Melbourne’s Alluring Warmth

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Australia, Oceania

Melbourne’s Early 20th-Century Baths

“What if we prefer Sydney?” James raised a question out of his slight worry that both of us would actually like Australia’s biggest city better than Melbourne, its perennial rival. A lot of people have remarked on how wonderful the latter is, and numerous indices on the quality of life always put the Victorian capital ahead of Sydney. However, our four-day stay in the capital of New South Wales proved just how beautiful and impressive the city was, and on top of that we also tried some very interesting high-quality dishes and witnessed how love was in abundance under the Sydney skies. What if we ended up missing Sydney when we were in Melbourne? Neither of us were eager to find the answer to that question.

One clear Tuesday afternoon, we arrived in Melbourne, only to be confronted by a stark difference between the two cities as soon as we left the airport’s arrival hall. In Sydney, double-decker trains whisk people from Kingsford Smith Airport to the city center and beyond, and we quickly took one to get to our hotel, which allowed us to make the most of our first day exploring the city. In Melbourne’s Tullamarine, however, there was no train, only buses. Its distance much further away from the city center compared to Sydney’s airport was probably a reason why a rail line had not been built. Still, the ease of getting into a city often defines one’s first impression of it.

The bus took us to Southern Cross station whose modern undulating roofs seemed to float above the railways connecting the city of Melbourne to other places in Victoria. From the station we hopped aboard a train to Melbourne Central, a busy underground station located at the heart of the city’s Central Business District (CBD). Finding a way out amid the endless sea of humanity in the station and the eponymous shopping center above it was a bit overwhelming at first. But as we ascended the escalator to ground level, a red brick tower emerged underneath a massive glass dome – a clever use of a heritage building to impress first-time visitors to the city.

On the streets, old and new trams ply a number of routes in downtown Melbourne as well as to some of its suburbs. In fact, the city has the most extensive tram network in the world, and the very first line was already operational more than a century ago. Walking down Swanston Street toward our hotel, an eclectic combination of architectural styles dominated the skyline where old buildings stood sandwiched between glass skyscrapers and imaginative, at times bizarre, art installations adorning otherwise drab structures were the norm. Inside one high-rise building, a glass-enclosed climbing wall drew those who wanted to work their muscles without having to withstand the relatively cold temperatures outside. On top of another edifice, neon green “clouds” enveloped the top of the structure, looking like they had been made by Ghostbusters’ Slimer. With that sensory overload, I wasn’t sure how I should feel about the city for the first few hours.

Victoria Trades Hall – Home to Trade Unions, Community Organizations and Left-Wing Political Parties

A Typical Terraced House in Melbourne

The Royal Exhibition Building where the First Parliament of Australia was Opened in 1901

The Eclectic Building and Carlton Gardens, which surrounds it, are Now A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Melbourne’s Skyscrapers as Seen from Carlton Gardens

Live Free and Happy

A Sunny Morning at Carlton Gardens

One of the City’s Lungs

Academy of Mary Immaculate, A Catholic Girls’ School

Enjoy the City On Foot, By Bike, By Car, or By Tram

The Princess Theatre, Built During Victoria’s Gold Rush

To understand more about the history of Melbourne and Australia, the city’s museums were among the places we made sure to visit during our stay. Just a few blocks away from our hotel was the Melbourne Museum, a highly educational and thought-provoking place to learn about how Melbourne was founded, the rocky relations between White Australians and the Aboriginal peoples, the city’s development into a modern urban agglomeration, the cultures of the Pacific nations, as well as dinosaur skeletons – which we had to skip. The museum is in fact Australia’s largest, and one visit is definitely not enough to see all of its fascinating collections, each displayed in a very appealing and engaging way accompanied by intriguing and eye-opening stories.

Directly south to the modern museum was an eclectic late 19th-century building erected to host the eighth world’s fair in 1880 – the first time it took place in the southern hemisphere. Eight years later the Royal Exhibition Building was the venue of another major event: the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition, celebrating a century of European settlement in Australia. But perhaps the most important episode in the building’s history occurred in 1901 when the first Parliament of Australia was opened underneath the edifice’s lofty roofs. Melbourne was indeed the heart of the Australian federalist movement which culminated in the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia on the very first day of 1901, uniting Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia, and South Australia (of which the Northern Territory was still part). Fiji and New Zealand originally planned to join the federation but opted to remain as separate colonies instead.

Naturally, Melbourne became the capital of the new federation, albeit temporarily as New South Wales pushed for a new federal capital that would be neither of the two arch-rivals: Melbourne and Sydney. After its inauguration at the Royal Exhibition Building in 1901, the federal parliament moved to the Neoclassical Parliament House in Melbourne – which previously served as the the seat of the Parliament of Victoria – convening there until 1927 when it had to relocate to Canberra, the newly chosen Australian capital.

Across the city on Flinders Street, and overlooking the railway tracks by the Yarra River, was another great museum. Highlighting the struggles and aspirations of the city’s immigrant communities, the Immigration Museum is an important institution to remind people today about how institutionalized racism had torn families apart, how despite our cultural differences we share more things in common than we might think, and how the Greek, Lebanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and other communities managed to thrive in the city against all odds.

Parliament House of Victoria (and Australia before the Capital was Moved to Canberra)

Melbourne City Hall

“Let’s Fully Welcome Refugees”, at St Paul’s Cathedral

Federation Square in Downtown Melbourne

Locals and Tourists Alike at the Square

How About A Bollywood Movie on A Tuesday Afternoon?

Federation Square’s Deconstructivist Architectural Style

Basking in the Spring Sun

One Fine Afternoon by the Yarra River

Rowing toward Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Largest Stadium in Australia

A City of Avid Rowers

Afternoon Rush

Cycling toward the Sun

Waiting for the Lights to Turn On

To see how immigration has enriched Melbourne, there is no evidence more telling than its diverse food scene. Finding succulent gyros (Greek grilled lamb), a delectable Lebanese rice pilaff, or mouth-watering Ethiopian dishes in the city today is hardly a difficult thing to do. Melbourne’s trams work efficiently transporting residents and visitors alike from one corner of the city to another, from one restaurant to another. From the CBD to Brunswick Street – a low-rise neighborhood filled with interesting independent retailers and restaurants – and Elgin Street not too far from the University of Melbourne – arguably one of the city’s most diverse institutions, Melbourne’s trams are as reliable as a Swiss watch. However, I noticed that when those streetcars’ brakes worked to bring them to a halt as they approached stations all over the city, clouds of dust were dispersed from the wheels. Probably this, or pollen (as we were there in spring), or both caused my incessant sneezing during my stay in the city.

In spite of what happened to my nose, Melbourne’s reputation as one of the world’s most livable cities was on full display at every corner of the city we explored. One afternoon at the Yarra River people rowed to and fro, passing underneath the 19th-century Princes Bridge overlooked by the city’s modern skyscrapers. To the east the Melbourne Cricket Ground – the main venue for the 1956 Summer Olympics and the 2006 Commonwealth Games – marked the bend of the river. Meanwhile, along the river banks, and pretty much everywhere else in the city, the number of people cycling around was notably higher than what I had witnessed in Sydney.

The Melbourne I saw was a city where not only businesses thrived, but also one where artistic endeavors flourished and cultural offerings were abundant. Right at the southern end of the CBD was Federation Square, a multi-purpose compound built in Deconstructivist architectural style whose name was inspired by the city’s pivotal role in the formation of the Australian federation. Among its chief tenants are some of Australia’s most important and well-known public and cultural institutions, including the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, the National Gallery of Victoria, and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) – a public-funded radio and television network focusing on multilingual and multicultural programming which became our preferred TV channel in the hotel.

Across the Square was St Paul’s Cathedral, an Anglican cathedral first constructed in the 1880s but only completed in the 1960s. Built using sandstone quarried from hills in southwest Victoria, its exterior exuded a warm hue, a stark contrast to Federation Square’s grey, silver, and brown facade. Equally appealing was a big poster mounted on the church’s facade. It read “Let’s Fully Welcome Refugees”, a heartwarming gesture especially in a world where compassion can sometimes seem scarce. Despite its cooler-than-Sydney temperature, warmth was indeed what I constantly felt in Melbourne. From the very (but not overly) friendly owners and staff at the restaurants James and I frequented, to the honest and thought-provoking museums, and the general attitude of the public in welcoming and embracing diversity, it’s no wonder the city has been consistently ranked as one of the best places on the entire planet to live in. A place I would certainly love to return to one day, still sneezing or not.

The Melbourne Skyline Viewed from the Shrine of Remembrance

Melbourne Has the Most Extensive Tram Network in the World

Strolling Through Fitzroy Gardens

Rainbow Lorikeets at Fitzroy Gardens

The Towering Spire of St Patrick’s Cathedral

Old and New, Side by Side

An RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) Building on La Trobe Street

Working Out on A Chilly Day

Inspired by the Past and the Future

Indoor Rock Climbing on Swanston Street

Good Night, Melbourne!

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

59 thoughts on “Melbourne’s Alluring Warmth”

  1. I have never read anything quite like this about Melbourne, beautifully written and well thought out, I really enjoyed reading this and wish more people appreciated Victoria’s amazing capital as much as you. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Glenn. I’m really glad you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed writing it and reliving my memories of the city. Melbourne was so multicultural, diverse, artsy, and at the same time, sophisticated. No wonder so many people love it and keep coming back for more. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a picturesque city! I really enjoyed seeing the contrast of old and new architecture, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral is stunning. The sign on St. Paul’s Cathedral feels especially important in relation to some of Australia’s (and the world’s) refugee policies. Such a message of goodwill appeals to our humanity to do better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Melbourne has been doing a really good job in preserving its heritage buildings while adding modern structures to its skyline. Fortunately a lot of cities in Asia have taken a different approach to dealing with their own historical buildings, e.g. keeping them and making them an integral part of the city scene. As for that sign on St Paul’s right at the heart of downtown Melbourne, it really reminds everyone — locals and tourists alike — how important it is to embrace those whose lives are in danger in their own countries. Integrating refugees into the society is certainly a huge challenge for any government. But when they successfully do so, the result would be very rewarding: an even more thriving, dynamic and colorful society.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was in Melbourne last weekend! I love the city and prefer it to Sydney. Next time you come to Australia you must come to Brisbane, which is different again. Australia is quite diverse.
    I love your review of Melbourne.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I so want to go to Brisbane, Debra! And also Perth. I’m intrigued by Brissie’s beaches and city scene, but I’m equally enticed by WA’s capital for it’s been dubbed the world’s most remote city. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to return to Australia sometime soon. Thanks for reading!

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  4. Great coverage of this incredible city. Alluring indeed. You’ve got me longing to return there. When people ask me which did I like better (Sydney or Melbourne) my answer is ‘Yes!’ because it was difficult not to love both as each has their own unique awesomeness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lisa! Oh you just gave me the best answer to that question that I’ve been asking myself since I returned to Jakarta from that trip to Australia! Not that the question matters, but the fact that the rivalry between the two is real often makes me think of which one I like better. But as you said, it’s really hard to choose from the two very lovable cities, and now a ‘Yes!’ answer sounds just right.

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  5. Hello! I haven’t been able to check out your posts in a loong time (too long a time, sadly) but this one intrigued me because I absolutely adore Melbourne. You know I’m a big fan of your photos and you made a million memories come back with these ones. I’m a bit sad that there aren’t any photos of the State Library and the amazing street art which Melbourne is famous for. I really hope you did get a chance to check them out and just didn’t post any pictures? Either way, thanks for taking me back to Flinders Street and the flair of Melbourne 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad to have you back! You noticed the absence of photos of the library and the street art. 🙂 Actually I don’t know why I didn’t go to the State Library as all the photos of what’s beneath its lofty dome look amazing. Maybe it was because my friend and I spent too much time at the museums? Or maybe we were just too stuffed after having those incredible meals? Or maybe we were just a bit lazy? I really don’t know. But that only makes me want to return to the city even more. Thanks for dropping by!

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  6. Weather-wise, Sydney was a lot warmer than Melbourne… although I did find Melburnians an extremely warm (and sincere) bunch! The city reminded me so much of Montreal, especially when it came to the creative flair and the joie de vivre we found in the parks, along the Yarra, and also the sidewalk cafes. I wonder if you would have sneezed as much had we gone in a different season. Bama, thanks for this lovely post and reminder that I should upload my own thoughts and photos from the trip!

    Liked by 1 person

    • To me Melbourne at first seemed a bit chaotic compared to Sydney. But then, if anything, having been living in Jakarta for more than seven years has taught me one thing: never ever judge a city by first impressions. I’m glad throughout our stay the city’s most interesting sides unfolded before our eyes. Now that you mentioned about it, I’m really curious about Melbourne in autumn!

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  7. Great to read your take on cities I’m familiar with and glad you enjoyed your Auz visit. If ever I returned to live permanently in Auz again, I’d choose Melbourne. Because of its planned inner city, Melbourne lacks the chaos of Sydney’s unplanned sprawl.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was very interesting to learn about the history of Melbourne, how the city got its grid layout, and how it has been growing ever since at Melbourne Museum. I can totally relate to what you feel about Sydney’s unplanned sprawl, although in a way it feels more like home to me because … well, Jakarta. 🙂 I didn’t expect to enjoy Australia so much I can’t wait to go back to see more!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I might be a simpleton, but a city with trams wins over a city without trams! I loved commuting on them in Turin, and it was a shame that the city never really invested more on them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! You’re just like my travel buddy — one of the reasons why he ended up loving Melbourne so much was because of the trams. Speaking of Turin, it’s funny that you mentioned the city because just last night I was actually looking up some info on it. Looks like Turin has been overlooked by most tourists who go to Italy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Turin’s a lovely place. Unfortunately the current council is squandering the Olympic legacy in an orgy of mediocrity and utter imbecility, but that’s to be expected by populists. Having said that, there’s loads of places that don’t get the attention they deserve in Italy. In no particular order I’d say Palermo, Bari, Ragusa, even Napoli, surely Bologna and perhaps Genoa.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ahh populists, there are too many of them lately, don’t you think? Palermo (and Sicily in general) has been on top of the list of places in Italy that I most want to visit. While Bologna has been on the list for the longest time because I had learned about it when I was a kid, even before I learned about Venice. I need to look up the other places you mentioned. Thanks for the suggestion!

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  9. It looks like a great city Bama! I’m especially drawn to what you wrote about the city’s transportation. I love a city with trams! Great review of this diverse city!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The trams really reminded me of Europe — oh how I miss that continent! I think you would really love Melbourne, Aggy. It’s a perfect city for your artistic soul. 🙂 Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Haha don’t leave me hanging! Did you end up preferring Melbourne or Sydney??

    I’m so glad you had a positive experience of Melbourne’s multiculturalism but it pains me to say that right now there is a huge outrage in Australian media and public discourse about supposed Sudanese gangs in Melbourne in particular. This comes despite the police consistently denying the existence of any such race-based gangs and statistics showing that people of African background are actually less likely to commit crimes than white Australians. As great as, say, SBS is, too many people here are still looking to migrants as scapegoats for all sorts of problems.

    Also unpopular opinion but I’d say Darwin is my favourite Australian capital! It’s quite a bit smaller but it’s a really lovely city and incidentally there’s also a pretty large Indonesian community there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I knew I’d put myself in trouble for promising to write about which city I like better. Don’t worry! I’ll get there, after a few more posts on Australia — including one on the food.

      Maybe, as a nation Australia has come to a point where the collective conscience of the people believes that racism is wrong and humans are all the same regardless of their skin color, religion, and where they come from. But sometimes, what has been repeatedly exposed on the media maybe activates some people’s amygdala, hence the defensive and/or aggressive behavior. But I’m not a neuroscientist, so what I say is irrelevant. It’s just maybe there will always be people who choose to listen to their amygdala than their conscience. We certainly hope there will be more of the latter, so the world will see less and less hatred.

      You know, when we were having lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant in Melbourne, we overheard the people across our table talking about Darwin. One of them said how much she enjoyed the city. Now I’m intrigued!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Lovely post Bama of the city I was born in and lived in until I was 11, and then again for a few months in my early 20’s. I remember riding those trams – well not the sleek modern ones. Great photos.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Absolutely love this post on Melbourne, Bama. This is the city work in, relax in, live in. Every shot you captured I recognised, and of them so bright, vivid, full of life with much clarity 🙂 I also really liked your narration of Melbourne inside and out (you know it very well!), its history and how you perceived it. So interesting to hear you say, ‘Melbourne’s trams are as reliable as a Swiss watch’. Sometimes there are tram disruptions due to unforeseeable circumstances like an accident along the roads or an ill passenger. Annoying, but general the delays don’t on for more than an hour. I’d say the trams are much more reliable than Melbourne’s trains and trams – which are both known for their lateness every single day.

    It does get pollen-heavy in the Spring months here, and the pollen not only makes me sneeze but get watery eyes too. Last Spring wasn’t too bad. In fact, barely sneezed and had hayfever. Maybe I am finally getting used to it 😀

    You are very observant in noticing how multicultural Melbourne is, and we do have a great variety of food – from Indian to Middle Eastern to American. Good eats all round and hope you enjoyed the food here 🙂

    So lucky you saw Lorikeets at Fitzroy Gardens! I’ve been there countless of times over the last ten years but have never seen them! Have to visit the gardens again at some point and lookout for them 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahh, so I was lucky then because during my short stay in the city all the trams I took worked well and always arrived/departed quite on time. Melbourne was such a great city — probably among the best I’ve ever been. It was really heartening to see how the city wholeheartedly embraced diversity and truly became a place where everyone was welcomed. Apart from the palpable multiracial community, I also noticed how far Melbourne has gone in providing equal opportunities for its people. At a supermarket not too far from the University of Melbourne, the cashier I went to was a guy with Down syndrome, something I wouldn’t expect to see in Asia for most people here still tend to pity such people instead of encourage them to reach their dreams.

      Anyway, when I was at Fitzroy Gardens there were many lorikeets playing around the palm trees near Albert Street. Maybe you should walk around that part of the gardens more often. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • It looked like you weren’t taking the tram during peak hour (and city trams are free) 🙂 Australia definitely works towards providing fair opportunity, and it’s great you noticed. We do have a long way to go, but what you see in the metropolitan areas is a start.

        Thank you for the tip around Fitzroy Gardens. Will keep it in mind 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Actually I remember one day I took the tram from the hotel to the Shrine of Remembrance, and it was like 8 in the morning. I noticed some people heading for work, but I guess I was going to the opposite direction of where most people were going?

        Liked by 1 person

      • There are actually quite a lot of offices down that way, down St Kilda Road. I’ve worked down that area before, and it was always packed on those trams, lol. Maybe you just got lucky 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I love Melbourne. Baru dari sana kemarin, ini kota bener2 liveable banget. Sayang cuma sebentar, ga sempat explore banyak di kota ini, tapi puas ngerasain tram gratisnya!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ada seribu satu alasan untuk kembali ke Melbourne memang, dan keliling pusat kota naik tram gratis adalah salah satunya. 🙂 Pengen sih ngerasain kota ini dari musim ke musim, melihat perbedaannya. Thanks ya sudah membaca postingan ini!

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  14. I love Melbourne! While I love Sydney for its incredible beauty, Melbourne felt to me more similar to my style. Its been years since I was there but I remember enjoying the park and all the lovely restaurants as well as the fantastic farmers market. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love Sydney also for its ridiculously beautiful harbor. But I love Melbourne equally for so many reasons, the price of food among them. For some reason we ended up spending significantly less amount of money for our meals in Melbourne than we did in Sydney. Thanks for reading, Nicole!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I only went to the Shrine of Remembrance, and now I wonder why I didn’t explore further to its east. Yet another reason why I should go back to Melbourne! Thanks for dropping by!

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  15. Well, I can’t personally make any comparisons, because I’ve only been to Sydney, but you make a good case for Melbourne! I’m not a fan of Victorian anything, especially architecture, but I like the way they’ve juxtaposed the older styles with modern new buildings and art. My favorite little touch here were the lorikeets! To me, those colorful birds make all of Australia an exotic place, and seeing them in the cities puts a smile on my face.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually I myself am sometimes a bit confused with the term Victorian when it comes to Melbourne; Does Victorian architecture in the city refers to the reign of Queen Victoria? Or is it actually a reference to the Australian state of Victoria of which Melbourne is capital? Anyway, I have a feeling that you’ll love Melbourne as much as I, and pretty much everyone else, did.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. So glad I came across this post as I plan a trip to Melbourne. The post was very detailed and has helped me make a list of things I would like to do when I am there. Reading your post has made me look forward to my trip a little more.

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    • I’m really glad this post helps you with your planning for that trip to Melbourne. It was such a lovely city, and I won’t be surprised if you find it very appealing as well. 🙂 Thanks for dropping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Pingback: Sydney or Melbourne? The Reveal | What an Amazing World!

  18. The featured image pulled me in Bama. Feels so warm, and inviting. I have learned more of this magical spot in Oz. Prior to the last few months I had only read about Sydney and the West Coast, and did a quick 1 day layover there on the way to Fiji, and back.

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    • The West Coast is among the top of my wish list of places to visit in Australia next time I go. And speaking of Fiji, I’ve been dreaming of going there (as well as Samoa). Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ryan!

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