Dennis and Rosamund Knill make a whirlwind trip to one of Oz’s great cities and unearth some of its hidden charms in less than a week.
To be sure, the city has always had its share of raffish elements, corrupt politicians, lurid episodes and unsavoury neighbourhoods — what great city has not. Still it’s one of the world’s greatest cities, relaxed and so content with itself.
Enriched with historic architecture combined with bold waterfront developments this is a city full of energy, ambition, hidden treasures and vintage trams. It’s also a city blessed with fantastic shopping with arcades, upbeat boutiques and shopping malls. Even more, Melbournians love to eat and for the devoted foodie the city is overrun with gastronomic diversity amongst its restaurants and cafes largely due to an overwhelming influx of migrants from Italy, Greece and Asia. Hello Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city.
We join a local guide for our Hidden Secrets walking tour of Melbourne. For the curious minded tourists or strangers to the city this is the ideal introduction to soak up some of the city’s history and unique architecture. For the next three hours this is a morning of discovery as the guide walks us at a leisurely pace through narrow lanes, backstreet alleyways and corridors overlaid with graffiti, in itself a cosmopolitan centre of restaurants, bars and the smell of coffee that lingers in the air.
Flinders Street Station, Melbourne
The following day we skip the morning rush and head for Federation Square. Here you will find Melbourne’s most prominent meeting place that brings together a creative mix of multi-cultural festivals attractions, sporting events, film screenings, galleries and an array of eateries and bars. Daily tours are available at the Melbourne Visitor Centre.
Food markets have long been an established way of life and a visit to Queen Victoria Markets is an experience not to be missed. It’s the perfect place to spend a morning for a taste of Melbourne’s culinary history served up by a variety of dedicated vendors passed down through generations. Lined up along the tiled walkways are butchers, fishmongers, delis, artisan cheesemakers, patisseries and specialty food merchants. The open air pavilions outside have scores of stallholders displaying fresh fruit and vegetables.
With temperatures expected to rise to 40 degrees we cancel our activities and make a beeline for some retail therapy. A short ride on the tram is Bourke Street located between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets. Recognised as the city’s shopping heart all the leading retailers are here with many exquisite high end finds that puts Melbourne right at the forefront of the Australian fashion scene.
In the comfort of air conditioned surroundings and in a world increasingly filled with so much merchandise we spend up largely and make a generous contribution to the Victorian economy.
The Vertue of the Coffee Drink
Melbourne is a foodie’s paradise with a maze of hidden gems throughout the city grid. For the adventurous there are endless restaurants and cafes tucked away in lanes, cellars and converted warehouses serving exciting and innovative cuisine for those with insatiable appetites.
For those that love the nostalgia of riding on a tramcar a leisurely three-hour dinner on a vintage tramcar with wine flowing freely sounded uniquely different. Melbourne’s Colonial Tramcar Restaurant has been an institution for the last 35 years so after a sweltering heatwave we jumped aboard a fully air conditioned carriage for a five-course degustation meal.
So maybe the furnishings are showing signs of age and the menu in need of a makeover but an evening of sightseeing still makes one eager for the experience. In a city full of sights and sounds we wind our way through the suburbs before eventually spotting the bright lights of Luna Park at Saint Kilda. Everyone on board enjoys the night out and judging by the forward bookings it’s obviously a big hit with tourists.
A relaxing cruise down the Yarra River to the old maritime seaport Williamstown is another must do. The two-hour return journey showcases the magnificent high-rise skyline of Melbourne and the river’s stunning waterfront views while the captain gives an informative commentary of the history of the Yarra and outlying suburbs.
And if your cultural appetite needs satisfying the National Gallery of Victoria houses within its imposing structure outstanding exhibits of old and new. Directly across the road is the Royal Botanic Gardens. Looking back we realised how presumptuous it was to think that we could take it all in with just a brisk walk. This is a park to be explored in an unhurried way to enjoy the enchanting vistas, Shrine of Remembrance, Government House and the famous Music Bowl.
After three hectic days it’s time to leave this great metropolis, its culture, class and gracious approach towards tourists. Yes we will miss Melbourne and look forward to getting back there sometime soon.
Words: Dennis and Rosamund Knill