That was me whinging to Nancy about my inability to find a word to encapsulate our experience in Melbourne today. It is a common refrain. I often have trouble coming up with a thread that will hold my essay tapestry together.
Nancy started laughing. "Easy. It's the best of the best."
She nailed it. Melbourne, in almost every respect, has been the best of the places we have visited so far in Australia.
As Australia's second largest city, it has a lot going for it. With almost five million people, it would seem to be a hard place to know in just one day. And, admittedly, any impressions in a short period are always suspect.
Because we had not planned any excursions and I was flat out of relatives of bloggers to meet, Nancy, Roy, and I decided to take the culture vulture option of meeting Melbourne -- a hop-on hop-off bus. We knew we could at least see a good portion of the city -- if only from a bus's upper deck.
It turned out to be a wise choice. Through the tour guide's narrative, we learned the basics of Melbourne's founding, its frontier struggle, and how a sleepy town turned into what is arguably the cultural capital of Australia.
The best place to start is the city's setting. It sits a bit back from the sea on the Yarra River -- an asset it uses wisely. Despite its population, it has the feel of several villages stuck together.
The best large cities have neighborhoods where services are on a human scale. Melbourne has street after street of restaurants and theaters that let visitors and residents feel as if they are living in a neighborhood designed for livability instead of being stuck in an anonymous urban hulk.
Of course, Melbourne has its historical buildings, many of which are lovingly preserved -- including some very expensive terrace housing. But the city is also contemporary, with some of the most innovative and colorful architecture I have encountered in Australia. That mix of old and new is not unique to Melbourne, but the city wears the combination with an eye to the future.
We did not have time to sample any of Melbourne's cultural offerings. There are the usual museums. And the city is setting up for a world-renown formula one race. But it is best known for its calendar of festivals from fashion to film to music.
After our swing through the city (where I wish we could have spent some time in the zoo), Nancy and I had lunch on the beach while enjoying parachutists landing on the sand, armadas of sail boats gliding across the bay, and families taking advantage of the waves lapping against the strand.
Admittedly, what we saw was a Classics Illustrated version of Melbourne. But it was attractive enough that we agreed a return trip to Melbourne is on the list for all of us -- probably matched with a trip to Sydney and Tasmania.
As we sailed away, we were eating dinner on the stern of the ship. And there it was. Melbourne by the sea. From our angle, you could imagine that we had just left the city of Oz.
In a way, I guess that was true. We felt as if the wizard had just granted us our wishes.