Melbourne during the two weeks of the Australian Open Tennis Championships is a crazy place, full to the brim and even more sports mad than usual. We have long promised ourselves a trip to the Open and finally made it. It won’t be our last trip.
Perth can be so dysfunctional at times, with needlessly long queues, ridiculously high prices and dreadful service. West Aussies hate being beaten by the Vics but having spent a time in Melbourne we’d better lift our game. This city works. We paid a little more than one day’s play at the Hopman Cup for three days at the Australian Open, never had to queue for more than 5 minutes despite a record attendance on the Tuesday and walked freely along lovely wide shaded avenues to and from the tennis. There has been a huge amount of rebuilding and restructuring in Melbourne since our last trip, nearly 20 years ago, and everything is definitely for the better. It now must surely rank as one of the great tourist cities. We loved it.
The tennis scene is amazing. There are the fanatics, the crazies and the fashion-conscious in abundance. We scored terrific seats in Rod Laver, Margaret Court Arena and Show Court 2. Somehow, we always got lucky with the outside courts and grabbed some shade. Having any tennis tickets in your possession gives you free access to the #70 tram and good discounts or free drinks at lots of eateries around the city. Giant screens are set up around the city to keep track of the action and big crowds gather to watch when an Aussie is on court. We joined the crowd watching at Federation Square and wandered past another mob outside Crown Casino.
To get around, we either walked or used the free City Loop tram. This will take you within an easy walk of most CBD attractions and the extra walking simply means that we could eat more. The trams rattle and crash their way around on rails that look as though they would support anything more than a kid’s train set and the cars somehow negotiate around the crazy system of lights and tram stops. Despite the chaotic appearance, things seem to work. The Starshuttle from the airport certainly worked. For $17 each, fast comfortable buses run every 15 minutes of the day to and from the airport and Southern Cross Station, where-upon you can catch a small shuttle bus to your hotel. What wonderful service.
The abundance of street eateries was certainly tempting and reasonably priced. One night, we went to the Victoria Night Market where it is wall to wall food kiosks. The usual array of market stalls has been packed up and put away to be largely replaced with hundreds of dining opportunities and entertainment facilities. We met friends Azba and Mike for a meal but the crowd proved truly daunting. Christine eventually solved the problem by launching herself across a table and securing some chairs as another group showed the early signs of leaving. She hustled them out of the way and we settled in. Azba set off to buy curries for the others while I had my eyes on the Sawawakian Dumpling stall. So did a few hundred others and I eventually gave up trying to locate the end of the line and settled for some polish meatballs. The entire market place seemed filled up with people eating from take-away containers, squatting on kerbs, sitting on the bare ground and perched on railings. It was a staggering sight. Half of Melbourne was at the tennis and the rest were at Victoria Markets. The amazing thing is we were at the markets early the next morning and the exact location that we’d eaten our meal the night before was transformed into a clothing and handbag stall.
Melbourne’s claim to be the most cosmopolitan city in the World certainly seems accurate. While sitting in a crowd at the tennis, the variety of accents, dress styles, skin colours and snack foods supported the claim and the food outlets along Swanston St are like an International Food Festival. It all adds to the attraction of the place.
One day we caught the tram down to the river, walked the length of Southbank then trammed on to the Docklands area and its famed outlet shopping. I came to Melbourne determined to buy some Australian Open clothing, regardless of the cost, but when I was actually confronted with the ridiculous prices, I chickened out. At Harbourfront, we found a sports outlet that sold official Australian Open gear from previous years so we left as happy as Larry with a cap each (no year on them) and a 2012 T-Shirt all for a total of $15. Once we’ve done the gardening in them a few times no one will ever know and we are around $100 better off. There was plenty of really cheap AFL gear as well, but they didn’t seem to have heard of the West Coast Eagles.
We also thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Arrow on Swanston Accommodation. Its best feature is the provision of a simple kitchen, meaning that we didn’t have to eat out all the time. With a tram stop right outside, it is a great cheap place to stay.
OK, now that I have been overwhelmingly positive about Melbourne, I’ll offer a criticism. The people here have absolutely no idea of walking on the left. They march up the street five abreast. They cross at lights on the right hand side. We tried holding a line but they are accomplished at boring straight through, although so many are actually on the phone it wouldn’t matter. The problem is so wide-spread, I started to think that keeping right was a local rule so I looked it up on Google and found these quotes from the Mayor of Melbourne in 2011. “He [Jack] says that he travels a lot around Australia and the world and Melburnians are the worst offenders.” I agree. The next time here I’m going to wear a giant pair of Madonna bras with sharpened steel tips.
Aside from the maniac street walkers, we enjoyed every minute of our stay in Melbourne and saw some terrific tennis (even a few rare Aussie wins). We will definitely be back, although maybe not in Winter.