I think it’s safe to say that after 8 months on the move, we were both feeling a bit travel fatigued… it is surprising how much time and effort it takes to get comfortable someplace! Even though we have been traveling slowly, by time we have figured out where to get good groceries and what Zumba classes are happening and what’s going on in a city, it’s been time to move on and start the process over again somewhere else.
We were really enjoying Melbourne, so we decided to forego New Zealand and stay put for almost 8 weeks. I had finally found a bunch of dance classes and developed an addiction to some local goat cheese, and The German discovered some tech-related meet-ups, and there was also the 5 weeks of free accommodation through petsitting gigs, so we weren’t feeling motivated to move on in a hurry.
I have often described Melbourne as being “the best bits of San Francisco and London”. It feels familiar in a lot of ways, which is probably what made it so comfortable for us:
It’s a very food-centric city with everything from high-end, molecular gastronomy restaurants to casual neighbourhood cafes, and every place is vegetarian-friendly. They even have food truck festivals, artisanal ice cream, and bakeries where you can stand in a long line!
These freshly dipped ice cream bars at an Australian tradition
Heirloom tomatoes with burrata
Coconut-crusted brioche french toast with coffee caviar
Cruffins from Lune Croissanterie
Enjoying a “nutella burger” at a food truck festival
Melbourne means business when it comes to gelato!
Just some of the cheese at Spring Street Grocer
Coffee is serious business, with hipster lattes being the default. We rarely saw a Starbucks.
I have been told this is not a joke…
It’s easy to get around without a car (trams being the most popular form of public transit):
And there is evidence of creativity everywhere – street art, talented street musicians, weird window displays, quirky festivals, etc.
There was a giant slip-n-slide set up downtown just after NYE.
Love the row houses here… especially the one in the middle.
This building appropriately contained a florist
A gelato truck at the Coburg Velodrome Food Truck Festival
It does have a few unwanted similarities… In SF, everyone says “if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes”. In Melbourne, the saying is “all 4 seasons in one day”. So in other words, I still needed to bring a jacket even if it looked sunny.
All in all, Melbourne was safe, clean and friendly, with plenty going on. We liked it immensely. And as a bonus, I got to take care of some pretty fantastic critters:
Paddy, our pal over xmas
Hallee is likely suffering luggage withdrawal since we left
Another similarity to San Francisco is that wine country is very accessible. Yarra Valley is only about an hour’s drive from Melbourne and is known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir production. The German wasn’t in the mood for tourist activities, so I booked myself onto a small group tour through Vinetrekker, whom I highly recommend.
We went to 5 different wineries and tasted over 40 (!!) different wines… thankfully there was also plenty of food included along the way, including some fabulous cheese.
De Bortoli Winey, which also have great cheese
It was a friendly group of 11 people with a knowledgable but not over-bearing guide. It included Melbourne locals as well as tourists from Amsterdam, Manchester, and Brisbane. There was a doctor, a pilot, a chef, someone in finance, someone who worked for Telsa, and a restauranteur… it was a diverse and fun bunch!
We went to a few smaller, family-run wineries that had some really exceptional wines, as well as some of the larger producers (who obviously know what they are doing). Chandon is one of the biggest in the country – they have a huge vineyard where they produce plenty of sparkling wine in the style of champagne, as well as a sparkling Shiraz that is unique to Australia (and the only kind of Shiraz I like).
Unlike Napa, we never felt overwhelmed by crowds, even at the larger houses. Most places offered some lovely food options to accompany their tasting… at one winery I bought more cheese than I did wine.
I enjoyed getting to know everyone and getting out of the city to see more of Victoria:
Attica is one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. It’s a small place with barely a dozen tables that book up months in advance. We didn’t plan far enough ahead to secure a reservation, but we got really lucky with a last-minute cancellation. (I put us on the waiting list for every night we were in town – it was like winning the lottery when they called!)
All the dishes were Australian flavours with a molecular gastronomy twist. Ingredients were grown locally, much of it from their own farm. And yes, The German ate kangaroo. Most dishes included at least one item we had never heard of – things like wattleseed, bunya bunya, Santa Claus melon, and quandong.
Though we’ve been trying to be more budget-conscious lately, it was a unique experience with really wonderful staff… well-worth the splurge.
Aged Santa Claus Melon
Smashed Avo on Toast
An Imperfect History of Ripponlea (told with tarts)
Lance Wiffen’s Mussel
Baby Corn (served in husk), Beef (served on the bone)
Bunya bunya covering Salted Red Kangaroo
Crayfish, Quandong and Pearl
Whipped Emu Egg with Chocolate Cream
I’m not sure why it took me this long to arrange a couple FaceTime dates with some friends from SF… it was so fun to interact in real time! At one point the doorbell rang and while I went to answer it, I could hear my friends Beth & Sue laughing in the background… at that moment it really felt like they were in the living room. It was really nice to see folks, and we spent hours drinking wine and laughing until our devices ran out of battery.
We also met a few folks in real life, including Robert Padbury’s brother (and his brother’s wife) who gave us all sorts of tips on Melbourne and insider knowledge. We also got to see some hilarious childhood photos of Robert (which I cannot unsee), so that was a treat.
And we spent some time with a really interesting couple that The German met through a digital nomad community (called the Nomad List – it’s a really useful source of info for people who are on extended travel). Jodie & Ben are a talented duo with multiple businesses. They spend every other month at their home in the UK, and then stay somewhere else in the world for the alternate months.
They are an impressively productive couple who are also very serious about powerlifting… despite Jodie’s pixie-ish appearance, she could easily lift 2 large men. They’ve had some really unusual experiences and it was especially interesting to hear how they manage to make their part-time remote lifestyle work.
I will admit that I lost days reading the New York Times and panicking about what is happening in US politics, and I have succumbed to more than one futile Facebook debate. It feels like everything is out of control, and it’s hard to know how to help when I am so far away.
I was thrilled to discover there was version of the Women’s March in Melbourne. While it was modest in size compared to DC, LA and SF, there were still a lot of people and a lot of great signs.
I am also pretty concerned
Such a great t-shirt!
Very calm, despit the crowded space
I was impressed that they were distributing leaflets with suggestions of follow-up actions. It was divided into 3 sections: for Americans, for Victorians, and for Australians. I was also pleased that the police were passive observers, who mainly seemed to be occupied with ensuring no one got hit by a tram (as the location was next to a very busy stop).
The speakers that we saw were focused on the themes of inclusion (ie. pro-immigration/anti-racism), women’s rights, and the environment. Their point was that US politics affects everyone, especially when it comes to the environment. They were encouraging everyone to put pressure on their own government to not accept hateful speech or stay silent on policies that could have local ramifications.
I found it very comforting to be there. It was validating to see that all these people who are on the other side of the planet also think the situation is insane. It was nice to be part of a large gathering and not be fearful of the police or the others in the crowd. And it was especially great to hear people preaching positive sentiments – the language was intended to inspire and lift people up.
I have been struggling about how to be politically active while abroad. I am signing petitions, sending emails and trying to make phone calls via Skype (though it’s hard with the time change). I have also donated design support to some worthy causes . And as many of my friends saw on Facebook, I spent a few hours encouraging businesses to pay more attention to where their ads were appearing… I was very pleased with how quickly the businesses reacted and took positive action. It was an easy thing for me to do, and so satisfying to see that it had an immediate impact.
There is so much division in the US right now – I hope we can find a way past it.
This is the first country where people have constantly commented on my accent. In my mind, I have a “neutral” accent (despite growing up in the southern US), but “neutral” to me is “American” to everyone else. While I feel really comfortable here, I apparently sound very foreign.
Meanwhile, The German clearly looks really German because people make that assumption before he even opens his mouth. It’s funny how often people approach him speaking German right from the start. (It even happened on the beach in Zanzibar.)
I have to confess I am a little sad about leaving Melbourne… I have been loving all the dance classes (which I have been doing 7 days a week, sometimes multiple times per day) and am leaving just as I started to get to know the other students. I even graduated to having an official “front row spot” in one of the BodyJam classes, next to a fabulous gay boy who went from throwing shade to insisting I stand next to him. (My fellow dancers know that this is a serious honour.)
I’ve become addicted to a local goat cheese (marinated in olive oil and peppercorns – it’s seriously amazing), figured out my favourite local wines, and have been here long enough to have sampled all the artisanal gelato producers and determined my favourite. (It’s Pidapipo.)
In the last few days, I got one more good haircut, stocked up on beauty products from Aesop, and ate as much gelato as I could manage… ready or not, it’s time to head to Bali!
I was in Melbourne for almost 2 months, so this is a long one…
The main reasons why I post these Zumba recaps are:
to help other travellers find great classes.
to help other instructors become better. When a class is bad, most often the students think it’s their own fault… that they aren’t good at Zumba, or that they are terrible dancers. The main point of Zumba is for everyone to have fun, so no one should leave feeling frustrated, insecure or awkward. I’m not trying to publicly shame anyone – just offering some constructive critique which I hope will be helpful to others. It certainly has helped me be more aware of the areas where I need the most improvement.
And of course, I hope it’s fun for you all to share in the comedy of these adventures, especially when they take me out of my comfort zone.
Hunting for Classes
Because we had been moving around Vietnam & Thailand, it had been several weeks since I had been to a Zumba class. Even though I had done some practicing on my own, I know I don’t push myself as hard as when I am in a room full of people. Also, it’s really nice to have mirrors so I can check my form – in my mind I always look amazing but in reality there is room for improvement. 🙂
I encountered my usual struggle of trying to find out about classes (where do you look if not zumba.com?), not having a gym membership, plus many places were on hiatus due to Christmas & New Year’s. (It’s summer in Australia, so this is peak holiday time.) Another challenge was that we were staying in 3 very different parts of the city and reliant on public transit.
My lesson learned is that even if a dance studio or gym doesn’t advertise a “pay-as-you-go” option, it’s worth inquiring… At a minimum, you can usually get a free trial class out of it, but most of the time I have found there are unpublished options for short-term visitors.
Zumba, Latin, and Bubbles…
I was really pleased to discover Dance Dynamics. They have a few different studios throughout Melbourne (I was closest to their Malvern location) and offer a variety of dance and fitness classes. They had an unadvertised “casual membership” for people who are not residents. The catch is that classes are only 30 minutes long… this is probably great for people who are busy or too intimidated to try a full hour, but that’s far too short for me. I wound up doing several classes back to back (as did many other attendees).
I loved Tara’s Zumba classes. She was super-friendly, easy to follow, and had some very fun routines. (Some of them involved “spanking it”, and there was even some quick dabbing at one point.). She had 3 of the same songs that I do (Booty, Talk Dirty, and Shaki Riddim) with completely different choreo, so it was an extra challenge to try and follow along even though my muscles wanted to do something else entirely.
As a bonus, there was champagne after class to celebrate the holidays!
I also went to a class called “Dance & Tone”, which was basically a more fitnessy version of Zumba. The first time I went, the instructor was not that great – she used vocal cues (without a mic, over loud music) which were impossible to hear, so I found myself getting frustrated. However the second time was a different instructor and much better. As with most dance classes, the quality of the experience often depends on the instructor.
Carla was another favourite of mine. She taught two classes – “Latin” and “Street Latin”. The Latin class was basically like Zumba but with only Latin rhythms. Street Latin was more of a choreography class – we learned a very easy bachata sequence and she gave us a few notes about technique along the way. This made it feel more like a “dance”class, but it was still accessible to any skill level.
After she broke down the sequence, we danced it over and over to all kinds of bachata covers of pop tunes like Roxanne and Careless Whisper (which was extra dramatic given George Michael’s recent death – we all let out a mournful sigh when it came on). Carla was super-enthusiastic throughout all of her classes – I would happily take from her again given the chance.
Goodlife Health Clubs have a number of locations around Australia. There was a free 5 day trial option on their website, and I was pleased to learn they have a 4 week (unpublished) membership option. They have many different classes – from Zumba to Yoga to Boxing to Pilates Reformer. It sounded promising.
I went on Sat, Dec 24 to try out a Zumba class at the Glen Iris location. The normal instructor was away and the substitute was terrible. She started off by being late to class and literally half the people (wisely) left when they saw her walk up. (Apparantly she substituted a few days earlier so those folks knew what was coming.)
She spent some time fumbling around trying to get the CD player to work. (The stereo is clearly optimized for digital input.) She was wearing a mic, but even so it was impossible to hear her over the music (and I was standing very close to her). She rarely cued and her movements were tough to follow.
People were trickling out, one by one, stopping to complain at the front the desk. I tried to make the best of it, but after 45 minutes I was too frustrated by her muddy movements and inaudible mumbling so I also bailed. On my way out, I let them know I would be happy to substitute, as they clearly seemed desparate. The staff was super-apologetic and acknowledged I wasn’t the only one who was frustrated by the class.
I didn’t go back, mainly because we moved across the city at that point. The normal instructor is actually a Zumba Jammer with a huge following, so it was probably just bad luck on the holiday timing.
Zumba at Fitness First
Fitness First is another gym with multiple locations throughout Australia with tons of classes, including: Zumba, Les Milles programs, Yoga, Boxing, Pilates, etc. I got such an amazing deal on a one-month membership it seemed suspicious… I figured the manager must have had some end-of-year quota to hit.
The catch was that I had to buy the membership that day – having never set foot in the gym. This was a little worrisome given my last experience, but they had so many dance fitness classes on the schedule, I decided to go for it.
On my first day, I first spent 15 minutes trying to find the door to the gym, which was in a massive mall. I could see it was on the top floor, but no matter which escalator, staircase, or elevator I tried, none of them went high enough. I felt ridiculous, but I eventually had to call them and get directions to the right bank of elevators. (So embarassing – I was basically lost in the mall.)
My first class was a 45 minute Friday lunchtime Zumba session with Nelly. Typically, short daytime classes are low impact (ie. tailored for an older audience) and aren’t enough for me… but that was absolutely not the case with this one! Nelly was high energy, high impact, and left us all happy and sweaty. She was very easy to follow, friendly and up-beat.
I really appreciated that Nelly gave me some really thoughtful feedback on one of my songs about how to breakdown a movement so students would be able to pick it up easily. It was a small adjustment that made a huge difference. I have often wished there was a forum for soliciting feedback from other instructors for the sake of improvement – I really need to be better about requesting it when I do a song in someone else’s class. (When I was bellydancing, I thought of organizing an event where dancers could perform for each other and then get constructive critique from other dancers – perhaps an idea for a Zumba workshop when I’m back in SF.)
Julia was another instructor with fantastic energy and flawless cueing. One of her routines included a move I named “angry muppet” and she also used Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing” which I loved.
Carmen was over-flowing with enthusiasm – you could really feel her love for teaching Zumba. She is so full of joy it was impossible not to have fun and work yourself into a sweat. She was especially good at creating a “party” atmosphere, and also briefing new students on what to expect (which removes any pressure on them to feel like experts after only one class).
Towards the end of my stay, Carmen pulled together a special class which included me, Nelly and Carol & Leora from Sydney. Because it was at the gym, we had to use official Zumba songs (due to licensing rules), which meant I had to pull out some pretty old routines. It was a ton of fun to have so many different instructors in one place and I was impressed at how many students stayed through the whole class, which went for almost 2 hours!
Carol & Leora always teach together, and they are a super-fun pair! They have incredible energy and play off of each other so well… you can tell they are great friends as well as great dance partners (and it made me miss my girls even more!) If you are ever in Sydney, definitely check them out!
In 4 weeks, I only had one bad Zumba class at the gym, which was bizarre in a unique way… First, the instructor stopped before every song to explain something, or tell us how great we were, or to pass out props (ugh). It’s impossible to keep your heart rate up if there are long gaps between each routine…. I really don’t need to high-five my neighbour constantly, or be told to pretend I’m a butterfly emerging from a coccoon, or have very basic chorography explained.
Her songs were all very slow (most of them were designed to be Cool Down numbers) which could be fine if the intention was a lower-impact class, but the choreography was also far too repetitive. While you don’t want movements changing too often, having only 2 moves throughout an entire song gets boring quickly.
Several students had never done a Zumba class before and left feeling like it was weird and they didn’t get a good workout. I encouraged them to try again with Nelly or Carmen.
So the gym wasn’t perfect, but overall really great and I definitely got my money’s worth on classes!
One of the other classes offered at Fitness First was LesMilles BodyJam, which the gym described as “the cardio workout where you are free to enjoy the sensation of dance“. (What?)
Instructions came via a mic (which isn’t my preference, but at least the levels were adjusted properly so I could hear them) as well as some non-verbal cues. The class was spent learning long combinations of moves which worked with a number of different electronic songs. We started with one or two combinations at a time, and then gradually added on until there was a long sequence that I (almost) remembered. They repeated the same choreo for about 3-4 weeks, so it’s not surprising that the first couple classes were challenging.
Learning and dancing one combo lasted for about 20 minutes, accompanied by one long megamix of mostly techno with some trance and hip hop mixed in. There was always one or two warm-up songs, and then one “recovery song” between the two halves of class. The cool down was almost non-existant and there was no stretching. There was definitely a lot more potential to hurt yourself (especially your knees and back), so you had to be disciplined about taking care of your own body.
I was surprised to see that the class was consistently about one-third men! I’m not sure why it has a stronger appeal to them over Zumba… Perhaps it was the electronic playlist? Or that the movements weren’t as girlie as Zumba? Or that the class repeats for several weeks (so you have time to master the combinations)?
David MC was my favourite instructor – instead of using the names of the movements, he would describe what was happening, like “now you’re going to use your arms to clear people off the dance floor, and then you’re going to dance in that space”. Visuals like that make it so much easier to remember the moves. And it was also hilarious to have someone yelling things like “spank it like you mean it!”. He was incredibly sassy and I loved him.
There were usually other classes like “Body Attack” that followed, with the next group peering through the glass doors (impatiently) waiting for us to get out. One day class ended with what I can only describe as a “big gay dance party” – everyone was free-style dancing with each other to Diana Ross. I can only image that the hardcore circuit trainers were outside rolling their eyes as we were all prancing around the studio for the last few minutes of class.
It was fun and I grew to love this class, sometimes doing Zumba in the morning and then Body Jam in the evening.
Jammin with Tam!
I was super-excited for a Jam Session with Tamara Pitts during my stay. The goal of these sessions is for instructors to learn 5 new routines well enough that you can start leading them in classes right away. It’s basically 3 hours of non-stop Zumba: dancing the rountines, breaking down the steps, going over cueing, and then dancing them some more. It is as exhausting as it sounds.
Tamara was a ton of fun! The routines we learned were great, but I think the highlight was actually her warm-up… it was a rock mashup of songs like “I Love Rock n Roll“, “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and even “Enter Sandman“.
Typically, these sessions are 30-35 people but in this case, less than 20 attended. I’m not sure if it was the holiday timing or because it was literally 100 degrees outside, but this meant everyone had a great vantage point in the huge studio and plenty of room to move. It was a luxury to have a small class with such a fantastic instructor.
In these sessions, instructors take turns leading each other as practice. At one point, there were more people teaching than there were followers – ha!
Tamara really pushed us to keep our energy up for the entire 3 hours. (There was only a 10 minute break.) I was definitely ready to spend the evening on the couch with a big glass of wine when it was all over!
You Get What You Pay For
MeetUp.com advertised a free Zumba class that was very near one of our petsitting gigs. The organizer seemed to be really active in fitness so I thought maybe he had city sponsorship or something. The event was billed as a class followed by social time, so I thought it might be a good way to meet some people.
Unfortunately, the class was really, really terrible in almost every way. It was in a small, carpeted room with no mirrors and poor ventillation. The instructor was far too green. We chatted briefly before class and when she learned I was an instructor, she starting offering up excuses – that she was used to using a mic, and having mirrors, etc. (Neither of these should be necessary for a great class.)
She spent the next 45 minutes shouting unintelligble things at a wall while we watched her back and tried to figure out what was going on. The routines were far too complex and inconsistent, there was no cueing, and I have no idea why she wouldn’t face the room (even if this meant starting on the wrong foot). She often fell off the beat – even clapping in time to the music was challenging. The fastest songs she did were the 3 she described as “cool down”.
She was not ready to be teaching a class on her own – she should either be doing a song or two in someone else’s class, or holding practice classes with friends until she’s more comfortable.
When that was done, they invited everyone to stick around, socialize, and buy Herbalife shakes from them.
Keeley’s Zumba Class
I made contact with Keeley over email, who offered to have me teach a few songs so I could get into the gym for free. It was a weekday morning class at Collingwood Leisure Center. They do offer the ability to buy one-off classes, but they are not cheap ($17 AUD per class) so I appreciated the hook-up!
It was mostly a (much) older crowd, which isn’t surprising given the timing. There were a couple younger women, and I could tell from eavesdropping that they would appreciate some higher impact songs.
Keeley has great form. Her songs had more complex choreography, which I think was a struggle for some but I really liked them. The routines were lower impact, which made sense given the audience. I enjoyed getting on stage for a couple songs and giving them a taste of some higher energy numbers.
The group was really friendly and clearly a lot of regulars. Many of them go out for coffee all the time and invited everyone to join them. It was nice to see such a close-knit group, which reminded me of my own class (except we always opted for tacos & margaritas instead of coffee – ha!).
Kpop, Waacking, and Other Dances I Can’t Do
Passion Dance Studio offers various street-style dance classes 6 days a week. They have 2 small studios with great floors and huge mirrors, plus they don’t do advance registration so you can just show up! The class styles are pretty specific: KPop, Waacking, Popping, Locking, and Krumpography (along with some general Hip Hop). Most classes are for beginners, so I thought I would try some out.
My first class was Kpop. (Kpop classes usually teach you the choreography from a Korean Pop Music video.) It was marked as “Beginniner/Intermediate”ont he schedule, but I knew I was in trouble when I watched the Beginner Hip Hop class that was wrapping up ahead of us. As it turned out, I probably needed something more along the lines of “Remedial/Pre-Pre-Beginner”.
The teacher demonstrated the choreography once, talked through 4 phrases of movement without counts, and then had us run it at full tempo just once before moving on. I managed to catch about 6 of the first 32 moves, but they didn’t look pretty. It continued like this for most of the class.
He gave us a few notes on nuances of movement, while a third of the class (including me) was struggling to just remember what we were supposed to be doing. Clearly, I needed something that covered the basics before I jumped into memorizing a music video’s worth of chorography in 1 hour!
The waacking class, however, was so much fun! (Waacking is a form of dancing with really expressive, fast arm movements – it’s reminicient of vogueing. Some of you might recognize this clip from Princess Lockaroo’s audition for So You Think You Can Dance.)
The instructor, Marnie, took us through strengthening drills and a technique breakdown for the first half of class. The movements are all very fast and mostly near your face. (I won’t lie – I did smack myself a number of times but managed to avoid giving myself a black eye.)
After we were done with self-flagellation, we either learned short combos or practiced the basics while walking across the floor. Waacking is as much about attitude as it is technique, so each time she challenged us to bring more – I did my best to channel my inner gay man and werk it!
Class ended with an (optional) dance circle – people could take turns moving into the middle to freestyle. Marnie would start and end it for us, and it was fabulous to watch her dance! Almost everyone else was too intimidated but I forced myself to give it a shot at the last class before leaving Melbourne. (There’s no need to be embarassed when you’re about to flee the country, right?) Suffice to say I am not in danger of being recruited by a Waacking crew, but it felt good to challenge myself. I would love to learn more!
Despite the how many great dancers were taking classes there, I found everyone to be friendly and supportive. And the studio’s website and Facebook page is always up to date with the latest info (a rarity!), so all in all, two thumbs up!
Pet-sitting has been giving us an idea of what “real life” is like in Melbourne… much more so than the sparsely furnished AirBnBs which are obviously only intended as short-term rentals.
Our first gig was in a southern suburb, taking care of a sweet Australian Heeler named Paddy:
Though it was only a 25 minute train ride south of central Melbourne, it felt much further away. It was a quiet but lovely area full of parks with running & cycling trails, off-leash areas for dogs, public golf courses and tennis clubs. It was definitely dog-friendly – plenty of cafes with outdoor seating, shops with bowls of water on the sidewalk, and the parks all had doggie drinking fountains and free compostable poop bags. While it wasn’t the most exciting part of town to be in, it was a really nice spot for long walks through all the gardens and parks.
Melbourne is very bicycle-friendly. In the parks, there were often separate trails for bikers and pedestrians. And in the city, the bike lane is very safe since the parked cars are on the inside… cyclists don’t need to worry about dodging cars that are entering & exiting parking spots.
With few exceptions, people have been incredibly friendly. Cyclists thank you for giving them room to pass on shared paths, cafe workers are generally cheery and attentive (and tipping is not customary here), grocery store clerks go out of their way to help you find things, and strangers help anyone with a pram or heavy bag on and off the tram.
Eco-consciousness is the standard. Every place recycles and composts, from private homes to public trash cans. It’s strongly encouraged by the city, as you can tell from the adorable decor on some of the cans:
We saw boxes for donating clothing, household goods and eletcronics all over the place – there is clearly a very concerted effort to minimize landfill. That said, both of the homes we stayed in were on the cluttered side… this could be a side effect from all the encouragement to re-use things.
People are very sensistive to power consumption – while most places have clothes driers, everyone typically hangs their laundry outside to dry (when it’s sunny). And all wall outlets have switches so you can avoid unnecessary power drain by turning them off. Our first petsitting house had a huge tank for collecting rain water, which they used to water their massive garden.
It really seems like eco-consciousness is a way of life here. There’s no need for a plastic bag surcharge at stores because everyone is already sesnsible about their consumption. I’m not sure how this has been achieved, but it’s admirable.
Brunch (and other treats)
Brunch is serious business in Melbourne. It’s available every day of the week, and there are countless great spots for coffee and “brekkie”. We’ve been in many places where brunch isn’t a recognized meal, so I have been reveling in the abundance of smashed avocado on toast with poached eggs, breakfast pastries, and excellent lattes.
Corn fritters with poached eggs, corn & cucumber salsa.
And while I’m on the subject of food, gelato is also exceedingly popular here. Pidapipo has excellent flavours which change daily, plus they will add hot nutella to your cup or cone (obviously a brilliant idea). And salted caramel is an expertise here – SF ice cream makers would be blown away by the rich flavour that Gelato Messina achieved. I also loved their fantastic flavour combinations: Burnt Caramel & Ginger, Salted Caramel with White Chocolate, etc.
Luckily I’ve found some Zumba classes so I can offset all the gelato.
New Year’s Eve
Like any city, there were a million different options available for New Year’s Eve. I’m typically more interested in doing something quieter with friends for this holiday but since we don’t know anyone in Melbourne, we decided to go out. I saw posters for a party put on by the local “House of Burlesque”. They encouraged everyone to dress in 20’s attire for the 3 course dinner and vaudeville-style show.
I purchased a sparkly dress in Bangkok in anticipation – I knew I would be sad if everyone else was glittery on NYE and I just had my same 6 dresses to choose from. As we made our way across town that evening, I was surprised to see that people on the train were in shorts and t-shirts… I may have found the one place in the world where women don’t dress up in shiny things for New Year’s Eve!
I was happy to see that others at the event made more of an effort – there was still a fair share of casually dressed folks, but also some fringey flappers, feathered fascinators and strands of pearls, and a couple men in top hats or suspenders. SF could definitely teach people here a thing or two about theme parties, though.
We were seated at large communal tables and the people next to us were a lot of fun. When they were looking for male volunteers on stage, our gregarious table-mate named Luke tried his best to get The German up there. This backfired entirely and he found himself obligated to compete in a tassle twirling contest:
Overall, the show was pretty amateur – I think we are spoiled from the caliber of performance that happens regularly in SF. On the awkward side, there was a girl pointlessly posing in a giant bubble, some butterfly dance where it seemed a bit like she was wrestling with her wings, and the backup dancers in the Fosse numbers looked lost at best (and occassionally terrified). Only one girl actually took any kind of clothing off, where she briefly revealed pasties and then quickly put her top back on… “burlesque” must have a different meaning down here.
On the plus side, there was an impressive rendition of Sweet Child O Mine played on a saw, a hilarious performance with a singing skeleton puppet, and the recreation of the Fosse numbers had great costumes and a couple good dancers.
The singing skeleton
The guy in the front was a great performer, and gave excellent face!
All That Jazz
We missed the fireworks because the show was running behind, but it was still a good way to spend NYE – fun people, plenty of bubbles, and I left a trail of glitter in my wake.
We will be cat-sitting in Melbourne until Jan 20th. It’s a cute little row house in a nice neighbourhood, walking distance to cafes, shops and bars. It’s pretty comfortable and I’ve been enjoying our feline housemates:
The German learns about cats and keyboards
Belly enjoys our luggage
Beyond that, we have a few weeks that are still unplanned. In February, we are headed to Bali where we will spend some time at a “coworking and coliving space” before meeting up for some fun with our SF pals, Rick & Randy. Then its a brief orangutan expedition in Borneo before making our way to Japan. There’s still a lot of flexibility, though, so if you’re headed to Asia or the South Pacific, let me know!
It was nice to arrive in Melbourne, a comfortably-sized modern city where we speak the language and don’t have to battle cars and motorbikes for use of the sidewalk.
Melbourne is the kind of place where you see people sitting at a sidwalk cafe sharing a bottle of wine at 3pm on a Wednesday, and there are lots of very talented street musicians playing on the main streets and at the markets. People are friendly (mostly), vegetarians are not unusual, and there is really good coffee on almost every block. It’s an easy place to like.
It’s not all perfect, though. Similar to San Francisco, just because it’s summer doesn’t mean its necessarily warm… 66°/18° feels a bit chilly coming from hot & humid Southeast Asia. And the flies are weirdly aggressive – they are determined to land on your face no matter how many times you swat them away.
We spent the first week at an AirBnB on the edge of the CBD (Central Business District), exploring the city and rejoicing in the availability of good cheese and affordable (and delicious) wine. The first 24 hours was basically a cheese & Chardonnay frenzy for me. I also got the best haircut I’ve had since leaving SF, we went to a couple art exhibits, and generally enjoyed how easy it was to just walk down the sidewalk without dodging motorbikes or gaping holes.
From a local Banksy exhibit
Some of Kylie Minogue’s stage costumes
Another fabulous Kylie stage costume
Love the row houses here… especially the one in the middle.
Flowershop in the Fitzroy neighbourhood
Some local street art (installed outside the Banksy exhibit)
Produce shopping at the Queen Victoria market
The German has never spent the holidays in the southern hemisphere and is totally weirded out by the mix of Christmas and warm weather. The shops have swimsuit displays combined with Christmas decor. And the gift wrapping stations are often on the sidewalk – something that could never happen in Germany as everyone involved would freeze to death and be covered in snow.
We are now stationed in a southern suburb, sharing a house with a dog named Paddy. There is a huge, lush back garden that I hope not to kill while they are away. It’s not the gorgeous, modern home we had in Singapore and the location is a bit isolated, but Paddy is a sweetheart and it’s nice to relax in the garden and listen to all the exotic birds. (We even saw a flock of Lorikeets on our morning walk.)
When this is done, we will move to catsitting in a cute row house in one of my favourite neighbourhoods, Carlton. It’s a pretty ideal situation – cool house, cute cats, great area – so we will be in Melbourne until at least Jan 20.