Time has passed so quickly since I’ve arrived in Melbourne. I’ve been so busy researching, sightseeing, and having the time of my life that I haven’t had a chance to blog! I will attempt to recap my first four weeks in Melbourne in the next few posts. John (my research advisor at the University of Melbourne) picked me up from the airport and took my directly to Graduate House, my home away from home. I have essentially been transported back to freshman year of college in that I share a bathroom and I eat in the dining hall for every breakfast and dinner (although I’m so thankful for this because food is so expensive). However, it has been so much fun living in dorm-style housing again after owning my own apartment for the past three years. I have met great people from all over the world and made lasting friendships. Yet I have struggled to stay productive because of the many activities that occur every night (why work when everyone is playing cards and watching a movie?!?) – one reason why it’s been so long since my last post.
The next day I walked across the street from Graduate House to the university to meet with John and Susan (whom I have primarily worked with on this fellowship) to discuss my research plan for the “winter”. We then all went to Brunetti’s (a local institution in Little Italy on Lygon St.) for coffee. I drank this rich and decadent Italian hot chocolate that was so good I’ve been back at least four times a week (but not only for the hot chocolate – the gelato and sweets are fantastic too). Lygon St. is our haven for tea and food anytime of the day, because there are probably over 100 restaurants and cafes all in one area two blocks over from Graduate House!
At school, I share an office that has really large windows (yes!) with Alireza in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering building. I got right to work and performed X-ray diffraction (XRD) on the three fly ash samples I brought with me (one coal fly ash and the other two co-fired ash). I then learned from Susan how she interprets the diffraction patterns for fly ash and geopolymers. Everyone in John’s group is extremely friendly and helpful, which has really made my transition to researching at this school very pleasant. I believe I will be able to accomplish quite a bit this summer with regards to obtaining good experimental results.
Over the weekend, I went on a long stroll around the city with my friends Jon and Paul. First we went to Queen Victoria Market, which is the largest market in the southern hemisphere! It has rows and rows of meat, dairy products, fruits and veggies, and a never-ending flea market. It’s a great place to grab a quick lunch and also the cheapest place to find snacks (except for the bananas – see attached picture). Afterwards, we walked around the busy CBD and enjoyed the lively atmosphere. We ended up at Federation Square, which is at the heart of the city. We went into the towering cathedral before heading into ACME (Australian Centre for the Moving Image). This free museum had fun interactive exhibits where you could even reenact the bullet sequence from The Matrix. It’s amazing how many famous actors and actresses are Australian given its small population. Afterwards, we walked along the Yarra River that runs through Melbourne and watched the crew teams speed by us. That evening we attended the Winter Solstice festival at Federation Square. This multicultural celebration had dancing and singing from all over the world. There were also aboriginal-style campfires set on the red earth of the Outback scattered all around.
Later that week we went to St. Kilda Beach, which is just south of the CBD and easily accessible by the tram. The main street reminded me of one you would find along the beach in LA. There is a little historical carnival called Luna Park set on the water that has plenty of character, but unfortunately costs more than Cedar Point :0 We had a long walk along the esplanade before heading out to the pier at dusk. Little Penguins (that’s their official name) come out to feed at this time. We saw a few swimming around in the clear water, but they were so quick I couldn’t catch them with my camera. On the way back we stopped at some famous cake shops before calling it a night. The next day we toured some of the many beautiful arcades that connect the city streets before heading to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). It was the most impressive art museum I have seen in Australia. Its vast European collection was surprising given the fact that Sydney had such a small one. The NGV was so large we only made it half way through before getting too tired (of walking and, well, of art).
I also visited the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens (Carlton is the “posh” suburb I live in – they call it a suburb even though it’s practically downtown). This World Heritage Site is magnificent to behold on a sunny day. Right next door is the Melbourne Museum, which is a fancy natural history museum. There were three main sections: 1) Aboriginal and Australian History, 2) An indoor forest, and 3) A room with tons of dead animals. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many different types of animals in one room in my entire life! Anyway, I would definitely recommend visiting this museum given that it is free for international students, but also because it was such an interesting experience.
Later, I ventured over to the State Library of Victoria, which is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Melbourne. This hidden treasure has many nooks and crannies to get lost in, but the domed La Trobe Reading Room was the highlight. It was the world’s largest concrete dome at the time of its construction (1913) – 114 ft. in diameter and 114 ft. high. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon researching and writing. Just don’t expect to take out any books because, much to my chagrin, it is a reading-only library (but I need travel guides!). I then crossed the street to enter Melbourne Central. This indoor shopping mall has a massive conical glass dome that shelters the old Coops shot tower (a shot tower is a tower designed for the production of shot balls by freefall of molten lead). Melbourne Central also has a massive pocket watch that plays Australian national songs every hour, which I watched before heading back home. Luckily it’s a short walk back to Graduate House from anywhere in the CBD!
I am loving the vibe of Melbourne, and I can easily understand why it is considered one of the most livable cities in the world. Now I just have to find a balance between work and play, because there is so much to see and experience!