Are you like me? Do you sometimes make an initial impression – whether about a person, place or situation – that later turns out to be completely wrong? Do you find that sometimes your mood can cloud your judgment and distort your thinking?
Well, that happened to me on a recent trip to Australia and I want to share my experience. We had just flown to Melbourne after spending three delightful days in Sydney. There, our hotel was located in the historic (and charming) Rocks district. We were just a five-minute walk from Circular Quay where you had spectacular views of the Sydney Opera House (below) and the Harbor Bridge!
Upon arrival in Melbourne and hotel check-in, we were on our own for the afternoon. Before any touring, I had to do some “travel errands,” needing local SIM cards for my iPhone and iPad. Our nice hotel was located downtown in the Central Business District, close to the landmark Flinders Street railway station.
The hotel staff pointed me in the direction of the Optus store, one of Australia’s largest telecomm companies, about three blocks away on Elizabeth Street. As I walked through the busy downtown streets, I noticed a lot of backpacker-oriented businesses and some “seedy” shops amidst the regular stores. (I later realized this probably had something to do with the train station being close by).
After waiting in line at the Optus store, I learned that I needed to have my actual passport for the transaction (not just a color photocopy like I had in my purse), so I trudged back to the hotel to retrieve it and immediately returned. This time, they were able to install the SIM cards into both devices. I got a quick lunch next door before returning to the hotel to take a short “refresher” nap.
Upon awakening, I was “more than annoyed” to see that the Internet on my iPad still wasn’t working. They had told me that a new SIM card in an iPad can take up to an hour to activate. So before I could go out to finally do some sightseeing, it was another walk back to the Optus store for a “third time is hopefully a charm.” Luckily, it was a quick fix by the tech savvy millennial working at Optus.
However, by this point, my mood was not my usual sunshiny one! I was thinking that Melbourne – Australia’s second largest city with 4 million people – was just another big city with an unexciting downtown. And why were we spending 3 whole days there? It certainly wasn’t charming like Sydney. The day was also overcast, filled with thick greyish clouds, which didn’t help my cranky mood.
By around 4pm, the errands were finally done and it was time to get out to do some Melbourne touring, city map in hand. I took the Flinders Street station underpass to the nearby Yarra River, crossing over their cool pedestrian bridge (photo, above) to the Southbank side. Gosh, this was actually quite pretty.
I strolled along wide pedestrian pathways lining the beautiful river, passing the Southgate area (below) with tall buildings, restaurants and cafes, and the Melbourne Arts Center Complex. I walked under a Parisian style bridge, passing wooden rowing boat sheds as I headed up into the beautiful park area of the Alexandra and Queen Victoria Gardens (below).
Boy, was my first impression of Melbourne way off track. I was seeing a whole new city and it was beautiful! My funky mood had quickly begun to lift as I crossed the first Yarra River bridge and saw the stunning view (photo at top). As I continued to walk and observe the beauty and interesting sights all around me, I reverted back into my usual default mode of “happy explorer.” Yippee, my traveler groove was back on!
Exploration of Melbourne – One of the World’s Most Liveable Cities
As I continued to explore Melbourne over the next two days, some with my tour group and some on my own, I fell even further in love with this city. In fact, it is consistently ranked as one of the world’s most liveable cities. A 2016 google search shows that on one of the lists – by the Economist – it has recently and consistently come in as #1! So, it’s no surprise that Melbournians are deeply passionate about their city. (2021 Update: Melbourne came in at No. 2 in the previous most recent ranking of 140 cities, in 2019, and was crowned the world’s most liveable city for seven years straight until 2017.)
So what makes Melbourne so cool? In addition to the Yarra River, the city is filled with spacious parks and gardens and a fascinating mix of architecture (beautiful old Victorian, modern cutting-edge design, and towering skyscrapers). Melbourne also has a vibrant arts and culture scene, including great museums, art galleries and the performing arts. There are fashion boutiques, great restaurants, cool bars, and café-filled laneways. Colorful vintage trams (free within the city center) ply the downtown streets.
Here are some of my favorites memories and/or sights as I explored Melbourne (mostly by foot):
- Flinders Street Railway Station – Melbourne’s golden iconic landmark (below) with its grand Edwardian baroque architecture from 1910. It’s eye candy for cameras!
- We sadly learned of Prince’s death the day we arrived in Melbourne. Already, the memorials were starting, including purple flower bouquets collecting on the steps of the art center and a big outdoor video screen in Federation Square playing videos from Prince’s concerts.
- Walking along the Yarra River, taking photos at different times of day (more eye candy).
- The people-watching along Bourke Street Mall – a large pedestrian-only (except for trams that run through the middle) shopping street. I enjoyed listening to the street musicians – one a violinist playing classical music and the other was a group of two talented “rock guitarists” who had attracted quite a large crowd. I loved their music and actually bought their CD.
- Walking through the Parisian style Royal Arcade, built in 1870, filled with shops (below).
- Browsing the creative arts & crafts wares at the Sunday Market on the Arts Centre lawn.
- Getting permission from the security guard to take a quick peek into the interior of the Royal Exhibition Building (built 1880) in Carlton Gardens. Its soaring dome and opulent interiors seemed a stark contrast to the “tattoo trade show” (really!) taking place inside. Definitely some cognitive dissonance but I guess there is an artsy connection between the two.
- Enjoying a quick walk through the city’s active Chinatown district.
- Taking a leisurely stroll down legendary Hosier Lane (photos below) with its colorful wall art (aka graffiti) covering pretty much every square inch of this narrow, one-block-long laneway. I had fun photographing the art and the people getting photographs of themselves in front of the graffiti.
Melbourne History I Found Relevant & Interesting
Melbourne, located in the Australian state of Victoria, is less than 200 years old. The city began in 1835 when land was “bought” from local Aboriginal people by enterprising Tasmanians. Gold was soon discovered in 1851 and, not surprisingly, that changed everything!
This Victorian gold rush of the 1850s drew huge numbers of immigrants to Melbourne, including many Chinese people seeking their fortunes. During the rush (which continued until approximately the late 1860s), Melbourne was a major boomtown.
So, the incredible wealth from the gold fields built the city, which was known as Marvelous Melbourne. This period of prosperity lasted until the depression at the end of the 1880s. As you wander around the city, you can see ample evidence of this in Melbourne’s Victorian-era charm and gold-boom 1880s architecture.
For more photos of Melbourne: visit my Photography Page’s Melbourne gallery
Comments: Have you already visited Melbourne? What did you like? Does this look like a city you’d want to visit?