BMcG Travels

At least my 3rd attempt at a Travel Blog

How to reflect on my first week in Melbourne?

Adaptation ruled. To time, new people, new work, different weather, and cooking for myself (I’ve been spoiled).

Shifting into my role at our Australia office has been fascinating — functioning in a similar position, for the same organization, but in a different place, has given me new perspective on the intricacies of my work.

What has been a true revelation is the kindness and support provided by my Australian colleagues. Through every step, they’ve made sure I’ve felt at home and welcome, making my transition to their office all the easier. Consider my base of support established.

My Saturday plans were three-pronged.

I would get to the Triennial Exhibit at the National Gallery of Victory (NGV), find some items I had forgotten at home (sunglasses, jeans x2), and tag along to a birthday party.

I felt like a pro walking over to the NGV, dodging groups of tourists, confidently strolling into the museum, flipping my camera on, only to be greeted by the boxed text: NO CARD IN CAMERA

So much for being a pro.

Nevertheless, I still had my phone and the works of Ron Mueck and Yayoi Kusama were wonderfully eerie; giving me a distinct ‘Southern Reach’ vibe.

Counting myself lucky to have been in the right place at the right time, I left the museum with a smile and set out into Melbourne in search of jeans and sunglasses. The sunglasses were easy (pharmacy!) but the jeans around here seem to be….um….a bit tight (like, yoga pants tight).

My one pair of jeans will have to hold for now.

The next part of the story is what will seem truly outlandish to those who know me well. I accepted an invitation to a colleague’s, friend’s birthday party.

It was time for me to be social.

Ignoring the part of my brain that told me to ‘play sick and watch movies,’ I nervously waited for my coworker to pick me up in front of the Crown Casino. Soon, she and her husband arrived and I was off to the Docklands.

Any anxiety drifted away as I talked ‘footy’ on the ride over and was lobbied hard to support both Collingwood or Melbourne, respectively (I’m leaning towards Richmond, but more on that next week).

Hospitality seems to be ingrained in Australian DNA

Here I was, some random American at a birthday party that I was tagging along to, and I was greeted by the entire group like an old friend. The ‘restaurant’ itself was a riot. An indoor hookah bar that seemed to deal entirely in Birthday parties (with a birthday song that was blasted so many times it’s still playing in my head). The night was full of good food, good laughs and fun conversation.

I fell asleep feeling grateful that I didn’t stay in and watch movies.

Today, I woke up with one thing on my mind. Penguins.

The penguins of St. Kilda to be exact.

With morning chores out of the way, I hopped on a tram to St. Kilda, the beach-side neighborhood of Melbourne that, I had read, had a community of little penguins (As the smallest penguin species, that’s actually what they’re called). They are shy, sleepy during the day, and not easy to spot.

First, I briefly explored St. Kilda, a funky neighborhood with an artistic vibe and old-school feel. From the boardwalk to the amusement park featuring a horror-show entrance, and the finest rides from the 1898 Worlds Fair, I’ve tagged St. Kilda as a neighborhood definitely worth a deeper look.

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I’ve played enough RPGs to know you have to get a boon from the local idol to move forward

Strolling down the long pier to the breakwater, I was met with stunning views of the city.   My heart started to race as I got closer to the rocky extension from the pier that the penguins call home. Seeing wild animals always fills me with the same thrill.

Patience and silence are the two keys to spotting animals in the wild and I was ready to wait and watch, but, fortunately, neither silence nor patience were needed as the little guys were putting on a show!

I must have walked the breakwater near two-dozen times as I photographed and watched the little animals. My one hope being that the easy sightings were due to population recovery and not luck.

Sitting at the apartment now, thinking of all that’s happened in a week’s time, I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Quote of the week: “I tell every tourist that comes through here about the same-sex penguin couples right here on the breakwater to prove that it’s natural and love is love.”  – St. Kilda Penguin Ranger (Keep doing the good work!)

If you want to help out the awesome ranger above or learn more about the Little Penguins of St. Kilda, visit here: http://stkildapenguins.com.au/skp/?page_id=93

Melbourne pro tip: Remember to tap off on the tram. I almost had my arm taken off reaching back into the tram to tap off after I had forgotten.

 

My second day in Melbourne started slow.

Family/SO/Cat face-time + morning NHL hockey (strange) took priority. Maybe I dragged my feet a bit — pouting because I’m still adjusting to sleeping without Ari and a 22 pound, Maine Coon cat sandwiching me in the middle of the bed (I tried to set my computer to my right and the Nintendo Switch to my left, but the conversation was fairly one-sided and the warmth, except for my overheating charger, was severely lacking).

Nevertheless, I slogged out with the city on my mind. Chinatown, Little Bourke Street and Flinders Lane were my key targets. Fortunately, Melbourne CBD is essentially a big grid with massive streets separated by smaller lanes. The lanes and alleys are where to find your fun in CBD.

Chinatown, my first stop, was immediately impressive. Coming from DC, I expected Chinatown to be the usual: McDonalds, an H&M and maybe, 1 to 2 Chinese restaurants.

Stretching for blocks and full of delicious food, I almost panicked for glut of choices, getting in line for a posh place, only to jump into a Thai restaurant at the last second.

IMG_20180402_130933Editor’s Note: I don’t like posting pictures of food. The above is to show the many, many concerned people at home that I am indeed eating.

A feast for the eyes followed my meal.

I read about Melbourne’s graffiti and, as I wound towards the famous AC/DC Lane, I began to feel that similar tinge of excitement one gets around unadulterated artistic creation. With each step the colors became brighter and the form more professional. Say what you want, but this is art.

And, because it was just a hop across the Yara, I couldn’t resist visiting my new favorite spot!

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To end, just some random musings I’ve had:

  • My first day at work was excellent. The team is supportive and friendly and I can’t wait to make some key accomplishments as we move forward.
  • DC people walk much faster than Melbournites (Melbournians?) — Driving me a little crazy.
  • Me yielding to the right and walking directly against a crowd of tired workers is definitely driving them crazy.
  • Accents. Wow. Asking people to spell what they said and then looking back at what I had initially written has been a revelation.
  • Ordering an iced coffee here will get you some looks.
  • Finally, to end, I’ll admit that some dormant voices have been making noise, which I fully expected. Nothing more than a buzz (and for the love of god, nothing for anyone else to think about worrying about), but still rather obnoxious. Funny thing is, the simple act of writing this has (and has always) kept them down — Like an image painted on a wall, something I could simply walk past.

Maker:S,Date:2017-2-23,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

The elevator slowly rattled up to the ‘Admiral’s Club’ lounge at National Airport.

This was not my normal, but then again, I figured I’d embrace the luxury and ignore the raging voice of my 13 year-old, communist self.

The gentleman next to me shuffled and we made eye contact.

“Oh no,” I thought to myself, “I know this man.”

Eye contact lingering and awkwardness growing, I thought of the only thing I could say and do, “Mr. Stein?” I asked, as if there were a doubt.

“Indeed, and you are?”

I realized two things. Politics aside, it was extremely satisfying to hear Ben Stein say ‘Mr. McGowan’ in the same voice used to iconically  repeat “Bueller,” and, second, this trip had a weird start — just how I liked it.

Six hours earlier, I was staring at my packed bags — thinking about the journey ahead was making me dizzy.

3 months in Melbourne for work followed by 2.5 weeks in Indonesia (?);  I suddenly realized that this was different than most of my usual trips. I’m used to adventure in flashes, a sustained trip away was not something I had done since I trekked from Moscow to Delhi in 2007. Then, I was 22 and out of college without a care (job) in the world. I was also a startlingly different person. To spare the re-telling of a long story, at 32, my level of self-understanding and drive are incomparable.

I realized I was leaving a life behind. My girlfriend of 2+ years and cat of 4+ years, not for too long, but long enough. As the hours ticked closer to departure, I noticed a something strange. My chest started to hurt and a liquid, saline substance was falling from my eyes.

“This,” I thought as I looked in the mirror with red eyes and tear marks down my cheeks, “is not very Indiana Jones.”

As always, Ari came through with the pep talk and, as I stepped from the door, I did so with new excitement and positivity. I realized that I could carry sadness with a sense of purpose. My heartache will persist, but this time, for something I can come back to.

And I wasn’t even aware of my soon-to-be encounter with the former speech-writer for Richard Milhouse Nixon.

In real time, I’m sitting in my wonderful flat looking over the beautiful city of Melbourne.

My flights were extremely smooth* and Andrew wonderfully greeted me at the airport with a bag full of groceries to get me started. (Seriously can’t overstate how awesome this was)

In true fashion, the fist thing I did (and as I always do) is find my happy place. And did I ever. I strolled down the Yara River to the Royal Botanical Gardens.

I can honestly say that no city I have been in presents the amount of biodiversity as the Royal Botanical Gardens. In 30 minutes of silence, I was able to see wild cockatoo, black swans, lizards and a handful of other birds I can’t name. (unfortunately only phone quality photos this time, I can’t wait to get back with my telephoto lens!) Any time I need a deep breath, this is where I will be.

Minutes away, I strolled down bustling lanes of Melbourne CBD where giant vats of Paella simmer next to a company offering outback tours and a poet offering $4 poems on a typewriter.

Though my first jump into Australia was brief, I couldn’t help but smile all the way back to my place.

This is going to be a whole lot of fun (and pretty weird)

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BMcG Photos
*People who ride business class are not allowed to complain about jetlag