Everywhere I went I met people who told me how much I was going to like Melbourne. Whether they were from there, at some point lived there, or had just visited, the overwhelming opinion was that it was one of the best cities in the world, and as a former San Francisco resident its hipsteresque street art and coffee-obsessed culture, abundance of trams (the cable car’s cousin), and ocean-side but a bit too cold to really enjoy it location would feel a little like home.
There was some merit to this opinion. Melbourne is a manageable city with a lot of appeal. But it was that “a little like home” that everyone said I would like that ended up being the problem. Let me back up…
My days in Melbourne felt different than simply visiting a city; I was hanging out with friends in a city. Four days spent with four friends I’d met across my travels: Steve, an Irishman I’d wandered around Iguazu with for a day back in June; Josie, my German road trip companion from New Zealand; Kelly, an Aussie native I’d met at my Puerto Iguazu hostel also back in June; and Alex, an American I’d met just a few days earlier in Byron Bay. Each friend is intertwined with different parts of the city in my memory. It’s amazing how I knew Steve for a day, Kelly for 2, Alex for 2, and Josi for 12 – and none of them before this trip – and it felt so normal just hanging out with them in Melbourne. It was a nice way to experience the city. A little more normal.
So, back to Melbourne. It has a lot of things I really like. For starters, it has expansive parks for all sorts of recreation (Steve and I biked through them). It’s close to water, both the river and ocean, and as a bonus this ocean has little penguins at the St. Kilda pier that I got to see at dusk one night. It has day markets like the St. Kilda Sunday Market on the Esplanade (where I got my new rings and some gifts) and night markets like the Queen Victoria Night Market on Wednesdays (explored with Alex) – the place I had a sampling of emu, crocodile and alligator (alligator wins) – and the temporary Noodle Market, which I wandered through but didn’t eat at, although it smelled fantastic. These reminded me of SF’s Off the Grid and Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg. It has neighborhoods to stroll around and enjoy a snack or beverage. My choices were a flat white and caramel slice in Fitzroy (the neighborhood I would live in if I moved to Melbourne) and a chicken focaccia and a glass of wine in a laneway in the CBD. Both highly enjoyable experiences. It has extensive public transportation; the trams felt like SF’s MUNI system all rolled into one, like the above-ground part of the T ran on all the bus routes all over the city. It has some history and lots of culture, as I found out on the Free Walking Tour with Kelly (do it! really good one). The street art is abundant and great, and I got to pretend to be a student in the National Gallery of Victoria by eavesdropping on a class lesson in a gallery. And from what I saw, it has a great gastronomic scene. From Mexican-Korean fusion carnitas sandwiches enjoyed riverside (with Steve) to healthy quinoa and kale salad and zucchini fritters enjoyed literally on the river at Ponyfish Island (with Kelly) to a fantastic view over the city at The Rooftop Bar (with Alex), I got to have a little taste of my old home dining life.
What I’m getting to is that Melbourne is a great city. I could have easily spent more time there reverting back to normal city life. But that was my problem – Melbourne felt too normal. It could easily be in the US, they would just have to change the Macca’s sign back to McDonald’s. I was already feeling anxious about the similarity of Australia to the US so ending with a city that felt so much like home was the period at the end of the sentence. It was time to leave Australia. I needed to get back out to the different that I experienced in South America. I needed Asia.
So when the time came to board my flight, I admit, I wasn’t sad. Nothing against Melbourne, I enjoyed the city, but the timing was wrong. I was just ready to move on to my next adventure.