Friday, July 26, 2013

Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

Gardens with Melbourne skyline in the distance

Having recently mentioned Tilden Park Botanic garden, I thought I'd revisit another spectacular garden that I toured on my Australian trip last February—Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens, in the heart of the city. We had allotted one morning to the vast and fascinating garden, but we enjoyed our visit so much that we cancelled our plans to tour the Great Ocean Road the next day, in order to spend more time in that bucolic spot and enjoy a picnic lunch on the grounds.

Before setting out on our botanic adventure, we walked around the corner from our hotel to Pellegrinis Bar, a classic Melbourne institution recommended by our friend  Leo, who grew up near there. Every morning we would order a flat white, Australia's version of cappuccino, fruit salad and an Italian pastry.

Italian pastries at Pellegrini's

Then we  hopped on a city bus, and headed South  across the Yarrow River to our destination. As often happened in Australia, we sat next to a super friendly gent, a native Melbournian, who filled us in on the complete history of the gardens. He told us that they range over thirty-eight hectares of landscaped gardens consisting of  a mix of native and non-native vegetation including over ten thousand species. The site was selected by Charles Latrobe from marshland and swamps in 1846. Now it is regarded as the finest botanical gardens in Australia. By the time we descended from the bus, we were fully educated.
It was a hazy day, but we both started snapping photos of everything in sight, including each other snapping photos. We were in our element.

I took a picture of Dean taking pictures

Since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, many of the plants and trees were exotic and new to us, but there were also some familiar favorites.

A mystery berry

We saw lawns

And red- billed swans

We had to rush off to St Kilda—a seaside neighborhood—to have lunch at Cafe Di Stasio, but we had not gotten our fill of the gardens. We vowed to return the following day and picnic on the lawns. After wandering around  picturesque St. Kilda, we caught a bus and were again treated to another city tour by a friendly American expat who called Melbourne home. She pointed out the sights and filled us in on many aspects of Melbourne life. When we reached the CBD (central business district)  I asked about the city arcades that I had read about but  had been unable to find. She actually got off the bus with us and guided us to one of the best—The Royal Arcade.

Royal Arcade

We wandered through the arcade shops, bought some gifts and then walked back through  Melbourne's mini China Town to our delightful and centrally located Crossley Hotel.

Queen Victoria Market's produce stalls at the entrance

 The next morning we took the free circle tram to the imposing Queen Victoria Market to stock up for our picnic in the Gardens. It is a huge rambling market, taking up at least one whole city block. Produce is sold outside in a covered pavilion, and inside stalls and shops fill another huge building.  If you want to get the  real feeling of the market and it's bustling immensity, watch the video below. We bought bread, cheese, sausage and other goodies and hustled out to visit the gardens for the second time.

Queen Victoria Market Video

We passed on the Kangaroo meat.

Picnic spot

After wandering a bit, we were hungry. We found an idyllic spot near a duck pond where we decided to have our picnic. A few other tourists had the same idea, but there was room for everyone.

After lunch, we wandered through the King's Domain, the park that encloses the gardens, past the huge war memorial called the Chapel of Remembrance and onward toward the Southbank district of Melbourne. We passed the National Gallery of Victoria (the province in which Melbourne resides) and  decided to take a look.

Pool in front of National Gallery of Victoria

They were having an exhibit of ballet costumes. I photographed some of the stunning pieces!

I loved this outfit in a dance costume exhibit at the National Gallery of Victoria

We found some fascinating paintings in the gallery, and they didn't object to our snapping photos.

David Hockney's Second Marriage (1963)

Paul Nash, Landscape of the Summer Solstice, 1943

Then we walked along the Yarrow river and had a drink with the Friday afternoon revelers at Riverland, a popular bar with a great buzz and lovely riverside tables.  But we couldn't linger because we were flying home the next day and we still hadn't seen the Immigrant Museum which our cab driver had recommended when he drove us in from the airport. So off we went to squeeze in one more museum before our dinner reservation at Ginger Boy, a favorite fusion spot across the street from our hotel.      So little time, so much to see!

Having a farewell drink at Riverland on the Yarrow River

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