Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Ghost of Melbourne Past

Map picture

It is impossible for me to discuss our visit to Melbourne, without first sharing the story of "the ghost of Melbourne past." Lisa and I visited Melbourne several years ago, and on that visit we jumped off the ship, and at random selected a taxi driver to show us around the city. We had a wonderful experience and a great deal of fun that day which we will always fondly remember. During our day together, the driver mentioned that he and his family would be coming to the United States in the following year and visiting Disneyland in California. In those days I was “young and na├»ve about the ways of the world,” and so I made my infamous statement "well, if you're ever in the area, give us a call and we'd be delighted to have you stay with us." Now in truth, in the back of my mind, I was thinking there's no way that anyone is going to visit California, and then pay the airfare to just run over to Kansas City for couple of days. Boy was I wrong!

About a year later, I get a phone call from our friendly Melbourne driver who tells me that they are indeed coming to the United States, and they've made plans to visit Kansas City. Talk about a surprise-you could have knocked me over with a feather! Anyway I said all the right things, “of course we'd be delighted to have you, and would look forward to the visit,” but then he said, “I hope you don't mind that my wife and I will be bringing our kids." Well, what could I say but of course they were welcome to bring their kids. He forgot to mention that his two boys were adults, one age 27 and the other age 32. At this point in the conversation, I'm in a complete state of shock, so when he mentioned that they had made arrangements to stay with us for a week, I don't think I had the strength to respond in any intelligible manner.

Fortunately, I guess, Lisa ended up being out of town when the appointed week arrived, and thus I became the designated innkeeper and tour guide for this family from Melbourne, about whom we knew virtually nothing. At that time I still owned a nice airplane, and so I figured that one easy way to deal with them would be to travel some around the Midwest taking them to places they have never visited. My first trip was to Santa Fe, New Mexico--it was also my last trip in the airplane with them. Oh yes, they enjoyed Santa Fe a great deal, but they paid not one single penny towards the cost of their accommodations, or food! At this point, I figured that the most inexpensive way to work my way out of this dilemma, was simply to show them around the Kansas City area.

I am absolutely certain that they had a wonderful trip. I did all the cooking; I did all the laundry; I cleaned up all the dishes; and I served as both driver and tour guide for several days. To give you a sense of just how bad it became, I would generally go to bed shortly after dinner as is my habit, and leave them watching the television with the dinner plates still on the table. When I got up the next morning, all of the lights and electronic equipment were on, and not a single dish had been taken to the kitchen. Talk about feeling abused! I would go to the grocery store, and they would tag along. As I would walk down the aisle, they would reach over and fill the cart with items in which they had an interest, but not once did they offer to pay any portion of the bill.

To this day, I honestly don't know why I let the situation get so far out of hand. Early on in the visit, I should have just told them enough is enough. Somehow I guess I was too nice a guy, and I allowed them to completely run over my good common sense. One of my friends joked that he had heard a picture of me was hanging above the urinals in Australian men's rooms, suggesting that anyone who would like a free trip to America should contact this gentleman.

So you can see that in visiting Melbourne yesterday, I was confronted immediately by "the ghost of Melbourne past." But, I had exorcised that ghost by completely throwing away all contact information for these people. However, as I exited the ship, I was actually a little hesitant that I might see this gentleman drive up in his taxi, but of course in a city of 4 million people the likelihood of that was very small, and it did not happen. So, let me turn to the present and discuss our wonderful visit to Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne.

Melbourne has a population of slightly fewer than 4 million people, which means it is only somewhat smaller than Sydney. It is however growing faster than Sydney, and is projected to surpass Sydney in size in the next decade. Melbourne has been noted as "the most livable city in the world." I'm sure some other cities might take exception with that, but by the same token it is a beautiful city.

This was the only stop on our cruise, where the ship spent the night in port. That gave us two full days to visit Melbourne. On our first day we had a private car and thus, we were able to scurry around the city fairly quickly. Because of the Christmas holidays, schools were closed thus giving many families an opportunity to leave the city and traffic was extremely light. We did stop briefly to take photographs of the Shrine of Remembrance, which is a beautiful structure that was built to honor the roughly 90,000 Australian troops that were killed during World War I. Melbourne, AustraliaOver the years the structure has been added to and increased in size, so that it now serves as a memorial to all citizens who have served in the military. From there we made a stop at the Royal Botanical Garden and spent about 30 minutes pleasantly walking through a magnificent area. Melbourne, AustraliaOnce back in the car, we drove by the National Cathedral, and stopped so that we could take several pictures.

Our most memorable event in Melbourne was our visit to the National Gallery of Victoria.Melbourne, Australia We actually remembered visiting this building from our previous trip, and while Lisa and I both recall that it had some interesting art, there was nothing actually special about the Museum. When our driver let us off, he said that he would return in 30 minutes, but we got his cell number just in case we changed our mind. Well change our mind we did--we spent over an hour and a half in the gallery and could easily have spent more time had we not been on somewhat of a schedule. The gallery has a very interesting construction such that there is an outer building, in the center of which is yet another building that houses the most important pieces of art. This inner building has a unique glass ramp which circles completely around the outside of the building and allows you to climb from level to level. On our last visit, I very distinctly remember visiting level I, and being disappointed and somewhat miffed when after a long climb to the top where level II should have been, only to find a sign that said "closed for reconstruction." Well today that second level was open and it housed some of the most magnificent art that either us have seen in a long time. I can simply say, “What a pleasant surprise!”

Having taken so much time, our morning was quickly coming to an end when we drove by the Royal Exhibition Building. Melbourne, AustraliaHere I stopped for several quick photographs, since this is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With that our morning came to an end, and we retreated to the ship.

On our second day in Melbourne, we took a tour which was offered by the ship. It's a little hard to characterize our experience: let's just say, it was a bit unusual. We started by taking the bus to the loading point for the Colonial Tram Car Restaurant. Melbourne, AustraliaTo understand this experience, I have to first explain that throughout the city of Melbourne there is a very extensive trolley car system. Most cities in the world have done away with their trolley cars, but Melbourne has steadfastly retained this tradition, and in fact, expanded it throughout the city. There are trolley tracks on virtually every major street in Melbourne. The cars that run on these tracks are called "tramcars." Several of the oldest tramcars have been converted into moving restaurants. Our journey this morning was to ride on such a converted car for approximately 90 minutes, during which we were served High Tea, a very British tradition. And so our railcar went up and down and up and down and around what seemed like every trolley track in the intercity of Melbourne for 90 minutes, all the while waiters sang and rushed about serving coffee, tea, scones and sponge cake--oh yes, and don't forget the cucumber sandwiches. All I can say is that it was at least "an experience."

Our next stop was to visit the Eureka Sky Deck. This is a 1000 ft. building that has 88 floors, with the top floor being dedicated to an observation lounge. The observation floor is the highest public vantage point in the southern hemisphere.

The elevator which took us to the top was so smooth and swift that it seemed impossible we had climbed 1000 feet in the short time during which the doors were closed. It was somewhat hazy, and so our view over the city was limited but still interesting.

Having completed this experience in record time our drivMelbourne, Australiaer had about 90 minutes to kill, and so he started driving around Melbourne at random which unfortunately duplicated what we had done the prior day. In any event, we enjoyed our stay at Melbourne.

We had a pleasant Christmas Eve onboard ship, and today we are traveling south from the mainland of Australia to its most southern state, the Island of Tasmania. So, from down under, Lisa and I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.


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