“What the heck is that driver doing?” I stared in amazement at a car parked – literally – in the intersection as other vehicles whizzed by. I was astonished that I seemed to be the only concerned onlooker. When the light turned red, that car, as well as the two waiting patiently behind it, made a 90 degree turn across all lanes of traffic. No horns blared. The drivers who now had the green light did not move until the intersection was clear.
I had just witnessed Melbourne, Australia’s famous –- or is it infamous? –- Hook Turn. Melbourne (pronounced Melbun) is a city of trams, or what, in the United States, we call streetcars or trolleys. The hook turn was developed to maintain traffic flow at busy intersections where trams and traffic share the space.
I became enthralled by these unique turns, standing at intersections long after the ‘walk’ sign I wanted changed back to ‘wait.’ My fascination, however, did not extend to a desire for first-hand experience. Knowing that I would soon be one of Melbourne’s drivers, I made a mental note to avoid the entire downtown area where those hook turns would be waiting to torture me. If I unintentionally found myself in such a situation, plan B was to skip the right turn (because Australians drive on the left, is equivalent of our left turn) altogether and find an alternate route to my destination.
Melbourne’s trams are as famous as the hook turns necessitated by them. They are the answer to the tourists’ prayers. The City Circle Tram circles the Central Business District (CBD). The price was right –- free –- and I could walk to any of the major attractions in the CBD from one of the stops. And there are LOTS of major attractions in this cosmopolitan city.
One of my favorites is the aptly named “Cow in a Tree” sculpture. Its quirkiness appeals to my whimsical sense of humor. Another fun venue is Etihad Stadium, home to numerous sporting and other arena events, including Australian Rules Football. As far as I can tell, Aussie Rules Football means no rules whatsoever. What a hoot! I toured the stadium in the company of seven males. It was nirvana. Since I had never in my life been in a men’s locker room, I have to say that was the highlight of the Etihad tour for me.
Not quaint like the trolleys, but also free, are the buses of the Melbourne City Tourist Shuttle. The utilitarian buses serve the outlying areas of the city –- Southbank, Waterfront City and Carlton among them -– before looping back to toward the CBD. The ideal, I discovered, is to use a combination of both trolley and bus for exploring the beautiful old and new mix of Melbourne.
There is James Cook’s cottage, built in 1755, completely disassembled in England in 1934 and transported stone by stone to Australia where it was rebuilt in Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens. I chuckled over Chloe, a larger-than-life painting of a nude woman that hangs in Young and Jackson’s Hotel (which is actually a pub) that has scandalized and/or enchanted Melbourne’s citizens since the early 20th century. I was neither scandalized nor enchanted, merely intrigued that such a painting created a furor in a country characterized by the unconventional.
Hungry from all the tramming and tramping, I never had to look far for nourishment. Melbourne has a plethora of options in the food department. There is Chinatown, Little Italy and the Greek Quarter. Delicious and fresher-than-fresh seafood can be found at the Docklands and Waterfront City. I had my own international gourmet experience during my stay in Melbourne, topped off by Moreton Bay bugs in Little Italy. The bugs turned out to be something akin to crawfish. Voluntarily ordering them from the menu and actually eating them was a fitting end to my stay in a city that captivated me with its character.
Susan Tornga has undergraduate and graduate degrees in Business Administration, but prefers travel to tax forms, and finds the world a much better teacher than any classroom. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in numerous publications, including the Chicken Soup and Patchwork Path anthologies.