Post by Jeremy
“Melbourne, oh you’re going to love it!” “You’re going to Melbourne; very jealous!” “Ahh Melbourne, it’s going to be great!” These and more are what we heard from fellow travelers when relayed that our last stop in Australia was going to be Melbourne. We knew from before we left home that Melbourne was supposed to be cool but Sydney always seemed to be the more popular, well known city back in the States. So with little knowledge but big expectations we were excited to see what the hype was all about.
We arrived to Melbourne early on a Sunday and the entertainment started early as we were on a bus to the neighborhood we’d be staying for the next week, St. Kilda. St. Kilda is right by the beach and was consistently recommended to us as a great place to stay because of the beach, good food, shopping and easy access via tram to the city. What we didn't know was that the day we’d be arriving would be the final day of the Australian Grand Prix being held fairly near St. Kilda. We were joined on our bus by a pretty hilarious group of fans that were screaming every bus stop for the hell of it, dressed in race jackets, a pretty funny scene all in all. They depart, the bus has a bit less of football tailgate feel, and we arrive in St. Kilda. After dropping off our gear we immediately set off to find some food and explore the area. We were immediately happy without our choice as the Main Street had great food choices, people outside drinking, bakeries galore and street performers playing music.
Later that night we went to dinner with friends of an old co-worker of mine from back in Chicago. Our travels have really brought to light how kind friends both old and new can be with their time and generosity. Every time we’ve met up with people either in Auckland, Sydney and now Melbourne, they want to show us their favorite places, take time out of their busy lives to take us around and always insist on buying us a drink or meal. We have a lot of paying it forward to do when we return home. Greg and Tara are a married couple living in Melbourne, she being originally from Michigan he a native Australian. They showed us their gorgeous new home and took us to a great Malaysian restaurant where we had Laksa for the first time ever. Just great to meet new people who have also traveled to places on our itinerary and give us tips to use along the way.
The next day we headed down the city library in order to pick up a free walking tour of downtown Melbourne. This has turned into a great activity we first did in New Orleans, then Charleston SC, and now abroad. These companies always employ knowledgeable and friendly guides and all they ask for is a donation of your choosing at the end of the tour. This tour was a long one, about 3 hours and we walked all around, seeing the old prison, historic sites and museums, and learned a bit about the old Marvelous Melbourne. Melbourne has an interesting history and was once the wealthiest city in Australia. Many believe that soon in fact, that Melbourne is going to surpass Sydney in population at the very least.
The next day we went out on an all day tour of the Great Ocean Road. This was presented to us similarly as Milford Sound in New Zealand had been… “Don't worry about budget or the long day, if you’re there, you have to see it.” With that we embarked on a day that ended staying with us longer than anticipated. There were many amazing stops and views along the way, some along paths and others down to beaches.
On one trip down along beach near the water, I was walking with Steph and found myself daydreaming and not remembering unlike her, I was wearing shoes and socks. I was reminded of this fact rather quickly when a big tide came higher up than before and my feet, ankles, socks and shoes got soaked. Not the most comfortable way to spend an entire day but it was hot and I figured they’d dry quickly enough. Back to the trip itself, what makes the great ocean road so spectacular wasn’t the hippie tour guide who loved to talk, talk and more talk. We learned that his dad did similar work as the guy from the TV show Narcos in the past (we weren't sure for what side), that he had grew up in a tree house at one point, finds sleeping unimportant (this was our driver for almost 12 hours) and led panels on learning at music festival style shows and said he gets most of his knowledge lately from the Joe Rogan podcast. Interesting character to say the least. But no, what was spectacular are the 12 Apostles, the limestone formations that rise out of the water, an impressive sight to see. We also learned that the Great Ocean Road was partially built as a way to give ex-Australian military work after World War 1 and was found as a method to help with what we would now refer to to as PTSD. The rest of our day was filled with a hike, pizza while watching the sunset, koala sightings and a great soundtrack the bus driver would play when he wasn't talking. It was nice to get home after a long day, relax and finally take off those wet shoes.
Even though our energy level was slowing down after being go, go, go the past couple of days, we knew there was more to see and do during our limited time in this great city. Melbourne has a fantastic art museum called the National Gallery of Victoria which is free to the public but also offers special exhibits for a small fee. When we heard that it was an Andy Warhol and Ai WeiWei joint exhibit we knew we had to check it out. While Warhol is well known in America for his famous Campbell's soup can and Coca Cola works, among many other takes on popular culture, we didn't know about Ai WeiWei until seeing an exhibit of his last year that was on display at Alcatraz in San Francisco. This man has a pretty unbelievable history and we recommend you read up on him. A ridiculously talented artist, he has been fighting for free speech and rights against his native Chinese government for years. In addition to his painting and photography, he’s done many documentaries about corrupt dealings and trials that landed him in hot water and his passport was removed for many years. It was only recently re-issued, in fact the piece we saw back in Alcatraz was designed and completely curated by him but he wasn't there to set it up. He had to relay detailed instructions as to where each and every piece would go back from China.
Just a very interesting man all the way around. More exploring led us to more street graffiti art, great coffee and Melbourne’s small strip of Italian restaurants.
Fitzroy was the other neighborhood highly recommend to us in addition to St. Kilda. With a bit of a hipstery vibe, this area had a bit more of an edge to it, less of a beach town feel, but still provided an abundance of food and drink choices. We decided to have dinner at a place recommended to us named, Rice Paper Scissors. For under $60 it was a 4 course shareable tasting menu and it was damn good. Luckily everything was proportioned evenly to share or else the wifey would’ve been giving me the evil eye if I exceeded my portion! From there we headed to a great rooftop that looked out towards the city before calling it a night.
The next day I woke up with some wicked bites on my feet and all around my ankles. I thought at first I had gotten unlucky with a mosquito that haunted me during sleeping but then I noticed little tiny gnat looking things jumping around. This began the initial freak out that we had bed bugs because my sister Sydney once had then in NYC and I know how big of a bitch they can be to get rid of. We didn't see any bed bugs crawling around and Steph wasn’t affected so we started doing some serious OCD/Hypochondriac style research. Our next guess after some research was fleas, as our host had a cat. Stephanie though being the animal expert she is realized the cat really wasn’t scratching or having issues and then we realized those stupid wet shoes and socks brought home sand fleas from the Great Ocean Road. The itching and bite scars stuck around for a while but luckily our Air B&B host had a washer and dryer to get ride of the little buggers.
Besides that drama, the rest of our time in Melbourne was really enjoyable. A visit to the ACMI museum located right in Federation Square, a delicious lunch of dumplings in their Chinatown neighborhood, and a stroll through just a small part of their Royal Botanic Gardens- an amazing botanical gardens that spans 94 acres. Even after all the hype, Melbourne managed to live up to its billing. Be it the easygoing nature of the locals, the hip art and coffee culture, or just the beauty of the Yarra River, gardens or beaches, we definitely want to take another trip here one day. But no time to dwell on sad goodbyes because big adventures are ahead. From here we leave the comforts of Westernized, English speaking countries. Off we go to Bali!