Thursday, February 12, 2009

Melbourne: First Day

What a great city. I've been here for less than 48 hours and already I'm positive that this semester is going to be fantastic. From what I know of Melbourne thus far, it is definitely in my list of top 5 world cities (probably Mumbai, Hong Kong, Lyon, New York, and Melbourne), and might be in the top 3. I haven't decided yet.

After about 32 hours of transit time, including 24 in the air and several layovers, I finally touched down at about noon local time on Wednesday. After claiming my bag and going through customs, I met the very friendly and helpful ToGoTo staff, a service provided by the University of Melbourne. They loaded my two massive bags and my guitar into a van which I shared with one other student, a guy from China named Mo (he was staying at a homestay). The friendly and talkative driver dropped me off at the YHA Melbourne Metro hostel. I hit up a nearby grocery store to stock up on food for lunch and the next few days (the hostel has a huge, amply supplied kitchen and at least eight fridges). Although I really did mean to do something wednesday night to keep the jet lag at bay, I pretty much conked out for most of the afternoon, woke up to cook dinner, and went straight back to sleep, apologizing to my three roommates for the odd hours.

I forced myself to sleep until at least 8am on Thursday (not that I needed convincing) but struck out for the hostel lobby bright and early, determined to do some adventuring. Lunch and dinner alone in the crowded hostel common area the previous day had taught me that despite the ever-present friendliness of the people, they weren't exactly willing to make friends straightaway with a lone traveler. Although it's always a little scary for me to strike out alone, I would much rather stumble my way around by myself and be proactive about it than to wait helplessly to make friends who already knew the city. Armed with map, journal, and the always-handy Lonely Planet, I stepped out of the door and started to walk.

Exploring the city alone turned out to be one of the best decisions I've made in a long time. I had no time constraints, no worries, no set schedule, and only the vaguest idea of where I wanted to go. For a Type-A person like me, that's unsettling at best and incapacitating at worst, but I quickly learned to see my lack of planning as a freedom rather than a handicap. I knew I wanted to see some things and used them as a sparse framework for my aimless wanderings; I ended up exploring Queen Victoria Market (one of the largest open-air markets in the Southern hemisphere, with clothes, shoes, souvenirs, and best of all a huge selection of fresh produce; bought a sandwich and some fruit and ate a leisurely lunch alone with my book in the beautiful Flagstaff Gardens; made my way down to the Yarra river, which was salty and crowded with seagulls; laughed at penguins and goggled at sharks at the Melbourne Aquarium (although it seems small, it's much larger than it appears and is well worth the admission price; had a cold frappucino while reading and people-watching in Federation Square, a huge open area on the banks of the Yarra dominated by geometric, modern, abstract buildings and crowded with tourists and Melburnians alike. On more than one occasion, I wandered in completely the opposite direction than the one I had intended (all things considered, not a terrible problem if you don't really have a destination) and ended up exploring the Docklands, Southern Cross railway station, and Chinatown.

After thoroughly exploring all of this, I walked up Swanston street (the main street of Melbourne) making side trips into bookstores and coffeeshops whenever I felt the urge to do so. My eventual goal was the University of Melbourne, where I'd be spending the next 5 months. When I finally arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find, after hours of tramping through the dry and dusty city, acres of lush greenery and collegiate-gothic buildings. It reminded me quite a lot of the Penn State campus (more than it reminded me of Princeton), and when the leaves change in a few months it will be breathtaking. Although the residential colleges are individually fenced in (much like Yale's), I managed to find my way into Trinity College, which is to be my home away from home. It's no Princeton, but I think I'll live. I'll find out more about the college on the 18th, which is when I get to move in.

Tired and hungry, I returned to the hostel and cooked myself dinner, then climbed the stairs to my room, promising myself an early night so that my feet could recover from the miles of walking I'd subjected them to that day. However, my room was full of people. Lindsey and Kim, two of my three roommates (from Scotland and England, respectively), were getting ready to go out, and with them were Ben, Ryan, and Christie (England, England, Canada). They were soon joined by Tracy (Scotland), Jen (England) and Kat (England)-- no small feat, considering that the room was about the size of my Spelman single and crowded with four bunk beds! From what I could gather, most had either just met or knew only one or two people within the group. All were traveling, most had been traveling for quite some time, and none were planning to stay in Melbourne for more than a few days. One of them had simply decided to pick up and leave home eight months earlier--quit her job, skipped out on her lease and two weeks later was in a hostel in Sydney looking for a job. Others had been traveling for years and planned to continue doing so. I couldn't decide whether it was inspiring or irresponsible; I could only assume that the money was coming from their parents (all were college-aged or a little older), which took away a little of the glamour.

I initially begged off of their offer for me to tag along, citing tiredness and a meeting with a professor the next morning, but peer pressure and a couple of friendly jabs changed my mind and an hour later I was packed into a cab with people I had just met, on my way to a club to meet even more people I didn't know. Lindsey's brother worked in Melbourne and had brought a ton of friends to the club (called Billboard-- it was actually pretty good, the music was loud and the lighting was pretty decent and the dance floor was hopping). Although I barely knew these people, the night was more fun than I've had in a long time, and we finally came home at about 3:30am, or at least a few of us did. I knew I had to be in good shape to meet with Professor Ooi on Friday, so I headed out before the rest of the crowd did (accompanied by Tracy and Kat). However, it was still a fantastic first real day in Melbourne, and I can't wait for more!


Katie B. Rodriguez said...

yeah margaret! going clubbing your first night down under! i approve.

Rynowin said...

sweet. : )

"I could only assume that the money was coming from their parents (all were college-aged or a little older), which took away a little of the glamour."

not sure about them in particular, but many of the people i met in similar situations while traveling (in australia and elsewhere) were paying their own way from money they earned at home or money they were earning as they traveled.

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