Melbourne, Australia: Return to the modern, city life

The size of Australia parallels the size of the states. But the population, however, is roughly similar to that of NY. The majority of the country’s inhabitants reside along the coastline, taking hold of Australia’s five main cities. Sydney ranks as the country’s main city. Melbourne boasts second place.

My camp friend Nathan is spending a semester studying at the University of Melbourne, referred to by the locals as Melbourne Uni. I would be staying with him for the four days and three nights of my visit to the city.

It was a challenge upon arriving balancing my duffel bag and lettered purse as I maneuvered my way onto the city bus with a transfer to two different trams. After getting off at two incorrect stops and asking a grown man and a student for directions, I finally made it to Nathan’s dorm. But dorm is a relative term as dorms in Melbourne Uni share more of resemblance to a fraternity than an American style dorm. The co- ed inhabitants of the college are friends with mostly each other, host parties/ go to other parties (aka inter collegiate mixers) together, play sports against the other “colleges” of the university and eat breakfast, lunch and dinner together during the set hours in the dining area within the dorm building. I had arrived on a Wednesday… every Monday and Wednesday is formal dinner, a tradition of the college. Nathan, along with his fellow classmates, dress up in Hogwarts style robes for these dinners.

I may have been on the other side of the world, but the college scene down under bears a familiar resemblance to that of the states. Nathan and I attended his college’s footie game, watching the other colleges’ residents pass by the field, dressed in themes for their respective mixers. Clear, plastic bottles replaced the American red solo cup, but the contents within were of no difference. Some of the abroad, American girls were also present at the footie game; It was interesting noting the differences in their personalities as compared to the Australian students…how guarded the American seemed, many with a pompous air about them. The Americans didn’t make an attempt to be friendly, so different than attitude of the Australian students. It’s something I’ve noticed during my time in Australia… Australians are friendly, warm, eager to chat. Us Americans, we place this barrier up, only letting go once we feel comfortable. I guess it’s a part of our culture, but it’s something I’ve taken to great notice during my summer stay in Australia.

I had packed for cold weather, seeing as Sydney had opted for the chills during my six weeks in the city. But the weather in Melbourne was pleasant and I found myself warm in leggings and a long sleeved shirt. The sky was gray and cloudy… similar to a London winter day. There’s much more of a European touch in Melbourne, a contrast to the American feel of Sydney. The buildings have character, cafes and shops line the streets; in a way, Melbourne is much of a city like Boston with the crowds of New York City.

The streets come alive with the traffic separated by the trams that run in the center of the roads. Wires secure the trams to their routes, kind of an outlined- roofing over the eight block central business district (CBD).

Nathan and I caught the 19 tram to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, a museum in the CBD. To my delight, the museum featured a contemporary art exhibit. Modern art grabs you, making you one with the piece as you engage with the exhibit, analyzing the significance, rethinking your definition of what constitutes a work of art. What is of more importance: the brains behind the idea or the construction behind the piece? I became intrigued with an exhibit with a rotating skull and a camera filming the inside of the brain. To enter the small, darkened room, individuals had to pass through a fog barrier. The room’s curator mentioned it was interesting watching individuals think through the manner in which to approach the room… whether the fog was the exhibit, whether to pass through or whether to leave the room alone as the fog represented a barricade from entering the room behind. It was a fascinating piece… a life v. death piece. The skull, I believe, represents death with rotation being symbolic of life. The fog signifies the blur of the unknown regions of our brains, of the unconscious within our minds, so distant from the range of our reach.

Taken at the beach in St. Kilda.
I met up with my cousin that afternoon. He is currently spending his year at Monash University, a college about an hour train ride from the city. We strolled along Degraves Street, an Italian style cobbled street with a range of cafes and restaurants lining the perimeter. We stopped for lunch at a Spanish restaurant and sat at the bar  facing the open windows for a stunning view of the street in front. Ben, following lunch, wanted to visit the Jewish museum. And so guide book in hand and a bit of help from an elderly woman missing her three front teeth, an Asian man with small gold hoops on each ear and a young woman who appeared to be a college student (until I asked her and it turned out she actually works in the city), we set forth on an adventure to St. Kilda in search of the Jewish Museum of Melbourne. But to our dismay, the museum closed at 4 and we had arrived at 4:10.

Ben and I parted ways about an hour later, wishing each other goodbye for our last time during my visit in Australia. Nathan and I met back up… we had dinner reservations at an Indian restaurant further away from the city thanks to Nathan’s keen eye for LivingSocial deals.

We probably should have gathered from the tacky Christmas tree lighting d├ęcor and lack of customers (am I the only one that judges an Indian restaurant based off if other Indians are there too?) that we were not dining at the city’s most up market Indian restaurant.

The Indian host, who I noted had mold on his front two teeth (literally, what is wrong with me and noticing everyone’s teeth lately??) asked us whether we were vegetarian or meat eaters. I hadn’t realized that we wouldn’t be ordering off a menu. In fact, our vege/ meat eater answer was all he needed to know in preparing our individual platters of six dishes with Indian style rice and pancake. Dessert was included in the meal… let’s just say that the dessert had a consistency of snot with small balls and stands of angel hair like noodles. It took a single slurp of the revolting dessert before I promptly placed my cutlery down, proclaiming my completion with the meal for the night. 

Dinner wasn’t the best meal… but it was a dinner I appreciated unlike any other. My goal upon landing in Melbourne had been to experience the city for its culture, from a viewpoint removed from the eyes of a tourist. A tourist wouldn’t have ventured to the sketchier parts of the city for dinner... a dinner at a restaurant that was definitely not on the city’s listing of must-go-to restaurants.

Nathan had found a cemetery during his exploration of the Melbourne Uni area. He wanted me to venture in with him given the cemetery featured a large Jewish presence including a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. I was hesitant to enter, unsure about my emotional capability of navigating the unknown territory of the cemetery grounds. The cemetery parallels a busy street, just a block off from the university’s main road. A faint blue trace of the mountains in the distance add a stunning backdrop to the cemetery setting.

I stood among the graves, paralyzed by emotion, thoughts of my great- grandparents who had recently passed away flooding my mind. I experienced a rush of fear, a grounding realization of the ephemerality of life.

The gravestones listed the names of the deceased with subheadings of beloved wife or husband, mother or father, on occasion- mother- in- law or father- in- law. It’s your soul that remains after you have passed and it’s the love that binds us once our physical presence departs the world for good. It’s scares me that I too will be buried one day (dear G-d SO SO SO SO SO SO far down the line from now). But it's my only hope is that I’ll be one the of the fortunate individuals who shares a king sized coffin with my husband, and that my headstone reads beloved wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother. 

Nathan and I attended a synagogue about 30 minutes train ride from the city for Shabbat that Friday evening. A family had graciously invited us over for shabbos dinner and we joined a dinner of three other couples that included an American rabbi and his wife who had just moved to Melbourne a few days before. It’s touching that no matter where you are in the world, there’s always the guarantee that a Jewish family will take you in for a shabbos dinner, allowing access to their home and an opportunity to partake in the festive meal. I owe my religion a wealth of gratitude for the sense of community it has left me with, the feel of belonging Judaism has provided me over the course of my life, notably the period during this summer’s travels.

I left Melbourne the Saturday afternoon. One of Nathan’s friends drove me to the airport, a selfless, giving offer that I greatly appreciated. I zoned out on the flight back to Sydney, sleeping through my final trip in Australia, the end to my week long backpacking adventure. 

2 Response to Melbourne, Australia: Return to the modern, city life

December 13, 2011 at 3:44 PM

Great post! I am relocating to Melbourne for a while and I am just so excited to get there! I've got almost all the details figured out, just have been searching for apartments in Melbourne...there are some really great places. Thanks for the great blog!

December 16, 2011 at 12:50 AM

Best of luck with your move to Melbourne! It's an absolutely gorgeous city and I can imagine the weather is by far better this time of year.

Thank you so much for your comment, Deena!

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