Friday, February 19, 2016

Melbourne, Open

There is a certain satisfaction in finally doing something that you have wanted for many years.  All through that sultry antipodean summer in 1995, mesmerised by the bright blue courts, and the luminous furry yellow ball darting from one side to the other.  Thousands of heads first looking one way, then in miraculous synchronicity, switching to the other.  All appearing to say "no" with a shake of the head in a seemingly interminable slow motion.

Pete Sampras reigning supreme, as he would again in 1997.  When players are so omnipotent, we think they will hold their crown for ever.  But then another generation come through, and we see the likes of Agassi (4 time winner), and then Federer (4 time winner), and now the machine that is Novak Djokovic, going into the tournament holding a record of 5 Australian Open titles, and exiting it claiming his sixth, in straight sets against Andy Murray.  Djok's 11th grand slam title.

Rod Laver arena, ahead of the battles to come
Some 21 years on from that hostel in Glenelg, Adelaide, I find myself at the famed Rod Laver arena in Melbourne, first for the women's, then one of the men's semi finals.  Finally, I am here.  No more talking about what I would like to do.  No more saying "one day".  One day has a nasty habit of becoming "never", so when I saw Jetstar's "take a mate" flight deal, effectively buy one, get one free, as soon as you could say "hidden charges", I had booked return flights with the "budget" airline. 

Melbourne is a city I had been too a few times before, and greatly enjoyed.  Most of our short trip there would be consumed by the tennis, but we also planned to make the most of the free time we had.  Garnering recommendations from Melbourne "ex pats" we knew, we strategically shaped our agenda around brunch spots, top coffee shops (when we could find them hidden down alleys), and some of the best small bars Melbourne had to offer.

One of Melbourne's finest
Having not been for a few years how would it compare to home, here in Sydney?  Well, that could depend on who you ask!

For people not from this neck of the woods you may not be aware that there is a certain rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney.  Bordering on animosity.  I'm not sure where it started, or even how real the actual rivalry is.  Some they there is a rivalry between Adelaide and Melbourne, although nobody in Melbourne has ever heard of this rivalry, nor cares what anybody in small town Adelaide has to say.

Sydneysiders claim to live in the best place in Australia (maybe the world, some of them espouse), and Melburnians (from the cultural capital of Australia) beg to differ.   Esteemed journalists such as Mosman based Peter FitzSimons even waded into the debate in his weekly column in the Sydney Morning Herald.   Somewhat disparagingly I would say, to our friends in the state of Victoria. 

Sydney is seen as a place to kick back with a cold stubbie, and enjoy the beach life, in your wife beater (vest) and thongs (flip flops).  Melbourne sneer at even considering something so uncouth.  Melbourne dines out, quite literally, on it's foodie scene and sublime coffee culture.  Not forgetting that the small bar revolution currently hitting Sydney in fact started in Melbourne some years ago. 

Lock out laws are currently in the news (for NSW and now Queensland), a subject that deserves a blog all on its own, but it is yet another example quoted by bar flies in Melbourne of the superior approach to creating, and maintaining a world class, 24 hour city.  And I would agree.  Whole heartedly.  There is more than one way to create a more harmonious society, and imposing curfews, and ridiculous laws around the sale of alcohol are not the most effective way.

In the whole of NSW, about 3 and a quarter times the size of the U.K., you can no longer buy a bottle of wine after 10pm.  It is deemed too dangerous, and reduces the risk of you going out after your 7 course degustation dinner, and bottle of Sancerre, and clobbering somebody in the street.  Apparently.  And woebetide you would like a Macallan 15yr old single malt past 12am.  Waaay too dangerous.  This contravenes the "responsible service of alcohol laws", and can only be bought by you if served with a mixer.  I shit you not.  This is the nanny state that Sydney is, no, has become.

Melbourne tried such draconian measures a few years back.  And 3 months later, against massive public revolt, they were repealed.  The result?   Melbourne, and it's nightlife, continues to go from strength to strength.

But I digress.  This blog is not the place for politics.

How did Melbourne compare to Sydney?  Very favourably in my opinion.  It feels like a "real" city compared to Sydney.  A city with logical layout, grid like, as seen in places like New York City.  I often got the eerie feeling of a flashback to previous city breaks, all over the world.  Sydney is based around so much water, the glorious Harbour, and amazing beaches, that it feels more like a holiday location than a city.  This obviously isn't a bad thing.  Just very different to most major cities.

The vibrant Degraves St
The small bar scene is booming, even if it looks as though you only now need the corner of an old car park, some wooden pallets to sit on, and some large old soup containers to hold the DJ's decks, and you have a bar that can legitimately sell $20 cocktails.  Coffee has, and I feel always will be, one of Melbourne's everlasting loves.  A love that I share.  And you don't have to look too hard for damn good coffee. 

Together with a progressive approach to city transport, with a tram system in place for years that Sydney can only hope to replicate the success of, which also includes a heavy emphasis on catering to cycling as a bone fide way of commuting, Melbourne has much to offer, and much to proud of.

Nothing beats rattling around the city on the free tram
I now have one eye on the Jetstar website, so I can once again revel in the wondrous laneway culture made famous by the capital of Victoria.


  1. Glad you enjoyed Melbourne, Fran! It is a great city.

    PS did you know that Sydney once had a very extensive, and successful tram system:

    1. Thanks Brendan. And big congrats to you and Nina on the recent arrival :)