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Escaping from a salt mine in Krakow

As a way to incorporate my past travels that took place before I started this blog, I’ve decided to start Throwback Thursdays, where I’ll post about past adventures that I’ve had in other parts of the world.

I backpacked through Europe a couple years ago, and one of the most unique (and unsettling) experiences I had was exploring the salt mines in Krakow, Poland. Here is my take on the Medieval city.

Krakow, the land of cobblestones, horse drawn carriages and post offices in old school buggies. Honestly, I hadn’t heard much about Krakow before visiting, but I found myself enamored by the relatively small and historical city. My most notable story by far was exploring the salt mines, the oldest in the world and in operation for 700 years.

It was pretty amazing, discovering another city far beneath the earth. It’s seven levels altogether, the first level was about 400 steps down, we only made it to the 3rd level and that took 3 hours. It is a massive testament to the strength of human intellect and what we are capable of. I would not recommend going down there if you’re at all claustrophobic, however.

Once you get to the first level with a tour guide, it’s impossible to simply get out whenever you want. Part way through the tour, half of our group broke into a run to try and get to the elevators (a big no-no in the salt mine – and being that I was in the group that didn’t know about the plan to escape the salt mine, we were constantly left with the blame for the rest of the tour).

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Once our three hour tour was finished, it took another 45 minutes of waiting in lines for the two elevators that take you up to the top level in a swift 45 seconds. The elevator was another experience in itself, they squeeze eight people in a small lift with hardly any room to breathe, the only thing protecting you from falling far below are shaky wooden planks that you can see in between when you’re going up.

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I don’t think Poland is as big on safety requirements as the States. The lines themselves were a clear sign of that; hundreds of people were lined up in a small tunnel for almost an hour with no way to escape if there was an emergency. Thank god I survived to tell the tale. After spending much longer underneath the ground than we had originally planned, we went off to enjoy the rest of what Krakow had to offer for the day.

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It may not have a hundred famous sights as many of the other cities I’ve visited in Europe, but it has a charm about it that remindes me a lot of Florence, Italy (my favorite place in the world), especially the main square with street art and performers everywhere. Taking a taxi home that night, looking out at the city of Krakow, our driver started randomly blasting Backstreet Boys with the windows rolled down…yeah, Krakow is pretty sweet.

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Postcard from the Queen Victoria Market

I’ve always been a fan of farmers’ markets back home. As a California girl, I’m blessed with a vast amount of local and organic produce at my disposal, and I’ve always held to the steadfast belief in shopping locally when you can. So, it came as no surprise that one of my favorite activities in Melbourne is exploring the Queen Victoria Market.

Melbourne is known for many things, a melting pot of different nationalities, the culture and music capital of Australia, its expansive gardens that can be found throughout the city, and even its wide array of markets. The big daddy of Melbourne markets is the Queen Victoria Market, located in the CBD.

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Established in the 1850s and spanning 17 acres, it is the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere. I find myself perusing the stalls more and more these days, realizing that I can find just about anything from souvenirs and postcards to fresh produce for significantly less than I can at a local grocery store. I was especially ecstatic to discover that my favorite fruit, avocados, are relatively cheap at the market when they are so expensive everywhere else.

In addition to everything sold in the stalls, there is a great variety of delicious and cheap take-away food to choose from. One of my favorite things is grabbing a few Turkish boreks from the market and finding my way over to the beautiful Flagstaff Gardens across the street to have my own makeshift picnic.

Here was my day of shopping at the market:

1 Happy Daze smoothie (apple juice, banana, strawberry, pineapple, ice) – $6

5 postcards – $2

1 spicy lamb borek – $3

1 spinach and cheese borek – $3

2 avocados – $2

Total: $16

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The market is closed on Mondays and Wednesdays, and I would recommend avoiding weekends; there were more than a few times of almost being knocked over by determined market-goers, and it was so crowded that you could barely move in some areas. Other than that, enjoy the best place to do your shopping for the week, and one of the best experiences Melbourne has to offer.

7 ways to spend the winter months in the city

It’s easy to get down in winter, with cold and overcast weather, shorter days, and lower energy. I’m about to go into my second winter thanks to the seasons being opposite in Australia (thankfully those are California and Australia winters), so I thought it would be good to write about how I keep busy on winter days since I’ve had a lot of them lately. Here are the ways I spend my days in Melbourne, before spending my nights working at a cozy bar in the city.

Grab a good book and head to your favorite cafe 

There are few things I love more than layering up in a warm sweater, finding a cozy cafe, and getting lost in a good book while sipping on my daily caffeine intake. Especially, when the coffee is as good as it is in Melbourne, and the cafe atmosphere just as phenomenal. I try and hit a different cafe every day because there are too many good ones to choose from.

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Explore the free museums 

Melbourne is similar to Washington D.C. and London with the amount of free museums you’re able to find around the city. There’s nothing better than spending your day looking at funky art, classic masterpieces, or a more avant-garde exhibit. I’ve explored the Australian Center for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Federation Square, which is a unique and interactive museum focusing on the history of film, music, and video games in Australia that is definitely worth checking out. I’ve explored the Ian Potter Centre, also in Federation Square, which has an aboriginal exhibit, as well as a new temporary 1980s exhibit if you want to go check out some neon, crazy patterns, and clothing right out of Saved by the Bell.

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Yesterday, I explored the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), which is my favorite museum by far. The layout of the exhibits and choice of displayed artwork was incredible, and I’ll be back very soon when their new Monet exhibit is installed come mid-May. Keep in mind these were all FREE museums, my mind is blown at the amount of art you have at your disposal anytime you want in the city.

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Lunch, window shopping and people watching on Brunswick St. 

Brunswick St. is one of my favorite places in Fitzroy. There are numerous little locally owned shops up and down Brunswick St., and delicious and affordable warm cafes to spend your afternoon in. I also enjoy people watching on Brunswick St, located in one of the “coolest” neighborhoods in all of Melbourne, because the fashion and people in general are so unique and interesting.

A second favorite if you’re looking for lunch and a cool cafe atmosphere is the popular Degraves Street located off of Flinders Lane. Although this is the famous street to experience cafe culture in Melbourne, I’ve found that also means very crowded and usually hard to get a table, especially on the weekends.

I prefer to mosey down Centre Place laneway, right across the street from Degraves, because it still has the atmosphere with less of the bustle and friendlier service.

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Dymocks Books and the State Library of Victoria

Dymocks is my favorite bookstore in the city (Readings is my favorite if you’re in St. Kilda), and the State Library of Victoria is my favorite library in the city, so depending on which atmosphere you like better I would recommend one of those to get your fill of warmth and books.

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Dymocks is located on Collins St. and it is literally a candy store of books for book lovers. They have so many categories to choose from, and they have the biggest selection that I’ve seen of my favorite genre, travel memoirs. The State Library is simply the perfect place to get lost on cold and rainy days, it is right up there with the New York State Library in terms of how gorgeous its architecture is.

Walk the city laneways and arcades

Even on the most wintery of days, I still need to spend some time outdoors and not be cooped up all day. Thankfully, with the fickleness of Melbourne weather even in the winter, you can usually find 20-30 minute increments of sun at some point during the day before it gets cloudy again.

During these spurts of good weather (or even when it’s raining because I love walking in the rain), I like to explore more of the hidden laneways and arcades that are sprinkled around the city. I’ve already talked about my affinity for street art, and there is heaps of it in Melbourne. It’s pretty much an outdoor museum every time you walk down an alley. Also, walking along or across the Yarra River is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

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Dumplings on Swanston Street

For a true introduction to the Melbourne dumpling experience I would recommend first going to Chinatown for the cheaper prices and chaotic ambiance, but my favorite dumpling place that I’ve found in the city is called Dumplings Plus on Swanston St. The Pork Dumplings in hot chili sauce are great on a cold night when you need warm and delicious sustenance. And on a plus, they are very generous with what they consider to be a “glass” of wine.

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Live Music 

One of the reasons why I chose to move to Melbourne was because of its live music scene, and with good reason. You can find good live music at multiple places every night of the week. I would recommend looking at Broadsheet for music listings or Beat Magazine to see what type of genre you’d like to see, because you can literally find just about everything. And what better way to spend your winter nights than to drink, be merry, and listen to live music all night long?

Note: Although I love winter in Melbourne, I’ll be looking forward to chasing summer come September in Southeast Asia and experiencing the Australian summer in December.

Tales from my first footy match

When I met avid Carlton Blues fan, Will, through a few mutual friends last weekend, I knew I couldn’t turn down his offer to take me to my first footy game ever. I had heard about this mythical “footy” game back in the States, but had no idea what to make of it. I found it to be a mixture of a variety of sports.

The field is in the shape of an oval like cricket, tackling is allowed like rugby, you kick the ball to pass and score like soccer, but you catch the ball with your hands like American football, and it has the pace and excitement of basketball, as well as its own set of unique AFL rules. In my opinion, the best parts of all these different sports were combined to make the ultimate Australian sport, also known as the Australian Football League, AFL, or footy.

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Will and I met for a couple pots of beer before heading to the MCG arena, and let me tell you, Australians take their footy seriously. Besides maybe cricket, AFL is the sport to watch and follow in Australia. The trams are always packed on game day, and when I walked into the bar, everyone was wearing their respective team colors, scarves, and/or beanies. Thankfully, Will let me borrow his Carlton scarf so I could look like a true Blues fan.

Even with a healthy amount of rivalry and drinking before, during, and after the game, footy fans are hardly ever known for getting into fights or displaying bad sportsmanship. This goes well with my initial perception of Australians as a whole, and their general “no worries” attitude that I find so common over here. They know it’s all in good fun. However, that doesn’t keep them from shouting at refs for calls against their team, or showcasing their die hard team loyalty every chance they get, as does any good sports fan.

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When we walked into the MCG and I got my first look at the field, my jaw dropped from excitement. I’ve been to San Francisco Giants games before, but that’s about it in terms of watching professional sports live. I’ve never been to an NFL or NBA game. So, when I walked in and got my first glimpse of the huge oval field, I was a bit starstruck. It helped that it was also an open air stadium on a gorgeous day in Melbourne, and the sun was setting as the game played on.

A funny fact about the MCG is that because it is open air and everyone leaves their food behind after the game, they have quite the seagull problem. At one point, the seagulls must have been taking up a third of the field, moving only when players ran in their direction. Apparently, they sometimes put a hawk at the top of the stadium to act as a scarecrow of sorts to deter the seagulls, I don’t think it has worked very well yet.

Another aspect I like about AFL games is the halftime show. Unlike American halftime shows, and I guess even Australian rugby games, where it’s all about the cheerleading routines, for AFL halftime, primary school kids from a variety of grades come out in team colors and play pick up games on the field. It was quite adorable, especially watching the really young ones who don’t know how to kick the footy yet but are just excited to be there.

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I’m happy to say that Carlton played a great game and won the match against the Adelaide Crows. The Carlton theme song came on at the end, and all the Carlton fans stood up and started chanting along with it. It has been a great week, the highlight with me finding a bartending gig after all of my job hunting, and my time at the footy match was a pretty perfect ending to the week.

I can’t wait until my next AFL game when I can experience it all over again, and hopefully next time be able to sing along to the Carlton victory song when they win again.

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Postcard from the streets of Melbourne

I’ve spent the last week and a half job hunting, walking through every street, nook, cranny, and alleyway, or so it seems. But everyday I wake up and walk some more, and I’m always surprised with what I find, there’s always some hidden treasure to find in Melbourne.

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Today was probably the most intense I’ve had in terms of job hunting. I walked for 8 hours straight, skipping lunch and grabbing take away coffee so as not to waste time. I had quite a few impromptu interviews, even one instance where they put me behind the bar to prove that I could make Australian style coffee. I made it to 22 places, spanning 4 neighborhoods (most of which I walked), and I was able to drop off 13 resumes to those places who were in fact looking for staff. Clearly, I’m determined to stay in Australia, which I can’t do without acquiring a job in the next couple of months.

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Today was a day of walking down many dark alleys, some of which didn’t smell all too great, trying to find certain recommended places, some of which didn’t even have signs on the outside. All to find “the” places to go in Melbourne. I felt like some places purposefully list the wrong addresses, so that they can truly weed out the “real” cool kids.

And yet even with Melbourne’s hidden ways, I somehow found every place that was on my list today. At one point having to follow a random group of grungy looking girls through an unmarked doorway and up some stairs, hoping that it was the place I was looking for, and it was, oh it was so beautifully the place I was looking for, the epitome of hipster paradise…of course, I immediately asked if they were hiring. At other times, I found myself walking up 6 flights of graffiti covered stairs to make it to one of the best rooftop bars in the city and drop off my resume. Today has been an adventure, to say the least, but that’s Melbourne for you, and that’s what I love about it.

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Besides my blatant American accent, I feel like I belong here, at least at this time in my life. If I was a city, I would be Melbourne. Eclectic, all over the place yet having a methodical planning system to its madness. A little bit hipster, a lot artsy, and obsessed with everything music related and good coffee. Stylish in it’s own unique sense, energetic and always kept busy, yet never losing the laid-back vibe that is at its core. Different neighborhoods that make up the pieces of its personality, its versatility. Colorful. Hidden laneways and staircases that lead you to something beautiful, artistic, or at the very least intriguing. Architecture that cherishes the past, yet also funky modern buildings resembling the exciting present and future.

And I’ve realized that Australians, both the girls and the guys, are some of the most gorgeous (inside and out) people I’ve met, it must be in their genes or something.

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The strange feeling is the one I get when I think of the possibility of staying here, that is, for good. When I lived in Florence for a summer, even with how much I loved the city, I knew I had to leave it and finish my degree back in the States. With Melbourne, I could see myself living here for awhile yet.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have moments of missing Cali, especially springtime in San Diego, my favorite time of the year in that beloved town. I miss every one of my friends, and everyone who is carrying on with their own lives back home, but there’s something about Melbourne that sits so perfectly with me, at least for now. Maybe I’m still in the honeymoon phase of discovering my new city, we’ll see if I still feel this way in 6 months, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I still do. Maybe it’s okay to consider the idea of home to be the place that’s making you the happiest right now, and today I find myself happy here.

Some more pictures from today’s walk, to give you an idea about the streets of Melbourne.

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Tomorrow I’ll be grabbing lunch with a friend and exploring more of beachy St. Kilda, Thursday is ANZAC Day, and I got invited to my first ever footy game this weekend, so I’ll be looking forward to sharing more about all of those things and more in my upcoming posts. And, I’ll soon be writing about the beer culture in Melba, and my adjustment to living without my favorite IPAs (popular in the States, but not so much in the land down under).

Happy (almost) ANZAC Day!

Over drinks with an Aussie friend, I was talking about my birthday and how it usually falls around Memorial Day weekend. She looked at me blankly, clearly having no idea what I was referencing. Oh right, Memorial Day is an American holiday. It’s so strange when you make those realizations when abroad, that aspects that are such an institution in your culture, such as public holidays, aren’t recognized in other cultures. Although I must say, one of the best Fourth of July’s I’ve had was actually in Florence, Italy (you can read about it here).

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As I explore more of Melbourne, I keep coming across signs for the upcoming holiday in Australia, ANZAC Day. ANZAC day, from what I’ve researched, seems to be a similar holiday to Memorial Day in the States. There are ANZAC eve celebrations at local pubs, but also more somber events such as the dawn service at the Shrine of Remembrance.

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ANZAC is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Sadly, in ethnocentric American classrooms, I never heard much about wars fought by Australians and/or New Zealanders, and so I find it fascinating learning about that history now that I’m immersed in the culture.

ANZAC Day started from the first World War, after over 8,000 Australian soldiers had been killed. It’s celebrated on April 25th because that’s the anniversary of the first day of major military action by the Australian and New Zealand forces in 1915 (when Australia had only been a sovereign nation for a mere 13 years). It has since become a day to remember, not only for those who gave their lives in the first World War, but also for any others who have died for their country in the subsequent wars since then.

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A few days ago, after exploring the beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens, I ventured over to the Shrine of Remembrance and the Eternal Flame that is always burning. I walked into the visitor center and read all about the history behind ANZAC Day, afterwards finding my way into the crypt, and I even stumbled upon a memorial service that was going on inside the Shrine for a fallen soldier. I paused when I realized what I had walked into, respecting the moment of silence, and feeling a wave of emotion come over me when the unfamiliar military call was played.

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I eventually made it to the top of the Shrine, completely alone with no other tourists or school groups disrupting my time for reflection. I was glad I was able to pay my respects to these fallen soldiers, no matter if they come from a different country than my own. It reminded me of visiting the 9/11 Memorial in New York City last year, and the feeling I got from visiting Auschwitz a couple summers ago; the respect and rush of emotions that go out to those who perished in both.

For this year’s ANZAC day, I’m hoping to attend the dawn memorial service to pay my respects, and maybe even bake some ANZAC biscuits for my housemates to celebrate the day.

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How are you planning on spending ANZAC day?

And my favorite place in Melbourne is…

The Carlton Gardens.

My place of peace in the city. I’ve noticed myself drawn here almost every day since I first discovered these gardens a little over a week ago when I first arrived. Back in San Diego, my favorite spot was the Black’s Cliffs, with views of the calming ocean tides below and the freeing paragliders above.

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After spending over a week exploring the nooks and crannies of Melbourne, I can say without a doubt that my favorite place is the Carlton Gardens. I come here to find my happy place, to read, to write, to sit and be inspired by the simple things in life. I like the fact that I’m surrounded by a lush greenery and peace amidst the skyscrapers and busy pace of the city outside my little bubble in the gardens.

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My oasis is the Carlton Gardens.

Being alone vs. being lonely as a solo female traveler

The sounds and smells of the city surround me as I walk the streets. Someone’s performing at an outdoor stage around the corner for the comedy festival that’s in town, the scent of Malaysian food wafts towards me as I cross the road, a street musician plays the riff of one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs, ironically enough called, “Never Going Back Again”.

The tram whirls past me and comes to a stop, a mass of bodies push past me, I jump on just before the doors close and I jolt to another part of the city. Aimlessly I wonder the streets as I go, looking for work or something intriguing to catch my eye or take up my time for today.

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This is how I spend my days, alone in the sprawling city of Melbourne. It’s something I’m adjusting to. I’m used to always having someone to call or to hang out with. I’m used to all my friends and family back in the States being there for me in person, or at least in the same time zone.

I’ve always been extremely independent, but to call me a relationship person would be an understatement. I haven’t been truly “single” for more than a couple months at a time since I first started dating in high school, and even then, I’m usually dating someone casually before another serious relationship begins. I realize that even though I may cherish my temporary alone time, I don’t really know how to be alone for a long span of time. How to revel in that aloneness, appreciate my singledom, my freedom. And what better way to learn than to fly across the world, having a grand total of two friends in the city, forcing me to be left alone with my thoughts for the majority of my Aussie days.

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After almost 23 years, I’m finally learning how to be alone. I don’t know if it’s from living in as vibrant a city as 24-hour Melbourne (bars and clubs don’t even close until 6am), but however much I constantly find myself alone, I rarely catch myself feeling lonely. Perhaps I’ve finally learned the art of how to be alone without being lonely. How to appreciate this time completely for myself, and know that it’s okay to take a step back from the busy pace of life and finally figure some things out.

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Of course, this doesn’t stop me from walking into random hostels to learn how to play poker, not knowing a soul. Nor does it keep me from finding myself spending nights at rooftop bars, having dinner parties with people I barely know, or even just drinking beer and watching TV with my new housemates.

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, or the day after, or any day that I wake up in this foreign place, but I know that it’s exciting, it’s new, and the possibilities are all mine to choose.

Melbourne from a California girl’s perspective

In under a week of being here, I can already feel myself acclimating to the city, the people, the life down under. I wake up every morning with calves that are more sore than the day before, I’ve walked for hours every day to get a feel for the layout especially in the CBD, Fitzroy, and St. Kilda because those are the neighborhoods I’ll most likely end up working in. Yesterday, I had an Aussie come up and ask me directions, and I actually gave him the right ones to get to his desired destination! That was when I realized how much I’ve internalized about the city since arriving at the beginning of the week.

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Last night, I was able to hang out with a local, someone who I’ve traveled around Europe with, and she showed me the quintessential night out in Melbourne: Drinks at a rooftop bar with views that overlook the skyscrapers and Victorian churches sprinkled around the city, and ending the night at a hectic restaurant in Chinatown with hidden staircases that throw you into rooms you didn’t know existed and eating deliciously cheap dumplings. As my friend says, most of the best spots in Melbourne are the hidden ones.

I can already feel myself falling in love with this eclectic city, and so before I’m completely transformed into a pseudo-Aussie, I wanted to write a post about all the things that have intrigued me about the differences in Melbourne with my fading American mindset.

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Extremely Friendly People

Aussies are known to be very welcoming and nice people, but they seriously go over and beyond in terms of friendliness. I’ve noticed this especially in the customer service realm. The other day I walked into a cafe in Fitzroy to grab breakfast, and the owner came out and spent the whole time talking to me and giving me recommendations about what to see while I’m here in Australia. Not only this, but when I mentioned I was spending most of my day looking for work, he recommended his friend’s cafe in St. Kilda, and told me to tell the owner in St. Kilda that he sent me. Clearly, connections are an easy thing to come by in Australia.

Next, I walked into a record store, and the guy spent the whole 20 minutes or so I was in the shop chatting with me and learning about my life story, seeming to be genuinely interested in it. These instances go on, from librarians to people on the tram, it’s incredible how friendly people are, especially in as big of a city as Melbourne. I love this about Australia.

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The Coffee

I’ve already mentioned the difference between American and Aussie coffee, and since then I’ve ordered a different coffee every day (or twice a day) to decide on which one is “my drink”. I’ve ordered a long black (espresso and hot water), cappuccino (chocolate is powdered on top), skinny flat white (a skim latte put in a cappuccino cup), latte (these are still much smaller than American sized lattes), and an iced latte (the only drink exactly the same as its American counterpart). The weirdest one I’ve come across is the Aussie iced coffee. It’s espresso, milk, ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate powder on top. Wow.

The thing I didn’t mention before is that the coffee in Melbourne is the best coffee I’ve tasted in my life, and I’ve tried a lot of coffee from working in a coffee shop for 2 years. It is pure caffeinated deliciousness that I look forward to every day.

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Everything is Expensive

I knew this would be the case, it’s what everyone says when they travel over to Australia, but I guess I didn’t realize just how expensive is expensive. Hence, why I printed out 20 resumes yesterday. Thankfully, the minimum wage here ranges form $15-$20 an hour depending on what job you do.

Here’s a little insight into the prices I’ve come across so far:

Coffee $3-$5

Myki Monthly pass $120

“Cheap” Meal $13-$15

Regularly priced meal $18-$20

Beer $7-$10

The one upside is that tipping is less of a big deal here. Basically the only time you tip is if you go to a more upscale restaurant or if you take a taxi. They don’t expect you to tip at bars or cafes, so that at least is a relief on my bank account.

The Lingo

I never know if someone is just saying hello to me, or how are you, or what’s up. Don’t even get me started on goodbyes. The key to understanding Aussie lingo is to understand that they shorten everything, literally everything.

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Pie Face and other Take Away Places

Pie Face is on almost every corner, kind of like the Starbucks of Melbourne. They specialize in meat pies, and I still have yet to go there, or to try a true meat pie. Maybe today will be the day. There are some of the same chains as there are in the States, I’ve seen a Subway and a KFC. But then there are places called “Hungry Jacks” (the knock off Burger King), or “Taco Bill”. It’s quite hilarious.

Street Art

This is an aspect of the city that I’m absolutely in love with. Almost every alleyway I look down, there is some sort of creative and beautiful street art to look at. Hosier Lane is the famous alleyway to see a lot of the best creations, but you can basically find street art everywhere. Something I wish there was more of in Southern California, where things are just a little too pristine sometimes.

My first 36 hours in Melbourne

My first 36 hours in Australia have been wonderful, yet trying and tiring, and full of hilarious fails that I’ll just label as “new experiences.” It started when I got to my apartment and it looked like a closed up store front. The door was locked and the windows looked like they hadn’t seen daylight in months. When I called my housemate, a little panicked that I was given the wrong address or that this place didn’t exist, he instructed me that the actual door to the apartment was just around the corner, the next door down. Phew, I let out a huge sigh of relief.
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I’m living with two Australian guys, who are both chill and friendly, no complaints here. Although, I’m sure it’s going to be quite the difference from living in a house full of sorority girls in San Diego, to a house of Aussie dudes in Melbourne, but I think it’s going to turn out to be a great living situation. I’m already in love with my room.
And today, I met up with a friend of my brothers, an expat who has been living here for the last couple of years, and who spent most of the day showing me around lovely Melbourne.
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Here are a few things I’ve accomplished in my first day and a half in the city.

I learned that you can’t outsmart jet lag

After I was able to have a few precious moments of shut eye on my 13 hour flight from LA to Auckland, NZ, I downed more than one free coffee on the four hour flight to Melbourne. I figured since I was arriving at 10:30am, if I could last the whole day and not go to bed until a regular hour, I could trick my body into not being jet lagged. I tried, I tried my best and I did pretty well. But by 5:00pm, I was passed out and slept for 14 hours straight. To be fair, the 17 hour time difference is a hard one to adjust to.

Went grocery shopping

It’s always strange going grocery shopping in a foreign land, but I think the weirdest thing about Australia is that it almost feels like I’m still back in the States, but in an alternate universe that has different names for everything and does everything opposite in a cool accent. Going grocery shopping, I recognized similar labels on my favorite food products, but it was as if they were all off brand. Of course, they were simply all Aussie brand names that I didn’t recognize, but I could find almost everything I could find back in the States. 
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Learned how to cross the street

This is something I’m still working on with the whole driving on the opposite side of the street thing that’s so popular in Australia. Crossing the street properly is a skill you learn from a very young age, so having the cars coming in the opposite direction you would expect goes against every instinct in my body. Even when looking both ways, there’s always a car that pops out when I’m least expecting it. It doesn’t help that the way you make a right hand turn in Melbourne is to go to the furthest left hand lane and cross multiple lanes of traffic. As I’ve said, cars literally come out of nowhere.

Ordered coffee the wrong way

I’m sure this is a common mistake with Starbucks cultured Americans coming over to the land down under, but they do not use the same names for coffee as we do, at least for the most part. I went into the coffee shop down the street this morning and ordered a black coffee, “a long black, you mean?” said the girl at the counter. “Yes…?” A long black is not American drip coffee, it is a shot of espresso diluted with hot water (kind of like an Americano but with less water). Note to self, study over Aussie coffee names before applying for barista jobs, or ordering any more coffee. 

Opened an Australian Bank Account

I walked into the National Australia Bank (NAB) and opened an account this morning. Recommended by my expat friend, NAB is nice for Americans to use in Australia because they don’t have any hidden fees when opening an account, such as banks like ANZ do, and there is no minimum balance to open an account (especially ideal for unemployed backpackers). If you plan on working at all while in Australia, I would highly recommend opening a bank account. It’s free, and you get your own local debit card so you can avoid all of the nasty international fees banks and credit cards like to charge you.
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Applied for an Australian Tax File Number

This is a necessary thing to have if you want to legally work in Melbourne, as opposed to under the table (which is actually quite common but also usually less pay). I am choosing to have more of an official presence in the Melbourne work force, so I applied for one of these today. The bummer is that I just finished filing my taxes in the States, and apparently the tax day in Australia is in June, so I have to go through all of that fun again. 

Bought a local SIM card for my phone

Telstra is the recommended carrier in Australia because they have the best coverage, they are basically the Verizon of Australia. So I went into a Telstra store today and for a measly $30 a month, I have a plan that will let me text/call locally to my heart’s desire. And I officially have an Australian phone number, I’d like to think that makes me a semi-local.IMG_3493

Learned how to use the extensive tram network in Melbourne

Maybe I haven’t learned all the ins and outs, routes and timetables like I have in San Diego, but I at least know how to get from my apartment in Port Melbourne to the center of the city (CBD) on the tram. It only takes about 10 minutes. And I also learned that the Metro card in Melbourne is called a “Myki”, and that you’re able to re-load it online as well as at any local convenience store (they have 7-11s here!)

Went sightseeing in the CBD

My expat friend Eric spent most of the morning and afternoon teaching me the ins and outs of Aussie life, and showed me around the major sights in the CBD. According to him, Melbourne is almost exactly like San Francisco, just without all the trash and hobos. I couldn’t agree more. Melbourne is an incredibly clean and safe city, especially when it comes to the public transit. I was able to eat at the Queen Victoria Market, sit at Federation Square, walk by Flinders St. Station, walk through the famous street art at Hosier Lane, and my personal favorite, go inside the State Library of Victoria. I’m also pretty sure I saw Mr. Bean, or at least a pretty sweet look-alike, as I was walking along the Yarra river this afternoon.
I’m sill adjusting and getting used to the subtle differences that Australia has to offer. I was confused when I woke up this morning and heard multiple Australian accents outside my window. I still have to pinch myself from time to time and realize that I’m actually here. That I’ve made the leap and traveled thousands of miles from home to have an unforgettable experience in Australia, but I’m enjoying every minute of it while it lasts.