The morning of our departure, I awoke to Anthony blasting the house with the classic Men at Work song, “I Come from a Land Down Under” while he made coffee. I had to giggle, assuming that song must be a huge cliché in the actual “down under”, but giddy with the thought that we were actually headed for that magical land.
I’ll save you the grisly details of our journey to the other side of the world, save a couple thoughts.
1.) LAX airport sucks. Period. We knew this before, but confirmed it on this trip.
2.) We were lucky enough to upgrade to premium economy on our international flight — while not first class by any means (I have no idea who can afford those tickets…), this slight upgrade made the 15-hour trip infinitely more comfortable. We were on the second level of the plane, with two seats to ourselves, and only about 20 other people in our little section. Direct access to our own bathroom, easy to walk around, and quick service of snacks from the flight attendants. We ended up reading and watching a few movies before attempting a few hours of shuteye.
We landed in Melbourne on Monday morning, Australia-time, and decided to take all of the advice we’d received from fellow travelers to “hit the ground running.” After taking a cab to our hotel and getting early check-in, and a couple quick showers, we headed out on the town armed with a few recommendations and a little adrenaline to start exploring this place we’d been waiting to see for so long.
First off, we needed to eat. We headed down one of Melbourne’s famous “laneways” — narrow alleys between buildings that have been converted to chic strips of cafés, bars and boutiques. We settled in to one such café, under the cover of an awning while a rainstorm rolled in.
After refueling, we walked a few more laneways in Melbourne’s “CBD” (Central Business District) and joined the tourists to check out the main shopping center and iconic sights, along with some of the street art that is embraced by Melbourne.
As you can tell from the pictures, our first day in Melbourne was pretty drizzly, but (spoiler alert) thankfully it would not last past day 1 and we were treated with nearly perfect weather the rest of the trip. However, on this day, with the combination of our exhaustion and the threatening skies, we didn’t do a whole lot more exploring. Eventually, we found ourselves in a cozy little bar overlooking one of the laneways, where we enjoyed a few beers while plotting out some ideas for the next few days.
After the beers, we picked up some delicious hand-rolled sushi (one of the only foods we found to be less expensive — and better — than in America) and headed back to the hotel where we crashed early.
The next morning, we arose bright and early — which apparently became a habit throughout this trip. Normally two heavy sleepers and not morning people, we found ourselves arising with the sun most days in Australia. Probably a combination of the time difference and our excitement, I suppose.
Nevertheless, I woke with quite a bit of bottled-up energy and threw on my running shoes as I saw a much sunnier day beckoning me for a little jog. I ran down to the Yarra River, the central and dividing component to Melbourne, and got some beautiful skyline views as I gained some endorphins. Only getting slightly lost (as is my usual way to find interesting routes in new cities), I made it back to the hotel to join Anthony for breakfast.
After breakfast, we set about walking again, discovering a touristy “City Circle Tram” that takes newbs like us around the main parts of Melbourne for free. While we passed a lot of the landmarks that we had walked through the previous day, we also saw a few other places and got a good sense of direction in the city. After the tram ride, we got out north of the CBD and headed to the Queen Victoria Market — a large, open air market that operates a few days a week and sells a wide variety of fruits/vegetables, meat, seafood, flea market finds — you name it. We snagged one of our best meals in Australia from a food cart selling Malaysian rice dishes and dumplings. I wish I knew what these dishes were called because we’d love to have them again…
In any case, we spent a little more time exploring the north side before once again finding ourselves in a pub (you might notice a theme here), before heading back to our hotel. That evening, we checked out a local Italian restaurant. I had been told that Melbourne prides itself on their “chicken parma” and I thought that this little Italian joint would be the best place to try it. Anthony and I still laugh about it — a thinly-pounded piece of breaded chicken with the requisite cheese and marinara, served over a bed of… french fries. While it was fried, salty cheesy goodness, I can’t say it was the “delicacy” I was expecting!
After dinner, we checked out a bit more of the CBD, and stumbled upon a crazy mall building built around an old ammunition factory. We didn’t even notice it at first until Anthony gestured to the brick tower, and we said to each other, “Is there a building in this building??”
I also got such a kick out of all of the Christmas decorations in this summery destination. I know that they celebrate Christmas in climates where there are palm trees and no snow, but the fact that they are just leaving their winter behind to head into the summer season, the Christmas decor just seemed a little out of place.
The next day, we were excited to get up and indulge in one of our favorite activities, at home or abroad: biking. Melbourne has a bike share program similar to those we have in the States. While we found they are not as well-kept as the ones in Denver (we ran into quite a few technical glitches), they mostly worked well for us. Also, helmets are the law in Victoria — I didn’t spot one single helmet-less rider our whole time there. We complied (being the law-abiding citizens we are) and I am sure my mother will be surprised that I donned one of the helmets hanging off the public bikes (but not before carefully examining it and questioning the validity of the sticker promising a “sterile, hygienic and safe” experience). Mom, you’ll be happy to know I managed to avoid any creepy crawlies, and as an added bonus, my noggin is all intact!
Anyway, we rode the bikes around town a bit to Fitzroy Gardens and past some of the cricket stadiums and Olympic grounds, as well as down the river to check out the ritzy “South Bank,” where Melbourne’s rich folk reside.
After our morning of bike-riding, we enjoyed a quick meal from a turkish place (once again I have no idea what the sandwich-like thing was that we had), followed up later by, you guessed it: time in a local pub. Here, we rested our weary selves for a bit before indulging in some of the local favorite dish of fish and chips.
The next morning, we headed down south of the river to explore the other side of the city, where we had our eyes set on a walking tour laid out in one of our travel books. The tour was to start at the South Melbourne Market, said to be even more robust and appealing than the Queen Victoria Market we had visited before. To our dismay, we showed up on a day that the market was closed, but we checked out some of the nearby boutique shops (shopping is shopping, after all) before getting on with the tour. The walk brought us past some lovely old Victorian homes and mansions, as well as an ornate garden/park.
Our walking tour concluded with our first view of the water — a windy but blue-sky view of the beach of Port Phillip. I think we were both expecting a boardwalk-style atmosphere along the beach, but it was mostly quiet and residential, so we headed back inland for a lunch of café burgers and ice cream.
We hopped on some of the unmissable blue bikes again to head back up to the CBD, where we revisited some of the local sites with a sunnier backdrop.
We also made a lap around a large pond at the centrally-located Albert Park. It made for some stunning images of the skyline, despite the threat of hundreds of huge black swans floating on the water.
To round out our time in the CBD, we stopped by another laneway joint to enjoy a variety of appetizers (chicken satay, spring rolls and something else that I can’t remember) while we excitedly discussed our escape from the city to come the next day.
Think that’s quite a lot to digest for now. Up next: heading to wine valley, the bush, and our first koala sightings!