And then we were off to Melbourne to ring in the New Year. We’d been to Melbourne, capital of the state of Victoria, in 2004 and remembered it as one of the great cities of the world. We were not disappointed by our return.
Melbourne is Australia’s second city, smaller than Sydney, younger than Sydney, without the stunning natural beauty of Sydney’s harbor or the iconic Australian images of Sydney’s Opera House or Bridge. So Melbourne has to try harder. And it succeeds. Great architecture. Vibrant streets and street art. Wonderful food. Amazing museums. Beautiful parks. We loved Melbourne 12 years ago and we loved it again.
And on top of that, we had friends to visit. We met Mandi & Jean Philippe on our boat cruise in Fiji and, although they were on it for just three days, we really hit it off with them. When they saw on Facebook that we were in Australia they insisted that we let them know when we made it to Melbourne. And so on December 30 we caught a commuter train out to Narre Warren, a suburban community about 25 miles southeast of Melbourne for a traditional Mauritian upside-down dinner (Philippe is originally from Mauritius). We got to meet their two kids and spouses who were around for the holidays. And for a big bonus they’d promised us kangaroos, so before dinner they drove us out to an area where he runs and sure enough we saw dozens of kangaroos in the wild, just out hopping around. Pretty cool.And speaking of friends, another couple that we’d met in Fiji, Charlotte and Piers, were passing through Melbourne at the same time so we had drinks with them, as well. When last seen Charlotte & Piers were in Surfers Paradise on their motorized excursion around most of the perimeter of Australia. Melbourne was their last stop before flying on to the Philippines, so we got to say goodbye to them over drinks on New Year’s Day. They’re starting to wind down their around-the-world trip, getting ready to head back to the world of apartments and jobs, but they’re such a fun and interesting couple I’m confident we’re going to find ways to meet up again soon enough.
The other thing we’ll remember about Melbourne is the amazing National Gallery of Victoria. I stopped in there when, on our first afternoon in Melbourne, I was headed to the park to read when it started raining. “Might as well duck in here,” I thought, and thus was lost for two hours in a remarkable collection of art spanning centuries and continents. I loved the way it was laid out and the combination of Australian artists mixed in with great European masters. And I loved the fact that the permanent collection is free, always my favorite price point.
Mark went on his own a couple days later, mostly to see a special David Hockney exhibit which he later described as one of the greatest exhibits he’d ever seen. It’s an exhibit of some 1,200 pieces just from the last decade, many of them created on Hockney’s iPad or iPhone. The exhibit was curated by the National Gallery of Victoria along with Hockney, so on top of it all it is a remarkable tribute to the NGV itself. I’d been reluctant to spend the time and the $20 or so they were charging but as I look at the pictures Mark took I obviously made a stupid decision.
And finally, the food. Early on we discovered a great bar/restaurant called Meatballs and Wine where, not surprisingly, they serve meatballs and wine. The owner is an Italian who loves meatballs and wine and found a way to transplant a bit of Italy to Melbourne. So after first trying them for lunch, that’s where we had our New Year’s Eve dinner before heading back to our hotel in the center of the city to watch the fireworks with a few thousand of our closest friends. Fun!