I was fortunate to stay with a friend in his beautifully restored Victorian villa which is like a museum piece in itself and after a multi course dinner, cooked by my host, and plenty of wine, I slept really well. It was wonderful to be in a private room with en suite bathroom after so many nights in dorms!
On Friday I took the bus into the city and as you drive down Lygon Street you pass the myriad restaurants and coffee bars that offer the culinary delights of almost every nation and make Melbourne famous for it's 'cafe culture'. I went straight to Federation Square, the civic and cultural heart of the city with it's cathedral like atrium and outdoor cinema screen. Across the road from the Square is Flinders Street Station, the busiest in the city and, for a traditionalist like me, much more architecturally pleasing.Inside the Square are exhibition buildings including the Ian Potter NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) and I spent a while wandering around this. The 'rug' in this picture is made entirely from cake icing and this outfit is made from a combination of materials but predominately neoprene.There were some other interesting exhibitsbut nothing that really had 'the wow factor' for me. The Square backs onto the Yarra River with it's boathouses and where the old wharves and vaults have been converted to bars and bistros.You can walk along the promenade to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Rod Laver complex. I went out to the MCG with the intention of taking a tour round it but the queues were long so I decided to take a walk around the historic lanes and arcades of the main shopping district.I expected to find the kind of little shops there are in the Brighton lanes in England but, unless I missed them, they were full of little cafes and bars all of which were very busy. Across the river to the Southis the Eureka Tower and 18.50AUS$ will buy you a ride to the Skydeck with 360 degree floor to ceiling views of the city.The Skydeck is 88 floors up and the highest viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere. The lift travels at 9 metres per second and takes 38 seconds to reach the 88th floor. The views are, as you would expect, stunningwith this one looking towards the MCG and Rod Laver Stadiumthis one down onto the Botanic Gardens and Government Housethis to the Arts Centre (with the Eiffel Tower mast on top) and the National Gallery.and here is a birds eye view of Federation Square.If you hold onto your ticket you can come back in the evening and for another 3.50AUS$ you can go up again to see the city at night. There is an outdoor, caged, area that allows you to experience the elements at 300metres above the ground and 'The Edge' is a glass cube that projects three metres out from the Skydeck so that, for an extra 12AUS$ you can 'walk on air'.
The Arts Centre is a guided tour only experience and there was one tour a day which I had missed. There are three tour options covering different parts of the two theatres, backstage and dressing room areas and I'm sure they are worth considering. I had a coffee at the Tram Bar out frontand then went next door to the National Art Gallery. Again some interesting exhibitsand the wall of water at the front entrance is lovely but again there was nothing there that really made me gasp. While I was waiting for my lift I sat in Federation Square and watched the news on the outdoor screen and then went into St Paul's Cathedral and listened to a male voice choir (men and boys) for a while. That was a haven of tranquility after the teeming crowds outside and the interior of the building is beautiful.
I must really be missing something here because everybody I met EVERYWHERE said 'Melbourne is the best city in Australia and you will love it'. No disrespect to Melburnians but actually I didn't. The city is certainly a delight for foodies of all tastes but I found the crowds overwhelming, (even more so than Sydney) the multi-track railway running right through the middle of the city very ugly, and the architecture of Federation Square brutal and garish. In mid 2012 the popuation of Melbourne was 4.25 million, I am told that this is expected to go to 10 million within the next ten years and it is hard to imagine how the city, it's infrastructure and environs, are going to cope with this. Melbourne has been voted top of the world's most liveable cities for the last three years running. You have to hope there is a grand plan in place to deal with this population explosion in order for it to keep that ranking.
Friend Tom is a biker and he picked me up for a drive around the bay to Williamstown for a view of the city from another angle and then we went to Lygon Street for a wonderful dish of pasta marinara and some fabulous ice cream ?
On Satuday we rode into the city again to go to Victoria Market which seems to be top of the most visited attractions of Melbourne. It really is incredible, huge and with every possible kind of fruit and vegetable you could want, and there are deli halls and meat halls and fish halls. The list goes on and this is not to mention the clothing and souvenirs etc. etc. It was packed and fragrant and amazing!
In the afternon we rode the bike up through the Dandenong ranges to Skyhigh at Mount Dandenong where there is a lookout point and restaurant.and the wonderful 'Austaliana Tree' beautifully and intricately carved from an actual standing tree.Unfortunately the weather did not allow us to see the spectacular views which were out there but the air on the drive up was full of the scent of eucalypts and the hill villages, each with it's little antique, gift shops and restaurants are well worth visiting. Just fifty minutes from the heart of the city this is an area of outstanding natural beauty and a big tourist draw.
Sunday morning we visited Abbotsford Convent which was home to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, a Roman Catholic order, until 1975. It was also a refuge for destitute women and a home for orphaned girls. The women were able to come and go at will but the girls were not and it was the site of one of the many Magdalen Laundries. The nuns, it seems, were advocates of the performing arts, and there are two large performance halls either side of a courtyard within the 11 building convent complex. After falling into disrepair it was rescued and restored and is now an arts, education and cultural hub with live theatre, music, markets, a bakery, bar and cafe and a host of artisans working and doing business there. There is also a well stocked and visited Childrens Farm and a very pleasant walk down to the Yarra River.
On Sunday afternoon we drove through the Yarra Valley to visit a winery as you can see we were completely spoilt for choice but we settled on this one and had a very nice plate of cheese and a glass each of something quite delicius.
On Sunday evening Tom's parents were coming to dinner so we started as we meant to go onand enjoyed a wonderful dinner of salad and Ossobuco and some entertaining company. It was a good job I had a quiet few hours on Monday before packing for my return flight to Sydney!