Melbourne ~ A Memorable Trip

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Travel Features >> Melbourne ~ A Memorable Trip

Melbourne ~ A Memorable Trip

March 14, 2012

An old pal of mine says the Yarra River looks nicest at night, when you can’t see all the mud. But he admits that the stream isn’t too bad during the day either- as long as you plonk a clothespin onto your nose. “This city isn’t called `Smell-bourne’ for nothing”.

Well, maybe my friend’s prejudiced. He’s a Ballarat boy, and people from Ballarat tend to think no place is better than Ballarat. But, really- jokes apart. Melbourne is not smelly. And the Yarra, even though it’s muddy, is actually a rather nice river. Melbourne’s a rather nice city. Period.
Addictive, even. I’ve spent a few days here, and I, like thousands of tourists, never want to leave. Which can be an expensive proposition; Melbourne isn’t frightfully cheap!

There are lovely gardens along the Yarra- after all, the tourist brochures call Victoria `the Garden State’, and around this time is when the gardens are at their best. September 1 is `First day of Spring’, and the Royal Botanic Gardens are already ablaze with azaleas, wattle, flowering peach and tulips. Grab a sandwich and a can of beer, watch the black swans floating on the Gardens’ pond, and get a taste of paradise…

When you’ve finished your beer and had your fill of flowers and swans, walk along to the Shrine of Remembrance- Melbourne’s very own memorial to the unknown soldier of World War I. The Shrine’s an imposing sandstone structure, set atop a hillock, and you walk through the main gate to enter a hall which has a single aperture in the roof. Through this, a single ray of light shines, only on November 11, at 11 am every year, to light up an inscription on the floor: “Greater love hath no man”. November 11, for those who missed the significance, is the anniversary of the Armistice; and the complete verse reads: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”.

It’s rather touching, even if you aren’t Aussie. For the benefit of tourists who can’t make it on November 11, a ray of artificial light does a dry run every day at 11 am.

I take my time around the Shrine, then walk through the rest of the city- down Princes’ Bridge, through China Town, with its unmistakably Oriental air; through the vast, hangar-like hall of Victoria Market; through the wonderfully old-fashioned Banana Alley Vaults. The vaults, on the bank of the Yarra, were once used to store ripening bananas which had been shipped down from Queensland; today they’re minus the fruit, but the shops here are interesting enough. I meander down the street, admiring a prettily crafted silver koala pendant in one shop, a large oil painting of the Outback in another.

The next day’s a beautifully sunny one, which- and this is so exasperatingly common in Melbourne- swiftly turns into a drizzly, drippy one. I haul on a raincoat, grab an umbrella and take a bus out to the Wildlife Sanctuary at Healesville. After exulting over some oh-so-cute kangaroos and a gray-bottomed koala high up a gum tree, I trudge through the dense forest back to the main road. On the way back to town, I stop over at Lillydale, where the prima donna Dame Nelly Melba lived. (Trivia fans: her stage name- Melba- was derived from Melbourne itself). Nelly Melba’s crisp white villa lies down a long gravel drive, shielded by towering wrought iron gates which are not opened for the average tourist. But the Melba Museum in Lillydale, with its Melba memorabilia- opera dresses, recordings, photographs and letters- is good compensation. I’m not an opera buff, but the trip’s been worth every dollar I’ve spent.

It’s getting late and I’ve to get back to Melbourne- but before I do that, I go up to the top of Dandenong, the nearest of the Blue Mountain Ranges. More by chance than by design, I reach Dandenong at sunset, when nightfall turns Melbourne into a shimmering sea of lights. Melbourne harbour, beyond the city, adds its own lights to the panorama. It’s gorgeous; the setting sun as a background, the city lights in the foreground. And the Yarra, sparkling, romantic- and too dark to look muddy.

This, feel many, is the best view there is of Melbourne. Other diehard fans of the Garden City- including my pal- have an alternative to offer: the men’s toilet on the 35th floor of the Regent Hotel. The view, say those who’ve been in this celebrated lavatory, is stupendous. Ladies: the women’s is right next door, and photos taken from either of the two toilets are exactly the same. So much for the men’s.

But on one point few disagree: that Melbourne’s a lovely city. A warm, friendly city- a completely Aussie city. As the locals would say- this is it, mate. This is where it’s at.

~This article has been contributed by Madhulika Liddle

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