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Posted 21 January 2010 - 08:15 AM
I moved here to Oz from California 7 years ago. This is a bit of a ramble, but here goes. (I hope my Avitar doesn't offend)
If you are living large, take a limo to the tennis and back. For the rest of us, its either walk, take the Tram (Trolley) or the Train to Melbourne Park. If you take the taxi there, you might have a problem finding one to get back, depending on the size of the crowd. Planning on public transport is the best bet.
Thinking of renting a car? English style road rules here, right-hand drive cars navigating on the left side of the road. If you don't know what the rules are for entry into a roundabout, DON"T EVEN THINK ABOUT TRYING TO DRIVE HERE, especially if you are confused about what a roundabout is in the first place. Plus, in central Melbourne, some intersections have "Hook Turns". The rules about hook turns are so complicated and the whole maneuver so contrary to common sense, it is impossible to explain a Hook Turn without actually seeing one done. I have personally seen unwary tourists suffer public humiliation from outraged Tram drivers and on the spot fines from police for messing up hook turns. No excuses accepted. For a short visit here, do not drive unless you have prior experience with driving on the wrong side of the road. In any case, finding parking near the tennis is nearly impossible anyway, so yyou will end up walking there after all.
Train, Tram and bus service is excellent but even the locals can't figure out the payment and fare system in Melbourne. Buy your ticket before you start your trip and buy it from an agent at a service window that understands what you want, not from a machine. Multi-trip, multi-day passes might be the best deal and easiest all-round. With 4 people, short Taxi rides might be easier all around, but use the Trams if it makes sense.
On the first or second day there, be sure to take the free City Circle Tram on the loop around the Central Business District. It will give everyone some ideas about other things to do in downtown, which is commonly referred to as the CBD for Central Business District.
There is good shopping for the ladies at Southbank and Chapel Street/Church Street. Some remarkable fashionistas, local designers, etc. in some of those shops. Be aware that sizes are different here, but most shops have the conversion charts. Easiest thing to do is just download one off the net before you go. If the girls just have to hit a Mall, then Chadstone is the nearest to downtown. Once you are inside, you could be in any shopping centre, anywhere in the world. Ugh! And of course, most shops are full of made in China stuff. If you absolutely must go the mall, take a taxi there and be sure to visit the Australian Geographic shop for fair dinkum gifts to take home.
Generally, restaurants in Oz are excellent. Expect fresh ingredients, well prepared, served by courteous, professional staff and in generous portions, (but not American style diet busting sizes),. But never, ever, ever send anything back to the kitchen, for any reason. Not wise.
Mizuzu, a Japanese place in the inner city suburb of Albert Park is one of the best-kept secrets in Australia, plus, its on a Tram line right by a stop or a quick taxi ride from anywhere in the CBD. Great food and service, reasonable prices.
There is Italian food heaven at the dozens of restaurants on Lygon Street, one street over from the Tram line and near city centre. For seafood lovers, there are plenty of good, high volume places, especially at South Bank and the Docklands. Particularly good choices are Coffin Bay Oysters, King George Whiting and Barramundi, which might be the best eating fish in the world, but make sure it is wild-Australian Barramundi and not imported from Southeast Asia. Atlantic species salmon is farm raised in Tasmania and equivalent in quality to the Canadian type product. Avoid the battered/crumbed calamari rings
Generally, lamb, beef, duck and chicken are superior in taste to what Americans are used to but pork and turkey dishes will be a disappointment to them. Ocassionaly, you might find exotics like crocodile, kangaroo, camel and emu. Big bucks for little taste, IMO. There is a small China-town in Central Melbourne and most of the restaurants there are excellent.
If you need a bagel fix, go to a Glicks bakery and nowhere else, unless you want to be disappointed. If you need an American food fix, try either Mistys Diner or Fridays (Yes, its the same chain.) Both are in the inner suburb of Parhan. Wherever you go, if you order bacon, be sure to ask for Crispy bacon, else it is likely to come out barely warm, English style.
On the other hand, don't even think about trying either Mexican or Thai restaurants. They can't get the right ingredients here and Australians have no clue what a chili pepper is or how to use it. Tacos and tortillas are remarkable tasteless. The Mexican food tastes Italian and the Thai food has no heat and no sour.
For real foodies, Queen Victoria Markets is a must place to visit. One visit to that market is enough to humble the typical American by demonstrating how impoverished and pitifully stocked their supermarkets are for variety and quality. Queen Vic is a great place for picking up bread, cheese, deli items, fruit and the other necessities for a memorable brunch or picnic lunch. If you have access to a kitchen or barbeque, there are plenty of specialty butchers at Queen Vic, but be aware that you will not recognize most of the cuts or their names. It's not open everyday, so check before you go. Parhan and South Melbourne also have significant markets.
Food and wine day trips to Yarra Valley and/or Mornington Peninsula are worth a try, especially the Yarra Valley, IMO. On the other hand, some of the Mornington area Pinot Noir wines have won world-wide blind tasting awards in France in recent years.
If you have a spare day, seriously consider taking the organized bus trip to see the Fairy Penguins come ashore at Phillip Island. AKA the Penguin Parade. I know, it sounds a bit silly, but it really is worth learning about those little critters and see them emerge out of the surf in early evening after months long fishing voyages. Basically, you leave downtown around noon and get back before midnight. You'll miss a day of the tennis, but get to see some of the Countryside.
Gambling is available at Crown Casino, South Bank, for those that must. Odds at all games are even worse than Vegas. Consider yourself warned.
Check to see what's on at these downtown venues for events you might be interested in-
National Gallery of Australia
State Library of Victoria (worth a visit just for the architecture, especially the Australiana reading room which has a multi story dome)
Symphony Hall complex
Melbourne Museum (a mini-Smithsonian type place)
Australian Centre for the Moving Image
Local Broadway show style Theaters
For people that are used to the excellent concierge service at most large hotels in Chicago and New York, you are highly unlikely to get that level of service in Melbourne. Ask of course, but do not be surprised if you get poor level of service or a concierge that does not really know what they should.
Generally, I have found that people in big Australian cities are more friendly and approachable that they are in the USA. Out of politeness they may pretend to think you are Canadian. Don't be afraid to ask people for help. Generally, they will sincerely try to help with directions, suggestions, etc. Emergency services are 000 on landlines and 112 on mobiles/cells. 911works in some areas for cell phones, but it just transfers you to 112.
No tipping, ever. Not at restaurants, not on the taxi, not ever. Once they hear the North American accent, some places might try to slap a tip on the bill. Don't accept it. Many places will add on a surcharge for Sunday/Holiday service. That's OK-legal and customary to cover staff wages.
Change your money in Australia, not the USA. You'll get ripped off less here. Also, use a credit card whenever possible to save even more on the exchange rate. However, be aware that credit card scammers have targeted Australia in recent weeks. If you have a credit card with a chip, you are probably OK; if not, be careful with your PINs etc.
Roaming charges on your mobile phone can build up to exceed your mortgage payment if you are not careful. Use Skype or buy a calling card when you get here. Or just don't call home and use emails.
I also would advise people coming all the way here from the USA to spend at least one day in downtown Sydney. More days if possible.
If you just have just one day in Sydney- The Circular Quay/Opera House/The Rocks exploration type walkaround is a must. For the adventureous, you can climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Or, in the middle of the morning, take the Ferry to Watson's Bay form Circular Quay (Quay is pronounced KEY). At Watsons Bay, make the short walk/climb up to the ridge to the overlook of Sydney Heads and then come back down for fish and chips at Doyle's restaurant. (There's 2 Doyles at Watson's Bay, I prefer the less formal one with paper napkins not linen, but that's just me.) Allow 4-5 hours for all that. Come back to Circular Quay and head either to Darhling Harbour for shopping/sight-seeing or the Botanical Gardens for the plants, whichever you prefer. Then dinner at any of the dozens of restaurants in that part of town. Or even a dinner cruise.
Hope this is useful and enjoy your visit downunder!
"Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing...after they have exhausted all other possibilities."
"You can fool some of the people all of the time."
"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."
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