Sunday, 16 January 2011


Cities, I've been thinking, are a bit like cakes. They all look different, taste different and have different things in them. They're iced differently, or not at all. But for all their dissimilarities, they're still all cakes. Same basic ingredients, same process, same result. Cake.

Melbourne is different. It's more of a kitchen sink cookie of a place; a little bit of everything. Aussies slate it for the weather, but being English, that's never bothered me. Beneath the ever-changing skies, it is an edgy, arty and interesting city that is constantly reinventing itself.

The centre of town is a grid of big streets, but in between them are the famous laneways; gritty alleys where tiny cafes, bars and shops hide among the rubbish bins of the big chainstores. And I think this might be why I love Melbourne so much; because most of what is so great about it is obscured. It hides in dark corners while the bits of the city that resemble all others bathe in light.

It's not a naturally beautiful place like Sydney, so it is made great by the people in it and the things they have created. It's busy, like all cities, but if you look carefully you find moments of calm and stillness that seem missing in other cakes.

Rings of suburbs orbit the nucleus of the CBD, each with their own character; each vibrant, dynamic and unique. Not unlike a miniature London, smaller and more compact yet with more space, and never claustrophobic.

The food in Melbourne is incredible; cared for, thought through and loved. From the little lunch joints wedged down Centre Place to the three hat restaurants, Melbourne eateries are outstanding. Coffee is the source of great pride, and much squabbling over who's turning out the best cup. It doesn't matter - you might get the odd dud, but on the whole the coffee is life changing, and unquestionably the best I've had in anywhere in the world.

All this means I'd been anticipating my return to Melbourne for much of the year. It's been hovering just above the horizon, a shimmering sun. I've forced it to the back of my mind most of the time, because arriving will also herald the end. Back in amongst it this time (I lived there for five months in 2009) I somehow feel like a bit of an intruder. It's a city made for living in more than visiting - the sadness of your impending departure will always cloud a short visit.

And that's how it felt this time, like I kept myself back to save myself from getting hurt. I rolled around a few old haunts: Section 8, the bar in the middle of town consisting of some wooden crates and a couple of old shipping containers all fenced in by chainlink; MoVida, the best tapas restaurant outside Spain; New Gold Mountain, a slick, stylish and brilliant cocktail bar lurking behind an unmarked door.

This post has been sitting undrafted for a while now. I'll never be happy with it because I can't convey in words how amazing Melbourne is. Many things I've deliberated and pondered over have held me back from writing more as I move, so I'm posting it anyway, and moving on. It's not going anywhere, after all, and knowing it's there is somehow reassuring.

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