Posted by: GeekHiker | February 26, 2012

Just Like Home

Bloody hell, it’s hot.

38, in fact. I’m in a metric country now and, because I often wish the U.S. were as well, I’m a’gonna make you, the domestic reader, do the conversion. Who says blogs can’t be educational?

I’ve arrived in Melbourne, for what I’m sure will prove to be an all-too-short stay. In fact, the trip is shorter than one might imagine, as I spent the first two nights in Melbourne stuck in an all-too-expensive hotel room that I’d reserved before leaving Hawai’i, figuring that after nearly 24 hours in transit I’d need a break from hostel roommates (and the high potential for snoreage) and some good, solo, sleep to recover. It would end up proving fortuitous as what I had thought were allergies were, in fact, a full-blown cold, so I spent my entire first day in Melbourne booking some advance lodgings and going through half a box of tissues with a runny nose.

I know what your thinking: travel is so, so sexy, no?

Yesterday, with the temperature topping out at 38 degrees (did you do the math yet?), I boarded a tram from the hotel to a hostel in the central city for one night, before moving to where I am tonight. Last night’s stay wasn’t horrible; the family of five from France were quiet enough, but the whole vibe of the place definitely wasn’t mine: the building was huge (over 700 guests), most of them in their teens or early twenties.

Walking across the lobby, it was hard not to feel every one of my thirty-eight years while passing by the groups of young, smooth-skinned, perfectly tanned, annoyingly-full-of-energy youths all hunched over their laptops. That sounds bitter, though it’s not intended to be. How else is one to describe walking into a live Bennington/American Apparel advertisement?

(It occurs to me, as I prep this bit for posting, that age may not make that much difference. I’m not sure if I would have felt much more comfortable with the crowd even if I WERE their age. I remember sitting in the main room last night working on this draft and people-watching. It didn’t feel much different than sitting in the student union back in college, when I people-watched there and felt that I was surrounded by those who were better-looking, smarter, cooler, more street-wise, more hip and more comfortable with themselves than I could ever hope to be. Twenty years on, and little has changed: I still feel like I’m just not as cool as everyone else.)

I dropped my bag in the room and headed out, walking over to the Queen Victoria Market. Over one hundred years old, the market harkens back to the day when food was bought in open markets, vendors hawking the quality and low-price of their goods, a trait that remains to this day. I couldn’t help but smile as I walked down the aisles hearing the loud cries of “mangoes, one dollar!” echoing through the sheds. The meat and dairy section of the market was housed in old buildings with marble everywhere (to keep the goods cold) and sitting on a unique (and now redundant) underground ventilation system that served to keep the building quite cool, despite the summer sun. It was all brick and marble and people, and it’s a shame that those kind of markets don’t really exist as much any more. They do, of course, such as Granville Island up in Vancouver, but let’s be honest: the grocery store and pre-packaged everything is here to stay.

Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne

After walking up and down the stalls, I headed to Carlton Gardens and sat to write, sipping on an incredibly expensive Slurpee. (7-11 is a worldwide phenomenon. Yes, it’s true.) Even the seagulls seemed to think it was too hot, sitting on the grass all around me, mouths agape, panting. The gardens, like the market, are also a throwback to an earlier era: the idea of public space that most older cities have, but seems to have been tossed out in more modern ones. L.A. was at the forefront of this one: moving away from public parks in favor of single family homes where everyone had a backyard. Sure, the city has Griffith Park, but it always ranks as the most park-poor city in America. After all, who needs public parks when you can landscape your backyard anyway you please, protected by a six foot high fence?

Everything, food-wise at least, is expensive here, which is really trying my “cheap” bone. I’m working on it, though. A little less than 48 hours in Australia, and I’ve pretty much come to accept that I’m going to spend a lot of money on grub, even while being my normally thrifty self. One has to eat, though, right?

(Interestingly, the one thing that IS cheaper than back in L.A. is the cost of parking, with event parking in the area topping out at six bucks. Go figure.)

All day yesterday, though, something about Melbourne had been nagging at the back of my mind. I couldn’t figure out what it was, and every time I tried to nail it down, it seemed to slip through my fingers.

Today, after making the long, trudging walk to my new hostel, I headed down to the Royal Botanic Gardens. I spent the remainder of the afternoon walking around the gardens, lost in my own thoughts and soaking up the sights and smells of the place. It was cooler today than yesterday, and the lawns were filled with families and couples enjoying the day with picnics, books, and general napping. Being a similar climate, there was even a section of the garden dedicated to California plants, and I got kind of a silly grin on my face as I touched the trunk of a Ponderosa Pine.

Along the pathway, Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne

(Reader Scaramoushe Jones, a previous resident of the city, may disagree with me on the next bit, but hopefully not so much…)

When traveling, I suppose it’s human nature to compare the new places you visit to those you are familiar with, especially those places where you have made a home at one point or another in your life. It’s been happening to me for the last couple of days. The summer here feels like summers growing up in Northern California, with the same hot, dry heat. The cars and traffic everywhere feels like L.A., whereas the criss-crossing streetcars feels a bit like San Francisco. There’s a structure to the city that feels similar to California cities, with an older core and suburbs radiating out from it. Melbourne is roughly the same age as California cities and, hell, even had a population influx caused by a gold rush.

Shrine of Rememberance, Melbourne

It all came together for me when I stopped at the Shrine of Remembrance, built to honor those Melbourne citizens who fought and died in World War I. I climbed up to the upper terrace, the city spread out before me, Port Philip Bay and the blue of the ocean in the distance, and it suddenly hit me: Melbourne is like a strange amalgamation of the California cities I’ve lived in over the years. I write that, of course, not meaning to disparage any resident of this fine city in any way. Like so many things in life, it’s about one’s perspective, how we interpret where we are by where we have been.

All of which may explain the striking, nagging, yet unexplainable familiarity that Melbourne has had for me these past few days. It’s not exactly anything tangible, it’s more like a vibe in the air. The dry heat and the river running through town, like Sacramento. The streetcars and tall buildings downtown, like San Francisco. The nearby ocean and port and fashion-forward residents, like Los Angeles. Even the summer thunderstorm rolling in tonight, just like being up in the Sierra’s near Tahoe.

Walking back to the hostel, I stopped a couple of runners out for an evening jog and asked the question I suspected I knew the answer to, but had to ask of a local resident anyway: what are the winters like? “Oh, not bad at all,” they replied, “very mild. 10 is a cold day.”

Just like home.



  1. Hi,

    Nice post, I’m heading over to Melbourne for a couple of weeks for a leg of my trip and was wondering if you had an recommendations on things to do or good hostels to stay?

    Any input would be great, check my follow out.



  2. Oh, I have a friend in Melbourne! So cool!

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