First, let nobody convince you that Japan and Australia are close. In fact, Tokyo to Melbourne, at 5100 miles, is roughly the same distance as Tokyo to San Francisco; throw in a layover at China’s Guangzhou Gaiyun International Airport and my arrival to Melbourne was long overdue.
This is the first in a short series of entries about Melbourne. For an annotated map of the locations discussed, see the attached google map, “5 days in Melbourne“
Melbourne Airport (MEL) (a.k.a Tullamarine International Airport)
The arrival to a new country or city can be stressful, especially with regards to transportation from the airport. Melbourne Airport, the sole international airport in Melbourne, is approximately 14 miles north/northwest of the city center. As far as I can tell there are no public transportation options from the airport to the center of the city. For a solo traveler the most common option is SkyBus, a frequent shuttle service running from the airport to Southern Cross Station (SkyBus also offers a shuttle to your specific hotel).
Southern Cross Station & central Melbourne (“City Center”)
For the first-time visitor to Melbourne, I highly recommend staying in central Melbourne. Although City Center is small it contains many cultural attractions and acts as the center of the region’s rail and streetcar/tram network. Central Melbourne is 2 miles wide from Southern Cross Station to Spring Street & the State Parliament, and a mile tall from Queen Victoria Market down to Flanders Street station. (Accommodations on the new Southbank Promenade of the Yarra River are also convenient).
Melbourne CBD at night:
Maps & Melbourne Neighborhoods
Melbourne’s free tourist maps are easily available at transportation hubs and tourist information centers. I used the following map for most of my travels: PDF of Inner Melbourne City Map. In addition to detail of City Center, the map includes such popular neighborhoods as Fitzroy, Richmond, Docklands, South Yarra, and St. Kilda. A JPG version of the map is here:
More detailed maps of selected neighborhoods are available under the “Grid Maps” logo. Some of these maps can be found on the following page: MAPS OF MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
The follow site also has a brief and helpful neighborhood guide: Frommers Melbourne Neighborhood Guide
I started at Pensione Hotel Melbourne, 16 Spencer Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000 (MAP), for $100 USD per night (expect to pay more on the weekend). The location is perfect, just down the street from Southern Cross Station. The room was slightly small but modern, clean, and furnished with a comfortable bed.
Because of last minute planning I had to switch to the Vibe Hotel Carlton, 441 Royal Parade, Parkville, VIC 3052 (MAP) which is about 2.5 miles north of Southern Cross Station and convenient to the University of Melbourne. The Vibe Hotel is a renovated 1960’s motel that tries to come across as hip and edgy. I don’t go in for any of that marketing BS, but I was happy to pay just $100 USD for a weeknight ($150 for a weekend night). I was also curious to spend a few nights in a new neighborhood. I enjoyed my stay here and found the quiet & leafy neighborhood peaceful, especially with the smell of autumn in the air. That being said, without a car this hotel is far enough away to be inconvenient. Although serviced by the Melbourne tram (streetcar) network, the service can be slow and spotty, especially at night.
Day 1: Tuesday
On my first day in a new city I like to cover a lot of ground and create a mental map for the rest of the trip. My 5 days in Melbourne began on a Tuesday morning. After checking into my hotel I walked along Collins Street to the arresting Flinders Street Station, once the world’s busiest passenger station (1926). Built in the 1909 and clad in red brick and yellow stone, the station is one of Melbourne’s landmarks, and is particularly attractive when viewed at night and from across the Yarra River.
In somewhat stark contrast across the street is the post-modern Federation Square, which on initial viewing reminds me of yet another victim of Gehry/Guggenheim Bilbao envy; time will tell if Federation Square is more than mere stunt-itecture. Whatever your feelings are about the architecture, Federation Square includes the helpful Melbourne Visitor Centre and several cultural institutions, including the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), and The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia (“National Gallery of Victoria”).
Swan Street & Church Street, Richmond district:
From Federation Square I boarded an eastbound tram and rode past Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open. Less than 2 miles from Federation Square, the Swan Street/Church Street precincts of the Richmond district (MAP) are a lively and casual part of town with old, low-lying buildings; although served by intersecting tram lines, the neighborhood, due to the presence of ample street parking, feels oriented more towards the automobile, a rather disappointing feature I would notice throughout Melbourne in my 5 days there.
I left the tram and walked Church Street north to Bridge Road (map) where I rode a tram west, back towards Center City. I strolled through Simpson and Hotham Streets (map), home to some particularly interesting Victorian architecture, and entered the peaceful Fitzroy Gardens and adjoining Treasury Gardens (map). Just up the hill I failed to enter the Victoria State Parliament House, as it was in session. However, I was one of roughly 12 people to witness a mild protest forming on the building’s front steps, the participants carrying cards that spelled the slogan “5% is not enough” or maybe “0.5% is not enough”. Despite the presence of a television crew this appears to be a particularly ineffective protest, as the phrase barely shows up in Google results. Also, the protestors appeared rather cheerful.
2 p.m. and time for a late lunch across the street at the Bourke Street Imperial (map), an experience that served as a reminder of how expensive Australia is and how lousy the customer service is (at least compared with Japan). As for expense, an order of chicken wings is $13.90 AUD, or $14.67 USD. The service was was confusingly bad. I waited like an idiot for several minutes at the bar, trying to place my order, despite the presence of three employees in the nearly empty afternoon pub. I convinced myself there was a secret code for ordering food of which I was unaware. Coming from Japan this would qualify as perhaps the worst service ever. Although they weren’t rude to me, they acted as though their job bore absolutely NO RELATION to treating people with courtesy, as if their only role was the mechanical delivery of food and beverage. I fear for Australia’s future. Or maybe it’s just this pub. Many of the Urban Spoon reviews are pretty harsh. [Update 7/29/16: The reviews on zomato, the Urban Spoon successor, are not as bad as a few years ago; either the pub is improving or the reviews have become less reliable.]
After lunch I passed through Carlton Gardens, home to the Melbourne Museum and the Royal Exhibition Building, and on to my only tourist activity of the day, a late afternoon visit to the Old Melbourne Gaol (map) (jail). With a price of $23 AUD, the jail is probably not worthwhile for budget travelers; however, from an architectural perspective I have always enjoyed visiting old jails, and this is no exception.
The main exhibits are housed in the prison cells and include death masks and descriptions of many of the prison’s inmates. The profiles describe how harsh and lawless early Australia was, yet I could find no overarching or cohesive narrative, perhaps because Australia likes to have their laws and flout them too. The most elaborate exhibit of the Melbourne Gaol describes the life and exploits of Ned Kelly ネッド・ケリー, Australia’s most famous criminal, who was executed at this jail in 1880. The Kelly exhibit seemed to hover somewhere between hero worship and “ain’t it cool” infotainment. I find Australia’s reverence for its criminal past childish, especially when I visit a modern metropolis like Melbourne that can only exist with functioning laws. Perhaps more on this later.