Mesmerising Melbourne

I’ve never believed in filling up contest forms, for the simple reason that I feel it’s almost impossible to win among the lakhs of entries. Did you hear me say ‘almost’? Well, yes, because once in a lifetime, fate may spring a pleasant surprise on you. As it did for me! It was this fate that made me fill up a lucky draw contest form at Inox movie theatre when I went to watch the Shah Rukh Khan starrer ‘Chak De India’ in 2007. Call it karma, destiny or plain luck – I landed up being the sole winner of the contest! And the prize was an all-expense paid trip for two to Melbourne! So with great excitement, my husband and I ventured Down Under in April 2008 with a free Melbourne stay under our belt and a not-so-free trip to Sydney thrown in at our own expense.

Though Melbourne doesn’t have any iconic claim to fame, its ‘liveability’ is one of its greatest attractions. It’s a laid-back city with an endearing mix of old and new-world charm… an easy-going, yet sophisticated style. It’s not a place where you need to do something to feel you’re experiencing the city. So you needn’t wander around Melbourne just to tick off ‘must-see’ items on your list!

Yarra waterfront


Instead, stroll through one of its many beautiful parks, or wander around the immaculately preserved Victorian-era downtown, or simply linger over a cup of coffee at one of the trendy cafes along the Yarra waterfront to soak in the vibes of this city. The architecture and random sculptures, stylish restaurants and bars, funky shops and galleries, parks and quirky laneways – all exude a certain charisma that adds to Melbourne’s appeal.

Victorian-era downtown

On our first day in Melbourne, we set out to explore the city on foot, hoping to unravel its beguiling secrets. We ambled along, soaking in the Victorian feel – from the gracious homes and wide avenues, to the landscaped public gardens and roadside cafes. Burgundy-coloured trams rumbled through the streets, imparting a quaint charm to Melbourne’s urban identity. On the way, we passed Flinders Street Station; its architectural grandeur and heritage style reminded me of Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the only difference being that the former seemed cleaner and better-maintained than the latter!

Flinders Street Station

Finally, we crossed Princess Bridge to reach Southbank, the chic riverside strip nestled on the banks of the Yarra river. As I sat on the promenade, taking in the serene atmosphere, it struck me that the standard of living here was quite high and the happiness quotient even more so.

Princess Bridge

Even on a weekday, people were relaxed, confident and seemed to be enjoying life – a far cry from the stressful lives we lead back home. Some people were sailing across the river, others were jogging or riding bicycles along the promenade, while many were just hanging out by the waterfront. Then there were some coochie-cooing couples who were too engrossed in each other to notice that sea gulls were merrily picking away at their food. Well, I guess when you’re in love, nothing else matters!

Having got a taste of Melbourne’s mesmerising charm, we decided to check out its historic and culturally significant landmarks. So the next day, we boarded the free City Tourist Shuttle. Our first stop was Carlton Gardens and Royal Exhibition Building, recognised as a Unesco World Heritage site. The display of flowers, plants, garden sculptures and fountains at Carlton Gardens was truly spectacular.

Beautiful display of flowers at Carlton Gardens

Royal Exhibition Building

Fun & frolic at Carlton Gardens

We then proceeded to Queen Victoria Market (QVM), a vast and vibrant centre of trade and commerce, which is over 125 years old. The sprawling market is a curious blend of high-quality food shops (fantastic breads, cakes, cheese, wine, meat, fruit and vegetables) and stalls flaunting cheap clothes, bags, shoes and souvenirs. Seeing the bustling marketplace, my husband couldn’t help but remark that QVM was a glorified version of Mumbai’s Crawford market!

Queen Victoria Market entrance

Our next stop was William Street, the legal district of Melbourne. The Supreme Court, with its domed library, and the County Court are striking examples of the city’s grand architecture.

Supreme Court at William Street

My husband, who’s a corporate lawyer, was excited about posing for pictures in front of the Supreme Court, but pooh-poohed my suggestion of clicking his photo outside the County Court, saying it was too down-market! Well, the advocates in their starched white shirts and dapper suits looked far from down-market.

Having had enough of buildings, it was now time for some excitement. And what better place to catch some action than the Sports and Entertainment Precinct, which houses the Rod Laver Arena (home of the Australian Open) and the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Since the Aussie Open wasn’t going on currently, we were allowed to see some of the tennis courts where players were practising. We even checked out the gift shop where towels used in Australian Open 2008 were being sold at a 20% discount!

Tennis court at Rod Laver Arena

We then proceeded to take a round of the MCG, where my hubby and I took turns posing with Sir Donald Bradman’s statue. Though the actual grounds were off limits for visitors, I managed to sneak a peak from a windowpane, and I could just imagine the thundering applause of spectators reverberating throughout the MCG during a match.

Melbourne Cricket Ground

Sir Donald Bradman’s statue

My husband even dragged me for an audio tour of the National Sports Museum and Old Melbourne Cricket Club Museum, which house a fantastic array of sports heritage attractions. The curator was delighted on seeing me because he said I was one of the very few women who have visited these museums. Little did he know I had no choice!

Next on our list was the Shrine of Remembrance, a gigantic stone structure with an eternal flame, dedicated to the warriors who died fighting for their country.

Shrine of Remembrance

View from Shrine of Remembrance

We decided to round off our city tour with an artistic touch. So we headed for the vibrant precinct of Federation Square, which brings together a creative mix of attractions such as the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, NGV International, Australian Centre for the Moving Image, etc.

Australian Centre for the Moving Image

As twilight set in, we felt it was ‘high’ time for an adrenaline rush. The Skydeck on the 88th floor of Eureka Tower was just what we wanted. The awe-inspiring view from the top took our breath away – the Yarra river gently flowing along the city’s landmarks, the historic Victoria station buzzing with commuters, thousands of twinkling lights… it was truly a sight to cherish.

View from top of Eureka Tower

On our last day in Melbourne, we covered Melbourne Aquarium and China Town at breakneck speed, so as to leave us with enough time to visit Phillip Island in the evening. The highlight of our trip was the Penguin Parade at Summerland beach, one of the most popular attractions in the Southern Hemisphere. Every night at dusk, little ‘fairy’ penguins emerge from the sea to waddle up Summerland beach and make their way to their burrows. It’s a timeless ritual of nature that has been followed for thousands of years, and we were indeed lucky to witness it.

When we reached Phillip Island, we took our places on the beach along with hordes of other tourists and waited with bated breath for the first signs of motion in the sea. As darkness approached, someone cried out, “Look! Over there!” We craned our necks and strained our eyes to locate our feathered friends, but it was impossible to make out for sure – was it a head, a beak, or a tiny wing? Then there was another cry, we turned our heads, and yes, something was moving for sure. A hush of expectancy fell on the crowd. And then they came riding on the surf – wave after wave of tiny penguins emerged from the sea and accumulated in groups on the shore.

But they didn’t start waddling up the beach immediately. The penguins seemed to be consulting among themselves as to whether it was safe to enter hostile territory or not. When a sizeable number of penguins had congregated, they felt it was okay to proceed. But no sooner did they start walking up the beach, than one of them panicked and dived back into the water. And the entire group jumped right back after him! After a few minutes they re-emerged, again held a conference, and restarted their march. But then another penguin developed cold feet and dived back, and all the others went in after him. Back to square one. Phew! What a tiresome process!

This back-and-forth ritual continued till all the penguins built up the courage to wobble up the beach. And then began the triumphant march of the penguins as they made their way through the people seated on the beach, back to their nests. Tonight, these frail-looking pudgies had braved the seas and conquered their fears once again. This massive avian display of courage was an awesome sight! But even more endearing was to see them cuddling their loved ones in their burrows, once they were back home. Finally, what took the cake was this sign in the car park: ‘Please check under your car before driving away’ – lest one of the penguins decided to make a pit-stop there!

All said and done, our date with Melbourne had ended on a high note. Our next stop was Sydney. Read all about it in ‘Part 2: Sizzling Sydney’.

(Note: A modified and shortened version of the above article was published in the ET Travel section of The Economic Times on August 14, 2008. I have reproduced the original version here for the reading pleasure of fellow Ghumakkars.)

 

  • Oh ! Naveena, my favorite one on ghumakkar.com

    Once again a classy display of articulate description and heart boggling pictures. Melbourne is one of the best cities to live in and also sports capital of Australia. Its also one of the top 5 cities I want to visit outside India. It was just overwhelming to see Melbourne through your travelogue. About this post I can’t write much because I don’t have much words to write, the main reason being the beauty of the Melbourne city, Satyan’s photography and my poor vocabulary.

    And about you Naveena , Congratulations on winning that wonderful lucky draw contest. I always find these sort of contests fake because I know the intention of registering people is to take leads for sales promotion. But for you it was none other than a small boon. And this time Satyan has won . Yaa, Satyan’s photographs are more attractive than your description frankly. Views from Shrine of Remembrance and Eureka Tower were the best ones.

    Waiting for Beautiful Sydney.

    • Naveena Israni

      Thanks so much Vishal ji for your kind words and constant support! I will convey your appreciation to Satyan as well :)

      Melbourne is one of the best cities I have visited so far in my life. You must visit it some day…

      As regards lucky draw contests, well, I used to find them fake too and never entered such contests. But Satyan convinced me to fill this one. And the rest is history!

      Warm regards,
      Naveena

  • Rahul Chawla

    Mesmerising Article! Truly wonderful piece.. you have a great way with words and the reader just gets enthralled and absorbed in your journey.. I have never been to Australia but now I would really love to go there.. keep it up.. you have a wonderful gift.. god bless u..

    • Naveena Israni

      Thanks so much for your warm words of appreciation! Hope you continue to enjoy reading my stories :)

  • Penguin episode was really interesting. Pics are nice. What about local people in Melbourne? What impression you made about them?

    • Naveena Israni

      Thanks Manish!

      The local people in Melbourne are quite chilled out, laid back and friendly. That’s why I have written, “Even on a weekday, people were relaxed, confident and seemed to be enjoying life a far cry from the stressful lives we lead back home.”

      Regards,
      Naveena

  • Very interesting read … good article

    • Naveena Israni

      Thanks Neha :)

  • Mahesh Semwal

    No words for pictures , difficult to choose which one is best.

    what to say , super post …..super pictures ….super place ….super writer …super platform (ghumakkar.com)

    Great Job !

    • Naveena Israni

      Thank you so much for your super comments :)

  • Pat Jones

    Wow! Something to cherish after a long time!

    Amongst shoddy works and family albums, your post is refreshingly cool. Actually the absence of credits in the beginning (unlike your previous posts) made me read this post. Now I shall go back and read all your posts!

    • Naveena Israni

      Thanks for your appreciation, Pat! Hope you like my other posts as well :)

      • Pat Jones

        Would love to but the credits are still a deterrent.

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    ?? ????? ????? ??? ?? ???? ?? ???? ?? ????? ?? ????? ?? ???? ???? ????? ?? ???? ?? ???? ??? ?? ???? ??

    • Naveena Israni

      Aapka bahut bahut dhanyavaad, Manu ji! Asha karti hoon ki aap mere posts aise hi padte rahenge :)

  • AUROJIT

    Hi Naveena,

    Fairy tales Do Happen (free ticket to Australia !!) – thanks for renewing our faith on them :-)

    Your description of M is rather enamouring. Penguins take the cake.

    About ‘higher living standards’, followed by the ‘quotient of happiness’, I would agree more with the first part.

    Tantalizing pics!

    Enjoyed,

    Thanks
    Auro.

    • Naveena Israni

      Thanks for your warm words, Auro! Believe in your dreams and keep the faith :)

  • Preethi Chamikutty

    Great travelogue Naveena. Very interesting to read and gives a good snap shot of the place :) Keep roaming and writing :)

    • Naveena Israni

      Thanks so much Preethi!

  • D.L.Narayan

    As always, a lovely travelogue, Naveena. I can think of no person more deserving than you to win a trip to Melbourne, since you have written so well about it. It is amazing that a penal colony has transformed itself into one of the most liveable places on earth in just a couple of centuries.

    Melbourne seems to be a fantastic city and is well worth the visit just for the MCG and the Rod Laver Arena, not to mention the sight of hesitant penguins waddling on the beaches. It was a great photo-op and surprising that Satyan did not try to capture those scenes described so vividly by you.

    • Naveena Israni

      Once again, thank you so much Narayan ji for your constant support and appreciation! And thanks for endorsing my win so emphatically :)

      Satyan couldn’t take any photos of the penguins because photography was strictly prohibited there. The penguins were scared as it is; the cameras and flashlights would scare them even more! That’s why no one was allowed to take cameras on that beach. What a pity :(

      Warm regards,
      Naveena

  • I am late to the party Naveena so apologies.

    Refreshing and tempting description with sublime pics, esp the tennis court and the view from ‘Shrine of Rememberance’. DL makes a great point that a place which was to be meant a prison has come out so well in such a short time. Your post also reminds to be not miss posting the travel contest which I found in LP mag of Aug. (It is a roadtrip special with nothing worth road in India mentioned, not a good read)

    If you have time and have not read then please read ‘Down Under’ by Bill. May be you would cherish your visit further.

    And for Penguin lovers, here is a small video featuring some of the pics from the official album of the place
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srRCq3Dv-Jg

    • Naveena Israni

      Thanks Nandan for your warm and insightful comments! The penguin pics were really cute :)

  • Sandeep Gupta

    Ms Naveena,

    Prior to leaving for our 8 week Australia cum New Zeland trip in mid Nov 12, I had made exhaustive notes on the recommended Sydney and Melbourne sight- seeing courtesy your post. We returned on 11 Jan 13.

    To say that your post was so very helpful would be an understatement. If I may use the expression It was BANG ON. Many thanks for making our sight seeing and the trip so much nicer.

    May I mention the following (no offence meant please): The only thing we scored on you was witnessing the Fire works display at the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the New Years Eve. Just WOW it was!!!

    Sandeep Gupta.

    • Naveena Israni

      Dear Sandeep ji,

      Many many thanks for your effusive praise! I am glad my post was so helpful to you. Hope I can continue to live up to your expectations in future as well.

      It’s great that you witnessed the fireworks display at Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s supposed to be among the world’s best!

      Thanks & warm regards,
      Naveena