Saturday, 4 February 2012

Aussie, aussie, aussie,

The next stop on our tour Down Under is Melbourne in Australia, which was an 8 hour flight from Singapore to Tullamarine Airport. At a glance Melbourne has bags of character and we're currently staying in the trendy suburb of South Yarra, which is noted for shopping, fashion and entertainment.

At first I was little apprehensive about the thought of going to Melbourne, especially after feeling quite settled and having a really good time in Singapore. Another reason was that me and Lizzie both really enjoyed Brisbane and Sydney when we did our original trip, but we had heard a lot of good things about Melbourne so I didn't want it to fail to live up to expectations.

View from Flinders Street Station with St Paul's Cathedral in the background
Our first couple of days have been spent getting ourselves orientated and working out the slightly confusing transport network of trains, trams and buses. Taking a trip into city centre via the Flinders Street Station (an impressive 100 year old Victorian train station), we were greeted by a vibrant atmosphere at Federation Square or 'Fed Square' as it's colloquially known as. On the main performance stage were a band called Clairy Browne and the Bangin' Rackettes who drew in a reasonable crowd playing doo-wap and ska music. 

Federation Square

After stopping for a little listen we then headed over to the Yarra River for a walk down towards Richmond, it reminded me quite a lot of a European city, especially with the trees and rowing boat houses lining the bank of the river, and the racing boat teams practicing in the cool evening, as well as the nearby trams ferrying commuters towards the suburbs. 
Stretch of the Yarra River

We walked until we reached Birrarung Marr, which is park designed to celebrate the diversity of Victoria's indigenous culture. Its name comes from the language of the Wurundjeri people who originally inhabited the area, 'Birrarung' means 'river of mists' while ‘Marr’ refers to the side of the river.

Birrarung Marr with the MCG in the background

On our first full day in Melbourne we spent pretty much the entire day at the Australian Open on Australia Day. This was a far better way to spend Australia Day than when we were in Cairns on our last trip, where some of the locals took quite a backwards attitude to the indigenous protest of "invasion day". Although Australia Day still courts some controversy, there were no problems in Melbourne (unlike what took place in Canberra with the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard), however, you have to admire the sense of pride Australians have in their country - it's the shame the same can't be said for St. George's Day in England!

Purchasing a ground pass for the day we were able to watch a number of games on the famous blue courts of Melbourne Park including: 

Junior Boys' Singles - Quarter-finals
Luke Saville (AUS) vs Kyle Edmund (GBR) 

Men's Doubles - Semi-finals
Leander Paes (IND)/ Radek Stepnaek (CZE) vs Max Mirinyi (BLR)/ Daniel Nestor (CAN) 

Legends' Doubles
Pat Cash (AUS)/ Goran Ivanisevic (CRO) vs Jacco Eltingh (NED)/ Paul Haarhuis (NED).

The legends' doubles match was the highlight of the day as the match was intended as a bit of banter, with Pat Cash and Goran Ivanisevic providing a bit of comic relief, plus the Aussies were keen to see one person only, Pat Cash! The only problem with sitting around watching all these matches was that we both got quite badly sunburnt despite using a sunscreen with SPF20+. Even down as far as Melbourne the sun is really intense. The last time I got sunburnt in Australia, I took my t-shirt off for 20 minutes in Cairns and lived to regret it for days afterwards!

Ivanisevic "arguing" with the umpire

Captain Australia and Pat Cash showing support for Australian nurses

We hung around for the rest of day to see the men's semi-final on the LED screens around Melbourne Park and watch Roger Federer vs Rafa Nadal. It was a typical Federer vs Nadal match, however the game was interrupted momentarily for the Australian Day firework celebrations - apparently this happens every year but we had a great view. 

In a completely unrelated incident that took place on the way back to our hostel, some teenage girl tried to throw herself in front of a train. She got onto the tracks to prove a point to someone on the phone, fortunately, the train driver had spotted her before he pulled into the station but it could have been much worse if the train wasn't stopping...

On a more upbeat note, we ate at the renowned Fiesta Mexican restaurant in South Yarra (literally on the door step of our hostel). It's a popular haunt for famous tennis players in the Australian Open. Since Andre Agassi started the trend of visiting the restaurant, he has had a dish named in his honour - the "Agassi Burrito"! Players such as Lleyton Hewitt and his wife (formerly Rebecca Cartwright from the Aussie soap Home and Away), Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Fernando Verdasco and Linsey Davenport, amongst others have eaten there.

For our first full day exploring Melbourne we walked down to the Royal Botanic Gardens on the outskirts of South Yarra. Apparently, the gardens are widely regarded as the finest botanical gardens in Australia and it's easy to see why. One aspect I was really impressed by was "Guilfoyle’s Volcano". The volcano was built in 1876 and designed by William Guilfoyle with the aim of providing gravity-fed irrigation for the Royal Botanic Gardens. The reservoir was styled in the form of a volcanic crater, and was a striking visual feature of the Gardens. Today, the volcano has been restored to play a key part of the Royal Botanic Gardens’ water management program as well as to provide striking views of the city from the boardwalk.

Meandering through the park, we eventually reached the Shrine of Remembrance, which is a shrine to commemorate the lives lost in the Great War of 1914-1918. The shrine was designed by architects Phillip Hudson and James Wardrop who were both World War I veterans, in a classical style based on the Tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus and the Parthenon in Athens. 

It was quite a somber experience visiting the shrine as it also had a lot of information about that the events that took place in Asia and the Pacific during the Second World War. Apparently, the fall of Singapore to the Japanese was considered the greatest loss to the British Empire, and this had major implications for Australia but this is something that you're not really taught about it school in Britain. This is quite disgraceful when you consider that both Singapore and Australia were both part of the British Empire at the time.

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