Banner with outline of australia and an arrow pointing to the location of Melbourne with cartoon kangaroos and Aussie flags in the background

We’re wrapping up out look at Melbourne, Australia. As an American, it is true there is quite a lot less to be puzzled by in the day to day life of a western community. Trams are on time, you get penalized for throwing trash on the street, and everyone speaks English. Plus I got to bask in some of my favorite Western ingredients that don’t have enough traction in places like Indonesia or are very expensive due to import costs. Bread, cheese, wine… oh how I love thee. So here is the low down on a beloved city in the land of Oz.

Melbourne, Truly

What’s up with Melbourne? In a local’s words, it is the “Older, cool brother who’s already done the drugs and the party scene but is done with all that and is full of wisdom.” as opposed to its more rambunctious and crazy younger brother, Sydney. Sydney is actually older than Melbourne by a nice 47 years in Western colonial standards. But the city has grown around a lush, muddy river called The Yarra which means plenty of riverside bars, walks, and activities like cruises for ladies who want to be served by topless waiters. The downtown area is lively, but SO much smaller than I imagined! To my shock, there are actually more residents living in California, USA than in all of Australia combined. Plus it is still a common wealth of Britain.

Screenshot of Scott Thompson playing The Queen of England from sketch comedy Kids in the Hall
Thanks Buddy Cole, I mean the Queen of England

Melbourne is obsessed with Burgers. They’ve only just discovered the advantages of having a food delivery service which is mostly done on bikes. The whole city is filled with small alleys, nooks, and corners that allow you to pass through from block to block without seeing much of a traffic jam. In these crevices most of the mural art lies. There is a great graffiti and art scene that has taken hold of the city.

Multi-colored spraypaint mural of a goldfish in an alleyway

Much of the murals and art have brought fame and interest so the city is much more tolerant of these public paintings than as say, New York. Understandably so, since graffiti here is more of a art and political social board than the beginnings of the tagging and gangster activity that gave birth to the trend in NYC in the 70s. I’m by no means however saying that NYC gave birth to graffiti however. The oldest dick graffiti is inscribed on limestone in a remote Greek island, dates back to the 5th or 6th century, and is accompanied by the phrase “Nikasitimos was here mounting Timiona” How sweet. Two men got it on, and we still get to hear about it all these thousands of years later.

Places of Interest

There are a lot of cool day trips, drives, dives and spots to take in the city. Here are some of our favorite locations:

State Library of Victoria – Free entrance, tons of museum and gallery space. There is a beautiful stained glass rendition of Shakespeare in the top level of the Domed Reading Room. We got a chance to learn about wonderfully controversial hero/villan figure Ned Kelly and his old armor pieces. He is a national icon. The museum was also hosting a music festival at the time and had provided hundreds of bean bags out on the front lawn, as well as huge chess boards free for players to use. I’m grateful to see a community using their library in a way that obviously engaging and proves they’ve made good marks on how to use their funding.

3 pictures of bean bags outside on the lawn, people paying with large chess pieces with onlookers, and a view from above the reading/dome room at the State Library of Victoria

Royal Botanical Gardens of Victoria – Free, with such a large variety of activities you can pay for to enhance the experience. I especially loved the looming trees in the Fern Gully with a set of wooden bridges, and various ponds to watch wildlife or read a book by. Check out their website, they have something going every day and more points of interest than I could handle in a single afternoon. Take a ride on their ponds, sip some tea at The Terrace, or walk in the herb garden. Perfect for cutting across between neighborhoods as well if you’re up for the walk.

Pond and foliage from the Gardens in Melbourne

Federation Square – The architecture of this building will make it hard to miss. It sits just at the start of the downtown area but is always lively with attention and attractions. Full of bars, art exhibit spaces, Australian Centre for the Moving Image, and much more. Even if you don’t go inside any of these specific places, it’s a nice outdoor plaza by the building to catch street performers or enjoy the river.

People milling around the Federation Square area in downtown Melbourne
Federation Square in downtown Melbourne

Spotting a bar named Pilgrim, we sat down to enjoy some cider by the Yarra.

Spray painted title "Pilgrim" outside a bar
I couldn’t resist

St. Kilda – If you know what NJ’s boardwalk is, then you have an inkling of what St. Kilda is like but with an Aussie edge. It’s got a bit of a leftover feel to it, which means the eats and entertainment are on the cheap. There’s a great art scene parked in the area for browsing. The neighborhood cozies up right next to the shore where you can walk on the beach, take a dip, or walk out to the pier and maybe spot a penguin butt sleeping between the rocks. They usually don’t wake up until dusk. It’s also where Luna Park, a small theme park with a pay-per-ride kind of deal is. Nice for a cheesy date or fun with kids.

Several photographs of the pier, Luna park at St Kilda

Phillip Island – Want to see less butt and more cute and furry? Take a ferry over to this island to spot a colony of penguins just 90 minutes off the coast of the mainland. The “Little Penguin Parade” happens at dusk as the colony returns to land for the evening. The island also offers eco tours, guided ranger talks, koala sightings, and more. Proceeds go towards maintaining the park and continuing much of the research.

Getting Around

Melbourne has a really superb public transit system. While I ended up walking most of the time due to its large integration of garden spaces, if I did need to go particularly far it was always easy to get somewhere. You’ll need to buy a Myki card which is found in most convenient stores including a majority of 7-11s. It is a thick, plastic, non-refundable card that you will need to top up. Know that Victoria trolleys will charge you based on the length of your trip, as you must tap your card when both getting onboard and exiting. Uber is available as well. There are also plenty of bike rental shops, and I found the roads are really fit for bikers with lots of biking lanes. Plus the alley systems really lend themselves to the swift biker in all of us.

Flinders Street Railway Station with beige walls and copper green dome

They Just Look That Way

Maybe it’s all the smiles I get in my day in Indonesia, but Australians have the most uncomfortable looking resting bitch faces. It’s like everyone decided to give themselves paper cuts, then squeeze lemon juice over it and there’s a competition going around as to who can kept the most straight face in the process. People don’t smile or look as friendly as I’m used to. I’ve experienced the same lack of facial openness most recently in Laos, and likewise in Switzerland. But Australia made it look like hard work. I asked my friend about this and she said, “They just all look like that” as we watched some particularly uptight looking newscasters break down the US election news. Once you actually talk to someone its all smiles and sunshine, but otherwise people look like they’re mentally reviewing SAT vocab while walking around. Puzzling.

What is the weather like in Melbourne?

  • Schizophrenic. The city cannot make up its mind or stick to a schedule
  • It may be windy and cloudy, then shift to calm and sunny within 15 minutes. It may switch back and forth throughout the day
  • Impossible to plan! Don’t count on weather reports. Just leave the house prepared for multiple events
  • Light jackets and scarves that you can wear around your waist or neck are great
  • Give up on predictions. The conflicting coastal weather patterns make it impossible to know

Foodie Heaven, Sushi Bakeries

Melbourne is all about their food. They have a huge Italian immigrant population so there’s tons of delicious pasta and pizza joints about. The downtown area is teaming with fast food that is both cheap and delicious, as well as more refined sit down places with reasonably priced meals. Or perhaps they seemed reasonable since the Australian dollar is worth less than the US dollar so it all seemed like one gigantic coupon book. Who knows? Still, one big trend I saw was what I’ve now dubbed “Sushi Bakeries”.

Rows of cut sushi pieces in a glass counter
Hello delicious. Would you like to come home with me?

Why? Because they’re displayed in a glass case all lined up. Simply tell the counter staff what you’d like to order and they pop it in a small takeaway box with super duper cute fish soy sauce containers. These containers are also used to sell small amounts of street drugs I’ve heard. They are certainly more durable than the dime bags that liter the grounds of the US inner cities. The markets are also great sources of cheap, delicious food. In fact, I don’t think I ever had a bad meal in Australia as a whole. They have a huge agricultural sector and their food exports account for 13% of all export revenue. They also produce enough to feed 80 million annually even though they only total 23 million as a nation (California totals 38.8 million). Fresh seafood, delicious cured meats, a dairy culture that won’t quit; Melbourne has it all.

2 thoughts on “First Impressions of Melbourne Australia

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