The moment I disembarked from the plane, I knew this was going to be an experience I’d never have imagined. As I walked into the chilly Melbourne streets shrouded by patches of dark and light clouds, melding into one, meandering through the skies, I fell in love.
It wasn’t the first time that I’d taken such a string liking to a city. Melbourne is home to millions of heart beats, yet it thrives with a unique pulse that matches none other’s. Every iconic city is iconic for a reason, and I was about to discover Melbourne’s.
Sure enough, when I left my hotel ten minutes after checking in, it was still mid afternoon on a Saturday, and the central business district (or CBD) bustled with wanderers—tourists and locals alike—coffee or iced tea in hand, exploring the various nooks and crannies of the painted city. The first noticeable thing about Melbourne is the immensity of people. Though not as dense as Chennai, where I lived for six years, it’s still a haven for lots of shuffling bodies.
Stumbling into people from all over the world, I followed the directions on my map to an alleyway. Melbourne is the only place where alleyways are so versatile that they’re tourist attractions, shelters for the homeless, getaways for smokers, canvases for artists overflowing with talent—all in one.
One side of the city boasts vintage Victorian architecture, every brick instilled within screaming grandeur, while on the other side are rows upon rows of these oiled up walls carved with emotions, philosophy, and outcomes of deep-rooted fear of (and for) society. It was as if the artists of the city exclaimed, “Look, wall!” and went crazy all over it.
Nodding to a tune in my head and smiling at the tens of unrecognisable languages that floated through the air into my ear, I realised Melbourne is far more multicultural than any other city I’ve been to. And I’ve been to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. Although, in many aspects, Melbourne resembled New York to me. The city’s weirdness reminded me of the vagueness and unpredictability that hung around me in NYC.
My gut feeling only solidified as the day wore off and darkness blanketed over the neighbourhood. All of a sudden, musicians popped up in street corners, strumming their creativity through empty glass bottles, metal serving plates, and brass cymbals.
Unsurprisingly, onlookers gathered, dropping jaws, filming videos, cheering on, laughing and dancing to the tunes. It was a carnival on the street, where everyone forgot their problems—overdue bills, medical appointments, insurance claims, tax returns—for a few minutes and surrendered themselves to the moment.
It was past 10 pm—bright, noisy, teeming with life. Wonderful.
The next day when I stepped out of my hotel, a pop-up coffee vendor greeted me with a wide smile and a “Hiya, mate!” I didn’t think—my mouth split wide in joy and I reciprocated with all the enthusiasm I could muster. His hello kept the spring in my step throughout the day and I felt myself bouncing on my toes as I walked down street after street, marvelling one moment at the brilliant architecture and then at the lack of creativity in naming roads—Little Burke Street came after Burke Street. Then came Collins and Little Collins—I felt amused, but also thankful for it was easy to remember.
While the CBD sported such names, a little further away, outside of the heart of all the bustle, weirder and quirkier names popped out at me. Hosier Lane was home to some of the greatest graffiti I’ve seen. Literature Lane, appropriately named, was rather glum and ignored. Chopper Lane sported a dog that watched a fish swim away, and AC/DC Lane celebrated the height of rock music that once moved the world. Colours bright and dark mapped faces, caricatures, buildings, and stories, narratives that’ve survived years of camera flashes, oohs, and ahhs, and pointing of fingers.
Melbourne turned out to be so much more than I imagined. It was bright and airy and cheery, but also dark, dreary, and gothic. I loved every bit of it.