The most important things I’ve learnt about Melbourne

Melbourne, I’ve been lucky enough to be in you more than a few times by now. I find you delightful, easy to navigate and (dare I say it) much nicer than Sydney.

For those that haven’t been to Melbourne, there’s a few key things I’ve learnt that have made (and will continue to make) my haphazard plans run smoothly.

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This building has living things on it. Living things!

Transport and getting around

If you’re flying to Melbourne, be aware that there are two different airports: Tullamarine (my preferred) and Avalon. Now I’m not entirely sure what flights go out of Avalon, but I’m pretty sure if you’re using Avalon airport, you’re doing it wrong. Tullamarine is the winner.

But how do you get from the airport (Tullamarine) to the city? SkyBus is your answer, friends. It goes straight from the airport to Southern Cross Station (massive train station near Melbourne’s CBD) and takes around 30 minutes.

Southern Cross Station itself is beautiful. It’s a very European-looking transit centre. (I haven’t actually been to Europe, but this is what I imagine their train stations look like. This is based on nothing but my imagination.) It’s worth a look, even if you don’t need to use it. It also has lockers if you need to stash your luggage somewhere during the day.

For getting around Melbourne using public transport, you’re going to need a myki. Myki is your key. (Not my key – my myki is my key. Your myki is your key.) I’m just going to assume you’re familiar with the concept of a transport credit card – put money on it, tap on and tap off when using public transport, ride freely with no troubles and sans other people’s BO (maybe not the last one)? Well Melbourne’s version is the myki. Myki cards are available on essentially every corner of the Melbourne CBD. Buy them from a 7-Eleven, pop some credit on them and you can then use them for all of Melbourne’s public transport: trains, buses and trams.

If you’re driving, beware. The state of Victoria has zero tolerance for speeding, so only one kilometre over the speed limit could see you fined. There’s also no warning signs in effect, so you can be getting your speed checked without realising it. My tip? Don’t speed.

Also, driving in the CBD is weird as all hell. If you need to turn right, you have to go into the left lane. This is confusing and anxiety driving. My tip? Three lefts make a right! And watch out for trams. They’re everywhere.

As for travelling on trams, they’re great. That’s all I have to say about them. Oh, wait. There’s a fare free zone in the CBD for trams. Use it.

Nightlife

Melbourne’s nightlife is more centred around small bars, restaurants, and sitting with a group of good friends. Not that clubs don’t exist, but one of Melbourne’s more charming aspects is the smaller venues. There’s also a few secret bars lying around the place. I recommend doing some research if you’re after something a bit different. One such place is Berlin Bar – a secret cocktail bar with a Cold War theme. One side of the bar is dressed with opulence and the other side is derelict, reflecting tensions in Berlin during the Cold War.

Melbourne also has a brilliant live music scene, and a cornerstone (ha, pun!) of the scene is the Corner Hotel in Richmond. Recently babs and I checked out the Corner Hotel when City Calm Down were playing. As a music venue goes, it’s pretty amazing. Just don’t stand in line with the left-hand-side of the stage if you think you’ll be frequently urinating. The toilets are on the right.

Drinks-wise, Melbourne does pints. I am not a pint-drinker. If you are also not a pint-drinker, I recommend going easy on the pints. They’re larger than you think.

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Minh Minh: your new favourite restaurant.

Eating in Melbourne

Melbourne is home to a thousand hipster cafes with a great range of amazing culinary feats. So, naturally, babs and I always go to the Pancake Parlour for breakfast because PANCAKES. SO MANY VARIETIES OF PANCAKES.

Those that don’t have a weird obsession with pancakes will quickly realise Melbourne is a great place for food. Each suburb has its own little pocket of awesomeness and cultural dishes. A particular favourite is Minh Minh on Victoria St in North Richmond. It’s a brilliant little Vietnamese restaurant that babs and I almost walked past, but something about Minh Minh caught my eye. I’m going to spend the rest of this section telling you about it.

The interior is simple, the dishes are cheap. (Quick tip – it’s BYO.) The quality of the cooking was off the charts. The service was wonderful. The owner was hilarious.

When our spring rolls came out, they came out with full leaves of lettuce. We’d only ever seen shredded lettuce come out with spring rolls before, so we were a little confused. Babs picked up a lettuce leaf and was about to bite into it when Sandy sprung to our table. A small, feisty woman, Sandy quickly showed us exactly how to eat our spring rolls. Turns out we’ve been doing it wrong for quite some time! I especially appreciated how much she was teasing babs and treating him like a very large child (in a non-patronising way). She later came up just after we started our mains to give babs a fork because he was struggling with chopsticks. She gave me a wink after saying something to babs about how he needed some help. Closer to the end of the meal, she filled up babs’ water glass because she’d noticed he’d found the meal a bit too spicy. It was like having dinner with a smart-arse aunty.

Two mains, rice, and spring rolls at the start cost us $40. I gladly would have paid more. Minh Minh is my new favourite restaurant. Go there.

The city itself

Melbourne is beautiful. Growing up in central west NSW, Sydney was the closest city (only about two hours’ drive). I went there a lot growing up – it was easy to catch the train down to art galleries for school excursions and there were many attractions my parents took my brothers and I to – but I’d never really seen it as a place of beauty, and thus I never thought of cities as beautiful. Melbourne changed that for me.

The architecture is interesting, inventive and traditional all in one. I’ve always been happy to just sit down on a bench and look at the buildings around me. There are wonderful little laneways with boutiques, restaurants, galleries and other surprises dotted around the place.

The public transport system is easy to work out and easy to use, so I’ve never had any qualms getting around. It’s just nice to be there.

So, Melbourne, you wondrous little haven of surprises and culture – thanks for being you.

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