Melbourne ... definitely NOT Sydney
Mar 2, 2007
|I woke up at 4:30 this morning when I felt the ship had suddenly become quite quiet. I got up and out to my balcony to see what was going on, and realized a small boat was closing on us and watched as it came alongside and dropped off the pilot for our entrance into Melbourne. I had not looked too carefully at the geography of the city, but now realize that coming in from the ocean (the Bass Strait), the ship must pass through a fairly narrow gap called the "headlands" before opening up to another large expanse of water called Port Philip Bay. So although we were still 4 hours out from our scheduled docking, the pilot was in to help direct the ship through the Bay and through a deceptively small channel for the final entrance to Melbourne.
I went back to bed, and slept off and on till about 7:00 when I got up and headed to the gym. It was need to watch the ship come into port while working up a sweat on the elliptical trainer. I showered grabbed some quick breakfast, and then it was off the ship for our bus tour of Melbourne.
Melbourne was founded by a group of settlers from Tasmania who had concluded they were out of arable land and needed to find someplace they could establish an expanded agricultural for a growing population. Shortly after the end of the California gold rush had run its course, gold an other minerals were found in the area, and the place exploded over night. (There was more gold extracted from the Victoria gold fields than during the California '49 gold rush, and in 1869, the world's largest gold nugget was discovered near Melbourne).
Today Melbourne is Australia's second largest city, after Sydney, and apparently there's quite a rivalry between the two cities in sport, culture, and of course economical development. The natives here are quick to point out that while Melbourne was settled by "free" farmers, Sydney was built by English convicts!
From my point of view, and consensus of most in our group, there is no contest. With the exception of some of the downtown development along the Yarra River, Melbourne was pretty unimpressive. In fact the place generally looked dreary and run down. To be fair some of this can probably be blamed on a very dramatic shortage of water. Melbourne has been in a drought condition for the better part of the past decade, and it shows. There are currently severe water restrictions in place: no car washing, sprinkler systems or fountains allowed to operate. Gardens can be hand watered only up to 2 hours per week.
What's worse is that much of the more beautiful public gardens were landscaped with non-native trees such as English Elms, and they in particular are not doing well in what is now a pretty arid climate. They think many of these trees are in serious jeopardy.
Our bus tour of the city highlights included a stop at a private residence for "tea". Turns out the residence, although it was in a premium part of town, was pretty run down (cracks in the walls, rotting wood on the porches, and landscaping that was not only parched, but overgrown as well). It also turns out the house was in fact owned by the president of the tour company that organized our tour, so no doubt there was money being made there. But the tea and cookies were good!
Then back to the ship and poolside.
While we were on our tour a small fleet of Australian navy ships moored at our pier ... I'm not sure what class of ship they were (I'm sure Don knows!), but one was a small patrol ship of sorts, and the other two were larger (destroyers), but different classes as well. One of those included a helicopter pad and "garage", while the other had room to accommodate at least two choppers in the "2-car" garage. Although they were interesting to look at, the continuous on board announcements (orders?) being delivered over their ships' speakers got to be annoying for those of us trying hard to snooze at the pool!
We left Melbourne pretty much as scheduled, shortly after 5:30 p.m. We had gathered again at the Millers' balcony and watched both the departure, and later the sunset over glasses of Australian wines. This could be habit-forming!
More pictures to come!