As you can imagine, we were fairly keen to say goodbye to Canberra and continue onwards to a more interesting and accessible city. Canberra was quite a bit of hard work. We got a fairly unpleasant night bus from Canberra down to Melbourne, our final Australian stop. I’d heard a lot of good things about Melbourne and I think we all had fairly high expectations. It sounded like it would have plenty of culture, some interesting architecture, and I was hoping for some quirky shops, cafés and bars along the way too.
Melbourne is frequently compared to Sydney; lots of people say it’s less businessy, rougher round the edges and more interesting. Sydney does have the initial tourist wow-factor with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge and Melbourne is lacking in any landmarks (that foreigners actually know!). I don’t think that’s hugely important though, especially if you were staying in either city for a longer period of time. It’s not like I go and see Big Ben very often just because I live in London, but it is great for tourists. Melbourne seemed like a very liveable city.
As we usually do when we arrive in a new place, we spent our first day wandering fairly aimlessly around the city centre. We visited the most ornate bank I think I’ve ever been in, the ANZ building on Collins Street. We went to Chinatown for lunch, where we found some $6 pots of rice and vegetables and squid and all sorts of yumminess. This fuelled us for some more walking around and window shopping in lots of the independent (and fancy) shops.
We initially thought the CBD was pretty similar to many other cities, but then a few days later we me up with Gary and Lynn, my uncle and aunt, and they showed us a few places we completely missed the first time around. They took us down the laneways, some of which are small alleyways with tiny cafés with tables spilling out onto cobbles, and some are posher arcades of independent specialist shops. They run in between Melbourne’s huge shopping streets, but are easily missed if you don’t know where they are. We then visited the rooftop Burger Shack and Cinema (which is on Swanston Street, and I’m sure we walked past it several times without knowing it was there); the building also has a trendy bookshop, clothes shop and bar, and on the roof is the beer garden and burger restaurant. We stopped for lunch, celebrated Lynn’s birthday with a drink, and the sun even came out! We devoured our burgers (they had two veggie options and sweet potato fries – yay!) and enjoyed the little bit of winter sunshine. We wandered around for a little bit longer and then stopped for a drink at a bar on the Yarra river. Well, it was more *in* the river, as it was situated under one of the bridges, feeling a bit like a boat. Like I said when we visited Sydney, it really helps knowing some locals to show you a few hidden gems.
Grace went to visit a few friends of hers for the weekend, and the remaining three of us decided we would try and experience something truly Aussie, that you can’t really see anywhere else. Grace isn’t much into sports, so she didn’t mind missing out on us going to an AFL game at the humongous MCG stadium. Our French friends, Eleonore and Leo, who we met working on the orchard in New Zealand, were also in Melbourne at the same time and they joined us. It was a fast paced and interesting game; we saw the Richmond Tigers (a local Melbourne team) thrash the Brisbane Lions. Although the stadium was probably about a quarter full, the atmosphere was still pretty good. The rules were hard to follow at times, especially when there are two teams of eighteen and then eight referees – it’s difficult to keep up with what’s going on! Conveniently, there was an Australian man nearby explaining the rules very loudly, so that helped. It was very cold and we were all very wrapped up. After the game we went for hot chocolates to regain feeling in our extremities. Leo and Eleonore then came over to our hostel for dinner. I made a curry and we had some beers and watched the England rugby. It seemed fitting to have such a sport-filled day in a footy mad (spelt with a ‘y’) city like Melbourne.
As with any big city, half of Melbourne’s charm lies out in other suburbs of the city. Two other areas we visited were the trendy, shabby-chic area of Fitzroy, and the laid-back and beachy St. Kilda. Toby and I spent one morning wandering around the little shops and cafes in Fitzroy. We meandered in and out of pretty shops selling all sorts, from fancy notebooks to uber trendy clothes. Down the side streets were old fashioned and slightly run down terraced houses, which I’m sure we’re being rented by Melbourne’s most cool and fashionable. We met up with Matt for lunch, and went to a restaurant and bar strangely called Naked for Satan. There we had ‘pintxos’, small pieces of toasted sourdough bread with delicious toppings like smoked salmon, roasted vegetables, Parma ham (for the boys), Spanish omelette and so on. They were amazingly only $1 each. We had struggled a bit to find affordable places to eat, and when Matt found this on his phone, we thought it might be a bit rubbish. We were so wrong! There was so much choice, even for a veggie like me, and we loaded up our plates and enjoyed one of the best meals we’d had in Australia – and one of the cheapest!
The following day we went to St. Kilda to meet Jit, Sandya and their son Kian, some good friends of my family who’ve just moved to Melbourne from the UK. As usual, it was lovely to see friendly faces from home and it was a new part of the city for us to explore too. We met for coffee at a place called Il Fornaio, another of Melbourne’s effortlessly cool cafes. Matt had read about a coffee called a ‘magic’, apparently a Melbourne coffee invention which had the perfect espresso to steamed milk ratio. It seemed a bit pretentious, but naturally we all wanted to try one to see what the fuss was about (except Kian, who at five years old decided to have a Babychino instead). We then had a walk around St. Kilda, which was very pretty, but a bit chilly and then we stopped for lunch. We had a lovely catch up, some delicious pizza and an intriguing chocolate Oreo puff pastry thing that we definitely didn’t need! We then had to walk off our large lunch, so we walked along the beach and popped into the amusement park, Luna Park, to have a nose around. We then went on a short and fruitless hunt for some penguins before heading home. That was a great day and I think St. Kilda would be even more lovely in the summer.
All in all we really enjoyed Melbourne, and I think of all the cities in Australia it’s the one I’d be most keen to return to. It’s probably the one that’s most like home, so maybe that’s why I was fond of it. It was then time for us to leave Melbourne and the comforts of Australia for the next leg of our trip – South East Asia!