I apologize, faithful readers, for the delay in posting this. I caught a cold last weekend and spent my non-exploring hours sleeping. I am pleased to report that I am mostly recovered and can once again share my travels.
On Wednesday, I rose at o’dark-thirty. Technically it was 3:30am, but anything before 5am feels the same to me. Unfortunately, my flight from Cairns was scheduled to leave at 6:15am, demanding that I be awake at this painful hour. Despite my early morning, my flight was delayed, so I didn’t make it to the city until noon. By the time I arrived, I was jonesing hard for a cup of coffee.
I quickly dropped my bag at my hostel and sprinted towards a little French creperie I heard great things about. The reviews didn’t lie. It was amazing. I sat in the window of this little café, sipping on a flat white (espresso with an even mix of milk and foam) and munching on a savory crepe as the waiters spoke fluent French behind me and the seats filled up with Australians enjoying their lunch break. While adjusting once again to city life, I kept catching myself laughing at the creperie’s catch phrase: “Arrogantly French.”
I should explain why I decided to eat at a French restaurant while in Australia: Melbourne is a city of food and art. Chicago officially turned me into a food snob, as it is one of the best cities in the world for food. Melbourne lived up to my high standards. There is food and coffee everywhere and it is all delicious. For all the fabulous food in Chicago, however, crepes are hard to find, so I was extremely pleased to indulge in them in Melbourne.
After caffeine turned my brain back on, I began to wander around Melbourne, admiring all of the little laneways—pedestrian only alleys full of cafes and shops that reminded me of New Orleans and parts of Europe. Over the next three days, I explored the city and ate lots and lots of food. I found Wallace and Gromit at a fantastic exhibit at the ACMI. I wandered through the Queen Victoria Night Market with some other travelers, snacking on fried mac and cheese, pear cider, and cannoli’s. (In retrospect, this combination sounds disgusting, but in reality, it was quite good.) I worked at the State Library of Victoria in a room reminiscent of the Reading Room at the Library of Congress in DC, although not quite as extravagant. I ambled through the South Melbourne Market and the Royal Botanic Gardens. I strolled through a fabulous art exhibit titled “The Blak Matriarchy” and heard a collection of recorded oral stories from Aboriginal elders in Victoria in the “Listen to Your Elders” station at the Koorie Heritage Trust. I spent an evening eating crepes (again), both savory and sweet, accompanied by a perfectly dry glass of French cider. I met up with my dive friend’s friend and wandered through ArtVo, a 3d art exhibit that allows you to become part of the art (see pictures below). I spent every morning eating FREE pancakes at my hostel and occasionally sat by the river and people watched.
Of all of this, however, my favorite was the free walking tour I joined on Thursday. Not only did they include a stop for coffee half way through, which guaranteed them my five-star rating, but they gave an engaging tour. I was a little nervous when I saw that the guide was an American, but he was very well informed and, to my delight, used to give tours in Chicago. We went through Federation Square, which has an impressive passive cooling system for an area built in the early 2000’s, learned how the South Building symbolizes the Gold Rush Revolution, which helped start democracy in Australia, discussed urban decay and revival in the city, saw copious amounts of street art and learned how the government has finally decided that it’s something to support and not paint over, strolled through brilliant Victorian era arcades, and, finally, saw a dramatic telling of the story of Ned Kelly, a bush ranger.
Perhaps my desperate need for food and caffeine is why I fell in love with Melbourne so quickly. Or perhaps it was because my hostel was so social and inviting. Or perhaps it was the diversity in landscape and people. Not to wade too far into the debate about Sydney versus Melbourne, but personally I’d vote for Melbourne. Sydney is beautiful, but it feels very sterile. Melbourne is anything but sterile. In many ways, it reminds me of Chicago, so I was probably destined to love it. It’s the first place on this trip that I could actually see myself living. I understand why so many of the people I met there ended up staying there for their working holidays.