People freakin love Melbourne! Lots of my co-workers over in New Zealand raved about it, so when I burned out from the expense and lack of work of Sydney at the end of 2008, I thought I would head down to Melbourne and see what that city was all about. I booked Elizabeth Hostel which was a bit of a shit-hole except that they had not crazy expensive single rooms located pretty central in town. I ended up staying for about 4 weeks during the worst heatwave like ever which included some of the worst fires Victoria had seen in years. It was kind of crazy, considering I come from an area that has fires every few years and while a lot of area burns and some house go down with it, rarely do any people much less civilians die. In Victoria, in 2009, so many civilians died, I couldn’t belieive it. Australia just didn’t know how to properly prepare for something like this, it was like what I picture America like 30 years ago in their preparation for anything, another reason why I was burning out of the country at this point. The weather was horrible and it didn’t help that there were like no jobs anywhere. I had a lot of free time to wonder the city.
Since my hostel was not air conditioned but the rest of the city was, I spent most of my time in and around town. I would start every day walking down to the next block to Hudson’s Coffee and grab a cuppa and read all the city and national papers the place stocks for patrons to read. Since I came here daily, I got a frequent buyers card which puts 10% of your purchase on the card for you to use for a free coffee at a later time. I racked up the discount quickly and in the span of about 3 weeks, accumulated 2 large coffees.
Probably my favorite place was The State Library of Victoria. The place was open every single day (except holidays), had nice cold air condition and tons and tons of free, fast computers with usb drive capabilities. There was an unenforced limit on certain computers and I liked to be kind and only use them for the time requested, if there were people waiting. Sometimes I would get there when the place first opened and after an hour there would be no line, so I would stay. Don’t forget to restart your computer when you leave otherwise, the next person can see your stuff! You would be amazed how many people won’t, but I would restart it for them. They also had other computers to read newspapers from around the world and since I had loads of time to kill, I would read the LA Times and New Zealand Herald cover to cover and flip through the Sydney Morning Herald. These computers never had a line and there was no time limit to use them. This library didn’t have books like a normal library, so I would head down to the City Library of Melbourne on Little Flinders Street and read books there, but it wasn’t as nice a place. The State Library also has a small gallery and when I walked through it, I was like, this looks familer before I realized that the same exhibit had been in Sydney months earlier at the state library there and I had seen it already! Crazy. Another sign that I had been here long enough.
Between coffee and computers, my day was half over at this point. My favorite cheap places to eat were the various food courts in various malls around town. On the weekends I would do brunch at various cafes around town. I love brunch! Two things people love about Melbourne are two things I don’t care too much about, especially on a budget, which is shopping and decent restaurants. I hate shopping always and I would never eat at a decent restaurant alone. Other then that, I can’t think of anything else that Melbourne is known for. It has cute little suburbs but even those are filled with more shops and more restaurants.
While there are lots of shopping and cafe and restaurant culture around town, there are also loads of free things as well. Here are some of my favorites:
One of the most central parts of town is Federation Square where the main tourist information centre is. This is probably your best bet for any and all information about town and day trips in and around Melbourne and Victoria. I hung out here a lot either in the square for tennis or at the National Gallery of Victoria which is a free museum. It was air conditioned and I found a little nook out of the way and quiet with a super comfy couch and would read here.
Across the Yarra River, there is the larger National Gallery of Victora – International which is pretty massive. And free! Check out there listings of free movies. I saw LOST IN TRANSLATION here on a hot afternoon to kill time. Just me and the whole senior population of Melbourne. And funny enough, ran into an old co-worker of mine from Auckland here too. So random!
Across the street is the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne’s largest and most visited war memorial. The place is free and surrounded by the Royal Botanical Gardens, which is a lovely huge park. I went here and walked to the top and took some pictures and wondered around the park too.
Back in in the CBD is the Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural Centre which is a free exhibit of Abirigional art and information for the state of Victoria. It was very quiet and empty when I was there and a great place to escape the heat while learning about the native people of Australia.
And one thing that isn’t free is the Eureka Skydeck in Southbank, but y’all know what a sucker I am for an observation desk. Since the Skytower in Auckland has glass floors as part of the main portion of the observation deck, I rarely buy tickets for things like The Edge which costs extra and jutts you out over the city so you are just standing on glass. I liked watching people do this though because they push you out on “solids” first and then turn them off so it turns clear when you are already above the city. It’s funny to watch people freak out at this. Also, on the Skydeck, there is only a small part that is outside. Most of it is inside. If you are planning on doing a day trip out of the city, you may also want to check to see if your tour offers a free ticket to the Skydeck and wait until after your tour to do this.
There are two free rides around town, Melbourne City Tourist Shuttle, which is a huge coach and goes on the same route around the CBD as well as parts south and farther north of the river in a giant circle. The bus is also air conditioned and the driver gives some commentary. This is a fun way to go on a free bus tour of the city and super helpful if you need to get anywhere too. The City Circle runs on the tram rails just in the CBD and into a bit of the wharf area and runs both direction in a full circle. It’s the older cars that run this route and therefore is pretty hot in the summer. But also interesting and helpful if need be.
St. Kilda is quick tram ride out of the CBD and really popular with locals on the weekend and backpackers all the time. I came here a couple of times and since it was pretty hellishly hot, the beach was packed everytime and so was the ‘burb. It was cute but nothing that special that other places around town had. It would have been cool to stay until sunset and watch the penguins come in, but since I was “living” in town and it was summer and the sun would set so late, I never managed to stay out long enough.
Moral: Everyone always either loves Melbourne and Sydney and for me, it was Sydney. I am glad I visited Melbourne, of course and had an okay time while here, but I was really glad to leave when I did. It just really didn’t click for me. I have nothing against big cities and I love a good landmark, which is what Sydney is full of. And when you think of Melbourne, what comes to mind? Not much. See? Thank god for all the AC and loads of free things to do. Otherwise, being there in the hellish heat with no job would have killed me twice as fast. I really shouldn’t take these factors into account when judging a city, but it’s hard not to when it was pretty bad. I just loved Sydney so much.