I’m really starting to “get” Melbourne. The last time I was here, I was pretty much in a very depressed state – those who’ve followed the blog since it started will be fully aware of why. So even though I did a fair bit, I just didn’t get a feel for the city.
This time round, I’ve ditched most of the touristy nonsense and just hung out. As a result, I’m really beginning to see why people like this place.
On Sunday, walking down the street for breakfast, Shelly and I found a bike leaning against a shop front with a sign on it: “Please take me. I’m free but my tyres are terrible”. So I took it. And the tyres were fine. The rear one, if you take it off the wheel, does seem ever so slightly mis-shapen but I’ve been riding it for three days with no problems so I can’t complain. It even had a helmet hanging from the handlebars, which is handy as helmets are mandatory in Victoria.
So, what have I done that’s warmed me to Melbourne? Well, we had breakfast one morning in Retro on Brunswick Street – a very nice home-made muesli with fruit compote and at a pretty reasonable price. I’ve chilled, snoozed and read a book by the side of the Yarra River as waterskiiers whizzed past. I’ve cycled part of the Capital City trail around the outskirts (it needs better signposting or actual maps).
Monday was a public holiday here, and the end of the Moomba Waterfest. Essentially a 3-day carnival which takes place aorund the back of Federation Square on the riverside. There’s a lot of free entertainment running from early morning until around 11pm. It culminates with a parade on the Monday which I managed to catch most of. If nothing else, it shows off how multicultural Melbourne it. There were floats and marching groups from organisations as wide-ranging as the Japanese Club of Victoria, a belly-dancing school, cheerleaders (drool), anti-racism groups, the Australian Red Cross, and AusTrek – the Aussie Star Trek fan club (as well as the Star Wars club and the Doctor Who club). And cheerleaders. Did I mention the cheerleaders?
I’ve found the staff at the tourist information on Fed Square to be really helpful, too. It’s one of the busiest tourist info places I think I’ve ever been and they all seem to know everything. The girl who helped me with the cycle trail has done it herself umpteen times so knew how to spot some of the more awkwardly-signed junctions. A shame I only had time to do around a third of the trail, but what I saw was great.
Melbourne caters very well to the cyclist. Even those on cheap-ass free bikes the found on the street. All the roads have cycle lanes, signposting refers to them constantly and the trails outside the city are excellent. The Monash Freeway Citylink – a toll road which leads east out of the city – even has a bike track suspended beneath it. Fully paved, safety rails either side. And three climbing walls built into the motorway’s support structure which were all in good use when I went past.
Just a short cycle takes you to parks, gardens, a petting zoo, a farmer’s market, a skate park, far too many cricket grounds (I hate cricket). And this is just the one trail I part-followed along the river. This is where I was really blown away by Melbourne. By what’s just there, right on your doorstep.
Last time I was here was the AFL Grand Final. And that’s next weekend, so I guess that means it’s two whole years. Wow. My last host here was Ben who I met in Vietnam. Well, I caught up with him for drinks on Sunday evening not far from where I’m staying and it was great to see him again. What was supposed to be “a quick pint” turned into “a session” at the very nice Bar Nancy on the High Street in Northcote. Definitely a little place worth checking out. They have around 15 beers (Aussie and international) in a chilly fridge and some great rooms, plus a beer garden. I can just see the open fires roaring away in winter!
As to Ben – good luck in the UK later this year, fella. I genuinely don’t understand why you’d want to move there from Oz but if I’m home at some point I’d be more than happy to show you around!
So I have another two days here before I hitch to Wollongong. One (today) will be a little busy as I catch up with more people. The second is either going to be a lot of cycling, or a complete chill-out. It depends on the weather. Which is one thing I’ve learned that you can’t depend on in Melbourne!