We arrived in Melbourne mid-afternoon on April 28 and checked into our room at the Hyatt. It is a very pretty hotel. Our first room was a bit dark, but they quickly moved us to a great room with a view of the cathedral.
We dropped off our stuff and headed out for a little exploration before settling in at The European, a little restaurant across from this region’s Parliament. The cafe was recommended by friends we met on our dive trip, Taryn and Tom. Boy were they spot on! We thought we would just have appi’s but the duck and fig salad and merlot were so good, we then shared incredibly delicate sautéed gnocchi with peas and leeks and then a whole cooked snapper with some Sauvignon Blanc. At this point we were totally satiated and totally exhausted. We came back to our room and found the bed was so comfortable we read and soon fell asleep.
This morning, April 29, we woke to a glorious sunrise and I quickly threw on some clothes to take some photos. I wasn’t able to capture it in all its glory, but the photos of the glow on the cathedral came out pretty well.
We walked to a local cafe for a quick breakfast before being picked up by Jeff Barnard for our tour. Jeff shared a wealth of information and local history. We went everywhere from the expansive sports facilities (were we got a great lesson on the rules of “Australian Rules” football) to the impressive war memorial (where we got a heartfelt tour from a local “digger” – an older veteran) and then to Federation Square and a wonderful walking tour of some of the great little “lanes” or alleyways of Melbourne. This is what I liked the best.
I loved the creativity and ingenuity used to shoehorn all kinds of mini bars, restaurants and shops into these little retail pedestrian only alleyways, which had previously been used to mostly store garbage cans. I thought the Seattle Chamber of Commerce should come see this and incorporate this wonderful aspect of Melbourne in Seattle. Jim said the chamber did come here once and brought back an old trolley car that used to serve the Seattle waterfront before it was retired a few years back. Good grief. I suppose with all our daunting regulations you would need a lot of “out-of-the box thinking” and renewed flexibility to make this work in Seattle.
Jeff took us to his favorite coffee place which is wedged into a tiny space in the first steel skyscraper built in Melbourne (in the early 1930’s). We also tasted a local treat Lamingtons and learned the saying “fair dincum” which means absolute truth. This building also had Australia’s first escalator, although at that time it was called “magic stairs” and the stair steps were made of wood.
We walked some more past some fun street art, where the city has designated pro tagging areas and a really fun water sculpture that people decorate with leaves.
We ended our tour by stopping at a tiny opal shop (95% of the world’s opal comes from Australia and opal is the Australia’s national gemstone). The store represents the Lightening Mine. We met the son of the founder and he also has a collection of snakes, lizards and spiders. Quite interesting.
Then Jeff dropped us of at the Melbourne Museum. I wasn’t that interested but Jim wanted to go and I’m glad we did. We arrived just in time for a tour and it was very well done. They have the real bones of a Pygmy Blue Whale that washed up on shore in the 1990’s and a fantastic brain exhibit as well as many others.
Unfortunately, the threatened storm arrived in full force as we made our way back to the hotel. We walked a bit and then grabbed a cab. We are resting and drying off before dinner. Next we are going to head out for some Greek food at a restaurant that Jeff suggested. Apparently, Melbourne has a the third most Greek citizens of any city in the world. Greeks who live in Australia enjoy duel citizenship, can vote in both nations and even have their own Greek Senator that lives right here in Melbourne. Those crazy Greeks!
As I write this the cathedral bells have been ringing for almost 90 minutes. we assume they are either testing the bells or that it had something to do with the film crew that is parked on the street between our hotel and the cathedral. They are filming the locally popular TV show “House Husbands of Melbourne”. When I laughed at the name, one of the crew told me “it’s a very good show in it’s third season!”
Correction, the front desks says this is a regular Tuesday afternoon event where they practice ringing the bells from 5 to 6:30. It’s a lot of bell ringing!
History note for the day: On this day, April 29, 1770 British Capt. James Cook landed in Botany Bay, near Sydney, “discovering” Australia. 250 years later, it’s evolved into a modern nation full of creative, friendly people.
Well done Captain Cook!
Gazi, the Greek Restaurant, was hopping and we sat at the communal table. We got to do some ouzo tasting and settled on the Plomari. First, we got to chat with one of the employees, Petro, who was having dinner on his day off. He was a delightful young man and one of the many young, enterprising Europeans who have had to leave Europe to find work. He’s from Greece. Everywhere you go in Australia you meet 20 somethings from France, Italy, Spain, Greece and England who are working here and lament the economic mess in Europe.
Then we shared some really fun conversation with two lovely young ladies from England who turned out to be young physicians doing their residencies in Melbourne. It’s gotten to that point in our lives where we couldn’t believe they were old enough to be doctors. But we talked, laughed and chatted about the world, travel, scuba diving and the crazy Melbourne “hook turn”. Yes, here in Melbourne (and apparently only in Melbourne) because the trollies use both center lanes of every major street, to make a right turn across oncoming traffic you have to first cue all the way over in the far left lane and then wait for the light to turn red and the special “hook-turn light” to illuminate before turning right across all lanes of traffic where the oncoming traffic is supposed to yield. I’m not making this up. The ladies also pointed out that Gazi’s celebrity chef George Calombaris was in the house. They were quite excited about it.
Yesterday’s rain has turned to showers this morning (April 30) and is supposed to taper off. Today we are going to do more walking and exploring especially on the promenade along the “south bank” of the Yarra River which runs through downtown Melbourne.
The Adventure Continues!