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They drive on the wrong (left) side of the road. I can no longer tell left from right, chances are, you won’t be able to either. Look both ways before crossing the street (and then check again), the pedestrian does not come first here! (supposedly they do, but I don’t believe that …and that may be due to the copious amounts of jaywalking) Also, the driver’s side in a car is on the right. Get it? I still attempt the North American passengers’ side before taking a minute to orient myself. Or just sit in the back, you can’t get that one wrong (Actually…I managed that dubious accomplishment last week). Keep that in mind if you’re planning to hire (rent) a car to get around down under.
A uniquely Melburnian phenomenon is the hook right. On the road, to make way for the trams, in order to turn right, you must get into the left most lane, and then wait. This is specific to some streets in the CBD and surrounding streets. As a pedestrian, I always wonder why the car is coming up alongside me, until someone reminds me of the hook right.
Melbourne has a great tram system, it works on the honour system but you can get inspected and fined if you’re caught without a ticket, known as a metcard. A local urban myth to scare the international students is that if you’re caught 3 times without a valid metcard, you can be deported. If you buy the multi-trip ticket, you can save yourself a trip on the cost. The city is testing out a new system, similar to Octopus in Hong Kong, or Oyster in London, called Myki. There is a multitude of bugs in the system, not least of which that they didn’t name it after some kind of sea creature. (Wellington, New Zealand calls their system Snapper). Metcards work on a zone and time basis. Zone 1 covers the city and inner suburbs, Zone 2 covers the outer suburbs and Zone 3 goes into regional Victoria. You can get a card for 2 hours (but if you activate it a few minutes after the start of the hour, it’ll be valid for a full 2 hours at the next hour. For example, if you validate at 10:05am, it’s valid until 1pm) or daily, weekly, monthly, etc. If you activate a 2 hour multi-trip card twice in one day, then the second trip is valid until 3am the next day. If you activate a 2 hour card after 6pm, it’s valid until 3am the next day. For most travellers, a zone 1 daily is the best bet (there’s also the city hopper but it has some fairly arbitrary boundaries). Also, on weekends, if you get the 5x daily weekend ticket, it works out to about $3 for travel on Sat/Sun. You’ll most likely have to pay full fare for metcards, concession is only available to those carrying a concession card.
(To confuse you a little bit more – places like movie theatres, museums, tourist attractions, etc, offer concession prices but that applies to students and pensioners without needing a concession card. Those just need proof, like a student ID)
There are also buses and trains. I avoid the buses as much as I can, an incident left me wandering around Kew, thanks to the bus and the unmarked streets in the suburbs. Trains are relatively simple to use but are crowded during rush hour, and continuously late. As I write this, the management of trains is being handed over to Metro (the same company that runs MTR in Hong Kong) from Connex. All I can say is good riddance Connex. (I wrote this paragraph before Metro took over. Now that Metro’s been in charge for a few weeks, it hasn’t really been any better)
Cycling is common, and car share schemes are on the rise. If you’re planning to go outside the city to see the penguins or other regional attractions – hire a car or join a tour.
Around the CBD and the inner suburbs, walking is fairly easy. The city is flat.
There are plenty of options for going to and from the airport. Taxis are expensive but convenient. There’s the Skybus that goes from the airport to Southern Cross station, and there’s usually a free transfer to your hotel from there (depending on the hotel) but be prepared to wait. Another option is a shuttle van – Starbus, Jetbus, Airporter, etc – that’ll be more direct than the Skybus but cheaper than a taxi. Check the websites for details. (If it comes across as an advert for these things, it’s not; I’m just basing these things on my experiences. A friend recently had a disaster with the shuttle vans that resulted in me hollering at her from my window to get a taxi when the company called because they messed up her pickup. But overall, I’ve done well with Starbus)
I haven’t tried Vegemite yet, and I don’t intend to. The new version Cheesybite (formerly iSnack 2.0) is supposed to be more spreadable. Doesn’t make it more appealing to foreigners like me.
Aussie “cuisine” is mostly British derived – meat pies and snags (sausages) are common; meals are usually meat and 3 veg. True Aussie food is bush tucker, a few restaurants specialise in it ie Tjanabi in Fed Square. A more modern take is Charcoal Lane in Fitzroy, a friend and I tried Charcoal Lane last week and it was awesome but expensive (What we had- curried kingfish ceviche-style, punpkin gnocchi, yam fritters and a sample of 5 desserts) . It’s run by Mission Australia and helps to train people who wouldn’t normally have that opportunity, similar to Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen concept. This is one religious charity I can support.
If you are a carnivore, do try kangaroo, it’s quite good when done properly.
Vegos (vegetarians) have some decent options here. Vegie Bar in Fitzroy is popular, Shakahari’s in Carlton is better if you stick to the traditionally veggie foods (skip the gnocchi, tempura was delicious). Most restaurants have good vegie menus (Yes, vegie is only spelt with one “g”, that threw me off in the beginning too).
Lots of ethnic restaurants because of the diversity of Melbourne, friends have been able to do a week without repeating a cuisine. During the summer, the Queen Vic Markets host a night market on Wednesday evenings, great for foodies. Little Bourke St for Chinese, Victoria St (Richmond) for Vietnamese, Lygon St (Carlton) for Italian (it is hit and miss though), Lonsdale St for Greek. Other restaurants like Malay, Thai, Japanese, Ethiopian, Indian etc are all over the place.
The city is renowned for its coffee, some say it’s the best outside of Italy. However, it has its own language ie short black = espresso, long black = regular coffee/americano, flat white = regular coffee with milk.
No self-respecting Aussie drinks Fosters, Carlton Draught, Victoria Bitter, or XXXX. Acceptable brews are Cascade, Boag’s, Little Creatures, etc. There will be plenty of people happy to point you in the right direction of a good drink. I know a couple who could easily spend a few hours only talking about beer. As someone who doesn’t drink, I was bored during this conversation until I could make the inevitable sex joke about perfect head.
Beware of the Goon (overproofed box wine). It has done many a traveller in.
While the city itself is not that dangerous, a lot of the violence in Melbourne is fuelled by alcohol. So just watch yourself when you’re out late in the CBD at night. The drinking culture (drinking to get drunk) is under fire, recent calls to raise the drinking age are debatable. As a future public health official, I can tell you it won’t do jack-shit to kerb (curb) the rise of alcohol-fuelled violence.
Pubs are called hotels. Some may actually have rooms but not all. Mostly just for eating and drinking.
Don’t freak out if a bird comes up to when you’re eating. Restaurants usually take advantage the temperate weather and have outdoor seating on the sidewalk. Other places, like shopping malls have open air areas, so the birds can hop right on in. (Of course, that means they can hop into your home too, windows aren’t usually screened. I’ve yelled at more than one bird to get out.)
The world’s greatest place is Brunetti in Carlton (also a location in the CBD by Collins St.). The windows are full of food porn. I usually skip the larger portions, and head for the mignons. That way, I can justify having 2 or 3 pieces of everything. I also love Lygon St for its abundance of gelaterias (Casa del Gelato makes watermelon gelato!)
Melbourne is full of great eating experiences. Take advantage of it.