Saturday, November 30, 2013

Australia: Melbourne

It’s not every day that you get to make a trip to Australia. On a cold rainy night I bid farewell to my family before clambering on to the taxi. Looking back I saw my wife waving back at me. “Hmm” I thought, it was just going to be a matter of 5 days before I’m back again to my lovely home.
The Malaysian airlines flight was on time and my connecting flight was at Kuala lumpur. After almost a pretty uneventful journey I landed at Melbourne airport. It didn’t take too long to pass through the immigration, where the fat immigration officer asked what conference I was attending. Upon hearing the word Image processing he surprisingly asked “oh, the stuff needed for printers, to which I replied “No, I’m in the camera area”. Seeing that I was not dumb he stamped the passport. Coming out of the airport, it took me some time to find a taxi as people all around were jumping into the few empty cabs that were standing out in the street. Finally after some wait, an empty taxi came around. A taxi driver in India would normally lift the luggage and put it into the cars boot, so I was waiting for the guy to get down. But apparently in Australia the drivers don’t come out, it is the passengers who will have to help themselves. A thin looking lady who had a big baggage was struggling to put her bag into her taxi’s boot, as my taxi was pulling out of the Airport. Taking a taxi is a very costly affair in Melbourne as the fare for the trip from Airport to city center came to about 68 dollars. Apparently there is a bus service called as the skybus from the airport to the city center which is much cheaper (around 17 dollars).
Grand mercure hotel in which I was put up was bang in the center of the city and very close to the Flinders station. The hotel was decent enough in terms of accommodation, nothing great purely on the parameters of luxury but probably the best budget hotel considering its location. The continental breakfast was also pretty good. The pathways of the city for pedestrians are as wide as the roads so it is a joy to walk around. The initial planners of the city seem to have had great foresight in designing it. I was mostly walking from the hotel to the conference center which was at a distance of around 2 kms from each other. In the mornings and the evenings you can see a lot of people walking around in great hurry, either going to office or trying to catch a train back home. There is not much traffic on the roads, probably everyone prefers public transport. Signals for pedestrians at road crossings are strictly followed by the motorists.  A couple of times I saw motorists breaking the signal when there was no one crossing. In Europe motorists wait for the red to turn green without concerning themselves whether someone is crossing or not, at least in Australia people don’t follow the rules blindly.

The Melbourne convention center which is located at south wharf is a very huge building with good facilities. The location is very scenic with the Yarra river flowing by its side. The place was originally a ship building yard which is now converted into a convention centre. To commemorate the original purpose of the place an antique ship is placed just in front of the convention center. Side walks on both sides of the Yarra river are both very spacious and it is a pleasure to walk along the river. The lights from the city shimmer from its surface at night making for a very relaxed walk.



 The other place that I really wanted to visit even before touching the Australian soil was the cricket stadium MCG. Located only about a kilometre from the city center it can be easily reached by walk. The stadium looms around in the horizon when you reach the Yarra river from the Flinders station, so it is very hard to miss. The tennis venue for the Australian open, Rod laver arena is located bang next to the MCG. After a two hour tour of MCG I had soaked in as much of MCG cricket history as humanely possible. The old but congenial guide kept us entertained and made the 20 dollar ticket completely worth it. Beautiful bronze statues of Australian greats adorn the stadium entrances. Dennis Lillee’s statue was probably the best of the lot, it conveyed the ferocity of his bowling spells.

Skydeck, which is an 88 floor building was another tourist places that I visited along with a colleague. Fitted with super fast lifts, it takes less than 30 seconds to reach the top floor. The view from the top is both breath-taking and awe inspiring. Mighty buildings around you look like midgets, the sea could be seen at a distance along with the Yarra river which meanders through the city before reaching its destination. We stayed till sunset and had fun in locating some of the landmarks of the city including the MCG which we had visited in the morning.
There are pretty decent pure vegetarian places around the city center. Gopal’s is one of them and the other one is the Crossways both seem to be managed by devotees of Isckon. If you want to just stick to Indian food these two places are good. Restaurants ranging from Mexican to Indonesian to Chinese can be found at the city centre. I didn’t bother to check those out as I was not sure how palatable the vegetarian fare will be and stuck to the above mentioned restaurants.

Finally, there are several shops and big shopping malls sprinkled around the town center. But many of these shops are open only till 6 PM in the evening, thus doing shopping can be a problem if you are tied up with work in the day time. Overall Melbourne was a nice blend of people with different nationalities and having good tourist spots to visit. Unfortunately due to the lack of time, I couldn’t explore the city much, especially the beaches of Melbourne would have been a good place to visit. 

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