Friday, October 29, 2004

City Livable

The tale of my week in Melbourne starts in Sydney, continues with Melbourne, goes through a rapid Act III scene change back to Sydney, then moves back to the big M for the denouement…confused? You should be…In a way, it’s allowed me to put these two great cities and their storied rivalry in some sort of perspective.

As I upload this deathless prose on Fridays, I necessarily leave out what happens post-blog on Friday, at that point my final day in Sydney. As usual, it started unpromisingly, chilly, drab and raining – so I spent the morning writing and preparing last week’s blog, getting my pictures ready for upload, packing for an early departure the next morning. I went into the city after midday to do some last minute shopping, then visit an internet café to upload the lot and deal with e-mail.

Which was great, as by the time I emerged from a caveful of computer monitors at about 14:30, the sunless sky had actually developed some blue spots amongst the clouds, and a warm and pleasant afternoon was emerging. A harbour cruise seemed the best idea – the first thing to do in Sydney, really – so I took Captain Cook’s (not him personally, of course) around the inner harbour, under the bridge, and over to Watson’s Bay. This had been personally recommended to me by a Sydneyphile, who advised me that the ideal was to stop at Watson’s Bay at Doyle’s and eat a fish ‘n’ chip lunch by the waterside. If I had gone earlier in the day, I could then have climbed back on the cruise and made another stop or two and returned on a later sailing. However, as the 15:00 harbour cruise was the last of the day, regrettably this was not possible. Of course, if I had gone earlier, I would have had to eat my fish lunch in driving rain…

I’m really glad that I got in the cruise before leaving as it gives an idea, as nothing else does, of some of the magic of the city and its setting. For some of my pictures from Sydney and Melboune this week, please click here. Some of the views you might have seen before, but with great bruised smoky clouds in the background, so I have repeated a few.

The cruise chugged around the back of the Opera House, where the posterior view of that animal is only slightly less impressive. There was a major commotion of police boats, tugs and winches meeting at the back of the Opera House, apparently trying to right a sailboat that had flipped over – I heard later that it was a former America’s Cup competitor that had, er, tried to park in the Opera House underground car park!!!

We followed the shoreline of the Harbour, slowly leaving the centre of the city behind, winding by the bays and inlets of the coastline, near grand waterfront homes and vast properties. Although there were some historical monuments or vignettes mentioned in the commentary along the way, the real point was to soak up the harbour, setting, and sunshine, and most people did exactly that.

At Watson’s Bay we stopped for a few minutes amongst the sloops and sailboats moored in the cove, then turned around and resumed our stately progress back to Sydney. The coastline of the harbour was green with the colours of spring, nurtured by the recent rain and this afternoon’s sun. The water was fairly calm, there was a light breeze, and everyone was more upbeat with the better weather.

North Sydney, normally felt to have little interest, in fact has a zoo right on the water (a popular postcard has two elephants posing trunk-to-trunk in front of the Opera House) and, just near Harbour Bridge, a great enormous clown face mocking the Sydney harbourfront, the site of Luna Park. We sailed underneath Harbour Bridge, which must be unique among bridges in seeming never to be without a queue of people standing on top of it, all in a line tethered together on the Bridgeclimb!!! The bridge from below is nothing but a long rectangle of intricate cross hatched iron patterns. As we sail into Darling Harbour everyone has moved to the top deck to gawk at all the new sights, and there’s a party atmosphere as we return to Circular Quay.

That night, I went out with my friends to Soup Plus, the Sydney jazz club, for jazz and dinner. We didn’t stay out late as my next morning flight to Melbourne meant that I had to get up at 04:45…

I returned to Sydney on Tuesday for a day trip, as far as I know my real final last day on this trip in Sydney. The reason is that a friend I hadn’t seen for about 8 years who is now living in Perth was going to be in Sydney running a seminar and suggested that we meet up afterwards for dinner. That seemed worth a Virgin Blue return flight, so I accepted! Of course, I now had to kill time in Sydney but, with marvellous weather, I knew that I had to be out on the water, this time to Manly.

Manly is a popular community at the entrance to Sydney Harbour that straddles the harbour and the ocean. So enclosed and extensive is the Harbour that it’s necessary to go to Manly to glimpse the ocean. The ferry arrives on the harbourside, where houses and blocks tower above each other, vying for a bigger, better view. There seems little fuss as you get off the ferry – a few people swimming on the small beach, a pricey and quite empty restaurant – and you don’t really get the measure of Manly until you walk down the Corso, the wide pedestrian street, between harbour and ocean.

The faces Manly presents to the harbour and ocean are very different. Oceanside, Manly is all about sun, surf, sand, little cafes where you can have fish ‘n’ chips with a couple of glasses of wine, and lots of people who obviously are paid to be beach bums sloping along, surfboard under arm, groups of teenagers appearing from nowhere in bathing suits, people baking their bodies in the springtime sun, couples camped out on Their Spot for the whole day long. I had not brought my bathing trunks – that seemed to be tempting fate considering the weather I had had so far – so I had to be contented with fish ‘n’ chips and people watching, which occupied me for a couple of agreeable hours. I hopped the 17:15 ferry back to Sydney, went to meet my friend at his hotel, and we went to The Rocks Café for dinner and a good chat with a couple of his mates before we realised about 8:45 that I had to be at the airport at 9:30 at the latest for check-in…so I ran for a taxi, got in and sped off to Sydney Airport again…

When I’d first left Sydney, the plane went tech and so the damn short flight to Melbourne was nearly 2 hours late. United was the airline, a carrier I will be using to get back to London from New York later in the trip. I know that Chapter 11 Bankruptcy concentrates the corporate mind on matters financial rather than marketing, but this is ridiculous...I was met by my friend at the airport, and he took me for a brief spin before dropping bags at home then going for lunch in a local café where he lives in Brighton.

Brighton is a City, suburban and linked to big brother Melbourne. To work off lunch, we walked along on the sandy beach, 5 minutes walk from where he lives. The brightly coloured beach huts made a nice contrast to the grey, blustery skies – a few people were flying kites, some were taking wedding pictures, nobody was swimming. Melbourne was a misty mirage in the distance, looking like a sprawling factory in some Fritz Lang film on the horizon, its skyscrapers great smokestacks reaching for the heavens.

Port Phillip Bay is roughly shaped like a diamond, with Melbourne at the top corner, the apex between two sides of indented coastline. The other two sides of the diamond are chunky peninsulas, Bellarine on the west, and Mornington on the east. Mornington actually occupies a bit more than one side of the diamond, Bellarine a little less, but you get what I mean. In between Point Nepean on the Mornington Peninsula, and Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula, is the entrance to the bay and the harbour. The entrance is called The Rip, and is so devastating of careless navigation that every vessel that negotiates it must take on a Melbourne skipper acquainted with the tides, the depths, the rocks, the waves, etc.

The reason for this preamble is to tell you that Sunday we drove down the Mornington Peninsula, which took the whole day. It was very, very picturesque and beautiful, with nothing but sandy beach all the way along punctuated by rugged coastline, snug, small seaside villages, and plenty of lovely houses and properties. We drove along at a leisurely pace, stopping and starting, doing a twirl around interesting villages and turns along the way. Brighton is about 1/5th of the distance from Melbourne in the direction of Point Nepean, and we started out about at a lazy-Sunday time of 10:30, and we managed to get nearly to the end of the peninsula by about 13:00.

The Peninsula is generally very well-to-do, and I guess comprises those who commute into Melbourne, second homes/holiday cottages for city dwellers, and winemakers, about 170 of them, in the Mornington Peninsula microclimate, most of them between Mornington and Rosebud. Near the end of the land are some beautiful (and during the summer, crowded) villages, Sorrento and Portsea. We stopped at the Portsea Hotel for a relaxed seafood lunch in the sun, overlooking the Bay.

After lunch, which included a bottle of Mornington Peninsula Riesling, we all didn’t want to move, so walked down to the bay and out on the dock, then got in the car and drove right out to the end of the land, where there is a National Park, which included some stunning coastal scenery and jagged rock formations.

Serious sightseeing at the peninsula end now done, we wended our way back through Sorrento, Rosebud, and Mount Martha via Arthurs Seat, a tall lookout which afforded amazing views up and down the Peninsula. Then back to Brighton, minds and bodies filled with food and scenic wonders…

If you discount Wednesday – in which it was blustery, rainy, and cold, a foul day which ripped branches off old trees and dislodged glass from windows – I have only really come to grips with Melbourne the city on two days this week. So some initial impressions are in order – and, given their celebrated rivalry, it is difficult not to illustrate the qualities of a Melbourne by contrast with its celebrated rival Sydney, and vice versa.

Melbourne is a warm, friendly, even genteel city, conservative of its monuments and landmarks, and determined to integrate them with the modern, go-ahead parts of the city, which it does very well. It is difficult to know if it has always had more monuments and landmarks worth seeing than Sydney, or if it simply did a better job of holding onto the ones it had…it is probably less driving, less moving and shaking, less exciting than Sydney, but a very livable city, possibly a lovable city, a city of nooks, crannies, arcades and lanes, loops and alleys.

The historic rivalry was so terrible that when independence was imminent, Sydney and Melbourne each proclaimed their preferences at an early stage – i.e. that anyone else but Sydney or Melbourne should get it, which is how a little nation’s capital called Canberra was born. However, much can be exaggerated. The strange truth is that the cities are very different in feel and culture, and instead of one being better and one worse, they do seem to need each other to act as their opposite. If Sydney didn’t have a Melbourne, it would have to invent one; if Melbourne didn’t have a Sydney, it would have to create its opposite to play off. Melbourne and Sydney seem to feed off their oppositeness and their contradistinctions, and it seems to be a productive rivalry, not a destructive one. Canadians reading will immediately be put in mind of Toronto and Montreal, but I don’t think that’s an appropriate comparison: the rivalry of Melbourne and Sydney is like a sibling rivalry, and nobody would ever describe Toronto and Montreal as brothers or sisters.

Surveying the jazz scene in Melbourne, there are 12 gigs on one day, an amount greatly in excess of what Sydney has to offer that day, and an amount that would not disgrace London, in fact. Melbourne has a rich cultural scene, and a first-class gallery in the AGV (Art Gallery of Victoria), this month featuring an Edvard Munch exhibition after a French Impressionist exhibition this summer from Paris. It has a café society of sorts in its bars and restaurants, brasseries and cafes. It is the place to go out to eat in Australia, a country which scores pretty highly on that factor, and a place to shop, for those who like to indulge. I’m missing the Melbourne Cup next week, on Tuesday, which is apparently a really dressy occasion at which everyone ends up inebriate, except perhaps for the horses. It is the sort of thing that Melbourne would do, and Sydney would not: Sydney would be more likely to be doing something in the harbour, on the water.

My hosts in Melbourne have been to both cities, and lived in and enjoyed both, and I think that I do too, but Melbourne for me has the edge, as it’s a more interior city, a more arty and jazzy city, and still enjoys a wonderful situation on the Yarra River, and when the docklands development is finished, it might even have a harbour setting to rival...


Blogger Big Mama said...

The tales continue to be wonderful and descriptive.
Photos are great! How about those Red Sox !!

October 29, 2004 5:58 AM  
Blogger Crazy_Sister said...

I concur with "Big Mama". The photographs
are fantastic. How about the Sox?

October 30, 2004 1:24 AM  

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