Subject: Melbourne - Domes Ancient and Modern (long)
G’day everyone,

We recently had a very pleasant 4 days in Melbourne, a lovely clean, safe, walkable city with a great transit system. The downtown area has broad streets, wonderful Victorian buildings and shopping arcades as well as the modern skyscrapers so beloved by banks and insurance companies and a river runs through it. I should imagine it is a great city to live in.

So as not to have the bother of a car in the city, we went down by train. I don’t feel as if I am really 'travelling' if we drive and I especially like trains. We pulled into Spencer St. Station currently in the later stages of a renovation into a super modern facility and very recently renamed Southern Cross.

We stayed in a ‘Welcome’ budget hotel, on Little Bourke Street. The hotel fronted on to a more prestigious street and those rooms were more expensive we shared a lobby, gym and pool, so it was really a great deal at $99 per night. We were right in the center of the city and within walking distance of almost everywhere, given that we are both good walkers.

First we located the closest free hop on hop off talking tram stop. Not that we were on the tram for long, within a few stops we were at the docklands and as Tony just can’t resist the water we got off. Like cities the world over, Melbourne is making the best of its old docks and railway lands. The dock area is very impressive with its marina, condo’s, restaurants, brand new parkland and the stunning Bolte Bridge for a backdrop. The old warehouses have large murals telling the history of Melbourne on one side and the history of the docks on the other. Thanks to this project, I now know that Batman Hill has nothing to do with a caped crusading super hero and everything to do with the founding of the city. The real bonus for us was the presence of some of the boats from the recent Sydney to Hobart race. Tony got to have a long chat with some of the crewmembers from "Hugo Boss", who distinguished themselves (in my eyes) by crossing the start line in evening dress. Very sexy.

We never did get back on the tram. From the docklands we walked through the new park, critiquing the various pieces of art work including the 'cow up a tree' (wonder what that is all about) until we came to our favourite, the wind powered 'Blowhole', that appears to be made from anemometers.

We walked until we came to the aquarium currently promoting a special exhibit, "Monsters From The Deep", the star of which is a giant squid, "frozen in time". We came to see ‘sea dragons’, beautiful little creatures similar to sea horses but dragging in their wake a lovely translucent train. Fortunately the squid was not on my list of must sees, so I wasn’t too disappointed to find it was just a huge calamari in a non too transparent block of ice. The real delight for me was in the faces of the little children who were so excited. That was until we came to the large rotunda where I became a child myself, mesmerized by the huge sharks and stingrays, swimming all around us. To get to this area you had to move through tunnels where sharks etc. were literally swimming right over your head. You can tell from this, I am sure, that I haven’t been to an aquarium for over 40 years and they have changed a bit in the intervening years. According to the signs, fish in these areas ‘appear smaller than they are’ but it wasn’t until 5:00pm when the lucky divers who were experiencing the thrill of ‘swimming with the sharks’, entered the tank, that I realized just how much smaller they seem. I certainly wouldn’t want to meet one in the ocean.

Next morning we awoke to heavy rain, so we took refuge in the Myers department store next to our hotel. Their January sale was on so I stocked up on Sun Smart bathing gear for the 5 younger grandsons. We thought the men’s wear in particular was very stylish. I couldn’t get over how reasonable it was in the sales, taking into account the fact that the sales tax was included and we were currently getting 15c extra on every Canadian $. Tony was tempted to go crazy, if only to see our daughters face when we got home, but good sense prevailed and we escaped with no noticeable dent in the Visa account. The women’s wear was also quite lovely but for the funky, gypsy, layered look, I for one would have to be somewhat taller, very much slimmer and a good bit younger. In fact I haven’t seen anyone, tall, young, slim or otherwise wearing the total look.

The rain stopped right on cue and we continued our walking tour. Our first and almost last port of call was the State Library of Victoria. A wonderful Victorian building featuring a pentagonal reading room under a dome. At every level around the perimeter are very interesting exhibits, including Ned Kelly’s homemade armour, which I last saw on Mick Jagger! From here we walked on to the Melbourne Museum, which like all modern museums in large cities has very creative displays. Unfortunately because we had dallied so long at the Library we only had one hour to rush around seeing the highlights. The good news is that in view of our extreme old age is was free, so we can return several times to do it justice.

On the way back we spotted our modern glass dome. Unable to get permission to pull down the hundred year old ‘Iron Pipe and Shot Factory’ the developers built the whole Central Shopping Center complex around it, topping the shot tower with the cone shaped dome. Tony kept calling it a prilling tower, apparently fertilizer pellets and iron shot balls both require to be dropped from a great height during manufacture.

For our third day we booked a coach tour of the wineries of the Yarra Valley. The weather was perfect and our driver guide very personable and knowledgeable. Sadly it only confirmed that we are complete Philistines when it comes to wine, we kept slipping away from the cellar door sessions to go and take photos in the vineyard! That evening we were too tired and full of the excellent lunch provide on the tour to go out to eat, so we took the tram to St. Kilda. It was incredibly windy and the para sailors were out in force. Very exciting to watch, it was amazing to us that they didn’t get all tangled up as the ‘flew’ across the bay. Away from the ocean the town was really popping. Every restaurant and bar was heaving and the streets were packed. It being a Thursday evening the area around Luna Park was full of people many of them aging hippies attending the night market, it was like a 60’s time warp back there.

Our only disappointment, we were unable to get a reservation on the restaurant tram. It was fully booked until several days after we were due to leave. Each day we promised ourselves a wonderful Italian meal on Lygon Street but each evening we were too exhausted to go so we ate mostly in Chinatown, which was on our hotels doorstep

As we had decided to choose my 60th (ouch) birthday present together in Australia, we spent our last day in the city looking at opals, my birthstone. Before we even got into the first showroom I saw some rock samples in the window with opal running through them and thought that I might get more pleasure out of that than a piece of jewelry which I would seldom wear. Then we looked at the stones. Once you have seen a $20,000 opal it kind of spoils you for a $2000, one. I fell in love with a small piece of ‘bolder matrix’ rock, actually 2 halves of a single rock to be sold as a pair. Its the most beautiful rock you can imagine but comes at quite a price so I am still considering it. The saleslady assured me most women prefer jewelry to rocks, so hopefully it will still be there when (if) I decide to go back for it.

Regards Sue Waterloo ON (currently in Castlemaine Victoria)