The first time I traveled to Melbourne, Australia was back in 1998 as part of a student exchange program during my university years. And during the 6 months that I spent here ‘studying’, as well as dying my hair bright blue and having my eyebrows pierced, I fell in love with this city more than I ever imagined I would. Perhaps it was due to the simple fact that Melbourne was the first foreign destination that I had visited on my own, but whatever the reason, as I boarded my return flight to the US at the end of the semester, I knew that it would not be long before I revisited this city and this country.
I know that a lot of people say such things about places they visit. “I’ll be back soon” or “I’ll return one day” are common phrases for travelers to utter moments before they leave a country. I’ve uttered those very words countless times as well, and just like most people, I have not returned to most of those places.
However, when it comes to Australia, and Melbourne in particular, I did return. As I write this, I am actually in the midst of my fifth trip to this city since 1998, partly due to the fact that I’ve managed to find inexpensive flights to Australia at times over the years.
To me, Melbourne is one of those destinations where, no matter how many times I visit, I am always as excited to be here as I was the first time. This would help explain why I’ve now spent more time in Melbourne over the past 12 years – some 20 months in total – than I have in my home city of Boston during that period of time.
THE BOND WE SHARE
I will forever maintain a strong bond with Melbourne because of the education it offered me during that one semester abroad. However, I’m not talking about what I learned in the classroom or on the university campus at all. While I often mention that first “3-month backpacking adventure to Southeast Asia that has now turned into 11 years of travel”, I would actually never have even taken that trip had Melbourne never come into my life.
During my semester here, I found myself suddenly exposed to a wealth of new ideas, one of those being backpacking, an entire form of travel that, truthfully, I knew nothing about at the time. Combine this discovery that people of all ages were strapping backpacks to their backs and traveling the world on tight budgets, with the heavy Asian influence in Melbourne, much of which derived from cultures I again, knew nothing about, and the seed of my wandering lifestyle was unknowingly planted.
And I say ‘unknowingly’ because despite learning about the idea of backpacking to exotic Asian lands, my brain was still quite focused on my education and the career I hoped to commence once I graduated. My budding dreams of world travel were stored away in the basement of my brain as I focused on becoming the next Jerry MaGuire. (Yes, it was my goal at the time to become a big-time sports agent.)
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT MELBOURNE
So, here I am back in Melbourne and of course, I am not here this time to study at university or to dye my hair blue for that matter. So why am I here? Why did I board a flight for the several thousand mile journey to this city, just as I’ve done every 2-3 years since 1998?
Here’s a few of the reasons…
I’ll never forget my first visit when I couldn’t believe the incredible diversity of food available in this city. From Tibetan to Afghani to Ethiopian to Nepalese and Lebanese, I wanted to try it all and most of the time, I loved what I tried.
Now, each time I visit Melbourne, I typically spend the first few days visiting all of my favorite eating establishments. I happily slurp up huge bowls of Vietnamese noodle soup at Mekong (Swanston Street), dig into flavorful thalis at Flora Indian Restaurant (Flinders Street), wait an hour for a table at the Vegie Bar (Brunswick Street) for the chance to bite into any of their creative vegetarian dishes, take my time eating the perfect falafel sandwich at Half Moon Cafe (Sydney Road) and giggle in disbelief as I cover my aromatic rice with scoops of insanely delicious coconut-based curries served up at Thaila Thai (Lygon Street).
A Place To Work
Despite Australia’s notoriously poor internet connections (sorry Australians, it’s not the best), the State Library of Victoria in the heart of the city has proven to be my savior during my last few visits. Basically, it’s a free office for me to use and I love walking up the steps each morning, wandering across the large halls and finding a hidden work desk or comfy chair to settle into for a few hours. With the most reliable internet connection in the city, as well as a variety of quiet, bright rooms that each offer their own unique atmosphere, I accomplish more work during the hours I spend inside of this library than when I am working anywhere else on the planet. Knowing that I can come to the library and efficiently check things off of my never-ending list of work to be completed is something I look forward to with every visit.
Of course, once the work is over, I’m ready to wander outside and enjoy the Melbourne summer as much as possible (except on those cold summer days that appear with more regularity than I would like to see). Luckily, I never have to walk far to find something interesting. From tiny cafe-filled alleys improbably wedged between tall office buildings, the Southbank Promenade along the Yarra River, the endless paths through the expansive and impressive Royal Botanical Gardens and the abundance of open-air markets to get lost in, there is no shortage of places to explore by foot. Often times I’ll simply jump on a tram and ride out to the edge of the city, where I can spend hours strolling through the beach community of St. Kilda, in and out of the second-hand shops, beer gardens and Middle Eastern restaurants of Sydney Road or the Vietnamese cafes and bakeries on Victoria Street.
Without a doubt, one of the main reasons I return time and time again to this city is the great group of friends I have that live here. Many of these friends are people I first met during my studies and with whom I’ve stayed in close contact, while others are people I’ve met during subsequent visits or Australian travelers I met overseas during my adventures. The result is that I now have a larger community of friends here in Melbourne than I do in any other part of the world, including anywhere in the US. And having such a network of good people to spend time with is not too common for someone who spends most of the year, every year, out on the road.
So yes, even a permanent nomad finds comfort in such a strong community of friends. In fact, I derive so much enjoyment from the interactions and gatherings that result, that I am willing to travel halfway across the world every few years in order to experience it. And this is the very reason I have now realized that Melbourne is no longer merely a travel destination to me, but more of a ‘home’ instead.