The occasion of our travel to the other side of the world was the wedding of some of our dear friends from Melbourne. We decided to divide our trip between Melbourne and Sydney (where we have family) since we had already visited a lot of what Australia has to offer when we used to live there.
Since we had already spent more than three years living in Melbourne (between 2008 and 2011), we were already very familiar with the city. It meant we were able to walk around, rediscover the places we used to visit often and most importantly, catch up with a lot of friends and our nieces.
I will share a few things here with you, some from this trip and some from the time I used to live there (all photos are taken with my iPhone for a change).
Before leaving for Australia, I had unlocked an old iPhone so we could get a sim card phone plan while there rather than using our Irish phones (the bill would have been impressive). After a bit of research, we found the best plan for us, one with a lot of data, with Vodafone. This was perfect since we were planning to use the maps apps a fair bit (we had some driving to do around the city and in the country side).
One of those apps, which has been very handy to us in other places, is City Mapper. It gives you a few options to get from point A to point B (some are cute such as jetpack or teletransportation).
Melbourne has trams (the major form of public transports there), trains and buses. You need to get a Myki card to tag on and off whichever way you decide to travel in the city. The fares are not cheap but the good thing to know is that a big part of the CBD (Central Business District) is free and it will be indicated that you do not need to pay for transport in that area.
If you plan on driving (the city is quite spread out and it can come in handy), make sure to check the rules for driving. Wherever there are tram lines, the traffic is shared with cars. The CBD (city centre) also has some more specific rules about turning right at big junctions.
If you are going to drive outside of Melbourne, keep in mind that there will also be more wildlife there (kangaroos, wombats etc.) and they tend to be out and about at dawn and dusk, meaning they could appear/jump on the road abruptly.
If you are up for a bit of walking around the city, plan your day well. Melbourne is known to have four seasons in one day and for having lived there a few years, I can only agree. You could leave in the morning wearing really light clothes because it is very hot and end up drenched in heavy rain by midday (if not finding yourself having to hide away from hailstone the size of golf balls pelting down).
What to do and see
I am not even sure where to start here. It is such a big city and there are so many things to visit. I will highlights some of my favourites here.
- The National Gallery of Victoria: I spent a lot of time there when we lived in Melbourne. It has some interesting collections and frequent exhibitions (we were lucky to catch the Dali one a few years ago).
- ACMI: one of my favourite museums in Melbourne. If you love everything related to the moving image, this is the place for you!
- Take a walk or cycle along the Yarra River (and beware of snakes!).
- Melbourne Museum: plan to spend quite a bit of time there, the museums has so many interesting exhibits. One includes a lot of live insects and if you are not into creepy crawlies whatsoever, it could be quite overwhelming (specifically a certain spider display that has no glass separation...).
- The Queen Victoria Market: even if you do not plan to buy food to cook, this market is a feast for the eyes. During Summer time (aka our Winter this side of the world), there is even a night market on Wednesday nights which is more about street food and drinks. The night market can be a nice place for a catch up with friends (do come in early though, it gets crowded really fast).
- If there during the Australian Open, get a day pass and check out a few of the tennis games going on (and don't forget your sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat and a lot of water - it is usually very hot when it takes place).
But really, for me Melbourne is a lot about all the incredible food places you will find:
Where to eat
I cannot list all the restaurants and cafes I like in Melbourne because there is a huge amount (having lived there more than three years, I got to try many). One thing I can say is you will not be starving!
For me, Melbourne is one of the most incredible food cities I have ever been to. There is so much variety that it can feel frustrating if you cannot fit everything in (both the food and the time to try many of those places).
So, here is a small(ish) list if you would like a few recommendations.
- La Petite Crêperie: this wonderful little crepes place is one of the first we ate in when discovering Melbourne for the first time nearly nine years ago. We found it completely by chance and it became one of our favourite cafes where to catch up with friends or celebrate events. It was like a little travel to France while living so far away. So, it made sense that it was also one of our first stops during this trip down memory lane. The decor and the name have changed (it was called Le Triskel at the time) but the galettes and crepes are the same delicious ones we used to devour at every meal we shared there. There are many options and you could even decide to skip crepes and have a platter of cheeses with a nice glass of wine instead (that said, I would never skip a sweet crepe with salted caramel sauce, especially there!).
- Pellegrini's: this little Italian restaurant is a real institution in Melbourne. Do not plan on showing up there with a big group of people, it is tiny and you will most likely sit at the bar or at the counters along the wall. But it is the perfect place to go with one other person, have a good chat and eat the most delicious Italian pasta together. There is a board with no prices where you see the types of pasta and sauces you can get. You can order as is or combine, it is freshly made at the back (the order is put through an old intercom system to the kitchen). This time, I ordered my favourite: the ravioli with bolognese sauce. But I also recommend the carbonara (i often find myself craving it, it is so good!). It is always served with a buttered bread roll. The drinks on offer are water, coffee or granita and that is about it. There are also some pretty delicious cakes on display if you can fit in dessert.
- Good Days: we found this little gem of a Vietnamese cafe totally by chance. We were staying at our friends' apartment nearby and one night, as we were desperate to find something still open for a late dinner, we happened upon it while walking up and down a street in search for food. We ordered some saké and shared vegan rice paper rolls while waiting for our main courses. The rolls had tofu, mushroom, vermicelli noddles, Asian herbs and lettuce in them, and were served with hoisin peanut sauce. We were the last people ordering food that night but the rolls were made fresh right before us and were packed with flavours. For my main, I ordered the mushroom pho (noodle soup of mushroom and vegetable broth). This was once again a vegan option. The bigger mushrooms were grilled and braised (and they were incredible), then served in the soup, while the more delicate types of mushrooms (such as enoki for example) were served on the side to put in the soup at the last minute. E. ordered the chargrilled chicken served on broken rice with pickles, Asian herbs, green sauce and ginger nuoc cham. This was equally delicious. We left feeling very happy to have stumbled upon this great little cafe (and felt lucky they had let us in as they were about to close).
- Messina Gelato: Melbourne was perfect ice cream weather when we were visiting so we ate a fair bit of it. This place felt like walking into gelato heaven and I may have had my eyes bigger than my stomach at that stage. I got two big scoops of the following two flavours: the Momofukup (a take on Momofuku with crack pie and cereal milk ice cream) and pannacotta with fig jam and Amaretti biscuits. It was really wonderful but I just could not finish it (my mistake must have been to go from place to place to eat that day).
- a tour of the wineries in the Yarra Valley. If going by car, make sure the driver will be happy not to drink (there are many delicious wines to taste along the way). Two I really loved there were the Mandala Winery and Yering Station (where I had the most excellent Pinot Noir years ago, only to discover two weeks later they had sold out of it).
- you could also take a day trip to Philip Island (I quite enjoyed the Wildlife Park there, I even got to hug a kangaroo) or the Mornington Peninsula (more wineries but also a beautiful seaside).
- a day trip or weekend to Daylesford is also a good idea. This quaint little spa town is located about an hour and a half from Melbourne. We were there for our friends' wedding (the bride's family is from there) and ended up eating twice at a great cafe on the main street called Larder. The first time for lunch after we had just arrived and the second time for brunch with our group of friends on the Sunday after the wedding. Each time, the food was excellent. The area is very pretty.
- a road trip down the Great Ocean Road is also highly recommended. I got to do this trip twice while we were living in Australia years ago. The scenery is quite majestic and there are a few interesting stops along the way (plus if you are lucky, you might spot a few koalas in the trees - I never managed to spot them but saw a few kangaroos and emus at a wildlife reserve nearby). On one of those trips, we spent the night in Warrnambool (where we got to see whales because it was Winter time) and drove back to Melbourne the next day via the Grampians National Park.
There is obviously so much more you could do and see, as well as eat and drink. I will leave this to the many guide books you can find about Melbourne and the Victoria region though.