Arriving in Melbourne after the peace and tranquillity of the Wolgan Valley was a real shock to the system. We were staying in the Crown complex on the South Bank and all I can say is that it was hell on the Saturday night. It was the end of Australia’s most famous racing festival so the complex was packed with race goers, stag and hen parties, several weddings and gamblers aiming to win their fortunes in the casino. The noise was an assault on the eardrums. There were women in hats and fascinators, some dressed as showgirls complete with feather headdresses and men in shorts and flip flops (or thongs as they are known here). Not the best start for the next five days.
It did improve. On the Sunday morning we found that the hotel was rapidly emptying of the weekend hordes. The sun was shining so off we went on a tram ride to sample the seaside delights of St Kilda. We passed the home of the Australian Grand Prix in Albert Park on the way.
Like Manly, this was a town that reminded me of seaside resorts of a past era. The buildings were showing their age and there was feeling of neglect. Despite this there were crowds of people. The Sunday Craft Market (which my husband told me was really a ‘hippy market’) stretched along the pavement. There was everything from jewellery to hot chilli sauces – artisan this and authentic that.
The scary clown at the entrance to Luna Park sent chills down my spine which contrasted with the screams and laughter coming from inside this traditional amusement park. Alongside is a community garden which looked as if it should belong to another era (think the 1960’s). Lovingly tended and a real asset to St Kilda.
As it was Sunday we felt the need to indulge in a Sunday Roast and we found an establishment that could provide. Nothing beats roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes when you are feeling a tad homesick. A walk along the prom to burn up the calories brought us to a small colony of Little Penguins. Hiding under the breakwater they are most active in the evening but we still managed to catch a glimpse of them during the day.
Monday was hot, very hot and we spent some time in Fitzroy Gardens trying to find some shade. The family home of Captain James Cook is here, having been dismantled in Great Ayton and transported to Melbourne. A little piece of England in Australia. It was a chance to catch up with an ex-work colleague who emigrated ten years ago and hear how she has prospered, taking every opportunity offered and enjoying a lifestyle which wouldn’t be possible in the UK.
No visit to Australia would be complete without a visit to the Yarra Valley vineyards so off we went. Our tour guide, who purported to be an ex-sommelier, talked us through the wine tasting experience before we started on an array of wines in each vineyard. The Yarra Valley is beautiful and it was another very hot day. On our tour we visited some small producers; Punt Road, Yering Farm and Soumah where we had lunch.
Our final vineyard was Domaine Chandon – part of the Moet and Chandon conglomerate. A tour of the production plant ended with a choice of one of the sparkling wines they produced. This vineyard was extremely busy due to the Chandon connection. All of the vineyards afforded stunning views of the Yarra Valley. By the end of the day I was sick of the taste of wine and one just blended into another. I am sure if they had given me a glass of cheap plonk I wouldn’t have known the difference.
Wednesday took us to the Shrine of Remembrance. Having missed the British Remembrance Day we had our own service. There is a short act of remembrance every half hour where they reproduce the sunlight moving across the stone. The playing of The Last Post and the reading of part of ‘For the Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon was extremely moving especially when you are so far from home. It brought back memories of my Granda telling me he learnt to swim in the Nile when he was a soldier in the First World War and my Dad’s brother William killed in action in the Battle of Asiago in Italy in 1918. It was important for me to reflect on the solemnity of the event but there were those around us who filmed everything on their mobile phones.
We then sampled the delights of the Botanical Gardens including tea and scones overlooking the small lake. In the background there was a rock band doing a sound test for later that evening. We subsequently discovered that Take That were also in town playing at the Rod Laver Arena.
Melbourne is a great place for food and we had some really good meals, namely Lucy Liu Kitchen and Bar and Red Spice Road.
I am beginning to think that Australia is a building site. After the fiasco that was George Street in Sydney I found the iconic Flinders Street Railway Station shrouded in tarpaulin undergoing restoration works. I am sure it will look amazing when it is complete. It would have been good to ‘meet under the clock’ which is a Melbourne tradition but sadly it was not to be.
We came to see Australia’s cities and you can’t visit cities without going shopping. Melbourne has some quirky shopping arcades including this one, the Royal Arcade with statues of Gog and Magog.
Christmas was beginning to emerge and the equivalent of Fenwick’s Christmas windows namely Meyer’s department store was attracting young and old alike. The only difference being the temperature, which was in the low 30s.
Our next stop is Brisbane.