I joined the hordes today and watched the new Watchmen film on IMAX. It was OK, but would have been fine on a “normal” cinema screen and at the corresponding lower price. Mind you, the IMAX here in Melbourne‘s not that much more expensive than a regular cinema ticket. In the queue I got talking to a random local called Andy who was good company until the film started. This is pretty typical of the open attitude that people around here have – they always seem ready to chat and share a beer. Or a popcorn.
My touristy day actually started when I met Ben for lunch. He took me to a restaurant at one end of the Chinatown precinct where we had dumplings (dim sum). They were pretty tasty, and not bad at around $7 for a dozen of the beef or pork ones. He picked up the tab for lunch as his work colleagues dropped in so I’ve promised to meet him again tomorrow so I can pay for his in return.
From there I cycled round the corner to the Town Hall where I’d booked a tour. They do two each weekday, 11am and 1pm, at no cost but it’s worth pre-booking. The 11am one today was booked out, but I got onto the afternoon one with a small group. If you’re interested then give them a call on 96589658.
A spritely guy called Ray took us around for well over the quoted one hour and was full of nice touristy trivia. We got a potted history of Melbourne itself as well as a bit of information on how the mayoral system works. One interesting thing us that Melbourne could have been named Batmania (!), but that the decision was made to name it after the then-Prime Minister of the UK. Or actually after the place he lived and was Viscount of – Melbourne in Derbyshire. However, he never even set foot in Australia let alone the city named for him. Do check out the Wikipedia link above. As with all fairly modern cities, its history is both interesting and well-documented.
We saw some interesting rooms including the council chambers which are available to functions for a “very nominal fee”. They’ve been used for society meetings, weddings and film sets. Of course, all the wood is Australian. The majority seems to have been carted over from Tasmania.
The function room where the mayor hosts important guests is quite posh ut does look a little out of touch with the times. With my limited furniture vocabulary, I’d class it as Tudor. Still, being able to picture Paul McCartney playing Chopin on the piano, while Ringo walked around in the mayoral robes and John and George threw boomerangs to a screaming crowd outside does give it a different edge!
Ray’s enthusiasm, however, really came out when he showed us the enormous organ housed in one wing. It’s the largest organ in the southern hemisphere (fnar-fnar) with 8700 pipes. Once they have the repeater (I think that was the term) installed, this will rise to 10,000. It really is a magnificent piece of engineering, a lot of it American work. Some years ago flooding caused the roof of the building to collapse, severely damaging the organ along with a lot of the offices. The pipework was dismantled and shipped to a company in the US who’d won the contract to repair it.
Currently, it’s insured for $AU20million, but this – apparently – would barely cover the cost of replacing it. We managed to get a walk around the scenes behind the (and in fact, inside) the organ and listened to a pre-recorded piece of Bach. There are free recitals now and again, so if you’re into organ music then do check it out if you’re in town. You could get lucky.
After thanking Ray, I went up to the IMAX cinema to see Watchmen and as soon as that finished (2 hour 40 minutes later) I pedalled down to Richmond to meet Jacqueline of six impossible things fame. She’d contacted me over the weekend when she spotted I was in Melbourne – I didn’t even realise this was where she lived!
As it always is, it was great to meet up with someone I’ve nattered to online for ages. She’s actually a Kiwi, but don’t hold that against her! A shame we only had about an hour or so to chat before she had to dash off – maybe longer next time! Oh, and don’t call her Jackie…
Then back home with a quick stop at the Kiwi Fish & Chips on Victoria Parade. Which wasn’t very good. The chips were crispy, not soggy, and the sausage I had was kind of… ick. And they didn’t have vinegar. Still, it was a filling meal for a shade under $9 and I needed something by then.
And that was about it. Tomorrow is my lazy day before the Big Hitch to Wollongong.