Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…

After working a six-day week, with five days averaging 8km walking, four nights without cooking, three boozy evenings, two days where the temperature reached over 30 degrees, and a broken pair of sunglasses, I went to the seaside to see some penguins as the sun set.

St Kilda is the seaside town that I first set foot in when I first arrived in Melbourne, but the weather in the last 10 weeks has been changeable to say the least. Whilst the weather has remained unpredictable and you can experience numerous seasons in one day, the forecasting is pretty accurate, so you can actually make plans and stick to them.

So, last week I had either Thursday or Sunday that the temperature soared high enough for me to want to go out in the evening. Unfortunately, the way in which my work day is structured, the only time it actually came into fruition was Sunday night. Unfortunately, every single (Chinese) tourist also had the same idea, and there were a lot of people around, so taking pictures was a pain in the proverbial. I didn’t catch anything worth posting, but in some ways, that makes it even more of special experience. I’m not sure about you, but in this age of social media and instant-everything, having a moment stored only in your mind and memory is so rare, it makes me feel happy.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course I took pictures! Thierry tried to make friends with a starfish, but on closer inspection, I think it may have died and gone to starfish-heaven. We used a bit of rubbish I found in my handbag to drop him off back into the sea. Even if he had died, at least he could be dinner for something else. Just completing that good old circle of life. img_2982

Then Thierry tried his tiny little hands at fishing. We didn’t get a bite, but that’s to be expected. He’s not particularly strong, what with being two inches tall and made from plastic. And I didn’t actually hire out a fishing kit. It was just a really great photo opportunity with a fishing rod that some person had left behind unattended. Sorry to ruin the magic here, but a lot of these pictures are just a “being in the right place at the right time” kind of thing!img_2981

In the time that I’ve being working at my door-knocking job, we’ve travelled out to numerous beach towns. In fact, just yesterday I was in a beautiful neighbourhood called Ocean Grove on the outskirts of Geelong. Unfortunately I didn’t have a very fruitful day since there were a lot of holiday homes so they were either empty or had people arriving for a lovely quiet beach weekend, and the last thing they wanted was a person at their door trying to sell their wares. In any case, I’ve been to Mornington a couple of times, and we did so well on one particular day that the manager shouted us pizza and beers on the beach. The seagulls were relentless, but the sunset was just beautiful.

I’m going to leave you with this incredible view across the marina, back in St Kilda and remind you that I’m still living the dream in the most liveable city in the world. img_2980

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Greenery in a big city

If there’s one thing I’ve experienced in all my time away from the UK, it’s nature. Waterfalls, mountains, rivers, bays, caves, lakes, drought, flooding, trees, plants, and the sea. I’ve been to four capital cities since starting my travels and generally speaking big cities are all high-rise buildings, train stations and a whole lot of concrete. I’m currently residing in the world’s most liveable city – Melbourne, and it couldn’t be further from that stereotype if it tried.

Yes, there is a lot of public transport, I’ve already alluded to this and at some point, you may get a nice post with some more details of how incredibly sophisticated the PTVictoria system is. Yes, there is a lot of traffic that you need to sit through, with the honking of horns and the regular shaking of your head at the manoeuvres that some road-users commit themselves to. Yes, there are lots of skyscrapers and there is a lot of evidence of more being built within the Central Business District (CBD), especially when driving into the City across the bridge at the end of the working day, with the city’s skyline on the left, lights twinkling from penthouse apartments and classy bars as the sun goes down, casting shadows of the cranes over the Yarra river. img_2962

But this city has invested a lot of time and energy in botanical gardens, parks and general greenery which, in my experience is not the norm. As the southern hemisphere is moving into the summer, I’m suffering with seasonal allergies, but we’re getting lots more flowers. My job involves door-to-door knocking, and that means I get to see a lot of gardens. I’ve seen an smelled some truly beautiful jasmine and lavender in the last couple of weeks, but I don’t tend to take pictures of potential customer’s gardens… that’s a bit weird. I did visit the Botanical Gardens in St Kilda as well as the Royal Botanic Gardens  of Melbourne and, rather topically, I went to the Shrine of Remembrance last weekend, and I took a lot of pictures! img_2957

At the Botanical Gardens in St Kilda, there is a really cool statue called The Rainman which is in the middle of a lake. Unfortunately though, he’s a bit far out to get a good picture of him… He’s made out of metal, cement and solar panels. His hand is outstretched from under his umbrella to see whether it’s raining or not. When the sun is out, water will fall around the rim of the Rainman’s umbrella, but when it is raining, the solar panels stop working and the waterfall ceases, and he is feeling the actual rain. It’s a beautifully engineered piece that was commissioned in 2004; it raises awareness of solar power and it makes a great water feature that doesn’t cost anything to work. img_2787

The Royal Botanic Gardens are by far much bigger than the botanical gardens in St Kilda. There are trails laid out with different types of plant life, so there is a Southern China Collection and a Herb Garden and an Australian Forest Walk. There is a lot of information about the medical properties of certain plants, the way different countries and cultures use plants in the kitchen and how certain species have been used historically compared to in modern times. There is a massive lake in the middle of the Garden and there is a really interesting “volcano” which used to be a water reserve for the garden, and now serves as a feature in and of itself. Around the outside there are plants that prefer a dry habitat and at the “mouth” of the volcano, you can see the water reserve and plants that live in the water there. In hindsight, we should have taken a picnic. It was a truly beautiful day and the promise of summer was definitely in the air.img_2776

The last place I want to talk about for its natural open spaces is, rather ironically, a massive stone Shrine. Australia is known for its numerous war memorials, and this is just one of them. A very famous tourist attraction within the state of Victoria, there is a constantly burning flame, remembering the fallen from years gone by to present day. Every hour and on the half hour, there is a short ceremony to remember the fallen within the actual Shrine itself, where a ray of light passes over the Stone of Remembrance which lies in the centre of the Sanctuary. The Stone has the words “GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN” engraved upon it. There is a crypt down below, with a permanent exhibition of flags and medals from World War II, and there is the opportunity to climb to the external promenades and see a wonderful view into the city as well as an aerial view of a great piece of art in the shape of a poppy. Incidentally, it is Remembrance Sunday today, so it seems only right that I post this right now. Lest we forget.

The State Library of Awesome

I’ve always loved reading. One Christmas, I was given 4 encyclopaedias. By two different family members. Let it be known, this was before you could get Microsoft Encarta on a CD-ROM and I should clarify, I love reading fiction, and whilst I wasn’t too pleased with the Christmas haul that year, they came in handy for school homework projects up until I was in about Year 9. By then, we were using “Google” as a verb so all in all, they were very useful gift. Over the years I’ve been given books and book vouchers; the entire works of Shakespeare which I haven’t quite got through yet; I’ve had texts recommended by friends and teachers; Goodreads and Bookbub, which, if you’re an avid reader yourself and you’ve never come across, you really should check out.

But seriously, give me a choice of a lengthy news article or a 20 second summary video of the headlines, I’ll choose the article every time. I don’t know exactly what it is about reading that inspires me. Maybe it’s because someone else has spent time and energy crafting the right words, the correct tone, the scribbling out, redrafting, editing; I like to read what they thought was their best version. Maybe I feel even more strongly about it now because I’m beginning to consider myself a bit of a writer. I appreciate the art form more than ever and it was with this feeling that I walked up the steps to the State Library of Victoria knowing that I had a really great couple of hours ahead of me. The thrid time I walked in. The first time I just rushed in to print off a bucketload of CVs to hand out to a bucketload of eateries (who never called me back by the way, but that was a non-issue, since I was employed one day into my job hunt… I am just that good…(!)). The second time I went in, I was meeting friends outside by the giant chess sets and I was early, so I dropped in to have a quick gander around the Big Issue exhibit on the ground floor.

This library is basically a museum. There is a guide to let you know what’s on each floor. There’s an exhibition about Ned Kelly, complete with his actual armour, reconstructed as best possible with all the bullet holes. I had to think back to the film with Heath Ledger & Orlando Bloom from a few years back (I just Googled it, it came out in 2003. Good God, I feel old!) and I still couldn’t recall the actual story. All I could remember from the deep dark depths of my mind was that he had similar ideals to Robin Hood, but beyond being an outlaw, I didn’t have that much to go on. Turns out, he was famous due to the fact that he practically brought up his family after his dad died when he was only 12 years old. He was wanted for the attempted murder of a police officer and then ended up killing three more. He went on the run, taking his siblings and their little group of friends, and robbed banks and flouted police authority at every given opportunity. When they were finally captured, naturally he resisted arrest, and his famous armour protected his body from no less than 19 individual bullets plus countless more that never touched him. He was later tried and sentenced to hang, but as I said, that armour is on display and is truly incredible to see in person. Unfortunately, the lighting and the glass made photographing it close to impossible, so take a look at this official photo from the internet. You know, if you want.

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There was an awesome leather-bound complete works of William Shakespeare, and a wonderful stained glass window featuring the Bard himself, overlooking the truly magnificent Reading Room. There’s a quotation from “As You Like It” within the window, the extract was “All the world’s a stage”, but it’s written so you can read it. It looks really weird because Will’s got his hand on a scroll of parchment with a quill, looking off in the opposite direction to his masterpiece, and it looks like he’s written it upside down and back to front. Plus they spelled his name incorrectly. Not that I’m picking holes in a piece of glasswork created in the 1800’s… I mean, it is very well preserved, and the light shined through beautifully into the La Trobe Reading Room.

The Reading Room is one of those must-see things in Melbourne. It’s kind of odd because people are studying, writing essays, researching their thesis or whatever whilst people are constantly walking in through one door, taking pictures of the room and the ceiling and then leaving. Personally, I wouldn’t have been able to hack that level of disturbance if this was a regular occurrence whilst I was at university, but maybe that’s just me.

There is also a really cool exhibition about writing throughout the ages. Or rather, the consumption of literary material through time. It had a beautiful collection of Alice in Wonderland artwork, there were some biblical texts, some miniscule Thierry-sized books, some magazine covers from WW2 through the 80’s, and a few CD covers and their inserts. I enjoyed taking my time wandering around the building, and it was a round building, where each of these exhibits went all the way around the Reading Room on a floor of their own.

It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon, just completely by myself, out of the rain, and best of all, it was free! Since now I’m nothing more than another British backpacker trying to save a bit of cash, that four-letter word is looking more and more appealing everywhere I go. And if you give me a choice between the book and the movie, the answer is as obvious as if I was to make a decision between free and expensive. Being a bit frugal every now and again never hurt anyone, right?