are soft!
Arriving in Melbourne was a bit of a shock coming from the sunny northern part of the country. (Americans – remember that in the Southern Hemisphere, seasons are switched, and climate is geographically opposite!)
Personally, I had an even rougher time because my body decided I had put too much stress on it, and gave me a panic attack right before our plane took off. By the time we arrived to our hostel at night, with a 30-degree temperature change, after taking a crowded taxi ride, and we brought our suitcases up to a small hotel room where we were to live for the next four weeks, I was feeling worse than I’ve ever felt before in my life. Nauseous and anxious and lightheaded. I wish I had gone on an anti-anxiety med before our trip, but since I hadn’t, I had to suffer through all the effects of travel on my weary body.
Fortunately, I was able to take the next day off to rest and recover. I had gotten a cold sleeping in our cold cabin in the mountains, and was afraid I was coming down with more effects. I took some cold/flu medicine (an essential for traveling across climates!!) and tried to not be stressed by the idea of being stuck in one room in a large, cold city for the next month. Though I continued to feel on and off throughout our time, I felt significantly better after the taking a whole day off.
Even though it was winter, Melbourne’s winters are mild, and we felt blessed to get two weeks of 60-degree sunny weather before it got windy and temperatures dipped into the 50’s.
For those of you wondering, my wardrobe was made up of long sleeve shirts + vests, jeans, and Toms, until I needed to pull out thin sweaters, a fleece, and riding boots. It was also crucial to have shorts and t-shirts to wear in the hostel, because they kept the thermostat up high (of course, we were glad to have heat indoors again!!). I wrote more about that here.
We chose our hostel, the Space Hotel, based on the proximity to the university campuses we would be working on, but it put us in a great location for enjoying shopping, site-seeing, and hopping around the city.
The hostel itself was extremely modern, like a lot of the city is. Melbourne is one of the most expensive cities to live in in the world. It is modern, clean, safe, and trendy. Our rooms were new, clean, had large windows with a good view, and a hotel-like cleaning service. The bathrooms and shower were individual, but shared between the other people staying on the floor. (You needed a key card to get in, but had it all to yourself.) This was a good system other than always having to have your key card on you. 😉
We had access to tons of amenities, including a large, open kitchen (lots of counter space, large sinks, gas burners, well-used pots and pans, utensils, dull knives, plenty of pantry space, and lots of fridge space – however – no freezers!! that was a challenge!), food lockers for more valuable items, large tables and benches, tables and grills on a sunny outdoor patio, a hang-out room with couches and tables (perfect for our team gatherings!), pay-by-the-minute/hour internet access on computers in the lobby, roof access with a hot tub (we did use it once, but it seemed fairly unclean – and my standards are pretty low haha), and (here’s the kicker) – a free movie theater with several rows of seating, and the ability to choose the channel you want (if you get there first 😉 …I didn’t use it much, but it was so fun to have a free place to chill out when I needed some alone time!).
We split most of our time between the University of Melbourne and the RMIT campuses meeting college students and chatting with them about spiritual topics. RMIT was directly across from our hostel, while University of Melbourne was a fifteen-minute walk.
Just around the block was….
The State Library of Victoria, which was AWESOME. I would go exploring in my free time, or go there when I needed internet to lesson plan. (We paid for internet in the hostel in order for Whit to do his on-going responsibilities, but it was limited by gigabyte, and was fairly slow.) There are modern rooms with fancy computers, kid/teen play areas, and antique wings with art galleries, stacks, and wooden tables. Whit and I even went on a date and ended up playing chess. Not to mention the attached bookstore and hipster coffee shop.
By the way, if you are at all interested in coffee and cafes, you will LOVE Melbourne. They consider themselves to have the best cuppa in the world! The cafes are charismatic and fun too!
Across the street is the multi-story Melbourne Central mall, with trendy clothing and shoe stores, a giant cuckoo clock that rings on the hour, and large food court (with sushi, pizza and burgers, Mexican food, and a cupcake shop). Additionally, the top floor hosts a nice movie theater (though VERY expensive), which is where the church we went to met, and the lower floor has more restaurants, food shops, and a grocery store. Below ALL of that is the train station! This train station, Melbourne Central, is distinct from the above-ground metro, but there were plenty of metro stops nearby (though you have to make sure you go to the correct station that corresponds to the line you want to go on). This was super convenient, and I highly recommend being close to public transportation if you’re going to be traveling some.
Also on the block were restaurants-a-plenty (including two chocolate restaurants, Nandos, and an awesome burger joint), a large grocery store, and more stores for other needs you might have (ex. printing and paper, ATMs, etc.).
Further downtown, a 15-30 minute walk towards the river, is Southbank – an upscale cultural area with museums, theaters, gardens, restaurants, and shopping. On the way you will pass the business district, Chinatown (don’t forget that Australia is very close to China! There are tons of great authentic Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian restaurants in Melbourne), and you will also pass a ton of kitschy souvenir shops where you can find boomerangs, teddy bears, and other things that you should buy at the market for cheaper (although you can’t find postcards at the market, so buy them at one of the souvenir shops!).
If you pass a fry stall, give into your temptation to snack, and enjoy some hot, delicious fries that you eat with a miniature wooden fork! And make sure to get some gelato by the Yarra river while you stare at the city lights. You should also linger and watch some of the street performances or free concerts/movies and enjoy the entire community experience!
While we were in town, the National Gallery of Victoria hosted an exhibit centered around Monet. I already favored Impressionism, but I really fell in love with Monet and his work at this exhibit. I could have stayed in one room for HOURS! It also triggered great discussion about my purpose in life and the direction that we want to go as a family.
Beyond this central area you can find Flinders Street Station, a bustling historic landmark. You can take trains from here to go further outside of the city limits, to areas that are still dense and accessible by trains, but seem more like small suburban towns.
Centering back to our hostel, you can take one of the streets to this row of restaurants where all of the store owners stand on the street and negotiate prices to get you to come to their store. One night we dined at a yummy Italian restaurant. Down another street we found authentic Middle Eastern food.
By the way, it was incredibly easy to find gluten-free, or vegetarian food! (Or both!) Being in a big city always helps, but I was so thankful to see every menu note which items are gluten-free and which are not, and to see most restaurants offer the same plates in a gluten-free version (ex. gluten-free hamburger buns or pasta, as opposed to something obviously gluten-free like a salad with grilled chicken).
A few blocks away is the Queen Vic Market, which is the mecca for cheap shopping, fresh produce, and souvenirs, and which I shockingly didn’t taken any photos of. You will find row after row of (men’s, women’s, children’s) clothing, toys, Australian and Melbourne branded souvenirs, art, accessories, imported snacks, and fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Indoors you can find spices, meat, and other speciality food items. Of course you can make a meal of it by picking things up from different stalls.
And that was how we spent most of our days for about 4 weeks! It was a really great life. It was interesting to be in the middle of fall/winter when everyone back home was enjoying summer, but winter has a coziness and emotional appeal to it that summer doesn’t have, so I enjoyed seeing the city from an autumnal perspective.
Living in Melbourne for a month made me fall in love with city living. It truly is one of the most livable cities in the world, and I can see why. (It’s also one of the most expensive!)
While in the city, we had some fun day trips that I will share more about next!