Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Land Down Under 2011: Melbourne's St. Kilda!


St. Kilda Hair Salons with Decorated Roofs

It's the end of spring in Australia. There have been a few rain showers, but for the most part, the weather in Melbourne couldn't be more beautiful. The long days are a welcome relief from the short cold days of Portland. In Australia, summer officially begins on the first of December.

Another Hair Salon
About 6km (3.5 miles) from central Melbourne is St. Kilda. It's described by the locals as a shabby-bohemian beach town. Last year, when I visited Bondi and Manly beaches in Sydney, I wasn't that impressed. Manly and Bondi were certainly lovely places, but they had a sort of pretentious vibe. Not so in St. Kilda. From the moment I stepped off the tram, St. Kilda had a welcoming feel.

Fairy Penguins
There are restaurants ranging from the glitzy to the cheap. There are also a surprising number of cake shops with wonderful displays, and a few interesting retail shops.

The Esplanade hugs the beach with a historic pier. At the end of the pier is a Fairy Penguin refuge. At sunset, we were told, the penguins come out in force and you can hear their distinctive chatter. We happened to be there at mid-day; even so, we were lucky enough to spot three young chicks hiding in the rocks. It's the first time I've seen penguins in the wild. No flash photography please (it frightens the birds and also damages the retina of the chicks)! Fortunately for us, it was bright and sunny, and we had no need of a flash.

Luna Park and Me
One of the first things you see when you arrive in St Kilda, and impossible to miss, is Luna Park, an amusement park with an old fashioned wooden roller coaster, and a dramatic entrance.

Inside the Esplanade Hotel
Nearby, and easier to overlook, is Hotel Esplanade. Once a chic and fashionable hotel, it's difficult to describe its current condition. It's been broken up into several bars and performance spaces. The whole thing is so informal that it actually feels like you might be walking through an abandoned building. Yet, there's a bar with people having drinks on the balcony and there's a restaurant near the entrance. The run-down look of the place has come about the natural way, not contrived by some faddish designer. It wasn't my thing, but it was worth seeing.

Galleon Cafe
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Perhaps, the best find in St. Kilda came about when we overshot our tram stop and made one of those serendipitous discoveries, the St. Kilda Galleon Cafe. The Galleon Cafe is a real neighborhood diner full of locals. Crowded and full of life, the Galleon has atmosphere and really good food at affordable prices. Try the sweet potato, basil, feta hash served with wilted spinach and chili chutney. Absolutely delicious!

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St. Kilda Pier. The Penguin Refuge
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I highly recommend St. Kilda for an enjoyable day trip. I hope to return next week and go kite sailing!

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