I must say that I was super happy there- it was just the perfect dose of home, but WAY mellower, perhaps more of a West Coast feel? I thoroughly enjoyed myself and all the city things I got to do--- eat, drink, museums and movies. See, just like home!
It all started off with a bus loop around the city to peruse the sights and then a late lunch of cured meats, cheeses and micro brew along the water in the Docklands on the most glorious day. I feared Asia had made me lactose intolerant, but fear not I have battled through- bring on the cheese! ;-)
That evening I found Carlton, Melbourne's Little Italy and University area, lined with all sorts of restaurants, bars and the Nova Cinema. Yes, an art house movie theater where I saw "The Social Network" (review: thumbs up) interrupted by a fire alarm-- that is a first, I have never been to a movie theater than had to be evacuated (just a 30 minute delay until the fire brigade arrived).
The weather was a little temperamental, but I did enjoy a lovely lunch of pumpkin and beet pizza along the Yarra River before scampering in the rain to the National Gallery of Victoria, International. As the name suggests, this museum houses Australia's finest collection of international art. The art was so-so, but the building was really impressive. I loved the glass entrance with water cascading down in front of cool sculpture. The unusual part was how friendly the security personnel was. I had a LONG chat with one who showed me a cool feature of a modern piece and then explained how I could get Aussie citizenship. Another guard pointed out some 18th C. paintings where the eyes, shoes, floor played tricks on the eye. It was a nice bonus!
Since I was in a wine producing country I HAD to visit some vineyards in Australia, even if they aren't the most acclaimed. I tasted some tasty wine in the Yarra Valley, east of Melbourne. This is the area that experienced "Black Saturday", the devastating bush fires of February 2009. One winery had pictures of the area during the blaze when a 30ft. high wall of fire came meters from their property (they believe they were saved by their underground irrigation system- crazy stuff!)
I did browse the goods for sale at the Queen Victoria Market, which sells everything from food to your standard tourist goods. I enjoyed this market more than most since it appeared that real locals actually shop here, plus they had a bakery that sold pretzels and red gummy frogs (like our red gummy fish, but frogs!)
Federation Square, along the Yarra River, has become a meeting place for locals and tourists surrounded by museums and theaters. Opened in 2002, The NGV Ian Potter Centre is on the Square, dedicated to Australian art. I enjoyed this collection more than the International collection, including the gallery of Aboriginal art. I took one of the collection tours, per the advise of one of those helpful guards at the National Gallery, which shed some light on a few Australian artists (even if a little long winded).
Even though Melbourne's Christmas tree was totally lame, they did amuse me with some of their other decorations- gotta love that Aussie sense of humor!
I didn't think I had much interest in going to Australia, but I LOVED Melbourne. It may be the first place I visited that I really felt I could live.
Maybe next time I will actually make it to Sydney? Or better yet, a return trip for the Australian Open!