I like Melbourne! I’ve always liked Melbourne, ever since my mother sent me off on a holiday to a friend’s place in Fern Tree Gully when I was 15 (that was 1966). Melbourne has its cosmopolitan culture all sorted out, you can find just about everything there easily.
Since then I have visited several times for various reasons both with and without family and friends and each time I have liked it just as much as the first, and so, several excellent reasons to go came up this year and the plan was made.
Firstly there was to be an exhibition in the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) from the Hermitage in St Petersburg, I didn’t have to think twice, so I built the visit around that. I have friends in Melbourne so of course seeing them was a must and then discovered that a dear friend (the closest thing I have to a sister) from Canberra had never been to Melbourne so she joined me. Oh what a time we had!
Two years ago in The Hedonist hostel in Belgrade I met many wonderful people who have remained good friends. One of these was Natalie, a young Aussie lady who hailed from Melbourne. It’s funny how the sliding door effect works in life. If I hadn’t made a split second decision when in Pisa to go back to Belgrade for a second visit, I would never have met Natalie, would never have got to know this lovely young lady and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to stay at her place in Melbourne. In Belgrade and in many messages since then we promised to catch up for coffee either in her town or mine. Time passed and here finally was the opportunity. Not only did we catch up for coffee but that generous soul put both my friend and me up at her place, we had so much fun, can you imagine this group of women….although 3 of us are Aussie by nationality we are also of ethnic backgrounds so a Russian/ Serb, a Serb/Maltese, a German/Pole and an Italian flatmate. What a week that was!
I have other dear friends in Melbourne as well, my Russian tutor and husband who had moved there many years ago and a friend from an intensive course I did in the Dandenongs in 1988. Dinner with my Russian friends was hilarious! It was as if the 15 years since I last saw them just melted away and the six of us spent the entire evening talking, laughing and eating.
So what does one do in Melbourne? And how does one prepare for a trip there? Firstly all the stories of Melbourne having all four seasons in one day can sometimes be true, I experienced it on one trip, luckily not this time, but always have an umbrella and a jacket, just in case, it did shower over 2 days of our visit.
Secondly, research well and allow time, there is more to see in Melbourne than you would think and that’s just in the CBD. We had 5 full days there and still not enough time to do everything I would have liked. OK, perhaps if I were 10 or more years younger I could have raced around to a lot more, but these days more rest stops are needed.
We chose to go down by train, it’s cheaper than flying and once you are in Melbourne much easier access from Southern Cross Railway Station to all transport than it is from the airport. As seniors it was even cheaper. From Canberra, as we don’t have a direct train, it’s a coach to either Yass or Cootamundra then train to Melbourne, we chose Yass as it gave us more time on the train. I prefer train travel for many reasons including the extra room so the more time on the train the better. It’s a full days trip but I rather like just sitting back and watching the countryside roll by.
I had several missions for Melbourne one was to get a good affordable outfit for my son’s wedding and Melbourne is the place for shopping! So on to the free tourist tram and off to Harbourtown, the biggest shopping outlet ever! I love that it’s not built as a mall but more like a suburban shopping centre with all shopfronts on pedestrian streets. There you will find just about everything including pubs, food, coffee, clothes etc, a circus playground for children as well as the Melbourne Star (the ferris wheel similar to the London Eye and the Singapore Flyer). No, I didn’t go on it, not a fan of heights, but I believe that the view from the top stretches for 40 kms. It does seem to be situated in an odd place but I guess there is a reason for that.
Success! It took a few hours but we left Harbourtown with me totally kitted out for the wedding plus a bit more. So back onto the tourist tram and back to Natalie’s for dinner.
You may be wondering what is there to do in Melbourne apart from shopping? And there is an awful lot of shopping you can do from the ordinary to the designer. Let me tell you there is a ton of other things to do that will keep you busy full time. Let’s start with the CBD.
Usually when I visit a new city I hop on one of those Hop on Hop Off buses (for which you pay) and get myself orientated, in Melbourne you don’t have to (unless you want to go a bit further out than the CBD) because they have got it right.
Melbourne kept their trams (unlike Sydney) a very smart decision, the centre is built in a square so everything is very easy to find. They have the gorgeous old-school brown (‘talking’) tram which is free (actually all trams in the inner city are free but this one gives you tourist information) route 35. You can hop on this tram, listen to all the explanations to you hearts delight until you have orientated yourself and then you just get on and off wherever you please. It used to only do the inner city now it also goes to Docklands and Harbourtown. I think the best way to describe it is to use the words from the government transport site: https://ptv.vic.gov.au/route/view/1112
‘The City Circle tram service operates within Melbourne’s central business district. The service operates in a circular route passing major tourist attractions, as well as linking with other tram, train and bus routes in and around Melbourne. Trams run in both directions approximately every twelve minutes between 10am and 6pm Sunday to Wednesday and extended hours, 10am – 9pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Clockwise service: Flinders Street > Harbour Esplanade > Docklands Drive > La Trobe Street > Victoria Street > Nicholson Street > Spring Street > Flinders Street.’ It also travels in the anti-clockwise direction.’
So that is what we did, firstly because it’s been 15 years since I’ve been in Melbourne proper and couldn’t remember where everything was (I’ve been down but visiting friends briefly on the outskirts so no tourism) and secondly to give my friend a sense of where things are so she wouldn’t feel totally lost. So once you are orientated you can start hopping off and exploring. There are so many museums, galleries, dining places (just google Lygon Street and you’ll get an idea of the range of restaurants), gardens, historical buildings, markets, churches etc etc scattered thoughout the city centre, seriously there is something for everyone.
THE HERMITAGE EXHIBITION – NGV
As I mentioned in the beginning the Hermitage exhibition was on, I had bought the tickets online for the Saturday so off we went. First breakfast of coffee and Italian cakes at Brunettis, then a walk past the famous Flinders St Station. ( The story goes that supposedly the reason that the station is so different is because the architect designed both the station for Melbourne and one for Mumbai and the designs were mistakenly swapped. I’ve looked that up and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of this and the magnificent Mumbai station was apparently built in the late 1880s so it seems that it’s just a rumour but, true or not it’s a great yarn and a beautiful station!). We crossed the Yarra River and then on to the National Gallery of Victoria. Outside there was a delightful Chinese man busking, playing what I think is an erhu, I’m not very acquainted with Chinese musical instruments but that was the only thing I could find on the net that looked similar. The exhibition was outstanding and the NGV needs to be applauded for the design, just brilliant and really made me want to speed time up so I could go to the real thing. As an aside, if you haven’t seen the Russian movie ‘Russian Ark’ I recommend you find it as it was filmed in the Hermitage in it’s entirety.
There is one problem in
Melbourne, so many choices of good food and coffee! It is seriously difficult to decide where to eat and you could spend years working your way through all the magnificent cafes, restaurants and specialty foods from almost every corner of the world. We stumbled across Gelato Messina in Richmond – Wow and Yum! The Greek coffee, baklava and kataifi at the International Diethnes Cakes and Coffee were awesome too.
Markets, that’s another thing that Melbourne has a plethora of, and the absolute must in markets are the Queen Victoria Markets (QVM). That expedition was scheduled for Sunday. We met up with my friend Lesley and went exploring. The QVM are massive and so well organised, divided into fruit and veg as well as plants , general stalls like clothes, toys, linen, souvenirs etc etc, a huge amount of shops with amazing delicatessen foods, liquor stores and of course the buskers. Many a band has started at the QVM like one of my favourites ‘The Band Who Knew Too Much’ This time we came across a fantastic Latin band called LaRumba. They were so good I bought the CD, that was a real treat. Lunch and then off we went to wander along the north bank of the Yarra. Time came for farewells and the tram back to Natalie’s to get ready for dinner with my gorgeous Russian friends. Limor’s Turkish banquet for 4-6 people was just wonderful! Thanks to my dear friends we spent the night eating and laughing, truly I hadn’t laughed so much in years! They say laughter is great for weight loss, so thanks friends I must have lost heaps that night. So ended Sunday.
OLD MELBOURNE GAOL
A friend had suggested that we should be sure to visit the gaol so that was the plan for Monday. It certainly is a fascinating place. Luckily we bought the tickets for the guided tour, I didn’t realise how much information there is. The Old Melbourne Gaol was built in the mid-1800s, in Russell Street. It held dangerous criminals alongside petty offenders, the homeless and the mentally ill. There were 133 hangings carried out there including our most infamous bushranger Ned Kelly.
The conditions for the prisoners must have been horrific and how anyone survived amazes me. The ticket includes a visit to the old City Watch House as well. I chose not to do that tour, as most of it is 40 minutes of being ‘arrested and locked up’ by a charge sergeant. This reminded me of Berlin, where on the eastern side of the Brandenburg gates you can have a passport stamped and be yelled at by a ‘Soviet’ guard, which I chose not to do (seriously why would you want to?) but then to each his own, so if that’s your thing, go for it. As a staff trainer in my working life I was given a tour of a local gaol and totally hated when that door slammed shut, I didn’t need that experience again.
Now to the churches, I like churches and Melbourne has heaps. Unfortunately not all of them are open all the time which can be somewhat frustrating and massively time wasting, but we got into a few. Firstly St Patricks Catholic cathedral a massive Gothic Revival style structure,
lovely on the inside and is reputed to be the tallest and overall largest church in Australia. Churches in Australia are nowhere near as ornate as those in Europe but they are beautiful and the architecture wonderful.
Next it was St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral on Flinders Street. It is a neo-gothic structure and has beautiful stained glass windows. Unlike most other churches you can’t take photos unless you buy a $5.00 licence which allows you to take photos! I decided I wasn’t that desperate. So if you visit be aware of this as they do keep a strict eye for people disobeying the rules, one guy got caught while we were there.
The next day we wasted a terrible amount of time trying to get into St Michael’s Uniting on Collins Street and The Scots church, so I’d give those a miss, although their advertising tells you that they are very worthwhile visiting, we missed out on the Immigration museum because of those locked church doors.
STREET ART LANES
There’s not a lot to say about the street art lanes except that they are really worth finding and exploring, they are pretty self explanatory. Best for me to just put up some photos. It took us a while but we finally tracked them down. If you are a fan of street art it’s probably a good idea to take one of the walking tours so you can get the explanations. I’m not a fan but wandering Hosier Lane and the surrounding lanes was quite an experience and in its own way pleasurable.
So it was farewell to Melbourne after 5 spectacular days, back on the train and back to Canberra for my friend and the coast for me. One day soon I’ll get back there again.