It was four o’clock in the morning. The airport taxi waited downstairs, in front of the glass doors. He was fifteen minutes early. Thirteen floors up and oblivious, we stood in the kitchen, scarfing down cereal. We gazed out the window at the tiny lights dotting the dark sky and marveled at the earliness of the hour. Our suitcases sat in the hallway, packed. Our room lay empty. Or did it?

One more double-check followed by a cursory glance over the balcony.

“SHOOT KIRK! The taxi’s already here!”
“What?! He’s way too early!”
“Crap! He has to wait for us right?!”
“For 47 dollars, he better be!”

And so it began. Our journey from Sydney to Melbourne and all the dollars bills that went flying out of our pockets to get us there.

$47 airport shuttle, Manly to Sydney International Airport
$79 one-way coach seat (Lauren)
$89 one-way coach seat + one check-in bag (Kirk)
$32 shuttle bus, Melbourne Tullmarine Airport to Melbourne CBD

Five hours and $247 later, we busted out onto the sidewalk of downtown Melbourne. The wind blew hard. Smack in the face.

“Dang, it’s cold!” Kirk zipped up his hoodie.
I gritted my teeth. “We must’ve been on the express flight to Milwaukee in February.”

Oh but we weren’t. Right city, wrong weather system. We sure knew how to pick ’em. California anyone? Kelly? Julie? Brandon? You know what I’m talking about. Biggest flood in the history of California sky happens to materialize out of nowhere and drown out the entire first week of our Let’s-Go-See-Sunny-California! trip. Monumental drowning. We all grew gills and joined Sebastian under the sea that week.

Back in Melbourne, at least it wasn’t raining… yet. It was, however, cold and windy and we needed to get to our hotel, preferably now. And without taking any more bills out of our pockets. We had already spent nearly a quarter grand (sounds like a lot, doesn’t it) in transportation costs for the day and it wasn’t even 8AM. No we would not be hailing a cab. Cabs are for sissies, quitters and drunks. We were none of these. We would find a way.

As if on cue, it started to rain. We dodged under the nearest awning we could find. Collapsing our sleep-deprived bodies down on the steps, we watched the downpour through bleary eyes. Courtesy of the Packing Procrastination gene I inherited from my mom, I wasn’t packed for the trip until 1:30AM the night prior, leaving a solid hour and a half sleep for the both of us before the alarm went off to get up for the early-arriving taxi.

“We shouldn’t call a taxi,” sighed Kirk.
“No we will not call a taxi.” My words stood firm while the sweet thought of a dry cab whisking us to our hotel melted in my mind like a Werther’s Original.

We hadn’t planned this very well. I knew there was a free tourist shuttle that could drop us about one kilometer from our hotel. I also knew of a free city circle tram that ran the perimeter of downtown. I knew not the when nor the where to catch either of these freebie-on-wheels.

I cracked open the dusty Lonely Planet and looked up Melbourne in the index. Kirk checked his laptop to see if we had left open any google maps of the area. We were digging in the couch cracks for half dollars, and not even a penny to be found.

Off we slugged, semi-damp urban sherpas with backpacks, suitcases, camera tripod and all. We reasoned that if we walked far enough, we were bound to see one of those city directory/”you are here” maps in the middle of the sidewalk. I hoped.

Melbourne is deceptively large. With first glance at a city map, the downtown area is only 4 x 8 blocks wide. Could walk that in 10 minutes, no problem right? Not a chance. Inside each one of these so-called “blocks” you could fit the state of Delaware with room to spare.

In about a quarter of an hour we had moved ourselves and all of our junk about three-quarters of a single block when we finally reached an intersection and were halted by a traffic light.

“All to save fifteen dollars.”
“You betcha.”

Two more enormous blocks and some rain showers later we managed to find a street map. Stop #12 of the tourist shuttle was just over the river near the casino. We could ride for about 1.5kms to its last stop. From there the only free way to the hotel was our feet.

The key jingled open the door of our room. Oh glorious! We dropped our bags on the floor and flopped on the bed. It had been two hours since we stepped out onto the streets of downtown Melbourne. We had traveled just about two miles, as the crow flies. One mile per hour. We laughed at our free inefficiency.

Was it worth it? Yes. You couldn’t write a story like this one about a five-minute ride in a cab.