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Published: February 14th 2010
Close-up of our B&B.
We arrived in Melbourne last night and discovered that our B&B is located on - wait - Batman Street! We were beside ourselves with excitment. Would Alfred meet us at the door? Would the Batmobile be available for private tours? Could we perhaps get a peek at the Batcave?
Alas, no such luck. It turns out that it's merely named after John Batman, an early settler who is commonly seen as the founder of Melbourne (and most of the state of Victoria). It seems that Mr. Batman was a brilliant opportunist who, in 1835, tried to buy the land on which Melbourne stands from the local Aborigines for 40 blankets, 30 axes, 100 knives, 50 scissors, 30 mirrors, 200 handkerchiefs, 100 pounds of flour and 6 shirts. However, his negotiations ran into a minor snag when the Governor of New South Wales (the province in which Sydney is located), decided that the land was already owned by the Crown (as in Britain) and therefore the sale was void. This didn't stop John from settling there and declaring the land "Batmania". Mr. Batman then went on to engage in other disturbing anti-Aborigine activities but ultimately, and perhaps appropriately, died a painful
Cool sculpture near the Yarra River.
death from syphilis in 1839.
So no caped crusader, but we're happy to report that there is a raunchy cabaret show called "Witches in Britches" a mere 2 blocks away.
Fortunately, our lodging more than made up for the disappointment. Robinsons in the City is a fantastic 6-room B&B in a renovated brick building (circa 1850) which served as a bakehouse and still retains its enormous (although no longer functional) wood burning bakers oven. We were thrilled to find that Robinsons has everything that we seek in a B&B: comfortable and stylish rooms (the art deco theme is a major plus), extremely nice and helpful owners (Paul and Tish) who provide excellent restaurant recommendations, a dog, delicious breakfasts and, for the most part, peace and quiet. Additional perks that made us almost dizzy with excitement after two months of travel in Asia included satellite TV (i.e. about 1000 channels! note: the Simpsons is always playing here - on one channel or another), complimentary Aussie port and chocolates, and Nutella with our breakfast breads.
After a great breakfast and chat with Paul, we saw that the rain had disappeared and was replaced with clear blue skies and warm
breezes. A perfect day to explore the city.
Navigating Melbourne is a piece of cake. Almost everything that a tourist could want to see is neatly tucked into a rectangular grid. Even more convenient is the public transportation: a FREE public tram (bus/trolley) trundles along the perimeter of the CBD throughout the day. What a bonus.
Melbourne lacks a dramatic harbor like Sydney but the Yarra River, which snakes along the southern border of the CBD, is a small but scenic river, beautifully bordered by parks, sculptures and museums.
We roamed all over the business district and saw quite a bit of the city this morning and afternoon. Rather than run through all the details, we'll just share our two most intriguing discoveries of the day:
1. The inhabitants of Australia (and Melbourne in particular) have a strong and inexplicable affection for hats. We don't think it has anything to do with Halloween or fancy dress parties but the locals clearly love to put things on their heads in public. Lawyers/Barristers in Australia still wear the most curious old-fashioned wigs, not only in court but also in public (e.g., when picking up a Frappuccino at Starbucks
The Yarra River
or a prescription at the pharmacy). Then we started noticing a higher-than-average per capita display of felt Santa hats and reindeer horns. And then came the sparkly stars on the ends of pipe cleaners. It's all a bit overwhelming, really.
2. The State Library of Victoria (located in downtown Melbourne), quite simply, ROCKS! Here's why:
- The building itself is stunning, especially its gorgeous domed reading room. Built in the 1850s, it's an imposing and beautiful stone structure with a "Classical Revival facade" (according to Lonely Planet; we don't know much about architecture so can only say that it's very impressive).
- The welcoming lawn outside is the perfect place to eat lunch, sun bathe, meet friends, take a nap or (our favorite) people watch.
- They have free internet. Just pop by and stand in a line for a 15- or 60-minute time slot.
- They have (on display) dozens of ancient manuscripts (mostly bibles/prayer books) and, much better, the oldest artifact that we've ever seen in any library: a 4000-year-old scroll from Mesopotamia. It's a tiny stone "cuneiform" tablet, about the size of a money clip, with engravings that apparently were a record of the payment of
taxes (in the ever-popular currencies of sheep and goats) in the year 2050 B.C. We can't put links in this blog but if you'd like to see it, type "state library victoria cuneiform tablet" and click on the first result.
Tonight we headed out to dinner at Mecca Bah, a favorite of Paul and Tish. It's down in the "Docklands", a new and only partially developed neighborhood of condos, upscale restaurants and cafes, and shops just outside the CBD on the water. It is very trendy and, this week in particular, a favorite place for holiday parties. We ordered tagines (kind of a Moroccan stew - very yummy!) and some delicious local wine. A great end to our first day in this new city.
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