I’m on the flight between Melbourne and Wellington (unfortunately I don’t think they call it Melly, so I can’t say Melly to Welly), catching up on the Big Bang Theory, reviewing my week just past, planning the week ahead, and considering the Melbourne experience.
Travel writers love to compare Wellington to San Francisco. And Wellingtonian’s love to tell me that “I’d love Melbourne — it’s the Wellington of Australia.”
So somehow I pictured Melbourne looking like Wellington and San Francisco. It doesn’t. It’s flat.
In fact, it’s not like Wellington or San Francisco at all. Welly and SF are both unmistakably themselves — they may remind you of other places, but you could never be in either and not know where it was. Melbourne is a chameleon, reminding you of everywhere you have been, hiding itself. It takes a while to see Melbourne, rather than bits of New York, Toronto, Chicago, Wellington, Oakland, San Francisco, St Louis, and all the other cities people said it reminded them of.
But Melbourne is fantastic — not Wellington, but interesting in its own right.
The first thing I noticed is how far the airport is from the city. Wellington is amazing and unusual in that the airport is so near the city centre. Honolulu is the same way. I always forget that most cities aren’t like that. So it takes a lot of driving on a really boring motorway (Australia seems to specialise in boring motorways) before you see the city.
The next thing I noticed is how wealthy Melbourne is today and must have been in the 19th century. The buildings are amazing. Every corner brings a new theatre with oriental domes, a church or cathedral, or just another row of gorgeous houses. Melbourne was built off the wealth of the Australian gold rush, and it shows.
There is still more money in Melboure than Wellington today — both individually, and (due to the larger population), collectively. There are no Louis Vuitton and Chanel shops in New Zealand — we simply don’t have the economy and population to support them. I enjoyed the window shopping, but I’m glad we don’t have the big international designer stores locally.
Another difference in architecture that massively changes the feel of the city is the materials used. Wellington was leveled by an earthquake in 1840, and much of the rebuild was done in wood. Melbourne is built of stone and brick.
I’m biased and love my city best, but I have to admit that Melbourne does do one thing way better than Wellington. I love chai tea, and in Melbourne the chai is real loose-leaf tea (not a nasty sugary syrup) served with steamed milk in darling little teapots, with a tiny pot of honey on the side, and a quirky cup and saucer to pour it in to. So much yummier, so much classier. Cafes of Wellington — take note!