Melbourne is about the same size as Sydney and over the years the two cities have engaged in some civic competition. I will not weigh in on any of this, all of Australia is proving to be wonderful in so many ways! Whenever anyone asks us about our “favorite” part of any trip, we can never answer because there are always so many great things, and this trip is just like that.
Melbourne does not have a convict story as it was set up as a free settlement in the mid-1800’s. For myriad reasons including a navigable river, large harbor, economics and some gold, Melbourne has had periods where it was among the wealthiest of communities in the world. You can see proof of this in the beautiful architecture, many theatres and civic spaces. It is also a city filled with people from all over the world, with a large and thriving Chinatown, a huge Greek community, and the sound of different languages and accents every where you turn. There were a variety of things happening in Melbourne during our time there including: the Australian Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic, the Australian Grand Prix Formula One Race, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and preparations for the International Flower and Garden Show. I am sure there were lots of other things happening, those are just the things that caught our notice.
We settled into our usual new city habit of walking out the door and heading a new direction. The concierge at the hotel provided us with a good city map and a nice articulation of our strategy “the best way to see Melbourne is to get a little lost.” He also suggested we wander down the many alleys and into the Arcades and suggested a few of his favorites. Melbourne, like Sydney, is a mish-mash of old and new. Modern skyscrapers next to mid-19th Century buildings, classic facades opening into glass towers and tight alleys connecting out to main thoroughfares. Exactly the kind of place you want to get a little lost in.
Our hotel was situated not far from the Melbourne Exhibition building which was built for the Exhibition the city hosted back in the late 1800s. It is currently undergoing some renovations and is an impressive building. Not only did the building host the Exhibition, it was the location of the first meeting of the Australian Parliament in 1906 and hosted events for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics including basketball and boxing. While we were in town it, and the park around it, were hosting the Flower show.
Taking advice from friends who were in Melbourne a year or so ago, we went to the Queen Victoria Market and wandered through quite an array of stalls selling everything from cell phone cases to locally constructed hats, leather gear, merino wool sweaters and UGG Boots, to shoes and even rabbits and song birds with pet supplies. There were food vendors and soap makers, a hardware booth and several kitchen supply shops. And then, you get to the fruit and vegetable market! We got a couple of fresh mangoes and left the market with a smile on our faces and a good step count for the day!
Following another suggestion from our friends, one afternoon we headed up to the Sky Deck. We took an express elevator to the 88th floor and had great views of the city, the bay, and the mountains off in the distance. When we went out to the very windy outdoor deck we heard a distinct mechanical whine, and identified that we could hear the Formula One cars racing around practicing for the upcoming Grand Prix! We also saw several places that then went on the “let’s go find those buildings” list!
The day we wandered over to one of those “find those buildings” places happened to be the day the Grand Prix was running, and we were in that area of Melbourne. As we were walking around, we heard that whine you hear when fighter jets are around. Sure enough, an Australian Royal Air Force jet was doing some fancy flying as part of the warmup to the race. We were not ideally situated to see the whole thing, but it did some loop de loops and a very impressive hovering maneuver that we could see. Almost like they followed us from Newcastle to show they could do more than fly by really fast!
Melbourne is located on the Yarra River and Port Phillip Bay with several sets of large commercial docks. We took one of the river boat tours that took us down the river through town, past the commercial docks and across the Bay to a lovely suburb where we found lunch and a nice market, much smaller than the Queen Victoria Market, but with great views of the city!
Our hotel loyalty program includes an “experiences” section that has lots of tours and excursions available all over the place. One evening, while scrolling through the list, we found a bus tour of the Yarra Valley Wine region that included a ride on Puffing Billy, a narrow gauge railroad dating back to the early 1900s. Who can resist a train ride and wine tasting! It was a great day. Our bus driver was knowledgeable, but didn’t overwhelm, the drive up to the mountains included a stop for tea and a short hike where we saw wallaby’s, but alas, not the bird we were told about on the ride. I can’t remember what type it was, but it is one that is quite the singer and can also mimic other sounds, including chainsaws, according to the short video. From there, we headed to the train station and boarded the beautifully restored open-air train cars for a short and slow ride along the rail line. The train was narrow gauge to make the twists and turns necessary to transport goods and people up the mountains. Several times during our ride the twists were such that we could see the engine out one window and the end of the train out the other!
The wine region near Melbourne, like most wine regions I have been to, is beautiful. We had three wineries to visit and enjoyed tastings at all of them. It was an interesting selection with one very large well-known winery, a medium sized regional winery and a small, family owned winery that only does estate wines and ciders. We did come back with some bottles to enjoy!