My one full day in Melbourne dawned rainy and chilly, unlike the previous day when I got to eat breakfast by the river:
The laneways (narrow streets or…lanes) do have a certain charm in the rain. I grabbed breakfast in a little coffee shop around the corner and then set out to follow a Visitors Centre suggested itinerary that wends its way through a number of laneways and arcades. Many are charming, some are atmospheric and made me think I was in Phryne Fisher’s Melbourne. (Note the picture of the old warehouses.)
I then joined the I’m Free walking tour of Melbourne. We went from the State Library (a beautiful building)
around to the old Melbourne Jail where Ned Kelly was held and hanged. Ned Kelly is an Victorian hero (Victoria as in the Australian state) who, from what I gather, could be considered as a mix of Robin Hood and the old American West. He was a famous bushranger (as these outlaws were called) who in his final showdown with the police, protected himself with what sounds like a suit of torso armor. (Apparently the suit is on display at the state library, though I didn’t have a chance to see it.)
We passed some beautiful old houses with wrought ironwork on our way to the Royal Exhibition Building. It’s an imposing building built after there was the influx of gold rush money.
We caught a passing glimpse of the state parliamentary gardens, followed by a lovely old theater and the state Parliament itself.
Chinatown, as I’ve seen in many other cities, is set off by entry arches. I’d caught a glimpse of them the night before when I had dinner at a dumpling house.
We ended the tour by going through some laneways on our way to Federation Square, passing what is apparently the most photographed laneway due to it being legal to do street art there. There wasn’t much impressive street art like I’d seen in Buenos Aires, more an accumulation of tags. Our guide said part of why the street was so photographed is that Melburnians know to photograph a great painting any time they see it, as it might be covered by someone else’s artwork twenty minutes later.
I popped into the Koorie Heritage Trust Indigenous Cultural Center, worth a visit upstairs for indigenous art and artifacts. There was a photography exhibit going on as well, showing photography by an indigenous activist who took pictures of the aboriginal community. I got the impression her work was most important from a social/historical/activist context more than an artistic one.
I also popped into the National Gallery of Victoria’s Federation Square building to look at the aboriginal art. I wish I understood the symbolism in the art as I would get a lot more out of it. As it is, I enjoyed looking at the paintings but have no framework to put them in.
I wandered a little more and ended up going to the Greek area of Melbourne for some tasty lamb for dinner. I made it an early night as I had to get up early the next day to get to the airport.
So where do I fall in the Sydney vs Melbourne debate? I love Sydney – it’s an easy city to fall for. Melbourne takes more digging and I didn’t have a lot of time – there were moments like breakfast on the riverbank that were fantastic, but there was also a noticeable tent village under the elevated railroad tracks off of Flinders. Melbourne is known as being more cultural, and very liveable, which is harder to assess as a traveler passing through. I think, with enough time, I would love both cities.