Yes, this city does tend to enter and travel through your synapses and into the layers of your mind faster than you would imagine… and I am talking about the effect based on my online exploration of the city. Yes, I’ve been to Sydney and the memories of that trip remain fresh, unjaded, and full of verve… and I’m sure Melbourne is no less. Yes, Melbourne is indeed psychic… the city knows what you yearn for and gives it to you in ways you cannot imagine!
The funny bone
The first fact on Melbourne that I stumbled upon was a few isolated examples of archaic laws that were funny and, surprisingly, still existing. I mumbled, ‘This is so like India. Even we have Acts in our Laws that have been going on unperturbed in the size and shape that the British had decided many decades ago.’ And so I have jotted two of them in my travel notebook for starting a conversation with some willing resident in Melbourne… and I’m sure we’ll share a laugh or two and maybe a coffee later. Their Summary Offences Act 1966 defines this as an offence: ‘Flying kites or playing a game in public which annoys another person.’ The Crimes Act 1958 states: ‘If you meet up with a pirate – do not trade with them.’ I know there will be a much longer list of such funny laws that may have made a lot of sense years ago when they were legislated… but now they just wait to be rediscovered by some stand-up comedian to blast them into bouts of laughter! So yes, Melbourne is surely one city that will make a tourist smile one way or the other. And yes, the first thing that I’d want to meet in Melbourne will be the funny bone, the comical elements…
The trams of Melbourne
Now, I must admit that I am a tram fan of some sort… I remember getting down from a train at Sheffield in UK, just for a tram ride! Yes, I loved taking the tram even in London when we visited IKEA in Croydon… and the ones in Amsterdam were really awesome! What I read now is that Melbourne is a treat for tram lovers. They call them streetcars here. The city-circle streetcars are free for tourists… and yes, this is going to be simply fascinating! I was surprised to read that Melbourne has the largest network of streetcars and is followed by St. Petersburg, Berlin, Moscow, and Vienna.
The Wikipedia points out that ‘as of May 2014, the network consisted of 250 kilometres of track, 493 trams, 25 routes, and 1,763 tram stops. Melbourne has the largest urban tramway network in the world. Would I want to miss a tram ride in Melbourne? No. The W-class with their ‘dual-bogie layout with a distinctive “drop centre” section’, the Z-class with quaint ‘conductor’s consols that passengers would have to queue for’, and the A-class will all be the ones that I am going to ride. I read that the ‘A1-class were built with trolley poles, while A2-class were built with pantographs’… now these are facets that I can appreciate only if I happen to there in Melbourne and riding in them, talking to commuters and the conductors and the drivers. Would I want to miss riding the Citadis, the Bumblebees (C-class), the Combinos (D-class), and the Flexity (E-class)? No, not at all. I would be there in Melbourne and go up and down in all these trams… and the statistics say that in November 2014, Melbourne had 501 trams out on its streets! A blogger friend informs me that the C2-class tram resembles a Bullet train and the Z3-class streetcar on Swanston street is something not to be missed!
By the way, it isn’t just me who is so fascinated with trams… in 1992, Helen Garner too wrote: ‘On Melbourne summer mornings the green trams go rolling in stately progress down tunnels thick with leaves: the bright air carries along the avenue their patient chime, the chattering of their wheels.’ It is this chattering of the wheels that transforms Melbourne into a spell-binding audio attraction! And those who need to go into the history and the visual past of trams, must visit the Melbourne Tram Museum on Wallen Road.
Drink in architecture at Federation Square
Art and design are things that please any heart and any mind… and such a joy doesn’t come from only heritage or only from contemporary creations. Melbourne is singularly lucky to have a great spot from where I would drink in both the heritage as well as the contemporary influences on the city’s architecture.
So yes, standing on Federation Square is something that I would surely do once I am there in the city… and would easily glide from 1835 when the city was founded to the present and would gladly spend time spotting Flinders Street station, St Paul’s Cathedral, SBS Studios, Eureka Towers (the tallest building in Australia)… an eclectic mix of maverick contemporary strokes and sedate and grand curves and lines. For those who really need to know, Eureka Tower is not just the tallest building in Australia, it is the world’s tallest residential building! The Flinders Street Station was the world’s busiest station in the 1920s!
And if it is indeed architecture that fascinates you, the Sneaker store with its tunnel-like interior will leave you gaping, the sculptural Melbourne tower is the home of the Australian Institute of Architects and is a 22-storey tower with a sculptural facade that breaks down into staircases and balconies, look at the stripy facade modelled on a skyline of the circular campus of a Melbourne primary school, the light-box house by Edwards Moore… I mean, go beyond the usual touristy circuit and look at the way Melbourne buildings embrace creative thought. Restructuring and redesigning is common in a city like Melbourne. However, every such effort has taken place to suit contemporary needs and the best example is of the Melbourne Shopping Centre where a glass dome has been built over a 19th century brick shot tower.
Obviously then, a city can only be understood if you make some effort in trying to know its architecture and the reasons behind every façade… and a mere round of the Shrine Of Remembrance, La Trobe’s Cottage, Parliament of Victoria, Old Melbourne Gaol, Werribee Mansion, Cooks Cottage, Labassa, and Schwerkolt Cottage is quite fulfilling but certainly not enough.
The coffee break
Coffee breaks when you’re in Melbourne, are as vital as the food breaks in any of the restaurants in and around the Docklands. Curtis Stone has written: ‘I love coming home to Melbourne. The first thing I do is have a coffee. It’s just so much better here than anywhere else. It’s better than in Italy and I travel a lot. I crave it.’
Which city in the world would have cafes that have coffensational (coffee + sensational) names like Cup of Truth, Dead Man Espresso, Monk Bodhi Dharma, Three Bags Full, Sensory Lab, and Brother Baba Budan… all over the city you can stumble on to professional baristas and caffeine gurus who help you ride the ‘third wave’ of coffee with powerful concoctions from the pourovers, syphons and clovers and cold-drip coffees.
The Docklands and elsewhere
This is the one place that doesn’t need to be missed if you happen to be a lover of food and wine. This place has some of the best restaurants with chefs who routinely act as guest judges in Masterchef Australia… and the sea-food here is indubitably symbolic of excellence.
While in Melbourne, you can opt for the fine-dine restaurants, the cheap eats, late night bites, and laneway food… and you can taste cuisine from all over the world. Explore the entire culinary world one at a time… some say that Italian is best in Lygon Street, Carlton, Vietnamese in Victoria Street, Richmond, and Lebanese in Sydney Road, Brunswick. The websites claim that the best-dumplings can be discovered in CBD’s Chinatown, and Footscray is the ultimate site for Vietnamese and African restaurants. The locals love Richmond’s Thy Thy, Flemington’s Laksa King and the CBD’s Camy Shanghai Dumpling – besides Melbourne’s army of mobile food vans.
The nature and animal lover
The two places that I would not want to miss would be the Philip island and the Seal island.
The Philip island is now connected to the mainland by a bridge… and I remember the time we decided to walk to Sentosa island in Singapore than opt for a cable car and we loved the choice we had then made. The options on Philip island are plenty… and one can even take a speed boat to Seal island, watch a penguin parade on the beach, learn all you want to learn about a boomerang, play with koalas and spot wallabys… and maybe decide to spend another half-day at the Melbourne zoo. I did spend an entire day at the Sydney zoo and loved every moment. I mean, where else can you actually have an ostrich come to you and give you a glare? Or a kangaroo that suddenly decides to pose for you? Or a koala giving you its usual drunken looks?
Melbourne graffiti and public art
Not everyone loves to walk through areas with big and small graffiti or wall paintings. I did it in London, in Sydney… and even discovered a little corner in Singapore where the graffiti artists had gone all out. I even interviewed one during my trip to Sydney… and while in Melbourne, this is one act that will surely be high on my agenda. I know Melbourne does not disappoints even when it comes to graffiti… and competes even with the creative instincts of the artists in Paris and Amsterdam.
Melbourne, however, encourages its street artists (they insist that they are NOT graffiti artists), and has designated many streets for them to showcase their art. A friend informs me that this view is best from Hosier Street. A blogger also writes: ‘The city is gracious to its artists. There are many streets here which allow street art like stencils, paste-ups and murals. Most notable of these streets are Hosier and Rutledge Lane, near Federation Square.’
It isn’t just the graffiti but also the public art of the city that will please the photography instincts in me… and The Yarra River Gallery, the towering steel sculptures called The Travellers, sound installations at Proximities, Petrus Spronk’s bluestone sculpture Architectural Fragment on Swanston Street outside the State Library of Victoria, the works of local and international artists in the complex network of laneways that is used as a temporary canvas are all too fascinating to be kept out and away when a trip to Melbourne is being planned.
Penelope Mitchell tells us that Melbourne, where ‘I grew up, is one of the street art capitals of the world. Something about discovering freshly painted walls always fills me with optimism; it’s autonomous and democratic, and reminds me that maybe people are paying attention after all.’
Walking by the Yarra
Walk along the banks of the Yarra, the river that flows through the city… and discover the mesmerizing gardens and look at the public art along the bank. Some say that a stroll through the Birrarung Marr precinct along the Yarra River is not just uplifting but opens the mind to a calm phase that is always so welcome in a city that is bustling with activities all the time.
Well, there are art galleries to spend hours, museums to hold you by hand and lead you through history or a part of history, shopping hubs that include City laneways and huge arcades, and then the simply charming public art installations all over.
And listen, if you’re in Melbourne you really need to know that the Beatles performed in Festival Hall in 1964, that Chloe is the girl in the painting at Young & Jackson, that Robert Hoddle designed the Melbourne CBD grid layout, that the city hosted its first F1 Grand Prix in 1996, that the highest number platform at Flinders St Station is 14, and that the Eureka Tower is 297m high. You must know that Melbourne’s street cars and buggies are symbolic of the old-world charm the city still exudes.
Only if you know all this, will you understand what Winna Efendi wrote in ‘Melbourne: Rewind’… “Your body will forget, but your mind often doesn’t.” Isn’t love too defined almost in these words?
CONTEST for all readers:
“Which of these places would you want to visit in Melbourne and why?”.
Write your answer in the comments below… and one answer will be chosen for a fabulous gift voucher.
Another post written by me on why Melbourne fascinates me:
Me in Melbourne… and Melbourne in me
Well, each response deserves an applause as it reflected that you have read my post, paid attention to the question and it’s requirement, and worked hard to answer well. However, only one was to be chosen. Believe me, choosing the best and the most appropriate answer wasn’t easy as I even had my wife and my nephew participating. Even their answers were pithy and worthy… but the one that really hit the nail was the one that was written by:
Sammya Brata – website
So while I congratulate every respondent for having done a great job, I ask Sammya to celebrate his victory!
30 December 2014