General: Melbourne (Australia)
20 reviews from the community
Review of "General: Melbourne (Australia)"
I suppose I should probably begin by declaring my unquestionable bias on this subject… Melbourne is my home town, and although I've lived in a lot of other places around the world, I've probably spent the majority of my life there.It often strikes me that whilst Australia is obviously a very popular destination for tourists generally, Melbourne is frequently overlooked in favour of Sydney; its bigger, brasher, older sister up north. This seems a great pity because Melbourne is in many respects a much more lively and appealing city to visit.WHY VISIT MELBOURNE? Why? Well, because it's a city like no other. For starters, it has a fabulous climate with four genuine seasons, which is a rarity in Australia. Melbourne tends to be hot and sunny all through the summer, pleasantly bright and warm in the spring, romantically autumnal in the autumn and suitably frosty in the winter, albeit with plenty of sunshine during the day. On a September day in Melbourne, it's actually possible to spend the morning at the beach, have lunch at a vineyard, and go skiing in the afternoon. Having said that, I wouldn't necessarily recommend this as a schedule unless you're particularly pressed for time.
Melbourne has a fantastic public transport system, a highlight of which is an extensive network of swanky green & yellow trams. There is also a free, burgundy coloured Victorian tram, the City Circle, which does a scenic circuit around the CBD, as well as a Restaurant tram, which serves up fabulous local cuisine whilst touring around the city.
Melbourne's taxi's are all a canary yellow colour, after an embarrassing post New York-jaunt initiative on the part of Jeff Kennett, a controversial, authoritarian, go-getter State Premier in the 1990's. Other Kennett gems included the abolition of certain Public Holidays, and changing Victoria's state slogan from "The Garden State" to "Victoria On The Move".
The river Yarra (an Aboriginal word for water) runs through the centre of the city. It's a disconcertingly brownish colour, due to the colour of the silt in the riverbed, but the river itself, which flows out into Port Phillip Bay, is actually remarkably clean. School and University rowing crews glide up and down it throughout the day, and an absolutely spectacular Dragon Boat festival is held on the river every Chinese New Year.SOUTH BANK: The south side of the Yarra is home to the Botanical Gardens, which are undulating & extensive, incorporating both Government House and the Shrine of Remembrance, and with a superb restaurant/cafe beside the lake at its centre. These Gardens house large colonies of furry fruit bats, which resemble little winged mice, and can be spotted during the day, suspended in great numbers from the claw-like branches of enormous Moreton Bay fig trees. The Yarra's south bank also houses the Victorian Arts Centre with its spider-web inspired spire, which looks stunning at night, when lit up & encircled by spiralling seagulls. There's also the National Gallery of Victoria, which boasts enviable collections of both Australian and International Art, and then of course there's the Crown Casino.
CASINO: I worked as a cocktail waitress in one of the so-called 'high-roller' gambling suites in this establishment for a couple of years, whilst a student at Melbourne University. The tips were great. Problem is that you tend to feel pretty morally awkward when you see the same guy who tipped you $100 an hour earlier ashen faced and staggering bleakly away when it all goes horribly wrong. Anyway, I can confirm that it really is a Casino in the truest, most Vegas-y sense of the word…and built on a phenomenally huge scale. At Crown there are more blackjack tables than could ever be filled, more Casino-Royale style restaurants with more mayonaisey, prawn-laden buffet spreads than could ever be eaten, more marble and gilt and miscellaneous architectural obscenities than, once seen, could ever be entirely forgotten. Or forgiven. Outside the casino, every evening, several enormous Bunsen burner style turrets along the river are fired up, on the hour, every hour, emitting huge flames that light up the cityscape beyond. It's quite a spectacle, I'll give it that. And like the Southbank centre, further up along the river, the casino has magnificent views across to the aquarium and the city's skyline on the opposite bank.CITY CENTRE: Cross the river towards Flinders St Station (Melbourne's main railway station and a famous landmark) and the newly-completed Federation Square. You'll find yourself in Melbourne's CBD which is based around a roman-style grid system, and hence, pretty easy to negotiate without getting lost. There is quite an array of charming lanes and arcades, mostly dating from the Victorian era, some complete with original 1890's tiling and mosaics. Here, as elsewhere, Melbourne presents some pretty gorgeous possibilities for shopping and eating. Neat little Tokyo-style Sushi bars are dime a dozen, as are tiny, tucked-away Florentine-style cafes, some seating as few as eight or ten customers… Melbourne is a city of immigrants, many of them relatively recent, and it shows. Melbourne's China Town, situated principally along Little Bourke Street, is the longest established Chinese settlement in the Western world, rivalling even those in San Francisco or London's Soho. Lonsdale St, nearby, is the cultural home of Melbourne's large Greek community, whereas Lygon St, a couple of blocks away in Carlton, and close to the University of Melbourne, is almost exclusively Italian.
BAYSIDE; Melbourne extends around Port Phillip Bay, with a number of beautiful, leafy bay-side suburbs, and some fantastic, sandy beaches, some of which are less than 10 minutes from the city centre. Arguably the most charming of Melbourne's bayside suburbs is St.Kilda, about a 10 minute tram ride from the city centre. St.Kilda was Melbourne's most fashionable suburb in the 1920's and has all the Art Deco treasures to prove it. Things went spectacularly wrong in the 50's and 60's and the area degenerated into a haunt for vice in all the usual forms. It's still a little rough around the edges in places, especially at night, with tranny streetwalkers & the odd junkie begging for change, but all the run-down mansions and apartments have been lovingly restored & the yuppies are well & truly ensconced. St.Kilda's also home to Luna Park, another relic of the decadent 20's, an antique amusement park with an entrance underneath a massive, gaping mouth. The Esplanade hotel, a Victorian monolith opposite the beach, is a Melbourne institution. There's no better place to be on a Sunday afternoon than on the front porch at the Espy, drink in hand, waiting for the sunset. It's also a brilliant live venue, mainly alternative and scene acts. Nick Cave is a Melbourne boy & played some of his earliest gigs thereFOOD: I probably never feel more homesick for Melbourne than I do when traipsing along the aisles of my local Sainsbury's, listlessly squeezing some rock-hard mango from deepest Peru, or some sad & shop-soiled pineapple of indeterminate origin. In Australia, oranges and avocadoes grow in back gardens. The old-fashioned green grocer is still a high street staple, and Australians buy their fruit and vegetables fresh. Only in Germany will you find better bakeries, and you probably won't find better fishmongers anywhere in the world. Melbourne's Queen Victoria Market is an ultimate Foodie Mecca spread over seven hectares. The fruit & vegetables are in a traditional open-air setting, whilst separate meat, fish, and deli counters are housed in the market's main building, constructed when the market first opened in 1878. The Melbourne Food Festival celebrates all things edible & is an absolutely superb, unmissable event. As to Melbourne's restaurants, cafes, and eateries, I'm frankly uncertain where to start, as the subject probably warrants a review in itself. I'll have to write one at a later date… Suffice to relate that my superlatives probably won't do them justice, and cheap eats abound!
SPORT: Melbourne, set to host the Commonwealth Games in 2006, is already home to virtually all of Australia's most stellar sporting events. The Melbourne F1 Grand Prix is held annually in March, on a stunningly beautiful, palm-lined track around Albert Park Lake, and is the first event in the Formula One calendar. The 500cc Motorcycle Grand Prix is held on Phillip Island, famous for its colony of Fairy penguins, about an hour and a half's drive out of the city centre. The grand slam Australian Open tennis championship is held in January. The Melbourne Cup, one of the world's greatest horse races, is held on the first Tuesday in November. Perhaps tellingly, a public holiday is held in its honour, and the entire nation virtually grinds to a halt for the duration of the race. This degree of national enthusiasm was summed up by the American writer Mark Twain who wrote, after a visit to the Melbourne Cup in 1895, "Nowhere in the world have I encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation. The Cup astonishes me." Many visitors to Melbourne are equally astonished by the ease and relative inexpense of securing tickets to these international events, especially the Australian Open, which, unlike its sister events at Wimbledon and the US Open, is very much accessible to all. The MCG, or Melbourne Cricket Ground, home to the 1956 Olympic Games, is probably one of the most famous cricketing venues in the world, and has a massive seating capacity in excess of 120,000. It plays host to the AFL (Australian Rules Football) Grand Final, held in September.LIVEABILITY: Although really intended as a guide for tourists/ visitors, no review of Melbourne would be complete without mentioning what a wonderful place it is to live in. Melbourne routinely trumps the EIU's annual list of the world's most 'liveable' cities and deservedly so. It isn't really a place with a brief list of ostentatious landmarks for the visitor to tick off & consign to the "done that" list, like Sydney with its Harbour Bridge and Opera House, or Berlin with its Wall and Gate. You probably do have to live in Melbourne to appreciate it properly, because there is so much to see, so many nooks & crannies to explore, and so much to do, that the casual visitor will invariably leave feeling they've left things out. Which is pretty much how I feel now! Will try to add some brief summaries of shopping, & other attractions at a later date…
ACCOMODATION: The beautiful 5-star Hotel Windsor, which is housed in a Victorian monolith opposite the State Parliament in the city centre, is probably Melbourne's loveliest hotel. Standard rooms cost from $200-$300 per double (£90-£140). At the other end of the spectrum, the Base Backpacker in St.Kilda is brand new and state-of-the-art designer hostel which even includes a 'Girls Only' floor, The Sanctuary, with large and modern bathrooms, free Aveda haircare products, five-star linen and pillows, and internet access. Dorm Beds from $24 (about £10) a night.ARRIVAL: Whilst most foreign visitors to Melbourne will arrive by air, the drive along the east coast from Sydney is spectacularly beautiful, passing through an array of picturesque sea-side towns, lush forests, and presenting a number of opportunities for whale watching etc.Visitors flying into Melbourne will arrive at the recently refurbished Tullamarine airport, which is light, spacious, and well served in terms of shops, restaurants and amenities. If arriving from abroad, it may be useful to know that there is an extremely good & competitively priced Duty Free shop in the arrivals area prior to customs, so there's no need to lug your duty free goods half way around the world. The trip from the airport into the CBD takes approximately 15 mins. A shuttle bus runs every 20 minutes, and taxis are also fairly inexpensive.
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Product Information : General: Melbourne (Australia)
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Listed on Ciao since: 22/07/2000