Celia met me at the passenger exit zone. I used a handcart to pull the box over to her car, and had a minor brainmelt when I saw that the steering wheel was on the right-hand side. From there I was in a state of constant wonder, watching all the cars around me, driving on the left. "I'm in Australia!!" I kept exclaiming.
Celia laughed, and told some stories about her own travels abroad. She drove me through a maze of streets and highways to her apartment complex.
Then, she led the way while I hauled the bike box up to her living room, and cracked it open. Everything looked great! While reassembling the bike I discovered that the rear wheel had a broken spoke, so Celia and I walked a few blocks down to a bike shop and I dropped the wheel off for repairs. Then we walked further, to a phone store, to get a SIM for the iPad. They didn't sell them. Bah! So, undaunted, we caught the bus across the street to downtown Melbourne, and got a one-month 4GB SIM at a different shop. They needed an Australia-local ID and credit card for it, and Celia agreed to provide it, which was extremely nice I thought!
Then we went walking around. Celia took me to an awesome underground comic book and collectible shop, then to a lovely chocolate shop, then we stopped and watched a nifty street musician sing a few songs with his electric blues guitar. We took the tram back uptown to the apartment, and Celia helped me get established in her spare room. Then we went walking to a thai restaurant. I was amused to discover that westernized thai food on this side of the planet tastes just the same. Celia and I had great conversation and walked home late.
All in all, it was a wonderful first day in Melbourne, thanks in huge part to Celia. She rocks!!!
This is what a muni card looks like.
The next several days were a blur, of short exploratory bike trips, visits from Celia's friends, ("come over and meet the feral American I have trapped in my house!"), samplings of the local food and shops, and hanging out with Celia. I had some initial disorientation from jetlag, and this was replaced by a more general disorientation at being in a totally novel environment and cut off from everyone I knew. Eventually that wore off, and interestingly, what helped the most were the times when I was out exploring the city on my bike. I became keenly aware of how the bicycle, and all the gear on it, were intimately familiar to me, like a horse to its rider. Sometimes, after placing the kickstand and preparing to walk around, I would pat the bicycle on the seat before walking away, like saying "good job" a beloved animal.
Locals were extremely friendly, to me and to each other. Men smiled and winked and nodded and gave double-thumbs-up, even when conducting business transactions. The typical way to end a conversation was "no worries". All this ebullience made me feel like I was behaving rudely by not grinning ear to ear. I guess I'm not as outgoing as I thought I was! My dress style is perfect though - shaved head and t-shirt is typical for men here. We're all going for the Jason Statham look.
Everywhere I rode I saw a profusion of hearty pale-skinned women, many with red hair, and I found it difficult to avoid staring sometimes. Usually I am a subtle ogler, unlike, say, my housemate Matt, but several times, walking downtown, I had to stop what I was doing and crane my neck as someone passed by. It's a bit ironic having all these redheads living their lives in Australian seasons. Celia herself is a pale redhead, and on intense days she walks around with a parasol to avoid being burned to toast by the summer sun.
What a bargain!!!
Melbourne - and the surrounding towns it has absorbed - are host to some enchanting brickwork. Check out those decorations along the upper facade. They're very common, and a bit evocative of a mausoleum, and with my California-biased eyes I couldn't help thinking that in an earthquake, these brick buildings would become just that: A giant mausoleum. But Melbourne is right in the middle of a huge tectonic plate, so, no worries.
A house of this build, on a piece of property this narrow, will cost you about three hundred thousand dollars here. This is more than Oakland but less than San Jose and much less than San Francisco. The general cost of living is higher in this region as well - food and equipment are both slightly more expensive than I find in California, which makes sense. On the other hand, wages are more balanced here. A teacher here makes between 35 and 65 thousand dollars a year, based on experience. A teacher in the US makes between 20 and 55 thousand a year, based on region and experience (Worst: Montana. Best: California.) (Source.) So, in effect, housing prices are a smaller portion of total income here. In all my riding around I did not pass through any region nearly as dangerous or degraded as Oakland. People will shout and rant but no one looked like they might actually try and kill me if I put a foot wrong (like I have felt multiple times in Oakland).
For some crazy reason I still enjoy living in Oakland.
A Melbourne alleyway leading to a roundabout.
Celia made her locally famous Lemon Delicious for a dinner party. Yum!
Here Celia checks out a map on the iPad.
Passing the iPad around the table. We all agreed to call it the Magic Book, as a nod to Diamond Age and Neal Stephenson, because "iPad" still sounds embarrassing.
Friends for dinner!
Celia and I.
Chomping sandwiches. The poor kid was chomped by mosquitoes earlier in the week, but was in a good mood.