Day 172: Marvellous Melbourne

Fri. 1st February 2013

The 'say it as it is' spirit continuesMelbourne is a modern city in every way and we want to take advantage of the shops and facilities during our brief stay. We will be passing through both Singapore (soon) and Kuala Lumpur (where we will be seeing the Malaysian Grand Prix in late March) but Melbourne is much more familiar and easy to navigate than either of those cities will be. Besides, here we have Myf to show us around and point us in the right direction.

Depiction of scroll petition for universal sufferageOne priority is to get ourselves patched up. We’ve had no major illness or injury so far in our travels (touch wood) but both have some niggles we’d like to get sorted for the second half of our trip. Janet’s back has been playing up intermittently since cycling in Cuba and so she books an appointment with a nearby physiotherapist. I take the opportunity to have a chat with him about the pain I have had on the sole of my right foot for the last month or so. He listens to me for all of 10 seconds and says that I almost certainly have plantar fasciitis. All well and good but I now need to decide what to do about it!

Melbourne skyline - the old and the newWith the physio booked, it is off to explore the city. Myf had told us about the variety of architecture in the city and we see it all around us now – from the ultra new tower blocks in their irregular shapes and/or vivid splashes of colour to the beautiful Victorian architecture. The juxtaposition – the new sat right beside the old – reminds me of Belfast but on a much bigger scale. The phrase ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ comes from the gold rush era in the 1870s when the money from Ballarat’s gold poured in and funded the construction of the initial elaborate buildings.

Beautiful Flinders Street StationWe walked up Flinders Street and past the magnificent station building constructed from yellow and red stone and on to Federation Square and the tourist information office. We need to develop and itinerary for our time here – and particularly for the second part of our stay after our side trip to Tasmania. As ever, there is more to do than we have time for but we want to get out of the city (for a wine tour, for example) or a trip to the gold rush town of Ballarat.

Lots of street art - this is of an immigrant family being reunitedFor lunch, we agreed to meet up with Myf at her office. It felt odd walking in to a work environment – the good old open-plan office with people beavering away in their cubicles. I really don’t miss that life! Myf takes us out to a food court in the basement of a nearby office block. The central seating area is ringed with stalls selling food of every nationality and type. The hardest part was choosing what to go for. Apparently this setup is typical of the Central Business District (CBD) and pretty much everyone who works in the CBD comes to one of these places for their lunch and a chat with their friends.

The free tourist trams have seen better daysIn the afternoon, we leave Myf to get on with her work (sorry, Myf), and hop on the free City Circle tram for a tour of the city centre. Melbourne is quite unique in having retained and then built upon their original tram system. Many of the streets are very wide with two lanes of traffic in each direction with a further two tram lanes in the centre. You only cross these at the pelican crossings. The City Circle line is only for tourists and uses the old stock of trams that seem to bounce, scrape and grind their way around the corners. It is really useful, however, to help us get oriented in the city and to develop our list of sights that we want to see.

Spider bridge with skyscraperThere is more sightseeing in the evening as we head out again. This time we go into town along the Yarra River and walk along the South Bank which has a very similar atmosphere to its namesake in London. The river is lined with bars and restaurants filled with workers having a beer or a meal to celebrate the start of the weekend. We also get views across the river and see the other side of Flinders Street Station and some of the other historic buildings.

Ready for the year of the snake - inside the casinoWe detour in to the casino to look at the glitz and the bling and the smartly dressed people – in sharp contrast to us in our scruffy clothes. It will soon be the Chinese New Year – the Year of the Snake this year and so the casino is decorated accordingly. Its not quite our style and so we move on and pick out one of the bars where we are spoilt for choice on beers. Decisions, decisions…

Spoilt for choice with beers!As the wind has picked up during the evening and the clouds have started to close in and threaten us with rain we head back to the apartment through the city and down some of the smaller streets and lanes that are dotted with interesting looking bars. We stop in Bar Humbug (seems appropriate somehow) for a bite to eat. I spot paella on the menu and so there is no choice really. It turns out to be a really good call – chunks of chicken and chorizo and sticky, tasty rice. Best paella since Spain. I think I could get to like Melbourne!

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