Melbourne wasn’t rated the most liveable city in the world in The Economist survey for 2 consecutive years for nothing. Even as a tourist, I could see how good it was in terms of infrastructure, culture, cleanliness and quality of life. Having citizen cousins helped! Thanks to them, I spent my limited number of days there as a local – I ate with them, dressed like them, roamed around like them.
When I landed in Melbourne, in November 2011, it was 15 degrees Celsius. My brain froze, as it always does in winters. My aunt’s house was warm and tranquil. Though Melbourne is a big city, it is not densely populated and hours can pass before you spot anyone on the road opposite your house.
My excitement did its best to overpower the sleep and jetlag that wanted to highjack me. I had no time to feel jetlagged – my young cousins had planned a party for my Uncle and Aunt and we had to prepare! I was dragged to the tiny commercial complex of Glen Waverly. The cool salon, managed by young girls in colourful spiky hair cheerfully took in customers and chatted with them while working. My cousins got their hair done while I slept on the sofa. Imagine, I was in this totally hip salon, looking like a dork and behaving like one by falling asleep in their open Reception area. I let go of my inhibitions after I was forced to get a hair-cut and the hairdresser acted friendly with me.
I ended up with a fantastic hair-cut, praise of which I received for coming 6 months.
The air was sticky and cold when we reached the party venue. I then witnessed an Indian families’ gathering that was nothing short of a Bollywood NRI party – like Monsoon Wedding. High heels, glitter, tattoos, straight hair and lots of bling. Each lady was impeccably dressed, having spent time, money and attention to her attire and make-up. For most of us in India, going to a hair-dresser for getting your hair done just for a family gathering is a total waste of money. Not here. Here, they dress their best each time they step out. They are professionals-to-be – dentists, psychologists, doctors. But they know make-up and hair styling tricks. My cousins’ rooms are filled with fashion and make-up accessories – one of them is a working Chartered Accountant and the other one is studying Law. This was an eye opening inspiration for me. Just because you are in a ‘boring’ profession, doesn’t mean you don’t dress up and even, over-do it at times.
I ended up being a dork again by dozing off on a couch in the corner and hence, there is no trace of me in any of the party group photographs.
The rain was a big dampener to my enthusiasm. And the cold. It kept raining the next day and we just stayed in. in fact, Melbourne witnesses all 3 seasons in a day and that’s a regular event! It can be hot, cold and rainy – all on the same day! I was mighty disappointed! I wished to go out and see Melbourne! I was losing out on the beautiful sights by being in! Despite having slept less, I popped up in the morning and got ready quickly, hoping to see the sun, hoping to go out.
My Uncle finally took us out to the Sherbrooke Forest. We crammed into his SUV and drove through the sparse, wet, smooth roads of Melbourne. I stared at everything wide-eyed, awestruck by the cleanliness, systematic traffic, shiny cars and beautiful landscape. I could hardly control myself from beaming.
The rainforest looked a little creepy because of the rain. The temperature dropped a few degrees in this area. The stillness of the woods was regularly intruded by hooting, cheeping and tweeting of birds that were hiding in thousands of trees there. I dug my hands into my jumper pockets and moved into the forest, passing some wooden tables and benches. A tap stood nearby. It looked like a perfect picnic spot!
We made our way through trees – tall and short, with thick and thin barks, fallen trees and wild shrubs. Some trees looked eerie and some looked majestic, indicating hundreds of times seen and storms fought.
Oh. We also saw a Wallaby hiding in the bushes! It gave us a one second glimpse and scampered away!
The rain had stopped. The forest stopped seeming eerie and my chirpiness returned (pun totally intended!). There were wooden bridges, fences and stairs in the woods. We only crossed one solo hiker who was returning. The area was quite huge and exploring it could take a good half a day. But because of rain and lack of time, we used out gut to choose well-treaded paths and returned to our vehicle.
The forest is also known as a bird sanctuary. Varied kinds of cockatoos and parrots reside here. And if you are not a bird-watcher or lover, here is how you can enjoy the birds
This was the most exhilarating moment for me!
This well maintained forest speaks a lot about Melbourne city’s management and the people’s discipline. This open area is unattended mostly; people are free to come here to enjoy a picnic, hike or do bird watching. And yet, it is so clean. Also, the city has managed to maintain such a huge nature reserve despite its speedy modernization. No wonder Melbourne air is so pure and pleasant.
I had other things planned up for the Australia trip – Brisbane, Whitsundays and Sydney. That gave me very less time in Melbourne. I roamed around with my cousins enough to conclude that Melbourne was a dream city for me.
Some other highlights of Melbourne:
- Food: Melbourne (in fact, the whole of Australia) is a heaven for food lovers. World cuisines, thick shakes, cocktails, cupcakes, crepes and donuts. I wonder how my cousins manage to remain slim. I lost total control over myself! Melbourne gave me my many firsts – the first time I tasted Korean and Turkish food. The first time I had scallops, crab, Salmon, crepes and cupcakes. The first time I had a peach+mango+banana thickshake. And the first time I saw so many varieties of donuts!
- Great Ocean Road: One cannot leave Melbourne without looking at the 12 Apostles. While the drive on the beautiful way gave me lots of nausea, once there, I was delighted. The weather was just right and the view was beautiful. The drive is wonderful and the ultimate destination a perfect reward for the 2 hours ride.
- Shopping: Melbourne proudly holds the southern hemisphere’s biggest mall, Chadstone Mall. The mall has over 500 stores, local and global, standard and luxury. Though Melbourne is an expensive city, for shopping, you can easily find brands that will suit your budget.
- Melbourne University: My younger cousin, who is still a student there, took me on a walking tour to her Uni and nearby areas. The Uni area is green and spacious. Do take a look if you get the opportunity.
I know I have missed a lot in Melbourne – Penguin Island, Yarra River, Balloon Ride, Street art lane and National Gallery of Victoria. This gives me a perfect excuse to go back to my favourite city.
Australia holds fond memories for me. It was my first solo travel. It was the first time I actually get go of my inhibitions and had a blast. I recommend Melbourne to my friends, family and colleagues.
And now, to you too. It’s your time to visit Melbourne NOW!