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Home > Virtual Cruises > Statendam: Auckland to Sydney
Statendam: Auckland to Sydney
Day 1: Auckland
Day 2: Auckland/Christchurch
Day 3: Dunedin
Day 4: Milford Sound
Day 5: At Sea
Day 6: At Sea
Day 7: Burnie
Day 8: Melbourne
Day 9: Sydney
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Day 8: Tuesday, Melbourne
MelbourneHaving now sampled an itinerary that focuses primarily on smaller cities and outposts of nature, pulling into Melbourne with its eclectic skyline of skyscrapers gloriously historic and fabulously contemporary offered up a bit of culture shock. Not a bad thing, mind you, but a mere eight-hour stay in Melbourne, Australia's second largest city and its business and cultural center, is something like being invited to a lavish gala buffet -- and then asked to pick out just a few items to eat!

We were lucky -- for more reasons than one -- in our timing here as the 100-plus-degree temperatures that had made international news the week before had evaporated into the perfect if slightly blustery 70-degree day.

Melbourne, located in the state of Victoria, dates back to 1835; what's interesting is that though it was built in a Western style (there's a pleasing mix of late 19th and early 20th structures: palatial banks and the Parliament Building, among others) there was, even in original days, an Asian influence. That translates to a penchant for creating oases amidst the hubbub and as such one of the most distinctive features of this already lively city is its plethora of parks. The Royal Botanic Garden is the best known; the Treasury Gardens are the most convenient if you're touring the central business district.

Another juicy tidbit: While Sydney was founded as a penal colony, Melbourne was started by free men from Tasmania in search of comfort and riches. Indeed, it's evident that they found 'em here.

Melbourne is also the most ethnically diverse city we've been to on this trip so far. We managed to stroll through its small Chinatown and Greektown (did you know that Melbourne is the largest Greek city outside of Greece!?) and the massive Queen Victoria Market, which appeals to people of multiple cultures. Next visit, and this is a port where we definitely know we will want to return, will include Victoria Street for "Little Saigon" and Lygon Street for Italian food and culture.

But first things first. One of the pleasures about visiting Melbourne by cruise ship is that it's all very easy. Debarking at the cruise terminal, we were handed the "Melbourne Cruise Arrivals Guide." Think of that: A brochure chock-full of information for people just like us who are here for just one day! Better yet, straight out of the terminal (along with a host of waterfront cafes -- oh how I wished for more time) is a convenience store/coffee shop that sells tickets to the tram which is just to the right. The tram -- every eight minutes -- takes you right into the heart of the city. Easy peasy. It was so simple that seemingly half the ship, many of them passengers who would be more likely to travel on shore excursions rather than brave the wilds independently, was hopping onboard. We bought an all-day pass and got more than our money's worth.

In town, Melbourne's laid out in an uncomplicated grid. Collins Street is the main drag and lies at the heart of the Central Business District -- there are numerous cafes, and shops (the city has some lovely indoor/outdoor malls, both historic and stylish contemporary). Most of the latter, save for high-end retailers like Louis Vuitton, were utterly unique and the jewelry and artisan shops especially offered special pieces.

A tip: The shops get progressively higher end as you move (east) to the lower numbers on Collins Street.

At the bottom of Collins, the choices were tantalizing and numerous. Would we wander over to the bountiful Treasury Gardens (next door to the Washington, DC-worthy Treasury Building), sit under a tree and have a picnic? Tour the Parliament building? Visit a nearby cathedral?

Instead, we opted to wander through the city's ethnic neighborhoods (all just a block or two from one another) and then stroll a mile north to the fabulous Queen Victoria market. Here's where you wish you had a kitchen in which to prepare a feast! This bustling, rambling and sprawling mecca featured sections for fruits and vegetables, baked goods, meats, Asian ingredients and sausages, with lots of places for take-away (we spotted numerous folks-in-suits taking their lunch break here). Beyond foodstuffs there's a tchotchke market with tourist trinkets and such.

The Queen Victoria Market definitely offered an opportunity for local immersion, even more so when, like a lot of "real" shoppers, we hopped on a bus to go back downtown (everyone was carrying reusable shopping bags filled to bursting with onions, basil, marinated lamb and such).

Another area that we loved bounded the Yarra River. This river, relatively unpreposessing, splits the city into two parts. From the north side, or the CBD, we headed through the massive Flinders Rail Station and onto a bridge that spans the Yarra; on the opposite side, called Southbank, are numerous sleek complexes of shops and waterfront cafes -- not to mention major arts and culture spots, such as The National Gallery of Victoria, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and the Victorian Arts Centre.

The biggest challenge, at this point just about the end of lunchtime, was deciding what it was we wanted to eat as there were so many options. Ultimately we wound up -- not sure why we didn't go somewhere livelier -- at an upscale Italian restaurant called Scusami, whose claim to fame is that it created a pasta dish for the Italian president. In this second floor restaurant we sat overlooking the river -- and the boats which transport people on day tours.

One other aspect (of many, I'm sure, having missed so much) of Melbourne is its lively outlying neighborhoods. Among those the most notable are Fitzroy, to the north, for its open-minded, alternative appeal (and lots of cafes and shops) and Kilda, on the coast, which is the typical "don't worry, be happy" seaside town I'd expected -- but had yet to experience in Australia. With time only for one I opted for Kilda and boarded yet another tram (folks in Melbourne are so friendly I'd just ask for advice on getting from here to there) and after a 20-minute ride was deposited in the heart of the village. It's a big weekender's hangout for families and singles, young and old folks, and if part of the appeal is the broad beaches and the seacoast, the other aspect is its fabulously funky shops and cafes. How so many people could be just hangin' out at 3 p.m. on a work day drinking coffee and beer I couldn't imagine but it was a joyful place to be.

Back onboard, tonight marked our last formal night, but we bypassed the dining room in favor of a return visit to the Pinnacle Grill. This time, though, our visit was much more successful. While the menus rarely change (save for occasional specials) in any of the fleet's restaurants, one new feature is a multi-course wine and food pairing option. Focusing, as does the restaurant, on Pacific Northwest dishes and wine, we started with the same amuse bouche (a savory from the chef) as everyone else in the restaurant but it was accompanied by a glass of Domaine Ste. Michele Cuvee Brut. The same winery's sauvignon blanc was next offered with our appetizer, a fresher-than-fresh smoked salmon with wasabi. The butternut squash soup could almost have been a dessert as it was sweet with a bit of savory; that came with a marvelous McCrea Syrah.

At this point you choose between entrees -- and we both went for the seafood; though lobster wasn't on this menu it was served in the dining room this evening and so our dish featured that in addition to seared tuna, scallops and scampi with various sauces. Oh, yes, it came with Columbia Crest Grand Estate Chardonnay (the other option is a filet of beef/lamb combination). Finally, we wound up with both a praline crunch sweet dessert (with the richest wine of the evening, a Chateau Ste. Michelle cabernet sauvignon) -- and a selection of cheeses with a glass of Whidbey's Port. And just to be nice, they complied to our request to sample a bit of the Baked Alaska that was, at that moment, being paraded by the Rotterdam waiters around the dining room.

Our dinner was a lovely, unrushed three-hour affair and if we rolled out of there at the end -- well, we didn't have to eat everything, did we? It was an exceptional meal and the most memorable of our cruise. A note here: In addition to the $20 service charge everyone pays to eat at the Pinnacle Grill, there's an additional $49 fee that covers the exceptionally generous pourings of wines matched to the course. The maitre d' told us that the concept hasn't yet taken off (I can't think of a better splurge onboard, though) and that maybe one or two tables a night try it.

In an aside, he told us another interesting tidbit about the Pinnacle Grill and that is that many travel agents give their clients a "night out" there (picking up the service fee) as a thanks for booking the cruise. While that's a lovely gesture on their part, it does mean that the restaurant is well-booked almost before you even get onboard. My suggestion: book early or try for a formal night -- most folks prefer the dining room on those evenings.

Tonight I went in search of nightlife and it was hard to find! Melbourne (which by the way is pronounced Mel-bun) must've worn everyone out (including my husband). So instead, I settled into a cozy chair in the Explorer's Lounge and listened to classical music by the Champagne Strings. I was one of three people in the room! When they finished up, I still was raring to go (damn that post-dinner espresso) and so headed to the Crow's Nest, which functions during later hours as the ship's nightclub. It had just finished with the final karaoke competition (wish I hadn't missed that!) and was pretty mellow but some nice folks invited me to sit with them and chat -- it's been so easy here on board to meet and mingle. After a beer I decided to call it a night.

Tomorrow's our last sea day before we arrive -- and, sadly, debark -- in Sydney.
Day 7: Burnie red arrow Day 9: Sydney

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