When I arrived in Melbourne I planned to work there for about four months and then move on to New Zealand. I ended up staying in the city up until the very last day of my visa. I’d fallen in love on the road – and not for the first time. Melbourne wooed me in a subtle and surprising way rather than sweeping me off my feet. It took a couple of months before I realised I’d become irrevocably attached to this place and had subconsciously started to put down roots.
Before I knew it the dates of my onward flights had been and gone yet I was still in Melbourne. The thought of moving on made me sick to my stomach. I had a life here now; I had a decent job, many wonderful friends and every week brought a new adventure. If it wasn’t for the Australian government’s immigration policies I’d still be there today. Here’s what I love best about my Australian soul-mate, Melbourne:
The Social Culture.
Melbourne’s CBD is famous for its laneways for a very good reason. They are a haven of trendy cafés with professionally-trained baristas at the helm; hidden, themed drinks venues; decadent cocktail bars; and funky modern eateries. You can spend a pretty cent or two in no time. It’s worth splashing out, though, since eating and drinking is what Melbourners excel at.
My pick for casual weekend drinks or to impress a date is Sistabella in Drewery Place (if you can find it). This venue is working the shambolic look and pulls it off exceptionally well. Local artwork is displayed on the walls, the drinks list is only mildly intimidating and tasty bar snacks are available. For some seriously indulgent cocktails head to Eau de Vie on Malthouse Lane, just off Flinders Lane. Remember the address because the entrance is an innocuous unmarked door you’ll probably walk straight past. The bar has a speakeasy style going on which will make you wish you’d dressed the part. The cocktail menu is something else and heaps of effort goes into creating these unique drinks.
One of the coolest restaurants in the laneways is The Meatball & Wine Bar on Flinders Lane, whose menu is, unsurprisingly, based on various types of meatballs. You can build your own meal from the various meat, sauce and side dish options. The wine list isn’t half bad, either. Chinatown on Little Bourke Street is a favourite evening haunt of mine. I gravitate towards Shanghai Village Dumpling which is authentic as well as being great value for money.
You don’t have to leave Melbourne to feel like you’ve escaped the city. I used to live in North Melbourne, just outside the CBD but a world away from the bustle of people and trams. My local running spot was the Royal Parade gardens. Just a two minute walk from my house and I was far enough away from the city to be surrounded by nature with an awesome view of the Melbourne skyline on the horizon. I loved my morning runs here; they helped prepare me for joining the rat race later that day.
Another great place to forget the city is Fitzroy Gardens in Richmond. Five minutes’ walk east of the CBD you are welcomed by pristine lawns and shady trees. It’s wonderful to relax here with a bottle of wine and good company on a balmy summer’s evening. You will see a lot of possums in the gardens after dark, or at least hear their odd love-making noises in the branches above.
There is always, always something to do in Melbourne. You could be out every night of the week at some gig or a new bar or restaurant if you had the time, money and inclination. The city is full of art galleries, most of which are free. Museums and unique attractions like the Melbourne Gaol or ACMI are open seven days a week. Then there are the festivals, most of which take place in summer and could fill up all your weekends as well as emptying your bank balance.
Yet there isn’t really much pressure to go out and do all this stuff. Melbourne has a super-laid-back scene underneath all the get-go where you can just as easily spend a whole day mooching up one urban street browsing shops and drinking coffee. The pace is yours to decide.
I have never made a secret of my love for other cultures and vague disdain for the somewhat miserable disposition of my British compatriots. Australians are in general a laid-back, friendly bunch. Melbourne, in my experience, seems to have every eccentric in the country concentrated in one area.
The hipster scene is big news here. You’ll recognise them from the long hair, tighter than tight jeans and quirky hat combination. Like a wannabe-London, Melbourne is a place where anything goes and it’s a wonderful way for a city to be. Gay culture is widely accepted and not shied away from. Ethnic minorities are embraced and integrated.
What I love most about my friends from Melbourne is their total open-mindedness. I’ve never felt so accepted and welcomed in my life until I moved there. There is little judgement from the people in this town. They’re busy enjoying their own lives, at their own pace, in the most liveable city in the world. How I wish I could go back and join them.