We were arriving in Australia with the hopes of seeing enough of it to at least get a feel for it. With only two weeks, it was very clear that we’d be missing huge portions of the country, but we were aiming to at least see three of the four major cities. Our choices were dictated primarily by airfare: our main goal was Melbourne, but cheap inbound tickets to Sydney and cheap outbound tickets from Perth guided us towards making stops in those places as well.
Our time in Sydney was laughably limited, brought on by another of our logistical gaffes. We planned for three nights (still laughably limited, but not as hilarious as the two nights we ended up staying for), but neglected to account for the considerable time difference between the Cook Islands and Sydney, and as such, we arrived a day later than we had initially thought.
This gave us barely enough time to get a feel for the city, which included seeing the Opera House (duh), the Queen Victoria Building, and a night out in Newtown. Seeing the Opera House in person was quite a treat, as it’s such an iconic building that it’s a little surreal to stand so close to it, noticing the details that are glossed over from afar. The best views of it, however, are gotten from much farther away. We saw it lit up from afar on our flight in, and up close and personal when we visited it, which was a nice combination.
The Queen Victoria building was a pleasant surprise, happened upon after a random bus ride through the CBD in search of a place to get breakfast. In addition to finding breakfast inside (at the Palace Tea Room, which was quite good), we also found a beautiful indoor market area. The outside of the building is perhaps the most alluring though, and was what initially drew us to the space.
We met up with Oona’s friend (whom she met in Morocco) in Sydney’s hip suburb of Newtown. Newtown is reminiscent of many other hip suburbs of many other cities throughout the world, featuring low slung historically-industrial-but-recently-gentrified brick buildings and narrow streets, friendly to the pedestrian clientele it mostly attracts. Countless bars and restaurants are found along these streets, and we found ourselves in one such bar called Courthouse Hotel (many bars in Australia seem to be called hotels, even though, from what we gather, they are not hotels). It was there that we met up with Oona’s friend and a friend of hers, but the night grew more exciting after an impromptu encounter with another of their friends, and our eventual arrival to Arq, a huge LGBT bar in Darlinghurst on the other side of Sydney. We showed up to Arq before 10pm, in order to dodge their considerable cover charge, and the bar was entirely devoid of other partiers at that hour. We hung around until about midnight, by which point it was a happening place. Our friends had early errands to attend to the next morning, since it was Easter Sunday, and we had a hostel to check out of and a flight to catch, so we weren’t complaining either. We crashed at Oona’s friend’s place in the upscale suburb of Paddington, not far away from the club.
We rushed back to our hostel the following morning to make our check out time. Operating on quite limited sleep, we conceded to relaxing in a nearby park until our flight in the afternoon.
We arrived in Melbourne in the evening, and made our way from the airport to our new digs in Fitzroy, arguably Melbourne’s coolest neighborhood. Oona’s friend has a decent-sized apartment in a building that likely used to be a warehouse before the hipster takeover, and offered us a room for a very modest chip-in for rent.
We took the 86 tram across town from Southern Cross station and eventually made it to Fitzroy, and it was already becoming clear that Melbourne was a very hip place. We passed restaurant after restaurant and bar after bar on our not particularly long tram ride, and were making mental notes of what we should visit. As it turns out, there’s just too much cool stuff here for a week-long visit.
Nevertheless, we did our best to get a feel for the city, and spent much of our time wandering around, visiting this shop or that, and reveling in the culinary supernova that is Melbourne. As we strolled by the brick storefronts of neighborhoods like Fitzroy, Balaclava, and St Kilda, we were reminded of some of the great cities in the US, like San Francisco and parts of New York. Not only was the streetscape similar, but the sheer number of great looking shops, restaurants, and bars, similar to such places, left us a little overwhelmed, with no clear sense of how to absorb it all.
So, we did what any reasonable person would do, and went to Lune, the Fitzroy bakery of worldwide acclaim, to focus our attention on croissants– the purportedly best croissants in the world, mind you. We can confirm, after buying a box of various types (original, almond, and the ever elusive kouign-amann), that they are really good. The kouign-amann and coconut pandan deserve particular praise, as the decadent and buttery gold medalists of Lune’s pastry selection, but the good old fashioned croissant was also absurdly good. We’re not sure how they stack up against some of the classics gotten in France, so we look forward to conducting a more rigorous comparison next time we’re there.
Melbourne is also home to a particularly reputable wedding dress maker, so Oona made it a point to visit their shop with her friend for a fitting. The dress proved to be perfect with no alterations needed, so Oona pledged to purchase it online once we’re through traveling. The girls reveled in the day’s success and celebrated with wine at a nearby bar, where Ian met with them some time later.
While in Melbourne, we figured we should probably splurge on a fine dining experience as well. We booked a spot at St Crispin, one of Fitzroy’s many nice restaurants, and went for the five course tasting menu. We were particularly impressed with the service, and got on great with the bartender and sommelier. We didn’t order the wine pairings, and instead opted for cocktails, but the sommelier insisted on pouring us tastings of his favorite pairings, which were all fantastic. The food was good, but nothing spectacular, and an air of pretension emanated from the kitchen. All in all it was a good night, but we enjoyed our lower key affairs a bit more; relaxing at cafes with a glass of wine, or swilling beers from the bars along Johnston St.
In fact, we did just that on our last night in town. We ventured down Johnston St with our temporary housemates and visited several modest drinking joints, enjoying varied beer in abundance. Our schedules still hadn’t adjusted from our island lifestyles, however, and we found ourselves hardly able to keep our eyes open by around midnight. So nothing crazy, by any stretch, but a great little foray into the Saturday night scene in Collingwood.
The following day we packed up our stuff and said goodbye to our gracious hosts and headed to the airport for the four hour flight across the continent that afternoon.
We made it to Perth, and met two of the three Aussies, Ewan and Tat, of Hokkaido fame at the airport. As mentioned, Perth was a bit of an afterthought for us, but we knew our friends would be around, so it became an easy decision. As it turns out, we were only able to spend one night together, as short-notice business matters required Ewan to be in France the following day. He had a spare room at his house that he put us up in though, which was most appreciated.
A few hours later, because of Ewan’s departure, we were sitting in a random backyard in Perth with a handful of people we had never met before, drinking Emu Export, playing perudo, and watching some footy on the telly. We met some cool people and had an enjoyable night all around.
We went up to Caversham Wildlife Park with Tat the following day to check out Australia’s unique wildlife before we left. It was definitely the highlight of our stay in Perth, as we got to get up close to a wide variety of strange animals we hadn’t seen before. Our favorites were the kangaroos, who lazed about in the dirt, eating little food pellets right from one’s hand, and the koalas. The koalas are a bit more sanctioned, visitable only a few times per day, and they basically cling to a wooden rod and eat eucalyptus leaves while you can pet their legs. Their claws are quite sharp, so we suppose it’s for the better that you’re not allowed to just play with them willy-nilly.
We had some dinner that night with Ewan’s housemate and Tat at a well-known restaurant/brewery called Little Creatures in the bustling arts and culture center of Freemantle, which is not far from Perth on the coast. The following day was Anzac Day, which is a very important day for Australia, commemorating those lost in battle. There is traditionally a dawn service in many places around the country, where a ceremony is held at dawn. We briefly considered going to this, but then decided against it. Instead, we headed to the site of the service, King’s Park, later in the day to catch some views of the city.
We spent the afternoon at Cottesloe Beach, which is meant to be one of Perth’s best beaches, but considering the places we had come from just before Australia, it was going to take a lot to impress us on the beach front. It was enjoyable, although we didn’t swim.
Overall, our time in Australia was excellent. It was a nice chance to relax in urban environments and soak up the wonders of some modern cities. It was awesome to see old friends again, and we made a number of new ones as well. Our time, as expected, was far too short to see all of Australia, so we’ll certainly be making a visit again in the future.