10 Reasons to Love Melbourne

*note, some of this is a bit tongue in cheek but I do have a lot of affection for the place*

1. The people

Are just insanely welcoming. Smiley, happy, relaxed and friendly. Also absurdly hot. Why are you so hot people of Melbourne??? But hate them because they run. Like seriously- I’ve never seen so many people out running in the morning. Why are you making me feel bad about staying in bed?

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That time those two super-friendly Melbournian lovelies took me on a birthday tour of Melb (I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22…)

2. Lucas Papaw treatment

The Aussie’s answer to Vaseline only far more effective/superior. It sorts dry lips in an instant, and is also a topical ointment application for boils, burns, chaffing, cuts, cracked skin, bites, nappy rash and more. As is the case with wine, the Aussies tend to keep the best for themselves and it is less accessible (though not impossible to purchase) outside of Australia.

3. And in the same vain… the wine

People doubt this, but I actually never used to be a fan of wine. Now I am. Maybe it helps that my Aussie relatives like a drink or two. But definitely the wine is all round lovelier here than anywhere else I’ve ever been (especially red hill from the Mornington Peninsula- sorry France).

4. The Tram Network

With your little Myki, getting around Melbourne via tram is fairly easy. Trams, by and large, are regular and stops are readily located. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely easier to pick up than the London underground. Plus, the overground network in Melbourne is not at all bad either.

5. The beaches

Rosebud, Safety Beach, even St Kilda… beaches in and around Melbourne and Victoria are lovely, a novelty to Brits like me. Though they can get busy, they are treated, by and large, respectively- retaining their beauty and natural state.

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Safety Beach ❤

6. Aboriginal heritage and general Aussie history

Some Aussies joke about what they perceive to be a lack of culture in their country (not my view). However, whilst Australian history is very much entangled with European history (especially with the mass incoming immigration the country saw from Europe in the 20th Century), there is history. For more information on immigration, see the Immigration Museum in Melbourne- near Flinders Street Station. Better still, the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Culture Centre is absolutely amazing and really opens your eyes to customs, norms and the trials and tribulations the aboriginals have experienced previously. Be sure to check out the Shrine of Remembrance as well, which provides relevant knowledge about the role of Australia in the war and the main event (Gallipoli) that underlies Anzac Day (the day of remembrance there).

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An exhibition at the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Culture Centre

7. The Grid System

For a girl who still relies on Google maps an unhealthy amount, Melbourne being built on the hoddle grid (named after the designer) is an absolute blessing. If you get lost, just walk down any side road and you’ll get to the parallel main road that you need eventually.

8. Lord of the Fries

I hate most fast food (bar Domino’s UK and Chinese/Indian takeaways). McDonalds, Burger King, KFC… they don’t float my boat. But there are two reasons why I love Lord of the Fries. First, the name has the literary nerd inside of me rubbing her hands with glee. And second, the chips with garlic mayo are SO DAMN GOOD.

9. Aussie slang (not just relevant to Melbourne)

Just the little things really. Like calling a six-pack of beer a slab. And Bogan is definitely weirdly more endearing than chav. But interestingly on the topic, you can’t compare the rough parts of Melbourne to the rough parts of London. The rough parts of London are far far worse. Maybe it’s just the sunshine that does those parts of Melbourne favours. But in my opinion, everyone there (regardless of wealth) seems to just have a better quality of life.

10. The climate

I don’t really know if this made me love or hate Melbourne. But it resonates with British weather. The temperature in Melbourne is insanely variable- it is more temperamental than a girl with PMT. And pretty much everyone I met over there warned me about Melbourne being “four seasons in one day”. One minute it can be 29 degrees Celsius and sunshine and the next it has dropped to 20 degrees Celsius and windy (*grabs leather jacket*). But even 20 by UK standards is warm. So actually, I really loved the weather in Melbourne (though I did struggle during the periods where it hit the 30s) 😀

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Behold… The Big Buddha

The day we went to the Big Buddha, we were lucky to experience glorious weather even if for my travel companion, we had another cable car to endure. Transportation was efficient (as is typical of Hong Kong) with us taking the MTR to Tung Chung station (which took about an hour from where we were). We then walked to the Ngong Ping Cable Car, which took us up to the mountainous area where the Big Buddha shrine sat serenely.

If travelling by cable car (the np360), you have a few options available to you.  You can take a standard cabin cable car, which has see-through windows but a covered floor, and also slightly less of a surface area available to look through the window. You can take a crystal cabin, with a clear bottom and a larger window surface area than the standard cabin. Or you know, you could slum it in a private cabin (but lets be realistic here).

We decided to go crystal cabin on the way there, standard cabin on the way back. This was a huge triumph for my friend in terms of battling his vertigo- we ended up in a crystal cabin with a lovely family, some of whom also suffered from vertigo, and he ended up reassuring them!

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The NP360 and some views from the Crystal Cabin on the way there…

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Our sunshiney day                                    Seeing the sea beneath your shoes

Upon arrival at the other cable car station, we explored the area surrounding the Big Buddha (a.k.a. Tian Tan Buddha). There is a viewing deck where you can take clear photos with the statue in the background:

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We walked around amongst smaller statues and souvenir stalls.

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The area surrounding the Big Buddha statue

We also came across a wooden fork specifying how many miles away we were from various famous attractions across the globe, which was quite fun to read!

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Only 1972 miles from the Great Wall and 9632 miles to Big Ben!

We climbed the stairs to the Big Buddha, attempting to avoid tripping over the tourists who suddenly stopped at various points to take a picture (we were guilty of this as well) 🙂

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Upon reaching the summit, you are presented with beautiful views of Lantau Island, where the tribute was built:

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Within the Buddha itself is a museum with facts about the Po Lin monastery and surrounding area. The main appeal of the attraction to me, though, was actually standing so close to the statue and admiring it’s sheer scale and beauty. It has obvious significance to Buddhists, but even for those of other or no religions, it is undeniably spectacular.

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As the afternoon drew onwards, we returned to the cable car terminal (see below):

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And on the way back, we saw Hong Kong at night- still beautiful amongst the smog.

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Seeing Pandas, being big kids and getting soaked at OceanPark! (Stint 2 in Hong Kong)

As much as we’ve pretended to be cultural during travel (and some days, managed to succeed), occasionally you need to just be a big kid and have fun. When my travel companion suggested OceanPark Hong Kong, I wasn’t overwhelmingly excited. It had been a while since I’d been to a theme park, and I reasoned that it would not be particular different to UK theme parks like Thorpe Park or Alton Towers.

I was wrong.

We had an absolute blast.

Because OceanPark finds a rare balance between accommodating to all ages, wowing with beautiful animals and giving an equal amount of attention and input to all the themed areas of the park.

And- most momentous at all- this is the place I broke a 13 year ban on eating McDonald’s and ordered McDonald’s chips as sustenance (vegetarian in Hong Kong, since they are cooked in vegetable oil) . To be fair- since all the food outlets in the park are fast food places, it is the lesser of all evils. Better the consumerism devil you know than the one you don’t.

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To get to OceanPark, we took the MTR (train network) to Admirality station and then took the Citybus (Route 629) direct to the attraction. Upon arrival, it was an overcast, grey day- not cold, but not warm without the presence of the sun. In spite of that, the park is awash with colour- both outside (the grass dolphins on the left) and upon entering the main square or centre-point of the park itself, called Aqua City (the photo on the right).

Note that these fountains are present and on automation throughout the day within the park and at night, are lit up in different colours to create a beautiful spectacle.

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The fountains lit up at night

We started our day by venturing towards the Aquarium, an attraction in Aqua City. It is laid out beautifully, with sound effects, coloured lighting in some parts and placards with facts about the marine creatures shown. Here, we saw an array of sealife including ribboned pipefish and stingrays (amongst other things).

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We were in the Aquarium for maybe half an hour/forty minutes. To leave, you pass through a visitor shop (as is common of many themed attractions) and whilst we had fun putting on ridiculous cuddly shark and penguin hats, there was nothing that we felt was justifiable to spend money on.

Over the next few hours, we got to see Pandas and Alligators in the Amazing Asian Animals section of the park (I took a particular liking to An An the panda) and watched a wonderful seal show (for Psychology enthusiasts among us, that was a fairly overt display of conditioning).

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Hi An An                                                               Chilled out panda

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I also enjoyed seeing these little fellows

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A photo from the seal show

We caught the final 15 minutes of a spectacular dolphin show, whereby dolphins were woven into a heroic story. The atmosphere was created by cinematic screens and sound effects. The crowd was enthralled and so were we. Dolphins are undeniably beautiful and talented animals and it was unfortunate that we couldn’t see the show in full.

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Around about this point, it was nearing lunchtime. After my travel companion said a quick hello to an old friend:

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We decided to head to the other section of the part (accessible by train or cable car) since there were more food outlets there. We queued for the cable car- the station of which is built in a section of the park made to look like Hong Kong during it’s British colonisation.

Apologies to those with vertigo for this photo (including my travel companion, who- as always, was amazing and dealt with this):

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We had to wait a while, but finally arrived at the other side of the park and into Marine World. Presented with ample choice of pizza, McDonalds, hot dogs, chicken and the like, we both had McDonalds for lunch. I just settled for chips, whilst my friend ordered a more filling amount of food. Happiness came in the form of the ice cream stall nearby, allowing a chocolate Magnum to complete an incredibly healthy and balanced meal.

Next, we attempted some arcade games- with my friend picking up a few stuffed toys on a frisbee like game and basketball. I failed miserably until the launch the frog onto a lilypad game- the first time in my life I’ve won anything from this kind of arcade stall.

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The arcade stalls

I was kind of chuffed to win my new friend…

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Over the course of the afternoon, we went on a range of rides. Particular favourites of mine were the swings and the rapids, which left us in fits of laughter.

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Swings > rollercoaster (controversial)                Photographing others during their rapids torment

We ended our time at the park in the Polar Adventure section, where we got to meet some adorable penguins and see an Arctic fox.

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We left to queues of people waiting for the bus. But it didn’t matter, because we had a lot of fun that day. The kind of carefree silliness that you need to invite back into your life sometimes. My second stint in Hong Kong was going just as well as the first time round and better yet, there was still more to experience…

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The Artificial Lights (a visual walkthrough). Reed Flute Cave, Guilin, China

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We walked past Guilin’s mountains…                               And reached the entrance of Reed Flute Cave

And then we saw this (note, no filter or editing has been used on any of these photos)…

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So what you’d typically expect to see in a cave 🙂

Seeing Xi’an part 2: the Muslim Quarter, trying not to get run over and eating too much at a Birthday dinner!

The Muslim Quarter…

Was the plan for late afternoon/early evening. After the gas canister exploding incident. To explain what happened in a bit more detail, a guy behind us was carrying a glass jar which contained the gas and I guess the pressure just became too high and then you have green gas and shards of glass coming towards you (part 1 of seeing Xi’an). As a stereotypical Brit, I decided I needed a cup of tea to return to a normal state of self. Our nearest coffee shop was a Starbucks and so we headed there on automation after washing our mouths out with water.

There is little I can say about Starbucks that you won’t already know but in this Starbucks in Xi’an, beggars walk through the door and actively badger customers for money. It was a strange thing to witness- we knew China had a huge divide between the rich and the poor, but had seen nothing like this in Hong Kong, South Korea or Japan. Staff asked the guy to leave, and soon later we followed.

We headed west of the Bell Tower (in the centre of Xi’an, which we had previously visited) and towards the Drum Tower. We walked around the Drum Tower and proceeded onwards until we reached a new scene- smoke dancing in the air, and a riot of colour; street food sizzling and people jostling around. We had reached the Muslim Quarter.

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The bell tower at night                                             Walking towards the drum tower

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The Muslim Quarter

We walked through a sheltered market part of the Quarter- here, a range of weird and wonderful items were being sold. From the beautiful (woven Chinese scrolls and silk scarves) to the light-hearted (touristy souvenirs), slightly distasteful (playing cards on Gaddafi and Bin Laden) to the intricate (wooden carved ornaments and delicate teapot and teacup sets).

The indoor part market formed a circle, and once we exited the other side, the air was filled with the sounds and scents of fresh food being prepared; meat dishes in abundance although there were also stalls selling stews, soups and noodle dishes.

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We walked past a stall where chefs were making fresh pasta, which gathered quite a crowd. Though undoubtedly heavy, the guys in question never hastened their vigorous kneading and movement of the dough.

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The chefs making pasta

Then we walked back past the drum tower, glowing gold, silver and red in the night-time darkness, before finding a bus to take us to where my travel companion’s birthday dinner had been booked that night.

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Trying not to get run over…

Was one of the biggest challenges in Xi’an (in fact, extend that to the whole of China). There is blatant disregard for a pedestrian; if a car or bus is moving- you better move or it’s the end of the road (literally). In a way, this attitude that everyone has almost gives you the feeling that life is cheap in China. There was one point where I was standing on an insubstantial little island in between two sides of an incredibly busy road and experienced something like panic. However, we made it onto a bus and clung onto the railings on the vehicle with all our strength as the bus lurched forward.

Eating too much at a birthday dinner…

Was a given. A lot had happened that day, from a mellow morning to an eventful afternoon and evening. But it was still my travel companion’s birthday. The final chance to show my appreciation to the long-suffering person who had agreed to spend a fair amount of time going round Asia with me.

Redford Indian Restaurant is located in Tang West Market in the Lianhu District and is number 1 on Trip Advisor. I had emailed the manager explaining the birthday situation and they were amazing- when we arrived, they had put balloons and a personalised “Happy Birthday” sign outside their restaurant.

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The restaurant exterior (and the sign and balloons on the right)

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The restaurant interior

The restaurant is beautiful and the staff are ridiculously friendly. We both went for Singha beers and then gorged on an Indian food feast that proved both of us have eyes far bigger than our stomachs.

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The onion naan they served was probably one of the best naan breads I’ve ever tasted. SO GOOD.

Then they brought out a cream, fruit and meringue birthday cake for the person in question, which meant I got to be the most embarrassing friend I could be and sing “Happy Birthday”.

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Happy Birthday Sugartastic!

Afterwards, feeling suitably stuffed, we meandered around DaTang West Market. We had very little time in Xi’an compared to our other destinations. Our final destination would be Guilin, what used to be a quiet little fishing town… however, as we soon discovered- things change.

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Some photos of the different parts of the market

Seeing Xi’an part 1: the journey, the layout and the green gas explosion!

The journey…

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Was different. The station was Beijing West and it was full of people, jostling for space. In a tiny way, it conceptualised just how populated a country China is. Foreigners made up 0.1% of the station population. This was the local way of travelling, and a contrast to Beijing Airport.

The scramble…

To the train was substantial. But we made it.

The train travel…

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Was comfortable. Large red seats. We had paid a little more to be in a better carriage, toilets were still squatters as is standard in China, and manners remain consistent throughout the culture.

Then we arrived at Xi’an North station. We got a cab and prayed the driver would not crash because it was seatbelt-less and there were metal grills dividing the front and the back seat- this could lead to a fatal injury. We settled in initially because it was late in the day. The next day was my travel companion’s 22nd Birthday.

The layout…

For the birthday was simple enough to organise. We chilled in the morning, going to a Korean tea shop in a shopping centre near the Grand Metropark Hotel, where we were staying.

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I can personally recommend the latte and the white peach tea!

The morning was chilled… we visited a shop called Yishion (kind of like a Chinese version of H&M and New Look) where we both found jackets and my travel companion enjoyed a McDonald’s lunch (we are connoisseurs of fine food).

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Shop till you drop birthday style and fillet o fish anyone?

The afternoon is where we get cultural. We visit the Bell Tower of Xi’an, which resides as the central point of the city, a hub where four roads meet. To have a tourist attraction which was built around in order to provide the city structure is quite amazing.

It is beautiful; the outside is like overlooking a to-scale fully functioning model village. The inside is colourful and mesmerising, with a psychedelic roof and various ancient artefacts.

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It contains a number of bronze cast-iron bells, prevalent in the Tang Dynesty. Why the tower was created is unknown, although there are legends surrounding it’s formation.

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An hour later, we decided to move on from the tower. All was fine until…

A crash. Loud in my ear.

A gas cannister exploding- the green gas explosion…

unfurling through the air.

And worst of all- I froze.

I don’t think it did me any harm… but it certainly added an innovative experience to my travel companion’s birthday. What was terrifying was the shock. And being only metres away as shards of glass exploded towards me…