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Published: February 25th 2010
AC/DC exhibit in Melbourne
Melbourne and Sydney seem to be at war with each other in a never-ending and often prickly battle for the title of "Best City in Australia". Start any conversation comparing the two and the barbs (smartly funny but oh-so-sharp) come out.
Melbourne clearly held the honors for the first half of the 1900s, culminating in hosting the 1956 Summer Olympics. Nothing says "cool and important" like being chosen to host the Olympics (or maybe it just says "most politically motivated"). Either way, Melbourne was the center of big things in Australia for many years: the first Australian Parliament was held in Melbourne in 1901 and Vegemite was invented in Melbourne in 1923.
And then the tables turned and now Sydney is the big shot. Sydney is clearly the financial hub and Sydneysiders like to think of themselves as the most chic and cosmopolitan people in all of Oz. Sydney is a stunner with its beautiful harbor and picture-postcard Opera House. And Sydney was chosen to host the Summer Olympics in 2000 (the "Games of the New Millennium").
Melbourne (only slightly smaller than Sydney, with a population 4.0 million vs. Sydney's 4.4 million) is generally regarded (at least by
Old amusement park in St. Kilda
non-Sydneysiders) as the arts and culture capital of the country. With its beautiful old architecture, quaint trams (trolleys) and excellent museums and cafes, it does feel more European than Sydney (for sure).
Our take? Sydney may be a bigger and flashier city, but Melbourne tries harder and is easier to love.
There are several things that we've especially loved about Melbourne in the past three days.
The first is that it is where the outrageously popular rock band AC/DC first gained popularity in the clubs of Melbourne. Adrian has a soft spot for AC/DC, given their popularity during his formative years in the 1980s. Interestingly, most members of the band were not born in Australia (the two founding brothers - Angus and Malcolm Young - were born in Scotland but emigrated to Australia at a young age). Melburnians seem to be incredibly proud of producing - and nurturing - such talent.
This is evidenced by the surprisingly entertaining AC/DC exhibit that we saw at the Arts Center, just south of the Yarra river in the downtown area. The exhibit traced the band's origins and included such treasures as the school boy costumes worn by Angus Young
Yummy sweets in St. Kilda.
during performances and letters from singer Bon Scott to his wife (or girlfriend?), often written late at night, describing in spidery writing all of the drugs he'd just taken and complaining about the lack of women to have sex with. Perhaps not surprisingly, Bon's career with the band was short-lived. In 1980, he was found dead in his car after a night of partying in London. The "official" causes listed were "acute alcohol poisoning" and - intriguingly ambiguous - "death by misadventure". Apparently the true cause was choking on his own vomit. He was 33 years old.
After Scott's death, the band picked up a new lead singer (Brian Johnson) and continued their stratospheric climb to fame. The exhibit was packed with great photos, memorabilia and concert footage. Talk about flashbacks to the 80s. We loved it.
And just for the record, AC/DC doesn't stand for "Anti-Christ, Devil's Children", which the 700 Club succeeded in convincing half of the Christians in the U.S. in the 1980s. Instead, it was taken from writing (referencing the AC/DC current) on the Young family's vacuum cleaner. As Angus apparently once said, "It had something to do with electricity, so it seemed to fit. . .".
A side note to explain our title today: for those of you unfamiliar with the band, "Back in Black" is not only a song but also their biggest-selling album.
Melbourne not only brings out the best in musicians, it also inspires fantastic bakers. One afternoon, we headed down to the neighborhood of St. Kilda to eat cake.
St. Kilda these days is a pretty little seaside domain of yuppies, but in the 1980s it was THE place to be for druggies and transvestites. Walking down uber-cute Acland Street now, you'd never know it.
Acland is the mothership of pastry shops. Seriously, looking down the street, the lineup goes something like this:
- Cute children's clothes shop
But it's not just about quantity. These aren't amateur bakeries - these are the heavyweights of confectionary delight. It is clear that perfectionists are at work here. Behind shiny glass windows are row upon row of cakes, pies, cookies, tarts, croissants, muffins, etc. Every single cake/cookie/treat is a work of art. Acland Street is a sugar-junkie's heaven. Rising to the challenge, Angelique made a lunch out of an enormous strawberry cookie "sandwich" (two large sugar cookies stuck together with a lucious creamy filling - and then covered with pink frosting with sprinkles on top) - and, of course, a Diet Coke to balance it all out. Angelique ended up with a headache and a bellyache.
St. Kilda is a fantastic place to spend a sunny afternoon, walking along the leafy residential streets, poking in the cute commercial area and then strolling over to the historical amusement park (if you're not deterred by the super scary Poltergeist like clown face at the entrance) and the beach.
Back to Melbourne's musical offerings. One evening we headed out to listen to music at Bennetts Lane, a popular jazz club in town. Several jazz greats have played at Bennets Lane and we were excited to catch the last performance before the club closed for the summer holidays. We stayed for the first set, an all-women sextet (piano, bass, drums, violin, sax and trombone). The leader of the group, apparently very famous in Australia, had written the piece, a story of her husband's diagnosis and struggle with multiple sclerosis. The music was a bit sad but we enjoyed the performance overall. Bennets Lane is a great club. Lucky Melburnians!
Our final favorite thing about Melbourne are the pubs. One evening, tired after a day of exploring the city, we asked Paul for a recommendation for great pub food. He pointed us to The Royal Mail, a pub about two blocks away from our B&B. Now you may think of pub food as rubbery beef pies and over-cooked peas on the side but we're here to tell you that Melbourne pub food is extraordinary. Adrian had sausages & mashed potatoes (very safe pub grub and very delicious) and Angelique tried the battered gummy shark (fish) and chips (french fries). We liked the food so much we returned the next night.
Before we head back to Sydney for the Christmas holiday, we've decided to spend one day seeing a bit more of the country and, if we're lucky, some Australia-specific wildlife. Stay tuned.
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