Monday, 14 January 2013

Getting Lost

Melbourne seems to be a city that is getting it right. There is old world architecture to explore, sitting right alongside modern structures. One can take a relaxing stroll along the banks of the Yarra River, or venture into the CBD in order to partake in some high level shopping. (Do you know that it took me 3 Australian cities to realize that CBD was local slang for the Central Business District? I am only slightly slow on the uptake.) I would describe Melbourne as a city with 19th century charm, but living firmly and fully in the 21st century. This is a city with integrated transit that combines buses, trams, trains, and streetcars all with a single fare card. The cars share the busy streets with bike lanes and dedicated streetcar rails, and nobody seems to be complaining. (Remember....we are here at the beginning of the Aussie Open tennis tournament and two separate cruise ships are in town, so don't tell me that they don't have a similar population! The place is packed!!) The waterfront, both at the riverbanks and the oceanfront is healthily developed and teeming with locals and visitors alike. There are cafes, shops, galleries, and a myriad of businesses to peruse and explore. On the other hand, I might describe my hometown as a city still struggling to get out of the 1980s. The comparisons between the two places has been striking to me.

The Husband and I decided to purchase a one day transit card that took us from the port right into the heart of the CBD. We literally got lost, but had no trouble finding our way out. Melbourne is a city that finds excitement in its alleys. Street art is everywhere, and it isn't overstating to suggest that it adds tremendous character to the place. Kiosks of street food dot the entire district. We even saw one guy making crepes outside a department store. Fruit stands are abundant, and just like in Sydney, there seems to be a real emphasis placed on physical fitness. Joggers and cyclists are everywhere. The city decided it would be a great idea to set up common spaces for people to watch the tennis matches. We passed by several parks and squares that had big screens in place along with chairs and small cafe tables that were just begging for a passerby to take in a set or two. How brilliant is that? Not only does it instill national pride, but it brings business into the area.

There is also a free City Circle Tram that is a 30 minute circuit around the city. It allows for on/off privileges, and gives a weary tourist a chance to see the city from the view of a local. Since it is starting to heat up again here Down Under, we took the opportunity to see Melbourne from the seats of the tram.

One of my favourite things about this city is the graffiti. Graffiti is legal here so long as the artist and business owner agree on the murals (and it isn't just gang tagging) and the proper permits are obtained. As a result some phenomenal pieces dot the front and back walls of local shops and, once again add to the idea of a forward thinking city that embraces its artistic nature rather than suppressing it.

Today is our final day in Australia as we now shift course towards New Zealand. I am sorry to put the Aussies in the rearview, but am excited to see what the Kiwis have to offer. This is a wonderful country that is full of diversity, history, culture, adventure, and just plain fun. Their motto of "No Worries" has been so instructive. I sincerely hope that I can return someday to see and do even more.


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