Best Break Ever Part 3: Miscellaneous MelbournePosted: May 7, 2011
Here’s a compilation of some other things I saw, did, and noticed in Melbourne.
The Melbourne Museum
I wasn’t initially planning on visiting this museum, but after two people specifically recommended it to me, I decided to give it a go. Plus, it was right across the street from my hostel. During my visit, the museum was hosting the King Tut exhibition on its only stop in Australia. I don’t particularly care about King Tut, so I skipped the massive ticket line to that exhibit and went straight into the museum. That’s right, admission is free for students and other concession card holders. I’m in love already. I’d allowed about three hours at the museum, but it didn’t take me long to realise I would need a lot more. The exhibits covered everything from Australian racehorse Phar Lap to indigenous canoes to the parts of the brain. I spent most of my time in the Melbourne Story gallery. It was an absolutely fascinating crash course in the history of the city and Australia in general. I also spent some time in the body and mind exhibits, which were surprisingly intelligent and informative, given that museum exhibits about the human body are usually targeted to five-year-olds. This one wasn’t, and I appreciated that. In fact, the exhibit contained preserved remains of actual human bodies. Remember a few years ago when “Bodies: The Exhibition” came to St. Louis and everyone freaked out? Yeah, nothing like that here. I think there may have been a warning at the entrance to the gallery, but that’s it. I guess plasticised ovaries don’t bother Australians as much as they do Americans. Besides the ovaries (not pictured), I found plenty of other fascinating things at the Melbourne Museum. I regretfully tore myself away after about three hours, wishing I had more time there. Can I go back yet?
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
I was lucky enough to be in the city during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which is apparently kind of a big deal. I caught two shows of the festival. The first one, called “Girls Night,” featured five female Aussie comedians. They were all pretty funny, and it was great to hear jokes from a woman’s perspective for a change. (Deja Vu doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to booking female acts.) Waiting for the show to start, I met a woman who used to live in Melbourne and was visiting for the festival. We chatted for a while, and she gave me some tips on places to visit, so that was pretty cool. The second show I went to was by a Scottish comedian and titled “It’ll All End in Spears.” This one was a fallback for me–I really, really wanted to see “Grammar Don’t Matter on a First Date,” but it was sold out when I went to buy a ticket. I still wanted to see a show, so I sort of randomly picked one. It was at a place called Elephant and Wheelbarrow, which according to the woman I met and to my observation, is one of the best pubs in the city. So if I ever go to Melbourne with someone other than myself, I’ll make a point to spend more time there. Anyway, the comedy show focused on various theories about how the world was going to end. It was pretty funny, even if some of the jokes were a little old. The grammar one probably would’ve been better, but what can you do? In addition to these two shows, I also saw a free afternoon show at the festival’s hub, Federation Square. Fed Square is basically a brick and concrete gathering place surrounded by museums, restaurants, etc. in the middle of the city. There were free performances throughout the day there, and I stumbled upon a juggler/comedian/general entertainer performing Tuesday. His show was pretty cool, so I took some photos.
Remember how I tore myself away from the Melbourne Museum after three hours? I did that because I was really excited to get to Melbourne’s Luna Park and ride Scenic Railway, the oldest continuously operating roller coaster in the world. The tram ride from the museum to the amusement park was on the long side (about 45 minutes I think), but it was interesting to see parts of Melbourne that I hadn’t explored yet. Eventually I arrived at the park, and as soon as I stepped off the tram, the sun burst through the clouds. This place is making me happy already. I went into the park and bought one adult single-ride ticket (is that weird? If so, I don’t care). After detouring past some other rides and a bendy mirror, I got in line for the coaster. Of course I wanted to sit in the front seat, but two little girls beat me to it, so I didn’t have much choice but to let them have it. I sat in the second row, and it was just about as good. Remember how I mentioned this roller coaster is old? Yeah, it’s definitely old. Like 1912 old (that’s almost 100 years, people). And you can tell, too. The track creaked and the car clacked underneath me like all good wooden roller coasters, but I didn’t feel unsafe on the ride. It just wasn’t going fast enough for that. There were, of course, a few surprisingly swift drops and turns. However, it wasn’t the nonstop exhilirating ride I’m used to. The coaster slowed at the tops of hills, giving me a great view of the park and adjacent St. Kilda Beach. Hence the name “Scenic Railway,” I suppose. I’d say the ride was a good mix of nice views combined with shriek-worthy exhiliration. It was also a lot longer than I anticipated. The coaster forms a loop around the park, passing through the giant clown-face-shaped entrance, then goes around again on a lower track situated parallel to the first one. I don’t know how long the ride took, but it was a very satisfying one. At one point, I closed my eyes and tried to pretend this was 1914 and I’d never ridden Millenium Force, The Incredible Hulk, or anything even close to this awesome. It worked. Coasters may be bigger, faster, and taller now, but it was fun to ride one that made grown women scream 100 years ago and still makes little kids shriek with excitement today.
Brunswick Street was hands-down my favourite area of Melbourne. I stumbled upon it my first morning in the city, and came face-to-face with more vintage clothing stores, coffee shops, indie music stores, ethnic restaurants and speciality shops than I knew what to do with. Imagine downtown Columbia, only better. MUCH better. I had breakfast there at a different place each each day. First a chocolate croissant from a Russian bakery, then a chicken and avocado sandwich at an unpretentious deli, and finally eggs and toast from an Italian cafe where the waitress looked at me oddly presumably because she didn’t know my name. I also browsed boutique furniture I couldn’t afford, stepped into and out of to a print shop that was entirely too trendy for me to understand, and spent forever browsing in a stationery shop. I walked up and down this streeet countless times. Usually because I just liked watching the people. Sometimes because I was lost. For me, Brunswich Street was the perfect encapuslation of Melbourne: historic, yet trendy. Urban, yet down to earth. Artsy, but refined. A city defined by old buildings, new ideas, and trams running down the middle of every street.
Royal Botanic/Alexandria/etc. Gardens
Sydney has the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Domain. Melbourne has a bunch of different gardens all clumped together to form a large green space in the middle of the city. I could never figure out where one garden ended and the next began, so I just let them all run together. The gardens themselves are very nice, as nice as Sydney’s in most places. But the view–well, Melbourne certainly can’t compete with Sydney Harbour. Still, the gardens were a lovely place to walk around for a few hours. (I also found my letterbox there, for those of you keeping track at home.)
In Sydney, the only way I know how to figure out directions, if at all, is in relation to the harbour. In St. Louis, I see everything in terms of the Mississippi. In Melbourne, the Yarra River quickly became my reference point. (People in cities without bodies of water, what do you DO?) The river, unfortunately, is littered with pollution and probably not suitable for swimming, but it was still a nice place to sit and gaze at the Melbourne skyline when I was exhausted from walking all day and had an hour to kill. While I was perched along the bank, I saw a few groups of kayakers gliding down the river. As the sun set, the kayakers disappeared, only to be replaced by crew rowing teams gliding past at supersonic speeds, their fierce paddles startling me away from my daydreams. Because I don’t go to an Ivy League school and played no role in the making of “The Social Network,” I’d never seen a crew team in action. It was fun to watch them paddle swiftly down the river, then work together to pull the long, slim boat out of the water and load it carefully onto a trailer. After they were gone, I was still left with a lovely view of the Melbourne skyline.
When I got to Melbourne, it was pouring. The next day, I was unsure if I’d need sunglasses or an umbrella. Turns out I needed both. At the same time. During my visit to the Old Melbourne Gaol, the sun was shining. It was also raining. This sort of nonsense continued for the duration of my time in the city. Congratulations, Melbourne, for making St. Louis weather look sane.