Marvellous Melbourne: 10 reasons to visit

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Local markets, eclectic architecture, cool cafes, global cuisine, graffiti splattered walls and much more, ANURAG MALLICK finds out 10 cool reasons to visit Melbourne

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A planned city laid out around a central grid north of the Yarra river, Melbourne is a vibrant, multi-cultural place known for its love of art, culture, music and food. In this buzzing metropolis the old and the new meet in a delicious blend of architecture ranging from the classical to the whimsical. Bylanes are abuzz with the chatter of bars, restaurants, shops and theatres. With regular events and exhibitions at National Gallery Victoria, Victorian Art Centre and Australian Centre for the Moving Image, the city’s cultural calendar is packed. There’s lots to love about Melbourne and here’s what makes the city so cool.

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In CBD, the trams are free
The best thing about the Central Business District is that tram rides are free. When you are about to leave the Free Tram Zone, there’s a voice alert! Walking around the streets and bylanes is a delight as lovely ornate buildings dot the entire CBD area. In the rectangular grid, every street has an immediate equivalent lane from north to south – Flinder’s Street, Flinder’s Lane, Collins Street, Collins Lane, and so on.

From the western end, you have Spencer street named after the influential Spencer family to which Winston Churchill and Lady Diana belong. There’s King Street named after King William, Elizabeth Street after Queen Elizabeth and so on… As the local adage goes, if you get lost, all you have to do is think about the old dead monarchs of England.

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Laneway Dining
It’s a bit of a Melbourne thing to have bars and restaurants tucked away in alleyways, often without any prominent shop front or signage. Bar Americano is a tiny joint at Presgrave Place that serves good cocktails and seats only ten people at a time. Melbourne’s best Spanish fare can be found at Frank Camorra’s MoVida restaurant in the graffiti-splattered Hosier Lane.

Pastuso, the Peruvian grill and bar serving ceviche and pisco is tucked away on ACDC Lane. Adam DySilva’s Tonka presents Indian cuisine with a twist in a back alley at Duckboard Place off Flinders Lane. What they save on real estate goes on to your plate! Duck into any laneway and you’ll stumble onto something exciting…

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Street Art
Wherever you go in Melbourne, the streets are alive with art as if the entire city is one giant canvas. Corporation Lane was renamed ACDC Lane as tribute to the legendary Aussie rockers who hail from the city. Lined with funky artwork, fans painted the band’s trademark lightning bolt over the street sign because the city officials refused to change the nomenclature format.

Rather than chase kids spraying walls with aerosol cans, an entire lane was given to them in 2008 as a graffiti mentoring project. Union Lane, tucked away between David Jones & Book Building, is a great place to see local street art, besides Hosier Lane and Presgrave Place, which is known for its funky three-dimensional installations.

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The buskers of Bourke Street Mall
If you’re a busker, your ultimate platform is Bourke Street Mall. The popular location, thronged by the young and restless, has been running the sonic gauntlet for years and is Melbourne’s premiere spot for busking. But you can’t just land up here with your regular busker license and plonk your gear on the sidewalk.

Buskers must go to Melbourne Town Hall where they are screened, almost like Australia’s Got Talent or Australian Idol. The scene is very well managed and they can’t play all at once. There are three major points – off Elizabeth Street, Swanson Street and right in the middle. Unlike other street corners terrorized by wannabe musicians clanging away at pots and pans, the musical talent here is topnotch.

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Rooftop honey
One of the coolest things about Melbourne is its Rooftop Honey. All over the city 80 swarms of honeybee colonies have been ‘re-homed’ at unused roofs, balconies and gardens. Located at hotels, restaurants and coffee shops, the bees were resettled after their unwanted colonies elsewhere were saved from extermination. Being an agriculture driven country, Australia understands the importance of honey bees for a sustainable food supply chain as they pollinate agricultural and horticultural crops.

The reason why urban bee farming took off is the diverse flora growing in the city in comparison to the countryside which often has mono cropping. The result – truly ‘local’ produce of delicious honey unique to each site – Melbourne CBD, North of the Yarra to South of the Yarra. Buy test tubes or small jars for $14.95. www.rooftophoney.com.au

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Local sayings inspired by streets and buildings
Melburnians find a lot of inspiration for their aphorisms and adages from their cityscape. If you get out of a car or a tram onto a bustling street, people often remark “It’s busier than Bourke Street.” If you met ‘under the clock’, it was outside Flinders Street Railway Station. In the 1870’s it was fashionable to traipse down Collins Street in your glad rags and this fad was called ‘doing the Block’. When a shopping complex was built there in 1892, it was called Block Arcade.

Then there’s the building Buckley & Nunn, which gives rise to the phrase ‘Buckley’s chance (or none)’, rhyming slang for no chance at all. One of the biggest names in retail, (Sydney) Myer came in 1900 as a young Russian Jewish refugee who began by renting a small shop and within 18 years, he bought over everything. The 7-storey tall Myers runs all the way across Little Bourke Street to Lonsdale Street. If you are talking about someone who is too full of himself, they say “That guy has more front than Myer.”

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Reclaiming old buildings
One of the most charming aspects of Melbourne is the ability to take pre-existing unused spaces and reinvent them into hip venues. Like the switchboard room of the Manchester Unity Building where the controls were housed has been transformed into the tiny Switchboard Café. Postal Lane, an alleyway between Meyer and the General Post Office, was where delivery trucks took their mail in and out for 150 odd years.

When the Post Office shut down, some enterprising people started a few European style restaurants. Walk past the cast iron gates and dine next to signs that say ‘Beware of Motor Cars’ and ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted.’ Center Place, between Majorca building and Center House, used to be a rundown laneway where hawkers sold stamps, coins and knickknacks until it was converted into a warm intimate European style, lamp-lit alley. Today, it features in all publicity material of Melbourne!

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Exploring Vic Market
Established in 1878, the Queen Victoria Market is the largest market in Australia and the oldest Victorian era market in the southern hemisphere. Spread over 7 hectares in the heart of the CBD, its façade bears the figures of the Melbourne coat of arms – fleece, bull, ship and whale, representing the four major activities on which Melbourne’s economy was founded – wool, livestock, shipping and whaling.

Take a 2-hour guided Hunt and Gather Tour for $49 through The Meat Hall the oldest building with lively butchers and fishmongers who have been around for four generations. As the sign at Jago’s proclaims “We don’t yell to sell”. Walk through the Art Deco Dairy Hall and Deli for tribal flavors of kangaroo meat, fresh oysters, local cheese, handmade chocolate at Koko Black, Greek stuffed olives and more. Closed Mondays and Wednesdays. Ph (03) 9320 5835 www.qvm.com.au/tours

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Irreverent architecture
From the modern interpretation of Federation Square with shards to the slender spire of the Victorian Art Centre dubbed the ‘mock Eiffel Tower’ (it’s actually shaped like a ballerina’s tutu), Melbourne’s architecture is rich and diverse. All the wealth from the gold rush triggered a construction frenzy and in the 1870s, the city was hailed as ‘Marvellous Melbourne’.

Perhaps the most irreverent piece is the large clam shaped ladies’ purse made out of locally sourced pink granite and stainless steel by local artist Simon Perry. Created from contributions of the public purse, it’s a bit of an artistic joke that the installation is called the Public Purse. Pose for a selfie here or wait for a tram.

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Coffee culture
Melbourne is easily Australia’s coffee capital. While Pellegrini’s on Bourke Street started in 1912, is one of the earliest cafes to open in town, Melbourne’s coffee craze dates back to mid 20th century. After the second world war, several Italians and Greeks moved to Australia and Melbourne in particular. Aided by the timely invention of the piston-driven espresso machine by Achille Gaggia in 1945, the Italians brought the café culture to the city and Melbourne took it to another level.

With its laid back vibe, multi-cultural air, small independent roasters and love for the beverage, the stage was set for a coffee obsession that was only fuelled by the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Today, you could try The League of Honest Coffee for their single origin brews, the same blend of Vittoria beans served for the last 60 years at Pellegrini’s, grab a quick cuppa at Market Lane Coffee or try Manchester Press, Everyday Coffee, Proud Mary or Brother Baba Budan. As the sign at 1932 Café in the Manchester Unity Building states ‘More Espresso, Less Depresso.’

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Singapore Airlines flies from India to Melbourne (13½ hrs) via Singapore – 4½ hrs to Changi Airport and 7½ hrs to Melbourne. www.singaporeair.com

Stay
Melbourne has great accommodation options – Citadines on Bourke Street is a great hotel centrally located in the CBD. www.citadines.com

Eat
There’s excellent global cuisine on offer in Melbourne – Italian fare at Grossi and Florentino, American Diner and CBD’s biggest beer garden at Trunk, Indian cuisine with a twist at Tonka, Hellenic ‘filthy food’ at Gazi and great breakfast platters at Heirloom Japanese restaurant in Citadines Hotel.

For more info, visit www.tourism.vic.gov.au

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in the January 2017 issue of JetWings magazine.

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