Eighteen months ago, I handed back the keys to my comfortable, wine indulgent Adelaide life and moved to Melbourne. Given the first 12 of those months were taken up with all-consuming wedding planning thoughts, lace-gluing and dress-hunting*, I’ve now finally been able to settle into the rhythm of Melbourne life.
* My husband thought it would be a smart idea to propose the week before we moved interstate, because we definitely didn’t have enough monumental life changing juggling balls up in the air at that point in time we needed to add one more. Wedding planning.
As always, you can look back and dream about how nice it would have been to have had a magical fairy hand you a neatly presented package of information to assist in making the Melbourne move easier. Unfortunately, my magical fairy must have been sunning herself in the Maldives because I had to learn the hard way.
These are the things I wish I knew before moving to Melbourne:
1. Parking inspectors are EVERYWHERE
In that first year of living in Melbourne, I amassed enough parking fines that, rather than gifting that money to the City of Stonnington, I could have bought myself not one but two MIMCO bags.
I learnt that I needed to drive a postal van not a Renault to be able to park in a loading zone – a Schnitz craving doesn’t suffice. That was one expensive hangover-curing breakfast ($140 + the $12 swiss Schnitz wrap).
I learnt that clearway signs are unforgiving. At 7:01am your car will be towed. Even if you remember at 7:03am and madly Usain Bolt out onto the street in your Peter Alexander pyjamas and fluffy slippers your car won’t be released from the clutches of the tow truck. All you can do is stand and wave it goodbye, sending it off with a packed lunch, only to collect it later that evening after a playdate at the Collingwood compound. That is also after forking out another $320 fine.
2. Renting competition is as tough as the AFL
One of the most daunting and immediate issues to deal with when moving to Melbourne is finding a place to live (obviously!) so that you’re not camping out on St Kilda Beach.
I found this particularly difficult given real estate agents don’t want a bar of you unless you can present in person or send a real-life person (not your pet dog) to present on your behalf. Kind of difficult when you don’t live in the STATE and you don’t know anyone who you’re on such good terms with that they would happily give up their precious Saturday afternoon to inspect a rental for you.
My only option was to sign on the dotted line of a three-month, short-term rental contract, paying an exorbitant $430 for a one-bedroom (that should have been called a studio) fully-furnished apartment in Prahran. With no windows it was dustier than Dubai and eventually gave me asthma. I didn’t even know I had asthmatic tendencies. I see why the real estate agent wasn’t fazed about meeting me in person, they probably didn’t want me to meet the apartment in person either.
Needless to say, once arriving in Melbourne and moving into a dustpan of an apartment, I couldn’t wait to move out. Yet it was incredibly disheartening to find queues out the door as long as Kookai sale lines for every tiny rental apartment in the desirable suburb belt of South Yarra, Prahran and Windsor.
Eventually, frustrated, I found a place that was bigger than AnnaLynne McCord’s waistline and offered an extra $50 a week on top of the asking price. I was instantly handed the keys, proving money talks when it comes to Melbourne’s rental market.
3. Where to live in Melbourne?
I also found deciding where to live quite difficult, given I didn’t know a great deal about Melbourne’s suburbs, except that Flemington had a racecourse and St Kilda a beach. When you barely know names of suburbs, how do you know that you’re not signing on to live in the Bronx of Melbourne?
I also find Melbourne’s whole north-south cultural divide, where people shun those living on the other side of the Yarra, bizarre and troubling. How do you know which side of the fence you want to be catapulted into?
What I’ve since found out is that the cool people tend to live north-side and the posh people live south-side. So if you’re a live music loving, beard-growing hipster, Collingwood, Fitzroy or Brunswick are your best picks. Whereas if you’re a RangeRover (or Toorak Tractor) driving, Country Road shopping, Champagne sipper, Malvern, South Yarra or Toorak it is for you.
In the end, I took a punt. Fortunately it paid off – I’m a little too happy renting in Prahran, now wondering how I can fund a million dollar minimum mortgage to stay here…
4. Travelling interstate every weekend doesn’t aid settling in
I’ve been living in Melbourne for 18 months, 78 weekends, and this is the first time that I’ve spent a consecutive six weekends actually in Melbourne. Most commonly in that time I could be found travelling back to Adelaide to either plan my own wedding, be bridesmaid in a wedding or attend a wedding – you could reliably say that I’m at the stage in life where everyone is getting married, which I guess is better than being at the funeral stage.
But, as I’ve learnt, being caught between two worlds makes it difficult to embrace your new life in your new city. My recommendation: dive in, make new friends, discover new favourite shops and cafes, find a new hairdresser and put a limit on your Qantas flights.
5. Trams are about as fast as taking a camel to work
When I first moved to Melbourne I loved the idea of trams, the look of trams and the sound of trams as they romantically rattled along Melbourne’s streets. And I still do, kind of. But I’ve also discovered that I DO NOT love driving behind a tram or riding on a tram as they’re slower than Optus’s broadband speed.
When Metro Vic’s wonderful Journey Planner tool tells you that it would be faster to walk the hour from my Prahran home to my CBD office, rather than take a tram, you have to consider buying a bike.
Trains on the other hand are where it’s at.
The darkest days in my Melbourne memory bank centre around a very common theme: when the super quick trains aren’t running. This can be for a variety of reasons, a dead body being the most random but torrential rain and lightening being the most common. Squeezing onto a rickety tram with the thousands of other displaced commuters, to only have your face positioned awkwardly in someone’s coffee breath for the next hour as you pace your way up St Kilda Road is not my most preferred way to start a Monday.
6. Dressing for Melbourne’s winter
I’m notoriously BAD at dressing appropriately for cold weather. In Adelaide, during the depths of winter, I would often walk around in havianas or long sleeve sheer tops or some sort of attire where the sleeve was purely ornamental.
I’ve learnt the hard way that layering isn’t just a fashion statement in Melbourne, it’s a pneumonia prevention method. Best to invest in a good coat (mine is from Saba and I love it), a The North Face vest, waterproof gloves and a hooded stylish raincoat. Prepare for venues and shops to be super warm and the outdoors to be super cold, and you need to be able to transition between the two easily – a big heavy coat with a light top underneath is a winning combo.
I also didn’t believe in boots before I moved to Melbourne. I now have boots in all shades and sizes: flat boots, high-heeled boots, tan boots, black boots. Invest in good boots, but not suede boots, which will lose any battle against Melbourne’s rainy winter.
Fortunately, there are so many wonderful shopping options to make the task of dressing for Melbourne winter so much more fun and enjoyable.
And ALWAYS carry a compact umbrella because when you don’t it’s guaranteed that you’ll be caught out, and by caught out I mean goodbye straight hair and goodbye mascara now running down my face.
7. Get out and explore
Finally, someone should have told me to get my head out of my bridal magazines and go and explore the wonderful, multi-layered city that is Melbourne.
Embrace the coffee culture, have an opinion on which are Melbourne’s best restaurants and be prepared to argue your opinion with strangers, pick a Melbourne-based AFL team (and learn the rules) and don’t be afraid to perform the carefully-choreographed dance that is a hook turn.
I wish I’d put aside the seating chart and song list and gone out and explored before now.
UPDATE: And, since I’ve moved to Sydney, these are the things I miss dearly about Melbourne.