There’s a reason why they didn’t base Monopoly in Melbourne…

Flinders St on the left, Big Ben on the right

According to my brother – a self proclaimed expert on the world – London is the city most similar to Melbourne outside of Australia.

There is some truth to this claim. Both cities are home to fervent multiculturalism, unemployed Aussies, and photogenic St. Paul’s Cathedrals. At a younger age, I once mistook the clock tower of Flinders Street station for London’s iconic Big Ben. Having now seen them both with my own eyes, I can see why I made the connection; the nearby Thames River is just as brown as its Yarra counterpart.

But that’s where the comparisons end.

The most obvious – or perhaps most raved about – point of difference is the public transport system. At first, I couldn’t see what all the fuss over “the tube” was about. The trains were a poor man’s Metro, the prices were outrageous and my Oyster card worked no better than my myki.

Yet by the end of my first day I had been converted. Despite travelling around on a weekend – a Sunday no less – my brother and I jumped across three different train lines in less than twenty minutes. On a typical Melbournian Sunday we’d be lucky to wait less than twenty minutes for a solitary train.

London's ever-hectic - and world famous - "tube".

The buses deliver similar results. While my brother has thus far refused to board a double decker bus – a vendetta which I assume has been fostered by Melbourne’s casual “smart” bus system – I haven’t been so stubborn. It seems you can’t go thirty seconds in this city without one of these red monoliths rushing down the road. From ground level, they add a nice splash of colour to your photo compositions. From the front seat of the upper deck, they are a surprising thrill.

On occasion, they even indulge you with the guilty pleasure of schadenfreude. With each sharp turn, you are left to panic for the lowly British pedestrians, each of whom look centimetres away from a life-threatening collision. The fear is on par with the realisation that Prince Charles will one day be king. Yet perhaps it’s just karma for the Ashes.

As a rule of thumb, anything Melbourne does, London does better. In saying this, I don’t mean to be un-patriotic against my beloved home town, but this is Monopoly-Land we’re talking about. I may not have pocketed ten quid for coming second in a beauty contest yet, but there is much to be impressed with in London.

The art galleries are a case in point. While I’m not in touch with “culture” enough to appreciate fine art or postmodern impressionism, I nonetheless have a general feel for what is and isn’t notable. As such, I recall a recent visit to Federation Square, where I came face to face with just one recognisable painting amidst the three storeys.

In contrast, London’s galleries are a who’s who of “contemporary” artists. There’s Monet to the left and Picasso to the right. Da Vinci, meanwhile, sits in the adjacent room, screaming out to Michelangelo in the opposite corner. The unrelenting curators of course ask them to keep their voices down.

Museums follow the same principle. In Melbourne – you might get the occasional exhibition on a single pharaoh or a sunken vessel. Over the consequent months, it will draw thousands upon thousands of visitors (or perhaps just my Dad, two thousand times) into a classroom sized hall.

Up here in the north, however, the definition of exhibit is taken to a whole new level. For example, the first thing you stumble across in the free British Museum is the Rosetta Stone and an onslaught of Egyptian artifacts. A mere clipping of one of these works would no doubt attract mammoth crowds if shipped to a gallery in Melbourne… and tagged with a $39.95 admission cost.

A little bit of Da Vinci

I could go on. London’s city slicking foxes surpass our pathetic countryside rabbits; their trashy newspapers make the Herald Sun read like a respectable academic journal; their legends of yesteryear make Ned Kelly look like a gun-crazy bushman.

Furthermore, their riots reduce our gangland violence to a petty commercial television timeslot, their CCTV cameras make Melbourne’s CBD seem like a vulnerable terrorist destination, and their traditional English breakfasts put our “world’s fattest nation” honours in perspective.

The primary exception to all this is the water quality. While the environmentalist in me supports the adoption of reclaimed water systems in various English towns, London’s tap water has given me every reason to change my mind. I always assumed that the recycling process entailed a sanitisation step. One taste of London’s only free product, however, has led me to believe otherwise.

It’s like drinking the Thames in a cup. That’s one piece of London I don’t wish to bring back home, even if it does bring me a little closer to Big Ben.

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