A November 2001 trip
to Melbourne by billmoy
Quote: Melbourne was formerly the capital of Australia, and it still stands as the capital of the state of Victoria. Melbourne gained prominence when it hosted the 1956 Summer Olympics.
There are several areas in Melbourne that are fine to walk around. The Central Business District is the area with the most concentrated number of government buildings and cosmopolitan department stores. Southbank is (as the name suggests) a newer area along the south bank of the Yarra River with a concentration of new cultural institutions such as the needle-like spire fronting the Victorian Arts Centre, Southgate Plaza and the Crown Entertainment Complex and Casino. Brunswick Street is a bohemian area with a fun variety of boutique shops and restaurants. St. Kilda is a pleasant tram ride away from the city, with a laid-back Californian attitude to it.
Please also take a look at my Australia sections on SYDNEY, CAIRNS, CANBERRA and PHILLIP ISLAND.
Thanks to my travel buddy Richard Newell for some of his scenic photos of Melbourne from our 2001 trip.
Australia is renowned for being a very friendly country for travelers, especially backpackers. There are several "Backpackers' Travel Centres" in central Melbourne who can help independent travelers with booking hostels and tours.
The airport is rather far from central Melbourne, so the way to go into town is a pricey cab or a shuttle bus.
Hotel | "Sheraton Towers Southgate"
The hotel is in the burgeoning Southbank district, just south of the Central Business District and the Yarra River. The hotel itself is part of Southgate Plaza, a bustling complex with shops and restaurants. Take the escalator up from the street level to check in. The modern lobby was decorated with a Christmas tree during our mid-November stay. Fine artworks embellish the public areas of the hotel as well as the individual guest rooms. The fast elevators whisk you up to your room.
The modern stepped tower, constructed in 1992 and renovated in 2000, consists of 25 floors and 387 rooms. Our slick and modern standard room had nice views of the Yarra River, the Melbourne Aquarium, and a busy office plaza adjacent to the hotel. The room did not seem oversized, but it was certainly roomy enough for two double beds. There is an in-room safe within the closet. The fine marble bath, with separate bathtub and shower, was stocked with plenty of amenities. I jokingly told my friend that whatever he did, NOT to break the decorative dish displayed above the television console!
There is an indoor pool and workout area within the hotel, with sauna and spa. The Sheraton Towers Southgate faces the pleasant Southbank Promenade along the Yarra River. This was the site of an amusing wine serving contest amongst several waiters from some of the 4000 or so restaurants and cafes in the city. The face of "Ophelia", one of the most colorful and familiar sculptures in Melbourne, kept an eye on the competition.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 5, 2002
Lc Sheraton Towers Southgate
ONE SOUTHGATE AVENUE
Melbourne, Australia 3006
There are hundreds of sheltered stalls and counters selling clothes, handicrafts, fruits and vegetables, meats, baked goods, and candies. Even if you are not shopping for anything in particular, it is fun to look around at the goods. There is great people watching, as you meet the friendly locals selling their wares and dodge the streams of shoppers looking about. There is a wine market held on Sundays, and a "night market" during the summer season.
There is a casual outdoor cafe area to relax and enjoy a snack or a quick meal, but the crowds keep the stays at the tables brief so that others can have a seat as well. We were able to grab a table, so I enjoyed a couple of meat pies, a staple of the Australian diet. I had a hearty hand-held shepherd's pie, covered with a layer of thick mashed potatoes, and a beef-and-guinness pie enhanced with brown gravy. After consuming these two fair-sized pies it sure seemed like a heavy meal, although I had enough room to squeeze in a small blackcurrant jam tart.
Queen Victoria Market
513 Elizabeth St
Melbourne, Australia 3000
+61 (0)3 9320 5822
We both ordered the same entree, kangaroo with an eye-pleasing and delectable stack of potato and sweet potato slices. I had some kangaroo at other restaurants later during my two-week stay in Australia, but this first taste of kangaroo was the most tender and flavorful that I tasted there. My tasty meal was washed down by a refreshing raspberry squash, sort of fruit-punchy in taste. My friend discovered a new addiction: Lemon Ruski, an alcoholic hard lemon drink that came in other flavors, and I do believe he tried them all during this vacation.
Our table was in the al fresco area facing the river. It was fairly cool outside, so a clear see-through awning along the railing protected us. The service was not bad, a bit casual at the end as we were waiting for the check while fighting off our mutual jet lag.
The Melbourne Museum resides in Carlton Gardens (just northeast of the Melbourne Central Business District), across the way from the venerable 19th Century Royal Exhibition Building. The front plaza is sharp, monochromatic, and shadowed by a long metal canopy.
The building, now the largest museum in the Southern Hemisphere, is a remarkable collection of colors and shapes that will make a visit to the museum a memorable one even before entering it. The most eye-catching aspect of the complex is a colorful rectangular block that resembles a giant Rubik's Cube seemingly stuck into the ground at an angle. This architectural firm is famous for designing buildings with colliding forms and walls and bold colors and elements, as illustrated in the earlier Melbourne Exhibition Centre along the Yarra River. The "back" of the museum is a little softer, employing more of a curvilinear style alongside a stream and small park along with various natural elements.
The museum inside contains plenty of interactive displays, thought-provoking galleries, and scientific descriptions for adults and kids alike. Features include the Forest Gallery, the Aboriginal Centre, Children's Museum, Study Centre, and the IMAX Theatre.
Carlton Gardens, Nicholson Street (carlton)
Melbourne, Australia 3053
13 11 02 (Local call
Attraction | "Royal Botanic Gardens"
The Royal Botanic Gardens feature over 12,000 species of flora, plus a few interesting native animals as well. There are brownish-black flying foxes (basically fruit bats) hanging upside-down from treetops. It is a rather creepy sight, as these winged creatures stay gripped to their branches at rest during the daytime. Gigantic, beaky black swans waddle about the edges of the lakes when they are not floating in them.
The Old Melbourne Observatory marks the location of the Visitors Centre at the Observatory Gate (Gate "O"), not far from the grandiose Shrine of Remembrance. This is a good spot to gather your bearings, as there is a cafe and shop as well. The free green brochure has a handy site map in case you get lost, though the signposts are a great help. The brochure estimates that a complete walk around the gardens should take 2 or 3 hours, while a diagonal stroll from Gate "O" to Gate "A" at the northeastern corner should take about 45 minutes. Of course, you can just wander about and let your instincts guide you to what you want to see. Significant features include the Australian Rainforest Walk, Rose Pavilion, National Herbarium, Glasshouses, and the Ornamental Lake.
Entrance to the Royal Botanic Gardens is free. There are long opening hours starting at the early time of 7:30AM. Closing time is later during the summer season than in winter to take advantage of the longer daylight hours.
Royal Botanic Gardens & National Herbarium
South Bank of the Yarra River
Melbourne, Victoria 3141
+61 (0)3 9252 2300
The exterior design is a curious combination of elements. It can be described as an Aztec pyramid resting over a cube with classical Greco-Roman pediment facades. The dry design of the interior has classical columns and its dim lighting brings on a somber, respectful mood inside. At 11AM on November 11 (Remembrance Day), a ceremonial "Ray of Light" shines through an opening in the pyramid and dramatically beams into the interior. Displays include old flags and momentos, listings of Australians killed in action, and fascinating historical photographs. After reviewing the exhibits, climb the stairs to the upper level and step outside for some breezy panoramic views of Melbourne. Even if you are not big on Australian history, it is worthwhile to climb up and check out the vistas.
There is no admission fee to visit the Shrine of Remembrance, but there is a donation box near the main entrance. The Shrine is near prominent Melbourne institutions like the National Botanic Gardens, Government House, Governor LaTrobe's Cottage, the convoluted park layout of the Kings Domain, and the modern Sidney Myer Music Bowl.
Shrine of Remembrance
St. Kilda Road
Attraction | "St. Kilda"
The town has the casual feel of Coronado (the resort area across from San Diego), with plenty of cafes, bakeries, galleries and shops lining popular streets like Fitzroy and Acland. Your eye will notice the colorful face/facade of Luna Park, the "Coney Island" of Melbourne built in 1912 (there is also a similar Luna Park in Sydney). Right next door is the Palais Theatre, a landmark building of a more innocent time which still hosts concerts and shows. The St. Kilda Esplanade Market, held every Sunday, features over 200 artists displaying a wide selection of arts and crafts.
Take a walk along the beach and you will reach St. Kilda Pier, with its distinctive kiosk dating from 1857. The winds howl off the Port Phillip Bay as you stroll along the pier, populated with local fishermen. Take a walk to the end for great views encompassing the Melbourne skyline. There is a wildlife sanctuary for Little Penguins (well known to visitors at Phillip Island) at the end of the pier, but this area is cordoned off from visitors. Peer over the pier into the water and you may spot a starfish!
You can best reach St. Kilda by taking one of the popular trams from the CBD, and you can glide past some of the bucolic garden suburbs along the way.
St Kilda Beach
Attraction | "Contemporary Architecture in Melbourne"
Perhaps the most controversial project in the Central Business District of Melbourne is the massive Federation Square complex, including the awkwardly titled New Gallery of Victoria Ian Potter Centre of Australian Art. The ambitious design is the result of a design competition won by Lab Architecture Studio of London and Bates Smart Architecture of Melbourne. Once completed, the project will connect with the Central Business District, Yarra River, Victorian Arts Centre, and Southgate. There will be a plaza that will become the new civic focal point of Melbourne. The mosaic-like exterior surfaces of brownish sandstone, glass and zinc exhibit an intricate triangular geometry. Even in its unfinished state, the appearance of Federation Square jumps out at passersby and adds another style to the already eclectic Melbourne skyline.
Denton Corker Marshall designed not only the much-acclaimed Melbourne Museum but also the earlier Melbourne Exhibition Centre (1996). This convention center employs the wild angles and colors that are developed in the latter museum design. Typical elements like columns, walls and roofs are skewed to create a tension within its design. The name of the complex is displayed in bold capital letters at an angle so that it advances past its face value as a nameplate to become an integral part of the design itself. The landscaping adjacent to the Yarra River is attractive, considering that anything alongside of a convention center can be merely an afterthought.
Not far from the Melbourne Exhibition Centre is the slick Crown Entertainment Complex, designed by Bates Smart. The multipurpose buildings house a glamorous casino, luxury hotel, posh shops, and various restaurants and food courts. The architects incorporated brass, zinc and polished pink sandstone into the design to create a sense of class and elegance to the complex.
The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) is an eclectic urban campus of old, solid stone and brick structures that are now mingling with newer postmodern buildings with wild colors, layers and shapes. One of the more recent buildings has a mosaic-like facade with popsicle colors like lime green and purple.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 10, 2002