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I went to Melbourne not for the Neighbours connection as many people do, but for the gymnastics. Whike I was working in Sydney, the 2005 World Championships was taking place at the Rod Laver Arena in the city, and I had a ticket to the Women's All Round Finals on Friday night so decided to make a weekend of it. Melbourne's a 70 - 90 minute flight from Sydney, and you can fly there and back for about $150 if you book at the right time, so many visitors over in the east make the trip either for a long weekend or on a stop over from or to Tasmania or Adelaide or Perth.
I liked Melbourne, and would go so far as to say I would choose to live there over Sydney if I ever come back to Australia for a long stint. It's hard to pin down exactly why I prefer it, but I think the number of things to see and do and explore in the city played a big part.
I started at the top of the city, with a trip to the observation deck where you can admire the city from 55 stories up. The Rialto Towers are located on Collins St, a main thoroughfare in the city, and offer great views from the viewing gallery both inside and out. Entry is $7.80 - $13.50, but if you collect a free visitor's guide from the airport or tourist information offer, you'll find a discount voucher for here that's valid on any ticket, including student concessions. Yay. Included in the price is your trip to the top (with access to the shop here and on the ground, and the café), free use of binoculars (a nice touch as most places charge for these) and a 20 minute "sight and sound extravaganza", or in simple terms, a film entitled, 'Melbourne the Living City,' that features shots of the city and events that have already / will take place here set to a positive, up-lifting soundtrack that trills "Melbourne: A Great Place To Be". The film doesn't have a commentary of any kind, so is suitable for speakers of any language. It was a sweet little film, and less cringe worthy that the equivalent at Sydney's AMP tower. Worth knowing is that you can see this first - as I did - before you go up the tower, and if there's one starting just as you arrive I'd recommend this to save you a potential 20 minute wait when you come down from the tower.
My next stop was the Art Gallery of Victoria on St Kilda Road, one of two sites in the city. This one is closed Tuesdays and the one at Federation Square is closed Mondays, so try to allocate visits accordingly - I got muddled up and as a result didn't get to visit the latter yesterday as I'd hoped. The Art Gallery is huge and spread over several floors. Entry is free to general works, with a charge for visiting exhibitions, but since the current installation is Brit Art In The 60s, on loan from the Tate, I decided to skip it and see it in London if the need ever struck. Though the Art Gallery doesn't have too many major works, there are pieces from lots of people you might have heard of such as Manet and Monet, and the gallery houses European and Asian paintings and fine arts from various periods. Though it looks a long way on the map, the gallery is just moments from the city and easily walkable.
The Botanical Gardens, across the road, caught my interest next, and I spent almost two hours here wandering the paths, admiring the flora and enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. I would recommend a visit to these (again…free) if you're in the area, and they would be a great place to picnic before a show or competition at the nearby arenas.
The next day I went to the suburbs in the company of a colleague from Sydney who lives in Melbourne and flies back and forth each week. Together we mooched round Chadstone, a huge shopping centre in the east, lunched in St Kilda, the local beach resort, and enjoyed gelato on Ackland St in the town, toured the streets home to the mansions of the rich and comparatively-famous and wandered Chapel St in South Yarra, the retail equivalent of Bondi, all beautifully dressed people with fabulous bodies looking stunning in a 'I haven't made any kind of effort, I just naturally look like this' sort of way.
Returning to the city, I explored the Melbourne Museum. I would recommend this place, but suggest you come and go as tickets allow re-entry throughout the day, and otherwise you might get over whelmed. The museum is free for students, pensioners and children, and has a small admission fee for adults. It includes everything from demos (not live) of how babies are made to the old kitchen from one of the houses in Ramsay Street to a living forest gallery that is beautiful.
Other things I would recommend:
· Ride the City Circle Tram which loops round the city and is free. It comes with a narrated commentary too, so you can understand what you're seeing · Go to Fitzroy Gardens and see Captain Cook's House (small entry fee, discounted by a voucher in the city guide) and the Fairy Tree and model village · Have a look in the various churches and cathedrals, in particular St Patrick's and St Paul's · If you're there around Christmas, keep an eye or rather ear out for free carol concerts by local schools - yesterday I was treated to 3 as I explored the churches and museums in the city. Also, check out the Christmas windows at Myer, going weekday before 9am to avoid the long queues. · Collecting leaflets and other reading material from the Tourist Info at Federation Square as they have many more than the little booth on the Bourke St Mall where many visitors end up. · If you need a break, go to Borders and flick through their impressive stash of imported (i.e. American and English) magazines...they even have comfy chairs to encourage you to do so A trip on the Great Ocean Road, which I'll tell you about another day. A must for many visitors in the area.
In between all this, I explored the shops in the centre, in particular at Australia on Collins, the Queen Victoria Centre and Southbank, home to an array of funky places to shop and dine. I ate often and ate well throughout the city, and would recommend Little Italy, Lygon Street in the north for Italian food (and Thai / Indian / Vietnamese if you want a change), the Pancake Parlour opposite Myer for breakfasts American style and Max Brenner's near La Trobe St for Chocolate Licks, a bargain at only $2. Edelweiss on Elizabeth St also do nice food, and sell proper German Bretzels although the proper German owners have obviously not been over there in a while as they proclaimed it impossible to make a sandwich from a Bretzel which as we all know is just not true. I also café hopped - a cake at the Art Gallery, a coke at the Gardens, some more cake at the sports stadium… In between I popped into Coles (near the station for the big branch, smaller ones throughout the city) for necessities like juice and cookies.
Melbourne is served by two airports, Tullamarine and Avalon, both of which have bus connections to the city for around $15 one way. The tips take 20 minutes for the first, and 50 minutes for the latter, and taxis are available but at least 3 or 4 times the price. Accommodation is spread throughout the city and suburbs, but places in between Collins St and Franklin St are well placed for most attractions. The city is compact enough to walk across quite quickly, and the tourist info office provides good maps. Trams and busses are also available, but pricier than Sydney, starting at around $3 (here it's about $1.50).
I very much enjoyed my extended weekend here - I spent 4 days and 3 nights in town - and would like to return. I found Melbourne an interesting place with lots to see and do, neatly arranged for pedestrians with a minimal knowledge of the city, and the gym was great too. There seemed to be a good mix of museums and galleries (many more than I could explore in my time there), churches and parks, shops and restaurants. I travelled on my own, and apart from my day with Tina, knew no one here, but I didn't feel isolated in any way, as there was so much to see and do, and people around to talk to if you absolutely needed to.I could see within hours why Melbourne is consistently rated on of the World's best places to live and it was a city that seems much more alive and lived in than Sydney. That's not to say I don't like it here, but if I got the choice of where to live, or was recommending where you visit, I would chose Melbourne.
Exchange rate: $2.20 = 1 GBP