Sydney or Melbourne?

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It seems to be the age old question here in Australia: Sydney or Melbourne? Which is better? The people I’ve come across in the past two months have fairly strong opinions.
“We don’t like Melbourne very much. We’ll go to watch sport, but other than that, there’s nothing to see!”
Or “Sure, Sydney’s alright I guess, if you’re into that showy, over-the-top tourist stuff. But Melbourne’s real. Melbourne’s the place to be”
After having spent a week in both cities, I understand what everyone means. The two cities have a completely unique feel to them. They both have their ups and downs, and they are both easy to fall in love with. But I’m not so easily sold on one.
Despite the weather, my week in Sydney was incredible. Could have been the people I was with, could have been the hostel I stayed at, but most likely it was the vibrancy of the city.
Sure Sydney has loads of tourists. But they’re there for a reason. Standing in front of the Sydney Opera House, looking across the Harbour at the bridge is one of those “wow” traveling moments. It’s how I imagine people must feel when arriving by ship into the Harbour of New York City: the Statue of Liberty and cloud high sky rises waiting to greet you. The Sydney Harbour is so iconic and so recognizable that it feels almost surreal to be wandering around the thick of it all.
Sydney has an oversized sense of beauty to it: Hyde park with it’s towering monuments and impeccably kept rows of trees; the bustling Darling Harbour and The Royal Botanical gardens, so large you could be lost in there for days. The city is very put together. China town runs down two streets in organized chaos. Well kept shop fronts, modern looking patio seats and a gated off Chinese Garden that sits in the city center like an oasis. Areas like The Rocks have perfectly preserved buildings and cobble stone streets that overlook the main harbour. And the city’s suburbs have equally as much character: the more popular Manly and Kiribili were wonderful to stroll around, and even the more obscure Cronulla, which I was lucky enough to get to couch surf in, had a quiet charm to it.
Yep, Sydney is beautiful, and full of life, and bustling at all times of the day and night! Every corner is another photo opportunity: another monument, famous icon, or picturesque roadway.
Melbourne is the opposite. Melbourne is the less showy, more arts oriented of the two cities. There’s no “holy crap” moment, or photos at every turn, but Melbourne has one of the most unique city vibes I’ve ever experienced.
You are more likely to find a person dressed in combat boots and a burlap sack than a row of men in business suits. Melbourne is geared towards the young, edgy and overly hipster crowd. The city’s essence is found in its alleyways. Cafe’s, restaurants, busking musicians, craft markets, street grafitti: these are the heart of Melbourne. A place is almost not worth visiting if it’s on a main road. But turn the corner into the laneway and you’ll discover the newest, most hip place in town.
At first, I found a loss of WHAT to do in Melbourne. After the initial city tours and basic exploring, there were few places I felt the need to see. It was then that I realized you don’t sight-see in Melbourne, you just exist. You take in the culture, find a cafe, read a book. It’s a lifestyle, not a destination.
For a decision anxious person like myself, Melbourne is slightly overwhelming. Where should I eat? Which cafe should I sit at? The options are endless. So very, very endless…
Moments ago I saw a sign that read “The top 90 lunch spots in Melbourne!”
Ninety.
Lunch spots.
There are so many places to eat lunch, that someone narrowed them down to the top NINETY…
The most incredible thing is, they are all so unique. Take any one of the crazy restaurants or pubs in Melbourne, put it in Vancouver, and it will instantly be the new, cool, edgy hangout. In one night, Panos and I visited a funky bar floating on the river (Ponyfish), a mad scientist bar that served drinks in syringes (Croft Institute), an outside pub with stacked wooden palates as seats (Section 8) and a night club with retro songs by artists like James Brown and the most eclectic grouping of people on Earth (Cherry Bar). Rooftop oases like “the Rooftop Bar” or “Naked For Satan” sprawl across the city. Back alley cafe’s that I couldn’t even begin to name are found every couple meters! The city is crawling with hole-in-the-wall joints just waiting to be discovered.
And then the grafitti.
All over the city, the alleyway walls are covered from pavement to rooftop with elaborate artwork in all genres. From simple name tags, to intricate portraits of human faces, you’ll see it all on the streets of Melbourne. To be fair, it’s a unique way of dealing with street art. The mayor has given permission in areas for artists to display their artwork. Some areas are commissioned for specific artists, and other areas are open to the world. Every couple weeks an alley can have an entirely different look to it. An artist could spend weeks painting a portrait, just to have some kid scrawl his name across the top of it three days later.
But however you feel about Melbourne’s eclectic and somewhat messy street art, it seems as though it’s here to stay.
To me, choosing between Melbourne and Sydney is like comparing apples and oranges. The two cities are so different, it’s hard to say if one is really “better” than the other. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped the long rivalry between the two! When Sydney built the largest IMAX in the world, Melbourne built one larger. When Sydney found out, they renovated to make sure they were number one again!
But all that upmanship aside, I’m glad to have spent time in both, and I’m already looking forward to coming back!

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Valparaiso

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We had finally made it to the coast of Chile. Back at sea level and next to the wide-open ocean for the first time in months… I was ecstatic! You could smell the salty seawater as we drove through town in the taxi. Valparaiso is such a beautiful seaside city. It’s built into the natural hills of the landscape, has a massive port for the city’s fishing industry, and if you go just a few minutes out of town in either direction, there’s fresh seafood and sandy beaches!

 

We spent the first afternoon strolling the cities slopes. Valparaiso was the first place where we realized that it is actually autumn… In May! The leaves are changing a beautiful yellow colour, and crunchy brown leaves cover the sidewalks. The mornings and evenings were brisk, but the afternoons were still full of sunshine and heat! Personally I find this really neat, that autumn can happen in May. For Adam, it totally freaks him out. It’s been over a week since we arrived in fall weather, and he still can’t stop talking about how unnerved he is by the sudden change in seasons. I egg him on by stomping on every crispy leaf we pass with a satisfying crunch and then talking about everything fall related: the colours, the weather, the fall boots I spot at every shoe store… I find his weather frustration infinitely entertaining. But even Adam admits that it’s a great time to end our trip.

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Valparaiso, Santiago and Mendoza are utterly stunning in Fall colours!
  Our second afternoon in Valparaiso we went on a self-proclaimed graffiti crawl. The city is absolutely chock-a-block full of beautiful works of graffiti. Not just tags and amateur scrawling, but real works of unique and innovative pieces of art. The graffiti covers nearly every blank space of wall in the city, and we had a great time searching out our favourite pieces and photo-bombing the city.

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Near the end of our afternoon we ran across the Museum of Pablo Neruda, a famous poet and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. I used to love reading Neruda’s work in school, so was eager to check out his museum. The museum was actually Neruda’s house at one point in his life. He lived for many years in Valparaiso in a gorgeous, 5-story house, high up on the hilltop of the city, with a fabulous view of the ocean. Of course it was interesting seeing where the poet lived, wrote, spent time engrossed in thought etc, but what was the most fun, was checking out the house itself. Firstly, the architecture of the place is beautifully unique: rounded rooms with large open windows, a floor to ceiling, urn shaped fireplace, a spectacular view of the city from every room in the house… This was prime real estate. But secondly, Neruda was the most amazing collector of antiques and artifacts. He was fastidious with his decorating, and when he found an object that he wanted, he stopped at nothing until he obtained it. Paintings, maps, statues, plates, desks, you name it! Each piece had a history and a place in Neruda’s home. We must have spent over an hour, listening to the audiotapes and exploring his home before finally moving on. We both walked out of the place wishing we could become antique collectors… Guess I’d need a house first.

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After our “exhausting” afternoon taking photos and exploring museums, we decided it was time to relax. We found this great restaurant by our hostel that overlooked the water, where we sipped on a bottle of chilled white wine and watched the sun descend over the water.

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At 6 we met up with Mark and Oli, who had finally finished their bus trip down from the North. It was their final night, so we decided to celebrate Adam’s birthday one night early and head out on the town together. We had some pre-bottles of wine at their stunning hotel with an awesome view and then went back to the restaurant we had found in the afternoon for some food. (Adam and I had the crab-stuffed ravioli in a cream sauce with truffles that was honest-to-God the best ravioli I’ve eaten in my life!). By our third stop I lost track of the bottles of wine. Although we woke up with pictures of each label, there’s no way I could have properly rated them in our ongoing wine log…needless to say, Adam and I both spent most of the next day’s afternoon in our room recovering.

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On our final day in Valparaiso we went to the beach. The forecast had called for rain, but when we woke up it was sunny and gorgeous! We took the metro out to Portales station and walked up and down the waterfront. From there you could see the entire city of Valparaiso; from the ports to the towering city behind them. The beach was beautiful and sandy, and covered with great looking, fresh seafood joints. After checking out the fishermen on the docks, and watching them feed the group of sea lions below, we picked a place to eat and decided to camp there ALL afternoon eating platters of seafood and sipping on wine. This was one of my goals since day one: seafood and wine on the coast of Chile. So that’s what we did!

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We started with a delicious seafood soup. It came out in a steaming hot, stone bowl, and the water was still boiling inside! The soup was full of prawns, muscles, scallops, and squid, and had fresh herbs and some veggies in it as well. We mixed in a couple scoops of their freshly, homemade, spicy seafood sauce and the thing was to die for! We had endless garlic bread to go with and a lovely bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. After we sat around and let the soup settle, we ordered prawns. A plethora of prawns!! We had one massive bowl of prawns, sautéed in butter and garlic, which came out as steaming hot as the soup. Then we had a cold, avocado shrimp cocktail which had slices of fresh avocado under a mountain of prawns, topped with a light mayonnaise dressing, displayed on a bed of lettuce. We picked away at these dishes for a loooong time, still indulging on the endless bread, before we realized that there was no way we could order a main dish. They did not skimp out on the number of shrimp they offered in each dish, and we were both stuffed by the end of it. We settled up, moved back outside to the beach, and lay down on the sand to let our stomachs digest and to watch the waves. I could not have though of a better way to spend our last day in Valparaiso. This was definitely vacation mode… And luckily, it is only a short hour and a half bus ride to Santiago!!

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