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By marksams, 10/11/2010 - 02:05

I thought anything that followed our fantastic week on Tasmania was going to be hard work, but not Melbourne! After a week of natural beauty and walking in remote areas, this city break was welcome, and it was served up well. Thriving with cultural intelligence, ethnic diversity, tourism, festivals, arts & crafts as well as big business, Melbourne is without question the most impressive city we've visited in Australia. Tourists and travellers seem to blend into the mix much more here than in that other over-hyped, gregarious city which people love so much.

Our travel budget did see us slip back into dorm accommodation in one of the backpacker factories, but it served up free breakfasts, tea, coffee and most importantly free wifi, which is pretty rare anywhere outside a McDonalds in Australia. Later we found out that 'the largest outdoor free wifi hotspot in the world' was just outside in Federation Square! One of many fairly dubious Aussie claims that are at least the biggest/best/fastest etc 'in the southern hemisphere'.

If you can think of it, Melbourne's probably got it, and making up for the relatively high price of our accommodation, there was lots of free stuff on offer. Taking advantage of free trams, free buses, free comedy nights, a free outdoor screening of the AFL final, and free music concerts, we had a great time and managed to relax and soak up the atmosphere without worrying about over-spending for once. I think we were lucky to be there at the time of the Melbourne music festival, but I got the impression there's always something 'happening' in Melbourne.

Cafe Culture is synonymous with Melbourne, and although we couldn't afford to throw ourselves in too deep, we did sample a few places in the back streets between colonial era warehouses where the graffiti art is celebrated as part of the arts scene. Walking around the alleyways, through malls and along cobbled streets on a self-guided city walk, we really got to see the proudly historical side to Melbourne, much of which is still intact, and gathered plenty of information to appreciate the city even more. We escaped to St Kilda for one day, a coastal suburb of Melbourne and enjoyed a beach front walk in great weather - the warmest since flying out of Cairns in the tropical north.

So after reserving judgement on Australia after our east coast run from Sydney to Cairns, Tasmania and Melbourne have really shown us another side to this country in the attitudes of people, unspoilt natural beauty, culture, and value for money. With just Canberra and the Blue Mountains (avoiding downtown Sydney) to go, it looks like we might end our two months here on a high.