This weekend I traveled over into enemy territory. That's right, I ventured Southwest to the forbidden city of Melbourne. I'm not sure that the people of Sydney will ever forgive me, but it was definitely worth the risk.
Okay, I'm being a little (a lot) dramatic. Any Australian can tell you about the rivalry that exists between Sydney and Melbourne, but it's really not that serious. They actually have quite an interesting history that dates back to the mid-1800s. (Please pardon me as I dive into a brief history tangent. Anybody who hates history can just leave this website forever. Just kidding don't go, but skip down to the next paragraph if you'd rather hear about present day Melbourne.)
Sydney was undoubtedly the first and most important city in Australia, you know, where Great Britain first decided to drop off all of its criminals. A few years later, Melbourne was founded to a) drop off more criminals and b) to serve as a port between Australia and Tasmania. Originally, the entire east coast of Australia was considered to be part of New South Wales (the state where Sydney is located today), but somewhere in the 1840s Melbourne petitioned that they should have their own region, independent of NSW. Without much of a hassle, Victoria became the region where Melbourne now lives. The caveat is that in the early 1830s the people of Melbourne found gold in the surrounding area. They kept this little piece of information private from the rest of the world until the 1850s, after they'd separated from Sydney. As you can imagine, Sydney was pretty pissed off about this because gold=money! Thus started the long standing rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney. Okay, one more small little history tidbit. I bet that a lot of you reading this think that Sydney is the capital of Australia (honestly, I did until shortly before I arrived here). Well it's not, it's Canberra, which is located in between Sydney and Melbourne. It was supposed to be a compromise because both cities felt they deserved to be the capital, but people in Melbourne are still bitter because it's a lot closer to Sydney than it is to them. Moving on...
Today Melbourne is an amazing city that's full of life and culture and coffee (insert heart-eyes emoji here). I haven't been to Seattle, but I imagine that it's a lot like that-very "hipster"...and way too cool for me to fit in. Interestingly enough, it currently holds the title of "World's Most Livable City". Although I was only in Melbourne for a total of about three and a half days, I can definitely see why it deserves this title. From its cozy fireplace bars to its eclectic street art, thriving shopping scene, free tram zone and wide variety of restaurants, Melbourne is a city with a never-ending list of things that I wanted to explore.
After arriving in Melbourne, we took a shuttle from the airport into the city. Like the good tourist that I am, I struck up a conversation with the girl I was sitting next to. Although she wasn't a Melbourne local, she was Australian and claimed that she spent a lot of time in Melbourne (because it was her favorite city). Because food is the thing that I think about 97.2% of the time, I asked her if she had any recommendations for where we could get some quality, filling dinner. Having told her that I was from New York, she immediately suggested a burger joint that reminded her of Shake Shack. For some reason that really resonated with me, so after checking into our hotel we headed straight for Royal Stacks. On the walk over, we discovered Melbourne's confusing street naming convention in which one street is named "Collins Street" and the next parallel street is named "Little Collins Street". So after wandering down "Little Collins Street" for about ten minutes, we realized that the restaurant was actually one street over. That became a running joke for the weekend, "Are you sure it's not on Little (insert street name here)?". Royal Stacks was definitely a lot like Shake Shack in that I felt like I was growing a giant, greasy burger food baby in my stomach after finishing my mac-and-cheese burger, peanut butter shake and side of fries. Melbourne was off to a great start, though!
The next day was all about exploring the city and visiting the super-touristy locations we had read about in countless listicles before our trip. Because the weather was less than ideal, we tried to stick to indoor activities. So logically, our first stop of the day was at Queen Victoria Market, an open-air outdoor market. Here we enjoyed a delicious croissant breakfast and ventured through all of the aisles and past all of the stands. There was fresh produce and local art and handmade soaps as well as a wide selection of Australian souvenirs (think stuffed koalas wearing park ranger hats). After a few hours wandering through the market, we decided that it was time to escape the cold and rainy outdoors. Obviously the perfect place to thaw out was at a grungy fireplace bar in Fitzroy, the hipster capital of Melbourne. The Rochester Hotel offered us comfortable cushioned seats right next to a crisp fireplace as well as a delicious and filling lunch. Convincing ourselves to stand up and head back to the frigid outdoors was definitely a struggle, but we knew there was still so much more to see. When the weather still hadn't cleared up in the afternoon, we decided to spend it indoors at The National Gallery of Victoria. Apparently it is one of the most visited museums in Australia, offering a plethora of aboriginal artwork, contemporary pieces, historical pieces and a few works from standout artists such as Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. After exploring the city more and grabbing some delicious traditional Korean cuisine for dinner, we ended the night at Madame Brussels. Madame Brussels might just be the most adorable bar I've ever been to - chanelling a mid-century kitschy outdoor garden party theme (I know, oddly specific). The rooftop deck offered white metal and wicker tables and couches where you could get cozy under a heat lamp and wrap yourself up in a fleece blanket. Oh, and their fruity cocktails were to die for.
We had an early start the next day. So early, in fact, that we couldn't even find a place to grab breakfast other than the all-day 7-11 that was down the street (yes, they have 7-11 in Australia). We had booked a full-day bus tour of the famous Great Ocean Road and were scheduled to depart at precisely 7 a.m. Our tour guide, Steve, picked us up extremely promptly and we were soon on our way up the coast. I think that I could literally write a short novel on how beautiful the Great Ocean Road was (or perhaps a series of poems, that might capture the sensations I felt a bit better). All of those amazing pictures you see of Australia's coastline with bright blue waters, rugged cliffs and sharp rocks protruding up from the foamy waves? Yeah those were taken along the Great Ocean road. It was built in the early 1900s as a means to connect all of the small coastal towns and promote trade between them. It also served as a great way to increase tourism in the area (and boy it was worth it). I know I've said this about one million times, but Australia sure is beautiful and so ecologically diverse. One minute we were driving through plains filled with overly-fluffy sheep and wild kangaroos and the next we were trekking through a rainforest. We were able to see koalas in their natural habitat and meet some super friendly parrots and cockatoos that decided that it was appropriate to perch on my head. The most breathtaking part of the trip, however, was when we arrived at the Twelve Apostles and the Loch Ard Gorge. Though neither of these places are considered to be of the natural wonders of the world, I truly believe that they should be. They're definitely going on my list. In addition to seeing the most amazing and beautiful places that I have ever seen, we also got to explore some of the coastal towns and experience their charm. The highlight of that was definitely trying some Vegemite flavored ice cream at the #1 ice-cream parlor in all of Australia. Although the Vegemite flavor was not quite my taste (a bit too bitter), I did thoroughly enjoy the chocolate orange ice cream I ordered after that. Our tour guide, Steve, was an amazing host which made the day that much better. He had so many little history facts and anecdotes about different spots along the road that made the 14-hour bus ride seem like the adventure of a lifetime.
Sunday was our last full day in Melbourne and we intended to make the most of it. After enjoying the first batch of fresh pancakes I've had in Australia, we made our way to a free walking tour of the city. We met our guide, Ben, in front of the beautiful library and made our way to all of the best parts of Melbourne. Although Ben is originally from Perth, he spoke about Melbourne's sights with such passion and knowledge-it was truly impressive. It's amazing how much the city has changed in such a relatively short time. Streets that used to be part of the red-light district are now home to classy restaurants and government buildings. Although that might not be a coincidence. Legend has it that government officials used to use payphones to call over to their favorite brothel and book some time (if you know what I mean). To maintain their reputation, they would sneak through tunnels to get to the red light district and it was close enough that they could be back before anybody noticed they were gone. (This is where the term call-girl comes from). Until the early 2000s, Melbourne didn't even (technically) have a city-center. There is so much new juxtaposed with so much old. Brand new freshly painted street art right next to a statue of Melbourne's founder. Sleek, modern architecture built right next to a baroque-style shopping gallery. It's amazing how well it all works together. After the walking tour, I couldn't help but wish I still had a few days (or lifetimes) left in Melbourne to explore. We spent the rest of the day wandering through the Royal Botanic Gardens. Then we ventured back to Fitzroy to grab tapas for dinner at the highly acclaimed Naked for Satan, an edgy yet sophisticated bar/restaurant that will sell you a glass of mulled wine that's so good you feel like you're floating. To end our time in Melbourne, we thought it would be appropriate to visit the Eureka Skydeck, also known as the highest public vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere. The 88th floor offered outstanding views of the city as well as the opportunity to send a post card from the highest mailbox in Australia (family-there's one coming for you!). It was somewhat of a bitter-sweet way to end the weekend because it reminded me of all that I had seen and done, but also reminded me of how much more there was to see.
I think that this trip made me realize what might be the hardest part of studying abroad so far away from home. Up until now, I thought that it was how much I missed my friends and family. I'm starting to realize that in a few short months I'll see them again. But once I leave here, I'm not sure when I'll be back, if ever. I might never be able to go back to Melbourne and explore all of the places that I had on my list. Once I leave Sydney, the place I called home for five months, I might never return. I'm hoping that I will be fortunate enough to come back one day, but nothing in life is guaranteed. I think that having that realization has started to make me appreciate my time here so much more. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I will continue to make the most of it while I have the chance. Melbourne, thank you for opening my eyes and giving me an incredible and memorable weekend.