Sydney has many of the attributes of a great city – a picturesque harbor, the bridge, the opera house, lively downtown areas, great beaches, etc. What’s missing is a soul, a gestalt, a sense of being designed for the long-term residents as well as short-term tourists; lacking that, it’s just Miami without the cultural diversity. It’s a wonderful, spectacular city to visit, and if I could I’d spend a few more weeks or months exploring its treasures. I’m sure there are many people who are deliriously happy living there – there better be, for them to be paying rents and real-estate prices that seem high even to this jaded Boston-area eye.

Hobart, by contrast, seemed to be a city with a purpose other than to look pretty. It certainly had its charming areas (Battery Park) and lively downtown markets (Salamanca) and there’s definitely something nice about having a pretty serious mountain (Mt. Wellington) right on the outskirts. In fact, Hobart reminded me a lot of Wellington NZ (where I grew up). Hobart’s greatest asset, though, might be that it’s in Tasmania, just a drive away from a stunning wealth and variety of natural wonders from wine country and beaches to mountains and rivers and near-virgin forests.

Strahan. Yeah, it was a quaint little fishing town. Yippee.

I couldn’t quite make up my mind about Melbourne. On the one hand, the King’s Domain (of which the renowned botanical gardens are only a part) is a huge asset, and “foodies” cannot but love having Victoria Street Market nearby, and there seems to be a top-notch public transportation system tying it together. There’s good access to good beaches and several notable mountain areas. What’s not to like? Well, how about that incredibly modern-ugly development across from the arts pavilion? Or the amazing array of overhead tram and power lines? The awful traffic? It’s hard to tell on only a three days’ exposure whether the positives or negatives would be more noticeable to a long-term resident.

Sydney is almost definitely the best of the three cities to visit. For a sabbatical I’d choose Hobart and for long-term regular living probably Melbourne. I wish we’d had time to see Adelaide, or Darwin or Perth or even Brisbane. Launceston, on Tasmania’s north coast, might well be the best little city nobody outside Australia ever heard of. Australia’s cities seem to be quite a smorgasbord, with something to offer for just about everyone.