What we planned:
We put wraps on this leg of the trip with a stage play at 8pm. The sunlit hours are free to see any remaining spectacles of the city, or none at all if we so wish. “This is our time!”
What we saw and did:
Breakfast wasn’t included in this hotel package, so the day’s first adventure was to locate a “hidden secret” revealed on Day 4. Attracted by the name, our exploration sought the brekky establishment (stole that word from a past Australian traveler) with the moniker “Captains of Industry,” title of a song written and performed only by the Raleigh band of our ophthalmologist – true story for another time.
We added funds to our tram passes, boarded near our hotel, transferred to a second tram, reached the search site, and set out on foot to make our find. A few minutes later we just were not sure of ourselves, and one of us decided that seeking directions might be warranted (application of gender stereotypes to this situation is completely fair). Viola! In front of us, on the sidewalk, was a booth staffed by volunteers known as Melbourne Ambassadors. To our surprise, or actually “shock,” the white-haired woman took perhaps all of five seconds to recollect the location of “Captains.” She drew on a map for us, provided another map we requested, and sent us successfully on our way.
This restaurant came with the name, a limited but entirely adequate menu, the kitsch of tables that were unaltered antique Singer sewing machine platforms owing their history to the former use of the building, and lastly, a view. That final element was not a sunrise view (far too late for that) but a second-floor observation point to the street below with the hottest new sight in Melbourne: the Grand Opening of the first store in Australia for low-price fashion retailer H&M, of Europe, New York, and Raleigh.
Is it big deal to open H&M in Aussie-land? Lines to enter the store snaked around the block last week and this week. Yep: big deal. There’s competition afoot, too, and not just from the array of Australians aspiring to design for the Aussie population. While H&M was a fun discovery for us while shopping in New York City about 10 years ago, another beauty scaled above it to get Doug’s attention in 2012 (he’s the oft-determined shopper in the family – gender stereotype hereby broken). A prominent Manhattan store from same-vein retailer Uniqlo opened that year in The Big Apple. We shopped that Uniqlo’s grand opening on a visit to NYC. Now, this week we find ourselves down under and, sure enough, not more than a block from H&M, a Uniqlo opened this week in Melbourne on the heels of H&M by the calendar and by the city block. Is it sad that we didn’t find time to explore either store? Heck, no, because NYC is “back home” to feed our occasional fetish.
It was time to get past breakfast that day and in this story. We mixed some walking into our tram rides, visiting a candy shop, bread shop, Chinatown Melbourne, the post office for postcard stamps (man cannot live by blog alone), and then a museum of art.
The Ian Potter Art Center was a nice respite from the bustle of the city streets and shops. It is housed in an ultra-modern gulp of architecture that contrasts sharply with the iconic train station a block distant that we visited in our Day 4 tour. It quietly presents – for free, nonetheless – a diverse selection of paintings, sculpture, photography, and aboriginal artworks. We enjoyed about an hour there, or maybe a bit more.
Hopping another tram (no kangaroo pun intended) we swaggered (no penguin pun intended) to a place that could satiate our lunch needs before they became unbearable (no koala pun appropriate, since it is not technically a bear).
With bread already in hand from one of today’s stops, we found an interesting cheese shop in the basement of a tiny but very busy grocer. Using a British and Aussie term for “picked up,” we “collected” a Quickes English cheddar, an unholy Swiss cheese, and two Australian delights: Red Sensation pear plus a Gala apple. Fruit selections meant taking advantage of the fall harvest season around the state of Victoria – good timing. Lunch was self-served on a rock in a park, and it was terrific.
The available hours were going to disappear soon. There were two particular sights to see if we could. One tram ride took us from lunch to the Immigration Museum of Melbourne. There we found some of the unique cultural history of the city, the state of Victoria, and the country as a whole. We also found some parallels with the United States, another nation of immigrants. One explicitly declares that “all men are created equal.” Both have had historical struggles with their manner of treating people indigenous to the turf as well as the varied immigrants that grew to become the base of the populace. It was interesting to have these similarities surface.
Yet another tram rumbled directly past our hotel and dropped us at the Shrine of Remembrance for all Australian soldiers that served in foreign wars. On April 25 of each year (a week away) there are large celebrations across the country to remember them, akin to Memorial Day in the U.S.A., of course. There are nice views from atop this fortress with the unmistakable connotation of strength, and this message on the western wall outside:
- “LET ALL MEN KNOW THAT THIS IS HOLY GROUND. THIS SHRINE ESTABLISHED IN THE HEARTS OF MEN AS ON THE SOLID EARTH COMMEMORATES A PEOPLE’S FORTITUDE AND SACRIFICE. YE THEREFORE THAT COME AFTER GIVE REMEMBRANCE.”
We sMARTly reversed the direction of our most recent TRAM and were back at our hotel. Rest, a change of clothes, and a bite of dinner on the banks of the Yarra River left only our play to put a cap on Melbourne.
There was some sly trepidation about the play. Would we be able to follow the accented dialogue? Would we grasp their colloquial storytelling? The latter was likely, being Doug is already somewhat of a fan of Australian movies, which often feature a story woven with terrific character development. The former fear regarding dialogue increased when we read in the theater lobby that the famous Aussie actress in the lead role was portraying an older Hungarian woman. Oh, an Australian-Hungarian accent might be the end of us!
“No worries.” The play, “Neighbourhood Watch” was interesting, well-acted, and understood by all. That lead actress is a legend named Robyn Nevin, and made me wonder if she was Australia’s Betty White.
Leaving as we had arrived, a taxi returned us to the hotel to pack and prep for the next day’s early departure from the city that had extended such a nice greeting for our Australian entry.
We missed a few things on the list of sights for a Melbourne visitor, but we can live with our choices despite the absence of seeing:
- Queen Victoria Market
- Phillip’s Island and its penguins
G’day Melbourne, times four.