From High Above to Down Under

Melbourne CBD and Princes Bridge at Sunset

I am not sure why I came about with the title of this post except maybe because it sounded so Australian which is connected to this recent Winter holiday in Melbourne.  Or more accurately, I realised that I have focused on East Asian and Southeast Asian countries (those countries on top or above Australia) since I started travelling.  This is due to their nearness to Singapore (where I am currently based) and visiting these countries first is the easiest way for me to gain travel experience. 🙂

I have been looking at my world map recently (every aspiring travel photographer and blogger should have one) and saw that I have visited most of the Asian cities I have longed to see since I was still young.  For a change, I also travelled to Dubai and Abu Dhabi for its wonderful architecture, unique climate and landscape.  And just last year because of an Australian client, I challenged myself financially by visiting Sydney.  I never had enough of Australia since then and with my Australian Visa still valid, I decided to go to Melbourne this time. 🙂

Melbourne felt strangely familiar.  For one reason, there was no language barrier (well, at least for me).  I just realised that this is the only generally English-speaking country I have visited since I started to travel.  And everyone knows that travelling to these countries will painfully cost you a bomb.  Much like Singapore where I am based, Melbourne feels like a city where immigrants thrive and become successful.  Locals and tourists alike are very accommodating, engaging and even funny.  While Sydney has more of the famous landmarks that is Instagram-worthy, Melbourne has a unique character and vibe centred on arts, food, history and culture.  During this trip, winter was already at its peak which gave the city its dreamy and melancholic mood; a stark contrast to all my previous tropical ramblings.  This made travel and night photography for me a very pleasant experience.  Not surprisingly, I have managed to bring home a more decent set of photos as compared to my previous trips. 🙂

Street Life: Beautiful Street Art along Hosier Lane.

A thousand words paints a beautiful picture and a beautiful picture speaks a thousand words.  Words however are not enough to describe this beautiful city.  So a set of pictures and a list of places and things you can see and do here might give justice to the beauty and wonder of this place.  Indeed, Melbourne is lovely and I will surely miss this place.  I seldom visit a certain place twice.  But in this case, I might make another exception.  While I love food and art (which best describes Melbourne for me), my natural bias has always been towards photographing the city and its architecture.  So I share them here:  my personal postcards and an unofficial guide to places to see and enjoy in this new-found love and beautiful city.

Federation Square and Flinders Street Station:  It’s hard to imagine Melbourne without Federation Square and Flinders Street Station.  Federation Square is the city’s heartbeat and iconic centre that holds major cultural attractions, world-class events and tourism experiences.  Flinders Street Station is the city’s most iconic historical building and the gateway to other explorations and experiences outside of Melbourne.  The spot underneath “the clocks” at the entrance to this beautiful railway station is a famous meeting place for locals and tourists alike.

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Yarra River, Southbank Promenade and Melbourne Docklands:  A walk along the banks of the Yarra River in winter is always a pleasant experience especially with a camera in hand.  The promenade is the vantage point of all the classic postcard shots of Melbourne.  Beautiful bridges ranging from Victorian-Heritage to modern styles dot the stretch of the river.  Princes Bridge is the most iconic and connects the Southbank to Swanston Street on the north.  Evan Walker Bridge is a pedestrian footbridge that provides a link between Southbank and Flinders Street Station.  Seafarer’s Bridge is a beautiful cable-stayed bridge that serves as a gateway to Melbourne Docklands and Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.  Melbourne Docklands opens up panoramic waterfront views of the city and Melbourne Marina.  The best way to experience these parts of the city is to take a walk along the promenade in the evening on a weekday when most of the building lights romantically illuminate the city and the waters of the Yarra.

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Lanes and Alleyways:  City Lanes and Alleyways are so quintessentially Melbourne.  There is always something new to see here; especially the ever-changing gallery of street art, graffiti, paste-ups, stencils, and murals.  There are a number of graffiti lanes in Melbourne but the most popular and most accessible is Hosier Lane which is just across Federation Square.  Food and restaurant-hopping is always an unforgettable Melbourne experience.  Degraves Street has a number of restaurants and cafes that also provide atmospheric outdoor seating.  Dropping by Walker’s Doughnuts (corner of Flinders and Elizabeth Streets) for a hot cup of chocolate is a perfect way to end a busy winter day. 🙂

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Eureka Tower and Eureka Skydeck 88:  I always bring home photos of every new city taken from the city’s highest vantage point.  Eureka Tower is Australia’s second tallest skyscraper located in Southbank, Melbourne.  Eureka Skydeck 88 is the Southern Hemisphere’s highest observation platform located at the 88th Floor of Eureka Tower.  Change the way you look at the city with panoramic and awe-inspiring views of Southbank, the Central Business District, Melbourne Cricket Grounds, The Royal Botanical Gardens, and Arts Precinct.  (Admission Price:  AUD 25.00)

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Shrines, Memorials, and Historical Landmarks:  Beautiful architecture commemorates and echoes Melbourne’s soul which is centred on art and history.  The Shrine of Remembrance is one of Melbourne’s most iconic landmarks.  The Shrine is the Victorian state’s memorial to Australians who served in global conflicts throughout Australia’s history.  It was inspired by classical architecture and built by veterans of the First World War.  Underneath the Inner Sanctum, there is a gallery of over 800 artworks, historical artefacts, and personal paraphernalia of Australian soldiers.  (Admission:  Free)  St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a beautiful Gothic Revival Church located on Eastern Hill in Melbourne.  While the building is not so popular for some tourists, it has however the distinction of being the tallest and largest church building in Australia.  Like most churches of its type and design, it has a magnificent interior and sanctuary that should not be missed.  (Admission:  Free)

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Melbourne’s Streets and Shopping Malls:  Even if you don’t plan to shop in Melbourne’s high-end streets and shopping malls, an exploration of the city will provide opportunities for people-watching, tram rides, and discovery of unique shops and places where you could eat, dine or simply feel the city’s vibe.  Collins Street and Elizabeth Street in winter are moody, melancholic, and atmospheric and provides opportunities for unique and beautiful street photography.  Melbourne Central and Royal Arcade Mall are best known for their beautifully restored and grand interiors.

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As always, long holidays are short and will never be enough.  There were still neighbourhoods in Melbourne that I have missed and that can be best explored only outside the winter season.  Like what I always say, I seldom visit a certain place twice unless it’s to find something I missed or lost.  In this case, I did miss out a few places so I have a reason for coming back. 🙂

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed the images as much as I do.  See you in my next post.  Cheers!!! 🙂

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Finding Sydney

Postcard Sydney. Sydney Harbour at Twilight viewed from Mrs. Macquarie’s Point.

“So I say a little prayer and hope my dreams will take me there
Where the skies are blue to see you once again, my love
Over seas from coast to coast to find the place I love the most
Where the fields are green to see you once again, my love”

A client once told me that if I happen to step into the right neighbourhood in Sydney, I would fall in love with the city immediately.  He also told me that the sky is always beautiful and blue (if not everyday different) in Sydney.  My client is from this place obviously but works here in Singapore.  He manages to go back to this hometown every weekend and returns to Singapore on Monday mornings.  I understand that his family is based there but isn’t this pretty expensive for short weekends spent away from work?  Sydney must be really that beautiful.  So I was inspired (or intrigued).

I have pushed back plans of visiting Sydney for quite some time, not really sure what to expect or see there except the city (and the Opera House of course).  A lot of people I know have been here before to visit only friends or family and to see (yes, you guessed it right) the Opera House.  Besides, I also live away from my family and putting together a trip to Sydney will be a challenge for me both logistically and financially.  But you know what?  We all have this secret desire to see or travel the world.  Like most bloggers or travellers, I also have this map of the world where I mark every city I have visited.  But I will not show it here for fear of embarrassment, as these cities (or countries) are quite few you can count them on your fingers. 🙂  I have already visited major Asian cities I’ve always wanted to see when I was still young (those that I can only afford to visit now with my family).  Last year, I challenged myself physically by visiting the UAE; a journey that I really enjoyed but cost me a bomb.  Looking at my world map and seeing I have seen Asia and the Middle East, I was thinking where to go next.  An American or Euro tour is a dream and will not happen anytime soon.  So I revisited my aborted Sydney plans and (inspired by my Australian client) decided again to put the Australian continent on my world map. 🙂

Below are a few practicalities.

Lights are On. Sydney Skyline at Night viewed from Kirribilli Point.

  1. Travelling to Sydney (or Australia) is never cheap for me. A little bit more expensive than Singapore where I am currently based.  A Tourist Visa costs SGD 200.  Kindly convert this to AUD please. 🙂
  2. Luckily nowadays, several budget airlines travel to Sydney and will save you a lot of money.  You just need to book early.  I travelled with Scoot this time (the budget airline of Singapore Airlines).
  3. Accommodation costs are high especially near the City Centre.  A backpacker hostel (with shared or common bathroom facilities) is not an option, as I will be travelling with my family.  So I opted for a budget, standard, and no frills accommodation.  We stayed at Ibis Hotel St. Peters. It’s quite a distance by train travel to the City Centre but it’s a safe and decent place for any first-time traveller here (like most Ibis Hotels I know).  Again, I am not getting a fee by recommending this place by the way. 🙂
  4. Transportation cost is a bit high even with trains.  The good thing is that Sydney is very clean, safe, and walkable.  A lot of the main attractions are near each other and clustered near the City Centre so you only need to travel from your hotel to one of the major city stations.  Then you explore on foot.  Sydney’s Opal Card (a rechargeable fare card) can be used at both trains and buses (and I think even in the ferries).
  5. Food is something we enjoyed but didn’t need to spend so much on.  As the servings are quite big (even those ones in a mall food court), we only needed to order a few and share.  The only time I remember spending much was during Christmas dinner in one Korean Restaurant in Chinatown. 🙂
  6. There are free attractions like Museums.  This is a surprise and a relief especially for an expensive city and must be taken advantaged of.  Sydney is the birthplace of Australia so it is rich in history as well as Museums that showcase this.  You only need to pay for those exhibits that are temporary or those exhibits that are on tour.  The rest of the permanent displays are free.

Circular Quay and The Rocks in a Cold Summer Night.

Sydney is quite a big place but most people are right when they said they wanted to see only the Opera House (and Harbour Bridge) to experience the city.  Well, at least that is how I felt too.  I think what they meant was that all the major sights are clustered near or around the Opera House; and moving around town, you will often pass by Opera House (if not just catching it at the corner of your eye).  There is something about doing or seeing things often and repeatedly that makes you fall in love with it.  Well, that is how I fell in love here (with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge).  Honestly, I was not really sure if I even stepped into the right neighbourhood.  I never even bothered to ask my client about those places.  But I really fell in love with the city anyway.  And the last time I checked, December is supposed to be summer in Sydney.  But some major cities around Sydney were experiencing thunderstorms at the time, so Sydney had its share of a few rain showers while we were there.  So this made summer evenings cooler; which made night photography a pleasant experience for me (despite the lack of warm clothing).

And the sky was indeed beautiful.  On one day, moving clouds met with the late afternoon sun; creating a fiery and spectacular city sunset.  Some days, angry and heavy clouds will form in a twilight sky of purple and orange.  And on most days, the sky is either mantled with diffused and dappled puffs; or just simply a clear and perfect blue.  When it’s blue, there was no need for me to saturate sky colours in the post processing of photos.  Other than the sky above, Harbour Bridge below is endearing.  Harbour Bridge is the world’s largest and heaviest steel arch bridge (last time I checked) but standing underneath never felt overwhelming.  In fact, I even felt happy and at peace.  There is bliss and serenity standing underneath or submitting to something that is quiet and powerful.  Honestly, I even loved it more than the Opera House.  I understand now why so many people here set up neighbourhoods around the bridge they love so much.  Nighttime is the right time to fall in love and is my favourite time of day.  So you will notice that most of my photos here (mostly of Harbour Bridge) were taken either at twilight or late in the evening. 🙂

Sydney Harbour Bridge with Luna Park and North Sydney Beyond.

For first-timers here, Circular Quay should be the first stop.  This is the main and most popular tourist destination where you find the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.  Walk the promenade beside the Opera House bordering Farm Cove and you will come to the breakwater and Mrs. Macquarie’s Point; where you get a classic postcard view of Sydney Harbour with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge beyond. Take a detour to The Royal Botanical Gardens on your way back to the Opera House.  Understand Sydney’s history by walking the atmospheric lanes of The Rocks where you find remnants of convict-era architecture.  There are wonderful cafes and restaurants with outdoor dining areas; as well as free museums dotting the neighbourhood.  The Rocks Cafe is a good choice for dining anytime of the day. 🙂

If you get tired of the city streets, cross beyond The Rocks and enjoy the view at Observatory Hill; a grassy knoll overlooking Millers Point, Harbour Bridge, Luna Park and North Sydney beyond.

City Centre has Sydney’s upscale malls and beautiful colonial architecture.  Visit Hyde Park and take a photo at Archibald Fountain with St. Mary’s Cathedral in the background.  During December, St. Mary’s Cathedral puts on a show called Lights of Christmas; a video and image projection mapping done on the facade of the building.  At the opposite end of Hyde Park is Anzac War Memorial facing The Pool of Remembrance, which looks really lovely at night.  Not to forget of course are Sydney’s malls.  The grand Queen Victoria Building and the ornate Strand Arcade are some of the earlier public buildings that were converted to upscale retail centres.

Darling Harbour is basically what it sounds like; a place where you can bring your loved one (or loved ones). 🙂   The best way to experience the harbour is by walking along the promenade of Harbourside Shopping Centre in the evening when the gleaming towers of Cockle Bay Wharf at the opposite side illuminate the waters of the Harbour.  Pyrmont Bridge (a pedestrian bridge) links Harbourside Shopping Centre to Cockle Bay Wharf and provides a perfect vantage point for photographing the Harbour.

There were still neighbourhoods in Sydney that we haven’t explored due to time constraints (a holiday will always be short no matter how long it is).  But honestly, the sights around the Opera House and Harbour Bridge were enough to make you fall in love with the city.  I could not imagine what I would have felt if we had seen more.  Anyway, I was granted a multiple-entry tourist visa.  I believe that would mean I have reason to come back this year; and another reason to fall in love all over again. 🙂  Meanwhile, I share the rest of my photos below.  Enjoy the images and as always, stay grateful and inspired.

See you in my next post. Cheers!!! 🙂

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