Monday, February 24, 2014

Australia Week 1: Botanic Garden, White Night, Vic Market

After the initial burst of exploration and exhaustion during our first two days in Melbourne, the group was forced to return at least somewhat to reality and go to work on Monday at the game studio which will be our office for the next six weeks. The team there is very friendly and very familiar with running a live-service mobile game, which is our reason for coming out here to train with them. The studio is bigger than our office in Salt Lake, and more importantly, they have a $10,000 espresso machine in their break room – Melbournians are serious about their coffee.

Skyline over the Yarra River, just south of Fed Square
The week didn't lend itself to touring around the city. We went to a few restaurants in the evenings, but mostly it was exercise…work…eat…room…sleep every day until Friday. Friday we went out with some coworkers to the CBD, the Central Business District, which is Melbourne’s downtown area. We had beers at Federation Square, the controversial post-modern plaza and visitor center. It’s controversial because of its very peculiar design. There are very few right-angles to the building, lots of ornamental geometric shapes, and the whole thing is a bit of a maze to navigate. Still, it’s a cool little area with some nice bars and an outdoor music venue, which was home to an interactive game art installation the night we went.

Awesome tree at the Botanic Garden
The next day was busy. First thing I walked over to the Melbourne Royal Botanic Garden across the street from the hotel. The garden is a 38 hectare plot containing plants from all over the world, with particular focus on Australia’s native flora. Founded in 1846, it houses the National Herbarium, where active botanic research is still conducted, and has a wide variety of plots including a rose garden, rare and endangered species garden, an Australian forest walk, and a tropical greenhouse.

Block Arcade Interior
After walking the entirety of the garden, I went back to the hotel and then arranged to meet some of my coworkers at Collins Street in the CBD for self-directed walking tour. Collins Street has some cool examples of 19th and 20th century architecture, lots of interesting shops, and the central train station. The first major stop on Collins street was the Block Arcade, a Victorian mall filling with restaurants, tea shops and wicked cool architectural elements. We ate lunch there and wandered around a bit, then continued down the road to the ANZ Gothic Bank, which was closed for the weekend but the exterior was interesting enough.

We passed the Rialto towers, once the tallest building in Australia, now trumped by the Eureka Tower in south Melbourne (more on that in a later post), and ended our half-tour of Collins Street at the Southern Cross train station. At this point I had run out of time for touring since I had to race back to the hotel to change for a concert being held at the nearby King’s Domain park.

I got dressed and dashed over with minutes to spare…only to discover that the concert that I thought was going to start at 5 didn't start until 7. Ugh. It turned out though that because it was a free concert, the stadium had already begun to fill up even at 4:30, so I managed to get a great seat with an inevitable view of the soloist’s hands on the piano. There was blessedly a pre-show concert by an amateur symphony which was... something to keep me entertained for an hour, so there was that. The main event was the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and local soloist Caroline Almonte performing my favorite Rachmaninoff piece, Piano Concerto no 3. It was not technically perfect, but it was really terrific.

Train Station Illuminated during White Night
It was 8:30 and the sun was starting to set. The main attraction of the day was still yet to come, because that night something really special was happening in the Melbourne CBD. For the second year, Melbourne was hosting something called “White Night,” a huge luminous arts festival that lasts all night and features illuminated buildings, performance art pieces, live music, street food and lots and lots and LOTS of people. Now, I've been in Tokyo at rush hour on a weekday. I've seen crowds where you can barely move for the bodies. This was like nothing I had ever seen before. There were over 500,000 people present at the event, filling the streets of the CBD to watch the lights, see the shows…stay up late together - actually a lot of the motivation was a little confusing since there wasn't *that* much to do, but the energy was great. I was there for about 2 hours, wading through the sea of people to take pictures and briefly hang out with my coworkers. They were going to go on to sing karaoke, an idea which, given the swarm of people, did not appeal to me, so I worked my way back to the apartment, which took upwards of another hour, and passed out.

The next day I decided to take it at least a little easier. I spent the first half of the morning editing the photos from the previous day, then I went out with one of my coworkers to Victoria Market, a very large farmer’s and flea market. To be honest, I’m not sure I really got the whole experience from it. We wandered through the deli area and the produce section, ate lunch at the food court and browsed around the flea-market section. It seemed large and practical, albeit not particularly exciting.

After the Market I wandered back south in the CBD, through the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology mini-campus, down through China Town and over to the National Gallery, where I browsed for a few minutes before realizing I was too exhausted to continue staring at artwork from any century. So I went home, did my normal Sunday routine of laundry and video games, then in the evening strolled along the Yarra river until the sun set. Not a bad weekend.
Next week, it’s work again until the weekend, so expect some blog silence for a while. Next weekend we’ll see what adventures are in store!

CBD from the Yarra

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