We were really excited to reach Melbourne, described as Australia’s most European city, by many of the people we had met travelling. Our first task was to get into our home for the week, a city centre AirBnB. Rather than meet us at the apartment our hosts had left a set of complex instructions that felt like they had come from an episode of Mission Impossible. On arriving at Little Collins Street, right in the centre of the city, we were to locate a row of small trees with protective iron rails around them. On one of the rails we would find a key safe padlock. Armed with the combination for the padlock we would then be able to access the key to the apartment. Remarkably this all went to plan and within 20 minutes of arriving we had got in, unloaded all of our stuff into the apartment and were on our way to drop off our hire car and admire the magnificent cityscape.
Returning to the city centre we took the opportunity to jump on a tram, our first of many tram rides and one of the many features we came to love about Melbourne. The public transport system is superb; cheap, easy to use, frequent and in the case of the trams a wonderfully evocative sight. Sadly we didn’t get to dine on the Restaurant Tram…
Our apartment was smack bang in the middle of the city, a two minute walk from Flinders Street Station and the main thoroughfares of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets, a great base to explore the city centre, a classic Victorian grid system with plenty of old colonial buildings to give it real character.
The main streets are complemented and connected by a network of thriving lanes full of shops, bars and street art creating a buzzing character on a scale that we haven’t seen elsewhere in Oz.
As an avid cricket fan a visit to the Melbourne Cricket Ground was a bit of a trip to Mecca. After Lords it’s probably the most famous cricket ground in the world and an absolute “must see” for us. We made our way through an environmental fair on the banks of the Yarra River and on route discovered the stadiums that host the Australian Tennis Open including the Rod Over Arena looking strangely deserted just a few weeks after the Open had finished. We booked ourselves onto the MCG Tour and were treated to a behind the scenes view of this fantastic and historic cricket ground.
Despite our best efforts we failed to find where it is the Aussie Test Team store their sandpaper but it was wonderful seeing the changing rooms, views from ground level, sky-high seats, the press boxes and the Long Room. One aspect of the tour that was slightly disappointing was the amount of time discussing the Aussie (no) Rules Football that is played on the ground. Having spent several months in the country and having seen some match footage I am none the wiser about either the laws or the attraction of the game. A bit like baseball in the US, it seems to be an acquired local taste.
Having seen the MCG empty we took the opportunity to return the next day to watch the Melbourne Stars play the Sydney Sixers in the Big Bash League – Australia’s Twenty 20 tournament that goes on for months and months… We duly went full Aussie and donned our bucket hats and enjoyed a cracking game of crash bang wallop cricket, cheering the Stars on to a crushing win over their bitter Sydney rivals.
The MCG hosted the 1956 Olympics and it was interesting to see some of the history of that event commemorated around the ground.
A Bit of Culture
Sam played an absolute blinder by getting two tickets for the “sold out” theatre production of Lady in The Van featuring the unique Miriam Margolyes. We were over the moon to have the chance to see the potty-mouthed national/Aussie treasure that is Miriam on stage in Melbourne in this great Alan Bennett play. We were extra excited as this was our first trip to the theatre since we left the UK. Before the curtain went up, the Director addressed the audience telling us, somewhat sombrely, that a cast member was unwell and there was no under-study to take his place. We braced ourselves for the news that the play was off, when much to the audiences delight he declared that in the spirit of ‘The Show Must Go On’ he would take on the role. This was met with huge applause. He did a great job despite admitting he didn’t know the lines for this character so had to read off a script. As expected the play was hugely entertaining, although it did remind us of some of the horrors we have both encountered in our past professional lives dealing with the reality of hoarders and their “homes”. Unbeknown to us when we got the tickets the show was followed by a Q&A with the cast which gave us the chance to see and listen to Miriam close up as many of the audience chose not to stay for this bonus. As expected she was amusing, but her answers also revealed someone who is very serious and thoughtful about her craft – it’s not all “bollocks” and farting.
We continued our habit of attending open air cinemas – it’s such a wonderful novelty! On this occasion we found a rooftop cinema where we celebrated Valentine’s Day 24 hours early by watching Amelie – the ideal chance to put to the test our ongoing attempts to learn French……happily English subtitles were included. Lounging on deckchairs, under blankets with a couple of beers looking at the night sky and skyscrapers was a very pleasant way to watch this wonderfully uplifting film. No matter how many times we watch it, it always makes us happy.
As luck would have it there was an Escher Exhibition on in Melbourne during our stay with a vast collection of his remarkable work on display. Given the hugely changeable Melbourne weather (it is a cliche but it really is four seasons in a day in this City) we chose a rainy day to check it out, and we weren’t disappointed….and it is so refreshing to be encouraged to take photos in a gallery!
Although his illogical / impossible drawings are the most famous and popular, it was the less seen self portraits and detail drawings that really caught the eye….especially his eye close ups where the detail is astonishing.
Fascinating, fun and constantly playing tricks on your mind, the exhibition was superb and was a really interesting and thought-provoking diversion from our traditional sight-seeing routes.
Good Old Sussex By The Sea
Through the wonders of web social connectivity and the Seagulls Down Under Facebook Page in particular I was contacted by a former work colleague and avid Albion fan Jan and her partner Paul. We promptly arranged to meet up for afternoon drinkies and food at Melbourne’s snazzy Southbank in the city centre. Once again catching up with friendly familiar faces on our travels was a wonderful tonic, talking over old times and new, and finding out how Jan and Paul have made the transition from Hove to settle in Melbourne. If you are going to do it, Melbourne is a fabulous place to choose! Jan recommended we check out Melbourne’s Brighton Beach (our third after the Perth and Adelaide versions) and the beach huts…..especially the Seagulls themed. Taking Jan’s advise we set off later in the week to combine a visit to Brighton Beach and St Kilda.
Like all of the other Brighton beaches (and unlike “our” one back home) there is plenty of sand, a sea that looks warm and welcoming and the sun beating down. In Melbourne it’s great to see the line of beach huts so reminiscent of the seafront in Hove.
St Kilda comes with a bit of an edgy reputation and as we made our way it revealed its contrasting character; a strange cocktail of prostitutes, penguins, tourist, rats, druggies and kite surfers.
The latter were putting on a stunning show where we could view them from the Pier, gliding across the water and through the air at breathtaking speed with the city centre sitting in the background – tremendous.
As evening falls small Penguins return to the rocks at the end of St Kilda Pier and we found one or two already bedded in for the night as we strolled around.
A local guide told us that they arrived in big numbers after sunset and preceding them the water rats would come ashore……cue our departure. We like penguins as much as the next person, but when their support act is an aquatic rodent it’s time to call it a day. It turned out to be a good decision – as we headed back home along the pier hordes of penguin seekers were heading in the opposite direction….good luck with the rats folks!
Our week in Melbourne had flown by; we felt as though we had done and seen a lot, but that there was so much more to experience….which is exactly how a great city should make you feel.
Top Travelling Tips
This one is Melbourne specific: don’t take the river boat trip from the city to the interesting historic suburb of Williamstown……..unless you have an unhealthy interest in container shipping. Enough said.
Next: The Pacific Highway Road Trip To Sydney