With Love, From Melbourne

Monday, December 29, 2014

I can feel the wind brush against my face and flow through my hair. I pressed my foot on the gas to accelerate. I love this feel, as if I was made for this thrill. I am driving a convertible through the Great Ocean Road - one of world's finest coastal driveway. I purse my lips to taste the saltiness in the air. 'Holy God of Travel', I say out loud. 

Cruising through a stunning stretch that runs along the shoreline, I cross the idyllic seaside town of Lorne and Apollo Bay. Winding, twisting and turning, I am finally facing the Twelve Apostle at sunset. I am astonished by the grandeur of these craggy limestone towers. It makes me feel like I am just a small speck in God's creation. Another 3.5 km to the west, I park the car and walk down to get my feet wet at the Loch Ard Gorge. I cannot help but bask in the glory of being in the Most Livable City in the world. Would you believe if I tell you that I have landed in Melbourne just a few hours back? 

Melbourne has greeted me with the most fabulous combination of colors I have ever seen. March has just begun. Green was turning to yellow and brown. I am staying at Base Backpacker Hostel at the vibrant suburb of St. Kilda. The beach is just a stone's throw away and there are lots of outdoor cafes at the nearby Acland street and Fitzroy street. It feels amazing to sit in one, with a good book in one hand and a cup of latte in another.

Exploring the City Center is easy - just hop onto the free of cost City Circle tram or understand the tram routes from a friendly local. Nostalgia hit me as I first looked at the tram. It reminded me of trams of Calcutta, a city where I have spent parts of my childhood. I took the tram route 96 to travel from Fitzroy street to the Fitzroy Gardens. It was a walk to remember as I strolled through it's sweeping lawns bordered by elm trees. The Cook's Cottage looked like it is straight out of the pages of history. 

From Fitzroy Garden, it is a short ride on tram line 75 to the SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium at the bank of Yarra river. Inside you can have a virtual scuba diving experience as it gives you a 360 degree view of the aquatic life.  A shiver ran through my spine as I looked at the salt water crocodile Pinjarra, stealthily swimming through the blue waters. 

At Federation Square or Fed Square, I picked up a free map of Melbourne from the Melbourne Visitor Center. I walked the bluestone cobbled Hosier Lane to see the world famous graffitis and a smile lit my face when I saw Ganesha painted on a wall. I enjoyed a laneway lunch at 'Degraves Espresso Bar' at Degraves street. I stopped and tapped my feet to the music played by a group of musicians at Bourke street. The simplest way to explore Melbourne is to just wander through these laneways. And often while wandering through the laneways, I wondered 'what that amazing smell is?'.

Melbourne is one of the best destination in the world for a foodie traveler. Remember Masterchef Australia? Dinner at The Press Club owned by George Calombaris brought back those memories. And of course, being a Bengali with a sweet tooth, I couldn't help but try Pavlova and Lamingtons. And mmm... foodgasmic they are! 

I am not a shopoholic but Queen Victoria's market and Chapel street in South Yarra are places you should definitely check out if you love shopping. Spread across 17 acres, Queen Vic is a place where you'll get anything you ask for , unless you ask for a koala or a penguin. 

Melbourne is also a city of festivals and events. From fashion to art to music to literature to sports, something is always being hosted in the city and no prize for guessing what's going on right now. The ICC Cricket World Cup 2015!!! The tickets were sold out so I figured out another way to take a peek inside the MCG. I took a Hot Air Balloon ride over the city and it was like feeding two birds with one scone. I wish I could tell you how flying feels. It felt like the sky was mine and as the sun rose, I floated above the Yarra river, MCG, Rod Laver Arena and a magnificent city dipped in fall color.

One night I went ahead to get a sky high view of a glittering Melbourne from Eureka Skydeck 88 - the highest public vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere. On the 88th floor of Eureka Tower and at a height of 285 m, this observation deck called 'The Edge' is definitely not for the weak hearted. 

I traveled to Yarra Valley to sample the world famous wine of the region. I heard their Chardonnay is great, but being a red wine fanatic, I sampled a Pinot Noir. And oh! What a velvety, mouth-filling texture, possibly the most seductive wine in the world. I was high at dawn, not in 'spirit', but in spirit and altitude, as I again took a ride in a hot air balloon, this time over the tranquil vineyards.

The Dandenong Ranges, with its tall eucalyptus or Victorian Ash trees, reminded me of the Gudalur road in the Nilgiris of India. Therein lies the Sherbrooke Forest, where exploration takes its wildest form in all literal sense. I was awestruck at the Alfred Nicholas Gardens as colors of the deciduous trees blanketed the place in shades of yellow, orange, red and brown. As the leaves dropped in the quaint lake, it painted a quintessential look of autumn. 

And here in the Dandenong Ranges, finally came the moment when I dangled my legs over the ledge of the Puffing Billy, as the world's oldest surviving steam engine chugged its way from Belgrave to Gembrook. The entire journey is full of vistas, but if you ask me for moments that took my breathe away, I would tell you about the time when Puffing Billy passes through Sherbrooke Forest and over the Monbulk Creek Trestle Bridge.

Next day I headed south to Mornington Peninsula. I swam and snorkeled in the white sand beach of Mount Martha. I promised to myself that the day I am a certified scuba diver, I would come back and explore the shipwrecks deep down. 

Further south is the Peninsula Hot Springs - a spa created around natural hot springs with healing mineral rich water. I was not in a 'Victoria's Secret', but I was definitely in Victoria's best kept secret as I immersed myself in the hilltop pool offering a panoramic view of the surroundings, relaxing, rejuvenating and washing away all tiredness of travel.

If you are at Mornington Peninsula, take a ferry from Stony Point to Cowes beach at Phillip Island. That's exactly what I did. Phillip Island is a wildlife haven. I fed kangaroos and cuddled sleepy koalas at Maru Koala and Animal Park. I boarded a cruise to Seal Rocks to witness fur seals frolic and fish in the waters. And then as the sun set, I watched the Penguine Parade at the Summerland beach. As the cute Little Penguins - the smallest of all breed of Penguins, emerged from the sea after the day's fishing and waddled up the beach to their sand burrows, I went all 'awwww' and wondered if I can smuggle one out with me.

Retrospection hit me as my trip neared its end. I realized Melbourne was synonymous to the French word mélange. Yes, Melbourne IS a mélange - of heritage, art, music, literature, sports, beaches, mountains, wildlife, fashion, great cuisines and drinks, people from different parts of the world and I can go on and on about this... So instead I designed what my heart felt about Melbourne and here is the outcome of all the love I felt for this city - 

So here is a contest for you in association with Tourism Victoria

  • All you have to do is -
  1. Check out these places in Victoria, Australia that Tanmay and Rohan of 'All India Bakchod' visited during their stay in Melbourne.
  2. Drop in a comment telling me which of these places would you want to visit in Melbourne and why?
  • Prize - The best answer wins a shopping voucher worth Rs 500.  
  • Who can participate? Any Indian citizen. You should have a Google login id, in order to login and comment.
  • The contest closes on 3rd Jan 2015.
This post is entirely a work of imagination and has been written for Tourism Victoria (http://www.visitmelbourne.com/India.aspx), in association with Indiblogger.

To all my readers, friends, Indiblogger and of course, Melbourne :) - Wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

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