We really thought we loved Sydney…until we got to Melbourne. There is a HUGE rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne (kind of like the rivalry between Northern and Southern California), and we have to say, we side squarely with the Melbournites on this one. To be fair, we DID really love Sydney—physically, it is much more impressive, and there are a lot more activities for visitors. It’s just that Melbourne aligns itself more with our temperaments, our interests, and our philosophies towards life. Actually, the easiest way to explain it is to say that it is very similar to San Francisco…so much so that we got really homesick walking the streets of Fitzroy (a neighborhood in Melbourne that is similar to the Mission, where we live). Also, it’s pretty cold in Melbourne: “four seasons in a day” is what they say around here, and they’re not joking. We never thought we could be so cold in Australia! But it can also be quite nice here, and when it is, it’s heavenly.
We started off our jaunt in Melbourne with a visit to Federation Square, which is a huge, modernist building housing several art institutions and cafes—kind of like a cultural center, if you will. There are lots of Victorian buildings in Melbourne, but they are contrasted with ultra-modernist contraptions like Fed Square, and I find the juxtaposition really interesting.
Inside Fed Square is the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria: http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/), where we checked out some really cool exhibitions featuring incredibly interesting work from an Aussie photographer named Rennie Ellis, and a mixed media artist named Rosalie Gascoigne:
By far our favorite activity in Melbourne was the Rooftop Cinema. You go to the top of this building where they have beach chairs set up on astroturf to watch movies right as the sun sets over the CBD. There is a bar and a small stand selling yummy crepes, and you can hire a blanket since it can get quite chilly up there. It was incredible! We saw a cheesy surf film from the 1960s featuring Gary Busey and Jan Michael Vincent.
Another super cool feature of Melbourne is its laneway bars. Tucked behind the main streets in the CBD, these cute little venues are hidden from the masses—good thing we met a local who told us about the best one (Sista Bella)!
Speaking of locals and bars, we met some new friends for drinks at a bar by the river called Riverland Bar and Cafe. They are friends of Jeremy’s friend Ken, who lived in Melbourne for a while. We are LOVING this friends-of-friends business! Everyone is so kind and we’re constantly amazed by their willingness to spend time with total strangers. The weather was spectacular that day and it was the perfect way to spend an evening.
Incidentally, since we gave our propers to Bob for his Tour of New Zealand’s South Island, then we also need to mention that we basically did Jackie’s Tour of Melbourne. She’s the one who told us about the Rooftop Cinema, urged us to check out the NGV, invited us to her birthday party at a cool rooftop bar, and took us to a great dumpling house in Chinatown. Thanks Jackie!!!
We also visited St. Kilda, the beach closest to Melbourne, but it was freezing that day, so we just checked out some of the shops and watched the kite surfers.
And something we will DEFINITELY do when we go back to Melbourne: the Queen Victoria Market. Oh my god, it is like dying and going to foodie heaven. We have never seen a market this good! We started off in the meat section, where you could buy hard-to-find items like pig’s trotters and ox tongues at unbelievably low prices. They even had live chickens for sale! But the fun doesn’t stop there…you can also get nice wine, incredible cheeses, fresh veggies, and beautiful salamis. Outside of the market in some of the street stands, you can buy everything from electronics to toys to clothes. It was incredible.
While we were in Melbourne, we stayed at a really great hostel/hotel called The Nunnery. It is, you guessed it—an old convent. We HIGHLY recommend this place if you are ever in Melbourne. It has a big beautiful sitting room, a shared kitchen, and it is located in the Fitzroy district, in our opinion the best part of town…and only a 10 minute walk to the CBD.
In the middle of our Melbourne stay, we hopped in a car and headed southwest towards the Great Ocean Road. This is considered one of the great drives in Australia, and the star attraction is the 12 Apostles (though there are only about 8-10 or so left since several of the Apostles have crumbled):
There are also several shipwrecks along this cost, and after seeing how rocky this coastline is, it’s not hard to understand why. We saw the remains of an 1890 shipwreck: a lonely anchor on a rocky beach.
And we finally saw koalas in the wild!
We stayed in Apollo Bay, which is farther from Melbourne than Lorne (the other place people stay when they travel the Great Ocean Road), and we MUCH preferred it. Maybe it was because there was a big event in Lorne that weekend, but it seemed really hectic to us, as opposed to the laid-back nature of Apollo Bay. If you ever make it there, be sure to go up to Mariner’s Point…there is an incredible view of the town!
Overall we had a nice time on the Great Ocean Road, but we found it somewhat overrated. We’re fully prepared to accept that this opinion may be due to the fact that we just came from New Zealand…the driving and the coastline here is VERY similar to its Kiwi neighbor. We had a great time, but we were glad we only spent 2 days in this area before heading back to Melbourne, where the action is.
We love Melbourne! The food is incredible (Lygon Street for Italian, Victoria Parade for Vietnamese, Smith and Brunswick Streets for cute outdoor bars and cafes), the shopping is great, and the culture is very bohemian. If we were to choose any place to live in Australia, Melbourne would be it.