Our own international town

Last updated 11:25 05/10/2012

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For a small town in a small country, Blenheim has a wide mix of cultures and nationalities.

That seems to come from a combination of sitting right on the main tourist route and the people attracted to work in the vineyards. In a cafe or the supermarket queue it's possible to be surrounded by people talking other languages.

But those people mostly don't stay and there is no obvious mark of their culture on the town.

Go to a place like Melbourne and the different cultures are amplified, along with the size of the population.

It is a city of more than four million people - roughly the size of all New Zealand - but the proportion of other nationalities seems huge. The Italians, Greeks and Chinese are obvious, particularly because they dominate whole neighbourhoods and business areas.

But get on a bus or a tram and listen to the languages. Playing "guess the nationality" goes to a whole new level.

We are lucky enough to be in Melbourne for a few days. Although it's been a long time, I quickly remembered why I like it - the architecture, the wide streets, the history and the faster pace of life.

Even though many thousands of people pour into the central city every day, the wide streets mean it never seems crowded.

It is a commuter town and the buses and trains are efficient. But it's the trams I like. When I was last here, they were all painted green with cream trim. Some of those are still around - looking pretty tatty, I have to say - but mostly they are bigger and modern.

The new models don't have the same personality, but they are sleek and more comfortable.

And once you've figure out the timetable and the routes, it's cheap and easy to get around. It was especially cheap on our first day when we bought day passes but didn't realise they needed to be poked into a machine on the trams. Everyone else just seemed to be waving their card in front of an electronic reading gizmo.

We had different cards and got it right the second day. The tickets let you travel on any route all day for about $10 and, best of all, they keep going until about midnight.

Yesterday we ventured a few extra stops out of the central city to suburban Fitzroy. It's an easy way to see the area, get on and off where you like and there are virtually no traffic problems because the trams have the middle lanes all to themselves.

The huge number of food places is also great. Cafes and restaurants are crammed in everywhere, including whole lanes taken up by rows and rows of outside tables.

Those dark little lanes between the main streets, crowded with small owner-operator businesses, are some of the most interesting parts of the city.

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I sometimes think Melbourne would be my choice if I had to live in a larger city. But working in a place is completely different from being on holiday, and the frustrations would mount up. So I'm happy to stay in Marlborough, shut my eyes in the supermarket queue and play the guessing game while I listen to the tourists and young workers talking about what they will have for dinner.

- The Marlborough Express

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