Head to Head: MEL vs SYD
Ask anyone who has travelled to Australia if they prefer Sydney or Melbourne. It’s a polarising question and the cities have a rivalry, makes for an interesting debate. People feel strongly about their favourite city. I think you need to see both cities for yourself and make up your mind. You can’t go wrong with either one, but if you asked me, I’d say you only need 5 days at most in Sydney and a week in Melbourne.
Eoin was going to be at IMC all day for a week, so if I were to stay in the very expensive metropolis of Sydney, I would: A. Be bored because I’ve seen it all, B. Spend way more money because Sydney is more expensive than Melbourne, C. Be alone most of the day anyway because Eoin’s at the conference anyway, and D. Hate myself because they were staying at a very loud hostel that caters to party animals. Essentially, living it up in Melbourne is cheaper than existing in Sydney. Easy decision.
Going to Melbourne for most of that time was a good idea because I have friends there I can hang out with, I didn’t get to see much of the city, and it has a lot more character than Sydney.
Don’t get me wrong, Sydney is wonderful for tourists, I can see why people love it so much. Circular Quay is very welcoming and touristy. You can see the famous sights that people come to Australia for and seeing the sunset at the harbour is a real treat. The weather can’t be beat – love that SoCal type of weather. The Taronga Zoo is nice (I’ve never been to the Melbourne Zoo)
If Melbourne had Sydney’s weather, it would be unstoppable. People say Sydney’s beaches are better, I would disagree. I found Bondi Beach overrated, but the walk from Bondi to Bronte Beach nice.
The first time I visited Melbourne, I felt the regret, we didn’t spend enough time here, but the time that we did spend here was well spent. We went to a concert, saw the Penguin Parade at Phillip Island, went to a bunch of vintage stalls and shops, and ate at some amazing restaurants.
The good thing about taking your time and really enjoying everything is you don’t feel rushed and you have things to do and see on your next visit. This time I got to see a lot more graffiti and street art and eat more amazing food.
First, let’s start off with food because I’m hungry.
For my first meal in Melbourne, I went to Fina’s 2 Vegan in Fitzroy, thanks to my friend, Fei’s suggestion. It’s a 100% vegan Vietnamese restaurant. I ordered some pho and summer rolls on the side. Delicious food at a fair price!
After dinner, I got back to the interesting Airbnb, basically four flatmates sharing a flat, with two sharing a room, and one bed in one of the rooms reserved for the Airbnb guest (Yes, it was a bit awkward, but way better than staying in a noisy hostel. Flat was clean, safe, and secure. Cheap and cheerful, what more can I ask for? It was €120 for 4 nights, cheaper than a hostel room with 3 beds in it).
One of the flatmates made some tangyuan, which is a Chinese dessert made of a mix of glutinous rice flour and water to make dumplings and a broth. The dessert was nice and tasted really sweet and kind of had a sesame flavour. It’s my first time trying it and I really liked it! There are many other was of making tangyuan, such as making it with a chocolate flavour or making it colourful with fruit preserves.
The next day, I went to Vegie Bar in Fitzroy for lunch thanks to a suggestion from an Instagram follower, @back_to_woodstock. The Vegie Bar has been open since 1988 and the menu has a wide variety of options from burgers to curry to quinoa bowls to pizza. There’s something for everyone here.
It was a really difficult decision, but I ended up ordering the smoked tofu and quinoa burger. It was good, but a bit small for the price. Afterwards, I went to Girls & Boys next door for some vegan gelato. Girls & Boys also has a takeaway version of the Vegie Bar attached to it.
For dinner, I went with my friends, Fei and Bailey, to Gong De Lin, my favourite Chinese restaurant in the area. I ordered my favourite dish, the lemon “chicken”. My friends both enjoyed it and I had some leftover lemon “chicken” to have for breakfast the next day.
Monday was the day of the tour and that meant more limited choices because we would be having lunch and dinner in small towns like Apollo Bay and Colac. The tour covered lunch, but dinner was on our own dime. Luckily, I had no trouble finding food to eat.
The restaurant in Apollo Bay was called Thaihouse and it catered well for vegans, with a nice stir fry option. When looking at reviews for the tour, people were complaining that the restaurant the tour company chose was not appealing. Seriously? Who doesn’t love Thai food?
I don’t know about anyone else and to each their own, but I’ll take Thai food over generic pub food – ugh too greasy (although I appreciate a good vegan pie, been watching Great British Bake Off and I’m craving one) or boring sandwiches – I can make my own peanut butter sandwich at home, thank you very much.
The tour organised lunch very well, by calling in the order ahead of time so the food can be ready to be served when we get there. We sat anywhere we wanted in a designated area of the restaurant and the owner of the restaurant, Tara, called out everyone’s names and handed them their food. My food was excellent and I love how the service was fast so I could walk around, look at gift shops, and take some pictures of the beach. This was the end of the “Surf Coast”. For dessert, I decided to get ice cream at a shop around the corner. Luckily, they had a few vegan options, including a vegan chocolate sorbet. This shop has some unique flavours like a Vegemite ice cream, which is way more bizarre than the sea salt ice cream at Murphy’s. Don’t worry, I didn’t try the Vegemite ice cream. I’d be really sick if I tried it.
For dinner, on the way back to Melbourne, we stopped in Colac. During the day, the bus drives the scenic Great Ocean Road route, and on the way back in the evening, the bus drives inland, which still has some great scenery – lots of cows and sheep, reminds me of Ireland and Scotland. We were dropped off on a main street and told that there were a few options for food. I saw a Vietnamese restaurant across the road called Rock Daisy Cafe and I decided to go for it. I was not in the mood for greasy takeaway food and I wasn’t really that hungry. The choice of what to order was easy, just some summer rolls, one of my favourite dishes.
The next day, I spent some time in St Kilda, one of my favourite neighbourhoods. For lunch, I went to Mr Veggie, a 100% vegan Malaysian restaurant. If you go there for lunch, they have a nice $11 lunch deal where you get a choice of two dishes with rice or noodles. If that doesn’t please you, you can look at the menu. Don’t worry, any mentions of meat are just mock meats, of which there are a variety: crab, prawn, pork, lamb, chicken, or beef.
For dinner, after I watched the mini Penguin Parade, I went to Bay City Burrito and it turns out since it’s Taco Tuesday, tacos were discounted. I ordered two, but I should have gotten three because they were delicious.
For my last day in Melbourne, I went to Tahini Lebanese Diner for lunch and ordered a falafel wrap meal deal (comes with chips, dip, and salad) for $16. It was a lot of food, like I couldn’t even finish all the chips. I would have been just fine ordering the wrap by itself (my bad, sometimes I eat with my eyes), but considering the price, it’s very reasonable. The restaurant isn’t fully vegan or vegetarian, but it definitely has something for everyone: halloumi, chicken, lamb, and beef for the non-vegans.
I was a bit worried about travelling alone, but once I got on the plane and went out and did it, I felt more confident and recalled all the things I love about travelling all by myself.
Having all the control and doing everything on my terms. I can spend as much or as little time as I’d like at a place. I’ve had moments where I’ve gone with friends to a record store, book store, or vintage shop and they look at me like “can we go already?”
No fighting over restaurants. Most of my friends aren’t vegan or vegetarian so I’ve had lots of moments where my friends glare at me for my restaurant choices or they pick the place and I am stuck with crappy options.
I don’t have to worry about waiting on anyone else to get ready. Five years ago, my cousins and I went to South Dakota and I was always waiting on one of them to be ready and so we were waiting around forever for him to finally get out of bed, eat breakfast, and get dressed. At least whenever I travel with my parents, we’re all on the same page as far as getting up early, getting out the door, and taking advantage of the full day.
Peace, quiet, and people watching. I finally get a chance to think and take things in. It’s an introvert’s dream.
On the flip side, I have to get out of my comfort zone and shell and depend on myself to do everything. Anxiety makes it difficult to do simple tasks like speaking up or asking for something, but when I do speak up, I feel a sense of accomplishment.
Overall, I felt safe in Melbourne. I wasn’t approached by any weirdos. Rather, people were complimenting my dress sense.
Gardens, Gigs, and Cinema
On Sunday, I started my morning with a walk through the city centre to get to the Royal Botanic Gardens. The last time, I got to see the Alexandra Gardens and the Shrine of Remembrance, but this time I saw a lot more. Saw the Grotto, with a beautiful waterfall and some ferns; the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden; a bunch of cacti; a pond with some plants from China.
After that, I walked around AC/DC Lane and took some pictures of the graffiti there. Great stuff! Can’t believe I missed it the last time. You gotta see it if you’re a classic rock fan.
After lunch, I made my way from Fitzroy to Northcote to get there in time for Fei’s gig. I got there early and saw this really cool shop with a Sailor Moon mural on the side of it. I couldn’t afford anything there. Honestly, couldn’t afford anything at any of the vintage shops or boutiques or record stores.
In the afternoon, I went to my friend Fei’s gig, which was part of her music course. Each student in the course forms a band and they perform songs. All the songs performed at the gig were songs by Australian musicians like The Divinyls, INXS, The Bamboos, Kylie Minogue, Sheppard, Tame Impala, AC/DC, and more.
After the gig Fei and I went to the city centre for some dinner and met up with Bailey. There were a lot of transport hiccups that day. Both Fei and Bailey said, the trains and trams usually work fine, and then when you arrive here they don’t work.
After dinner, Bailey and I went to the cinema and saw Slender Man. Why they released a Slenderman movie in 2018, long after the hype for the meme died down. I guess there’s potential in making a movie about a meme, but the execution wasn’t there.
The meme originated in 2009, time hasn’t passed enough for Slenderman to be considered vintage or retro, no it’s just dated. The movie has a 7% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 21% from the audience.
The acting wasn’t terrible, it was more of bad writing and not so great plot. I’ll stick to Stranger Things.
After the gig, I saw a mural ad for Paul McCartney’s Egypt Station and Bailey took a picture of me in front of it.
Great Ocean Road
The next day, I went on a Great Ocean Road Day Trip. This is another one of the things I wanted to do but didn’t have a chance to on my first trip to Melbourne.
It’s a long trip, but definitely worth it. I would advise going on a smaller group tour rather than one of the big bus tours. I find that the only pros of the big bus tours are the wifi and the plug outlets, but that’s not what I’m going on a tour for, I’m here to learn about the places I’m seeing and a good tour guide is a big part of that.
The day trips in Melbourne were a lot cheaper than Cairns and offered great value. I chose Go West Tours and they include tea, lunch, and accommodation pick up and drop off. Our tour guide was funny and really new. I think it was only his third tour with the company.
The first stop on the tour was Torquay, the surfing capital of Australia. This is where we had tea and got to see the beach. The weather was lovely and there were a lot of surfers. My favourite part of this stop was seeing some cute dogs.
Because there are a lot of stops on this tour, this was a taster of all the different places and we only had maybe 10-20 minutes at most of the stops. If I could drive, I would love to do the Great Ocean Road at my own pace.
The next stop was Memorial Arch. Next to the arch is a statue commemorating the workers. The arch itself was rebuilt multiple times. The first arch was completed in 1939 and replaced in 1973. The current one was replaced for the third time in 1983.
Our tour guide said that the point of the Great Ocean Road wasn’t for tourism, but rather a memorial to all those who died in the First World War and to give job opportunities to WWI soldiers who were coming back unemployed and desperate to feed their families. The Great Ocean Road was completed in 1932, during the Great Depression. The road was not built with fancy machinery, but by manual labour: explosives, picks, shovels, and horse drawn carts. Some workers even died on the job.
The Great Ocean Road changed travel in this region because before the road was completed, it was very difficult to travel, lots of hills and mountains. In the 60s, the Tourist Development Authority started promoting it as one of the most scenic drives in the world.
For hikers, there’s a 104 kilometre long Great Ocean Walk from Apollo Bay to the 12 Apostles. Wish I had time and good enough knees for this.
While on our way to the next stop – Kennett River to see koalas and birds in the wild, we drove through the beautiful town and popular holiday spot, Lorne. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see a koala up close, but this was a lot better than going to one of those roadside zoos. The koalas’ well-being is more important than the pictures I take. On the bright side, I got some cool bird pictures.
After lunch, I had a bit of time to see the beach at Apollo Bay, the last chance to see the surf coast.
After that, we got to the most strenuous activity, which was pretty mild actually, Mait’s Rainforest Walk. These rainforest walks were always really nice, no matter where I’ve done them. I did a lot of them this trip in Cairns, Sydney, and Melbourne and it’s always cool to see the plants.
After that, was the main event, The (fewer than) 12 Apostles. Visitors could take a helicopter ride to see them from above, or if that didn’t fit your budget, you could take a short walk to the viewing area. The view was beautiful, but sadly like the time I went to Joshua Tree National Park, it was very hazy, looking like a Kate Bush video, as Karl Pilkington once said in An Idiot Abroad. Still managed to get some good pictures of the Apostles, but not many good pictures of me in front of them because the viewing area is very crowded. Everyone wants to get their picture of course.
I liked seeing the Apostles and I was sad to say goodbye after a 40 minute stop, but it was time to go to what I really thought was the main event, Loch Ard Gorge. To me, it was more impressive than the 12 Apostles, which to me were a little overhyped, but still stunning.
There’s a story behind Loch Ard Gorge, the famous shipwreck. This is the shipwreck coast after all and this post isn’t complete without a cliff notes story summary, you can find a more complete story here. Loch Ard Gorge is named after a ship called Loch Ard. Two people, Tom Pearce, a 19-year-old sailor, and Eva Carmichael, a 19 year old Irish woman, were the only survivors on the Melbourne-bound Loch Ard. Fifty-four people were on the ship when three months into the journey from England, it crashed into a rocky reef. The hero, Tom, jumped off the ship and swam to safety and heard Eva’s cries for help. Tom rescues Eva and they swim to safety. Tom climbs out the gorge to ask for help. Locals searched for the rest of the passengers, but they all passed away. Tom was celebrated as a hero and the two pillars of the Island Archway, of which the arch collapsed in 2009, are named after the two survivors.
There are three paths you can take on Loch Ard Gorge. Our tour guide recommended the ones on the left and right, as those were the most scenic. The middle path, according to our tour guide is boring with not much to see. You can see the pictures I took there below.
Our last stop was the Gibson Steps, where you can see two of the Apostles at beach level. We also got to see the start of the sunset here. Overall, a great way to cap it all off. I can’t decide if The Gibson Steps or Loch Ard Gorge was my favourite.
On the way back while we were driving by a bunch of farms, there was a really nice sunset.
Beach Day: Brighton and St Kilda
On my last full day in Melbourne, I decided to make it a beach day. The weather was nice and I got to take advantage before I return to the cold and rainy weather in Ireland. I went to two beaches in very nice areas of the city.
In the morning, I took the train to Brighton, which is a really bougie part of Melbourne named after the seaside city in England. Mansions, boat clubs, dog parks, and the most famous landmark, 82 colourful beach boxes.
Like the neighbourhood, the beach boxes are pretty exclusive, with only locals being able to purchase them and the council rarely building and selling new ones. If a local manages to get one, they hold onto it like it’s gold and pass it down to their children and grandchildren.
I walked down the beach to the beach boxes, and the crowds of tourists trying to get their pictures by the boxes increased as I walked north towards the most famous one, the one with the Australian flag painted on it.
Don’t neglect the other boxes though, there are some beautiful ones further down like one with a VW Hippie Bus painted on it; another with a kangaroo and Australia’s sporting colours – green and gold, like Kerry, the county my husband is from; another with a koala sitting by the beach; one with a Space Invaders alien on it; one with a very detailed wave on it; and one with beautiful desert scenery and silhouettes of wallabies on it. Otherwise, there are lots of colourful beach boxes. It felt like I was walking through a Wes Anderson film.
After I was finished seeing all the Beach Boxes, I saw a bright yellow Vespa. Yellow isn’t my favourite colour, but a Vespa is a Vespa and I gotta take a picture of it. We don’t have lots of them in Ireland. Weather doesn’t allow for it and the Mod subculture isn’t really much of a thing here.
The water was much too cold for swimming, so I decided to take a walk and see how far I could get until St Kilda – gotta save money, transport gets expensive as I’ve realised in all my travels. While walking, you get nice views of the city skyline and all the fancy mansions with views of the beach. I’m jealous of the people who live in those mansions, that’s my dream home – living in the most liveable city in the world and next to the beach. Sadly, I didn’t walk the entire way. I got hungry and caught the bus there.
After lunch, I decided to look for the Yellow Submarine graffiti in St Kilda. My friend, Fei, took a picture of it before my visit and told me that I should see it while I’m here. It wasn’t easy to find out the location, but with a little bit of Google searching I found it on a side street. I was so happy to find it that passersby probably thought I was a weirdo obsessed with The Beatles. Well, they’re not wrong about either of those. I’m a bit weird and I love The Beatles.
The mural is something I could see The Beatles liking, it’s colourful and psychedelic, reflecting the mood of their music and fashion at the time. There’s a Yellow Submarine in the middle and a Blue Meanie on the side. One wholesome and memorable Beatles lyric is quoted: “I get by with a little help from my friends,” which funny enough isn’t on the original Yellow Submarine soundtrack, but it’s on the rereleased Songtrack.
I took a regular picture of the mural, but then decided to experiment in the spirit of the psychedelic era of The Beatles so I grabbed my crystal lenses and started playing around and got some trippy pictures.
After that, I decided to chill out on the beach and walk to the library because I needed to charge my phone and get out of the sun for a bit. There’s only so much sun I can handle and I can’t rely on my mixed heritage to save me from the UV rays all the time. While I was at the library, I read Gil Scott-Heron’s autobiography.
I wanted to get to the beach before the sunset so I can get a good picture of that and it was worth it. I got a really nice picture of it. I like to experiment with lenses and I thought outside the box and used my sunglasses and a portal crystal lens, tilted them in the right way so there’s a cool diffraction effect with the sun and bam! I got the perfect sunset picture. Sure the sky didn’t look the most vibrant like a bowl of fruit, but I like that there was a purple tint thanks to my sunglasses.
If you can’t afford or don’t have the time for the Phillip Island Penguin Parade, there’s a mini one in St Kilda. When I say mini, I really mean mini. There’s a small colony of penguins there and like at Phillip Island, they come back when the sun goes down.
I went to Phillip Island last year, but I missed out on the St Kilda penguin parade because the viewing area was closed for maintenance. This time the viewing area was clear. If you are in Melbourne, make sure to go to Phillip Island though. With both of them, get there early so you get a good view!
I got there a bit late because I was chilling on the beach trying to get a good sunset picture and also got distracted by this cute dog, but it wasn’t the end of the world.
The St Kilda penguin parade has a few advantages over the Phillip Island one: it’s closer, it’s free, and you’re able to take pictures – just make sure your flash is off. You can see the penguins pretty close too. Rangers walk around with special red flashlights so you can see the penguins more easily and so they won’t be harmed. I got a few pictures of penguins, but they’re not great. I’m not great at nighttime or low light photography.
Some say that Sydney has the edge when it comes to beaches, but I think the real advantage there is the weather. Sydney has weather like Southern California. Melbourne’s beaches should not be ignored and I think because of the character of the neighbourhoods, a beach day is worth it while you’re in Melbourne. You can’t see penguins on the beach in Sydney, but you can see them in Melbourne. St Kilda is also one of my favourite neighbourhoods and has a really nice esplanade. I’d pick this over Bondi or even Manly. I enjoyed my little beach day and got to see things that I didn’t see before.
I didn’t have a full day in Melbourne, but I had a decent amount of time to explore, so I decided to take advantage of the free museums the city has to offer. I went to the two at Federation Square, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). If I had more time and money, I would have gone to the other NGV location where they had a temporary MoMA exhibit where they got over 200 works on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. One of Eoin’s coworkers went and she absolutely loved it.
The ACMI was a pretty unique experience. I’ve been to a lot of museums all over the world, but never one that was completely dedicated to film and moving image. I found it so fascinating because a lot of what I did in my undergrad was video editing. I wanted to do video editing for a living, but it’s a really competitive field and I fell into writing by chance, and I actually like it. If I had more time, energy, and friends, I’d make more videos. I taught myself to edit videos back when I was 13 using earlier versions of iMovie and I used to make rant videos and YouTube Poops (remember when those were popular?). So that’s 10 or so years of me making crappy videos.
Enough of my story. The ACMI discusses the history of film, with an Australian focus. If you’re really into film or video games, you’d like it. Not only are there lots of visuals, there are some interactive exhibits and activities. Best part, it’s free!
At the NGV, I saw a lot of art from Australia and a bunch of different countries. Of course, my favourite part was seeing art, clothing, and furniture from the mid-20th century. My goal in life is to have the most mid century looking home possible. Whenever I’m at home I want to feel like I’m in the era that gave us amazing art and music.
So that concludes the blog about my trip to Melbourne. Now we can get back to our scheduled programming, blogs about music.
Shout out to my good friend and Topaz level Patron, Patrick.
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