Getaway with Soleil: Melbourne

               In 2016, I recommended “indulging in the slow side of the local culture” if you happened to be sick while traveling. As I was then, so I was in Melbourne this past week. Obviously, contextually, a lot has changed since my Adventures in Auckland. It’s different being sick while you’re hanging with your family on holiday versus spending what limited time you have with your long-distance boyfriend after a global pandemic kept you apart for so long. So, yeah, I was conflicted on what to do. Should I stay shut in at our hostel and avoid contaminating the world, or enjoy what few adventures I had the energy for? I tried the best of both worlds.

               (An aside, quickly, that I have tested negative for COVID so this is (probably) an old-fashioned bug come to collect after so much traveling and two years of isolation).

               We arrived in Melbourne Monday afternoon and took a tram to the St. Kilda neighborhood. In a way reminiscent of the first time we met, Soleil and I had booked a few nights stay in a hostel. We had a private room and—luxury—our own bathroom, too. Now, while hostels may have grown on me and they’re not always the stuff of horror movie nightmares, I do find they can pose as accessible means of travel while not necessarily being that. For travelers with mobility issues, navigating the many flights of stairs—even just up to the front desk involves a few—would be a challenge. And, in my sickened state, I was often out of breath by the time we reached our room.

               I took some time to get ready for our dinner reservation in what could be the most tempestuous shower of the trip. While others would have used the time to relax or called in takeaway, I was determined to make the most of the day even after so many hours of travel. Soleil and I have had many special occasions and firsts on this trip, but Monday was doubly so since it was our second anniversary and the first one we’ve had in-person. Now, with long distance, international relationships, it’s easier to pick one date rather than argue about time zones or choose when you first met in-person or became official or stopped seeing other people. So, two years.

               I’ve had two previous two year anniversaries prior to this. While I could have a whole reflection on that, I think a paragraph will suffice. I’ve found that, now that I’m older and maybe wiser, each relationship was its own reflection of me at that point in my life—for better or worse. In high school, I was deep in puppy love and sure it would last forever. He broke up with me about a month after our anniversary, so forever really didn’t last that long. I made a big decision with the second, jumping into an engagement and numerous other decisions that felt right at the time, but would have repercussions years down the line. Now, this is a relationship where I’ve learned from the others, have focused on my strengths and weaknesses as an individual and a partner, and am trying to move forward positively. This adventure—meeting our families, seeing a new country, spending more time together—was a definitive step toward that.

               Soleil made reservations and surprised me with dinner at Ichi Ni, a Japanese restaurant on the esplanade of St. Kilda beach with a gorgeous view at sunset. We ordered drinks, and I had the first (and only) excellent Bloody Mary of the Australian trip with a Japanese twist. As another first, we ordered the set menu and ate our way through seven delicious dishes. From edamame to a decadent sushi roll of lobster and salmon, from chicken teriyaki to a chocolate spring roll with a sparkler to celebrate: it was an amazing experience, and a top meal of the trip and maybe of my entire life. Maybe it was helped by the fact we were celebrating together, something that seemed all too impossible when we met and borders were closed, or the beautiful setting of St. Kilda. We had drinks at The Esplanade Hotel after, talked about future possibilities, and walked back to the hostel where I had some much-needed rest.

               The rest continued on Tuesday, where I only had enough energy to venture out for breakfast at the Hide and Cheek café before crashing for a nap. Although breakfast had been a tasty discovery of Australian milkshakes and breakfast burritos, my energy needed a refill. Eventually, though, I was awake enough for a happy hour special on pizzas and beer. Soleil and I followed this with our third round of trivia on the trip. We played at Freddy Wimpoles and our team name was Mortal Wombat. Unfortunately, tired, out of our element, and with some rigged questions, we did not place. Soleil did, however, win the bizarre point based off of darts ability.

               On Wednesday, we had breakfast at Fitzrovia. I had a giant sandwich with some of the best bacon I’ve sampled and tried Soleil’s muesli (gross). I gave in and bought Aussie medicine at some point which allowed me a modicum more energy. After more resting, Soleil and I went to Fat Jaks to meet my Barber Brother (BB) for dinner. With this, we, mostly, had met each other’s families—with the obvious exception being everyone in America. I hadn’t seen BB since 2017 and it was amazing cataloging the differences beyond the occasional FaceTime or Instagram post. The restaurant was loud and greasy, but the food proved to be perfect for our meeting. I munched on sweet potato fries and mac and cheese bites while Soleil and BB had their own burgers. Although I didn’t get to spend much time with my brother, I’m glad we got to see each other. One of the hard things about having siblings who live overseas is making the effort, and I’ll be honest that I could do better. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last few years, it’s that communication is important for connection, and I want to be part of their lives.

               After dinner, Soleil and I had a walk through the St. Kilda shops, peeking into the Italian bakeries, and we walked along the darkened beach. It was spooky and romantic, and I loved it. The spattering of rain seemed to deter almost everyone else, but we didn’t let that stop us. Downtown Melbourne glowed on the horizon, its lights reflecting on the water. As cliché as it is, I didn’t feel as cold or sick as I probably was. For a moment, I was caught in the glow of the city and a good night.

               On Thursday, determined for one last adventure, I doubled my dose of medicine, and Soleil and I took a tram into the city. We had lunch at Rice Workshop, which I’d been looking forward to but was a bit disappointed by. I was more than amazed, however, by the State Library of Victoria. The building was massive and gorgeous, full of people reading, studying, discussing, and using the space. We went to the exhibit on “World of the Book”, which was full of rare collections and beautiful manuscripts. I’m a sucker for old books, and being able to see copies of Dante, Descartes, Austen, and more with my own eyes was beyond words. The attention to illustration as well was lovely, and I could have stared at John James Audubon’s red-tailed hawk for hours. If you’re in Melbourne and love books, this is a must-see exhibit.

               We went through more galleries and exhibits, including some vivid art and attention to craft. Unlike most libraries I’ve been to, this one had an attached bookstore, and I was able to browse and buy yet another copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This edition, however, is one I’ve been looking for since my last trip to Auckland, when I shrugged my shoulders and figured I’d be able to find a copy in the States. Guess who was wrong and has paid the price for the last six years?

               Soleil and I wandered through the city and explored a few shops. I was beyond thrilled to see Naseem Jamnia’s The Bruising of Qilwa on a shelf in Minotaur; I hope I’ll have more chances to see great work by my MFA peers around the world in the coming years. However, the longer our exploration went the lower my energy dipped and, after a few hours and plenty of kilometers walked, I was ready to go back to St. Kilda. We hopped the tram and stopped at Freddy Wimpoles for a drink before having our last dinner at The Fifth Province. I was desperate for their soup of the day—a thick mixture of roasted butternut squash—and Soleil enjoyed the steak special.

               We walked back to the esplanade for one last view of the beach from The Espy, one last drink, and a sweet sundae. Endings are always bittersweet, and distance may make the heart grow fonder but I think we’ve spent enough time apart. For the past thirty-nine days, since I’d landed in Vancouver till this moment in Australia, Soleil and I had grown as a couple. We had the chance to do normal things like everyone does, but also to have this big adventure. We danced at a wedding. We cooked dinner together. We had arguments and made up from them. We watched movies on a well-worn couch and shared popcorn. This trip was full of many firsts and, I hope, it won’t be the last.

               On Friday morning, we woke up too early. I double-checked my bags. I gave myself five extra minutes to exist in that moment, in that hostel with Soleil. Then, we went to the tram stop to say our goodbyes. It was still dark and barely anyone was out. A heavy rain the night before had washed the streets. I checked the tram schedule and my instructions again and again. We hugged. We tried not to cry and failed. We made promises about the next few months. Somehow, all those weeks spent together had vanished and we were only left with minutes and then seconds.

               In another version of this ending, Soleil gets on the tram with me and then takes the shuttle to the airport too. He pays $30+ for this trip to and from the airport just to spend an extra hour with me. Maybe in the Hollywood adaptation, he gets on the plane, and we fly off on the next adventure and into a bright, optimistic future. Reality, however, isn’t like an episode of Friends or a rom com like Crazy Rich Asians.

               In reality, we said goodbye at the tram stop in St. Kilda. I stumbled onto the tram, teary, and eventually found a seat. I obsessively checked my directions because I was worried about getting off at the wrong one. I did get off a stop early, but in a close enough spot. I took the shuttle to the airport alone in the kind of sleepy haziness only an early morning loss can bring. Eventually, I boarded a flight for Auckland—alone. I listened to sad music and cried. So maybe it’s good no one had the seat next to me.

               I wish I could write you a happy ending to the Melbourne chapter, but, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that long distance relationships are partially defined by those happy hellos and bittersweet, painful goodbyes. We can’t know when the see you later will really happen. We can only hope it’s not too long from now. Two years ago, I never would have guessed I’d go off on holiday with a guy I met on Tinder Passport. I never would have taken that risk. Sometimes, though, life and love is worth it.

               Sometimes, we just have to wait for a happier ending.

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