Sunday, January 13, 2008

Melbourne, January 2008

Melbourne January 2006 mosaic
Originally uploaded by rooruu.

What can you do in two days in Melbourne?

Gawp at the Shot Tower in Melbourne Central, and other architectural details such as those wonderful pillars and ceilings from a bank building. Travel on trams, and wish you had been there in time for the daily 2pm tour of the Royal Exhibition Building.

Spend time at the Queen Victoria Market - the food sections are brilliant, olives and bagels and cheeses and more, fresh fruit and vegetables - but skip the tat of trashy rip-off T shirts and stuff. (Trays and trays of mangoes, can you tell it's summer?)

Visit the Melbourne Museum - excellent exhibition about the human mind on at the moment, wonderful Federation Tapestry on display (even if they did burgle "Eternity" which is a quintessentially Sydney icon!) and even a classic display of pinned bugs such as used to be the staple fare of museums.

Visit the National Gallery of Victoria International, which has an excellent shop with Tord Boontje lights and cut outs, Mozi textiles, Florence Broadhurst textiles, graphic black and white softies, a fabulous red sarcophagus backpack (from an LA museum) and one lone, boring, unimaginatively chosen book on quilting. Sigh.

But to make up for it, the gallery contains some astounding artworks, including Shonibare's simply wonderful Reverend on Ice, a charming ceramic depicting chicken killing more prettily than you might have imagined, delightful vintage postcards depicting Britannia and ?Madeleine of France having a poke at each other with flags over the English Channel, Farinelli (just a detail here of hands), antiquities from South America and more.

You wander through lower ceilinged rooms (here a Picasso, there a Man Ray) and then find yourself in ones with cathedral-like proportions, over here a Monet, over there a Canaletto. It's an impressive collection (and in the decorative arts section we found a hugely helpful museum guard, who assumed his job was to help us enjoy the collection, not watch us beady-eyed and stop us burgling it - his delight in what we could see enhanced our delight).

Be frightfully glad that your hotel room has a view over the Yarra, past Crown Casino's belching night-time flames and to Port Phillip Bay.

Enjoy what seems like lots of public artworks - statues, sculptures, mosaics and more. Decide that while Southbank and the Yarra aren't Darling Harbour and Sydney Harbour, well, it's not a bad stroll either, and the streets in other parts of the city just don't seem as crowded as Sydney.
Visit a couple of quilting shops, because it's always good to see what they have in other places. (I'd particularly recommend Amitie, which was buzzing-busy and full of yummy fabric). (Being grateful for lovely directions supplied by helpful quilters).

Stop typing right now because there's thunder overhead.....and it's raining, such as it's supposed to so much in Melbourne, and didn't, at least not on this visit.

(Later): Tourist tips:

  • Ask at your hotel for maps: they weren't easy to find at the airport. It was much better to have our own map to pull out at any time and consult.
  • The Circle Tram is free and travels in both directions around the city's central grid of streets - the trams for this were mostly dark burgundy in colour, and consistently pretty full. They (sometimes) had a (free) printed Melbourne guide in pockets near the door and also a spoken commentary. (Unfortunately we ran out of time to see the display of venomous spiders at an opal shop. Gee whiz.)
  • If you're going to pootle around Melbourne all day, and are likely to need more than the Circle Tram, just buy a Zone 1 ticket from a newsagent/convenience store and be done with it - you can buy all day ones, covering bus/train/tram together. If you're visiting quilt shops further afield, check to see if you need a Zone 1&2 ticket.
  • If you're travelling outside the CBD, tram stops are numbered, so if you have a particular destination (like a quilt shop) in mind, check ahead of time to find out the nearest tram stop number, much easier than hunting street names.
  • Some museums/galleries are free. Some aren't. Some will charge for particular exhibitions only.
  • I'd like to tell you that I found one website that did a simple "What's on in Melbourne Right Now" listing for galleries/museums/exhibitions. But I didn't. If you know one, bung in a comment. We found the places we went to through a combination of reading maps, guides, online sites, the newspaper (The Age), and stuff we'd knew before.
  • The Skybus from Tullamarine (Melbourne) airport was easy to find and use: if you're going home again, it's cheaper to buy a return ticket than two singles.
  • Wear comfortable shoes, and enjoy walking (if the weather is kind).

If you click on the mosaic, it will take you to a larger version.

It was a busy (we walked miles), happy two days. I still think, though, that there's nothing can beat flying back into Sydney with the afternoon light catching the red roofs and silvering the turns and bays of the rivers and harbour, seeing the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House....

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