Musings on Melbourne
I like to think of Melbourne as Sydney's quirky cousin. One that spent half of its life on exchange, seeing the world and soaking up foreign cultures.
The slow, meandering Yarra river winding through the city centre has a distinctively European feel about it. As do the inner suburbs with their classic terrace houses and Victorian gardens. Not mention the familiar architecture of its imposing public buildings or its gothic cathedrals.
While the tram network could easily be compared to the likes of San Francisco in America. With the narrow, hidden laneways scattered across the city evoking thoughts of downtown New York.
Yes, Sydney has the occasional tram and terrace house here and there, but up north they feel like distinct entities, all disparate from one another. While down here, Melbourne has in its own way taken the best aspects of all of these external influencers. The populace has embraced and integrated them to forge a city, a culture of its own.
In a friendly rivalry between the two, often Sydneysiders mock Melbourne for being too cultured, too 'hipster'. And while at times some of the art, and some of the people might be different for different's sake, I instead feel the city and its people are being entirely honest, and not pretentious.
They have a solid grounding in what it means to be from Melbourne, and they're not afraid to expand those boundaries even further. To poke through the edges of their collective identity and see what may lay on the other side.
We began our Melbourne adventure heading into the city early one winter's morning. Torn between a lazy sleep in and wanting to make the most of our stay, we chose the latter. Arriving at the iconic Flinders Street station, we headed underground and took a passage to Degraves Street.
Unfortunately a photo opportunity of Degraves itself was shrouded by a construction site’s conspicuous blue tarp. The Alley is one of Melbourne’s most iconic and is flanked by little cafes bustling with activity. Nearby we ventured into Dukes Coffee Roasters, a tiny, low ceiling abode, warmly lit and tiled Moroccan, clad in modern timber. It was still early in the day and buzzed with people seeking their pre-work caffeine fix. Coffee was partially consumed and then held as I took photos of Central Place (left), another charming lane just north of Degraves.
The grand State Library of Victoria became our next destination as we walked the imposing entrance stairs and took the elevator to the top dome level, marveling at the ceiling architecture and history. There was a quaint exhibition on display of historic books and paper materials throughout the ages, only enhancing the ambient sense of rich knowledge held within its walls.
After a successful shopping outing in the elegant Emporium (new shirt and pants, thanks Melbourne) we chowed down on a succulent lamb wrap with a flavoursome coleslaw salad and, despite the cold weather, an iced fruit tea from T2 helped to wash it all down.
We typically find walking through a city the best way to experience its culture, and this trip to Melbourne was no exception. Through shops and alleyways, past restaurants and cafes, it was an opportunity to survey the busy and the quiet. Melbourne was wrapped in a winter’s chill, shaken regularly entering in and out of warmer interiors.
If you are looking for a place that feels like it is outside, yet within the city, look no further than the Conservatory at Fitzroy gardens. The structure is a glass ceilinged hot house of flowers and botanicals, carefully designed in a dreamlike setting. It is easy to read a book, ponder, sleep or lose track of time in a place where classical music plays and water gently trickles down from the fountain. We spent twenty minutes or so in there, taking photos and absorbing the vibrant colours and sounds before heading back home.
The following day we headed out bright and early again to Melbourne Central, making our way to Standing Room, a tiny hole in the wall cafe for our morning coffee ritual. We then took the train to South Yarra where we hurried past people to try and better our chances at securing a place at the ever popular cafe, Two Birds One Stone.
Two Birds One Stone is without a doubt our favourite café in all of Melbourne. Ivy fell in love with its hock ham, eggs Benedict and Béarnaise sauce. Me, with its coffee. I had a pulled pork burger on this occasion, Ivy ordered her usual and a creamy house brewed chai was shared. The cafe was a buzz with Sunday conversation, a week's worth of stories reverberating around the room. The baristas were ever so busy, their coffee system seemed orderly yet manic all at the same time.
Satiated, we slowly made our way down the shopping areas with food filled bellies, towards Como Estate. A grand, sweeping property sprinkled with pine trees, exotic botanicals, rough cut paths and a cafe resembling a stable (hence the name), the estate is another world hidden away in the city (we tend to like those). There is something grand and aristocratic about it that brings to mind ladies in ruffled dresses, corsets and frilly lace hats, fanning their faces with delicate fans as they walk around the garden on a hot summer's afternoon.
Following an impromptu two-day detour to the country NSW town of Scone for work, the final leg of our trip saw us venture back into the city with Ivy’s family, including her aunt over from Switzerland on holiday.
We pondered around the shops, looking at clothes, cafes and an enchanting terrarium pop-up store in Melbourne Central. Earlier in the morning I ordered one of my own photos to be enlarged in 16x24” print for Ivy’s mother as a memento from our Switzerland trip earlier this year. We first went to Officeworks, but were disappointed with the colour reproduction in their prints. We were advised to go down the road to DigiDirect where their calibrated printers produced a stunning final print (if I do say so myself) that now hangs on their wall at home.
Lunch was Korean cuisine, bibimbap and a seafood soup. Then plenty more walking through shops and secluded laneways, stopping for frozen yogurt topped with a healthy amount of hazelnut syrup. Ivy and I then left the family to train it over to Brighton Beach where we walked alongside dozens of colourful bathing boxes. In the famously variable Melbourne winter, it was surprisingly a warm calm day, with no wind and pleasant waves rolling in from the ocean.
It had been some time (too long) since we last ventured to Melbourne. Our stay with Ivy’s family was welcoming and accommodating, as always. Copious amounts of coffee, bacon, and bubble tea was had as we lazily meandered through the city streets, soaking up Melbourne’s charm and taking the odd photo here and there in this magnificently cultured city.
By Ivy & Mitch