Our last city visited was Melbourne and we really enjoyed it. Melbourne is fairly flat and very easy to get around. There are great city trams that circle the central business district and radiate out in many directions. Melbourne lies on both sides of the Yarra River. There are several bridges that cross it and a nice pedestrian bridge too. The South Bank is the arts area, concert halls, art museum and restaurants. On Sunday there was a market along the South Bank where there is a large arcade with some shopping and lots of restaurants. Lots of people spaces too. Besides exploring South Bank, on Sunday we took a tram to St Kilda beach on Port Phillip Bay. It’s a popular neighborhood with lots of cafes and restaurants. There was a market there also. On our way back to the city we walked through the Royal Botanic Gardens, a nice big city park. This area of Australia is experiencing an extreme drought so the park’s ponds are looking bedraggled and many of the water features are turned off. But that’s the only disappointment. On Sunday evening Will went to an Aussie Rules Football game with friends from Melbourne that we met on a cruise a few years ago. He really enjoyed it and I enjoyed some time alone!
We bought 3 day Melbourne Passes that include all city transportation and more tours and entrance fees than we could possibly take advantage of – but we did our best! Monday morning we took a Grayline City Tour. We’ve found taking some sort of bus tour around a city is a really good way to get the big picture of an area and see neighborhoods that we’d have a hard time visiting on regular public transportation. We met our cruise friends for a great pizza lunch on the South Bank, reminisced about our cruise together and shared future travel plans. We took a short Yarra River cruise in the afternoon and then went to the top of the Eureka Tower, the tallest residential tower in the world. On the 88th floor is the Skydeck where you can look out over the city in every direction.
The next day we took trams to the Queen Victoria Market, a huge roofed market for all sorts of food, clothing, home wares, you name it – you can probably buy it here! There is a section of the original indoor market still there, refurbished with most of the meats and bakery items inside. Prices were much lower than what we’d seen in grocery stores so it’s very popular. (Oh, Woolworths is a grocery store in Australia!) Since we weren’t making purchases, an hour was enough time here and we headed downtown to the Aquarium. They have an excellent penguin exhibit with a snowfield and a large glass-sided water tank so we could watch the penguins waddle around and then gracefully dive and swim. They have lots of small exhibits but also huge tanks with glass “tubes” that you walk through, sharks and manta rays swim above and around you. It’s really well done.
In the afternoon we took an unusual tour of The Block, a shopping arcade, open since 1888 or around then. This one was not part of the Melbourne Pass but we’d seen an ad for it. The tour was led by Beth Hill, a woman in her 80’s who had been an elevator operator at the Block back when they had those jobs. When they refitted the building for fire codes she lost that job but they asked her back to greet people as they came to shop. That job eventually led to her giving tours. We learned more than we ever wanted to know about the arcade and its shops, but she was a kick and we had tea with the other 5 people on our tour at the end. In the evening we took a tram to the Carlton neighborhood and went out for an Italian dinner with the son of friends from our church. Tim Baldwin and his girlfriend, Kira, have a nice apartment near the University of Melbourne where Kira is working on her PhD in Aboriginal Art. Very fun seeing them and now I can report back to Tim’s mom that all is well “down under”.
Wednesday morning we headed to the Melbourne Zoo. Highlights there are the kangaroo enclosure that you can walk right into, an amazingly huge aviary with lots of large birds (we saw a Cassowary, a very rare, non-flying rain forest bird that has a long red neck and a blue head with a block shaped horn -actually very dangerous in the wild – almost missed spotting it through the dense bush), a bunch of cute meerkats, a butterfly house and a new baby elephant. Next we did a tour of the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, Will’s choice, where we saw top to bottom, box seats to the dressing rooms and everything in between of this 100,000 seat stadium! They use it for cricket (of course), Aussie rules football, rugby, soccer, concerts and all kinds of events. We had time left so we made it to the last tour of the Como House, so named for Lake Como in Italy that the owner was fond of. It’s a beautiful Italianate house with porches and wrought iron railings on 3 sides, built in 1847, the very early years of Melbourne. It’s in a nice neighborhood now but would have been way in the bush back then, a long trek into town. The house has had only four owners. The land was sold off over the years and the daughters of the last family moved out in the 1950’s when they were quite elderly. The house and contents were bought by the National Historic Trust. These sisters lived in it as it was in their youth during the early 1900’s so, frozen in time, it’s quite a treasure! And a huge upkeep project!
As a splurge for our last meal in Australia we went to a tapas restaurant, used up the last of our Aussie $, keeping just enough Aussie cash to pay for the taxi to the airport. Good planning! By the way, Australian paper money is actually plastic. You can run it through the wash or keep it in your pocket while swimming, you can fold it but it doesn’t keep a crease. Very durable. The printing facility is near Melbourne and they actually make money for other countries there too. (I think Canada is going to plastic soon.) I didn’t bring home any bills but I did keep a few coins as souvenirs. They don’t use pennies, just round up or down. They have 1 and 2 dollar coins, paper starts at $5.
Australia is an amazing place and we had a fabulous trip. Hope you’ve enjoyed my travelogue and pictures.