My travel checklist for Melbourne contained many things when it should have said only one: pound the city pavements. Traditional guides will tell travellers to venture to Yarra Valley, Philip Island, and the Great Ocean Road among others (all well and beautiful in themselves) but locals will lure you into cafés and to come, sit a while. While staying in might seem like missing out, it seems that over the years, the people have made the streets of Melbourne the sole institution, the main feature.
Laneways - that's what they're called. Where entrepreneurs of all kinds set up shop, daring to release their inner creativity and vision, hoping to cater to the niche and the crowd. Where paperback bookstores, jewellery boutiques, art galleries, barber shops, chocolate connoisseurs stand side by side, offering services and stories. Where chefs who are seasoned and new to the culinary craft create dishes that can gratify the peckish palette. Where the beautiful waft of coffee drifts into every pocket of space, proving that Australians are truly the guardians of this sacred cuppa.
This is where the Melbournians are; this is where they want you to be. And don't imagine anything cliquish or intimidating or stiff. The atmosphere of the laneways, all connected to each other, are as casual and inviting as a cup of coffee can get - and so are the people behind it.
This city down under has become an interesting case study in novel entrepreneurship. While there is much respect for historic establishments (such as the grand old Pellegrinis on Bourke Street or the 140- year old pub Mitre Tavern), new and modern cafés find themselves on the bookmarks of locals as well (there are endless options which I cannot enclose in mere parentheses). Thus, the thick of the city is thriving and alive. A traveller can spend a whole vacation simply rolling from one laneway to the next, from one café to another, always uncovering hidden secrets and gems.
It's a hackneyed saying but Melbourne gives it even more truth: so much to do/try/see/eat/drink, so little time. The only solution is to live here. Is that why it always tops the most-liveable city list? Perhaps.
Classy Musings' Guide To Melbourne:
1. Get a preview of the laneway and café culture with the help of a walking tour. Try Hidden Secret Tours. They know their stuff. Plus, you get to walk around - the best way to see the city.
2. Admire the gritty street art at Hosier Lane. Dizzying but electrifying, it's urban creativity at its finest. And then pop into Movida for some seriously delicious Spanish tapas (think artisan anchovy on tomato sorbet or air-dried wagyu with truffle foam) . Your first time? Ask the server to surprise you with his choice of dishes and drinks. Trust me: you can trust them.
3. Grab a seat in Brother Buba Budan (literally grab because the café is a bit cramped) and try their hot chocolate, which has a chocolate wafer that melts into the drink). Or in Patricia where they only serve three different roaster's coffees in three ways: black, white or filtered.
4. Lose yourself in Flinders Lane, Bourke Street, Collins Street, and all the laneways in between. Find your own favorite.
5. Explore the Royal Arcade and get to know the artists, creatives, and chefs behind the independent boutiques and shops. Add a story to your purchase... or your meal.