Travelling memories: my first days in Melbourne

October 2016. After three months of road trip along the Australian east coast, I arrived in Melbourne with the intention of settling down and staying there for a few months. I didn’t know then that I would have an such amazing time living and working there, at the point that I even considered settling there forever. Four years later, I wanted to tell the story of these first days, filled with ups and downs, with great moments of happiness but also cruel disappointments, that would eventually lead me to literally fall in love with this city. Thank you Melbourne for all these emotions and hopefully see you soon!

📷 For more pictures have a look at my galleries of photos of Melbourne.

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I arrived in Melbourne precisely on the 29th of September 2016, exactly three months after I landed at the airport of Coolangatta next to the Gold Coast in Queensland, where I began my Australian adventure. Apart from two weeks working in a strawberry farm close to Brisbane, which wasn’t a very pleasant experience (I talked about it in a previous article called “Travelling memories: farmwork in Australia”), I spent most of these three months road tripping on the east coast with a campervan I bought in Cairns, visiting some of the most amazing places I ever went to: Mission Beach, Magnetic Island, the Great Barrier Reef, Cape Hillsborough and its kangaroos on the beach… But no matter how extraordinary this trip was, I felt that after three months on the road, it was time to settle down somewhere for a little while. This “somewhere” was going to be Melbourne.

After following the Pacific coast until Sydney, I went to the Blue Mountains for a couple of days, and then spent one night in Canberra. There was almost 700km left until Melbourne: it felt a bit long for one single drive, so I decided to split it in two and stayed for the night in a city called Shepparton, two hours north of my destination. Ironically, that’s where I would work in an orchard a few months later, which would be way better than my first farmwork experience. I planned to arrive in Melbourne in the late morning, park my van somewhere and check-in in the hostel I booked for the first week.

Well, it didn’t go quite the way I was hoping for. Halfway between Shepparton and Melbourne, I detected a very unpleasant burning smell. It took me a few minutes before I realised that it came from my own campervan! I left the highway and stopped at a garage in the first village I found, called Seymour. The diagnosis was irrevocable: due to a broken piece, the motor was overheating, and it would take at least four or five days to fix it. Luckily, there was a train station in the village: I left my van in the garage, packed as much stuff as possible in my backpack, and eventually reached the Southern Cross station of Melbourne in the afternoon.

This unexpected arrival didn’t really help, but I was quite disappointed by the 20-minute walk from the station to my hostel. I heard so many great things about Melbourne, considered as the most liveable city in the world, but all I could see were grey buildings and a lot of traffic. It would take me some time to realise that it wasn’t a place you could comprehend within a few days only. It requires patience to enjoy the amazing atmosphere of its lanes and districts.

But my first weekend in Melbourne contributed a lot to the love I have for the city. I spent a lot of time with Kate, an old friend who lived there and who I had met years before in Switzerland. On the Friday night, she took me for a night out in the city, introducing me to some of her favourite places, including a few hidden bars, a Melbourne speciality. Goldilocks and its terrace above Swanston Street, Pizza Pizza Pizza, a cosy lounge hidden behind a take-away pizzeria, The Swamp Room, a dark and tiny room only lit with fairy lights behind a cocktail bar… I became an absolute fan of these places: there are many others everywhere around the city, and it was always an amazing pleasure to push the right door leading to an unexpected spot, always with fancy decorations and great (yet often expensive) drinks.

melbourne-swamp-room

It was also a huge weekend for many Melbournians, as the AFL Grand Final took place on the Saturday afternoon. It’s the last game of the Australian rules football season, traditionally held in the Melbourne Cricket Ground in front of a 100,000 people crowd. Kate invited me to watch the game with her, her girlfriend and her parents; it’s still the one and only “footy” game I ever watched in my life, but I enjoyed it a lot, even if I didn’t always understand the rules (and I won’t try to explain them here!). The clear favourite that year was Sydney: it was their third final in five years, while their opponent the Western Bulldogs (a team from a western suburb of Melbourne) hadn’t reached that stage since 1961. But against all odds, after a very tight game, the underdog eventually defeated its rival! I went out in a couple of bars that night and talked with a few Bulldogs’ fans, some of them still crying of joy many hours after the surprising victory of their team.

After that great introduction to Melbourne, I started to look at the same time for a job and a place to stay. For the next two or three weeks, I had a series of good and bad experiences. I delivered leaflets in letterboxes for a local election in a residential suburb for a few days, which was an easy and well-paid cash-in-hand job. I applied for a fundraiser position (you know, these people asking you for money for various associations) but I hated it so much that I quit after my first day (even if I was told that I did a great job that day). I worked at a Wine and Cheese Festival, with free tasting at th I left many resumes in bars and cafes, but apart from one trial which didn’t end well, nobody called me back. It started to look like it was harder to find a job than I expected…

The hostel where I stayed was great: it was called United Backpackers, and it was perfectly located next to the Yarra River, in front of the main public transport station of Melbourne, Flinders Street Station. I met some great people there, including four French people that are still among my best friends nowadays: Maya, Quentin, Stefan and Thomas. I still see them as regularly as possible, and we often talk about the unforgettable party we had together in St Kilda, the seaside district of Melbourne.

Melbourne, St Kilda, party

From left to right: me, Thomas, Quentin and Stefan, as well as two random girls we met on the street and who joined us on that picture!

But this hostel was quite expensive, and as I still hadn’t found neither a job nor a sharehouse, I decided to move to a cheaper one for the next days. I quickly understood why it was cheaper: it was dirty, not cosy or welcoming at all, and I even saw a mouse in my dorm one night! So I went back to United Backpackers, but I started to worry a little bit about money… especially as I also had to spend a lot for my campervan. Meanwhile, the broken piece had been fixed by the garage, so I took a train to Seymour and drove back to Melbourne, after paying the expensive repair price. I parked it on a street in an industrial suburb close to the city centre, but I didn’t look carefully enough at the signs… A few days later, when I came back to pick up some stuff, my van was gone. It turned out that parking was free and unlimited on the entire street… apart from a very specific section, where it was forbidden on Sundays for whatever reason. So it had been impounded! And the fine to get it back was again very expensive. Within a week, my beloved campervan cost me almost a thousand dollars!

australia-van-3

melbourne-coffee-centre-place

No job, a terrible hostel, high unexpected expenses: everything combined to make me feel quite bad, and I even briefly considered leaving Melbourne to try my luck somewhere else. But the following days were decisive. First, I noticed that Melbournians loved drinking coffee, and that I knew nothing about their different types: long black, flat white, latte macchiato… I decided to do a one-day barista course to learn how to make proper coffee. The next day, I applied to a barista position at Laduree, a French luxury company famous for its macarons that was opening a new store in Melbourne. The fact that I now knew how to prepare coffee (and that I was French!) was a huge bonus, and after a job interview where I performed very well, I was hired. Fun fact: I didn’t drink coffee at all at that time and even disliked the taste! But after preparing coffee every day for customers, the flavour eventually grew on me, and I’m now a regular drinker.

That same week, I also found the best sharehouse I could have hoped for. It was located in a suburb called Prahran, next to Chapel Street, which quickly became my favourite street of Melbourne with its countless bars and restaurants. Twelve people in total lived in that sharehouse, and it felt like being in a French movie that I love, called “l’Auberge Espagnole” (“Pot Luck” in the UK), where the main character spends a year in Barcelona with people from all around the world. There were two girls from Canada, one from Japan, one from France, one with Thai and Swedish background, a Dutch and a French guy, an American couple… The house was old and quite dilapidated, the kitchen was extremely small especially considering that it was meant for twelve people, but as soon as I pushed the door for my first visit, I knew that I wanted to live there. I didn’t know it yet but I was going to have an amazing time with all these people in the following weeks!

melbourne-sharehouse-prahran

So after these few ups and downs, my Melbournian life finally began, with a job that I was going to like a lot, roommates that would become great friends, many moments of fun and happiness and enough spare time to explore this wonderful city, its lanes, its parks, its street art and murals, and the amazing atmosphere of its different suburbs. Four years have passed since, but I still remember it as if it were yesterday and I’ll never forget these months in Melbourne, one of the best periods of my entire life.

Melbourne, I miss you!

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