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PostPosted: Mon Aug 18, 2008 9:09 am 
I’ve never believed in filling up contest forms, for the simple reason that I feel it’s almost impossible to win among the lakhs of entries. Almost. Because once in a lifetime, fate may spring a pleasant surprise on you.

As it did for me! I filled up a lucky draw form when I went to watch Chak De! India last year — and landed up being the sole winner! And the prize was an all-expense paid trip for two to Melbourne! So, with a ‘free’ Melbourne stay under our belt, my husband and I ventured Down Under with a not-so-free trip to Sydney thrown in at our expense!

Melbourne’s ‘liveability’ is one of its greatest attractions. It’s a laid-back city with an endearing mix of old and new-world charm... easy-going, yet sophisticated. It’s not a place where you need to do something to feel you’re experiencing the city.

So, you needn’t wander around Melbourne just to tick off ‘must-see’ items on your list! Instead, stroll through one of its many beautiful parks, wander around the immaculately preserved Victorian-era downtown, or simply linger over a cup of coffee at one of the trendy cafes along the Yarra waterfront to soak in the city’s vibes. The architecture and random sculptures, stylish restaurants and bars, funky shops and galleries, parks and quirky laneways — all exude a certain charisma!

On our first day in Melbourne, we set out to explore the city on foot, to unravel its beguiling secrets. We ambled along, soaking in the Victorian feel from the gracious homes and wide avenues, to the landscaped gardens and roadside cafes. Burgundy-coloured trams imparted a quaint charm to Melbourne’s urban identity.

On the way, we passed Flinders Street Station — its architectural grandeur and heritage style reminded me of Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, only the former was cleaner and better-maintained! Finally, we crossed Princess Bridge to reach Southbank, the chic riverside strip nestled on the banks of the Yarra river.

As I sat on the promenade, it struck me that the standard of living here is quite high and the happiness quotient even more so. Even on a weekday, people were relaxed and enjoying life. Some were sailing, others were jogging or riding bicycles along the promenade, while many were just hanging out by the waterfront.

Then there were coochie-cooing couples, who were too engrossed in each other to notice that sea gulls were merrily picking away at their food!

Having got a taste of Melbourne’s mesmerising charm, we decided to check out its culturally significant landmarks. So, the next day, we boarded the free City Tourist Shuttle. Our first stop was Carlton Gardens and Royal Exhibition Building, a Unesco World Heritage site, to see their spectacular display of flowers, plants, garden sculptures and fountains.

We then proceeded to Queen Victoria Market, a vast and vibrant centre of trade & commerce, which is over 125 years old. The sprawling market is a curious blend of high-quality food shops (fantastic breads, cakes, cheese, wine, meat, fruit, veggies) and stalls with cheap clothes, bags, shoes and souvenirs. My husband couldn’t help but remark that QVM was a glorified version of Mumbai’s Crawford market!

Our next stop was William Street, the legal district of Melbourne. The Supreme Court, with its domed library, and County Court are striking examples of the city’s grand architecture. My husband, who’s a lawyer, was excited about posing for pictures in front of the SC, but pooh-poohed my suggestion of clicking his photo outside the County Court, saying its too down-market! Well, the advocates in their starched white shirts and dapper suits looked far from down-market.


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