JOURNEY TO THE RED CENTRE: PART 1

A colorful graffiti covered doorway.

I had those butterflies in my stomach as Siu started Bea’s engine and we backed out of our driveway from what was our home for the past 12 months. Our time in Sydney had gone in a blink of an eye and was not without its ups and downs. Although we were relieved to be getting away from all the things we hated about living in a big city, we were apprehensive about what was yet to be on our second great Australian road trip; especially as we were planning to head through the dead centre of nothingness Australia, but first: Melbourne.

Leaving Sydney

We left mid morning, dropped the keys off to the real estate agent and headed south west towards Melbourne, our first stop. At over eight hours it was already feeling like a long drive but we rolled into the heart of Melbourne late in the evening and were met by the smiling happy face of our favourite third wheel, Tim. The last time we had seen Tim was almost exactly a year ago, back when he was still living and working in Canberra and we’d see him almost every weekend to go climbing or camping. He looked scruffier than the last time but had enjoyed his sabbatical spent dirtbagging and climbing his way through Europe and Africa.

On this visit there would be no climbing or camping partly due to the extreme cold that only Melbourne can conjure, and partly because Siu On and I hadn’t brought our climbing gear or any adequate snow gear to stop us from freezing in the Victorian countryside. Instead we caught up with Tim and one of my friends from Perth, who had recently moved to Melbourne, and enjoyed the city and their company. Now that I think about it, it had been two years since Siu On and I had last been here; back then we were halfway through our drive from Perth to Sydney and were house sitting in Geelong.

Melbourne has definitely changed in the time we had been away and as we wandered around the recently finished Southbank area and Docklands with more high rise buildings and cranes in the sky than I could count, and at this rate it might just overtake Sydney as the place to be – watch this space!

South Melbourne

My friend Daphne had just moved to Melbourne to pursue a career in sound engineering, and took us to check out her new digs in South Melbourne, but first: Coffee. A stop in at Cafe Panette delivered an excellent European style black coffee with equally excellent people watching opportunities at the market across the road. Then once we were all caffeined up, it was off to the South Melbourne Markets where we tried out the famous Dim Sims and some French pastries, and picked up a selection of cold meats and cheeses for later. Still feeling peckish we headed for lunch at an amazing little restaurant located in the annex of the St Peter and Paul Church, Pietro e Paolo’s. All their breads and pastries are made fresh everyday, and the menu rotates to keep with what’s available seasonally, and their coffee was also excellent (especially if you like them Italian style and strong). Already Siu On and I could tell this was going to be a sign of things to come and the diet would have to be postponed until we left Melbourne.

Melbourne CBD

The weekend started off with a much needed sleep in after talking late into the night with Tim, and we headed to the iconic Queen Victoria Markets for more eating and drinking. Tim was keen for us to try a borek from the Borek Shop before the line got too long, and by 10am it was already a wait! Siu went for the cheese and spinach and devoured it in seconds, though I had to pass on trying one as they all had dairy in it and they still haven’t found a cure for dairy allergies, but my God it looked delicious.

St Kilda

The last time Siu On and I visited St Kilda, we only made it as far as St Kilda pier for sunset. This time Tim turned us loose as he went for a hair cut and we explored the main drag of Ackland Street. Wandering past the usual shops and cafes we settled on an old school looking European cafe, Monarch Cakes, with its allure of traditional European pastries and cakes where we settled on an incredible Chocolate Kooglhoupf which was rich and moist on the inside, and perfectly baked on the outside. Afterwards we walked along St Kilda beach’s promenade and back towards Ackland Street past Luna Park, to meet up with Tim. Since it was winter in Australia the beach was devoid of swimmers, though the promenade was packed with people exercising and we followed them along to Point Ormond for view looking back at Melbourne city.

Collingwood

After a night of eating a beautifully cooked home meal by Tim’s parents, gawking at awkward teenage Tim photos, and drinking a bit too much wine, we woke up heavy headed and bleary eyed and got ourselves up to check out the Community Cup with Tim’s friend Charlie, who we met a few Christmases ago rock climbing in the Arapalies. Unfortunately by the time our warm corpses rocked up to the Community Cup, it had sold out. To console ourselves on missing out on the box wars and more drinking, we headed for food at a bar who’s name I can’t remember. Though what I do remember in my hungover state was the famous Collingwood fashions on display. Melbourne is hipster central but Collingwood definitely breeds a different kettle of fish in these fashion ponds, and on full display were 80s denim bomber jackets, socks and Birkenstocks, and more male camel toes than I wish I had seen. I’d died and gone to thrift shop fashion heaven.

Fitzroy 

After the feed and free fashion show, we headed back to Tim’s place and walked through Collingwood towards Fitzroy, a suburb Siu On and I had spent some time exploring when we visited three years prior. The grunginess and grittiness has gone as the death knell for all things cool and hipster was hit hard by suburban gentrification. In getting rid of the riff raff by “rejuvenating” the area they also got rid of the heart and soul of its creative and quirky character, and of what is left I’m sure their days are numbered as property prices for suburbs close to the CBD skyrocket here, I mean it was only a matter of time that money talked and culture walked; it was still very sad to see it change all so quickly.

Adieu Melbourne 

After four days in the hipster capital of Australia, it was time to leave Melbourne and continue on our journey. It’s always awesome seeing friends, and eating and drinking our way through Melbourne is always a blast, but we’ll be back to visit Tim and Daphne again someday. Perhaps once we’ve lost the Melbourne weight and adequately expanded our stomachs, but for now it’s back on the long road as we journey ever closer to our destination.

Next stop: Adelaide.