Melbourne roared with a blue electric spark. Its ambient noise greeted me. Together, they reminded me of my experience of watching a special effect-laced movie at the cinema. Subwoofer noise always feels like an invisible force running through my chest. Waves produced by Melbourne’s trams running along its streets had the same force; the tremor jolted my ribcage.
That was the scene as I stepped out of the Southern Cross Station, a transportation hub for the city. The train line from Sydney ends here. After a 12-hour ride, I was more than eager to get out to see, feel, smell and taste Melbourne. This is a city that some have argued as one of the most livable in the world. There I was, an inspector all ready to test the veracity of that idea.
Melbourne reminds me of San Francisco because of the trams and the wires that run above the streets. I was impressed with such system when I wandered the streets of San Francisco but Melbourne changed my mind. So pervasive it is that I think it badly affects the aesthetic of the city. The wires annoy me to no end.
A street in Melbourne. Observe the wires.
I did learn to accept the wires as part of the city identity later.
Living in Sydney, I have always heard talks of how this city of Opera House and Harbour Bridge is better than that city in Victoria. There is a healthy rivalry between the two cities. I was there to contribute to that rivalry.
I boarded a train to Melbourne. I figured, I would like to see the Australian countryside. To my surprise, it looked very much like those in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and other states to the west up to South Dakota, like the North American prairie. Slightly hillier but I cannot forget how those fields of long golden dry grass dominated the Midwest.
A typical view of the grassland.
I told a stranger who sat beside me just that. Maybe, the comparison is an overkill. The grassland is really cultivated land. The grassland in those U.S. states are natural.
She appeared above 50 of age and she was visiting her daughter at the University of Melbourne. She boarded the train at Gunning, which is a really small town in between Sydney and Melbourne. When the train stopped the town’s simple platform, she was the only person waiting.
It was through her that I learned a little bit more about Melbourne before I opened up Wikipedia days later after I returned to Sydney.
She talked of the origin of the Hume Highway, the major highway that connects Melbourne and Sydney. Hamilton Hume and his partner William Hovell led an expedition searching for the water source of New South Wales’ rivers. My impression is that the expedition is something similar to the United States’ own much-celebrated Lewis and Clark Expedition, which contributed to the western expansion of the young United States of America.
She also told me stories of bushrangers. I asked her, “What were the bushrangers?”
“Bad guy cowboys, as you would call them.”
She opined that Sydney is more of a go-go city. It is the financial center of Australia after all. Sydney gives out a picture of no nonsense, by Australian standard. Melbourne in contrast is more relaxed. After being there, I concur when her.
The buildings there are more elaborate in its facade compared to ones in Sydney. In Sydney, the buildings would be sleek; function over form. In Melbourne, the concern for form is observable. The library, for instance, is just magnificent inside and outside.
The library in the evening.
There are statues with pillars supporting a typical roman roof. The reading room in particular is impressive, although I thought it is incomparable to that in New York, or even the intimidating Graduate Library in Ann Arbor.
The library’s reading room.
Some buildings, like those belonging to RMIT University, do look a tad too artistic.
Walking the city is an easy task. It is a typical grid system, better planned than Sydney is. If one loses his way, just look for Swanson or Flinders Streets. If you do not dig walking, the tram system is a good alternative, although the ticketing system is a mess. Just hop on and don’t pay for the ticket. And no, I am only half kidding. The ticketing system is a joke.
The roads are wider than Sydney’s, or than most cities that I have lived or visited, with the exception of Putrajaya in Malaysia. I rather think Putrajaya has boulevards, not streets. That makes Melbourne a less stressful city. There is more space in between blocks, providing a picture of abundance instead of scarcity. I do not know if the streets are wide because of the trams; did the wide streets come first, or did the trams simply were incorporated into the city plan early on?
Less people walked the streets too. In Sydney during comparable period, a sea of people would assault visitors’ sense. Not in Melbourne, no sir. It was only during Australia Day that the crowd went out in full force.
Melbourne’s park enhances that feeling of openness. I do like it. More to it, the sense of openness feels natural, unlike that in the all-pretentious Putrajaya.
One that Melbourne lacks is a noticeable skyline. If I were to be presented with pictures of Melbournian skyline, I would have trouble recognizing it. Even Kuala Lumpur has more impressive skyline than that of Melbourne. Sydney definitely beats Melbourne here with its Harbour Bridge and Opera House. I think Melbourne’s skyline is comparable to that of Atlanta, which itself has nothing much though Melbourne is probably twice or thrice larger than Atlanta in terms of its downtown.
The Federation Square is a disappointment. I heard a lot of it and I thought it was more hype than substance.
But that does not matter so much. Melbourne is still a great city. Visiting there is fun and I can imagine living there and having fun.
Talking about fun, I love the street shows. I do not know if it was a one-off event or it is just the city though. The city was hosting the Australian Open when I was there. The Open, which is a Grand Slam, is a major global sporting event.
More importantly, the food scene is great. Getting starved here seems unthinkable. I thoroughly enjoyed my food in Melbourne. I love the beach too, although Sydney has much better beaches.
All those fun has its cost. The wallet can take a hit there in Melbourne. My casual observation is that it is more expensive living here than in Sydney. This is considering that a friend from New York who came to Sydney some weeks ago complained that Sydney is more expensive than New York. How about that?
That aside (and that weird turning “hook-turn” method employed), I love Melbourne. Melbourne easily qualifies into my top ten favorite cities list.