We took the red-eye from Bali to Melbourne, and were immediately struck by how cold it was. It could have been a brisk fall day in New York. Cool temperatures weren’t what we expected from Australia, though I’m not sure why — it’s a big country with lots of weather systems, and this is, after all, their fall season.
Nonetheless, the nippy temps were hard to adjust to after the sweltering heat of Bali. We bought sweaters, but not soon enough — I got my usual change-of-temperature cold.
Otherwise, we really enjoyed Melbourne. After several months in Southeast Asia, it was easier to notice Australia’s similarities to other western countries, than its differences. In some ways, it felt like we’d never left the East Village or Brooklyn — amazing food, good bars, bands and museums, a fashion scene. And Melbourne people are really friendly.
The city is spread out, and difficult, as we found, to traverse by foot. They do have a great tram system that takes you most of where you want to go. It’s puzzling that the city is so sprawling, given that there are only 4 million residents.
Much of the city hugs the coast; we enjoyed driving by all the ocean-side art deco and Victorian homes. Apparently Melbourne was about the richest city, per capita, in the world, during its gold rush. That would explain all the posh Victorian homes. Aesthetically, it’s a charming city, and I get the impression it’s incredibly livable. It reminded us a little of other Victorian-era cities like Manchester or Portland, Oregon.
Melbourne has a lot of chic neighborhoods, which are fun to walk around. There are great boutiques with clothes by local designers. And practically every restaurant we tried was good.
Note to self: At a Melbourne restaurant, I had an amazing salad of arugula (rocket, in Australian); sweetened, cooked pumpkin; brie; and sauteed garlic; topped with chicken cooked in coconut milk and shredded coconut, and a vinaigrette dressing. Try at home.
At the aquarium, we saw lots of massive, spiny, or otherwise interesting Australian salt-water and fresh-water fish. We’d seen many of the same fish on our dives. Plus there were great shark and jellyfish tanks.
And a giant squid on ice for which there wasn’t much information.
Melbourne’s International Comedy Festival was on while we were in town. We took in a show by Australian Charlie Pickering, which was pretty funny.
Federation Square, an amalgamation of several cultural centers in the heart of the city, is architecturally impressive. The shiny surfaces look like flattened facets of crystalline metal and glass. The ornate surfaces made me think of the "Skin" exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt design museum in New york, and related discussions of skin versus structure in building and product design. In these buildings, the skin is the structure, as well as the ornamentation. It’s nice to see utilitarian materials like metal beams and siding used in such a decorative and baroque way.
We visited the Franklin Center’s Ian Potter Center, which houses a collection of aboriginal art, 19th and 20th century Australian art, and currently, the commonwealth show. Of the permanent collection, we found the aboriginal work to be the most interesting. They use such wonderfully minimal forms to represent their stories. The commonwealth show had some interesting works as well. And it reminded me of an idea I had for a restaurant called Commonwealth, which would feature entrees from each Commonwealth country.
On our last day in Melbourne, we went on a wine tour of the Yarra Valley, about an hour’s drive outside the city. There were some good wines, from wineries small and large, including Moet Chandon’s local branch. It was great to see more of the Victoria landscape; the rolling hills and green trees are right out of some idealized version of the pastoral American landscape. A far cry from the stereotypical Australian landscape of red desert.