Thursday, December 11, 2008

Reflections: Melbourne

When I told my friends that I was going to Australia and that I was going to be in both Melbourne and Sydney, what was the response I got? “Oh, you’re going to love Melbourne.” I had no idea how right they'd be.

Melbourne is like San Francisco in many ways. There’s a lot of unique neighborhoods. The city is fairly easy to navigate through. And there are a lot of options of things to do, places to see, and restaurants to check out. It's got a bit of the same feel as many European cities, and as my friend Sabine pointed out to me, a bit of an artsy feel (like another one of my favorite cities, Portland!)

The funny thing is, when I asked people for specific recommendations of restaurants or places to check out, there wasn’t many. People seemed to have lots of recommendations for Sydney, but when it came to Melbourne, all they could say was “just explore it!”

Well, explore it we did. And here are some of my favorite sites and moments from the short time I spent there.

The People
Have you all noticed? The Australian people are nice. Seriously. All of them. I don’t know if it’s something they teach here in school, or maybe it’s the drinking culture that brings out the niceness in them, or maybe it’s even as simple as the fact that they’ve got these great accents so everything they say seems nicer, but I’m not joking. My mate Shaye and I had the opportunity to meet so many different people. Just from chatting with them at the bar, or because they were friends of friends, or even just because they happened to be sitting near us at one thing or another. I think they’re onto something here. Maybe the Americans can learn a thing or two from them.

The Trolley’s
No, not cable cars, actual trolley’s. Like the F line. Going all around the perimeter of the Central Business District. Not only did it make it easy to get around, but it made me think of my favorite city.

The Alley’s
Explore the alley’s!! Go against your instinct and don’t avoid the alley’s! Down these different alley’s, you’ll find rows and row’s of restaurants, unique boutiques, and other interesting spots. Many of the most popular bars in the city are down one of these infamous alleys.

The first night Shaye and I arrived, we were exhausted. We had been up early to catch our flight, and had had very little sleep while on Hamilton Island. By the time dinner time rolled around, we were exhausted. During dinner, I could see Shaye’s eyes dropping…and I saw an early night in our future. Part of me was equally tired. But the other part of me wanted to explore. We had just gotten there after all, and it was our first night in town!

We decided to go into one bar, have one drink, and then head home. As we walked down one of the major streets in the Central Business District (CBD), we realized we weren’t coming across anything. So we quickly went down the back alley of the street, and began to realize there were tons of cute boutiques and shops down this alley! We walked by a restaurant that seemed to have a great crowd, and good music playing and we ducked in for a cocktail.

Stumbling into Hairy Canary was one of the best things we did. Richard behind the bar made one of the best drinks I’ve ever had, called a Bourbon Street Sour. And I could see by the way he was mixing the drink, I had found myself a mixloligst! At that bar we ended up meeting people, learning of other restaurants and bars to check out in not only Melbourne, but Sydney as well. It was definitely the perfect spot for us.

Late late nights
So, after our first drink at Hairy Canary that night, do you think we left and went back to the hotel? Ha! We actually ended up having three there, and making spots at two other places that night and getting home at 6:30 am!) Which leads me to another favorite thing about Melbourne! Things are open LATE!

All around Australia, we noticed signs that read “Trading Hours: 5 pm- Late”. We got a kick out of it. What exactly did ‘late’ mean? 10 pm? 2 am? Later? And if you didn’t know what time the restaurant or bar closed, how would you know when to go? While I envy the Aussie’s and their ability to stay out late, I will say. There is something easier about the way it’s done in the states. There’s a closing time. You know when you have to go home.

In California, you can pretty much bet that your night will end shortly after 2 am (Ok, not always true…there are those late night clubs, and late night restaurant/bars, and even better, those certain bars that will sometimes let you stay past closing—I can’t disclose which bars those are, I want to enjoy them still!)

But as an American on holiday, I loved the fact that the night didn’t have to end. Similar to how I feel about New York, there’s something special about being able to stay out late, and continue to check out spot after spot. (Like New York though, I often find that you’re in a time warp, and even though you don’t mean to stay out late, the next thing you know it’s 4 or 6 am, and the sun’s coming out, and work’s calling in just a few more hours!)

But if you are up for a mellow late night, check out Supper Club Bar. It was truly one of the coolest wine bars I've ever been to. With views of the Parliament House, there are wines from around the world on this list. Our night here was made even better by one of the best practical jokes that have ever been played on me...ask me about 'snickerdoodle' and I'll fill you in. But regardless, go check out this spot.

Queen Victoria Market
The San Francisco Ferry Building is my happy place. Shoot, most farmer’s markets are. I really enjoying seeing the local produce, what’s in season, and meeting the locals. Well, Queen Victoria Market is a MUST SEE on my list. Whether or not it’s truly a tourist attraction or really a place the locals go, doesn’t even really matter in my book. Click on the photo below for a slide show of my favorite pictures from the market.

Queen Victoria Market

First, there’s the meat and fish area. Literally dozens and dozens of stalls and shops selling fresh meat down one side of the hall and then dozens and dozens of stalls and shops selling fish down the other side.

In another back area, there were dozens and dozens of vegetable stands. Selling tons of fresh produce and fruit. I saw some things I have never seen before, as well as plenty of familiar fruits and vegetables.

There was a food court area, not unlike other food courts I’ve seen, but this one was prettier. There was even a wall filled with black and white photos of the market, some old ones (showing the history of the market), and other newer ones.

There were other tents and stalls filled with things to buy. Knick knacks, almost like the night markets in Hong Kong, or even a flea market. Some cheesy touristy things (yes, I did make a few purchases). Nevertheless, interesting to walk through and peruse.

All of this was amazing, but my favorite area of the market was the deli. There were stalls and shops, all specializing in one thing. For example, the little French Cheese shop, or the Polish shop selling polish sausage and condiments. There was the tofu guy, selling all things tofu, and then the Greek deli selling what looked like hundreds of special dips and olives. I was amazed by each and every one of these stalls, and took the time to really look at what each one was offering. It was pretty amazing.

This was the point during my time in Melbourne when I found myself really wishing I lived there. I just know I would be at this market often, and not only buying items to take home to make, but buying some of the cooked food items from the deli area, and also getting to know each and one of these shops.

I was lucky enough to explore the market alone for a few hours while my mate Shaye went for a run one morning (yea yea, we obviously know who the healthier one is, I prefer walking, hiking, yoga, pilates, biking, swimming...but run? No thank you. And besides, I’m a food lover, there’s nothing better than exploring the market early!) I struck up conversations with a number of the vendors and farmers, and even chatted with a few chefs while I was there while they were making some early morning purchases. It was nice to see a piece of the Melbourne food scene.

All and all, Melbourne has quickly joined my list of Favorite Cities in the World...I hope to make it back soon.

If you want to see other sights and sounds from the city, click here for a link to more photos of fun in Melbourne!


  1. Ahhh, Paulie. Such a sport. I'll never have a snickerdoodle again without thinking of him.:)

  2. I have always wanted to go to Australia. Reading your vacation snippets makes me want to go even more! Ah, some day, some day....