It’s amazing how small acts of kindness leave such big impressions and wildly swing your feelings about places.
For the next two and a bit weeks, I would be with an old school friend, Emma, who was on her holidays, and her university pal, Chloe – who was also solo travelling. We had just eaten a huge and delicious brunch at Il Fornaio in St. Kilda’s district on our first morning as a travelling trio in the city. As we were leaving and busily making plans for our day sightseeing, one of the waiters came up and covertly handed us a small brown paper bag.
“Just don’t tell anyone!” he said, before scurrying back inside.
Inside was a huge fresh doughnut filled with salted caramel gooey goodness – the stuff of a sugar monster’s dreams!
The best thing about this was, these little things kept happening. From waitresses being the most friendly smiling people you’ve ever seen (it’s like they enjoyed working there!) to bus drivers giving us free rides just because it was the end of the day, to random strangers coming up to us in parks telling us where is good to go, Melbourne seems like the friendliest place on earth.
Its people seem to have small town charms, despite living in a huge sprawling city. People look..well…happy! Another example – tram drivers. Thinking nothing of getting out of their compartments, walking around the side of the tram and helping on old people or mothers with pushchairs – delaying the service by at least five minutes but it’s fine because it is worth doing and everyone on the tram understands. To most people, this probably sounds normal and decent, but having lived in London for five years and seen buses drive past people who might need help getting on board, it feels pretty amazing to witness.
First impressions: Melbourne is nice.
It is also inclusive – while Emma and Chloe had gone to check out a health food restaurant, I ended up stumbling across not just one cultural festival but two.
Firstly for the annual Greek festival thousands of people were out on the streets, eating delicious souvlaki, watching Greek cooking demonstrations and dancing traditional dances. Young and old. Couples and whole families. Lots of Greek grannies dressed in black chatting with their friends at the back row of a musical performance. The atmosphere was buzzing and I was transported to the Greek Island summer holidays of my childhood. It was lovely to see.
As I moved on in my walk to Federation Square I came across the Japanese cultural festival. I watched an amazingly energetic drum performance on the main stage before moving into the square to see the dancing. In the centre was the band, elevated on their stage, and people were dancing in unison, slowly with deliberate movement in a huge circle around them. Instructions from one of the dances sang out around the open air venue to the beat. “Turn-to-the- right. Clap-your-hands. Walk- fo-ward!” Again, it was a cross-section of all members of Melbourne’s society getting involved, learning a Japanese dance and just enjoying their weekend.
I think it struck me most because you don’t see that many old people in London at things. I go to quite a few festivals – whether it be food, beer, music in Hyde park, just walking around the park for that matter. I mostly see 20 somethings and young families – not that many octogenarians.
We didn’t have too long in Melbourne but from the sprawling botanical gardens to the trendy wine bars along the Yarra river, to the trundling trams and quaint coffee shops in Fitzroy – it made a big impression on all three of us and is somewhere we would love to come back to. No wonder it is rated one of the most liveable cities in the world!
Brunch is an institution here. Standards are high all over the city for food and you are pretty much guaranteed a really good meal anywhere you walk in. We went to the three above which were delish, good service, not crazily expensive and had a bit more to their menus than poached eggs and avocado on toast (though that is still my favourite..) No better way to start a day of intensive sightseeing.
St. Kilda – we stayed in a hostel here but it didn’t make a huge impression on us. The area was fine, the beach was ok and it’s accessible enough on the tram – but does feel a bit out and away from the buzz of the CBD and we felt there wasn’t too much to the area.
Fitzroy – a really lovely suburb of Melbourne with fantastic gelateria – Messina, cafes – the Alimentari Deli was beautiful, and a rooftop bar with sweeping views of the city called Naked for Satan. I would highly recommend a mosey around here, the street art is also incredible.
Hawthorn – we were lucky enough to stay with a friend for a night here and we loved the selection of top quality restaurants and shops. We went to Liar Liar for a delicious brunch to deal which helped our jet lag a treat and Santoni Pizza Bar which offered great customer service and yummy pizza. Would also recommend their polenta chips!
CBD – where it all happens. Federation square and the National Gallery of Victoria were highlights of mine. The old station too. Would really recommend getting the hop on hop off bus tour around the city to get your bearings and get a feel for the area, particularly if you are short of time – it also goes around the botanical gardens and park.
The Official Neighbours Tour – this was a total cheese fest and we loved it! The guide made it very funny – reliving various plot twists (like the time when Susan slipped on spilt milk and thought she was 16 and had to fall in love with Karl all over again)… The tour includes a look at the set with a meet and greet special guest and of course, Ramsay Street itself. If you watched the show in your youth like me, it made for a very fun afternoon. If you’ve never watched it…I suggest other tours might be of more interest!
Great Ocean Road – we booked through Backpackers World Travel and the tour company was Wildlife Tours. We had the best time – the views were stunning, the day was planned really well (and included two meals) and as well as the twelve apostles, we saw ancient tree fern forests, wild koala bears and my personal highlight – a wild echidna! It was a long day, but one of the best days of the whole trip and well worth the money.