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 little while. 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 in Melbourne forever. It’s now February 2023, but my attachment for this extraordinary city hasn’t decreased, and I’m currently about to go there again for another year! But before beginning this new adventure, I wanted to tell the story of these first days almost seven years ago, filled with ups and downs, great moments of happiness and unforgettable encounters, that would eventually lead me to literally fall in love with this city. Thank you Melbourne for all these emotions and see you very soon!
I arrived in Melbourne on the 29th of September 2016, exactly three months after I landed at the airport of Coolangatta next to the Gold Coast, where I began my Australian adventure. I spent most of these three months road tripping on the east coast with a campervan I bought in Cairns, in the north of Queensland. I had never known anything as amazing as this road trip before. It was absolutely fabulous to be driving on my own, meeting dozens of people on the way and visiting countless fantastic places! But no matter how extraordinary this trip was, I felt that after three months on the road it was time for me to settle down somewhere for a little while. This “somewhere” was going to be Melbourne.
It’s after a very nice week in Sydney that I decided to make Melbourne the ending point of my road trip. I first spent a couple of days in the Blue Mountains close to Sydney, then a few hours in Canberra, the quite boring capital of the country, from where I was still 700km away from Melbourne. I decided to split the drive in two and sleep one last time in my van next to a city called Shepparton, more or less halfway. Ironically, that’s where I would work in an orchard a few weeks later for three months, in order to complete my farmwork necessary to apply to a second visa. But that’s a different story…
Everything seemed perfect the next morning. The sun was shining, I was only three hours away from Melbourne. I was already picturing myself leaving my van in a quiet street, checking-in in my hostel and having lunch in a good restaurant to celebrate my arrival. But nothing was going to happen the way I hoped… After about an hour, I detected a very unpleasant burning smell. It took me a few minutes before I realised that it came from my own campervan! I started to panick and took the first exit off the highway, until I reached a little town called Seymour. When I eventually found a garage, smoke was even escaping from the radiator… The diagnosis was irrevocable: due to a broken piece in the cooling system, the engine was overheating. Good news, it wasn’t too bad and it was possible to fix my van; bad news, it would still take four or five days before I could get it back! Luckily, there was a train station in Seymour. I left my van in the garage, packed as much stuff as possible in my backpack, and eventually reached Melbourne by train in the middle of the afternoon.
This unexpected arrival didn’t really help, but I was quite disappointed by the 20-minute walk from Southern Cross station to my hostel. I had 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 instantly. It requires patience to enjoy the amazing atmosphere of its lanes and districts, but it’s totally worth it.
Luckily, my first weekend in Melbourne was going to contribute a lot to the love I have for the city. On the Friday evening, I caught up with Kate, an old Australian friend I had met years before in Switzerland. She took me for a night out in the city, introducing me to some of her favourite places. I don’t remember everything, but I particularly enjoyed following her inside of a few hidden bars, a Melbourne speciality: there’s no way to know that they exist from outside, until someone tells you which door to push, almost like a trick from the magical world of Harry Potter. There was 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 was going to become an absolute fan of these places: there are many others everywhere around the city, and it was always a pleasure to discover a new one.
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 100,000 people. 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.
First jobs, first friends…
During the following days, I started to look at the same time for a job and a place to stay. Within a couple of weeks, I had a series of different odd jobs: I delivered leaflets in letterboxes for a local election in a residential suburb, I worked at a Wine and Cheese Festival (with a tasting session at the end), I applied for a fundraiser position (these people asking passers-by for money in the street for various associations)… I also left many resumes in bars, cafes and restaurants, while slowly beginning to explore the city.
The hostel where I stayed until I would find a room somewhere else was great. It was perfectly located in front of the main public transport station of Melbourne, Flinders Street Station, very close to the Yarra River. But more importantly, I met some great people there, including three French guys that had just arrived in Australia, Quentin, Stefan and Thomas, and soon afterwards a girl they knew and who was already in Melbourne since a few weeks, Maya. The four of them are still very close friends of mine today, and I try to see them as often as possible. Maya is actually back in Melbourne at the moment with her boyfriend, and I’m looking forward to catch up with them soon! I particularly remember a party we had all together in St Kilda (the seaside district of the city) shortly after we met, with a few other people from our hostel. I loved Melbourne a little more every day and I felt happier than ever!
…and first difficult moments!
Unfortunately, this state of grace was about to stop, and I was going to face a lot of troubles at the same time. First disappointment, Stefan and Thomas decided to leave Melbourne to travel around Australia; and as Quentin had found a room in a sharehouse, I was suddenly alone in the hostel. I also had a few visits but I didn’t like any of the flats I saw, so I decided to switch to a different and cheaper hostel. 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! Not to mention the fat woman in the bunk bed next to mine who was snorring extremely loudly all night long…
Jobwise, I still hadn’t receive a single phone call despite the dozens of resumes I had dropped and I was starting to despair. I had quit my fundraiser position in the evening of my first day: it’s without a doubt the worst job I ever had, and even if I was told I was doing great by my colleagues, I hated the experience. I began to worry about money, especially as I had to face two unexpected expenses. The broken piece on my van had cost me more than I thought, and after driving back to Melbourne, I left it by mistake in a street where parking was free and unlimited… apart from sunday mornings, for whatever reason. So it had been impounded! Within a week, my beloved campervan had cost me a thousand dollars…
I felt really bad. For a couple of days, I even considered leaving Melbourne, to go back to Sydney or to try my luck somewhere else, in Adelaide maybe. But everything was going to be ok very quickly.
Laduree and Chapel Street
During these first weeks in Melbourne, I was astonished by the amount of cafés everywhere around town. Melbournians are passionnate about coffee and have countless differents ways to drink it: short, long, with or without sugar, with more or less milk and foam… I didn’t like coffee myself, I hated the taste, but I decided to take part to a one-day class to become barista, thinking that it could help me getting a job. I really enjoyed this accelerated course: I learned what was a long black, a flat white or a latte macchiato, I tasted different types of coffees that I actually liked, and I found that it was pretty fun to prepare them. The next day, I randomly found a job offer at Laduree, a French luxury company famous for its macarons that was opening a new store in a mall in the south of Melbourne. I had an interview the following day, I was hired two days later and I started to work as a barista the next week!
I also found the sharehouse of my dreams that same week. It was located in the suburb of Prahran, directly next to Chapel Street, a very busy street that would soon become my favourite of Melbourne with its countless bars, restaurants and night clubs. The house was old and quite dilapidated, the kitchen was ridiculously small and a window pane of my room was clumsily fixed with a piece of tape, but I loved it as soon as I visited it for the first time. I felt like I was dragged inside a French movie called l’Auberge Espagnole (Pot Luck in English) that I really like, where the main character spends a year in Barcelona as an Erasmus student. We were twelve roommates in total: 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… Living under the same roof than eleven other travellers from the entire world was the promise of unique moments, intense emotions, unforgettable memories. I didn’t hesitate a single second and moved in the following day.
So after these few ups and downs, my Melbournian life finally began, with a job that I was going to like a lot (and that would make me a real coffee addict!), 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 the amazing atmosphere of its different suburbs. More than six 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.