You have to fight the temptation to gamble in Melbourne. One of the things I did not expect was a full-scale Vegas-style casino in the city centre within a stone's throw of the Yarra river. One evening I sat perched on a stool while the croupier spun the roulette wheel. Without knowing it, $30 was quickly up in smoke. But I enjoyed myself at the Crown Casino Complex. It brought back memories of Las Vegas. Melbourne and Las Vegas? Surely two different cities? Well, yes and no, just take a look at the CBD skyline from the riverwalk. It certainly looks like an American city.
And the best place to see the skyline (see photos) is the riverwalk, which stretches from the Melbourne Exhibition centre to Princes Bridge. The Southgate centre is its focal point and is a upmarket shopping complex with lots of attractions, such as smart cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries, all overlooking the Yarra river. I rather liked the Yarra river with its mustard-coloured water. It was a dirty silty river that reminds me of the Thames. It stands in wonderful contrast to the chrome and steel of 21st-century Melbourne. The one remaining thing in the city outside their reach of gentrification.
The riverwalk can be reached through numerous ways. Buses and trams up from St Kilda pass over Princes Bridge, which has staircase access to the river. And there are numerous bridges across from the CBD. My favourite was the pedestrian bridge from beneath Flinders Street station, which is a modern piece of art (see photo). This was where they wheeled their bikes across the river to take advantage of the cycle paths along the South Bank promenade. And the views here are extraordinary, the long sweep of the river with the skyscrapers as a backdrop. If you look to the west, there stands the 55 floors of the Rialto Towers, which is quite a sight when the sun catches it on a cold spring day.
The promenade itself is impressive. Millions of dollars have been spent to create a pleasant recreational area. Marble and polished stone has been laid out and made an impressive walkway decked with potted plants, arc lights and modernist statues. From here you can take boat trips down the Yarra or most likely find your legs propelling you to the Crown Casino Complex. Escalators will whisk you up to a huge entertainment room with a waterfall, strobe lighting and a Lamborghini revolving on a podium. It's a rule around the world that a casino must try for class but end up as kitsch, and this was no exception. The purple decor was blinding and the carpet was so deep you were in danger of losing your feet. Golden globes dangled from the ceiling, and there were rows and rows of gambling machines all standing to attention like an army of soldiers.
The plasma-screened one-armed bandits looked too complicated for this novice, but I do know my roulette. I sat down to a game surrounded by a lot of enthusiastic Chinese. An old Australian lady and I formed a syndicate to try and stay in the game. No luck! The casino took our wallets--oh well!