Here is what I planned to do for the first day of exploring Melbourne:
Take the free city circle tram that circles the CBD. Get on at King and La Trobe, about 2 minutes walk from our hotel. The tram will pass by Carlton garden, which houses the Exhibition building. Get off at Exhibition and La Trobe to visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral – the tallest and oldest cathedral in Australia. Continue to walk to Parliament house. Take the tram again and pass by Old Treasury Building. Get off at Federation Square/Flinders Street Station. Wander off to Town Hall, Block Arcade, and the Melbourne’s famous “hidden” lane ways. Go back to the Federation Square area and take the Yarra River tour. Spend the rest of the day exploring CBD and have dinner.
We did exactly that, except we took the river tour before walking around the CBD. What can I say? After getting lost in the little alleys of Rome, nothing could impress me. Yes, Melbourne CBD has the peaceful river, impressive skyline, abundant of Asian food, some cute little lane ways. But that was not enough to make me wow. CBD was a really small area too, you could easily walk every street in an afternoon. Exploring the area is a different story though, depending on how much and how thoroughly you want to go inside each building, each store, each restaurant.
Food! Started with a chicken salad sandwich bought from 7-eleven for breakfast, then a quick lunch of Japanese fried rice, stir fried vegetables and soy sauce pork at a food court on Swanston street, just a few steps from Flinders Street Station. We had to finish lunch within 20 minutes to catch the Yarra river cruise. And dinner at Mekong Restaurant also on Swanston street – the highest rated Vietnamese restaurant on zomato. I had a regular bowl of beef pho – much better one than at Pho 24, but still not good enough. That was when I realized I should have gone for western dishes. Reason 1, the cooks here might know how to cook western food better. Reason 2, the ingredients here might be more suitable for western dishes. Reason 3, I am not that picky when it comes to western food, since I didn’t have them that much. Anyway, when it comes to Vietnamese food, Mekong is worth a choice. Didn’t have that much time to try other places, but the pho there was decent at least.
We went to see the fire show in front of Crown Casino after dinner. Every night from 6 to 9, every hour on the hour, the pillars on South Bank in front of Crown Casino breathe fire for 1 minute. For 3000 dollar worth of gas, I suppose they could have put a bit more thoughts into it. The fact that only a couple of people gathered to watch it meant something.
Encounter of the day: while at Mekong, I talked a bit to a girl waiting my table. Her name was Phuong. Judging by her English and Vietnamese accent, I guessed she was studying in Melbourne and working part time there. She was so smart, fast, and always smiling. She was probably the most active waitress at the restaurant. I ordered a portion of fried chicken on broken rice and a bowl of veggie soup, to which she asked “is that enough for 2?” Previous experience told me 1 portion here is more than enough for me and my mom (and still they had shoes size 5). So I asked her back “is 1 dish here for 1 Vietnamese person?” She nodded firmly. So I ordered another regular bowl of pho, to which I regretted. I could barely finish my pho. My mom gave up half way through the chicken and rice, not that it was uneatable, just it was too much.