We decided to do rough it up the moment we stepped out of the airport. Queued up to get a bus ticket, grabbed the free tourist magazine, and see which part of the city we’ll end up in. The air fell cool and crisp on my face with a smile so wide after being in a new country after almost a year. As the bus moved forward and I saw the surrounding buildings made of bricks with the colour similar to my burnt sienna Crayola, I was getting a feeling that this city was worth the wait, and the 2 flights it took to get here.
Australia was never on top of my list, let alone Melbourne. In my big sticker map when I was a kid, I think the only sticker I had to stick in that spade-shaped piece of land was a picture of a koala. Yup, my seven year old self had her eyes set on the Eiffel Tower and Flamenco dancing in Spain. Yet there I was, at the awkward age of 25, unloading our luggage in a large garage which had 7-Eleven as a gateway to what would eventually make it to my Top 5 favourite cities.
Melbourne had me the second I stepped out onto the street and joined the crowd of people walking to where they need to be. I saw mid-rise buildings of varying shades of brown, covered in equally spaced windows and lined with trees that seemed to shed its leaves just to match the buildings behind them. I was fascinated by the most ordinary things – bakeries with beautiful pastries calling out to you from the windows, pharmacies that were labeled Chemist in neon lights, a specialty sneaker store with a circular door – they somehow managed to add the smallest details that made every single corner feel like it had its own personality, its own story, while seamlessly fitting into the British colonial architecture that pervaded the city.
A fresh turkey ham sandwich and a chocolate doughnut kickstarted my second day in the city. We set straight out for the only item on my 3-day itinerary: Brighton Beach Bathing Boxes. Colourful, quirky and lined up to greet the slow and gentle waves, they kept us company on the otherwise empty beach. Soon it began to drizzle and as I said goodbye to the cafe that referenced Game of Thrones with a blackboard menu that said “Beans are coming”, we found ourselves coming out of the National Gallery of Victoria with half of the day still waiting to be claimed.
Our lack of plans and the cool breeze encouraged us to walk aimlessly towards the city. I saw a guy eating his sandwich by the waterfall outside the gallery, school children walked beside us heading towards Federation Square filled with unique looking buildings, and eventually found a pub just casually poised under a bridge. I took the seat by the ledge and enjoyed my Moscato as I appreciated the fantastic cityscape laid out in front of me.
Melbourne was the perfect place to have no plans – just to follow where the streets turned into their infamous laneways, or where the train ended in a quaint beach town, eat where the scrambled eggs are fluffiest or drink where the wines are the sweetest (and the cheapest!)
It’s the first place where what took my breath away was not an ancient structure, or a record-breaking skyscraper or a tasty street food find – it wasn’t even the colourful Instagram-ready bathing houses (though I loved them anyway) –
It was the vibe of the city, as you breathe its cool air, listen to its street performers and sip its wine under a bridge. Every city has its own personality, its own characteristic energy – and Melbourne’s is a type that lingered with me long after I’ve left it. It’s a city that allowed me to simply enjoy the present moment and have a good time, no hassle, no frills. A place where I enjoyed my croissant in a quiet bakery, and a place where I gushed when I saw my first Picasso painting just as much as I marvelled at discovering a narrow flower shop squeezed in between bars.
Time moved slowly in Melbourne, and every slow one was charged with equal parts cool and beautiful.