Six weeks is definitely not enough time to explore this beautiful place down under, but my poor, poor credit card is very ready to suit up and swim back to Canada. The only reason I took the train from Sydney to Melbourne was to save some cash and yet all it won me was a sleepless night and a spare $50 that I ended up having to spend to check my backpack flying from Melbourne to Brisbane five days later. Pff! Australia is almost like India in that way; no matter if you are a local or a tourist, you are usually getting ripped off.
The city of Melbourne reminds me a lot of Toronto. A mix of modern and old architecture (that really isn’t that old since both cities are actually quite young); everyone is walking around glued to their smartphones, barely looking up to see where they are walking, and of course there is lots of unique street style and funky buskers hugging busy corners around the downtown core. Unfortunately my arrival in the city brought three days of continuous and torrential down pouring rain but I did find refuge within the walls of the beautiful Victoria State Library, filled with galleries and private, comfy spaces for me to write my heart out while the rain carried on.
I definitely ate more than I managed to see in Melbourne but I did book a tour down the Great Ocean Road on an extremely damp, cold and rainy Monday. At the ungodly hour of 6:30am (ha! I’m such a princess), I huffed and puffed as my legs lifted my warm and snuggled body and dragged it through the chilled-to-the-bone weather over to the Rendezvous Hotel, across from Flinders Street Station, to grab the Go West bus. Although I spent most of the day shaking in my sneakers as the cold seeped under my skin, the drive was extremely beautiful. After all those days of rain, the tide had risen significantly and I watched as huge waves crashed up against the rocks outlining the highway and sweeping away the sandy beach areas along the journey. We stopped off in a few cute townships that look like they would be SUCH a blast in summer and checked out touristy spots such as the Surf Coast, 12 Apostles and Shipwreck Coast (all obviously famous for their obvious names).
While in Melbourne, I was lucky enough to see three lovely individuals that I hadn’t seen in a while; My friend Stephen, an Aussie who used to live in Toronto, Amber, who moved here last year on a working holiday visa and Jo, who I met travelling through Europe on a Contiki tour in 2012! I’ve been very fortunate over the last couple years to have always ended up travelling somewhere in the world where I could meet up with one or two of the 30 amazing people I met on that Contiki, which started in London and went through France, Italy, Germany and ended in Amsterdam. In December, a really silly couple from North Australia, Kirsty and Darren, visited Toronto and we were able to round up the GTA group (those from the tour living in the Greater Toronto Area). Also shortly after the Contiki, I did a weekend trip to San Francisco and was able to meet-up with Dana, Jenny and Ally.
Since Germany earlier this year when I first learned the saying “you always meet twice”, I’ve really started to truly believe it. We are definitely all meant to meet twice; once to create memories and another to reminisce over a few beers.
Melbourne to Brisbane is only about a two-hour flight but mine was at 7:30am…yay. Luckily Stephen was around to drive me to the airport otherwise it would have been a very exhausting morning if I had to bus over. I really do have the best and more generous friends around me. Luckily the flight was pretty empty and I was able to sprawl across three seats for a good hour and half nap from Victoria to Queensland. I’ve of course been really looking forward to Queensland as the weather is MUCH warmer and here in Brisbane, I’m staying with my third grade teacher Madame Broadbant, who I will obviously now call Laura. It would be a little weird to follow her around the city calling her Madame (we both laughed at this thought).
I got off at Albion station, which I missed on the way there because I wasn’t paying attention and had to jump off and go back two stops. As I shifted my head right and left, deciding what exit to take out of the station, I heard a jolly voice yell out “Jazzmine!” and there was Laura, looking the exact same she did 13 years ago. She hasn’t aged at all! And she has four kids! In the warm sunshine, at a fantastic 14 degrees (Laura continually mentioned that this is very cold for Brisbane in winter and she was very chilly – ha!), we zipped down to South Bank, a great little area with tons to see and eat. We celebrated our reunion with Vietnamese and deliciously dry, western Australian white wine while reminiscing and gossiping about all those in my third grade class. She remembered every single person. Every time she said another name I’d go “ah yes, they are well” or “haven’t spoken to them in years” or “oh my god, did you hear?!” I can’t believe she remembered everyone, I can hardly remember what I did last New Years.
Later in the afternoon while Laura got back to work, I hopped on the train at Corinda station back downtown to Central. I walked out onto Edward Street and into the Queen Street Mall, which is a mix of both indoor, mega stores and long strips of outdoor shops, huge walkways and restaurant seating set in the middle of all the chaos. The mall is quite big and stretches at least three to five blocks in all directions. As I reached Brisbane Square, just parallel to Southbank on the other side of the river and home to the Brisbane Square Library, I browsed through an adorable farmers market selling freshly picked strawberries from the Gold Coast, delicious treats to accompany the extremely aromatic and smooth coffee blends that Australia has to offer and a random homemade Paella stall. As I looked around, I saw the usual; girls taking artistic shots with their iPhones to post to Instagram later, business men grabbing a quite snack or picking up a lovely gourmet dinner for their family as they commenced their evening commute from the office on the train, and groups of friends or couples enjoying the sunset while eating treats and drinking beers out on the patio next to the green cubed library. I sat alone with a sandwich and felt a wave of sadness and vulnerability wash over me. I forgot what travelling alone can feel like sometimes. The past seven months have all been spent enjoying time with friends, meeting new and interesting people, creating unreal and everlasting memories, exploring unknown destinations with family and loved ones and now I’m in Australia… alone. All plans are made on my own; I eat alone, I read and write and walk alone. I don’t think I’ve ever really expressed this side of the solo traveller life but as it starts to consume my smile little by little while travelling up the east coast alone, it’s starting to hurt a little too. I’ve been away from home a long time now and I think I’m FINALLY ready to head home and cuddle up to my puppies, loved ones and maybe do real work for a little before heading out for another year away from home…
Here it’s winter, therefore it’s only technically warm for this Canadian girl who wants to go to the beach and swim and snorkel or dive, but for Aussies, they’re all at work, school or simply inside trying to keep warm in this freezing “15 degree” weather. Don’t get me wrong though, I wouldn’t change the way I live for anything else in the world and I do know how truly lucky I am to have the opportunities I have and be able to freely roam with some change in my pocket, a roof over my head and food on my plate but sometimes those I talk to every day or every other day at home, I truly wish were here by my side experiencing it all with me. There are so many things I’ve experienced that I will never be able to lean over to a friend and say “hey! Remember that time in Sydney when that random dude came up to me and started doing this hilarious dance in a spinning chair just to get a giggle out of me?” nope…because I was alone, and the video on my phone didn’t save. If there’s no evidence, did it really happen?
Side note: I actually did see Chris Martin from Coldplay do an intimate, surprise performance at Summer House Café in Delhi but my phone had already been stolen so I have no evidence…
There is a shot of my friend Ali and I with Frieda Pinto though! She came with Chris to the bar and I photo-bombed Ali’s photo.
Thursday was a reminder that for everyday that I do want to curl up in a ball in bed with Netflix, coffee, junk food and Skype my mother, who always knows exactly what to say whenever I’m feeling down (my mother is my hero), there are another 364 days where I am out gallivanting in the sunshine with a beer, a burger (lettuce burger? I am an annoying vegetarian right now) or adorable little Indian baby in my arms, where I don’t have a care in the world and life is beautiful and I’m a hippy with coconut oil on my lips and haven’t put a razor to my armpits in four months. But there is no doubt, us solo travellers all have that day where everything is shit and you want to cry into a box of cookies.
Where was I? Yes, Thursday. I woke up, made a coffee, hung out with Laura and her eldest Ella, who is eleven, and had a delicious raspberry and chocolate chip muffin, which she had made from scratch. She is quite the pre-teen! I then ventured out to the Brisbane Botanical Gardens, Kangaroo Point Cliffs, ate a delicious sushi lunch on Southbank with a book in hand (literally savouring every bite of sushi, trying to remember the last time I had an avocado let alone an avocado roll) then went kid-with-candy gaga over an incredible little secondhand book store called Archives Fine Books downtown on Charlotte Street. Sipping away at my cappuccino and feeling like a million bucks, though I had ten in my pocket, I purchased myself a little something-something and Ella a book on guitar chords. She had expressed interest in learning the beautiful instrument since they have one hanging on the wall upstairs in their living room yet not a single soul in the family knows how to strum a chord! I’ve officially offered them all unlimited free guitar lessons while I’m here so hopefully they’ll take me up on the offer. Ella already plays the clarinet while Lille, who is nine, plays the recorder. She’s also a fantastic little gymnast! The 5-year-old twins, Xavier and Felix, are just really good at being really cute, and bad if they want because they can easily get away with it due to their overwhelming cuteness. Later that evening I made them all an Indian dinner of aloo gobi, a potato and cauliflower curry, lentils with cashew nuts and raisins and chapatti. The kids loved it! They scarfed it down. Then I brought out the tiramisu cake I bought for dessert. This was followed by a round of Monopoly. If this was my every night, I would be extremely satisfied with how far I’ve come as a 22-year old. Absolutely no sarcasm intended.
Over the weekend, while in Brisbane, the family took me up to the mountains just outside the Gold Coast where we did a 6 kilometer hike out to Twin Falls and an amazing lookout where you can see an old volcanic region. We also had a lovely picnic out in the sunshine, even though it was quite cold at 450 meters above sea level! Afterwards I had the family drop me off at the main bus station in the Gold Coast so I could venture off to Byron Bay for a few nights. There didn’t seem to be too many options for getting there though and they were all quite expensive. One even included me staying in the Gold Coast for the evening and taking off for Byron the following morning. I began chatting with a bus driver that was headed to Sydney and I guess my smile and freckles did some magic for me. He made a quick call and suddenly I was on my way to Byron via two buses for $6.45…still not sure how either of us swung that one. The only downfall is the first bus would be taking me about 50 kilometers away from Byron then I would wait an hour for another bus to take me back. It took about four hours but hey, $6.45!
The bus pulled over on the main street. As I walked off, music was suddenly coming at me from every direction; I was completely surrounded in a bubble of sound. To my left a bar was pumping some reggae tunes, which had all its patrons jamming and grooving out on their huge wooden patio. Parallel to where I stood, on the other side of the street, a young punk rocker was just ripping apart her guitar with insane riffs and whaling on her whammy bar. As I walked up towards Lawson Street, I passed a few more buskers and bars who clearly wanted their speakers to burst with the amount of sound and volume coming out of those babies. As I turned onto Lawson, heading towards the hostel, I stopped to listen to one of the most beautiful voices I’d ever heard. A young 20-something, handsome Aussie, stood there on the sidewalk next to a cute little dinner café with quite a crowd circling it and this talented dude. Everyone was jamming; some dancing, some even singing along as if they’ve known his songs for years and have been waiting forever to see him perform live (you know, here on the sidewalk). I went and dropped off my bags at the hostel and returned to catch the rest of the set. Then scarfed down a veggie burrito and Corona before slamming my exhausted head into my pillow.
Byron Bay is the Pushkar of Eastern Australia. Everyone has dreadlocks and a coffee or cigarette in hand. Instead of riding motorcycles or scooters, they are on their surfboards all day along the bay and everything is organic and expensive. Even the shops here are selling the same stuff that sells in Pushkar but about six times the price. Again, no sarcasm orexaggeration intended. I spent the day cruising the bay and cute boardwalk styled shops, taking a rest to read in the sand and watch the good looking surfers catch some waves. The town is a mix of a place to relax and a place to drink and party all day and all nightlong (again, just like Pushkar). I think the winter season delivers a more relaxing atmosphere. My hostel was pumping all night long though so I can only imagine what the town looks like in summer. The rooms here were even pretty packed on the Saturday night. It’s probably nearly impossible to grab a bed at any of the few hostels in the area during summer (even though they squeeze 10 people into one room with one very tiny bathroom).
Another reality of solo travel: you can meet and chat with someone for five minutes but they could be heading out to their next destination in ten. Although I chatted with quite a few people, everyone was headed out on the Sunday morning while I was enjoying my first and only day in the town. Luckily once I hit the Whitsundays on Wednesday, I’ll be staying put for my remaining couple of weeks. I think that’s the key to backpacking. Although there is always going to be so much to see, and it’s always impossible to see it all no matter how much time you have to travel, staying put in one destination for a decent amount of time gives you the opportunity to actually explore a town, city or beach while jiving with some new people along the way that may be staying for a decent amount of time as well.
And a tip: never empty out your entire bag everywhere you go because then you have to re-fold and re-fit everything in it every time you head out and it is the most annoying…but apparently I never learn.