I have become a traitor, an unfaithful lover, if you will, for I have fallen for another – another with charms equal to, if not greater than, one of my dearest loves, New York City.
My new love?
Melbourne (pronounce that mel-ban), Australia.
Our short day in port (during a recent 14-day Celebrity Mercury cruise of New Zealand and Australia) was almost criminal when we saw what this bustling city had to offer, and that’s besides the fact it was hosting the Australian Open Tennis Championships.
From its gardens, to its museums, to its handsome old architecture, including the old Melbourne Gaol (jail), it became clear that a mere 7 hours in this city was just…silly. And that a return trip was most definitely in order.
But in the meantime, we had to make the most of our time, and decide wisely. Here’s how we spent our few hours in Melbourne, Australia.
After docking relatively early in Port Melbourne, our ship and its passengers had to endure two hours of Australian customs clearance. This included a 20-minute walk through customs complete with a cute little bag-sniffing beagle dog (NO foreign foods are allowed into Australia) and this enthusiastic little fellow will find you out! Even two days AFTER you have had fruit in your bag, as a fellow passenger discovered.
Once through the bag-checking and passport-checking gamut, we bought a “day-use” tram ticket, walked for about 5 minutes, and then boarded a spiffy high-tech tram headed for the heart of Melbourne. The trams have very few seats, but are fitted with many overhead hooks (I suspect the average Australian is much taller than the rest of us, because I ended up swinging like a chimp).
We had no clue where we were going, or where we should get off, so we tried questioning the locals. Our first encounter, with a lovely college-aged lady, was a huge hint at what was to come; the Melbournians are amazingly friendly and helpful people. (Wait till I tell you what our sightseeing tour bus driver did!) The young lady told us which stop to get off at, and which way to walk in order to find the Melbourne Visitor Information Centre. She even came back to us before she left the tram to ensure we knew to get off at the next stop.
And that’s exactly what we did. I was stunned by the sights I saw as I alit from the tram: the crowds, the traffic, the buildings, the bustle – why, it looked just like New York City. My heart beat quicker because I love all the noise and the hustle of the Big Apple. And so my alienation of affections began.
We marched up Swanston Street and arrived at Federation Square, just across the street from Flinders Street Station (what a gorgeous old building in its rich butterscotch hues!). We found the information centre, and were amazed by the expert set-up. This metropolis is so used to dealing with tourists that it has a high-tech help system in place; you actually have to take a number to get assistance. I’m serious. But the place is so well laid out, with brochures catalogued under a variety of titles from tours to theatre, that it was easy to help ourselves. And so we did.
Now the hard part was making a decision on what to do in our quickly diminishing allotment of shore leave. We sat down outside in intense bright sunshine to peruse the tour booklets; a street performer was just starting his show; an official Australian Open souvenir booth to our left was doing a brisk business (I now have a stuffed kangaroo wearing a jersey as my memento). Our eyes adjusted to the brightness, and we began to read.
My husband had earlier indicated an interest in the Old Melbourne Gaol, and so we located that on a map. Okay, now how to get there? We studied a couple of tourist shuttle buses like the Melbourne City Circle Tram, and the city’s FREE Tourist Shuttle, both of which can be caught just across the street from the Info centre, and both of which would get us to the gaol. We opted for the free shuttle which ran every ½ hour.
(Something really cool about Melbourne that I haven’t seen in New York City is the city’s “greeter” service. These helpful “city ambassadors,” identified by their red tunics, were all over the place. And, as we discovered, they didn’t just point you in the right direction; they were prepared to walk you there. That’s how we found the toilets in Federation Square. Thanks Melbourne!)
We boarded the tourist shuttle at Stop #2, took the full circle trip, and then advised the bus driver we had designs on the old gaol. He confirmed that Stop #4 would get us there. Now here is the story about the driver.
The gray-haired fellow (his name was Lance) called our stop. We left via the back door and stood for a moment trying to get our bearings. We must have looked confused (we were) because the bus stopped, the driver jumped off, ran up to us, and gave us detailed directions on how to get to the gaol. Now I ask you…how many bus drivers in your city would do that? We stood with our mouths open, both stunned and delighted. And then we headed down the hill to the gaol.
The old Melbourne Gaol is a must-see adventure; I promise. It is not for the faint-of-heart, but it is an experience you’ll long remember. Especially if you take the tour where YOU are booked and thrown into a cell, like a common prisoner. Really! But that’s for a future blog.
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Yes, Melbourne, Australia has not seen the last of me. Now if I can just gear myself up again for that 14-hour plane ride. Oh heck, of course I can. I simply must see the Melbourne Werribee Open Range Zoo, the Healesville Sanctuary, the Great Ocean Road, the Witches in Britches theatre, the Queen Victoria Market, the…
New York City will just have to wait.
If you’d like to book tours or attractions tickets in Melbourne, Australia ahead of time, try Best of Victoria.