Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Travel Blogger's Guide To Melbourne's Tram Car And Myki Card in Australia

St. Paul's cathedral - Lanes and alleyways: Melbourne art culture - MELBOURNE MEMORY #3: TRAM RIDES - Queen Victoria's Market - Eureka Sky Deck 88 - Captain cook's cottage - Flinder's street station - Yarra River - MCG - Federation Square - Cuisine - Extras.

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I wonder how many tourism boards in the world today promote one of their modes of transport as a stand-out feature in their travel advertising. Yet, Tourism Victoria is one of them. I had fallen for them the moment I had known, putting tram rides in my memory list, one of the iconic 'things to do'.

A tram against the spires of St. Paul's -- poses with pride

Home to one of the most extensive tram networks in the world and the only one surviving in Australia, Melbourne connects almost everything of itself through one of its most popular resident – the tram. I got a whiff of its popularity the moment I stepped out of the airport, into the city.

Tram rides wire mesh, Melbourne
A pole amid an overhead tram wire mesh
A big mesh of electric wires ran overhead and a line of intersecting track lines ran below; within these two life giving support parameters was the tram, Melbourne’s very own commutation lifeline akin to the Mumbai local or the Tokyo metro subway.

A Tram route, Melbourne
Tram tracks in the middle of the roads
Besides the trams, there are other modes of transport too like the taxi, the trains and the buses (the Melbourne Visitor Shuttle is great!) but nothing beats the tram when it comes to that number one spot. Fairly speedy and easy to figure out (of course, with a bit of help from the internet and the locals), trams command priority by all the other vehicles on the road – a clear indication that trams are the hero here – they rule!

Melbourne tram cars signs and signals
Signs indicating to give way to the trams
And you can’t help but fall in love with them for all that they will be doing for you, for all the time you are there. All through my stay in Melbourne, trams were not just a mode of transport for me. They were a friend; always there for company, by my side, taking me to places, some heard, some unheard and serving me with a smile. Below are my observations, my very own personal guide for all those travelers out there, planning for Melbourne and looking to discover Australia's second city through it's most beloved local - the tram.

A layman's guide for using trams in Melbourne!

1. What are the things to be kept in mind before stepping out of the hotel?

Look out for the name of the street you are headed to. That’s your clue. Then, check this link – Journey planner from Public Transport Victoria. It will give you a detailed route to the place you want to visit complete with the tram numbers, travel time required and the boarding and alighting stations. Alternatively, you can ask the hotel staff. They will check it out for you.

Melbourne Inner precincts tram map, Australia
A part of the Melbourne Inner precincts map
 In any case, it is always good you know your tram numbers in advance, that is, before heading out into the city from your hotel in the morning. It would be reckless on your part if you were to rely only on the locals outside to give you all the information that you need.

Tip: Know your streets. You can keep a tram map handy at all times although it didn't help me much.

2. How to figure out the tram stop?

Tram stops sign post, Melbourne
A sign post displaying the stop number and the name at a tram stop
Sign posts like these indicate tram stops, displaying a map, route number and a timetable. These are scattered amply all around the city with majority of the significant ones well built with a platform, roof and seats for the convenience of the traveler.

Tram stop, Melbourne Victoria Australia
At a tram stop, waiting for the tram
You can also find station guards (spot him in orange in the picture above) at some of these stops which makes it easier for you should you have any queries to ask. Route numbers and destination name are also displayed on the incoming tram.

Tip: Check and confirm your tram number before stepping in.

3. What is the whole fuss about Myki cards – the ticket to the tram?

It’s true, myki’s are confusing, for the travelers and the locals alike. But it’s necessary to buy yourself a myki card, a reusable smart card, before you can hop on to any one of these trams unless you want to travel with the fear of burning a huge hole in your pocket as fine.

Myki card - ticket to tram in Australia
My myki - my ticket to the trams
Myki card checking machine
Myki check machine: Tells you all about it.
Initially, that is when you are just starting out with the tram, the whole concept of myki card might just pop up as a bummer. Don’t worry though. You are not alone in this. As I said, no one really understands it. The good thing about it is that it works not only across the trams but also across the buses and the trains.

Tip: Do not try figuring it out in-depth. Give it time. A little bit of travelling should iron out the first few impediments as it did for me.

4. Buying myki and topping it up with cash.

You can find ticket window booths at a majority of train stations specifically set up for selling these out. I bought my myki from such a window near the Flinders street station. Or you can also get one at the 7/11 dollar shops. A variety of packages are available for topping up your myki. Choose wisely depending on the number of days you are in Melbourne and how you plan to spend them.

Myki card ticket window near Flinders street station, Melbourne Victoria Australia
Myki card selling booth near the Flinders street station
I was in Melbourne for 4 days and topped up my Myki for 7 dollars every morning. This unlimited ticket, valid for the entire day and across all trams covering a whole lot of the city of Melbourne – all 4 directions and center, saved me a lot of money!

Tip: Look out for the myki sign.

5. Short on money? Take the City Circle Tram No. 35 instead – it’s FREE!

As travelers, we often budget travel and sometimes these modes of transport can take a toll. Melbourne has a fix. It has something which is absolutely free!

City circle free tram signpost, Melbourne
A tram ride for free
The city circle tram, it circles the central part of Melbourne, grabs eyeballs for being oh-so-vintage and to top it all – it is completely free!  Before taking a seat, take a map (available inside) for yourself so that you can follow the running commentary on the city attractions in a better manner.

City circle free tram, Melbourne
The City Circle Tram running along route no. 35
City circle free tram inside view, Melbourne
Have a seat!
Information: The route runs along Flinders Street, Harbour Esplanade, Docklands Drive, La Trobe Street and Spring Street. So be prepared to walk around a bit if your destination is not one of these. Trams run in both directions every 12 minutes from 10.00am to 6.00pm Sunday to Wednesday, and 10.00am to 9.00pm Thursday to Saturday (except Christmas Day and Good Friday). The City Circle Tram is not wheelchair accessible.

6. Grab a window seat - Enjoy the ride!

Inside view of Yarra tram rides, Melbourne
An empty tram, a rare sight
I always took the window seat, my favorite when travelling in the trams and the trams always kept their promise of opening up a whole new world for me, chaotic on that side yet silent in mine. I liked it that way. I loved observing Her in a tranquil and moving way.

Tram ride views, Melbourne
She - bold and quirky.
View from the tram rides, Melbourne
She - traditional and quiet.
View from the tram ride window, Melbourne
She - graceful and charming.
So often, these were also the times, I truly felt of being in a foreign land, a bit hazy, a bit muddled but still very much alive, still very much breathing, for me to feel and figure.

Reflections of buildings as seen in Tram rides, Melbourne
Reflections: She loved  admiring herself in the mirror.

Melbourne whizzing past right in front of my eyes,
without me having to move anywhere,
... seemed like a dream.

Melbourne as seen from the tram window, Victoria

My dream ... the same one which I had envisioned while in India,
only that now, it was a reality,

View from the tram window, Melbourne

... a reality called ‘Melbourne’ that gradually came to life ...
through the window of my tram.

Tips and timings:

Grab a window seat! Trust me, there are fewer ways better to see the city than through the glasses of a tram.

Services run regularly from 5.00am to midnight Monday to Thursday, and to around 1.30am Friday and Saturday nights. On Sunday, trams run 7.00am to 11.00pm. Many tram services link to bus and train routes.

Have you been to Melbourne and have some further tips or guidelines to share?
Please do so in the comments section.

Previous stories from Melbourne:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

An Open Gallery: Melbourne’s Street Art and Graffiti

St. Paul's cathedral MELBOURNE MEMORY #2 (LANES AND ALLEYWAYS: ART CULTURE) - Tram Rides - Queen Victoria's Market - Eureka Sky Deck 88 - Captain cook's cottage - Flinder's street station - Yarra River - MCG - Federation Square - Cuisine - Extras.

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While walking your way in Melbourne, don’t be surprised if you find yourself standing in a whole little lane tucked away in the busy sprawling metropolis awash in a big palette of vibrant colors and artistic pieces. Melbourne is one city that wears its cultural spirit on its sleeve for all to see! Using the vocabulary of colorful paints and pictures, Melbournians showcase all that is sacred and profane in their life, their expressions and emotions, their dreams and aspirations. All this and more in Melbourne’s much celebrated lanes and alleyways – a must watch cultural attraction for any visitor travelling to this part of the world today.

These lanes and alleyways invite you to enter and lose yourself and flow into their being by happily doubling up as open canvases for artists to paint their heart out and for others to savor all of it absolutely free of cost. Enter them and you realize just what happens when imagination runs free and colors explode in celebration! You realize just how beautifully art can complement the vibrant urban facets of a city’s personality, how creativity can thoughtfully find a way in the city’s chaos.

No wonder, this visual street art of Melbourne features as a distinctive Melbournian way of life in the eye of the world. Below is a picture walk through one such alleyway I bumped into while wandering around Bourke street mall, one of Melbourne's pretentious neighborhoods.

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Time for a story...
Come along...

An open gallery calls...
Amazing Melbourne Street art in the lanes and alleyways of Australia
The witch is thirsty...
... She is scared!
Graffiti art in the lanes and alleyways of Melbourne, Australia
Is there an escape route?
Graffiti Street art in Melbourne Victoria, Australia
To a different city, may be?
Melbourne graffiti street art in the lanes and alleyways of Australia
Not a city but a haven... giving birth to the real her... the real self,
Graffiti culture in the lanes and alleyways of Melbourne, Australia
Where her soul counts its blessings,
Graffiti in the lanes of Melbourne, Australia
And, joys laugh in her heart!
Melbourne Street culture art in the lanes and alleyways of Australia
A place thus, shall be her very own country...
Street art in the lanes and alleyways of Melbourne, Australia
Where she is completely free -
Interesting Melbourne Street art in the lanes and alleyways of Australia
... Free to color her own destiny,

... Write her own life story ...

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This is just one but there are many more. So many stories and colors galore. Colors that are evocative, eccentric, half finished and inspiring, all at the same time. And speaking through the hearts of its people … in a language that is deep, perhaps even unfathomable and possessing such a strange pulsating vibrancy… that it lingers in a traveler’s mind ... in my mind’s eye... for long....

Art is never finished only abandoned ~ Leonardo Da Vinci.

Addresses of Melbourne Art lanes and alleyways?

Google it and it shall throw you a host of names like Union lane, Hosier and Rutledge Lane, Degraves street, etc. on the Melbourne map where you can discover these hidden artistic gems but my personal experience says that these lanes and alleyways have no fixed addresses and the best way to discover them is by chance. I myself had asked a lot of people for their whereabouts but found no success until on the second last day of my trip when I bumped into this alleyway - by ‘chance’ while strolling around the Bourke street mall area. So just grab a map and get out there. Explore. All you need is a bit of curiosity and a bit of trust for chance to do the rest!

Previous stories from Melbourne:

Monday, January 20, 2014

St. Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia: A Lesson In Humanity

MELBOURNE MEMORY #1 (ST. PAUL'S CATHEDRAL) - Art Culture - Tram Rides - Queen Victoria's Market - Eureka Sky Deck 88 - Captain cook's cottage - Flinder's street station - Yarra River - MCG - Federation Square - Cuisine - Extras.

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"Disappointments are just God's way of saying "I have Got Something better"
Be Patient.... Have Faith.... Trust God....." ~ Unknown

I left my hotel room a bit dejected that day. It was the start to the first day of my Melbourne trip and my candle had broken, one part loosely dangling to the other by the cotton white wick thread. Only a few days back, it had been a one piece artistic hand-made candle, bright red in color that I had so carefully wrapped in soft cotton cloth and put in my travel bag, eagerly hoping to light it in the cathedral today; now it was not fit to be lit anymore.

I was sad; my candle had broken.

A short walk  from my Citigate hotel in the heart of the city, along the busy lanes of the Flinders street slowly led me to one of the major attractions of Melbourne: St. Paul’s cathedral. Slowly, because, with every inch covered, I could see the spire growing in size, rising a little more, jutting up from over the green bushy obstacles. It was the traffic lights that stopped me in my walk.
Partial view - St. Paul's church cathedral in Melbourne, Australia
On my way to St. Paul's cathedral
As an example of true paradox, standing diagonally opposite to the cathedral, and in perfect harmony, was the historically iconic Flinders street station: one in sunshine colors and the other in earthy tones of brown, they complemented each other beautifully, completing the vibrant picture postcard that the city of Melbourne painted. While Flinders was chaotic, St Paul’s was peace.

St. Paul's as seen from the diagonally opposite end of Flinder's street station

Trams sped by and people rushed across. I gazed nearly straight up, at its steeple, now visible, in one whole, a beautiful building described in one of those guidebooks as gothic transitional architecture combining early English and decorative Gothic styles. Its spires, darker toned than the rest of the body, stood elegantly against a brilliant backdrop of monochromatic skies cloaked in shades of gray. It rose like a phoenix, stately and eternal, tall needling spires reaching out to the heavens, far above the habitation outside and the crowds below, perhaps pointing to elusiveness – to those small generous houses of God - the same place from where all our blessings come.

Vertical view of St. Paul's church cathedral in Melbourne, Australia
St Paul's Cathedral
A strange sense of anxiety gripped me as I climbed the stairs of the cathedral; or perhaps it was exhilaration that was taking stock of my senses? My Melbourne trip was about to begin in almost the same way I had envisioned it to be: By a visit to the house of the Almighty, St. Paul's Cathedral, my very first memory was to come alive!

The multi-hued door inside St. Paul's church cathedral in Melbourne, Australia
The stained glass entrance door
The multi-colored mosaic glass door opened in a vast hall reverberating in murmurings and echoes of a lot of people. Some kind of a communion service was soon to start.

The main hall at the St. Paul's church cathedral in Melbourne, Australia
The main cathedral hall
As I stepped in, in the hall, I looked around in awe; two long passages at the sides enveloped an arched central passage in the middle leading to a focal altar right in the center, the symmetry of the room was flawless. I felt tiny as I looked up at the towering pillars, awash in muted colors of blue and white and the enormous wooded arches.

Leaving the activity area, I started walking through the left passage of the hall. Here, a few benches were arranged for seating and a row of tablets graced the sidewalls.

The side walk at St. Paul's church cathedral in Melbourne, Australia
The left passage of the hall
My eyes wandered to a cross pinned on the sidewalls, which on closer inspection read:

From the grave of an unknown soldier in France who fell in the Great war.

Just below it was a tablet: In loving memory of Capt. Frederick Wilberforce Leut. Philip John Rupert Steele, Lieut Norman Leslie Steele, Alexander Steele –

A tablet on the sidewalls of St. Paul's church cathedral in Melbourne, Australia
A tablet: In memory of a few brave men
I rolled my hands on the words, finely inscribed,

Greater love hath no man than the one that lays down his life for his friends,

It was erected by their father, mother, brother and sister – more tablets of this kind followed, each covering a different tale, I could not hear them but I could feel; these were tales of valor, of remembrance, of love and sacrifice.

Moving further, something else commanded my complete attention now. Like a golden treasure, it shone bright in the center of the hall. A chain prevented me from stepping any further, at the same time; the same chains indicated this place was special. It was the sanctuary. Quite literally. A sanctuary of peace. This was the main altar and here, it was quieter. The commotion receded, there was no noise. All that remained was peace; those silences that I had always imagined St Paul’s to be.

The altar - St. Paul's church cathedral in Melbourne, Australia
Take some time for yourself: The Alter
The glow of the yellow was so strong and the distance so wide that I could hardly figure out Lord Jesus on the cross, yet in my heart I knew, He was there, somewhere. The epitome of sacrifice, the symbol of compassion, the essence of love... standing obediently in front of Him, I delved within, I searched my heart, I felt like a student recalling the messages that He strived to pass on to His children. ‘Greater love hath no man than the one that lays down his life for his friends’ resonated in the chambers.

Now walking the symmetrically opposite side of the cathedral hall, my eyes drifted to the multicolored glass stained windows above. Sunshine leaked through them like a burning furnace enlightening the massive ceiling and infusing enigma in the various characters inscribed on glass.

Lights beaming in at St. Paul's church cathedral in Melbourne, Australia
The windows of St. Paul's church cathedral in Melbourne, Australia
The sunshine stained glass windows
As if in magic of those few moments of faith and humility that I was now soaked in... that I suddenly bumped into them - placed in a container, spreading its light - the candles... yes I found them or perhaps it was the other way round. I took one from the rack, lighted it from another one and set it adequately in the bowl.

Lighting a candle - St. Paul's church cathedral in Melbourne, Australia
Light a candle, make a wish
Candles glowed outside, joy trickled inside. Now on my knees, I closed my eyes, the image of Lord Jesus flashed in the eye of my mind –  His hands stretched out in a blessing, his eyes kind and loving – The light of my candle cast flickers on my face. The cathedral exuded a wonderful symmetry not only in its architecture but also its soul. The heartwarming tablets of the brave soldiers, the compassionate altar of Jesus Christ and the beaming bowl of candles: I sensed a cumulative significance through all of them. A significance that seemed to mirror a message for all, all the troubles in today’s world. That there exists war, that there exists love and that... there exists hope. My father in heaven, holy be thy world … Both my hands pressed against each other, my lips had now begun to move, a prayer I had learnt long back, as a child in my school.

All we needed was conviction, a faith in the establishment of peace on earth and goodwill among men.

Lighting candles inside St. Paul's church cathedral in Melbourne, Australia
Our Father in heaven ...
My solitary moments in prayer served as a perfect channel to a different world, my inner zen - a place suffused in silence, a place that is full of love, hope, peace and humanity.

As I filed towards the exit prepared to step back into the chaotic hustle bustle of Melbourne, I turned back, one last time. Even as the sacred interiors of the cathedral now reverberated with countless noises, I could see the flame of my candle dancing as if whispering me a silent goodbye.

I was happy; I felt blessed. 

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Tips and helpful information for travelers:


Just opposite Federation square, at one of the busiest intersections of major landmarks:

198-206 Flinders Street

Melbourne Vic 3000

Contact details:

Opening hours

Sat: 9 am to 4 pm
On other days: 8 am to 6 pm

Timings may differ. Please ask the locals or check their official website for best accuracy.

Previous stories from Melbourne:

Melbourne Memories... in Monochrome
My Yatra Diary... Goes Melbourne!
My Melbourne Journey begins... NOW!
My Dreamliner flight to Melbourne Victoria
Where to stay in Melbourne, Citigate Hotel: A Review

Sunday, January 5, 2014

My Yatra Diary...'s New Blog Look In 2014!

I have been thinking of changing the blog look for the past couple of months and it’s only now, in the beginning of a new year, that I have finally managed to set aside my lethargy, take the challenge up and ring the changes in. And now that it's done, I am so excited to show it to all of you!

So what’s new?

  • The overall width of the blog has now increased as a result of which we will be able to see bigger images in the posts hence forth.
  • White comes in as one of the overriding colors which is hopefully more soothing to the eye.
  • The header: Though I personally LOVED my previous header still I couldn't resist replacing it with a new one. I love the entire process that goes in the making: the selection of pictures, then playing with them by putting them in Picasa and eventually the joy of your creation, the final output. It’s fun.

Pictures in the new header:

The 1st picture is from one of my trips to ISKCON Temple, Delhi in 2011. I had the fortune of attending the afternoon arti (prayer) after which I had clicked this picture.

Attending the arti is always one of my highlights while visiting any of the ISKCON temples, in fact I always look forward to them; the yellow aura surrounding the divine flame, perhaps more powerful, more radiant from the combined energy of a multitude of people, all singing glories to the Lord; I find the entire experience emotionally very connecting. Almost every time I am there.

2nd picture is from a recent trip to Hyderabad I embarked on, in August 2013 during the weekend Independence Day holidays. Situated in the one of the historic zones of the city, the place is Mecca Masjid compound renowned for being one among the oldest and largest mosques in Hyderabad and India respectively.

Feeding  the pigeons in the masjid grounds is a popular activity with a large number of visiting people inside. While feeding the birds, I spotted this young goat nearby and extended my hand of grains towards her. I was delighted when she accepted my offer and started licking my hand softly. It was another experience, one of a kind for me and very beautiful to be sensed.

And the 3rd and the final picture is perhaps my favorite of the lot. It is from a small town in the Char Dham Garhwal Himalayas named Harsil and leaves me in awe each and every time I see it. 

I find a strange sense of magic in this picture, like it's alive, breathing life… in its very own self and also in me. Those quiet moments in the company of the eternally benevolent mother Gangamy chance encounter with the village woman and the magical mystical power of faith…Those were moments of bliss, and perhaps it was the same divinity that also led me into capturing this one - this way. I think this photograph has to be my favorite from the entire lot that I have. 

Help me improve!

Please do let me know your thoughts on the new changes, since you are its reader, I trust you to know it best. Do you like them? Or do you see something that can be done in a better way? If you have any suggestions to make regarding anything, please feel absolutely free to let me know your feedback in the comments sections. It’s you who can really help me make this better. Though I don't swear on acting on them right away or even incorporating them, but be rest assured that I will be surely considering them and if possible try inculcating them as well. I sincerely look forward to hearing from you.

A BIG thank you for all my joys of 2013!

Before My Yatra Diary... starts filling up pages (Melbourne coming up) for the dates, 2014, I just want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for all your visits, comments and thoughts throughout the past year. Though I may not reply to all the comments but I am always deeply pleased to read them and learn from them. It has been a joy connecting with all of you and to have your company all along... I couldn't be more blessed to share my travel tales with friends like you. You have been family; and My Yatra Diary… loves you. It would have been so incomplete without you... Thank you.

“May God give you...
For every storm a rainbow, for every tear a smile,
for every care a promise and a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends, a faithful friend to share,
for every sigh a sweet song and an answer for each prayer.”
 ~ Irish Blessings quotes

Here’s to a very happy and blessed new year 2014.  Happy blogging and Keep smiling. :-)