When I put my “tourist” hat on, I become a different person. Untied by work or family obligations, with personal life largely on hold, I am free to search out the best experiences. For others, a holiday may be relaxing - for me it is a full-time occupation (though sometimes relaxing too!)
When I return home, I resume normal life with its obligations, and also with the laziness that makes it much easier to sit in my house talking to my computer all weekend than getting out and doing something. This frustrates me, because I know there are plenty of fascinating places in Melbourne that I’ve never visited. I’m sure if I were a tourist I would spend more time seeking out those places.
A year ago, I returned from three months spent in the UK and Switzerland - long enough to make me pine for gum trees. When I got back, I made a commitment that I would try to bring a little more of that tourist spirit into my day-to-day life. It’s not the first time I’ve made that particular commitment, but this time I actually took steps to make it happen.
My Tourist Experience
When I’m on the tourist trail, some of the things I look for are:
- Hiking, preferably lots of it.
- Scenery (sometimes in conjunction with hiking, sometimes not).
- History and culture.
- Anything that the city or country I’m in is particularly known for.
Obviously, it depends where I am how these elements balance out. When in the wilds of the US West or the Alps, I spend more time hiking and admiring the scenery. If I’m in a large town or city, there is more history and culture to appreciate (though there may still be plenty of walking).
For me, one of the things travelling encourages is a “Now or never!” attitude. Since I’m unlikely to return to many of the places I visit, I have to make sure I see the things I want to visit this trip. As I’m on holiday, my time is my own, and as a once in a lifetime experience I’m usually less concerned about expenses.
This can also require spending lots of time travelling to cover everything I want to see. In the US, I was happy to drive 100 miles and nearly three hours either way to visit Yellowstone (which is an amazing place). A few days later I spent much of the day admiring Craters of the Moon, then drove nearly 600 miles through to midnight because that’s what the schedule called for. In the UK, I added hours and several train and bus changes between Dover and Bath, just to visit Battle Abbey and Ashdown Forest and spend an evening in Brighton in between.
In fact, when travelling I often feel a kind of performance anxiety. Have I really done enough to justify the time spent away from home? Will people judge me for not having the right type of holiday, or for accidentally missing the all-important sight X? It’s only afterwards that I realise that I’ve actually achieved rather a lot (though there’s always one more thing I could have done).
So how does that translate to Melbourne? After that three months spent moving from town to town on the other side of the world, I’ve stuck fairly close to home (the only exception being a visit to the Victorian Alps in March). But that doesn’t mean I’ve given up the tourist spirit.
One change was to aim to do at least some walking every Saturday and Sunday. It’s not an ironclad rule, but I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the times it didn’t happen. Sometimes, that walk might just mean a quick circuit including my local shops. Other times, it could just as easily be a 20+ km walk.
Another change was to keep more of an eye out for events in Melbourne. Unlike museums, these events trigger the “Now or never” attitude. They also kill two birds with one stone, since they usually allow time for exploring the parks in the area before or after.
But another important change was the change in state of mind. It struck me one time when I was walking in a garden in Melbourne. I was looking down a gently sloping hill with a pleasant view. Suddenly it reminded me of a place I had walked in London, and I realised that I had given that other view an extra glamour just because it was in London, and I was walking in complete freedom with no commitments. But really, I’m just as entitled to relax and admire a pleasant view on a Saturday afternoon in Melbourne as on a Monday evening in London.
Maybe I will never invest walking around Melbourne on a weekend with the same glamour as I do walking around London, but for me it was just a matter of loading the right mind-set and Melbourne has some pretty nice walks. The same is true if I’m admiring impressive buildings in the city, or exploring an interesting museum, or watching the city lights twinkle.
To me, it doesn’t matter whether Melbourne is the best in the world. I’m glad I could come home from an international trip and appreciate Melbourne better as a result. After all, this city is where I have spent over 90% of my life, and with family here it is where I’m likely to spend the majority of the rest of my life (unless something changes). I love the exceptional times spent exploring a different city or a different country, but I don’t want to write off the rest of my “normal” life to make tourism seem a little better.
Increased hiking frequency has been the most successful change I have made. Before, there was always something that was more important than hiking. Maybe there still is, but if so it’s probably not getting done.
I have found two unexpected outcomes:
Increased variety: Once you are walking at least twice a week, you don’t want to be always walking the same few walks. As a result, I have been pushed to actively look for new places to visit (this also fits well with a tourist mentality).
Longer walks: Living in the Dandenong Ranges, many of my walks start from my front door. As I pushed to explore a variety of trails, that inevitably led to longer walks to reach trails further out.
Most of my walking has stayed in or near the Dandenong Ranges, but occasionally I have gone further afield: Feathertop, Buffalo, Phillip Island, Coolart, Sugarloaf Reservoir, Healesville, Wilson Botanic Gardens. In addition, events in or near the city have led me to the Botanic Gardens, King’s Domain, Fitzroy Gardens, Royal Park, and St Kilda. I’ve been rained on and even hailed on, admired stunning views, rainbows, and sunsets, and been caught by approaching darkness far from home. Sometimes it’s just a hard slog, but overall it’s been an amazing experience.
Here in Melbourne, we have access to beaches, forests, and snow-capped peaks: We just need to take advantage of them. For example, today I visited Mount Donna Buang. I’ve walked in snow in the US and in Switzerland, but that was my first time walking in snow in Australia, and it was a lot of fun.
But don’t think I’m some kind of freak who can’t stop walking. It is much more difficult to motivate myself to keep walking week in, week out, than it is to take the once in a life-time opportunity to climb the UK three peaks. Sometimes it’s every couple of weeks that I struggle to convince myself to step outside my house on a weekend, even though I know I enjoy the walking and am confident it helps both my physical and mental health. On such days I settle for something simple like yet another visit to a nearby garden, then try to talk myself out of it. Eventually it’s an hour after I planned to leave and I manage to tear myself away from the computer. However, even on such days I find half an hour later I’m saying to myself “This is great. I can’t believe I wasted so much time in front of my computer procrastinating and agonising over the decision.”
Fortunately, even when hiking I’m able to trigger the “Now or never” attitude. As the seasons go by, some of the places I visit change significantly. No garden is the same two weeks running, particularly in autumn (autumn leaves) and in spring (flowers and new growth). Waterfalls and rivers also vary significantly depending on how much rain there has been.
Cultural and historic events
Many of the things I would like to visit are in the city (particularly museums). Usually, my inbuilt laziness kicks in, and there’s always another week when I could visit. After all, the city is an hour away by train, while the Dandenong Ranges is on my doorstep.
I have managed to get to my local history museum in Ferntree Gully, to St Paul’s, and to a couple of museums in the city. I’ve also visited my alma mater, the University of Melbourne, and I appreciate some of its historic architecture much better after seeing the history of similar constructions in England.
Melbourne may not have the lengthy history of England, but it still has interesting history to discover. After the gold rush of the 1850s, it was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and some of the buildings from then remain. My university was certainly from that era (established 1854). Similarly, the observatory is over 150 years old. While it fell into disuse and was eventually closed due to light pollution, in its time it was a cutting-edge observatory and time-keeper, with an impressive list of “firsts” for the Southern Hemisphere.
But most of the time I’ve needed organised events to force me to act now rather than procrastinating. Some of the events that have lured me in:
- A few orchestral concerts.
- A Gilbert & Sullivan performance.
- The MCG Open Day
- The first day of the Boxing Day Test.
- An evening at the Australian Open.
- Harry Potter Day (which I discussed last week).
- Australia Day festivities (aerobatics by the RAAF Roulettes, Government House, memorial service at the Shrine of Remembrance, and evening fireworks at Etihad).
- Open House Melbourne (I went both days, and would highly recommend it. My favourites this year were the Melbourne Observatory tour and the Port of Melbourne tour).
I’m sure there will be plenty more in the coming years.
I haven’t achieved everything I hoped - but then, even three months overseas wasn’t enough to achieve everything I hoped. And I’m certainly unable to put my life on hold to explore Melbourne in the same way as I do when overseas.
Melbourne has a role to play in the world, and I want to understand that role. But it also has a special place in my heart because it is my home, and I truly belong here. I’m glad to be able to spend more time in it as a hiker and as a tourist.