Friday, August 5, 2016


The flight from Cairns landed in Melbourne after 10 pm. We boarded our coach and started our drive to the hotel. There was no traffic on the road .... 

and we reached the Ibis Victoria Hotel after 11 pm, unloaded the luggage and entrusted them in the lobby - it would take another 30 minutes to get our rooms allotted, procure the keys and check in the bags. The Indian restaurant nearby was awaiting us for dinner. 
So without much ado, our tour manager led us to 'Gaylord' restaurant which was just a 7 minute walk. It was a cold night. 
As we entered the restaurant, we enjoyed the warmth of the place - literally and figuratively - it was a sprawling one with a good ambiance. We were the only customers at that late hour. We were served as soon as we were seated - the starters of yummy hot pakoras vanished in a jiffy - so hungry were we! (Our last meal was a good eleven hours earlier!). Soon after that, steaming hot dinner was served followed by ice cream. 

As we walked back to our hotel, we couldn't help commenting that the bye-lane looked like one of the side streets of Indian cities, narrow, dank, dark .... There was a good pearl / opal store bang opposite to our hotel which didn't fail to escape the notice of the ladies in our group - and we managed to exchange knowing glances and resolved to pay a visit the next evening. 

We checked into our rooms - less spacious compared to our earlier hotel rooms. There was a complimentary bottle of water and a small tetra-pack of milk along with the regular instant coffee and tea pouches. It was 12.30 by the time we went to bed. We had a good sleep of six hours.

We went for breakfast at 8 am - hash brown, potato crispies and groundnuts also found their way to our plates in addition to our usual choices. 

Our day started as our coach left the hotel for the day's program at 9 am.

The first stop was the Town Hall and Parliament House. 
The grand steps leading to the imposing structure had an old world charm about it.

We then visited St. Patrick's Cathedral, the tallest church in Australia famous for its striking appearance. 

The interiors had a peaceful magnificence; we also enjoyed the colors and shapes cast by its beautiful stained-glass windows...

Our next halt was Captain Cook's Cottage built amidst the picturesque Fitzroy Gardens to commemorate the voyages of Captain James Cook, the discoverer of Australia. Built in 1755, Cooks' Cottage is the oldest building in Australia and a popular Melbourne tourist attraction. It has an interesting story about it. Cook's father either built, rebuilt or bought it in Great Ayton, Yorkshire, England in 1755. James Cook left Great Ayton in early 1745, so he never lived in this cottage but would have stayed here when visiting his parents. Cooks' Cottage was purchased in 1933 by Sir Russell Grimwade as a centenary gift to the people and State of Victoria. The cottage was moved, brick by brick from Great Ayton to Melbourne - each brick was individually numbered, packed into barrels and then shipped to Australia in 253 crates complete with an ivy cutting which had grown on the original building. 
Today this oldest building in Melbourne is covered by the ivy. 

A site in Fitzroy Gardens, a serene and picturesque place, was selected to compliment the cottage with its large shady European trees and construction work was completed in six months. The cottage was handed over to the Lord Mayor, on 15 October, 1934 during a centenary ceremony. The cottage has undergone two restorations - the first in the late 1950's and the most recent in 1978, when the building was restored and furnished appropriate to the period. 

The Great Ayton family cottage is the only concrete historical link we have with Captain Cook's origins and gives visitors an idea of life in the 1700's.

Fitzroy Gardens itself is sprawling and attractive with trees, bushes and flowers. There is one giant tree which has an irresistibly romantic aura about it.

It was drizzling and we wore the yellow ponchos provided by our tour company. We had some thirty minutes at our disposal before boarding our coach, so our tour manager chose to take us on a tram ride. 
City Circle Trams are an excellent mode of commuting within Melbourne. Rides in Tram number 35 are free, and our tour manager told us we would take the tram and get down after three stations, then take the return tram 35 to the same place. As our group was waiting at the station, we overheard some local persons looking in our direction and wondering aloud about 'the group of laborers'. We took it in our stride and controlled our chuckle - it was a group of highly qualified professionals from India who were being misunderstood!
We did enjoy our tram rides - that it was free was not the only reason.

Some of us had made a special request to our tour manager that we wanted a halt at MCG and not just the drive around as per our itinerary. Coming all the way to Melbourne and not visiting the Mecca of Cricket! My husband teased me asking me whether I had seen Wankhede stadium. That was not the point. We'd never be visiting Melbourne again, so why shouldn't we have the privilege of visiting MCG - if we could. And we got our desire fulfilled. We got to have a stop at MCG. Yay!
The Melbourne Cricket Ground built in 1853 is the largest stadium in Australia, the tenth-largest stadium in the world, and the world's largest stadium for playing cricket with a total capacity of 100,000 people. It is the home of the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC), the oldest sporting club in Australia. It has a couple of firsts to its credit - in 1877 the first game of Test cricket in history was played between Australia and England here and in 1971, the first One Day International cricket match. Many international rock concerts have also been held at the MCG.
The MCG's most famous moment in history was as the main stadium for the 1956 Olympic Games. 

50 years later the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2006 Commonwealth Games and athletics events were held at the MCG.

Surprisingly we were allowed to enter the stadium - no game was going on, you see. We could go just to the MCG Superstore, not beyond that. Some of us bought souvenirs. In fact there weren't many cricket memorabilia, I assume the Aussies have moved on to football.  
We were not eligible to buy special items which caught our fancy - like MCG jackets  as they were 'Exclusive to MCC members only'. 

From the gift shop windows we could see the huge stadium - the stands and the beautiful green ground - it was empty as no game was on.

In spite of the drizzle, my husband and I took a complete round of the MCG even as our group members were still shopping. 
We were glad we did that - we could see statues of more cricketers - Dennis Lillee, Shane Warne and ....
the legendary Sir Don Bradman. 

We could see a train passing as we were going around MCG. There are two train stations close to the stadium. Jolimont (otherwise known as MCG Station) is a five-minute walk through to the ground.

As we got back in our coach, I couldn't help noticing the narrow one-way street near the MCG and cars parked all along it - it could be any city in India!

As we were driving to our restaurant for lunch, our 79 year old young and spirited Coach Captain provided snippets about the landmarks of the city as we drove past them - 
the magnificent Hotel Windsor ....

Forum One & Two Theaters,  the oldest hotel ....

the Art Tower, which is the tallest tower in Melbourne. 

Lunch was at 'Desi Dhaba' - supposed to be Sachin Tendulkar's favorite restaurant. 
The interior was eclectic, transporting us back to India with the huge nostalgic collages of India's most popular stars, cricketers and ads. The food set our palates tingling too.

We started on our two hour drive to Phillip Island at 2 pm. The majority of our group chose to catch their forty winks after the heavy lunch. Some of us ladies didn't want to miss the scenic drive along the Australian countryside. What I've noticed during these tours is that ladies are enthusiastic photo-shooters while their better halves just capture the views in their mind's eye. It always happens during such drives that the scenic views are always on the other side - you know it's the case of 'the grass looks greener on the other side'. We had this couple who seated themselves at two window seats on either side. I thought it was a smart move - to capture the best of both sides. This lady would hand over the camera to her husband and ask him to click the awesome views on his side. He'd grudgingly click a couple of pics and hand it back to her. She'd have the camera in her hand waiting for the high wall on her side to disappear even as she shifted her glances between the awesome sights on the other side and her disinterested husband. I couldn't suppress my smile - good I hadn't tried that - I'd have been in the same boat.

Soon we left the old world-charm-cum-new-world projections of Melbourne behind. We were driving through vast expanses of grasslands. The scenes were awesome - green grassland, white / black sheep and cows grazing under the blue skies. I had occupied the window seat and let my husband snooze next to me. My friend seated in front wasn't as smart. She sat in the aisle seat armed with her camera and her husband sat snoring away at the window seat. So the poor thing couldn't click great photos. Hearing my clickety clicks, she'd hand over her camera to me for a few good clicks. But the pity was we couldn't get good ones as the bus was going fast. And when we had our cameras handy, the scenes would disappear behind the continuous line of huge trees. And when we'd shut our cameras, they would appear magically. By the time we were ready to click, the scene would whiz past and ....
we'd end up with a blurred shaky photo. Hearing my desperate clicks my husband with half opened eyes commented, "As if you haven't seen cows and sheep grazing in our country!" I couldn't help retorting, "But these are Australian cows and sheep - grazing in Australia!"

Midway we halted at Mc Donald's for coffee break. From the petrol pump, we could get an idea about the prices - petrol and diesel cost the same - a little less than in India.
It was raining intermittently. In another hour, we were at Phillip Island to experience one of Australia’s most popular attractions The Penguin Parade. These penguins are a tiny variety. Daily at sunset little penguins returning ashore after a day's fishing waddle up the beach in a magnificent procession to the safety of their sand dune burrows. They walk across the sand in small groups (some almost in single file), as if in a triumphant march as they head for their homes.

Our tour manager had instructed us about the directions for our seating arrangements to watch the magical parade and also about the view from the board side walk. Photography was strictly prohibited - as the flash would disturb and affect the penguins. 

Then how did I manage to get these pictures? Did I break the rules? Not me! Knowing that I wouldn't be able to get pictures of the penguins, I did the next best thing possible. Going around the Gift Shop there, I clicked photos of book covers about Phillip Island! So there!

Luckily for us, the rain had stopped. Our tickets were the cheapest for Penguin Parade at 25 AUD. Superb up-close viewing from the tiered seating was available in Penguins Plus for 48 AUD. Penguins could be viewed at eye level from Underground Viewing, located beneath Penguins Plus for 60 AUD. 

We walked along the elevated board walk and noticed small wooden houses built for the little penguins here and there. We reached our viewing stands around 5 pm for the parade which would start in about half an hour. 

Grabbing a vantage point on the tiered benches was a Herculean task. Everyone was shifting with dissatisfaction. The seats were wet, so we sat on our folded ponchos placed on the bench. We waited with bated breath for the magical procession. Someone from the front rows pointed in one direction and everyone started craning their necks and straining their eyes to catch the first glimpse of the beak / head / wing of the first set of penguins bobbing to the shore with the waves. It was difficult to get a good view of the parade, so within five minutes many of us chose to get back to the elevated board walk. Sure enough we could get to witness the little penguins walking home groups in a disciplined manner like sets of school kids lining up to the various classrooms! Some of them entered some house / burrow - obviously their own, even as others walked in different directions in a determined manner even as enthusiastic spectators enjoyed this treat. Sorry, no photos. However it was really saddening to see some of the tourists clicking pics in spite of the prohibition!

After this exquisite experience, we started back for Melbourne at 6.30 pm and reached our hotel at 8.15. The first thing I noticed was that the Opal store in front of the hotel had already shut shop. So no luck! Oh my, wasn't I wise to buy an opal pendant from Cairns! 

After freshening up, we walked once again to Gaylord restaurant for dinner. Once more we enjoyed the dinner from starters samosas to dessert kulfi. 

After returning to our hotel room we packed our stuff as we had to leave early the next morning. We were ready at the lobby the next morning with our luggage at 5.30 am. We were given our packed breakfast boxes. It was just a half an drive to the airport as there was no traffic. Luckily group booking had been arranged at the airport, so the check-in of the bags of our entire group was done together, saving us good time. Before security check we consumed our breakfast. Our flight took off at 8 am. 

The Qantas flight provided us with breakfast - ours was Asian Vegetarian meal - we got our meal in customized boxes - with our name and seat number mentioned on each.

After our double breakfast, we were all ready for our first day in Sydney when we landed at 9.30 am.


  1. Madam, you have a very lucid and expressive style. One could almost see in one's mind the Penguins walk that you described in such poetic language. I thoroughly enjoyed your writing.