Our tour group arrived Wednesday afternoon so we had the morning free to do and see what we wanted. Melbourne has a great metro. We stopped at a 7/11 close to the hotel and bought a Myki Card and took the 48 Tram to the center of town. First we were searching for a place to buy a Sim Card. To use our Verizon phone, it would have cost $10 a day. we could buy a Viacon Sim Card for our 17 days in Austria for $25 Australian ($18 US) with all the voice and data we need and to get wi-fi on the buses, as we move from hotel to hotel. Sometimes it is hard to realizes that technology is worldwide and in some places is more advanced than at home. Stopped at one of the banks to use the ATM to get Australian money, shopped with our eyes (we were on Collins St- $$$ street), and had lunch. We returned to our hotel in time for a 3:30 welcoming meeting with the tour leader and the other 13 members of our group. For dinner our tour leader took us to an old downtown Italian restaurant. We were close to the" free" tram zone so we all jumped on. Thursday we had breakfast at the hotel and started our exploration of Melbourne. Our first stop was at the Royal Botanic Gardens where an aboriginal guide, Dennis Fisher, introduced us to many Australian plants, but also gave a heart-warming introduction to the aboriginal philosophy of life. The Australian Aboriginals are the least materialistic and most spiritual people we have heard of. We then visited the "Shrine of Remembrance", which serves as a memorial to the thousands of soldiers who died fighting in far away Europe in World War 1. Lunch was next at the huge "Queen Victorian" open market. We ended the day looking for more "Fairy Penguins". Our trip leader took us to the harbor where a colony of birds have made their nests in the breakwater rocks. This was so different from our trip to the beach. Here thousands of people were walking down the pier with the city lights close by. It was a long walk and few birds, but it was entertaining to be with our tour leader who had done this since her father brought her here as a child.
Friday we shifted gears and headed to the close by mountains. The Mt. Dandenong Ranges are located only a short way from Melbourne and is a place of beauty and tranquillity, with majestic, eucalyptus forests. Our first stop was at the William Ricketts Sanctuary (An Aboriginal Sculpture Sanctuary), a collection of sculptures displayed in the forest. William lived into his late 90's and embraced the Aboriginal Philosophy. Much of his work was outstanding. We then walked through the Dandenong Range Botanic Gardens famous for its Rhododendrons which were past blooming, but it was still beautiful. After lunch we boarded the "Puffing Billy Train" for a journey through the forest. It is an old logging train that the villages along its track have adopted and enhanced for an enjoyable ride. We arrived back at the hotel after dark and went to bed without dinner after having had a large meal in a quaint town in the mountains.