Mother Nature Can be a Bitch, but Melbourne is the Bees Knees
Island hopping in the pacific is a pain in the ass, in and of itself, but when you add in an unseasonable cyclone things can really turn to shit. And so it is, I find myself writing this blog post in Australia instead of Fiji. Or Vanuatu. I probably could have made it to Fiji from New Zealand; some flights had already been cancelled but a few where still planning on flying out a day late. The problem is, I didn’t just want to get to Fiji; I wanted to do stuff in Fiji, not be corseted in a hotel room for a week because of flooding and bad weather. The same with Vanuatu. With the cyclone expected to park itself in the ocean between the two, I decided not to risk it, changed the plan, and headed to Australia early. This meant, despite my pleas to the booking companies and hotels, I lost a significant amount of cash.
The best laid plans, and whatnot.
Australia was the final stop on what was to be a four-country tour anyway, rounding out the year and keeping me on track (I need 16 countries per year to hit 100 by 40). So it looks like next year will have to be a busy one, indeed, and I’ll have to make do with some extra time here, down under. It’s a rough life I live.
Arriving in Melbourne is like slipping into a comfortable pair of shoes. It helps, obviousy, that they speak English, but it doesn’t stop there. The tourism infrastructure is unusually efficient. At the airport there’s free wifi, plenty of ATMs, coffee shops to refresh (with a flat white, natch), and a few easy ways to get into the city. Once you get downtown it’s even better. Trams in the central business district (CBD, obvi) are free of charge, and it’s not a skeletal system but a dense web of lines that get easily get you almost anywhere you need to go (leaving the city is easy as well, for a small fee). The investment into public transportation is a point of pride there, and it should be. Officials in yellow vest, ready to answer questions, can also be spotted on the City Tram, a tourist focused train that continually loops the outside of the city providing commentary about the notable sites, and around the main tourist points. It’s all incredible well done, but doesn’t have the sort of factory or tourism-mill feel that parts of Europe have. It feels more like a nature extension of the city’s spirit.
The city itself is lovely, a gorgeous blend of Victorian gold rush era architecture and modern high rises. Whenever I shoot architecture, I feel like it comes across as flat and boring, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Alleys (sorry, they call them lanes here) have been reclaimed in the past thirty years and now sport shops and bars and restaurants, most covered in interesting, or at least colorful, graffiti and art.
Espresso and coffee shops are everywhere, a quality that carries a great weight with me and lends it to being named A Place Gregory Would Like. They invented the flat white; an espresso based beverage with the balance of coffee to milk shifted more to the coffee end of the spectrum. Traditionally, you won’t find any fancy latte art in the foam, because fuck you, but the hipster coffee revolution has begun to change that. You can even buy coffee flavored milk from any convienance store; it’s sugary, ridiculous, and amazing. Along with the coffee, Melbourne is a foodie heaven, from expensive to cheap takeout, there is a passion and accessibility to good food here that you don’t find in many places.Australia speaks to me, calls to me. It seducing me, whispering in my ear with coffee scented breathe. Whispering in an Aussie accent, no less, which is like a cross between a Texas draw and an Oxford British accent. It’s immediately endearing, at least to me. On the reverse, people keep assuming I’m from Canada, and considering the current political state in the U.S., I’m not so quick to correct them. Along with the coffee, Melbourne is a foodie heaven, from expensive to cheap takeout, there is a passion and accessibility to good food here that you don’t find in many places.
The past few days in Melbourne have been a fantastic change of plans. I’ll still visit Fiji and Vanuatu at some point, but the sting of losing all that cash and skewing the country count have been a little assuaged. This trip will be the longest I’ve ever spent in one country, on vacation, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Now, if you bogans will excuse me, I’ve got a kangaroo to pet.
*If you have just a couple days, you won’t need a rental car.
*Start your exploring at the Melbourne Tourism Office in Federation Square.
*Order the avocado smash for breakfast, you won’t be disappointed.
How I got here: $160 flight booked on Air New Zealand, the company that has taken top place as the friendliest airline I’ve ever flown on (sorry, JetBlue). Skybus from the airport into Southern Cross Station round trip is a little over thirty bucks,very modern and pleasant, and takes about forty minutes. Southern Cross Station is huge and has tons of shops, food, a small grocery story, and connect to wherever you would want to go from there.
Where I stayed: Airbnb in the Docklands, five minute walk from Southern Cross Station.
What I did:
Philip Island – a couple hour drive from the CBD, a fun way to spend half a day. There are several wildlife preserves where you can interact with various animals, and Nobbies Ocean Center, a reserve for penguins and various nesting birds. It’s really fun, but no matter how hot it is, wear a long sleeve shirt: the flies can get aggressive.
Federation Square – This place should be your first stop in the city with the official tourism office, several Museums, and across from Finders Street Station, a central rail point. It sets the standard for tourism friendliness.
Melbourne Zoo – doable in a half day, pleasant place to spend a few hours and see some animals unique to here.
Queen Victoria Botanical Garden
Queen Vitoria Market – Sprawling day and sometimes night market where you can find everything from boomerangs to fresh produce.
Old Goal, Cooper’s Shot Tower – located in a new shopping center, worth a stop if you need any shopping and just to check out the tower, now inclosed in a huge glass cone.
Wunderkammer – A store filled with oddities and collectibles that are fairly unique.
Pellegrini’s – The coolest, old school, no-frills espresso bar I’ve ever been in and the only place I’ve ever heard an Australia/Italian accent.
All the lanes – there are plenty to stroll up and down, filled with treats and surprises. Hardware society is located on Hardware Laneway and isn’t a construction guild but a fantastic French restaurant. Go there and get the baked eggs.
Heartbreaker Bar – best dive I’ve ever been in, in Australia. So far:) Heartbreaker
Shrine of Remembrance