When I arrived here on Friday morning I did what I guess most visitors do and grabbed a street map, general information leaflets and set out to explore.
By now I am very used to Sydney’s visitor information which divides the city into sections and provides detailed information on exactly what you can expect to see there, together with specific transport information. I could find nothing remotely like this here and set off to shop, to wander and eventually came across the city circular tram which gave me a free ride around a large square area and told me a bit about what I might expect to find somewhere in the streets to the right and left. It was confusing.
However, today was a very different story and my great friends, Alison, Michael and Luke Whittaker, came to take me on a tour of their adopted city and to share their enthusiasm. It was, indeed, infectious. How had I managed to miss the fact that the banks of the Yarra River are so entertaining and so incredibly beautiful? Street entertainers, some of whom were very young indeed, sang, played and performed all along the way. There was a food and wine festival with people enjoying country music whilst lounging on bean bags with beer in hand, but we were off to the Skydeck on the 88th floor of the Eureka Tower. I seem to be enjoying the tall towers of the world and this was no exception as it was billed as ‘the highest public vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere’. What it did offer was ‘The Edge’. This was a glass cube which projects 3 metres out of the building, 300 metres up – with you in it. When you step inside, with special ‘socks’ to cover your shoes, the glass is frosted and as the cube moves outwards the frosting clears, leaving you standing on clear glass looking either straight down to the street far below or ahead to the most spectacular views of Melbourne and its surrounding area. It can’t have unnerved us too badly as we went off for a lovely open air lunch.
There was so much to see along the river bank that we ambled for some time, explored the offerings in the F1 promotional tents, marvelled at the quirky statues, benches, etc., and strolled across the Yarra footbridge. Here we found hundreds and hundreds of padlocks attached to the bridge. Were they the same idea as in Paris where people attach the secrets of their hearts and lock them to the bridge? We discovered that these were a little less complicated and were merely ‘locks of love’ or declarations of undying love. Some were engraved with names but others remained the secret of the donor. How incredibly romantic!
We then took an hour’s river cruise to see more of the river and see the docklands area. So many decorative and unusual bridges cross the Yarra but nothing taller than our French style “bateaux mouche” could reach the city by river. We glanced upwards as we sailed beneath and initially were tempted to duck until we became used to the height clearance above us. Then a quick walk by the iconic spire which sits above Australia’s largest performing arts centre, past the Southbank Theatre and back to Alison’s car.
This is a quaint little place, to the north of the city and beyond the reach of the city tram service. It is home to the Australian shipbuilding business of BAE Systems which shares its harbour space containing naval vessels “in production” with a marina full of pleasure craft. The small town retains its ‘olde worlde’ charm (a bandstand graces the gardens which join the town to the harbour) and the bars, cafes and small shops are probably largely unchanged for many, many years. Possibly the only things to change are the homes which have increased in size, elegance and price.
“What an enormous thrill…”
What an enormous thrill to be taken for a drive around the actual circuit. There were the pit lanes, all marked up with the manufacturers’ logos, the names of the drivers and already full of sealed containers (presumably the cars, spare parts, etc.). Round to turn one and marvel at how narrow the track actually is, see how close the stands are to the track and avoid the gravel pits already filled and waiting for any of next weekend’s drivers who over-steer on the bends. I already know that I will be watching the event, not so much to see the race, but to remind myself how it looked and felt when enjoying today’s track experience.