It's 00:18am on the 11th of Feb. I fly in 12 hours to Adelaide.
My first official day in Australia was pretty overwhelming.
In my 23 years, despite having travelled to places such as LA, South Africa, Alaska, Croatia and Cyprus, I have never properly travelled around another country completely on my own, without the guide or shadowing of someone else, or without a specific task set for me to complete. Today was a day when I was effectively a FREE AGENT. So, I took complete advantage of being an alien and dipped my toe into solo travelling. It was a new and illuminating experience. I never really fully comprehended what people meant when they expressed how empowering it was to travel around another country on their own, as I spend most of my normal day to day life 80% on my own anyway, travelling around London - an aspiringa modern-day flaneur - with nothing but my hat, rucksack and journal for company. I didn't understand how it could be that much different. However, it is. Even though this is only day one, it felt like the first step towards something very exciitng.
Firstly, I've managed to combat jet-lag pretty damn quickly, (I have my father and his thirty years of travelling experience and advise to thank for that). Crucial tips being 1) exercise in the morning to kick start your body, 2) don't drink coffee after midday and only have a max of 3 coffees 3) eat a huge breakfast of fruit and carbs 4) dress up not down. Now is not the day for trackie bums, it will make you feel more sluggish. Put a nice shirt on and good shoes. 5) Spend at least 5 hours outdoors in the sunshine, walking about and looking at the sky. 6) Only nap for max 20 mins in the afternoon if you're flagging but make sure you keep the windows and curtains open so you are aware it's still daytime. 7) Eat a light but nutritional lunch (think salad or something, you don't want to slow your body down with Spaghetti Carbonara) and 8) After this hold out until after 8pm to fall asleep. You'll be knackered by this point and will hopefully be able to sleep a good 4/5 hours before waking for a couple of more hours and then falling asleep again.
After hitting the gym, eating enough almond croissants to kill a man and doing vital 'gig admin' I caught the Sky Bus ($30 dollars return from the airport to Melbourne City Centre) to Melbourne. Only twenty minutes and packed full of young travellers, I felt very at ease in my travellers garb of converse, white boy shirt, red hat and frilly shorts. My rucksack resting loyally on my lap. (I am, due to my parents, overtly aware of the presence of pick pockets and am thus uber viligant when it comes to stashing my valuables. I take pride in being able to hide my essentials anywhere. And I mean anywhere.).
Arriving into Melbourne station on Spencer street the first thing I thought was 'F*CK it's big. Like, REALLY big.' followed by 'And blue. I never knew a sky could BE THIS BLUE' and then 'And the roads, they're MASSIVE. How are you meant to cross across one in less than 20 seconds? It's like a bleep test.'
I walked around the blocks for about 50 minutes, getting to grips with how the streets and trams worked. The buildings are huge futuristic lego creations - The impression I got of the city was that the saturation had been put on 'full' and that every building had been stretched and made XL. It felt like what would happen if a Legoland utopia had been made into a real place. The skyline is the complete opposite to London's.
I visited the National Gallery of Victoria. This was the building I was most excited about visiting as I know little of Australian art and I believe you can learn a lot about the atmosphere and history of a country by looking at the culture that has been created from it. I highly recommend the gallery. Free entry and with a diverse array of exhibitions on display, the visit really helped shape my understanding of Melbourne's history. The great thing about being on your own is you can take as LONG AS YOU WANT looking at some paintings and feel no pressure or guilt at all when you look at one section and think 'No, this isn't for me, I'll skip it'. You only have yourself and that was refreshing. This meant I could spend at least 10 minutes admiring Bertram Mackennal's sculpture 'CIRCE' which not only gave me shivers but caused me to reassess my own attitude towards my body shape, same regarding the delicacy of Harold Parker's 'ARIADNE'. If you are ever feeling insecure about your body, visit an art gallery. A firm reminder of how unique, complex and how fluctuating the human body is. There are no set uniform standards for beauty. Seeing different shapes immortalized in oil or marble is a reminder that each body shape is entitlted to be viewed with the same grace and delicacy as someone elses. It's how you choose to look at something which generates how beautiful it is.
Also, it's hard to feel lonely when you are surrounded by art you can jump into and gaze at. I felt a real affinity with William Frater's painting The Red Hat. A portrait of artist Lina Bryans.
Three hours, one icecream, one new hat and one bookshop discovery later I was now knackered, happy, excited and introverted. I'd chatted in great length with the girls who ran a really good independent book store by the water about memoirs and the art of letter writing. I bought a copy of Kate Holden's In my Skin. I chatted to a fellow ginger in a thrift store about the 'art of finding a great hat', and I wandered around the park opposite the art gallery, looking at the birds and the lush plants. But by 3pm I was tired and I needed space to be on my own. I returned to my hotel feeling like a grown up. I'd travelled out into an alien city and hadn't died, been kidnapped Liam Neeson Taken -style or lost any of my valuables. I had been a fully functioning competent adult without a mobile and that was awesome.
Now, onwards to Adelaide. Where this time, I DO know people, but still the excitement of being independent in an alien landscape refuses to leech itself from me.