Today was a travel day to Melbourne, the second largest city in Australia. The city is growing exponentially at a rate of an additional 1,500 persons per week. Melbourne is expected to eclipse Sydney as the largest city in Australia in less than a year. Currently Melbourne has a population of nearly 4 million inhabitants, and Sydney, 4 and half million.
Before we left Sydney, several of us walked to the Sydney Opera House early this morning. Although we have seen the Opera House many times from afar, we had never walked on the grounds or even entered the venue – the symbol of Sydney and Australia in many ways. As one approached the Opera House, the structure seemed more impressive than from afar. It is an interesting note that the acclaimed Denmark architect, Jorn Utzon, never saw the completion of this incredible structure. This cost of this huge feat was accumulating daily. The original estimate of the construction of the Sydney Opera House was over $7 million in 1957. The final cost of the venue was over $100 million.
We left at 10 AM for the airport. We have generally had a great experience with the Australian airline Qantas. When we arrived to the Sydney International airport, we did not have to go to the general customer counters for our group. Rather, we all entered a room designated for large groups. We were the only customers. We placed our luggage in front of the counter and received a claim ticket for each item. Since we were in a group, we did not have to weigh our luggage individually. Since the group had some luggage that was under the weight threshold, the carrier assumed that underweight luggage would balance out those that may have been overweight. All boarding passes were ready to be passed out to individuals. We immediately proceeded to security that had absolutely no lines. This certainly was the easiest group check-in that the Morgan State University Choir has ever had! Upon arrival to Melbourne, all luggage was present and accounted for! We typically have someone whose luggage is lost in transit, but not to Australia. Quantas Airline, we conclude, is an extraordinary airline.
After loading the bus, we proceeded to downtown Sydney. We immediately noticed a different feel in this city. Sydney was much more business-like. After business hours, downtown Sydney virtually shutdown; however, Melbourne, we could tell, was different. As we walked through the streets of Melbourne, we felt as though we were in Europe. There were many side-cafes and boutique shops all around. Small side streets (alleys) with many restaurants featuring virtually any popular cuisine of the world. The stores had a feel of New York City, without all the large numbers of people on the streets. There was music-making in the streets, street performers singing and playing their instruments. Mime artists performing for whatever contributions the public thought was reasonable. This was much more of a city for performing artists – like the Morgan State University Choir. Our lunch was found among the downtown shops and restaurants.
Our hotel, another Travelodge, is perfectly located for tourists. We are beside the tallest apartment building in Australia, with the penthouse condominium selling for $7-million. We are two blocks from the main river in Melbourne. We were told by our guide that the best place to change money was at the casino next door, which does not charge any commission. As long as we are disciplined enough not to gamble away our money, we should come out ahead.
Tonight we then took a short walk to dinner at La Camera, an Italian Restaurant. The restaurant was only a few blocks away from the hotel on the Yarra River. The meal was served in traditional Italian fashion, with several courses. We must leave tomorrow morning to get started on a tour of Melbourne sites. All are tired and should turn in as early as they are able.
More to come . . .