The iconic Flinders Street train station in Melbourne’s CBD
I have spent the past month in Melbourne, the capital of Victoria. I wanted to begin my year in Australia here because I had heard so many amazing things about the city – how it embraces culture and the arts, the booming street art scene, great food, lots of neighborhoods to explore, a young demographic because of all the universities. I certainly haven’t been disappointed.
One of the best things to do in Melbourne is to visit museums. Nearly all the museums in town have free admittance to their permanent exhibitions: the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian Center for Moving Images, the Grainger Museum, the State Library of Victoria. You could fill days and days just museum hopping and not spend a penny!
Another highlight of Melbourne is all of the gardens – acres and acres of well tended trees and flowers to explore. There are free tours in both the Fitzroy Gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens, or you can just wander on your own. There are also free walking tours with I’m Free, which is a great way to get introduced to the history of the city and its layout.
There are still so many things left to do in Melbourne – visit the Victoria Market, explore Footscray and other outlying suburbs, go hiking out at the Dandenongs. I could definitely see myself living here for several more months, and perhaps after I get some travel out of my system I’ll come back!
Some larger bombs on display outside the UXO Laos visitor center in Luang Prabang
One of the reasons I enjoy traveling so much is that I learn so much about history and politics that I would never understand just reading out of a book or listening to a lecture. Laos was a particularly educational country as I honestly had very little knowledge of the realities there or the country’s role in the Vietnam War, and the lasting legacy that the war has left.
In an attempt to destroy the Ho Chi Minh trail that ran down Laos, the United States dropped more than 2 million tons of explosives between 1964 and 1973. This makes Laos the most heavily bombed country in the world. Worse yet, 30% of those bombs did not explode on impact and there are still millions upon millions of unexploded ordnances (UXO) littering the countryside. Every other day somebody is killed or injured by a UXO, most often a child who is hunting for scrap metal to sell on the black market.
A portrait of Neruda on a wall outside his Santiago home
In Chile I had the pleasure of visiting the homes of the world’s classiest hoarder, Chilean Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda. I’ve long loved his poetry (Ode to My Socks truly changed the way I view the world) but I didn’t know much about his private and political life until I visited experienced the Neruda Foundation museums.