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Mad About Melbourne!

AUSTRALIA | Monday, 1 February 2010 | Views [1847] | Comments [1]

The memories from Melbourne will live in my heart as one of the best cities I’ve ever visited. It’s artsy, vibrant, fun, friendly, clean, modern, eccentric, navigatable, interesting and clean. Around every turn, and on every block, quirky fun things accent the city and bring it to life as an artists’ mecca. A dead tree’s limbs were transformed into a pot holder, with huge flower pots on the end of every branch. A pet rock with a purple Mohawk lives on the railing of a bridge in Kilroy. We found a baby doll combined and mutated with a toy triceratops in a birdcage displayed in the window of a car repair shop. Huge graffiti murals accent building walls with all kinds of themes from killer bugs to mad science labs to jungle scenes. Light posts sprout flowers and benches are mosaics with tiny tiles making beautiful images of landscapes. Architecture in Melbourne is amazing. It’s a mix of old, from about 200 years ago to very modern and colorful buildings with lots of eco-friendly features. One of my favorite things about Melbourne is that it seems people really enjoy life and leisure here. There’s beautiful parks with lots of open green space to enjoy, so it’s a city, but it has a feel of a small town in many ways.

Melbourne city has trams, buses, trains, and an easy layout, so getting around is easy. Lots of locals ride the trams for free, but the fare inspectors ask to see your tickets when you go farther out from the city. The city centre has a free city circle tram and bus for tourists and locals. If you have a bike, there’s plenty of bike lanes and the layout helps riders navigate the sprawling city with relative ease. Definitely a plus! There’s also very few homeless. The minimum wage is about $15 per hour. For flipping burgers, so people make a decent wage in Australia. There’s also the perk of public toilets being abundant, free, and clean. A necessity in a civilized society. Such a welcome change from places like Thailand, where they charge you money to use a filthy hole in the floor with no soap, no toilet paper and no running water! Another perk is the free street performers who work the crowd at Federation Square. You can also soak up some free wifi internet there, and use clean public toilets.

In Melbourne, we got to hang out with some locals we met via couch surfing, which puts people in touch with locals willing to host them. We lucked out with 2 guys, Tom and Tayo, who took us into their homes, and let us stay in their spare rooms, and saved us the outrageous cost of accommodation. The best thing with couch surfing isn’t so much about saving money, but rather seeing a place from a more local perspective. And getting to meet and connect with really cool people. We stayed with Tom and Tayo for a week each, and have definitely made friends for life. I really do hope they come to visit Hawaii one of these days. We cooked some meals with them, met their friends, stayed in really local neighborhoods outside of the busy and expensive city centre. We got to stay in Northcote and Brunswick. Both a long walk or a short tram ride outside of the city.

Tayo, one of our hosts, took us to a really cool restaurant called Lentil As Anything, which is a vegetarian café that is paid for by donation. You can eat however much you like and pay what you feel it was worth! They offered plenty of tasty all vegetarian foods, which is a project that puts recent immigrants to work in a community style kitchen, so the menu is multi-cultural. Its in an old convent, so it has a nice scenic atmosphere, with little café tables outdoors and makes a wicked cup of coffee! Definitely worth a trip off the beaten path to find this place!

Another worthwhile destination in Melbourne is the Royal Botanical Gardens. After paying through the nose for everything in the whole city, this place is a great break. Its huge well kept gardens are actually free, and very nice and relaxing. The place is huge, with all kinds of birds, trees, a lake, and little nooks and crannies to relax in.

We visited the Melbourne zoo one day, expecting to see one of the best zoos ever, especially after paying $25 each to get in, but were a bit disappointed. There were no chimps! They’re always the best part of the zoo! They did have a native animal exhibit, where you can walk around with free range wallabees, koalas and kangaroos, but they hang out behind the barricades where you can’t go up to them. The zoo did offer really nice cages and habitats for the animals, so it gets points for that, but the variety of animals and the way the exhibits were set up wasn’t the best for viewing the animals. Its one of those things, a catch-22, where if the cage is not as nice for the animals (for example, no hiding spaces, and smaller quarters) it makes for better viewing for the people. But the better cages meant we didn’t see much of the animals who were understandably hiding from the scorching mid-day sun. Overall, not worth the price of admission.

As far as wildlife goes, I was surprised there’s not more crazy creatures and wild critters all over Australia. We did see the famous flying foxes (huge bats that live in the city!), a pack of wild kangaroos, a possum, and some birds, but I thought we’d be seeing wild things every time we went to the bathroom at night or opened a closet door!

The Melbourne Museum was definitely a highlight for us. It had a huge exhibit with the history of Melbourne, including a giant taxidermied race horse named Phar Lap, who was a legend in his day. Sadly, he was poisoned to death, but bits of his hair, his entire carcass and his embalmed heart remain. I noticed this museum was fond of taxidermy animals and embalming fluid jars with weird stuff. A giant squid was displayed in a very big case of liquid. We got to check out a bug exhibit, including live bugs in cases, from spiders to beetles, to praying mantis, and even roaches! Their new exhibit, WILD, has an extensive collection of real dead animals, expertly stuffed and proudly displayed. Its kind of morbid, but the thought crossed my mind that the animal viewing was better of the dead animals at the Melbourne museum than at the zoo, because they can‘t run or hide. You can really get a good gawk at them! There’s also an indoor forest inside the museum, including real birds, a river and entire trees! Yes, oddly enough, the Melbourne Museum was better for animal viewing than the zoo. The museum also has the world’s 3rd largest IMAX screen, which we sprang $22.50 each to watch Avatar on. Well worth the money, as it brought the movie to life in 3-D. We arrived “late” ie. Only 10 minutes before the show started, and had to sit in the second row to the front! The planet of Pandora’s futuristic outer space bugs and plants kept coming out of the screen and into our faces. Great movie, gotta see it in 3-D for the full effect.

People watching is premium here, because people seem to play the part in Melbourne. They dress the role in an outrageous, make no mistake about it way. The bike rider is decked out like they are in the Tour De France. The rocker has a full on rock and roll mullet, tight jeans and band t-shirt. The hippies are decked out in tie dye and dreadlocks, and the business folks wear fully suits and ties to work. it’s a very fun place to sit and have a coffee near a window or in an outdoor café.

Another highlight of Melbourne for us was going to the Rainbow Serpent festival. It was a 4 day campout in an area called Lexton, where 3 different aboriginal lands meet up. There were wide blue skies, rolling pastures and some of the harshest climate we’ve come across so far. It was blazing hot in the daytime then freezing cold at night. The 8 year drought across Australia (some locals call it a 10 year drought) has made the land really dry, so it was dusty as well. Besides the harsh weather, the festival was a lot of fun, because the organizers really put a lot of thought, time, money and love into the campgrounds. There were showers, port-o-potties, shaded areas, 5 stages, water sprinklers for cooling off in the day times, a 6 million dollar lighting system, world class artists, speakers, performers, and workshops. Here’s a prime example of why it was such a great event. Amazingly, even after 4 days, the compost port-o-potties were still nice! I was shocked that nobody pee’d on the seats and destroyed them. The vibe was really friendly and family oriented. There were people there ranging in ages from a few months old (or unborn, if you count the pregnant women!) to 80 years old. People are very helpful and generous there- we were given fruit from an Italian lady, and offered numerous beers, and hellos. There was art installed throughout the venue, lots of vendors with food, and cool clothes and other essentials, like coffee and water, and some really great music. There were bands, DJ’s, circus performers, costumes, craziness, and nonstop music and performances for 4 days straight! A highlight at the Rainbow Serpent was a hike we took up a tall hill behind the festival, where a herd of wild kangaroos came up close to us, hung out for a few minutes, then ran off! We got a better view of them than in the damn zoo!

There was a strong focus at Rainbow Serpent on respecting the land and the local culture, and leaving the site in good condition. The opening ceremony featured several aboriginal dances, including one where the men danced like kangaroos. Another dance had people in white rags crawling through the dusty ground and doing acrobatics with each other. One thing they did which I thought was a good way to kick off the event and put everyone in the right frame of mind was to ask us to dance our prayers in to the earth- the men did a stomping move and the women pushed the earth over the top of each foot from side to side. The dust that rises from these dance moves rises up into the heaven, and carries our prayers with the dust up to the Creator. The closing ceremony had a group silence meditation and another series of dances to thank the earth, the gods and the elders and chase away evil spirits for the next time the event happens. Overall, we had a really fun time, and we got to meet a bunch of quirky, friendly locals, as well as a surprisingly large amount of international people who traveled to Melbourne specifically for the event. Phil made a funny comment, which sticks with me… “I’ve never seen so many blond dreadlocks anywhere else in the world!“. We really lucked out to be in Melbourne during the Rainbow Serpent and are already plotting or return- possibly with a side trip to New Zealand next time!

One of the few drawbacks of Melbourne is that it is extremely expensive. You get what you pay for, I guess, but with the US $ being equal to the Aussie $, its brutal! The beer is great, but its very expensive beer. A pint in a pub is about $9!!! If you buy it in the store and drink it at home, its about $3-4 per bottle! A 6 pack is about $15-20. There’s good food with decent portion sizes, but expect to pay $10 for a cup of coffee and a croissant. Or, $25-$35 for an entrée in a normal mid-range restaurant. Or $10 for a sandwich. I could go on and on, but I’ll end it with this one: a candy bar (ie. Snickers, Mars, Kit Kat, etc.) costs $2.50. Not the king size, the regular size! Its like living life in an airport or buying all your meals from the concession stand at the movie theatre. Overpriced. But very nice!

Even leaving Melbourne was a pleasant experience. We rented a car to take us to the Rainbow Serpent Festival, and hung onto it to get us to the airport at the end of our stay. The car was filthy from the festival (dust and hay were all over it! Phil rinsed it off, but we were debating whether or not to vacuum it so we wouldn’t get charged extra for the cleaning fee. We decided not to take it too far, and drove it back. We forgot ot put gas in it to top it off, so its tank was just 3/4ths full. The guy told us, “No worries mate. I’ll just check you in as a full tank to save you some money- have a nice day!“ This kind of thing was pretty common in Australia. People will let you off for some change if you buy a coffee and don’t have exact change. Or they’ll let you check in for a flight early. Or let you in somewhere for free because its close to closing. A welcome change from the penny pinching shiesters of SE Asia. But, you get what you pay for!


Tags: couchsurfing, melbourne, melbourne museum, melbourne zoo, rainbow serpent, royal botanical gardens, victoria art gallery, wildlife



Hey missy_carrie_gee,

We liked your story and decided to feature it this week on the WorldNomads Adventures homepage so that others can enjoy it too.

Happy Travels!
World Nomads

  travel-tips Feb 8, 2010 11:08 AM



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