It’s Back to the Big City!
Melbourne, a Genteel, Well-heeled Lady with a Complexion of Many Colors.
A view of the Yarra River Bridge walking from Southbank the Arts Precinct to Federation Square and Flinders Street Station in the Central Business District, early evening.
Living with uncertainly is a skill I am slowly acquiring–on second thought– quickly acquiring.
I suddenly found myself in Australia’s other big city of about 4.5 million people, Melbourne, for close to three weeks. And this time I didn’t have anyone picking me up at the airport. ( But I did learn to book flights that arrived during the daytime, avoiding late night wanderings.) All I had was an airbnb address in South Melbourne along with directions from my hosts to take the SkyBus to Southern Cross Station in the city, find Williams street, hop on tram number 55, and get off on Park Street.
Needless to say it didn’t run all that smoothly. After asking LOTS of directions, I did find myself on tram number 55…but heading in the wrong direction. I have to say that people were incredibly helpful (pointing out the correct tram on the other side of the street), chivalrous (lifting my suitcase on and off the tram), and caring (one young couple getting off at the same stop, walked me to my address).
Initially, I didn’t think I liked Melbourne as well as Sydney. Melbourne doesn’t have that beautiful harbor, and I didn’t find the trams and myki card particularly user-friendly. I was somewhat acquainted with the long-standing rivalry that exists between the two cities reading that it might have started back in the early 1900s with the intense competition between Melbourne and Sydney for the new national capital. Canberra had to be built to end the fighting. Still others posit that it began back in the 1850s during the gold rush making Melbourne for the next 40 years one of the wealthiest cities in the world.
The rivalry still exists today, and you’re apt to hear little quips about the weather differences: Sydney is sunnier and has the beaches. Melbourne is colder and can have four seasons of weather on the same day, or remarks like: Sydney is “fashionable and luxurious,” while Melbourne is “intellectual and cultural.” I came to realize that I didn’t prefer one over the other. They’re both great, just different. Friends in Australia told me I would love Melbourne. They were right.
Melbourne has a way of capturing your heart. Like the beginnings of a promising relationship, you aren’t necessarily dazzled by a blinding attraction. There are no immediate fireworks and adrenaline rushes. It’s more a kind of like, and over time as you get to know each other, a slow, passionate burn. As you plumb the regions below the surface, more and more of the city’s fascinating personality is revealed, and you slowly fall in love. This city is no light weight. There’s depth here… and always something to do. The pace seems slower, and people don’t appear to be rushed. Yet there’s a lively, celebratory ambiance and a multi cultural beauty that makes for a great “global village.”
Don’t get me wrong, Melbourne is not without its deficiencies. Housing costs are exorbitant, negative gearing (investors who lose money on a property can deduct losses on income tax) and real estate investing are making it nearly impossible for young people to buy a first home. (Housing prices in Sydney are higher). Yet people want to move here like the young man with his two young kids I met on a tram who hailed from Los Angeles but recently relocated.
View of Federation Square, where there’s always entertainment.
Celebrating Buddah’s Day and Multicultural Festival at Federation Square.
One of the many trams in the free zone of the Central Business District.
Entrance to China Town on the corner of Swanston Street and Little Bourke Street.
Another view of Swanston Street, in the CBD.
Outside the State Library of Victoria, also home to the Wheeling Center, and a host of free activities and lectures.
Gertrude Street just outside the free tram zone. Great shopping and fashion with a hipster edge.
My first four days were booked through airbnb with hosts Christian and Sean in South Melbourne. I highly recommend airbnb and renting a private room. Sean gave me a myki card for the tram saving me six dollars, and they both were a wealth of information about getting around the city. (They also had just returned from a great weekend in Hobart, Tasmania, where I would be going next.)
The tram stopped right outside their door, and if I was up for some exercise, a thirty minute walk would take me to National Gallery of Victoria, past the Arts Precinct, to the CBD (Central Business District). I opted to walk because the best way to learn the city layout is on foot, and walking is just plain good for the soul.
Melbourne’s CBD is well organized in a rectangular grid with five main streets running horizontally and seven streets that bisect vertically. The tram is free to ride within the city center, but if leaving the tram free zone, a prepaid myki card is required, and you have to touch your card on the card reader either entering or before exiting the tram. They do police this with surprise checks as I found out heading back home one night. There is a fine for not having a myki card. I’m told it’s either $75.00 cash on the spot or a billable $200.00 later.
The city is fairly easy to navigate once you learn which trams take you into the CBD and which take you outside. Then there are all the Lanes and Little Streets in between. For instance, Flinders Street has a Flinders Lane, Collins Street( a mini Paris!) has a Little Collins Street, Bourke Street has a Little Bourke etc. THEN on many of the main streets, there are Arcades, like the beautiful Block Arcade, which are little mini malls stuffed with more interesting shops, cafes, and restaurants, AND particular buildings (The Nicholson Building, Curtin House) that house several floors of shops and artist studios. Hosier, Rutledge, and Union Lanes are known throughout the world for their iconic street art. Every nook and cranny surprises.
Enter down, through the red door to the fabulous shop, Christine’s on Flinder’s Lane. A bit of a Melbourne legend, Christine previously was a buyer at the former George’s department store. I’ve been told it was a lot like Bergdorf Goodman in NYC.
Inside Christine’s. Expensive, but merchandising at its best. A visual treat/feast for the eyes of accessories, jewelry, and clothing.
The window of the tiny, but top end flower shop, Pollon, on Flinder’s Lane.
View of the Hopetoun Tea Room in the Block Arcade on Collins Street. Established in 1892, it was celebrating 124 years in business–and always a waiting line for afternoon tea.
The entrance to the Metropolis Books, at the Curtin House.
The Curtin House, home to several floors of great shops and restaurants to explore.
After getting around by myself for four days, I met up with Carol, from the BroadsAbroad website, who invited me for a total of three days at her place, also in South Melbourne. Carol, a long time Melbourne resident, is a savvy business woman who has her own HR consulting company. She, along with her very sharp 89 year-old mother, took me for a ride around the city and beyond pointing out the different suburbs (the very posh Toorak) and the many precincts.
Having breakfast with Carol from the BroadsAbroad network at St. Ali Cafe in So. Melbourne. St. Ali roasts their own coffee and gets my vote for the best coffee in Australia…so far. They also feature dinners with special pairing of coffees for each part of the meal! For the true afficionado!
Aussies love sports, and Melbourne is considered the sporting capital of Australia. The sports precinct is home to the Melbourne Cricket Ground(MCG), also called the “G”, a premier venue for cricket and Australian Rules Football (footy for short), and has a seating capacity 100,000. Melbourne also hosts the Australian Grand Slam (at Rod Laver Arena), and since 1996, the Formula 1 Grand Prix, set up in beautiful Albert Park, part of the track using closed- off, city roads and a car park. The Melbourne Cup, Australia’s most prestigious thoroughbred horse race with over six million in prize money is a short train ride from either station to Flemington racecourse. Other precincts include the medical, university, and arts/cultural precinct (my favorite). It makes sense to me to group these together.
After our ride, Carol’s mother Doris took us to brunch at IL Vicolo in the Italian section of the CBD, near Lygon Street. Italian immigrants are credited with bringing outdoor cafes to Melbourne. Ohhh, the food…
The best sandwich to be found (only $3.00–2 for $5.00 later in the afternoon) at Boreks, in the Queen Victoria Market. Piping hot choices of lamb, spinach and cheese, and vegetable.
View of the South Melbourne market, my favorite! Not as large as the Queen Victoria but it has the same quality produce, fish, meats etc, but not as touristy with higher end shops.
South Melbourne Market. Chocolate, nuts, and dried fruits!
Novel “swings”seating at the Seratonin Cafe in Richmond a short train ride from the Melbourne CBD. Healthy, delicious food for the brain.
More comfortable seating and interesting interior at the Seratonin Cafe. Water is served in beakers, and their deconstructed sushi is served with a plastic hypodermic needle of soy souce!
Since my hosts Sean and Christian were booked for the coming weeks, I found another airbnb room in South Melbourne, even closer to the National Gallery of Victoria and the arts precinct. Sydney has its captivating harbor, but Melbourne has Southbank and the arts precinct, and most nights I found myself walking along St. Kilda Road with the opera, symphony, and theater goers, enjoying the beautiful lights and being part of a happy crowd celebrating La Dolce Vita.
A view of St. Kilda’s road along the Arts District, with its illuminated trees issuing a heavenly, blue glow at night.
Melbourne Art Center, right next door to the National Gallery, Australia’s busiest and largest art venues hosting opera, ballet, theater, and the symphony. Every Saturday morning, there is a craft fair along the Arts Precinct and at Federation Square.
Looking back to Southbank and the Arts Center with its beautiful spire crossing the river to the CBD.
The Melbourne Recital Center right around the corner from my apartment and across the street from the National Gallery and the Arts District. The Metropolis New Music Festival was going on and many of the events were free!
Art Book Fair at the National Gallery of Victoria. I was able to browse and meet some of the most creative Australian and international publishers, designers, artists, and writers. “Zines” ( self-published magazines) are being published by many of the small companies at this fair.
Entrance to the National Gallery of Victoria in the Arts District.
Buying tickets for the Opera at the Arts Center, Southbank.
I was definitely living the good life, with introductions to Melbourne folks from Gayl and husband Tom’s friends and colleagues back in Perth. I’ve visited with many great people who met me in the city and took me to lunch(Maria, not pictured), to the Yarra Valley region, and to Mt. Macedon, once the summer retreat of wealthy city dwellers.
Lunch at the Cumulus Cafe with Jasmine from Perth, visiting family in Melbourne.
Meeting up for coffee with David and his wife Yasmin, both entertainment lawyers and friends of brother Jake.
Lunch at the Innocent Bystander after a lovely day visiting the Yarra Valley Region with new friends Janet and her husband Barry. Janet was the source of many insider places to visit while in Melbourne!
The TarraWarra Museum of Art in the Yarra Valley. It operates as a not-for-profit institution and displays art from the second half of the twentieth century to present. Home to a winery and restaurant as well.
A view of the landscape at TarraWarra Museum of Art in Healesville, Australia (the Yarra Valley).
Visiting Elly and Alfred in beautiful Mt. Macedon.
A pathway in the many gardens at Elly and Alfred’s home. Seen in the fall, it is hard to believe that brush fires are a constant threat during the summer months.
Transported to another world up in the mountains of Mt. Macedon at the home of Elly and Alfred. Avid gardeners, they have turned their property of ten acres into a magical retreat.
I’m five months into my travels at this point, and although I miss family and friends, I haven’t been lonely. This low budget trip has been rich in the relationships I’ve formed, even the short stays with hostel mates and airbnb hosts who have shared with me little pieces of their lives. I wouldn’t swap a luxury suite for any of these experiences. (But if anyone wants to take me on a five star, we-cater-to-your-every-need cruise, I’m there). Without a traveling companion, I’m more engaged, more conscious of me viewing people viewing me. There’s no one else to hide behind, act as a buffer, or take the edge off. I’ve gained confidence. And who couldn’t use a little more confidence?
So I find myself, as I have more and more frequently, enjoying coffee at a little cafe, this time the Barista Cafe on Flinders Lane, and I’m overcome with an intense feeling of joy. It hovers and it’s fleeting, but not before the molecules are vibrating and I’m infused with a happiness that life is good. Damn, I’m glad to be alive.
(And then I went to the MONA(Museum of Old and New Art)….next)