I stayed in Melbourne a few days longer than I had planned to catch one of the Aussie Rules games on at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds(the MCG). Having been a rugby fan for quite some time but never delving into the details of the Aussie Rules version of the game I was excited to see what it was all about. Apparently in Melbourne there is Aussie Rules (AFL) and cricket. Nothing else matters.We knew we had to be at the MCG at 2pm for the game so we headed out there a bit early to figure out what was going on and find out way down there. We ended up walking a bit further than we intended because apparently the City Circle trams go from one point all the way around to another and then back again, not around in a circle. The weather was nice, I didn't mind the extra walk. The MCG is quite big. It can hold about 100,000 people and since the fields for cricket and Aussie Rules are round, the stadium is round as well. I'm curious to find out if they made the field for Aussie Rules round just so they could play on a cricket field.We found our way to the right gate and then headed inside. General admission seats gets you a spot in a select section on the main floor or one one of the upper floors. Levels 2 and 3 for reserved for seasons pass holders and boxes I think. After trying to get into level 2 and 3, and being turned around at both, we found some fun seats on level 4 overlooking the entire field. I still can't say whether those seats or the ones on the first floor would have been better but I guess it depends on what you're looking for. We got a more bird's eye view of the game. The view from the first floor is a little more personal.More and more people started to arrive and our section was packed. Just before the game started the rain started and everyone moved back as much as they could to get under cover. We stuck it out at the front and it stopped for us after 15 minutes. Being a bit wet and out in the breeze it sure wasn't the warmest time!All the support staff started to come to the field and the players came out to warm up, kicking the balls huge distances through the posts and to each other. Kicking is a huge part of the game and is how the ball is moved around the field for the most part. I couldn't tell if the players kicked with either of their feet but I'm assuming they'd practice that.After the players were warmed up and some people said some things into microphones that I couldn't here the game started. The fields are round with 4 poles at each end. The 2 middle poles are taller than the outer poles. You get 6 poles if you kick it through the middle poles and 1 point if the ball makes it through inside the smaller poles. Every time a goal is scored an umpire in a green shirt between the post vigorously points his finger like he's drawing a gun and then draws a white flag and waves it. If you get 1 point you get one hand and one flag. If you manage to get it through the middle 2 you get 6 points and you get 2 hands and then 2 flags. The umpires look like they take great pride in the flag waving. There looks to be a highly refined technique behind it.The game starts in the middle with the umpire throwing the ball straight into the air. From there it's a frenzy of slipping and sliding and grabbing the ball until it goes out, someone scores or someone lays on it.When someone scores 6 points, it is taken to the middle and play restarted. The ball is taken from the end if the goal was only 1 point.If someone lays on the ball, play is stopped and restarted with the umpire throwing the ball straight into the air. Most of the time the jumpers simply tried to tip it to their own team members.When the ball goes out of play the closest linesmen grabs the ball, lines up carefully on the sideline with his back facing the field, and hurls the ball over his head nearly losing his balance in the process. I can only assume this is to reduce the chances of a linesmen taking favorites and throwing the ball to a particular team.The ball is moved around the field one of 3 ways. The first, not technically an approved method, was fumbling and dropping and pushing it around with some part of players bodies. This seemed to happen a lot of the time. I'm not sure if they realize half the team looks like a 5 year old soccer team, merrily following the ball wherever it went. The other half looks quite bored waiting for the ball and could go for a smoke at any minute.The other 2 ways to move the ball around are the prescribed methods and are much more exciting. You can't throw the ball to other players you have to punch it. There must be a good technique for this but I couldn't see one. Some of the players wear gloves to protect their hands from repeated bashing on the ball. The best method was to kick the ball.Once a player on the same team catches a kicked ball, play technically stops and restarts ones the catcher kicks the ball or starts to run. The catcher is allowed to back up for where he caught it to get a run at a kick. The opposition is not allowed to follow any further from the point where it was caught. Most of the time the play just kept going and the ball was kicked very soon after it was caught.If the ball is caught within a large semicircle around the goal posts, play tends to stop while everyone waits to see if the kick will go through the uprights. The line on the field seems to be the limit where anyone would try and get it through the uprights and most of the time they were successful. The odd time the player would botch the kick sending it 90 degrees to one side giving everyone a good laugh but this was few and far between. These guys kick for a living. They've gotten quite good at it.There are 4 quarters of about 30 minutes. They go by quite quickly providing the play and/or the crowd is exciting. All the guys around us had many friendly things to say to the umpires and were going about it quite excitedly. I feared I might end up with a meat pie on my head intended for a man in a green shirt.Some younger teams played on a bunch of small fields during half time and then it was back to the action. The field and ball were wet and slippery from the rain the night before and just before the game so it made for a sloppy match. Tempers started to flare and one player got a penalty for clotheslining another between plays.It was definitely an exciting game, especially compared to the other type that's played on the round pitches. I have yet to see a game and it doesn't look good for this trip. I'll have to put that on the list of things to do for England.[gmap]
We were sitting in the hostel thinking of things to do and happened upon something listed on the boards there. Ignite at the Docklands. It sounded interesting. I wasn't sure if it was just a bit of fire and light and then it would be over but I had nothing else to do so I wandered down to check it out.The Docklands are in an area called Waterfront City. I think Melbourne is trying to sell the place as being outside of Melbourne and you'd live there and "commute" into the city but it's very much right in the city. You can get there by bus, tram or in our case just walking from North Melbourne.Arriving at the Docklands we saw a clear fabric and metal structure that kind of looked like a bunch of little tents that had some coloured lights reflecting off them and moving and glowing in different colours. They were neat but definitely not what I'd call a show. With our fingers crossed we headed further down the dock.It's a pretty place. Out one side is the bridge and harbour and the rest of the city lit up and on the other are a bunch of huge apartment buildings that all look brand new. They definitely have a ship/yacht look to them which made the Docklands name even more appropriate.In no time we found a curious looking vehicle that was similar in size to a small car but was only 4 wheels powered by people sitting up on the back with pedals. It had 2 bars on top that cross like helicopter rotors. Out the ends were nozzles of some sort facing outwards. Where the drivers seat should be sat a guy on a drum and an assortment of instruments around him.The started playing soon after we found them and it was awesome. A lot of the sound game from small organ-like instruments after hitting the ends with paddles that looked like they once hit ping-pong balls. The other side had a large xylophone-like instrument and a few other things. They played for a few minutes and then rolled down to the other end of the dock.Feeling the pangs of hunger we found the first place that served something like food and it turned out to be a really good fish and chips place. I had some dim sims( I still don't know exactly what they are), potato patties, some fish and fries. It was too much food but I packed it back anyways. I had already paid for it all.After packing ourselves full we rolled down to the main show. This was a lot better. It looked like a pirate ship. A pretty big one at that. With wheel rims on one end and huge organs that looked like sails shooting out the top. Long tubes of decreasing length came down the front towards the crowds as well as some hanging tubes in front of the ship to the left.The show was impressive to say the least. They start off slow and easy tapping the hanging tubes and they ring with a metallic sound, they raise them up and down to raise or lower the pitch while they're ringing. There would be a couple people doing this with the others were on the ship with blow torches stuffed into the some of the long organ tubes. They would be make a smooth, deep hum when the torches were inside.Either end of the ship had some sort of percussion instruments. One looked like a set of tire rims that rang beautifully when they were struck with a mallet and the other end looked like barrels of some sort giving off an equally nice but different sound.The beat of the music would get faster and faster with all the different instruments. At any time during the show there would be 1,2, or 3 people on the long tubes on the front hitting the top with paddles making neat airy noise out the other end. It would be higher or lower pitch depending on the length of the tube they hit.The ones manning the fire organs had short torches that would make a different noise than if they put their long torches into the tubes. The longer torches put out a much bigger flame and would come out the top of the organ when they put it all the way in. They'd bring them out, wave the torches around in front and behind the organs creating a really cool effect and then throw it back in shooting flames out the top.Finally after they were all all going as fast as they could on their instruments and one guy would run over to the main mast and haul on a cord that shot a massive fireball out the top and end the show. We were there for 2 parts of the show and the first time we could feel the fireball from the middle of the crowd. The second time I wanted to be as close as possible and it was amazing. There was very warm shockwave that hit you as the fireball blew up in the sky. It was the most exciting thing I've seen so far on the trip![gmap]
After doing some reading and talking to people here, one of the last things I really wanted to do here was run "the Tan". It's a 3.8 kilometer track around the Royal Botanic Gardens across the river from the MCG towards St. Kilda. I had ran from the hostel one of the first days I was here down to Federation Square and back so I knew the way and it wasn't that far but I wasn't sure how I would feel after going around the Tan track and then heading back up to the hostel. I wanted to go around the track twice, once at a slower pace to warm everything up and then once at a quicker pace to see how fast I could do it in. Apparently the fastest time is just over 10 minutes for the 4(ish) km track. I'm not sure when this was set or who did it but that's what the free tourist bus said.At first I thought I would take the tourist bus across town and then down into the gardens, do a bit of sightseeing and then run the track. I started thinking about how much training I should be doing before the half marathons in the (Canadian) fall and decided to go a bit further. I would take the free City Circle tram to Fed square and then run to the gardens, around it, and then back to the hostel. I got so excited when I started to walk towards the tram that I thought I'd warm up right away run all the way down to the track, around it and back up.After going past the tram and down into the city I decided I was warmed up enough and started to job a bit. Big fail!! Both my right ankle and left knee flared up in pain every time my feet struck the pavement. Not quite what I was hoping for but it was cold. I'll just walk quickly and get really warmed up and then it will be all loosened up and ready to go. More walking and more walking and more walking then..... more walking. It was still pretty painful to run at all, even at a very very slow pace so I kept the walking going and went all the way across the water and into the gardens.My fantastic plan to run around the gardens the first time taking pictures wasn't materializing like I had hoped. I took this as a sign and gave up for the moment and just headed around snapping photos of everything interesting I could find. The Royal Botanic Gardens are actually one part of a massive green area the starts on the North end with Alexandra Gardens. I wandered through here first, past all the rowing boathouses and into the Queen Victoria Gardens. Both very nice but still basically green areas next to the water. After this was the King's Domain. Another nice area but the good stuff was next.Still heading south I hit the shrine of remembrance. A massive monument to those that died during the first world war, the entrance and visitors center are beneath it. Heading into the Crypt from there, it's got a large statue of a couple soldiers in the middle with large columns all around and flags on top of the columns. It was very dark and dreary in here but interesting nonetheless. Heading up the stairs brings you to the main level that is ringed by a hallway filled with books of the names of the fallen. Upstairs and outside from here was a balcony around the top of the building. Nothing near the view as the Eureeka Skydeck but not a bad view of the city and the rest of the gardens.Out of the Shrine and down to the Royal Botanic Gardens I was pleasantly surprised that it was more than just another green area. It was absolutely chock-full of plans from everywhere. Every different type of plant from Australia and overseas and information about them all. There were different areas, the arid garden, fern gully, South Yarra River Environment. There's a small man-made lake that covers a bit of t gardens and is home to many different types of birds. There were a few signs explaining the low water level of the lake. Apparently the recent rain has come nowhere near replenishing the lakes to their previous levels.I was almost all the way around the gardens when I heard large booms from near the shrine. They had arranged artillery there and were firing them off at 12 for the ceremony. I headed around that way to see if I could see one of them being fired but I was just a minute to late. In my haste to see the guns firing I started to jog a bit. Finally, after 2 hours of walking, my ankle had finally loosened up a bit and i was able to jog slowly. I found the nearest distance marker on the Tan and started off as slow as I could go, feeling out everything and making sure all was satisfactorily warmed up. I'm not sure if it is the same every day but most people seemed to be running clockwise around the track. Of course, there were a few rebels jogging it backwards and we'd see them twice on each lap.Half way around, there is a killer of a hill that isn't too steep but is fairly long. It took all my energy just to get to the top. It's downhill for a ways after this so I rested up as much as i could. By this time I was almost done my first lap and trying to get myself psyched up for the all out second lap. My first lap time was definitely abysmal at 26 minutes.The second lap started much better than I thought it would. After all the pains and cramps of the first lap, I assumed the second would be the same or slower. It started well. About half way through all my energy completely faded. The fact that it was almost 2pm and I hadn't had lunch yet and only a small breakfast wasn't helping. Almost all the way around I ran past a girl about 8 or 9 running the same direction as I. I was a little bummed when I found it hard to pass her. I figured I'd just sail past her. Wasn't the case! Finally after a lot of pep talk, I made it around to the final distance marker and managed to make it to the drink fountain that was close by only to find it didn't work. Another half a kilometer around the track I found one that worked and slurped at it hungrily.After running the track, I had every intention to run back to the hostel all the way through town. That sure didn't happen. I found some lunch up Swanston Street and mished it back to the hostel with all the energy I had left.Despite the ankle problems it was a satisfying trip. The rest of the day will be spent recuperating, finding out details of the fire show tonight and resting for the footy game tomorrow!
After taking a ride around on the City Circle tram to see a bit of the sights in Melbourne, I found out about the free bus that goes around the city as well. This would be a little bit more comfortable and would go further than the tram. Trams are a decent way to get around but are not my favorite method of travel. They lurch and screech along the track and throw sparks any time there is a junction between the cables above the cars. Also, someone had the fantastic idea of the using the oldest trams for the city circle ones. They go a bit slower than the newer ones and are definitely not as comfortable. The seats are old the doors creak. Naturally, when I found out about a bus that did nearly the same thing but it was newer, more comfortable and drove past more, I jumped at the chance.Aside from seeing sights around the city, the free tram and bus are a decent way to get around if you don't want pay anything. There are many other trams and buses that go straight to particular destinations and these are the preferred method for those just wanting the fastest route. Seeing as I haven't had to be anywhere by a particular time for the last 2 weeks and won't have to for another 2 months, these slower, scenic rides are the way to go.The bus ride takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to go around town and drives past a bunch of different things. There are 13 stops that you can get on and get off at. They run every 30 minutes from 10am to 4pm. Along with the small blurb of information in the pamphlet I got at the hostel(also available on the bus), the bus driver has something to say about every attraction. There are also recordings of information about many of the major attractions you drive past.I got on at stop 8, beside the Queen Victoria Market but I'll explain from stop one where the buses begin and end their tours. Stop 1 is at the Arts Precinct. This area has a bunch of arty things to see and do in it including the Performing Arts Museum and the National Gallery of Victoria.Stop 2 is Federation Square. This is Melbourne's "meeting place". There are a bunch of bars, cafe's and shops around the main square that are filled with a bunch of steps. There is free wireless here which instantly makes me like it. I spent about an hour there today catching up with some emails and talking to friends. Its a bit hard to see the screen with bright sunshine but it was worth it to be outside! The Ian Potter Center, part of the National Gallery of Victoria is here as well as the Australia Centre for the Moving Image. Stop 3 is the Sports Precinct. This place is pretty important to Melbourne as they're crazy sports fans. The Melbourne Cricket Ground (AKA the MCG or simple the G) is here which is their biggest sports complex. Major Aussie rules and cricket games are played here. There is one on Sunday that I'll be attending.Stop 4 is the Chinatown Precinct and Theatres District. That one is pretty self explanatory. I realize at this point that they name everything. Every road, block, group of blocks, garden and grassy area has some name. Stop 5 is the Melbourne Museum and Carlton Gardens. The museum holds an IMAX theatre and a huge number of displays and is right next to the world heritage listed Royal Exhibition Buidling, which is a massive old building in the middle of a fantastic gardens. Stop 6 is Lygon Street which is the centre of the Italian culture here. 7 is the University of Melbourne. The Ian Potter Museum of Art is there as well.Stop 8 is where I got on at the Queen Victoria Market. This massive market servers over 200,000 shoppers a week and takes up serveral blocks. The Flagstaff gardens are close to this stop as well, one of the pretty places to run in town.Waterfront City and the Docklands are at stop 9. They don't officially label this as a different city but they don't refer to it as Waterfront city and think of it as a different place to live outside Melbourne. Not a bad way to do it, I say. You're commute is a walk across the street to a tram that will take you wherever you need to go. Also here is a massive shopping complex and one of the world biggest ferris wheels, the Southern Cross. Another stop along the water is the Docklands Stadium and Victoria Harbour. This is number 10. Around here is Telstra Dome which another sporting venue similar to the MCG but slightly smaller.Stop 11 is Williams street. It's another stop downtown close to a lot of the shopping and eating along the main streets in town. Stop 12 is over the river in Southbank. This more expensive part of town is home to some of the largest buildings here and pricey hotels. The Eureka building is also situated here which is the worlds tallest residential building at 92 stories and almost 300 metres. The viewing level is the southern hemisphere's tallest as is quite the view. You can see almost anything and if you can't quite then there are many binoculars trained on more interesting things around the city. The best part of the experience is another $12 and is called the Edge. It's a glass box 3 metres by 3 metres that slides out from the edge of the building. They stuff you inside with a few other people with the glass smoked so you can't see anything. Slowly the whole block moves out the side of the building and suddenly the glass goes clear and suddenly there is nothing beneath you but 88 stories of air. Kneel or lay down on the glass and it feels like there is nothing between you and the ground. It's quite the experience.Stop 13 is the end of the trip at the Shrine of Remembrance and the Royal Botanic Gardens. These beautiful gardens hold a couple of other attractions within their borders as well as numerous sculptures and a massive shrine dedicated to those lost in times of war and peace for Australia. There is a 3.8 kilometer track around the gardens locally known as the Tan. It is the place to go to job in Melbourne and there are official and unofficial times from various people scattered across the internet for running around the track. I plan to run this track in the next few days and see how I stack up!Though the free bus ride isn't the most exciting thing in town, it definitely is informative and gives you a good idea and starting place for your tours. Being free I highly recommend it to anyone new to the city to get their bearings and decide what to do next.
I definitely feel like I've grown up in a pretty small town when I come to Melbourne and the tall buildings impress me. It feels like Vancouver but bigger. There's an older feel to it though. There are some older churches and other buildings scattered throughout the new high rises. From the Federation Square I could see a couple of churches that I have no idea of their age. They seem to be quite old because of the architecture and they look even older because of the brand new glass buildings all around them.I was told there were a couple things to watch out for in Melbourne, the trams and the dreaded hook turn. Hook turns are just a crazy way of doing a u-turn. There aren't as many roundabouts here as in other parts of Australia that I've seen. I'm assuming it's because they take up too much space. U-turns are a piece of cake with round-a-bouts, it's almost as if someone was thinking when they said lets make a lot of roundabouts. You want to do a u-turn? Just go around the roundabout all the way. Simple. You're not sure where you are going? Go around the roundabout again. Easy. Don't go around too many times as you might get dizzy and drive off the road. I haven't done it yet but I've not had a reason to go around a roundabout more than once.Trams are all over the place in downtown Melbourne. At first, all I noticed was a bus-like vehicle screeching down the track, throwing sparks off the cables and stopping every once and a while. As a pedestrian and driver you have to watch out for them as they sort of have their own rules of the road. Tram goes and then everyone else goes. There are a few signs that flash "Watch out for tram", but they don't appear regularly. I had very little idea about how they operated when I first arrived but the idea seems pretty simple. There are a bunch of different tracks and they are numbered. They go from one end to the track and then back. Certain tracks go to certain areas of the city. For example number 16 goes from the University of Melbourne to St Kilda. It hits the end, and then turns around and comes back. Pretty simple. They pretty much stop and open their doors and every intersection they stop at and you can hop on or off. There are some actual stations that they stop at and people can line up at but most of the "stations" are a strip in the middle of the road with a railing that you stand by. Trams whiz by on one side and traffic on the other. It's not very relaxing.Once you get on the tram you can ride it as far as you want. Tickets seem to be $6.80 for a day pass before 6, and they drop to $3.70 after 6. Getting a pass lets you ride all day. Getting a pass is not exactly an easy task though. There is a large machine about the middle of each tram that you stuff change into(no cards or bills) and you get a ticket. There are 3 rows of buttons and you select one button from each row depending on what kind of ticket you want. I asked someone how to do it when I got on the first one and he did it for me so I still don't know which buttons to press. After you have a ticket you just stuff it in a little validation machine each time you get on and off and it says stuff on the screen like "validated". I'm not sure what happens if you try and use the tram without paying. Most people seem to pay somehow but some don't. I'm not sure if they have a ticket and just don't validate it or they actually haven't paid. I was going to ask the driver when I got off at my stop but apparently it's against the rules to talk to the drivers.Downtown Melbourne is set up as a gride of streets about 5 blocks by 10 blocks. A free tram called City Circle runs around this grid all day and doesn't cost anything to ride. It's a neat way to see the city and get around if you've got a bit of extra time. There is also a bus that goes around the city but out a further than the tram. I'm not sure exactly where this goes which means I have to go adventuring!I'm in Melbourne for a few more days to catch a footy game on Sunday so there will be another post about this pretty city and some photos to go along with it! ( Uploading photos from the hostel takes forever!!)