Category Archives: Melbourne

Australian Open

day zero project, Melbourne

This weekend, Partner-in-Crime and I took a quick flight down to Melbourne to fulfill one of the big ticket items on my Day Zero Project list – attending the Australian Open.

Though I’m not much of a tennis player, myself, I have always been around tennis. My parents both played on local leagues while I was growing up, the Grand Slams were always on in my house, and I had a dedicated love for Andre Agassi when I was in high school. P-i-C is quite a player, himself, and he used to fly to New York to see the US Open. We have developed a little tradition of going to a local pub to watch the finals of the big tournaments, since we don’t have a TV. Asking him to make this trip was no hardship to his sensibilities.

We got into Melbourne early on Sunday morning, and headed straight to Rod Laver Arena via Melbourne’s free Tennis Trams. As we got off, the conductor said, “all you lucky people going to the tennis get off here. Extra tickets may be left with the conductor.”

We opted for ground tickets, rather than splurging on any of the fancy matches on the big courts. That was fine by me because we both just like to see good tennis, and frankly, on the smaller courts, you can get much closer to the action.

On Sunday, the arena was packed full, and it was spirit lifting to be in the atmosphere. Despite the crushing heat and relentless sun, people were in great moods. Kids and teens had faces painted with Aussie flags or tennis balls, and many people wore their preferred country’s flags like capes. Aussies are vocal spectators (a hard to swallow breach, I must admit, in the tennis etiquette I learned as a kid) and rowdy blokes would break into the familiar chant of “Aussie Aussie Aussie” “Oi Oi Oi,” even if no Australian player was on the court. The main tasks of the day were trying to keep some semblance of cool and avoid getting burned to crispiness. I have the utmost admiration for the players, sticking it out in that extreme heat.

One highlight of Sunday was a Legends doubles exhibition match featuring Martina Navratilova. Did any female sports figure loom larger for longer in my childhood? I cannot think of one. I got teary when she appeared on court, and even at her age, she was still the most skilled player amongst her younger colleagues, including the other Martina (Hingis).

Shade was hard to come by, and on top of the sun, P-i-C was battling the flu, so though I loved the idea of staying in the arena that night to watch Federer play the young Australian wunderkind, Bernard Tomic on the big screen in the midst of the energetic crowd, we retired to our hotel, ordered in spaghetti, and watched the match on TV. It was all we could manage, especially with a second full day of tennis ahead.

On Monday, the arena was much quieter, and we were able to park ourselves in beautiful seats in the shade for most of the day. We saw a number of good matches, including a heated women’s doubles match where an unusual rule was questioned by the players so heartily that the supervising umpire had to be called to the court for consultation. That was a good soap opera!

On our way out, I noticed about a hundred ball kids gathered in the main oval. They broke out into a “flash mob” dance routine (though I use the term “flash mob” loosely, as the element of surprise is rather lost when the courtyard is full of turquoise-clad adolescents trying to look casual). Still, it was a sweet note to leave on.

Now that I’m home, I have been watching the tennis and checking the scores on my Australian Open app constantly. I feel like I became a small part of a story that I am compelled to finish.

The Great Ocean Road

animals, Melbourne, national parks

Thanks for indulging yesterday’s little rant about our airline service. Once we finally got on an airplane, our trip sailed forth like a dream, nary another glitch to be had.

I’d been inspired to take this trip by my friend and fellow blogger, Madame Garcia, who traveled the Great Ocean Road a couple of years ago. I based most of my planning on her careful notes and saved maps and brochures. And, once we hit the road, the printed out copy of her blog was my best guide for the first two days. (We were following in your footsteps, Mrs. Garcia and company, so thanks for that!)

It is only a short drive from Melbourne’s Avalon Airport before you hit the Great Ocean Road, and once on it, it’s mile after mile of breathtaking (and, I use that word literally, as around nearly every turn, I’d say, “whoa!” or, usually, something a bit less family friendly) ocean scenery.

Our first morning stop was Erskine Falls in the Great Otway National Park. The brochure said we’d have a 30 minute hike to the base of the falls, but it ended up only being about a 10 minute walk. Because it had rained that morning, it was rather the swampy walk along the stairway, but the rainforest setting and the graceful falls were worth a little mud on our shoes. Hey, we were driving a rental car, anyway …

Just a few minutes away, was in the adorable little town of Lorne. I was not expecting much from Lorne, as I’m usually wary of “adorable little towns,” which often have something of an inauthentic-trying-too-hard-Stepford quality about them. But, Lorne was genuinely lovely.  We started by taking a walk over a striking pedestrian bridge for a view of the ocean on one side and the river on the other. Then, we wandered into town for a great lunch of fish burgers.

After lunch, we only had one thing on our minds. 
We powered on to Kennett River, where both our predecessor and our brochure promised koalas in abundance. When we pulled up at a convenience store with this in front, we knew we were in the right place:
We were directed up a dirt road for koala sightings. Just a few steps in, we saw a tree with a herd of people around it ooh-ing and also aah-ing. We thought we’d found our koala with incredible ease, but what they were really looking at were a herd of rosellas, some eating birdseed from tourist hands. There were adorable…

… but they were no koalas.

Hiking up the road, we craned our necks, looking towards the tops of every eucalyptus tree in sight. 
We saw a rainbow …
… but no koalas.
We walked further up the hill. No koalas. We saw an ant nest in the tree, but no …

… no …wait … that … is … a … koala!

Once the koala spotting started, we couldn’t miss. The further up the road we went, the more koalas we spotted. Turns out, I’m an ace koala spotter.

Eventually, satisfied with our visual koala haul and facing sunset, we headed out of Kennett River and on to Apollo Bay, pleased with ourselves, as if we’d willed the koalas to appear overhead with our sheer desire to see them.
Just outside of Apollo Bay, we stopped to commune with the sunset, which was casting postcard quality pink-orange rays over the water.
Our hotel room at Apollo Bay turned out to be shockingly run-down. The best I can say about it is that we did not see any actual roaches. But, after our Tiger saga and operating on just a couple hours of sleep, we could hardly bring ourselves to care. We made a feeble attempt at watching TV, as is our routine in hotels (we don’t have a TV at home, so in hotel rooms, we feed ourselves a steady diet of local news and crime dramas to remind ourselves of why we don’t need one), but were asleep by 7p.m. 
Greatly refreshed the next day, we headed out of Apollo Bay and were soon greeted with a strange scene. In the middle of the road, there was a confused koala trying to get to the other side (why did the koala cross the road?). Its efforts were greatly hindered by a pack of Japanese tourists who were petting it and taking photos, while making peace signs. Each had to have his/her turn, and were non-plussed by the onlookers who warned them that it was, in fact, a wild animal and perhaps they should be at least a bit careful. Every time it tried to take a few steps in any direction, it got more confused by people blocking its path for better photos. Admittedly, we took a few shots, but sense got the better of us as we realized that we were doing nothing to help the situation, and got back in our cars to carry on. On our way past, we saw that a woman who seemed to know what she was doing had picked the poor creature up,  and was replacing it safely back amongst the trees.
Further satisfied with our abilities to conjure koalas, we were back on the road, and decided to turn our attentions to viewing massive rock formations jutting out of the sea.
Passing up a few other potential stopping points along the way, we went straight for the First Family of the Great Ocean Road – The Twelve Apostles. I’d seen pictures of these limestone formations, which are slowly eroding, due to their precarious position in the midst of a literal ocean of salt water and pelting waves, and everyone I know who’d seen them said that photos can’t do them justice.
Everyone was right. Still, throngs of tourists, including ourselves, gave it our best attempt. There’s little more to say about their massive grandeur or the enthralling coloration that pops out like a neon sign against the muted sky and water. 
Like so many before me, here’s my failed attempt:

Following the Twelve Apostles, we drove on, stopping for a picnic lunch in Port Campbell. We sat by a jetty with dramatic views, made more so by a storm that was blowing in and whipping up quite a fury of waves.
Then, we were on to the sculptural London Bridge, hollowed out by centuries of erosion. The sky had cleared a good deal by this time, so we got to enjoy the contrast of the limestone against the blue sky.
Two minutes up the road was The Grotto, a great spot because taking the chance on climbing down a great number of stairs paid off with a hidden surprise view that I loved…

By the time that we were approaching what we saw on the map as The Bay of Islands, I was overwhelmed and suggested we skip the stop. But, when we saw rock formations possibly even larger than the Twelve Apostles jutting out from the sea, we had to stop. 
I decided that the Bay of Islands is even better than the Twelve Apostles, and that they need to employ a better PR agent to ramp up their profile.

Now converted to the idea that magical views were awaiting at every potential turnoff, we stopped again one minute up the road at a boat launching site. We were not wrong in our guess, as we were rewarded with our favorite photographic site of the trip. Bushland, still burned out from last year’s fires, was contrasted by the new growth in vivid Fall colors. All this, a picture frame for the Bay of Islands:
Now making terrible time to get to our next stop in Portland, still a fair drive away, we were basically done with suggested stops on the map, so we counseled ourselves and declared us done with stops for photo ops for the day.
Except for that quick stop at one last beach …

 … and seeing a black swan on the side of the road …

… oh, and this seriously cool wind farm …

…. that was it. Really. We were out of daylight.

That night, tucked away in our hotel watching – for some inexplicable reason – Queensland news, and preparing to drift off to sleep, I told Partner-in-Crime that I felt overwhelmed by the visual stimulus of the day. My mind was racing like a film reel with all we’d seen – more amazing and varied sites concentrated into a short geographic area than one sees in most places.

At this point, we’d reached the end of the Great Ocean Road, and were on our way into South Australia the next day. More road trip adventures to come.

St. Kilda Community Artist’s Garden: A Hidden Gem

When I wrote my love post about Melbourne, I gave a brief nod to my stumble upon find, the artist’s community garden in St. Kilda. Loyal readers, photos ahead…
It seems like every corner we turned in Melbourne was some new artistic find, so it was almost an “of course this amazing gem is here” moment when, as I was walking back to the bus stop, nestled behind Luna Park and the restaurant strip, I spied some intriguing sculptures. Upon closer inspection, I found that it was a community garden for area artists. So, not only is it full of flowers and veggies, but each plot is also decorated in an creative and personal fashion.
A sign outside indicated that visitors are welcome, so I wandered in and must have spent an hour ogling every detail. Every plot has its own character and is full of intricate details and whimsical flourishes.
A couple of artists sat chatting on a bench in the corner – a refashioned bus stop, actually, that was repainted to fit the decor. Another artist talked to a visitor about his planting techniques. It felt like an inviting place – the hub of a particular community.
If you ever make it to St. Kilda, hunt down this garden and look around. It may just be my favorite museum in Australia.

Melboure, Je T’aime.

Melbourne, restaurants
Did you ever fall in love with someone who was more attractive, mature, and warm than anyone you’ve ever known before? Someone who just got you more than anyone you know?
You want to tell everyone how you feel about this amazing person. But, there’s one problem. You’re in a relationship, already, and you two are trying very hard to work it out.
Also, your partner is the captain of the North High football team. And your clandestine love is the captain of the South High football team.
And thus, you have my dilemma with writing about Melbourne.
Sydney is North High and Melbourne is South High. Their rivalry is long-standing and legendary. I love them both, but dear Melbourne, as Judy Garland sang … you made me love you. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to do it. You know you made me love you.
And now, I swallow my pride and tell you about my time in the city that has unexpectedly captured my heart.
Partner-in-Crime had some business in Melbourne two weeks in a row, so I tagged along. The first trip was only one day. P-i-C was locked in boring meetings all day (I can only assume that they were boring), so I decided just to wander. I had not done any research, besides asking my friend Kim, who studied abroad in Melbourne a decade or so ago, for recommendations. I was essentially a blank slate.
It was a glorious fall day – the kind that makes you want to throw out your arms and dance with abandon through the city streets because you can hardly believe this day can really exist outside the realm of musical theatre.
In my aimless wandering, I ended up at Federation Square, which is a striking, bustling hub of art and culture. I picked up handfuls of brochures at the tourist information center, stared admiringly at the architecture of the film museum, dodged hundreds of uniformed schoolchildren, pondered upon the merits/dismerits of a place called ABBA World, and wandered down the marble stairs to look at the river.
PhotobucketAustralian Center for the Moving Image at Federation Square
I went down the street a block or so to the National Gallery of Victoria, which makes an impression before you even enter, with a rainwater wall (that a plaque told me is environmentally friendly). Their collections and special exhibits ranged from modern video installation to antique Asian art from China, Japan, India, and Malaysia. It is a grand space, and I think I only saw about half of it.
I’d picked up a flyer that advertised a weekly pipe organ recital at St. Michael’s Church, so I made my way out of the tourist hub and back into business district. I was one of about 30 or so guests at the informal, free recital, in which a resident organist played Bach, Handel, and a handful of others. It was a stirring and unexpected way to spend a lunch hour.
I spent the rest of the afternoon on a free hop on/hop off tourist bus that loops the city. It was a comfortable and efficient way to see the sights. I didn’t have much time for hopping off, so I stayed on for the loop, orienting myself for what we should see on our longer trip the following week.
The more that I saw, the more that I got a familiar feeling, and I realized that Melbourne bears a striking resemblance, in aesthetics and mood, to Paris. Allow me to demonstrate:

PhotobucketMelbourne (credit Partner-in-Crime for this photo)


PhotobucketMelbourne (also P-i-C’s photo)
Practically twins – only they speak English in Melbourne (well, anymore, I suppose they pretty much speak English in Paris, too).

We returned for a four day trip the following week, allowing for a much more involved exploration. I’ll spare you a continued blow-by-blow, and jump to the Cliff’s Notes.
-I shared with you Queen Victoria Market, which is certainly good for two or three hours of simply looking around.
-To complete my shopping fix, I spent half a day walking to and wandering up and down Bridge Street in East Melbourne, where there are loads of fun, inexpensive shops and cool coffee shops.
PhotobucketBridge Street
-I declared to P-i-C that I required some live music, and happenstance intervened by guiding us past one of Melbourne’s hidden gem alleyways, where the glorious Café Segovia featured a live band (and the most energetic, entertaining, eager to please group of young servers I’ve encountered).
-In addition to the hop on/hop off bus, Melbourne also has a trolley that serves the same function. It held great appeal to the small boy-child within Partner-in-Crime, so we hopped on. It took us through the middle of the city, rather than around, and we ended up hopping off near the Docklands district, which is a developing area of the city, full of shops and modern apartment buildings. I have to compliment Melbourne on its ability to create attractive modern architecture that does not look like it is trying to be a fakey version of the old buildings, but somehow integrates aesthetically on its own terms. This must take a lot of thought and planning, and it is inspiring to see the effort being put forth.
-As Melbourne is known for its arts and culture, we knew that we wanted to take advantage of the performing arts available on Saturday night. There is a great half-price ticket center where we spent considerable time picking which of the many offerings to take Melbourne up on. In the end, P-i-C and I could not agree, and decided to split up for the evening’s entertainment. We are simply that secure in our relationship. Turns out that I made a painfully poor choice by deciding to see the Chinese dance offering (it was such a bad choice that it may be an entry all to itself). P-i-C, however, had a much better experience (and also considerably less expensive) by attending an interesting new play by an up and coming theatre troupe at one of the Arts Center’s smaller theatres.
-Art truly is everywhere in Melbourne (even the lampposts are artistically painted, for heavens sake). So, we really shouldn’t have been that surprised when a curious performance art piece titled “Periscope” wandered past us on DeGraves Street. But, isn’t that the thing about art – at its best, it is a wonderful surprise that confounds and elevates those who happen to encounter it.
-Speaking of surprises, on Saturday as we were wandering around town, we started to notice people dressed as superheroes everywhere we went. It almost seemed to be an optical illusion … “did you just see that Superman?” “Was that … Batman?” This went on all day. It turns out that Melbourne was, that day, competing for the Guiness Book of World Records title of most people wearing superhero costumes in one place. They won, incidentally, with 1245 superheroes gathered at Federation Square.
-On Sunday, before heading back to the airport, we took the city trolley (different from the hop on/hop off trolley) to St. Kilda’s, a nearby beach town. Melbourne’s beach isn’t much to speak of, but the city itself is cute and folk-artsy. We did time our trip correctly to attend the Sunday artist’s market. We wandered into the small, but festive Luna Park where we managed to talk ourselves out of riding the roller coaster, but not out of playing with the fun house mirrors.
We also wandered the amazing St. Kilda’s artist’s community garden, where I could probably set up camp and stay for quite a long time, amongst the artwork, veggies, chickens, and rabbits. Stay tuned because I’m saving my tons of pictures for a photo post devoted to this spot.

I could go on for much longer about Melbourne, as one does when in the throes of new love. I suspect that you’ll see more about Melbourne here in the coming days, weeks, and onward. But please, whatever you do, don’t tell Sydney how I feel!
Oh, OooooKay! … just a few more photos and then I’ll stop talking about Melbourne
PhotobucketTrain Station
PhotobucketSouthern Cross Train Station
PhotobucketDeGraves Street
Photobucket St. Michael’s Church
PhotobucketShopping Mall
…for now.

Queen Victoria Market

We took a four day jaunt to Melbourne, and I was so charmed. If a city can have a soul, Melbourne’s is that of an artist. I began to see art everywhere I looked, including at Queen Victoria Market, a sprawling center of commerce, which offers shoppers everything from wine to watches. It covers several city blocks, and is a Melbourne institution (in operation since 1878). I spent a couple hours just wandering, and it’s something of a sensory overload, with vendor after vendor vying for business:

“Strawberries! $4.59! Beautiful strawberries!,”
“Hi! Do you want to try? You don’t have to buy!,”
“Hot fresh donuts!,”
“Who’s next?!? Who’s next?!?”.

Smells of fried pastries turn into the aroma of a curry stand as you turn the corner, until you are overtaken by the scent of leather at the handmade wallet/belt booth. In a way, it’s all rather familiar street market stuff, but the sheer volume combined with the artistic aura of Melbourne itself caused me a sense of wonder at the simple directness of the vendor/customer relationship and the unexpected beauty to be found inside.

A few images of my afternoon at Queen Victoria Market (much more on Melbourne to come soon):