Jun 18

How Long To Stay In Melbourne?

When I planned my trip to Australia I booked my flights first and planned the trip second.  Once I had those dates I had to figure out what I wanted to do, what I really wanted to do and how much jumping around the country I was willing to do.  I decided that although I wanted to see a lot, I did not want to rush either.

So the question was, how long should I spend in Melbourne?  A couple Aussie friends told me that 4 days would be good, that’s what I did and is what I would recommend.

I planned 4 days there, but ended up sort of screwing up a bit because I didn’t really factor in the Melbourne Cup, and subsequently didn’t have quite as much time there as I would have liked.

What type of itinerary would I recommend with 4 days?

1 day for the Great Ocean Road

1 afternoon and night for the Phillip Island Penguins

2 days in the city

What to do with those two days?

Depending on what catches your interest in the city, you could see the city in either one or two days.  If you’re into it, though you could spend one of those days doing a wine tour. The Yarra Valley is supposed to have some of the best Australian wines and something I would have done if I had another day there.

Have you been to Melbourne, how long would you recommend spending in the city?

Apr 23

Eureka Sky Deck – The Edge

 I’ve always been a fan of views of a city – the type where you climb up a church steeple and get a great view overlooking a city.  I kind of prefer the ones with elevators, but you get the idea. As expensive as Australia was getting, I decided to go to the top of the Eureka Sky Deck.  I had set myself a price limit of $15 for the experience, and the price was just about there (maybe closer to $16 with my coupon) so I did it.

I have done quite a few of these experiences, the Empire State Building and the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and this was BY FAR the best experience I have had.  First, there was no long chaotic line to get in (it wasn’t the nicest day).  The price was reasonable, and it simply was not crowded at the top.

Federation Square

I was able to walk around a few times, take all the pictures I wanted and maybe only once had to wait to get the “perfect” shot.  I enjoyed a leisurely break there and even bought myself a hot chocolate so I could just sit and enjoy the view and relax.  Try relaxing at the top of the Empire State Building!  Of course it didn’t hurt that they had free wifi too.

The only thing I did not like was that entry was one cost, then when you got to the top you had to buy access to the “Ledge” (glass floor walkway), if you wanted to look through a glass floor at Melbourne.  I did not take the option, and it seemed few people did. It would have been better if this was more clearly advertised when you purchased tickets so you knew you wouldn’t have access before you went up.

The Edge, for an extra charge

Overall, the Eureka Sky Deck will never rival The Great Ocean Road.  But, if you’re having a day around the city and you enjoy a city view, this may be a good option for you.  I just wish I knew which stadium was which when I was looking at them from that great view.

Apr 16

Queen Victoria Market (Melbourne)

While in Melbourne, I decided to do something a little more local after seeing all of the big sights – like the Great Ocean Road and the Little Penguins – so I went to the Queen Victoria Market for breakfast. While the market does have a lot of different offerings, I thought breakfast would be a convenient time of day to go and also a time that might be more authentic.

 I initially walked around the area that offered breads, cheeses and pastries (a good place for breakfast, right?) and the food looked delicious.  In particular the pastries looked delicious, and happy too!

But, I had trouble finding something substantial for breakfast. As cute as those cookies were, I needed something more than sugar.  I moved over to the produce section where I bought myself some fruit to get me through this morning and my last morning in Melbourne.  The fruit was fresh and well, I haven’t got a clue how the prices were, but there was certainly more of a farmers market feeling here then you would get at a grocery store.

After that I went to a little coffee shop outside the produce section where the guy forgot to serve my smoothie.  But once I reminded him it was quite delicious.  I also felt like I was really eating and drinking with the locals, score!

My final stop was in a Christmas shop on the edge of the market, and well, they had a lot of creepy stuff there… Isn’t that part of the experience? It was fun to eat and walk around the Queen Victoria Market, I just wish I had a little more time there to enjoy more aspects.  I highly recommend stopping there, at least for breakfast or lunch and to browse the stalls of food.

Apr 11

Restaurant Review – Pellegrini’s (Melbourne)

I don’t do restaurant reviews very often. As much as I enjoy a good meal, I wouldn’t say I’m a foody.  But every now and then I go to a place that really catches me and makes me want to send others to.  In Melbourne it was Pellegrini’s.

I got the recommendation from a twitter friend and the restaurant seems to be labeled as an Espresso Bar, though I think greasy spoon might be a better description.  Though I guess it depends on what time of day you go there.

When I first walked by it I thought it was a greasy spoon, and decided to look at another place on my list. Well, the other place was a bit fancier then I wanted for lunch so I came back here.  Pellegrini’s was opened in the 60s, hence the greasy spoon feel and serves excellent Italian food.  The menu hangs from the ceiling and does not list prices – I would budget $20 to $25 for lunch. So, it’s not exactly cheap, but it’s good.

I’ve read some reviews that the the staff there is rude.  I did not experience that, in fact, my waiter was excellent, and made me some special drink that was absolutely delicious. I don’t know what it was but it was slushy, pink and tasty.

I was there for lunch and the place was packed with local business people. You could tell it was a local crowd who visited frequently, a good sign for any restaurant. While I was there I met a local man and had a great chat. Turns out the place is a bit famous in its own right and has hosted many a visiting politician, like Bill Clinton. Or so I’m told.

No, it’s not the best Italian food I’ve ever had, but I’ve also been to Italy and Little Italy in NYC, so I do have high standards. But good food combined with that local institution atmosphere makes this a great place to eat in Melbourne.

Apr 09

Old Melbourne Gaol

When I was in Melbourne I was conveniently staying across the street from the Old Melbourne Gaol and since I’ve visited many a jail in my day, I thought this would be interesting. Although I found the experience a bit pricey, it was a good museum.

The museum includes Melbourne’s oldest prison, the historic Magistrate’s Court and former Police City Watch House. While you can visit the prison section at your leisure, the rest of the museum is by guided tour. Tours start every hour or two and are included in the price of admission. If a tour is not starting when you arrive you can simply tour the prison until the tour starts and finish where you left off when the tour is over.

Inside the Gaol

The prison section has 3 floors of prison history. Everything from the history of woman in prison to more contemporary and famous prisoners of the Australian system. They had some very interesting stories of prisoners, those who were falsely imprisoned, to their most famous prisoner, Ned Kelly. There is also an extensive history of hangings in Australia.

Cell

I did not visit the Magistrates Court, I didn’t even realize it was an option while I was there, but it also has limited hours so it may not be available to all guests. But, I did enjoy my tour of the Watch House.

The tour of the Watch House is done by the “Sergeant” on duty. He starts out by giving us all cards explaining who we are and what we did to get put in gaol. It opened up a good conversation about the common crimes that people were brought in for. Public drunkenness was common for men and there were many ladies of the night visiting…

While there we got to experience what a proper search would have been like (minus the touching), but it was enough to remind you of how much it would have sucked to be arrested. Next we got to see the overnight cells were prisoners were kept in darkness for 8-10 hours a night. We got to experience a couple minutes of it, and it was also unpleasant. But prisoners were allowed into the yard during the day, an outside yard, that they couldn’t leave, no matter the weather. Oh, and it looked like it could hold 20-30 people comfortably, but it would hold over 100 during the weekend.

Yard

We did get to see the “rubber room” and the cell for the special prisoners, they had their own yard, conveniently next to, and only separated by a fence from the regular yard. Not that much better of an experience. At the end of the tour they had a fun little feature where you could make your own mug shot, or get a picture of yourself at the goal. It was a nice (though expensive) touch at the end of the tour.

Overnight Cells

The Old Melbourne Gaol was an interesting and informative experience. I think the experience is best for kids around 10 or older and adults who enjoy a bit of history or have an interest in jails or law enforcement.

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 02

The Melbourne Cup as a solo person

When I was planning my trip to Australia one of my Australian friends suggested that it was Melbourne Cup when I was there and to either go and embrace it, or avoid the city during that period.  I decided to embrace it and bought myself general admission tickets, since that what it seemed that people did.  I didn’t find this to be my best choice on this trip for a number of reasons.

When I was planning my trip the Melbourne Cup I couldn’t find much information about what to do once you were there, just info on the layout of Flemington, how to get there and how to bet.  What I didn’t realize is that this is really a group activity.  As in groups of Aussies picnicking in their Sunday finest and occasionally watching a horse race.  I arrived early, but by early afternoon it was crazy crowded, lines for everything were massive and there was nowhere to sit.  If I had to do it over again, I would probably skip it or at least book a ticket with a seat instead of general admission.

But there were a few things I liked.  I had fun picking an outfit and getting a fascinator for the event. Though the weather forecast kept changing and I ended up over dressed. But it was also fun watching other people so dressed up and what types of hats and fascinators they came up with.  The horses were nice too, I’m glad I found where they are in their stalls, they were beautiful horses!  And well, now I can say I’ve gone.

What would I recommend to others attending?

Arrive early, whether you have a seat, are with a group, arrive early. It’s much easier to get around and see stuff there if you’re there before noon.  If you are not in a group where you can leave someone with your stuff, then get a ticket with a seat instead of general admission, you’ll be much more comfortable.  Walk around and see the different areas, attractions and food options at the cup, there is a very wide variety.

Mar 12

The Phillip Island Penguin Parade

Back when I went to Australia I was probing friends about what to do in Melbourne and one thing that came up was the Phillip Island Penguin Parade.  While I didn’t get a unanimous YES, I did get the feeling that if you had time, it was worth it.

Phillip Island is a little distance from Melbourne so for most people, it’s a afternoon and evening tour activity.  I booked a tour with AAT Kings for the Phillip Island Penguin Parade Evening Tour, but was bumped up to the full day tour because of lack of interest in the evening tour.

On the way to Phillip Island we had a stop at the MARU Koala and Animal park. I had already been to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, and this place certainly does not compare in terms of Koala interaction, but was still a cool place. One problem here was that they said they had 3 koalas; however, I only saw 2. Compare that to the dozens I saw at Lone Pine…  BUT, they had a great variety of other animals here.  Kangaroo, Wallaby, Peacocks, Dingos, and my favorite, Emus.  I just thought Emus were funny.

From MARU the tour went to Phillip Island where we had a tour of the island, including the coast line, Grand Prix Track, Nobbies and a stop in town to have dinner on our own. And if you were quick, a few minutes to shop.

We arrived at the Penguin Center quite early and for that I am thankful.  As large as the center is, it gets quite crowded.  On top of that, it was pretty chilly that night (I had purchased an extra layer or two for myself as I had not brought a coat on my trip to Australia) and you have to be outside to see the Penguins. The shops there sell anything and everything that you can think of with a penguin on it, but it was a bit pricey here.  There were also quick service food and set ups where you can take a mock picture with penguins.

Now is a good time to explain that you CANNOT take pictures of the penguins, at all.  This is so we don’t blind the penguins.  They had tried to allow photography without flash, but too many people were still using flashes so they banned it all together.  I found that 99% of people complied with this, and there was a ton of staff around enforcing this policy.  Bottom line – I would not count on even sneaking a picture of them.  Besides, to get a picture of them in the dark will require more than your iPhone.

As for watching the parade, there are viewing areas with seating.  I arrived about 30 minutes in advance and if you looked you could find some seating in front on the far side viewing area.  I found the staff members in my area really nice and informative.

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Overhead shot of viewing areas

Here is what I learned the penguins go out to sea to eat and come back to their burrows to chill out and mate and it was mating season in November. They don’t come out on the beach until it’s dark to protect themselves from predators (Wallaby). When they come up, they will walk a few steps, then run back. They will do this a few times and each time become a group with other penguins.  Eventually the group makes it far enough that it’s too late to turn back and the crowd goes wild.  Ok, not exactly.  But once a group or two makes it across the crowd goes up to the walkways to watch them walk to their burrows.

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When the penguins mate they get very loud, more of a laughing type of sound. If the mating was successful there will be a slapping. I did not hear any slapping! Penguins mate 30 times a night with up to 6 partners.

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I’m not much of an animal person, I’m a bit afraid of them. But I do appreciate watching from a distance.  It was really neat to see nature at its best. The Penguins are so cute trying to outsmart their predators, and the way they waddle, it’s precious.

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An hour after the parade ended, we all met at the bus for the drive back to Melbourne, it was a nice quiet ride home!  While I’m not a fan of large tours with full busses of people, the way this tour was set up, the size wasn’t a factor.

Where would I put the Penguin Parade on the list of priorities in Melbourne? I wouldn’t add it to an itinerary less than 3 or 4 days. I think a day in the city and a day for the Great Ocean Road are the first priorities in Melbourne.  But once you start looking at 3 or more days, this should be part of the short list of activities.

Disclaimer – The photos are from the Penguin Parade App, I do not own them and since I couldn’t take any of my own, I thought I would use those to portray the parade.

Jan 29

Melbourne vs Sydney

Even before I went to Australia I had heard of the rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney, each trying to one up the other and be the biggest and best city in Australia.  Heck, the rivalry is so bad that they had to pretty much create a city to set the capital in.  But which did I like better?  The answer isn’t clear cut, and really depends on what I’m looking for in a city at a particular time.

Weather:

Ironically the weather was better in Melbourne for my trip. There was a touch of rain and some chilly temperatures.  But I got stuck with several days of terrible rain when I was in Sydney.  The Blue Mountains were actually just gray fog.  If I’m being objective, the weather should go to Sydney because it’s normally warmer and more consistent.  But I know what I saw so I’m a bit on the fence.  Fine, I’ll still give this to Sydney.

Transportation:

In Melbourne I felt like I didn’t need transportation as much, which is a big plus for the city.  When I did though, it was a positive experience and it wasn’t too expensive.  They also have a free trolly.  One down side is that the airport/hotel shuttle service did not have as extensive hours as you would find in other cities.  The transportation in Sydney though was expensive!  Depending on where you lived, it could be quite slow too.  I had heard some negative things about Sydney’s transportation system, and I suspect it was right.  I’ll give this category to Melbourne.

Sights Within The City:

I have to give this to Sydney, there is so much to do there from art galleries to history museums (Sydney had a richer history too.) Climbing bridges, towers, all sorts of cruises and ferries, the list goes on and on!

Sydney

Beaches:

Since there isn’t really much in the way of beaches in Melbourne and Sydney has heaps of them…

Sights Outside the City:

I’ll admit this isn’t fair to Sydney, but since the Blue Mountains were fogged out they lost.  But Melbourne does have the Great Ocean Road, which is FABULOUS! And the Phillip Island Penguins.  I’m not sure Sydney had a chance at this and I didn’t even get to the wineries.

Melbourne

Cost:

Neither, they’re both fecking expensive.

Food:

I’m giving this to Melbourne since I seemed to have a couple better meals there and it seemed like their was a wider variety.  But I was also sick and lacking an appetite for part of my time in Sydney.

Sports:

Hands down this goes to Melbourne, I think the only sport in Sydney was surfing.

City Feel:

They both felt like cities, but I felt a bigger impact in Sydney from the people who commuted into the city to work.  And I don’t mean that in a good way.  Melbourne had a more natural relationship with it’s workers coming into and out of the city.

Shopping:

It was too expensive in both cities!  But, Sydney felt a bit more like walking into any fancy mall in NY or Las Vegas.  Melbourne felt a little more local and a more middle class, instead of big expensive stores designed to make an impression.  I hope that makes sense.

So which is my favorite city? Honesty, if I had to choose a place to live, it would be Brisbane.  It was more reasonably priced, the size was more manageable and although it was a city, it had more of a small town feel to it.  If I was going back to visit, I could find stuff to do for a few days in each city. I think I liked the vibe in Melbourne a bit better, but wouldn’t mind a couple days at the beach in Sydney either.

Brisbane