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My first thought going from the airport to our HomeExchange in Melbourne, was “are we in Toronto?!” My second thought was “did we just fly 22 hours only to end up back in Canada?”
Approaching downtown gave me an odd sense of déjà vu, even though we were clearly on the opposite side of the road and as geographically far away from North America as humanly possible. Something about the road signs and the concrete jungle in the distance felt oddly familiar.
That feeling, however, disappeared as soon as we were inside the city centre. Unlike the North American car-obsessed cities I’d grown accustomed to, Melbourne was heavily pro-transit. So much so, that if you tried to drive downtown, you’d have to make something called a “hook turn”, a white knuckle, anxiety-inducing nightmare of a driving maneuver, which involves counter-intuitively making a right turn by going into the left lane.
Why do they do this? Because the city gives priority to trams, which are completely free in the downtown “free tram zone” and run up and down the centre of the lane, cars have to do this maneuver to avoid hitting them. I’m already a pretty nervous driver, so being forced to drive on the left side of the road, plus needing to deal with this crazy crap, plus having free public transportation in the downtown central business district, or CBD, meant that we didn’t bother driving at all.
Best decision I ever made.
Australia was starting to feel very European, but once I started talking to our Home Exchange host, I found out that Australia is a mix between Europe and America. They prioritize public transit over cars in cities, as I just mentioned. They also have extremely generous vacation policies, the most famous being the Long Service Leave, or LSL, which gives employees the option to take thirteen weeks off to travel after you’ve been with a company for 10 years. They also have a hybrid public-private health-care system that embraces privatized healthcare, but uses public funds to subsidize it. Australians, I was told, believe everybody should be able to get affordable care. At the same time, they believe that people who can pay more should be able to get more.
Melbourne, however, seemed to be the most European of the Australian cities, and they’re very proud of their “8 Hour Movement” statue which showcases their work life balance mentality, which they refer to as “888.” It means that you should have 8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest, and 8 hours of play in a day. This social movement was initiated in 1854 when citizens protested to against a proposal to make every work 14 hour days. Compare and contrast that to the Chinese belief of “996”, meaning working from 9 AM to 9 PM, 6 days a week. Put it all together and you can see why Melbournians are so relaxed. So relaxed and polite that they apologize frequently enough to put Canadians to shame!
Melbourne, as it turns out, is also the sporting capital of the world. After staying in downtown, we moved to another HomeExchange in the St. Kilda area. Our first clue of this city’s sportiness was the overflowing bars and restaurants filled with Formula 1 race car fans, as the Australian Grand Prix was happening.
But being the mathletes that we are, we didn’t end up doing anything sporty during our time there. Instead, we nerded it up by playing a series of outdoor escape room games from Questo to explore downtown. If you’re dorky like us and want a fun interactive way to get to know the city and its history, just download it once on one person’s phone to play as a group or family for 2-3 hours of fun. Try the “Ghosts of Melbourne: Vampire Search” game. That was my favourite. “Street Art of Melbourne” was a runner up.
And at the Old Melbourne Gaol, we visited their historical jail which has horrifying stories like this one:
Colin Ross, was a man convicted of rape based on the flimsy evidence that hairs of the female victim was found in this bed. But 90 years later, they were able to clear the man using modern DNA testing and posthumously cleared him of the crime. I’m sure his ghost is super not bitter about that.
Incidentally, despite Australia’s well-known history of being a British penal colony, please refrain from making jokes about Australians all being criminals. One of my friends stupidly did this at a bar, got punched by a drunk local, and by all accounts he totally deserved it. The fact that he was British likely didn’t help. So don’t do it.
Back in St.Kilda, we tried to go bother some penguins by the pier, as there’s a colony of penguins that you can go see, but sadly had no luck because the observation deck was blocked off for renovation.
Oh well. As the locals love to say, no worries. St. Kilda had other attractions like this creepy old amusement park called “Luna Park,” which is…just as good?
If you’re nostalgic for old timey rollercoasters and rides, this is a great place to take the whole family. Also if you’re scared of clowns, this is also a great place for some exposure therapy. You’ll either be totally cured, or have a nervous breakdown.
Ah, Acland street. Famous for its homemade cakes and one of the most famous cafes of Melbourne, the Monarch. There, we decided to eat our body weight worth of Kooglhoupes, an addictive marble cake made of soft melted dark chocolate swirled through yeasty pastry. Yum!
And of course, since we’re also in the coffee capital of the world, we had to enjoy a latte on the side.
I gotta say, I don’t normally drink coffee (I’m more of a bubble tea kind of girl), but Australia, hands down, served the best coffee I’ve ever tasted. It was so good, it ruined all other coffee for me. Now when someone suggests we go to Starbucks, my standard reply is “Well, why don’t I just piss into my own mouth?” That’s Melbourne coffee for you. So good, it makes Starbucks taste like piss. And that’s why I don’t work in marketing.
After eating dessert, we were invited by two readers to dinner. There, we ended up eating something quintessentially Australian: kangaroo. Kangaroo has a reputation for being very tough, but somehow this one tasted like beef, but way more tender. Like melt in your mouth tender. I’m not sure if it’s the great choice of restaurant (shout out to the Napier Hotel) but having heard mixed reviews from other Australians about this delicacy, I had pretty low expectations. So I’m happy to be pleasantly surprised.
Weirdly enough, I was told repeatedly by Australians not to feel bad about eating their hoppy, boxing glove-wielding mascot. Apparently, these things are such pests and overwhelming other species that ecologists say that we’re doing them a favour by eating them.
After dinner, we decided to go to a comedy show at the Fringe festival, which is another thing that Melbournians are proud of—their wide variety of cultural events. They like to say “Sydney has nature, but we have more art and culture”. Again, this gave me déjà vu and made of think of the rivalry between Toronto and Vancouver. I kind of felt like Melbourne had a bit of an inferiority complex because tourists were always saying how Sydney is prettier, has nicer nature and better weather. To compensate, Melbourne constantly brags about how much more artsy and cultured they are compared to Sydney. Melbournians, I feel like you would get along swimmingly with Torontonians.
Getting out to nature takes around 2.5 hours from Melbourne. Because of my aversion to driving (see: hook-turns), we booked a bus tour to go see the Great Ocean Road and a famous formation of limestone pillars jutting out of the ocean known as the 12 Apostles.
The funny thing is, there aren’t actually 12 of these things. There are only 8, and one of them is being eroded into the ocean. So why is it called the 12 Apostles? Because the 8 Apostles sounds stupid, that’s why. That being said, Melbournians loudly and constantly reminded me that the 12 Apostles is considered one of the Wonders of the World, so definitely go see it if you’re there.
While I enjoyed the scenery, I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to the limestone cliffs in Portugal’s Lagos. They look almost identical. Or maybe I’m just a travel snob and everything reminds me of some other part of the world now. I dunno. You be the judge:
Great Ocean Road, Melbourne:
Despite the fact that the Great Ocean Road was a bit underwhelming for me, I still enjoyed my tour with Autopiatours to get out of the city. Here’s a promo code to get $20 off as part of their “Friends with Benefits” discount (heh heh): FWB20OFF.
For us, Melbourne was definitely more about big city attractions like the culture, history, museums, and food. Unfortunately, with the exception of the outdoor Queen Victoria market, food was atrociously expensive. Every meal was over $30 per dish even for bar food! Even in Chinatown, a simple bowl of Pho was $19 and people were lining up around the block. On the plus side, the Australian minimum wage is $22/hour, so there’s no need for tipping since staff get paid a living wage (another aspect that reminded me of Europe). So in that sense, if you consider that sales tax and tip is already included in the price, it’s not that different from North American prices.
So, did Melbourne cost an arm and a leg?
Here’s how much we spent:
|Cost in USD/couple per day
|Cost in CAD/couple per day
|Since we stayed in 2 Home Exchanges we ended up spending nothing on accommodations, except for the rent back home ($51/day for two people).
|$46.20 (19.64 eating out, 26.56 groceries)
|We mostly cooked and didn’t eat out much in Melbourne except the odd meal here and there. I didn’t feel that eating out in Melbourne was worth it. We also saved a ton on groceries by shopping at the Victoria outdoor farmer’s market.
|The flight from Hanoi to Melbourne was paid with by points so we just had to pay the $145 USD in taxes. Other than that, trams in the downtown zone were free in Melbourne and we took a few buses here and there from St. Kilda to downtown which costs around $3.38 USD per person each way. Averaged over 16 days, we ended up paying around $16.60 USD/couple per day.
|The Great Ocean Road tour cost $66.24 USD per person and the ticket for the comedy show cost $22 USD/person. Other than that the 2 outdoor escape rooms were only $9 USD each. We also did a free walking tour which cost $7 USD/person in tips and the Old Melbourne jail entrance tickets cost $22 USD each. So all in all, over 16 days, it average out to be $16.91 USD/day
|Normally Melbourne would be way more expensive if we didn’t use Home Exchange, didn’t fly there with points, ate out like people do on vacation, and went on a lot more expensive excursions. But since we lived like locals and enjoyed a lot of free or cheap attractions and cooked a ton, it was very doable.
Our 2 bed 2 bath Home Exchange in Melbourne:
What do you think? Have you been to Melbourne? Would you go?
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