Between our journey over to Tasmania and the start of our Great Ocean Road drive, we spent some time tootling around our hub of Melbourne. A lovely coastal city in southern Victoria, Melbourne reminded us a bit of Boston (with a much milder climate). Quaint footbridges spanned the tree-lined Yarra River which, along with its tidy greenways, twisted and turned toward the skyscrapers of the city center – reminiscent of the Charles’ course through Beantown. On the edge of the downtown district sits St. Patrick’s Cathedral, an absolutely gorgeous church that was completed in 1897. The sharp, Gothic-style steeples and enchanting stone fountains create a tranquil sanctuary just beyond the heart of the bustling city. Along the streets of the city center, bursting with small shops and cafes, we found an amazing restaurant called the Vegie Bar. Offering a fully vegetarian (primarily vegan) menu, fresh juices, and incredible desserts, even Stephan was impressed with the fare. We ended up going back a second day, and both times it was just mobbed with people during off-peak hours. I can see why; I’d probably just make a home under a table if I lived in Melbourne.
The weather here was absolutely gorgeous and, looking to spend more time outdoors, we decided to visit the botanical gardens. Thinking we could walk a bit and maybe even photograph some new birds, we ended up being totally blown away by the gardens, and strolled along the immaculately-maintained grounds for nearly three hours. Even outside of peak blooming season there was so much to enjoy throughout the 90-acre park. Small lily ponds and larger lakes lined with willows and pampas grass attracted wood ducks, swamp hens, and coots. Colorful songbirds flitted and chirped exuberantly among the abundant treetops. Thoughtfully-designed footpaths wound through bamboo and tropical forests, under fragrant eucalyptus groves, and past quaint cottages and cupolas. The expansive lawns were dotted with groups of families enjoying Sunday picnics, kids’ birthday parties, and baby showers. Even though it seemed to be a fairly busy day, it didn’t feel crowded or noisy. It was easily the best botanical garden I’ve seen and, if in Melbourne, I’d definitely recommend a visit.