May 26, 2008

My Oh My Melbourne

Wow, what a great city. When I was living in Montreal during my "uni" days as they say here, I had some friends that studied abroad in Australia. I kept hearing how Melbourne was similar to Montreal, and I am happy to report that they were right. I loved living in Montreal, and I could seriously move to Melbourne.

From the moment I hit streets, I immediately felt the vibe of the city. It could have also been the fact that I had come from New Zealand with a significantly smaller population, but I'm attributing it to all the bustling restaurants and coffee shops spread out among the alleyways, and the hipsters in their skinny black jeans and Dunlop Volley sneakers.

This city breathes festivals and you can see how food and art are the topic of many. The major museums are free! I was there for two weeks in the Fall season, and witnessed the Next Wave Festival, Buddha Day, and the St. Kilda Film Festival. The Italian Festival was just after we left for Sydney and I could only imagine the great food dished out in the Italian neighborhood of Carlton. If this was the Fall, Summer must be one festival after another.

I was lucky to be staying in Southbank, just across the Yarra river, since there were great restaurants right on the water. I was also around the corner from the South Melbourne Market where I did my daily shopping for fresh foods. The Queen Victoria Market (or "Vic Market") is another spectacle. The largest market in they city, it was a must do for us on a Saturday, when it's the most packed with vendors selling everything from food to clothing. I ate the most amazing Turkish bread called "Boreks," stuffed with lamb and vegetables, and considering the huge line to get them, I figured it must be an institution.

So, I had a full nine days to enjoy the city before Julie arrived. I figured I could scope out the city and we could do all the fun stuff together. I stayed at a massive hostel complex in Southbank called Urban Central, that reminded me more of a university dorm than the traditional traveler's den. It was a five story building with a bar and endless number of rooms. Most people seemed to be long term residents with working visas, and living in the dorm. It was the last place I wanted to be for more than a week, but It worked out for me since it was low season and I had my own room. I should mention that even in low season there were more than a hundred people.

My good friend Dave put me in touch with his old flame named Brunka who was the best host. We walked around the cool neighborhood of Prahran, and went to an amazing house club that rivaled NYC and Montreal in the heyday of Stereo. I went to see live music at the famous ESPY in St. Kilda, and checked out the art and music scene in Fitzroy. The highlight of the week for me was a free day trip to visit the national park of Wilson's Promontory. Somehow the stars aligned and Bunyip Tours offered a couple free seats on their tour to the "Prom" as they were shooting a promotional video and brochure. Talk about a score. Normally the full day trip runs $110, but after going on the trip, I think it's worth the money if you are considering it. The Prom is located two hours southeast of Melbourne at the southernmost point of mainland Australia. We did two hikes, one up a hill to get a great view of the coast, and one along a beach, then topped it off with some animal viewings at sunset, the best time to see grey kangaroos, emus, and wombats.

Julie arrived on a Thursday and we painted the town red for four days before our flight out to Sydney. I said goodbye to the hostel life and we settled in with Steven and Natasha, our new friends. I should mention that they had never met us before, but our mutual friend Kareem put us in touch, and they were so gracious to let us stay in their home in Hawthorn East. So how did we do up Melbourne? We walked along the waterfront of the Yarra River, visited the botanical gardens, Federation square, the shopping areas in the CBD (central business district), took in day re-living our childhood at the Game On video game exhibit at the Australian Center for the Moving Image (best $5 I ever spent), ate really well from Natasha's cooking, and did a day wine tour of vineyards in the Yarra valley with our hosts.

The highlight of our wine tour was visiting the Yeringberg winery, which is only open two days a year. Their small stock usually goes to restaurants and wine enthusiasts like Steven. It is a family winery that has been around since the 1800's, and their $40 plus bottles were a treat to try. Corkmaster, do you have anything else to add about the tastings? I also got to see a "footy" match. The Australian Football League, also known as Aussie rules, is the sporting religion in the state of Victoria. I was lucky enough to see the defending champion Geelong Cats beat the Richmond Tigers at the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground, the site of the 1956 summer Olympics. I ran into some old friends John and Amit that I met in Fiji, who helped to cheer on Geelong.

So, after two weeks in Melbourne, we boarded a plane bound for Sydney. Australia has some super cheap low cost carriers. We flew Virgin Blue for $79 one way, and the bus was only $15 cheaper and takes 12 hours! There is also Jet Star, which is what we flew from Christchurch to Melbourne.

So, here we are in Sydney, about to head north along the coast in our new ride. I finally bought my first car. It's a pre-loved 1993 Holden Berlina station wagon with space in the back for the two of us to sleep. We have camping gear, my guitar, a new surfboard, a cook set, and the open road. What more could you ask for. Well, a job maybe? Yes, we need to find work at some point to help finance this pseudo-retirement.

Here are my photos from two weeks in Melbourne, and it looks like our blog found its way to the travel section, how cool is that.


JulieAnn said...

Oh, I am so excited! My husband and I are moving there for 5 months to do a study abroad program (who knew they had them for MBA programs too?). We're really looking forward to it - your post made me want to be there NOW!

Anonymous said...

glad you were about to connect w/ shakey and tash and enjoy some of the things that melbourne has to offer!

Nomadic Matt said...

Well, I guess that answers my question about when you are going to Australia. I love Melbourne and im glad you went on a wine tour.

Are you going to Western Australia? I spent a lot of time there.

Julie said...

Julie, you are going to LOVE Melbourne. I would move there in a heartbeat, and my standards for cities are pretty high. In September it will be nice and warm, too.

Matt, I wish we could go to Western Australia! I don't think our car will make it there after our journey up the East Coast. Do you have any recommendations for NSW or Queensland?

Thanks for commenting! It's so nice to know you guys are reading the blog! Safe travels, J&J

Nomadic Matt said...

NSW- Blue Mountains, the wine area, bridge climb, byron bay

Queensland- Fraser island, cape tribulation, cook town ....the whole daintree area is geat...few people and beautiful jungle.

Shirty said...

Nice one guys. Good to see you're enjoying Sydney. We've already polished off one of the Yeringberg wines (the Marsanne/Roussanne blend), but the rest are going in the cellar. Pick of the bunch for me were the reds though, particularly the Shiraz and the Cabernet blend.