MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — After walking around Melbourne for two days, it was time to take it easy. We woke up to more perfect weather, so a day at the beach fit the bill.
We again gorged ourselves on the hotel breakfast with toast, mini muffins and eggs Florentine before heading out on the tram to St. Kilda, a beach neighborhood southeast of downtown. We may have been overcharged for two loaded Myki fare cards by our hotel, but we were too lazy to buy a card, figure out the fare and add the correct value.
At least the tram stop was right outside. The ride was surprisingly quick, and we got out at Luna Park, an amusement park that has been operating since 1912 and was the first of five built in Australia. It had that nice old-time feeling of older U.S. parks, but unfortunately it was closed on Monday.
The amusement park was part of a revitalization and beautification effort at the beginning of the 20th century, when St. Kilda became an entertainment precinct for Melbourne. Most of the current shorefront stems from this era.
We walked along the shore and to picturesque St. Kilda Pavilion (pictured in banner image for this post), atop the breakwater to a marina and reached via a long pier. The kiosk is an icon of the city, and when it was burned down in 2003 by arson, the community rebuilt it according to the original plans.
As an added bonus, the breakwater has become the home for a thousand penguins, who shelter between the rocks to evade predators. We saw two of the little fellas. One was “hiding” underneath wooden steps and the other was perched in a crevice between three huge boulders. We felt a little guilty being so close after everything we had read and seen in New Zealand about how shy and easily spooked penguins are.
Beth had read that St. Kilda is famous for its cake shops, so we set out to find the town center. It was a cute pedestrian area with tram tracks in the middle, lined by all kinds of shops. We didn’t see any cake places, but a falafel shop offered freshly squeezed juices and smoothies, and who can resist on a sunny day?
We had an orange/pineapple juice as well as a fruit salad smoothie, all made from fresh fruit. While we enjoyed our drinks, three restaurant trams came and went, and we wondered if we would like to spend a gorgeous day in Melbourne on a tram with shaded windows (we wouldn’t).
Wandering on, we passed more shops and finally found four pastry shops, all clustered at the end of the street. The window shopping was fun, but as soon as Beth saw a strawberry tart at the Europa Bake Shop, the decision was made. Torsten got a chocolate mud cake and Beth was swayed to try the lemon tart, which was creamy and tart.
Full bellies need to rest, so it was time to hit the beach in earnest. On our way there, we were sidetracked by a community garden full of funky art, including a rooftop yellow submarine, a giant red bull and a mosaic mailbox. Flowers plus found art — that’s Beth’s kind of place.
Once on the promenade, we spread out in the shade of a palm tree and watched the scene. There were skateboarders, a bicyclist unapologetically gawking at female sunbathers and people speaking all sorts of languages. We even saw a girl from our walking tour the previous day.
When it was time to head back to Melbourne, Beth remarked how she could see herself living in St. Kilda. It’s funny how we’re currently without a home or country, and every place we go, we think: Would we want to live here? Just for giggles, we looked up the seasonal weather. In winter, Melbourne only gets as cold as 50ºF, so Torsten could commute the 6km to downtown by bike year-round.
In Melbourne, we wanted to finish our Arcades and Lanes walking tour, so we took the tram to the eastern end of downtown and picked up where we had left off. The remainder of the tour was nice but not very exciting, except for a portrait of a naked lady named Chloe in the Young and Jackson’s bar. Apparently, she caused quite the stir in conservative Melbourne when she was unveiled in 1875.
With two of the three walking tours now completed, we decided to do an abbreviated version of the last tour, On the Waterfront. We had already walked some of it, so we made a beeline to the south riverbank and picked up the route. Much like the day before, all the cafes and bars were full and blasting music.
While the southern promenade was interesting, the real fun started once we crossed the street to the convention center. This part of town is full of new development, both apartments and office blocks (blocks of glass, reminiscent of a Borg cube).
We saw the Polly Woodside, a three-masted, square-rigged tall ship currently undergoing renovation. A little farther, there was a pretty footbridge and a long row of bars and cafes, including the Munich Brewhouse, a knock-off of the Hofbräuhaus in Munich, replete with waiters in lederhosen and a copycat logo of two lions with beer steins. The smell of frying brats made us move on, however.
We settled into a little bistro called Plus 5 for a light dinner. Beth ordered the souvlaki, lamb with cabbage and goat cheese wrapped in flatbread, and Torsten had a pizza with shaved ham, mushrooms and mozzarella.
The atmosphere was great, the view amazing and the kitchen so-so. We watched the sun set on downtown Melbourne and then went home to our hotel, just across the river. This is the second time we stayed out until after dark — a real milestone for us!