Coming down to the last few weeks of “The Big Trip,” I was wondering if we’d end up in a any places that would end up one of our favorites of the entire trip. The problem is that as you come to the end of of four years of traveling in 20 or so countries, you become increasingly difficult to impress. As we near the end of our time in Australia, with New Zealand’s South Island, Hong Kong, and Paris to go, I realize it had been quite a while since we visited a place that I left thinking “damn, I could live here…” Enter Melbourne, Australia.
We arrived at the end of almost 4 days of rain, somehow navigating our way to our rented apartment downtown. Princes Highway, the coastal tourist route from Sydney to Melbourne, was officially shut down on many of the sections we were driving through. Mudslides washed away parts of the road and bridges were washed over. The radio announcements were continuous that any unnecessary travel should be avoided and as Marge and I continued on through police barricades, past fallen trees, and over swollen rivers we discussed our options. We had shopping and eating to do and we weren’t interested in wasting any money in some podunk town in the rain so our travel was necessary, at least in our eyes. Weary from the road we arrived in Melbourne and quickly found that any flooding we navigated through to get here was child’s play compared to the hell that is driving in Melbourne. There’s tiny streets, trams, trains, buses, cars, motocycles, walkers, bikers, bridges, one-ways, no-right-turns, and strictly-enforced, expensive parking. I never want to drive in this city again. But what I do want to do in this city again is eat, walk, shop, and maybe one day live! I say shop, but honestly I haven’t purchased one thing for myself. Someone else, however, is having the time of her life.
Our apartment, in the CBD (Central Business District), allows us to walk to anywhere in the area. Where we can’t walk, public transport is easy to catch. Stepping out for our first night in the city, I looked up a couple of Melbourne food blogs for hints on where to eat. Melbourne is a foodie city. Within a six block radius of our hotel we can get Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Greek, Turkish, Halal, Lebanese, and a plethora of other types of cuisine. And these are your typically American version of “foreign food” where you go to a famous French restaurant in New York only to have the majority of the kitchen staffed with Mexicans. This is the real deal. Melbourne is filled with first, second, third, and fourth generation immigrants from all over the world. As a matter of fact, on our first night we ended up in a gourmet Mexican restaurant hidden up a skinny staircase on a quiet block of Collins Ave. Mamacita’s had been open only four days and had received great reviews on a local foodie blog. Had we not found the blog, we certainly wouldn’t have found the restaurant. It was the best Ceviche I’d had since leaving Ecuador almost two years ago and if it weren’t for the high prices we might still be sitting there eating it. From the bartender at Mamacita’s we were schooled on a few cool bars in the area and ended up at Cookies, whose fifty-page cocktail menu had us in stitches. The next night we ended up there again, this time for dinner, enjoying their huge Tapas menu after finally finding a seat. This place is apparently packed EVERY night of the week and the two we’ve visited so far were no different. Our third night in Melbourne we found Sichuan and to me, Chinese food will never be the same. Those little Sichuan peppers are the stuff of heaven and I can’t wait to get to Hong Kong to eat it again. After dinner we visited a bar next door called Fad and through the bartender, found our way to a Melbourne secret called “Siglo.” It’s a high class, cigar bar on a rooftop of the Melbourne Supper Club overlooking the parliament building in the theater district. This is the “it” place in Melbourne. By the end of the night we were sharing a table with a Russian fashion mogul from NYC, a retired-at-forty investment banker and his wife, and two well-known Australian financial writers. Life is good here in Melbourne.
Our days were spent wondering the streets. We did none of the usual tourist stuff short of visiting the central market for a brat. We lived by the motto “be a traveler, not a tourist.” Doing so certainly influenced our opinion. The city felt more like a home than a destination and one day, I wouldn’t mind making it a home…at least for a couple of years. Tonight we visited Chapel Rd. It’s a pricey area outside of downtown centered around the South Yarra and Toorak neighborhoods. We chose a boutique hotel and even though our room is the size of walnut and there is an odd window looking from the main part of the room directly onto the toilet, there is a great rooftop pool overlooking the city.
Tomorrow we head back to New Zealand for a visit to the South Island. Although I’m sad to leave Melbourne knowing we’ve barely scratched the surface of this great city, I can leave knowing for a fact we will visit again one day. As far as cities go, this has been one of my favorite all time, ranking right up there with NYC…if not higher. People can tell you all day long to concentrate your travels on a particular place but until you’ve gone there and seen it for yourself, their opinions mean nothing (sorry Dad!). Melbourne was a highlight in four years of travel. Take note and give it a visit. You’ll be glad you did.