We arrived at about 06.00, some 30 hours after having left home but without proper sleep for about 42 hours. Harare, Lusaka, Dubai, Melbourne. To say we were shattered would be an understatement. What was worse, we had a whole day to kill before we deemed it wise to get some shut eye. Air crew generally claim that in order to acclimatise, it is best to stay awake during the day, regardless of when you arrive or what time your body is telling you it is and only sleep at night time. Easier said than done.
The young chap at passport control was reasonably friendly and talkative. It turned out his grandfather came from Zimbabwe. Customs officials were also pleasant and helpful, which makes a change from other parts of the world. This despite the Australian reputation for stringency with regards to prohibited flora and fauna. We were clean.
My overt prejudice towards all things Australian (though to be fair, that is more of a show than a reality) was coming in for a real hammering and things were about to get worse. The SkyBus transfer staff were unfailingly polite and helpful and the System itself was as efficient as one could ask for.
Having abandoned the girl child into the clutches of her school chaperone, we checked into an hotel apartment in the CBD which absolutely suited our needs. After a shower and a cup or 3 of coffee, we set out to explore our surroundings.
Coming from the gastronomical wasteland that is Zimbabwe, where peri-peri chicken is considered haute cuisine, we were mesmerised by the food on display at the Victoria Market. Not only were the variety and offering superb, so were the presentation and the customer service. Unfortunately, prices were steeper than we had anticipated, especially and surprisingly, fruit and veg. But more about prices later.
What this cornucopia allowed us to do was to find those delicacies we craved and prepare our own meals in the apartment. We did ourselves proud.
On the whole, the weather was not very pleasant, but bearable. I can do cold, but I cannot abide greyness. Sunshine was distinctly lacking. But it was probably very similar to Cape Town so I should not complain too much. What did impress was the public transport, especially the trams. We made good use of those, though we soon realised, that the CBD is not actually that big and it is often more convenient and beneficial to walk.
Two things struck us in particular, the first being the extraordinary numbers of high rise buildings that already existed and new ones being erected. At first sight it was impressive, but further contemplation led me to believe that very little thought had been given to the overall appearance of the skyline and that many of the buildings were completely inappropriate for a city like Melbourne. London, for example, seems to be far stricter about the overall effect that a new building, especially a tall one, will have on the overall image. In one case a small 19th century church was dominated by skyscrapers on 3 sides excluding it from much of the light. While many of the buildings could be described as interesting and possibly even attractive, in certain individual cases and taken in isolation, when considered as a whole, they lost many of the redeeming characteristics and became something of an uncoordinated mishmash of styles and form. A massive change from 1995, the last time I was in the city. There are lots of articles on the subject, but this is one, that may be worth a quick look.
The other point that caught me by surprise was the sheer number of Asians on the streets. I do not exaggerate when I say that within the CBD, it appeared as though 80% of people were of Asian origin. By Asian, I do not mean Indian, although they were there too. We were told that there were several reasons why this might be the case. 1) Many had come to study, and to be fair, the average age might appear to support that contention. 2) Melbourne is an attractive tourist destination for people of that part of the world. 3) A lot of people are trying to immigrate to Australia and are there to satisfy visa requirements. This would account for the very high number of apartment blocks being erected, as referred to above.
I was also told that despite appearances, many of the buildings were actually unoccupied. This was apparently based on some research that investigated water consumption in one area in particular which was something like 10% of what full occupation would have otherwise suggested.
We visited the National Gallery of Victoria where I was able to view portraits of a couple of my ancestors adorning the walls. (Yes, I had to put that in.) There was also a MOMA exhibition from New York, which my other half went to see. Not really my cup of tea. “Andy Warhol won’t you please come home!”
Other sites we enjoyed were the Botanical Gardens, the Shrine of Remembrance and the Museum, particularly the section on the history of Melbourne whence I got the marvellous adjective.
Dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner!
Did you know that Batman was responsible for the city’s existence? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Batman
I particularly like this bit.
“The artist John Glover, Batman’s neighbour in Van Diemen’s Land said Batman was “a rogue, thief, cheat and liar, a murderer of blacks and the vilest man I have ever known”.”
Now do you accept that my criticisms of Australia have merit?