London -> Dubai -> Brunei -> Melbourne
My first night in Melbourne was met with the most accommodating travellers from all over, (the Irish and the Swedes <3 good craic). I arrived at The Ritz backpackers and was welcomed with open arms and treated like I was part of the family by the staff and the other residence straight away. Some would have probably loathed the idea of sharing a 6 bed dorm for a month or two but here, that’s the norm! There was a fun and friendly atmosphere that resonated within the walls that reflected the vibrant personalities of the residence. All like minded and open, very positive and supportive. Where the main worry was making sure they got a fork for the free pasta on Monday to knowing all the words to “The Rattlin’ Bog” for the Irish bar on Thursday. And after being told off by the police on my first night, for cranking up balloons with laughing gas, (nangs, they call it here), across the park from the hostel, I knew I had found a home.
St Kilda. The backpackers suburb paradise was where this hostel was located. Only a 10 minute walk from the beach where there is a pier to watch little penguins after sundown. It is also right across Albert park, which has a lake where you can sit and see the beautiful cityscape of Melbourne, whilst having a barbecue on the portable grills (which they have in pretty much every park here btw). A botanical garden not too far away to relax in during the sunny days, and a never ending supply of places to drink and eat which cater for whatever you’re in the mood for. (Pizza. Kebab. Sushi. Tacos. Burritos. Fried Chicken. Roast Chicken. Dumplings. Steamed Buns. Bahn Mi. Chips in Gravy. Burgers. I could go on.)
But while it is beautiful, it also doesn’t escape the grisly horrors of the real world.
Just further down the road from the hostel, there was a hotel which was home to many of the meth addicts that roamed around St Kilda. As well as this, by a theme park not far, there was also a street, where illegal prostitutes hung around to earn some money. There were a handful of abandoned buildings that looked like failed businesses and there were always homeless people on the street.
The contrast was striking as you could go from watching cute little penguins on the pier after sunset, to getting harassed by a drug addict whilst you wait for your food at the 24 hour bakery, later that night. Nevertheless, it’s this disparity that gives it a colourful personality that I just simply adore.
Back at The Ritz (which was a brothel back in the day, I found out) “Goon” or boxed wine is the popular drink of choice. It plays an integral part of the life in the Ritz, due to it’s price to quantity ratio. And although it does taste like absolute cat-piss, $10 for 4 litres of alcohol is just too much of a bargain to pass up. So, if you’re a poor traveller that would like to intoxicate yourself all night but would rather sleep in a bed than a park bench, then this is the drink you needed to get accustomed to. I knew I had to.
The aroma of herb surrounded the little courtyard for those who’s poison doesn’t come in liquid form and would rather have a conversation and play cards than partake in the loud drinking games inside. If you fancied some live music, I had the pleasure of playing at the Ale House, a pub around the corner which hosted open mic’s every Wednesday that had very talented performers, locals and travellers alike. Fifth Province on a Thursday provided an amazing Irish duo that played all the beloved Irish folk songs along with their vibrant attendees that brightened up this ol’ pub (♫ Sad to say must be on my way, so buy me beer and whiskey ‘cuz i’m going far away! ♫ Seriously good craic) . Lona bar on Ackland street also had performers every Monday but we mainly went for the $2 drinks. Going out to party at Base or Chapel Street (Revolver, opened from Thursday evening ’til Sunday afternoon) and fancied a boost? Let’s just say that a certain someone there knew a certain someone that could provide you with all the chemicals you needed to enhance any night. wink wink, nudge nudge
The beauty of this hostel was, whilst it was very much partying and backpacker orientated, there were a lot of old timers with full time jobs that balanced everything out. A few nurses, builders, teachers and many others that enjoyed this unconventional lifestyle.
The Ritz really does cater for all types of people and there was a real community that had been built here by the staff and travellers a like. I can only hope that this spirit will remain for all other travellers to experience, as nothing could have prepared me more for my year if it wasn’t for these gooned up party animals that will treat you like family and make you feel at home.
Welcome to The Ritz in St Kilda, where you can check out anytime you like, but never really leave.