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Australia: Bendigo, Blue Mountains, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Mornington Peninsula, Sydney
Melbourne, Australia: All things capital
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
This city ranks amongst my favourites from around the world. The numerous parks that dot this beautiful city are quite a welcome. People are nice and friendly; public transportation is efficient; cuisine is excellent as are some of the attractions in and around Melbourne. And the fun is its weather. It's quite common to experience 4 seasons in a single day.
I have been to Melbourne a number of times in the past few years. However, I now do find Melbourne getting a bit expensive. It wasn't so earlier. I guess the Australian currency getting stronger is one of the major reasons that are affecting overseas visitors.
Speaking of currency, at the time of writing USD 1 fetched about AUD 1.05. After commission, I got in hand about AUD 0.95. If you know your expected spends when in Australia, make it a point to change your currency in one go. Irrespective of the amount you change, a minimum fee is applied by the exchange. So if you change $500 ($100 every time for five times), you would pay $50 ($10 each time) towards commission as against only $10 if you changed the money at one time.
I reached Melbourne early in the morning. I must make a mention of my airline - Cathay Pacific. I have been flying with them for over 15 years now. And each time that I have flown, I have found the same level of 'service with a smile'. Nice guys in the sky. I remember on one occasion I had to travel immediately after a little eye surgery. I was pleasantly surprised when I was upgraded to a first class for a long-haul journey from Hong Kong to San Francisco!
I had a business conference to attend in Melbourne. Before and after the show, I would have the opportunity to explore Melbourne, one of the regions in Victoria and a tour to Bendigo, Great Ocean Road, Gold Coast and Brisbane. You will find links of my travel experiences to the places just mentioned.
Business would commence the next morning. I was hosted at The Hilton, just across the airport. It's a nice airport hotel. With easy accessibility to town, the little distance that one needs to travel to town is quite acceptable. Of course, if you need to spend more than a day, one would surely want to opt for a hotel in the city.
Apart from the taxis which would cost about $45 for a one way trip, I would recommend the services of the SkyBus that shunts every 10 minutes between the airport and the City (Southern Cross Station). A return trip costs $26 (valid for 3 months) as against a single journey of $16. I opted for the former to spend the day exploring some of the attractions in Melbourne.
Melbourne has a population of 4 million. It's a melting pot for over 140 ethnic groups that speak over 170 different languages! No wonder this diversity has nicknamed Melbourne as being 'the restaurant capital', 'the sporting capital' and 'the art and theatre capital'. Melbourne was indeed the Capital City of Australia up to 1927. The city boomed during the Gold Rush era. Aboriginals dwelled for thousands of years on this vast mass of land. It was only after 1835 that folks from Europe came over to make Australia their home.
After alighting at the Southern Cross Station, I walked over to Flinders Street Station. The station itself is an attraction. It's a heritage building and a common meeting point. The term "see you under the clocks" refers to meeting under the Flinders Street Station's various clocks that display departure times of various trains. Every day, the station welcomes over 110,000 commuters that use the services of over 1500 train departures. Just opposite the station is the famous St Paul's Cathedral (an old world charm) and the Federation Square (modern, contemporary structure).
St Paul's Cathedral is a major landmark in Melbourne. It was the tallest structure in Melbourne until the skyscrapers of modern Melbourne overshadowed. Built in 1891, the design of the cathedral is mainly Gothic. Quite unlike to other structures in Melbourne, this cathedral was built using sandstone which had to be imported from New South Wales. The interiors have lavish windows decorated with intricate stain glass.
Opposite to St Paul's Cathedral and Flinders Street Station, is a modern complex known as Federation Square or more popularly Fed Square. It's a large complex housing a museum, cinema, art galleries, auditorium, restaurants, bar and shops. It has a large open area which is a very popular hangout for locals and visitors. It is paved by sandstone blocks. It indeed is a cultural precinct of Melbourne. In the basement is the Tourist Information Office a visit to which, especially by tourists, is recommended.
Having explored the immediate neighbourhood on foot, I decided to use the services of the vastly popular network of trams to take me around town. Melbourne offers an excellent public transportation system by way of its trams. Every corner is efficiently covered. There's also a City Circle tram that stops at major attractions. And the ride is free! Tourists can also avail of a tourist shuttle bus which is free too.
If you are planning to use the tram service for less than 2 hours, you can buy a 2-hour ticket. Otherwise an adult day pass costs only $6:80 allowing unlimited travel for the day. Of course, discounts for senior citizens and children are applicable. Tickets can be purchased on board. Whilst I was there, Myki was under development that would allow people seamless access to travel in trams, buses and trains.
With a day pass in my pocket, I began my tour exploring Royal Botanic Gardens, Shrine of Remembrance and the iconic St Kilda. Tram no. 8, stop no. 23 saw me at the E gate of the massive botanic gardens.
Spread across an area of 87 acres, the Royal Botanic Garden of Melbourne is internationally acclaimed. It is home to over 10,000 species of vegetation including native and non-native vegetation. The collection is known to rank amongst the best in the world. The botanic gardens are thematically divided into sections for herbs, ferns, arid, bulb and rose garden. Large areas of lawns, carefully maintained, dot this beautiful enclosure that also has many water bodies. The Royal Botanic Gardens is a part of large Parkland Areas that also include Kings Domain, Alexandra Gardens and Queen Victoria Gardens. I walked across the botanic gardens and took an exit via their visitor centre that got me straight into the sprawling premises of Shrine of Remembrance.
As the name suggests, it's a memorial to men and women from Victoria who served during World War I. Now, it's a memorial to all Australians who served during the war. The shrine is built on the classical styles inspired by the design of the tomb of King Mausolus at Halicarnassus of the Ancient World. The shrine has a Central Sanctuary surrounded by the Ambulatory. Every year at 11 AM on 11th November, which is the Remembrance Day, a ray of sunshine, coming through the aperture in the roof, falls on the centre stone on which is carved "greater love hath no man". Shrine's balcony offers stunning views of the entire enclosure as well as some of the famous landmarks of Melbourne.
I walked to the Domain interchange, and took a tram to St Kilda. The St Kilda road is Melbourne's busy thoroughfare, both sides of which are commercial establishments and some sprawling homes of the wealthy. What was a grazing land in 1839, St Kilda today is amongst the most fashionable and chic neighbourhood on the outskirts of Melbolurne. Of course, the transition took many years and saw St Kilda transform from grazing lands to red-light district to homes for the poor to what it is today. I spent a couple of hours exploring the beautiful St Kilda beach and Ackland Street - a destination for restaurants, bars, pubs and boutique stores. St Kilda is also home to Luna Park. Opened in 1912 Luna Park is a very popular amusement park that has one of the world's oldest wooden roller coaster rides amongst many others. I am not too sure why the park was closed at the time of my visit.
I took a tram back to town alighting at Flinders Street Station. From there I boarded the City Loop Tram and alighted at the junction of Flinders and Spring Street. A good walk across Treasury Gardens, saw me in Fitzroy Gardens, another popular landmark of Melbourne. Whilst there, make it a point to visit Tudor Village, a cute little model town using miniatures. The garden is home to Cook's Cottage - where Captain James Cook spent some of his childhood years. Originally, the cottage was in England and it was brought over, brick by brick and recreated.
My walk continued along the Yarra River. As evening had just set in, the river attracted a large number of canoeing enthusiasts. I was witness to some serious training. Back to Southern Cross Station, Skybus and to Hilton for night's rest. I would leave for Bendigo early next morning and would be back for the business conference a day after.
Back in Melbourne, I was hosted at Harbour View Apartments on La Trobe Street in the Central Business District. The hotel is very popular for long stays. I was to be there for only 4 days for the conference. The hotel is conveniently located and is walking distance from the Southern Cross Station and Flagstaff Gardens. As part of our business visits, I had the opportunity to observe at close hands, Melbourne Cricket Ground (The MCG) and The Rod Laver Arena.
When at the MCG, do make it a point to visit the National Sports Museum (photography is prohibited). The museum showcases more than 2500 objects related to the greatest moments in Australia's sporting history. You can also opt for a conducted tour of the museum that operates at regular intervals except on non-event days. The combo ticket (museum plus tour) costs $30.
On one of the evenings, I walked from the hotel to explore Harbour Town, Waterfront City and Docklands - an upcoming and upmarket township. On another evening I walked all the way up to St Patrick's Cathedral, negotiating my way through visits to the Parliament and the Princess theatre. After conclusion of business meetings, I had half a day with me. An opportunity to spend time at Southbank precinct, Eureka Skydeck and Melbourne Aquarium.
As the name suggests, Eureka Skydeck 88, located on the Southbank precinct, takes you up on the 88th floor in under 40 seconds (costs $17). Up to recently, the world's tallest residential building (Burj Khalifa, Dubai now takes over the credit), offers Southern Hemisphere's tallest viewing platform. For an additional price ($12), you have the option to feel The Edge Experience - a switchable glass cube slides out of the building with you inside it! I recommend this new Melbourne experience.
Walking along the Yarra River on the Southbank is a nice experience. It's also a good idea to walk through the mall that ends in Crown Casino. After reaching the far end, cross the Kings bridge and you will be at the doors of Melbourne Aquarium. Spread on 2 levels, one can easily spend a couple of hours going through the species divided in 4 zones -Antarctica, Weird & Wonderful, River to Reef and Sharks Alive. I was quite fascinated with the penguins and the sharks. I had missed watching the King Penguins whilst in Antarctica… I could see them here. The ticket price is $32. I think this is a wee bit more as compared to similar aquariums around the world.
That was the best I could do with the available time on hand. I missed a visit to the famous Queen Victoria Market since I couldn't fit that in my schedule. The market remains closed on Mondays and Wednesdays. Well, some other time.
Tomorrow, I would drive the Great Ocean Road.
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