Friday, September 30th, 2011: Melbourne, Australia
Melbourne, the capital of the state of Victoria, was our next stop on the 28 day circumnavigation of Australia. As this too will be a stop later in the journey, we elected to see the city center and to “get our bearings” for the return journey in November.
Upon exiting the ship, we hoped onto Tram 109 for the 20 minute ride into the city center. Melbourne has an excellent transportation system and offers a flat rate $7.00 ticket that permits all day access to every mode of transport in the city. Quick, convenient, and with most routes running 3-8 times an hour, we never had to wait too long to get anywhere as we worked our way through the city.
We started our day taking the tram out to the northern edges of the city center and to the Queen Victoria markets. Offering a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with a full meat and fish market, souvenir shops, clothing stalls, and even infomercial products (stainless steel cookware guaranteed never to warp, chip, stain, or lose their non-stick surface!), it was a fun walk through to start our day.
From here, we headed to the Royal Botanical Gardens in the southeast of the city. Just before we entered the gardens, we visited the World War I Memorial, a beautiful and substantial structure located on a hill with a commanding view of the city to the North. After a few pictures and a chance to reflect on the participation of Australia in many of the great conflicts to support the Western Allies over the decades, we continued into the gardens from the Observatory gate in the southwest corner of the park.
Frequent readers will identify that we have seen our share of Botanic Gardens throughout Australia (and there are certainly a lot of them), but each has its own unique signature and provides a new and interesting perspective on local plants and flowers, speciality gardens made up of plants from far off places (is it still illegal to pick a California Poppy from the California garden if it is in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia?), and can be quite enjoyable to find a place of green grass, ponds, birds, and locals just relaxing in a place so close to the hustle and bustle of the big city.
From here, we hoped on the tram to take us to the northwest corner of the city, also known as the Docklands. As we made our way north, we were informed that the tram would be completing its run prematurely at the Victoria Arts Centre as there was a parade in town today. As we offloaded our tram and were provided directions on how to connect back up with our service to the Docklands, we walked up to the Yarra River Bridge, near Flinders, the main train station for the city, and it was closed off with thousands of people lining both sides of the span. Young and old, families and friends, everyone was out supporting one of the two local teams competing in the Australian Football League (AFL) championship (locally known as “footy”) the next day as a huge parade was scheduled to began in 30 minutes time.
If you were wearing blue and white you were supporting the Geelong Cats and black and white stripes meant that you were backing the Collingwood Magpies. Australian Rules Football or “Footy” as it is regularly referred to here is serious business — the stuff of family feuds and as one local woman told us, “Sunday morning, one team’s supporters will be wiped out from the massive celebration for the win, and the other will be recovering from the non-stop crying of the loss…” The feeling during the parade though was one of fanfare and excitement as team memorabilia was waved, local newspapers and sports television reporters were interviewing fans, and the countdown to the big game was on.
We slowly, but effectively, made our way to pick up the alternate tram that would take us out to the Docklands for our next stop, and would allow us to return to Federation Square in plenty of time to enjoy the AFL Final Pre-Festivities. A few minutes later we arrived at our next stop for the day, the major tourist attraction of Costco Warehouse in Melbourne!
Now before everyone gasps in bizarre amusement of our choice to stop at Costco, we must tell you that it was an amazing opportunity to see the beautiful Docklands shopping area, a huge outdoor carnival nearby the location, and a massive ferris wheel setup next to the property (unfortunately, it was under repair during our visit). To be honest, the inside of the Costco was nearly identical to what you would find at home, with the one exception being that you need to purchase all liquor inside of its own cage and from a separate register from your other items. Beyond that, it was simply a nice short lunch stop for us, where we enjoyed a mince beef pie (betcha can’t get that at your local Costco food court!) and a chicken caesar salad (GF) and then headed back towards the center of the city.
We took the tram back to Federation Square, the heart of the city, both in terms of transportation (the main train, tram, and bus stations all run through here), and energy (Federation Square seems to be at the center of so many activities, events, and seems to hold within it the heartbeat of the city), so it was fitting that this was the location of the AFL Final Fanfest activities hub. Here, thousands of “Footy” fans were gathered to take pictures of their favorite players, watch live coverage of local sports shows being filmed in the square for the upcoming match, and participate in dozens of activities and fun events to earn prizes and giveaways.
You could send a TXT message to wish your favorite team success and it would be displayed in a massive mosiac of colored buttons to create your team’s logo, generate green power for a local company on a set of 12 stationary bikes and earn a souvenir footy ball. Cadbury chocolates was out giving away specially made chocolate footy balls to the kids, and Ford and Toyota were showing off their newest vehicles as the official car company sponsors of the two opposing teams. And that just scratches the surface! The entire square was a non-stop party atmosphere, even though the dark gray clouds threatened rain. It was a great visit to participate in a truly Australian event with the warm and welcoming people of Melbourne.
From here, we headed back to our tram stop to make our way to the ship, and along with thousands of others (from the Federation Square event or just closing out the workweek in downtown) slowly, but surely all got to our destinations on the extremely crowded, but enjoyable trams. As we exited the trams, the rain and wind fired up again, but really only dampened the 5 minute walk to the ship. The rest of the day was very enjoyable and we look forward to our return to Melbourne in November!
Tomorrow — we head to Tasmania with three days in Burnie and Hobart. More to come and talk to you all again soon!