I recently spent 3 weeks in Australia visiting my son in Melbourne and also finally going back to Sydney for a visit. I haven’t been back to Sydney since I left 40 years ago and I have no explanation for why I didn’t. I often think about Sydney and have no bad memories or family secrets buried there but somehow I never returned and as this was a trip celebrating a landmark birthday it seemed like it was definitely now or never. These are my impressions of Melbourne and Sydney (and Hong Kong too).
Dreading the plane trip, I hate long plane trips, there was never any possibility of us flying non-stop to Melbourne. We decided to spend a few days in Hong Kong on the way there and back. The flying time turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Really! I even quite enjoyed it. I don’t watch much television so that is what I did. I went on a binge. I watched movies all the way. From Hong Kong to Melbourne I watched the entire series of Big Little Lies and it finished just in time for landing. Best flight ever. (Closely followed by Hong Kong to Tel
Aviv watching the wonderful movies The Shape of Water and Three Billboards.)
We have been to Hong Kong before, but it was the end of September and so hot, we didn’t really enjoy it. This time we were there in March and the weather was perfect. We stayed in Kowloon for the atmosphere and only went over to the other side once to see the ferris wheel and look for a lone yellow pumpkin with black spots that Time Out promised was being displayed somewhere near the harbor. We showed photos of the pumpkin to people but they looked at us like we were crazy. We eventually caught up with Yayoi Kusama in Melbourne but we didn’t find her in Hong Kong.
We spent our day in Hong Kong walking around the old streets in Kowloon, through the markets, the stalls, around the harbor, eating lots of dim sum, finishing up with the harbor light show (never gets old, never gets boring), having a good time and happy that we would be coming back in another few weeks.
We arrived in Melbourne to find ourselves surrounded by Chinese people and all the signs were in English and
Chinese. For a minute I got confused after the long flight, and thought I was still in China. This feeling never entirely left me while I was in Melbourne. Inner city Melbourne must be at least 70 percent Asian (maybe more), many banks and shops have signs in Chinese. So many good restaurants, we ate quite a lot of dim sums and noodles and Vietnamese food and sushi too.
I liked Melbourne very much. It seemed like a place that I could live in. I loved the walking streets and little lanes with their cafes and graffiti. Visited two wonderful museums. We were there during the NGV triennial and that’s where we found Yayoi Kusama and her installation of red flowers. Everybody gets a red flower to stick on a surface and by the time we visited after a few months, the room and everything in it was nearly obliterated by the flowers. I loved the Melbourne natural and cultural history museum. The exhibitions were all so well done and interesting. I particularly liked the old immigrant houses with their period furniture but it was all really great and it would be difficult to say which was best, all
Melbourne has a lot of markets. I visited Victoria market a few times, good prices and fun atmosphere. We also went once to the Wednesday night food market there. Not a place for vegetarians. Massive joints of meat slowly roasting wherever you look, the smell is quite overwhelming. There are, of course, lots of other things to eat but meat is king. If you like shopping, Melbourne is the place. There are shops and big shopping malls everywhere. I couldn’t believe the selection. I could see how a person could turn into a raging consumer there. For example, the pharmacies had such a selection of pills and creams, everything that I have ever thought I wanted and so much more that I didn’t, I had a brief period of panic when I realized I couldn’t possibly carry all this stuff back. In the end we didn’t buy too much, but much more than we usually do and also very sorry that we didn’t buy more.
The only thing that stopped us from buying more was the fact that we arrived with nearly full suitcases, full of winter clothes, which we didn’t need because it was quite
hot and sometimes very hot while we were there. We made day trips to the Dandenong ranges and Mornington peninsular. And we spent two very memorable days on the Great Ocean Road and the Grampions National Park.
On the Great Ocean Road we had wonderful coastal scenery and made lots of stops at beaches and lookouts on the way but missed a few of the main sites because we arrived too late. All the attractions close at about 4.30 pm. Seemed very early to us, I think it’s like that so that Australians can get home in time to eat their dinner at about 6 o’clock. Luckily, they can’t close the 12 Apostles and we arrived just in time to take in the last of the golden light on the rocks, followed by a fantastic sunset. We spent the night in a really nice Airbnb in Port Campbell and the next day turned inland to the Grampions National Park where we also spent the night.
On the Great Ocean Road we didn’t see any wildlife, just one lone Koala that some beady eyed motorist had spotted and was now surrounded by a little crowd of people (us included),
all gazing up adoringly at this star of the Australian bush. Once we headed in land there were big mobs of kangaroos and wallabies and huge flocks of cockatoos and rosellas. None of them let us get too close. Always hopping or flying away from us, except at sunrise when they were all still waking up. There are 50 million kangaroos in Australia, about twice as many kangaroos as people. The Grampians is very green with great lookouts, waterfalls and hiking.
We went to Sydney for five days. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it. I felt like a tourist. It all went by in a haze. It was very familiar but sort of unknown. Sydney is very beautiful. The harbor and beaches are stunning. We spent a day going around the beaches and one day around the harbor. One day we went to the blue mountains where we visited scenic world and got a combination ticket for the railway, cableway and skyway. Good fun and a lot more enjoyable than the last time I visited J - I was 10 and we walked down one of the Three Sisters to a little insect infested pool and
then up again on very wet and slippery steps. It took about 4 hours but it felt like forever.
One day we spent at the botanical gardens, the opera house and the Strand shopping arcade -- and it all looked just as I remembered it. Sort of surprising, but Bondi seemed almost exactly the same. And they still don’t have a train to the city. Although it goes as far as Bondi Junction now but you still have to get a bus to the beach. There is a lot more people but the infrastructure seems to have stayed the same. One thing that I had, that I don’t really remember having before was this delicious, to die for, prawn and crab salad that was mostly big pieces of crab and prawn with no salad to speak of, and I ate it for breakfast/lunch for the first 3 days and then I sadly rested for 2 because the shop didn’t have any on Monday and Tuesday. I got it from the food hall in Bondi Junction. I think it was a Greek fish shop but I didn’t really notice what else they were selling. And that goes for the other
shops too. All I wanted was the crab and prawns. I can’t believe that I didn’t take a photo of it.
So which is better: Melbourne or Sydney? Sydney has unbeatable scenery and has stunning views but as far as living somewhere, I liked Melbourne better. We spent two weeks there and enjoyed every day. We felt at home, really comfortable. There seemed to be so much going on all the time, festivals, exhibitions, street fairs. Melbourne is fairly flat and it’s really easy to walk everywhere and they have a great tram system for getting around. As far as food goes, they have everything and a café scene reminiscent of Europe. I really liked the markets, trying lots of different types of food, just a taste, you’d need a lot longer than the two weeks we were there to try it all. I am sure we will be back though and get another opportunity.
So after 3 weeks of a great holiday, we left Australia and returned to Hong Kong, suitcases bulging with souvenirs and clothes and a reasonable amount of chocolate (when compared to past excesses). The weather was even better than before. 23 degrees and
sunny. No blue skies in Hong Kong though. We visited Lantau Island. Walked around the little fishing village. We were promised views of endangered pink dolphins on one of the boat trips but I find that hard to believe. With all the building and pollution, I think they would stay as far as possible away from people. From Tai O fishing village we took a bus to the cable car to the Big Buddha on top of Ngong Ping. All very touristy, but with amazing views and it was an enjoyable experience.
We had our photo taken when we got on the cable car and when we arrived were presented with a photo of us in a 3D frame or inside a snow globe. We don’t usually buy that sort of thing but it was a nice photo and we were really impressed with the efficiency of it all so bought the 3D photo and 2 weeks later downloaded the photo from the internet with different effects and frames. While at the Big Buddha, we had kebab and pita and salad from a hallal place and it was delicious.
Going back to Hong Kong, I found that after
Melbourne, I didn’t really feel like eating more Chinese food. Round where we were staying there was no western food, so I ate rice and vegetables a couple of times and one night we went to an Indian restaurant and I ordered a vegetable korma and the “vegetable” turned out to be chicken. A popular dish in the markets at night was spicy crab. Didn’t try any this time and also passed on the turtle soup.
On our last day, we did some shopping and visited the flower market and Wong Tai Sin Temple. When we took the cable car to the big Buddha, it goes right over the airport and you can see the bridge to Macau that will be completed soon. It will be a 30 minute bus ride. The metro from Lantau Island is super modern. I imagine if I return in another 5 years, that old places like Kowloon will have been swept away and will be replaced by new, sparkling, modern buildings and streets. I know what I prefer but that’s progress for you. Had a great stay and we were both quite sorry that we weren’t staying another few days. But it’s never
enough, is it? That’s why we have to go again!
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