the cultural capital of Australia
07.06.2012 - 11.06.2012
We really enjoyed our trip to Melbourne over an extended Queens Birthday weekend in June. We had been forewarned that it would be "so cold!", and so, I drastically overpacked. It really wasn't that bad. It was a bit drizzly and breezy, but nothing that stopping into a pub or coffee shop wouldn't solve.
The city is known for its amazing coffee, which is due to a lot of Italians settling in Melbourne and bringing their coffee traditions with them. Lygon Street is the Italian district; but many other lovely coffee shops can be found off small alleyways throughout the city. The lanes and arcades are among the highlights of Melbourne. It's remarkable not only where a restaurant or coffee shops can be put up, but that they are all still busy enough to make a living.... we did our part to keep them afloat.
We had the luxury of a personal tour guide; our friend Joe has been living in Melbourne for about 4 months, and was a fabulous host. We rarely had to look at a map, or come up with something to do. We had looked at our travel books and a few websites prior to the trip, and had a short list of things to see. When we left, we had ticked a few things off that list, but had seen many more things than we even knew about, and had some ideas for what to see next time.
Our first day there, we had a few hours before we met up with Joe. After lunch, we took a walk through the Fitzroy Gardens, enjoying the mix of autumn coloured aspens among the gum and palm trees. We stumbled upon the the oldest building in Australia, Cooks Cottage, dating back to 1755, before meeting up with Joe in the CBD.
We walked to Federation Square, to the massive visitors centre, and made a few more plans for the weekend. Fed Square is the central hub of the CBD, right across from the Flinders Street Station which is not only the central train station, but an iconic building in Melbourne. On the other corner is St. Pauls Cathedral, which is a beautiful gothic style church. That evening we took advantage of the locals insider knowlege and enjoyed an outdoor art show beside St. Pauls, put on by Chapter House. After that Joe took us to a very unique outdoor alley pub; Section 8. One thing that is remarkable is that Melbournians, despite having some of the cooler temperatures in Australia, still enjoy doing things outdoors in the winter, especially sitting near a heater at a pub or cafe.
We had been looking forward to going to an AFL footy game, which was basically the only thing we had planned for our trip. Prior to the game, which was at Etihad stadium, we went down to the Docklands to see the area, and get ready for the action. To be honest, the docklands was a bit of a disappointment. There was a large outdoor shopping centre, which, despite many sales, was completely void of shoppers. Aside from that, there wasn't much going on along the waterfront, with the exception of the half-melted Southern Star Observation Wheel. We did stop in to the only ice arena in Melbourne, the Icehouse, to watch some ice hockey and browse through the giftshop (which had an Oilers t-shirt!).
The Friday night footy was an intense game between two Melbourne clubs; Geelong vs Carlton. The fans were right into it, and, as I was sitting beside some boisterous Geelong supporters, I soon was backing the Cats as well. Australian sports fans are great- they are constantly yelling out; either in support or encouragement, or in dismay and frustration. It's infectious. I would highly recommend anyone travelling to Australia to attend a sporting event, and in Melbourne the obvious choice in the winter is AFL.
Saturday we visited the ACME museum , which is just off Fed Square. It was a rainy day, so it was a good (and free) way to spend a couple hours. Riding the trams, including the free tourist tram, is another great way to kill some time on a poor weather day. It's so easy to get around, and see different parts of the city. The tourist tram, called City Circle, does just that- it does a loop through the central districts of Melbourne, and provides some information along the way.
Chinatown in any city is a good bet for a nice, and affordable meal. Melbourne is no different. After talking about it for 3 days, we finally went out and had a good assortment of dumplings. If you have a specific restaurant in mind, it would be best to make a reservation, or go on a weekday, we were turned away from a couple shops before finding a suitable place.
With so many famous and unique pubs, we decided to do our own little pub crawl, where we visited a number of estabilishments in one evening. Highlights included the Croft Institute; an old lab that was converted to a dark pub. The bartenders were more like scientists, mixing fiery drinks and serving cocktails with syringes instead of spoon (which resulted in the discussion that you can't look cool while drinking out of a syringe). We stopped one the rooftop of the Red Hummingbird, and then did a walk-through of the popular Cookie before heading up to Toff of the Town.
Sunday was market day. We started off at the Queen Victoria Market; the largest outdoor market in the Southern Hemisphere. The market is known for clothing and souvineers, but especially for lovely produce and meats; and the shouting of vendors to encourage people to buy from them. There is also a section of take-away food, the most popular being the Turkish Boreks, the snags, and the pies and other bakery goodies. After Vic Market, we went down to The Rose Street Market, which was a smaller market with gorgeous, unique, incredibly inventive artsy things, mostly made by locals manning their own tents. We had planned to continue on to the market at St. Kilda, but a cider house caught our eye instead.
We did visit St. Kilda, but it was too late to see the penguins as they come in at sundown. That is on our list of things to do next time. As is St. Patricks Cathedral and The Shrine of Remembrance, and a game in "the Caudron" (MCG). It's impossible to do everything in four days, and it's always great to have motivation to return. Our next trip will be in the summer, and will include the Great Ocean Road, and Phillip Island... if we can squeeze that all in.