Port of Melbourne
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The 1850's gold rush in the state of Victoria propelled Melbourne to become one of the world's great cities by the 1880's, when it was the chief conduit for people, goods and financial matters in and out of Australia.
Melbourne was and still is the most English of Australia's cities, and yet it also has a highly cosmopolitan population of more than three million. Waves of British, Italian and Greek immigrants began arriving after World War II, and when immigration restrictions changed to allow Asians to become residents, a huge influx arrived, including lots who became students at Melbourne University. As the "uni" is close to the city center, the sidewalks tend to be as crowded and lively as those in Manhattan.
The Yarra River slices through the city, and leafy parks and open spaces give relief from the vehicular traffic that travels, as in Britain and New Zealand, on the left. North of the Yarra River, you will find the commercial heart and to the south most of the museums, theaters, concert halls and open spaces -- including the lovely Royal Botanic Gardens. Nearby inland and coastal neighborhoods like Carlton, Fitzroy, Richmond, Toorak and St. Kilda are worth exploring on foot, with each area having its own distinctive flavor.
Happily, pedestrians have lots of rights, and walking is free-flowing and safe. It's also easy to navigate the city via its wonderful tram (trolley) system. The first electric models began running in 1889, and unlike so many other cities, Melbourne never abandoned them. In fact, the network is expanding and well run. It's a pleasure to see them gliding rhythmically through the streets, and they're a joy to travel on.
Due to its southern location, Melbourne gets cloudy, rainy and relatively cold in the winter months (the northern hemisphere's summer) and warms to pleasantly (and sometimes searingly) hot during its summer. Given that Melbournians complain a lot about their winters, travelers are usually pleased to find out that most cruise ships call at Melbourne during the Australian summer. Consider coming out early for a stay of several days before (most likely) joining your ship in Sydney, a short flight or a pleasant daylong train ride away.
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Where You're Docked
Cruise ships tie up at Station Pier in Port Melbourne, the dock formerly used for overseas liners and the current facility for the Spirit of Tasmania, the overnight ferry that sails across the Bass Strait to Devonport on the island of Tasmania. Melbourne's nearby skyline is well within view.
The immediate port area is relatively quiet with few restaurants and stores near the pier. More retail outlets are available just north along the tram line in South Melbourne. But one oversized deli/general store adjacent to the tram terminal can be useful for immediate needs like coffee, snacks and sundries.
Good to Know
Be sure to observe what is called a hook turn at intersections where cars wanting to make a right turn across the tram tracks must move into the far left lane when entering the intersection and then proceed with the green light of the cross street. Also, watch for the vertical white signal light that gives trams priority at intersections while car traffic may be stopped.
By Tram: One of Melbourne's famous city tram routes has a terminal at Port Melbourne, a five-minute walk from Station Pier. Stations and trams have onboard coin-operated ticket machines (usually no conductors) for buying one-way tickets, roundtrips and Myki cards (a debit card that you can replenish as needed) for tram and bus travel. Melbourne's many trams glide about almost everywhere you want to visit, and if not, buses supplement. If in doubt, ask a local. Aussies are very friendly.
The ride from Port Melbourne to the city center takes 20 minutes, and once there, lots of the best sites are within walking distance. The central district also has a free City Circle tram that operates daily in both directions every 12 minutes. It makes a large loop along the perimeter, bounded by Flinders, Spring and Latrobe Streets and the Harbour Esplanade at Docklands. A complete circuit takes about an hour. These vintage trams provide a commentary, are maroon in color, marked "City Center" and provide a good overview.
By Taxi: Melbourne taxis are painted yellow and can be found in designated spots outside hotels and at the two railways stations -- Flinders Street and Southern Cross. If you see a taxi with the rooftop light illuminated, it's empty, and you can hail it from the street. Taxis are metered, and drivers do not expect a tip, though sometimes rounding up the fare to the next dollar is appropriate. Surcharges only apply between midnight and 5 a.m. From the cruise terminal at Station Pier, a ride to the central business district will cost about $20. To and from the airport, it'll be about $50.
By Foot: Melbourne Greeter Service matches visitors with a local resident and volunteer guide for free two- to four-hour walking orientations. Twenty-four hours' notice is required, and tours leave at 9:30 a.m. from the visitor center. For reservations, phone 03 9658 9658 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The spacious underground visitor center at Federation Square, the city's principal meeting place, is directly across from Flinders Street Station. The personnel are helpful, and the racked information brochures are plentiful and include handy little booklets of Melbourne Walks, featuring maps and sightseeing information. In addition, City Ambassadors, volunteers wearing red outfits and hats, roam the city center to answer questions.
By Train: For trips into the suburbs and outlying cities, trains leave from either the relatively new Southern Cross station (formerly called Spencer Street) or Flinders Street station, both located in the city center. Flinders Street station, completed in 1911, is a fabulous mustard-colored pile of Edwardian Baroque architecture, decorated with arches, domes and a clock tower facing Federation Square. Southern Cross, with its soaring train shed, handles the V-Line country trains, long-distance trains and coaches, and the Skybus to and from the airport.
By Bus: The red Skybus links Melbourne's airport (international and domestic terminals) with Southern Cross station every 10 to 15 minutes, and the journey takes about a half hour. A free shuttle links most hotels with the Skybus at Southern Cross station.
For information on public transportation by train, tram or bus, visit http://ptv.vic.gov.au/.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Bank ATM's are available all around the city. The largest coin denominations are the tiny, gold-color two-dollar pieces and the larger, gold-color one-dollar pieces. (We know that seems backwards so pay extra attention when counting your change.) Check www.oanda.com or www.XE.com for the latest exchange rates. Also you should know that Australia no longer uses pennies, so all prices are rounded to the nearest five cent increment.
English is spoken with various, distinctive Melbourne accents, including an upper-middle-class one often close to British English. The city, by the way, is pronounced Mel-bun not Mel-born. The first meal of the day is breakie, food is tucker and a response to a "thank you" is usually no worries. Once, for me, it was even no dramas. A hotel may actually be a pub, and an institution of higher education is simply called uni. See ya laytah is often said upon parting, even if you never expect to see the person again.
Food and Drink
Melbourne's restaurants are as diverse as its population, and food in Australia is very good with plentiful fresh produce and fish. Chinatown, in the city center, has a plethora of Asian restaurants, and Lygon Street in Carlton is lined with one Italian restaurant and cafe after another, creating a sidewalk buzz at night (less so during the day). It's touristy but fun to walk past the eateries before choosing one that appears to be the most crowded with locals. Prices may be higher than you are used to at home, but remember that a menu price includes taxes and tip (though it is now a custom to leave 5 to 10 percent at top restaurants).
Colonial Tramcar Restaurant is a long-time and highly successful Melbourne institution. A maroon city tram, plushly fitted out and air-conditioned, glides along city streets through trendy Prahan, Armadale, seaside St. Kilda and South Melbourne, while passengers enjoy a four-course, fine dining lunch with wine. Advance reservations are required. The tram departs from tram stop #125 at Normanby Road, South Melbourne. (Lunch is served from 1 to 3 p.m.)
Hopetoun Tea Rooms, located in the Block Arcade off Collins Street (No. 280-282), is an ever-popular, old-fashioned and legendary cafe that dates to 1892. It offers a sirloin beef sandwich with beetroot, crab salad and wonderful cakes at reasonable prices. (Check it out Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 03 9650 2777.)
Royal Botanic Gardens has an indoor-outdoor Terrace Cafe restaurant overlooking Ornamental Lake, a lovely setting for lunch with gourmet sandwiches, baguettes and meat pies ordered from the counter, plus an English-style afternoon tea. Prices are very reasonable. (You'll find it on Birdwood Avenue, South Yarra. 03 9252 2300.)
National Gallery of Victoria International Tea Room, located on Level 1 of the museum, offers a view of the atrium, as well as a light meal. Menu items include smoked salmon, creme fraiche, red onions and caper sandwiches; tartine of marinated beef and mozzarella; and afternoon tea, cake, scones, savories and sandwiches. (Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Tuesdays. 03 8620 2431.)
The most intriguing places to shop are the one-block arcades, such as the Block Arcade between Collins and Little Collins and the Royal Arcade between Little Collins and Bourke Street Mall. Bourke Street Mall itself is a major, pedestrianized shopping precinct with two department stores: David Jones and Myer. Aboriginal art; paintings on paper, canvas and bark; sculptures and musical instruments are popular buys there and in the museum shops. The eastern end (formerly called the Paris end) of Collins is a center for high fashion. The brand Country Road is known for its quality Australian designs. Melbourne Central, between Latrobe and Lonsdale Streets, is a modern, multilevel complex of 300 shops, restaurants and a multiplex theater.
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