Few Hectic Days In Melbourne
Lauded for its sense of style and elegance, Melbourne boasts glamorous festivals and events, Australia's best shopping, a lively passion for eating and drinking, and a flourishing interest in the arts. Restored and preserved nineteenth-century architecture, built following the discovery of gold, provides a heady reminder of a prosperous age, while beautifully tended parks and gardens present a therapeutic respite from the pace of city life.
I will go ahead and admit this from the start - I really did not do my homework in preparation for Melbourne visit so I literally got overwhelmed with the number of activities and things to see in the city. The visitor center at the Federation Square was not much help either (in a good sense) - it was stacked with tons of brochures on things to do around town catering to any kind of audience - the best visitor center by far. With little time on my hands and being unfamiliar with the city, I could not really figure out what to go for - should I book a day tour of the Great Ocean Road or stroll around downtown? Go to the beach or ride the public transit all around on a day ticket? Eat at Chinatown or Greek quarters or the little unnamed noodles place pointed out by one of my couchsurfing hosts?
Couchsurfing With David
I was late with setting up my lodging in Melbourne, so I sent a few last minute couchsurfing requests and David came through offering me a place to stay for a couple of nights. As I got in town late, without a phone, I struggled a bit to get to his place and, once there, found out that there will be three more surfers staying with him. Two girls ended up taking the spare bed, Philip took the couch, and I settled for the two back pillows from the couch laid on the floor with a sleeping mattress on top, which turned out to be more comfortable than it looked.
With so many people, the next morning was a wash (literally waiting for everyone to wash up). For breakfast, we checked out Melbourne's funky side - a non-profit donation-based kitchen that serves all-you-can-eat meals in exchange for 'whatever-you-think-it-is-worth' donations. We also ended up coming here for dinner as the guys really seemed to dig the concept, while I was not very pleased with the food - essentially a carbs overload. There are right and wrong ways of going vegetarian, and this place seemed to be more of a later with dinner consisting of rice, lentils, beans, pasta, and rice pudding with a bit of mixed greens in a salad. After dinner, we headed out to a couchsurfing meet-up where I met a few folks that will be in New Zealand around the same time, so we may end up meeting up there as well.
Couchsurfing With Greg
Since David's profile lead me to believe he could only host for couple of nights, I made arrangements with Greg, also a pilot, to stay another two nights in the southern suburb of Glen Huntly. I encountered a string of bad luck that deserves a separate 'lessons learned' post and got out there a couple of hours later than I hopped. Emma, whom I met on my trip through Laos, was going to meet up with us for dinner, but since I was so late, I was very surprised to see her still patiently waiting for me at the train station (she is awesome, in case you could not tell). After dinner, Greg took me to nearby St. Kilda pier where we saw a few penguins which made the boardwalk their home. We decided to round up the night by going for a swim in Port Phillip Bay even though it felt really cold outside. The water turned out to be pretty warm (24 degrees from what I heard) and it was quite a nice finish to the day, until we got out and froze our butts off, but it was fun.
I spent my last day in Melbourne taking a stroll through Southbank along the Yarra river, walking through the botanical gardens, and eventually crossing the river to the Olympic village. The views of Melbourne's CBD from the southern bank of Yarra were pretty awesome and it was hard to narrow it down to just a couple of pictures in the end. There were also lots and lots of people running and cycling, and with the weather being very nice that day, I caught myself thinking that I would love to run a half marathon here someday. Back at the Olympic village, they were still dismantling things after the Australian Open so I could not get in. Instead, I walked above it, through another park, and off to the old treasury building turned into a free museum. Later on, I met up with Greg back in Glen Huntly and we headed out for a little picnic at Brighton beach. Being the most expensive and prestigious bay front area in Melbourne, the beach is know for its Brighton Boxes - essentially a row of sheds used to store beach things, from chairs to kayaks, by people who can afford to pay the premium - these storage units are the most expensive real estate in Melbourne on $ per square foot basis.
Melbourne vs Sydney
Yes, I am going there, mainly because I could not help but think about a few contrasting things as I strolled around Melbourne. The weather seemed to be a bit more extreme in Melbourne - one day I needed jeans and a hoodie while the next day I sweating in shorts and a t-shirt, but the sun was not as unforgiving as it was in Sydney. Sydney gave me the impression that it does not really have that many things to do, with the majority of attention being paid to the well-known landmarks such as the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. On the other hand, Melbourne did not seem to have one or two things that represented the city, but rather a myriad of smaller landmarks, activities, and sight seeing excursions.
Melbourne's public transit was much easier to figure out with fares based on well-defined zones rather than unknown number of kilometers between origin and destination. Oh, and it was cheaper too, although not by much. As a whole, Melbourne seemed to be just a bit cheaper than Sydney as well. So, which one did I like better? It is a tough call, but I think at this point I would have to go with Sydney since, by nature, I am more of a structured person and Melbourne just overwhelmed me with the amount of things going on. That said, I would still like to come back and explore the area around Melbourne, and particularly, drive down the Great Ocean Road someday.
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