Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day 5 (continued) - The Haunts of Melbourne

Touring my parents' old Melbourne haunts in the dwindling daylight felt like reading a forbidden diary.  Equipped with stories from both borders (Venus vs. Mars) I was at arms and in revelry between my feelings and my imagination.  To walk the streets and visit pubs, hotels, and coffee houses that I now know would lead toward my own existence is altogether awe-inspiring, disconcerting, and confirming at the same time.

My first true taste of Melbourne came as I stepped out through the glass doors of The Victoria Hotel and down Little Collins Street. Much has certainly changed since Melbourne's blossoming during the 1850's gold rush period, but what impressed me most was that Melbourne's historical facades and architecture had been integrated and preserved alongside modern elements of this well established city.

With no particular goal in mind, we wandered out in the late Saturday afternoon sun, past shops and people of every ethnicity. We stopped for a moment in front of a well stocked paraphernalia shop marveling through the window, and laughing, at all the crazy contraptions displayed when the proprietor stepped out onto the sidewalk to chat with us. He was a gregarious fellow with a cute little parrot perched on his finger who, he insisted, wouldn't mind posing for a photograph propped on my head. Well, I wasn't sure about the repercussions so I politely declined. How about a kiss, then, a parrot smooch? Why not? That sounded innocent enough. Well, the little pecker gave me a peck on the lips and wouldn't let go – even when I pulled back, he hung onto my lower lip. For a long moment, I thought I would be receiving my first lip piercing right then and there. The little bastard.  Fortunately, we have the pictures to prove it and somehow that parrot knew his limits and didn't even draw blood.

Melbourne is a considered Australia's most trendy, avant-guard city (although Sydney might surely disagree) and was founded during the 1850's Gold Rush period (which is nothing short of weird to me, considering I'd finally settled my wandering ways in a gold rush town in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, many years since and clear across the planet). As we wandering through the tight-knit, mid-19th century city it revealed much to my musing. Picture the antique Queen's Theater hosting the wildly popular Abba Musical and horse drawn carriages clipping along, hauling passengers for a fee. This city was alive with history. It reminded me of San Francisco and Berlin all at once; both vibrant, trend-setting cities that have a firm hold on the past yet embrace the modern element in their world.

Just blocks from 'The Vic', we finally arrived at one of my father's most favorite 'hang outs' during the 1950's. Young and Jackson's pub was originally the home of Melbourne's founder, John Batman, and is situated directly across the street from the old Flinders Street train station, both dating back to the mid 1800's. Today, Young and Jackson's is a three story pub and restaurant where I enjoyed fresh calamari and a glass of famously delicious Australian Sauvigon Blanc.

Across the street, poised under a shadowy influence of the past and without excuse, a modern city center defies tradition while hosting in its courtyard a weekend Buddhist gathering, complete with prayer, dedication and worthy dignitaries.  Just 100 feet further, a multitalented, fire-juggling, disco-dancing, street performer makes his living keeping hundreds entertained – including us.

It has been a short, but full, experience here in Melbourne as we walk back to 'The Vic', filled with family history and stories; of connecting to my past and making sense of it.  A long awaited memory now, and one not soon forgotten.

Tomorrow, we leave early for a train ride to Sydney, an all day affair and a first for my traveling companion. Sydney, here we come.  Cheers!

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