Days 4-6 in Melbourne
Jan 2, 2009
|This last week was spent with my good friend Ed and his family in Melbourne. Unlike the glaring heat of Sydney, Melbourne has instead been much cooler (and wetter) than Sydney and presents a very different feel to it too.
For starters it feels much more European, to the point where if you squint you could almost imagine yourself in Amsterdam or some other European capital. Whilst high rises exist, they don’t overly dominate – and there are large parts of the town that are dominated by distinctive single and double fronted Victorian houses. On the coastline, these then seem to alternate with what I think is best described as California-modern type housing. In fact, one analogy I find myself increasingly using is that, had the British stuck around in America a bit longer and actually colonized California themselves – it would probably look very much like modern day Melbourne by now.
Trams are still used extensively for public transport and they provide quite a nice way to zoom through town whilst sightseeing – they even have a free Circle line Tram that goes around the main CBD area that is definitely targeted at tourism.
The CBD area is the main part of town with most of the interesting sights. Within this is one of Melbourne’s most distinctive features – the famous “Laneways” – essentially side alleys and arcades that house a myriad of small shops, cafes, bars, and clubs of all sorts that make for some very interesting and fun explorations.
Ed has two children nowadays – 4 year old Adelle who was actually named after my mum (long story as to how that happened ☺ ) and 6 month old Etienne – and it was great to get a chance to see them both – the last time I saw Adelle she was barely a few hours old!
When I got in Ed and family kindly took me for a stroll around town to get a sense of it, which was really interesting – some of Ed’s friends came over that evening – but still suffering from jetlag, I didn’t last too long that night!
New Year’s eve was Ed’s birthday and was spent in the Docklands area - currently the focus of a lot of development as well as the location of the “Telstra Dome” – one of Melbourne’s several big sports venues. The docs now play home tons of restaurants and bars populating it – and so we thought we’d head over there considering we had no plans prior to New Year’s eve itself.
We met up with Matt Morris, one of Ed’s friends and proceeded to find a restaurant from which we could see the fireworks on the harbour (one of the several sites in Melbourne – who incidentally run a “First Night”-type of New Year’s – theoretically dry, and with a Children’s Fireworks display earlier in the evening for those with families). We eventually found a chinese restaurant that still had space and the evening went well! We were joined by another one of Ed’s friends also called Matt – and when Ed went home after the fireworks, I hit the town with the two Matts’ who proceeded to give me a midnight walking tour of Melbourne successfully avoiding most bars – a midnight bushwalk as I liked to tease them – only with a lot of walking and no bush… :p
New Year’s Day started appropriately slowly as I’d only got home at about 3:30 AM and was sluggish, but surprisingly not hung over – I think that long walk with the Matts the night before had some benefits! I eventually dragged my ass out of bed ad Ed’s house after lunch and went into two to do some tourism.
Armed with a loose plan I took the tram in and jumped on the first Circle line tram when I got into the CBD area which was pretty quiet. I found myself walking the circuit though instead, as there was something on almost every stop that piqued my curiosity enough to get off – and the stops were only about a block away – so I figured it would be more effective. Went past the Parliament building, and walked through Carlton Gardens with its grand looking Exhibition Center in the background, to the very modern looking Melbourne Museum – home to a large exhibit on the history of Melbourne, some very interesting Aboriginal artwork that couldn’t be photographed and, most amusingly, the stuffed body of the horse “Phar Lap”. Once a year Melbourne, and indeed Australia apparently, stops to watch the premier horse race on the Australian calendar – the Melbourne Gold Cup. Phar Lap was probably the best horse to have ever raced and won (multiple times) the prestigious race. Seeking to conquer the world having proven his dominance in Australia, Phar Lap was taken to the USA where he then apparently died under very suspicious circumstances (rumour is he was poisoned…) – and they brought him back, stuffed him, and put him on display in the museum – both impressive and amusing at the same time if you ask me!
I walked around the rest of the city, just missing the closing time of the Old Gaol and several other sights – so I headed over to the Eureka tower – a residential building which affords one of the best views of Melbourne from its top floor viewing platform and was supposed to have an unusual attraction involving a glass floor. When I got up – the views were indeed fantastic – but “The Edge” attraction as it was called, not only cost more money, but also had a one hour wait so I quickly gave it a miss. The ride involved taking you into a room made of that LCD glass that was clouded over so you couldn’t see through it. Unawares, whilst in it, the room was extended out about 3 meters over the edge of the building – and then the glass was cleared to reveal the ground 90 floors below you. You could watch this whole process from a viewing platform on the side of the building – people inside looked amused, but not really “loving it” – so I felt pretty good about not really missing anything there.
I got out and kept walking taking in the riverfront of the Yarra river, Federation Square, and eventually ending up in the Olympic park – home to several stadiums including soccer, Aussie rules football, Rod Laver Arena (home of the Australian Open), and the famed MCG – the Melbourne Cricket Ground that is hallowed ground for so many Australians (I’m forever reminded that the Australian obsession with sport is not necessarily playing it – but rather watching it. When I was in Sydney, at any one time, 8 of the 10 channels available to me in the hotel room showed sports..) . I then crossed over to the Botanical Gardens where I’d spotted a big party going on in the middle – turned out however it was a rave-up for which you needed to have pre-paid tickets for – but the music sounded pretty cool nevertheless – raves like this are apparently quite common – only the night before, the Telstra Dome had played host of some 40,000 ravers for New Year’s – and the rave up on New Year’s Day that I found was only one of two that day!
Tired and getting late, I then headed back along the river, past the Crown Casino to the tram stop home – phew!
The next day was an earlier start as I headed over to the Queen Victoria Market – Melbourne’s oldest and most famous market. As I went through the first few sections of the outdoor market, I started wondering what all the fuss was about as it seemed like a crappy version of London’s Camden Market only more touristy at first. The chintz however, gave way to slightly more interesting fare, and then to a produce market before I finally found that there was an indoor element to the market too. The indoor element was indeed fantastic – a real throw back to a by-gone era with small individual shop fronts accented with hand painted signs and some fantastic Victorian architecture. The shops sold a combination of both fantastically fresh gourmet produce (meats, fish, cheeses, oils, etc) of all sorts as well as excellent pre-prepared foods – lovely! Beyhan took me out for lunch in St Kilda which gave me the opportunity to explore that southern-california-esque neighborhood – another great day!