My journey to Australia was not planned till October ‘13 until I got a heartfelt invite from my cousin brother, staying at Melbourne, to pay him a visit during Christmas and New Year break. His genuine call was accepted after little dilemmas and I started planning for this exciting trip to Down under. December month at offices is usually hectic due to projects closure for yearend billing; however excitement of visiting a new place during New Year holidays was far more stimulating and overpowering… I started to visualize about the excitement and fun I was going to have while exploring another iconic city through my camera and sharing some interesting facts and real time moments with you. What was even more exciting was the very thought of spending time with my near and dear ones while getting a chance to browse yet another interesting city.
So far I was under the impression that Australia is just a Land of Kangaroos, Aborigines, Sydney Harbor Bridge, Gold coast and Melbourne Cricket ground (popularly known as MCG). However delving deeper into the facts about Melbourne, I slowly started getting an impression of a city which is a quirky mix of Restaurants, cafes, Urban Art, theatres, shopping arcades, Nature trails and sports enclaves beautifully complimenting each other.
With some pre-conceived images and impressions about this new city I embarked on a fun-filled journey to Melbourne on Dec 24th night from New Delhi. I preferred to fly Singapore Airlines connecting flight with a brief stopover at Singapore. My journey from New Delhi to Melbourne was little over 20 hours. Flight was comfortable and I finally landed at Melbourne’s, Tullamarine International airport safe and sound at 9 PM. My cousin brother was there to receive me at the airport… and there I was cruising on Melbourne roads in his SUV with local Radio channel belting out some peppy numbers… this was enough to set me in tune to this new place. Slowly it started getting dark and city started wearing a shimmering look, decked up with Christmas and New Year decorations all around streets and shops.
My cousin brother decided to drive me through the CBD so that I could get first-hand impression about the city which I was going to explore for new 10 days. He started guiding me while driving and I was looking around city’s well laid out streets with Trams running across. Melbourne Streets were bustling with people, street decors and decorative street lighting. And I could easily smell the Festive season excitement at every corner. It was wonderful welcome… and I could sense the excitement and quaint appeal that was going to unfold before my eyes the next day… after this brief stint at Melbourne’s CBD we took a freeway to our destination at Pakenham (a satellite suburban town south-east of Melbourne’s CBD). This town was going to be my temporary abode during this trip. After almost an hour drive we reached home and by this time I was all tired and all I now wanted a sound sleep. After having a sumptuous Indian dinner I was soon on my bed to catch up much-awaited sleep. With zero stress and high spirits I had a sound sleep and I woke up bright and early the next day ready to explore Melbourne.
I started getting ready for Boxing Day sale outing with my cousin and his family. I was curious to know what was so exciting and significant about this day which falls just next day to Christmas. My cousin narrated few interesting facts about Boxing Day Sale.
Boxing Day is observed across various Commonwealth nations around the globe. It is a public holiday and people rush to stores and shops to avail mega discounts and attractive bargain offers. This is a Golden period for Shop owners and stores to do brisk business. Exact etymology of this term is still unclear and there are many theories around this; however as popular legends goes, traditionally on December 26th servants and workers received gifts from their employers and bosses in form of Christmas Box. Really can’t say about historical background of this course. What I can definitely share is that it was quite exciting is to see the mass hysteria behind this quite an eventful day.
People wait for hours outside the mega stores since early morning to get early bird discount coupons and lucky prizes. We browsed through few stores and could really experience this shopping mania first-hand. Our entire day was spent browsing across few stores. Most of the parkings were full, as if entire city was out to shop… I also picked up few goodies for my friends and relatives, however most of my time was spent doing window shopping and watching people and windows displays. Popular stores in Melbourne like Target, Coles, JB HI-Fi, Westfield, Dick Smith and Harvey Norman were flocked with shoppers hunting for bargains and exciting discounts. I could see people carrying shopping bags in both their hands and still looking around to shop more… overall my first day was quite exciting and evening started with news channels airing some of the interesting news on Boxing Day sales. People waiting in queues outside popular stores and marts since early morning and mad rush at MCG Boxing Day Cricket test match between Australia and England were the main highlights. Overall it was my fun-filled energetic day to start with.
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Boxing Day in Melbourne is also famous as it marks the beginning of the event ‘Friends, Foes and Superheroes’, organized by Sand Sculpting Australia’. The event, which takes place every year, will be held at the Frankston Waterfront for four months starting from December 26- a day after Christmas. The waterfront will be transformed from a regular sandy area to a striking example of what man’s imagination can achieve, even with something as commonplace as sand. 3500 tonnes of sand will be used to carve animation characters from Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars. Timeless characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Disney Princesses like Elsa who are very popular with little girls, and well-liked characters from movies like Toy Story, Spider Man, Incredible Hulk will also be carved by famous international sand sculptors. If interested, your little one too can attend sand sculpting workshops by experts. All in all, a very fun way to welcome the approaching new year.
Flinders Street’s station: City’s main train hub
I stated early the next day and was charged up to embark on a journey to explore city’s CBD (Central Business district) which houses most of the Places of Interest. I took a train from Pakenham to Flinders street station. After almost an hour’s journey by train I reached Flinders street station which serves as City’s main train hub where Metro’s suburban trains from all parts of Victoria State reach here. This station also serves V/Line regional service to Gippsland.
This is a heritage listed building with rich Victorian Architecture wearing an old-world charm on its sleeve. With it artistic dome, arched entrance with row of clocks, and exquisitely decorated façade this building is quite famous, widely recognizable, and has been a source of inspiration for quite a few souvenir items.
Flinders street is a popular meeting point for Melburnians and hence the starting point for famous phrase “Meet me under the clocks’ or ‘Meet me on the steps’. There is row of clocks at the main entrance which displays the departure time for each train on each line. This is one of the busiest stations in the Metropolitan Rail Network and one of the oldest railway stations in an Australian city built in 1909.
Melbourne Visitor Centre: Victoria State’s reception
Melbourne Visitor Centre (MVC) at federation square corner facing Flinders street station is like a one-stop-shop for tourists visiting this vibrant city offering all kinds of tourist-related information on Melbourne and Victoria State.
My recommendation for all the visitors visiting Melbourne or Victoria State is to make MVC as their first stop. This Centre offers all necessary information and valuable assistance related to places of interest, public transportation, year-long city events, hotel accommodation and tour bookings under one roof. You can get access to free collection of travel maps, numerous brochures and other travel related material under one roof all free of cost, some of them are indeed collector’s items. This artistic building is made out of glass and aluminum structure and beautifully gels with the surroundings of the Federation square.
At the entrance of this building at ground level, you get to see a detailed listing of city events spread across the year… especially I like the visually-rich display.
As you go downstairs, there is a large hall with beautifully illuminated backlit walls and pillars displaying images of Victoria’s tourist attractions and informations kiosks. You can pick up free brochures, maps and handy guide books of your choice from the stands. MVC staff and volunteers in red and black color uniform wear a warm and friendly smile and ready to assist you in best possible manner. I was quite impressed by the way I was rendered useful and necessary information about Melbourne city to cover maximum places of tourist interest in a span of few days. From a ticket kiosk at the entrance, pick your service ticket number and wait for your turn to be served by a MVC staff member. At one corner of this huge hall is a Gifts and souvenir shop which has some really interesting offerings which you may want to carry with you as a token of remembrance.
While walking across the city if you still feel a need for some information, city ambassadors dressed in distinctive red and black uniform are there to provide you with the required information at prominent street junctures and vantage points. There is another street side Visitor booth at Bourke Street Mall providing necessary information and guidance.
Brimming with required knowhow… there I was all geared up and confident enough to start browsing through the city!
Melbourne Public Transportation: Trams, Buses, Bikes and Trains
Public Transportation is the lifeline of every major tourist city of the world and Melbourne too has its active share. Melbourne to me is a Tram city at first glance with its share of numerous colorful trams running across the city’s Central Business Districts and some suburbs in their dedicated tramways. Some of them are like mobile billboards, beautifully splattered with eye-catching messages.
Melbourne has world’s largest tram network with over 500 trams on almost 28 routes plying on 245 Kms of track. Melbourne is served by PTV (Public Transport Victoria) integrating Trams, Buses and Trains services. With over 300 bus routes and train services covering 16 lines serve entire Melbourne Metropolitan and suburban areas. Heritage Trams operate on free City Circle route and are usually brown and green in color. City Circle tram is usually very popular amongst tourists not only because they offer free ride, but also due to its engaging commentary divulging necessary information about city laneways, tourist attractions and other places of general interest.
Myki and Met card is used as a part of Integrated Public Transport Ticketing system which could be used on Suburban and Metropolitan bus, train and tram services.
Metro Train Networks, operated by Metro Trains Melbourne is an extensive suburban train network comprising of 16 lines forming a part of Metlink network. Several section of this network is also served by V/Line services which is a part of intrastate rail network. These trains are usually faster and have few stopovers in comparison to Metro trains. You can visit Melbourne Railways site for detailed information about routes, fares and timetable.
Melbourne Taxi fleet primarily consists of Canary Yellow Cabs which can easily be located at any city road. There are around 3774 licensed taxis in the city. The ones which can operate in peak hours, at night and on special occasions sport a green color top and are easily recognizable. Taxis are easily accessible at all major locations across the CBD area and can be booked over phone or through their website also.
Melbourne has extensive Bicycle sharing system with dedicated lanes and paths on the city roads. Melburnians use Bikes for both re-creational and commuting purpose. There are several Bike docking stations around strategic locations across the metropolitan area.
Melbourne has an extensive share of Freeways which is largest of any Australian city. People living outside the metropolitan city limit are mainly car-dependent and as a result Freeways are extensively used and often full to limit during morning and evening rush hours. It is fun while driving on any of Melbourne’s freeways… not to mention the exotic countryside which you may not want to miss while driving.
In case if you want to explore CBD with Royal pomp and show, then horse drawn open carriages are waiting for you at prominent street corners. Just hop on one of them and enjoy a memorable trip reminiscent of bygone colonial era.
Federation Square — City’s cultural hub and meeting point
At the Swanston and Flinders street junction is Victoria’s most popular cultural hub namely ‘Federation square’ which is undisputedly city’s prominent meeting point. Here visitors can enjoy live shows, simply wine or dine in style, relish art, enjoy promotional roadshows, witness protest, or can simply catch up with latest action happening around while relaxing on free deck chairs provided at the venue.
I can share from my personal experience; there is something about Melbourne air which keeps every visitor glued to its array of precincts. Once can feel the exuberance and pulse of this city through this iconic landmark right at the middle of the city and reminds you of Times Square at New York… here you can meet or interact with visitors from all across the globe… a must have on every tourist’s itinerary.
Federation or Fed square as it is popularly known is famous for Art Center, stylish cafes, Large TV screen and bars. It houses MCV, ACMI (Australian Centre for Moving images), NGV Australia’s Ian Potter Centre of Art, and SBS. The innovative and distinctive Architectural brilliance gives unique sheen to this popular spot comprising of glass, zinc and sandstone tiles over a metallic frames giving the entire building an impressive geometrical patterned look comprising of scalene triangles.
Federation square is also the starting point of numerous city tours by buses or on foot. You can check for more information by visiting MCV (Melbourne Visitor Centre). The best part about this place which everybody would love to have is free Wi-Fi access throughout this complex. Infact numerous hotspots across the CBD have free Wi-Fi access points. You can always stay connected with your near and dear ones while browsing through this lively spot and share some real-time experience…!
Melbourne Streets, Arcades, Alleys and Laneways—rich cultural milieu
Melbourne CBD houses numerous crisscrossing streets, laneways and alleyways which treasure an enduring world of High-fashion stores, Cafes, bars, theaters, cinemas, rooftop pubs, restaurants and rich hidden world of street art. Melburnians love to eat shop, drink and relish art which is quite evident from the myriad of such precincts that exist across the streets and laneways.
From local fashion labels to world’s best fashion brands, Melbourne has it all. High-end boutique stores to glitzy heritage shopping arcades houses rich collection of fashion accessories, clothes, shoes, handbags, jewellery and much more… just keep your credit cards ready and there you go on never-ending shopping spree.
Bourke Street Mall, Little Collins Street, Collins Street, Swanston Street, Lonsdale Street, Queens Street, Southbank Promenade collectively form a mecca for shopaholics and gourmands alike. ‘Australia on Collins’, a Cosmopolitan Mall is ready to cater to your fashion, food, gifts, household and healthcare needs all under one roof. Located between Collins and Little Collins Street, this art deco style retail hub houses some of the best local brands including leading Crafts retailer Lincraft, Country Road, Nine West and The Chocolate Box. Food court serves Thai, Mexican, continental and Chinese cuisines in stylish food court and restaurants.
If you just had enough of this Mall and want to explore further, next head towards famous Victorian-era ‘The Block Arcade’ connecting Collins Street to Elizabeth and Little Collins Streets. Built in late 18th century, this Arcade embodies rich Victorian architecture which could be witnessed in its Mosaic tiled flooring, wrought iron artistic grills and panels, Artistic roof decors, Glass canopy, and exquisite stone carvings.
This Arcade emulates ‘Milan’s grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele’ as it was designed on similar lines. Just at the entrance one can’t miss the ‘Hopetoun Tea Rooms’. Rich window displays featuring mouthwatering cakes, sandwiches, and pancakes can challenge anybody’s taste buds. If you had enough of tea, you can enjoy Haigh’s chocolates or drop to shop at Crabtree or Royal Selangor… there are numerous such high-chic options. We’ll I had to declare this Arcade as more of a Photographer’s delights then a shopper’s Fantasy… you can check this out for yourself.
If you had enough of Blocking and your shopping bags are full to their limit… sit back, relax at adjoining Block Place or Degraves Street near Flinders street, Centre Place or Hardware lane. These places have their own share of Alfresco Cafes, coffee shops, Discotheques and bars.
Grab a quick bite of fresh sandwich, cakes, croissants, donuts or pamper yourself with brewing coffee at an espresso bar or a healthy fresh glass of juice or just simply sit and relax at one of the road sittings and catch up with latest news or current events or just catch a view of passing by throngs…. It’s a perfect café society culture for you. Melbourne is quite serious amongst other things with its Café society culture and it is evident in clusters of them spread across length and breadth of city laneways.
Degraves and Block Place which were ones dark, dingy carts and porters rear access points for main street buildings had now been reclaimed and converted to classy coffee streets providing a distinct character to it. These streets are narrow pedestrian laneways and brews with rich café culture of its own… there are hidden treasure in form of street arts work which you should not miss which sipping your Cappuccino.
After fulfilling your gastronomic needs and chilling out if you still yearn for some serious shopping then there is myriad of High-fashion, Glitzy stores waiting for your purse strings to loosen further. The Elegant Royal Arcade across Little Collins street is Australia’s oldest Shopping Arcade with its Heady selection of Jewellery.
Fashion Accessories, clothes, gifts, chocolates among other items… you may just want to browse through Vantage stores like Canturi, Hunter Gatherer, Habbot shoes, Babushkas and many others… tucked between Bourke’s Street Mall, Little Collins and Elizabeth Street this Arcade carries a distinct flavor of Bygone rich Victorian-era architecture since 1869.
The Famous Gog and Magog (The two legendary Giants of ancient Britons) at the entrance have struck the hour since 1892. Do not miss them and capture them in your camera forever.
Bourke Street Mall is a heart of Melbourne’s retail with Glitzy Myer and David Jones competing with each other for best in fashion. Both these stores are icons of Australian Retail. The Seven storeys high Myer looms large over the Bourke Street Mall and offers a range of classy Men, Women and Children’s wear, shoes, handbags, accessories, home ware and Apple store with its latest Mac offerings. David Jones too has its share of ultra-luxurious offerings; it is worth visiting such elegant places and filling your Shopping bags while feasting your eyes.
Taking a further stroll on Bourke street mall, fashion vistas like ZARA, GPO, Adidas Shop, and Sportsgirl charms you with their latest offerings.
GPO houses some of the biggest names in Australian fashion and accessories. Even today GPO is used to measure distances from Melbourne… this is the Centre of the city. One can feast the eyes with its rich Victorian Architecture and fascinating stone façade while browsing through its retail outlets.
Melbourne Central located at Swanston and La Trobe streets is another example of iconic shopping and dining experience in Melbourne’s CBD. With its 300 retail outlets spread across five levels, this Shopping Centre offers a classy range of Local and International Fashion Labels, footwear, accessories, cosmetics and Jewellery. Located conveniently on free City circle tram route and atop Melbourne Central Metro station. This Centre boasts of a Heritage Brick Shot Tower which stands proudly at its original place since 1888, when it was originally a part of Historic Bullet making facility namely Coops Shot tower, preserved by Iconic Glass cone, this shopping center has become another popular icon of Melbourne.
Melbourne Central is unique in its own terms is that it offers Bean Bag cinema experience with the comfort of Deluxe Bean bags for its cinema connoisseurs.
Heading towards south towards Yarra river banks near Melbourne Art Centre starts yet another world of Luxe fashion labels, High-end Restaurants and cafes… this is Waterfront Precinct for you. Feast your eyes with stunning views of city’s tall skyscrapers while getting indulged in your shopping or dinning sprees at some classy riverside malls. Southgate Complex is a prominent mall in this area offering range of High-end Vintage fashion, jewellery, shoes, homeware and much more… You can also visit South Wharf for more Waterfront shopping.
Melbourne Street acts—Real-time entertainment…!
If Trendy arcades, artistic laneways, Victorian architecture, trams, cafes, bars and pubs are lifelines of Melbourne city…then lively street performances are its soul. Multi-talented performances either in groups or solo perform right in front of you at prominent locations throughout the CBD. Visitors enjoy these performances as much as performers do while performing them.
Be it a solo glass ball balancing act, a stand-up comedy show, rock band performance, magic tricks, free stress test or live sketching sessions…Melbourne streets have it all. Last time I witnessed this was during my trip to London…However I find Melbourne scoring more on this front with its wide variety of Buskers.
Busking is a serious business in Melbourne and these performers are well organized under Busker’s Guidelines drafted by State council. These people generally perform for donations…It is up to you if you may want to offer them some donation or simply enjoy and move to the next one. Just give it a try, am sure you will enjoy it as much I did.Published On: Wednesday, May 7th, 2014