The Melbourne Experience

December 15, 2014

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In the digital age there is no shortage of resources for getting to know the ins and outs of a city, much less for the world’s most liveable city. But how many guides can capture our frenetic dedication to the eateries, galleries and pop up events in the nooks and crannies of our streets? Walk Melbourne steps in to highlight the contemporary icons of Melbourne and shed light on the intriguing history of our surroundings. Despite being a local, even I learnt things about places I often frequented. Here's a glimpse of what the Melbourne Experience was like.

We began on the steps of the GPO, making a point to wear comfortable shoes for the upcoming 3 hours. Monique, our guide, greeted us with a brief outline of what we would be covering, with the promise of dumplings and coffee whetting our appetite.

First up was the vibrant Union lane. It's a public gallery that changes with the city as eclectic artists layer their works over existing pieces. Come today, drop by tomorrow and there could very well be a new artwork to be glimpsed, as testified by the leftover cans of spray paint.

Howey’s Place. Many times I’ve accessed the laneway, thinking it more of a wormhole of getting me from one major street to the next. Monique enlightened us about its background, originating when Ed Cole, an English immigrant, desired to give people access to information and began selling books (and lemonade and pies as a tasty accompaniment) in an arcade stretching from Bourke street to Collins street. Cole's Book Arcade was touted as the largest bookstore in the world however, by the 1930s, the roof of Howey’s Place was all that was left of the arcade. 

Nowadays Howey's Place is home to some great local clothes stores and purveyors of fine goods, like the bakery Phillipa’s and Pressed Juices. Around the corner on Presgrave Place is the standing room only Bar Americano, winner of the 2014 Time Out Melbourne Bar Awards. On the day we went by, wedding preparations were underway - I couldn't help but think how adorable a laneway wedding was, whether the couple had met there or it was their favourite bar...it was just so 'Melbourne' :)

Campbell Arcade is one of few underground shops in Melbourne that connects to Flinders street station. Among some of the shops are the quirky accessory store Corky Saint Claire, volunteer-run zine publishers Sticky and coffee stop, Cup of Truth. Platform, a quizzical exhibition that changes every 6 months is also a great feature.

Which led us to the ever bustling Degraves street! Frankly I'm not usually on this side of the city as I work in a different area so I've been ignorant of cool stores like the Italian stationary store Il Papiro.

Not to mention Signed and Numbered who had some awesome prints. I think the only one who wouldn't be happy among all that art is my wallet...but at least there's Clementine's next store with some next level ceramics and a delightful range of tea, assorted gifts and what not.

Feeling rather peckish, it was perfect timing when we stopped for some dumplings. Monique offered us a short lesson in how to hold chopsticks, before the plates of freshly boiled dumplings arived. These are dyed with spinach juice, and the restaurant is said to offer Melbourne's hottest chilli oil - 4 drops was enough to induce a tingling, burning sensation on my lips. 

At Christmas time the Block Arcade is always beautifully decorated. I especially love the archictecture and the intricate pattern on the ground because sometimes minimalism bores me haha.

Gerwurhaus was a neat little specialty spice and herb store that we passed through; the mixed aromas were amazing as usual. They also have a store on Lygon street. Later in the week I found out they sell chocolates with delightful combinations of spice and nuts as well which I will definitely need to try.

Have you noticed the Little Man in the Haigh's display windows before? I didn't, until Monique pointed out that he is a heritage-classed doll, who began in a tailor shop in the 1950s. Back then he accompanied the store jingle by tap tap tapping the window with his cane and had broken the window enough times for a foam pad to eventually be pasted where the pressure would build on the glass. When the store closed down, the doll went mysteriously missing during storage. The Little man emerged again when he was found among some rubbish and was restored to his former glory, now residing comfortably in the Block Arcade.

Since La Belle Miette opened they have undoubtedly joined the ranks of Melbourne's top macaron vendors. I stick steadfast by my favourite of Earl Grey & Chocolate. The crisp shell yet chewy inside, melded with smooth ganache is a delight. 

Above Elizabeth street a world away is Captains of Industry, self-described as a 'gentlemen's outfitters & cafe'.  The cafe used to be my favourite place to take a breather as the cool, placid atmosphere is very relaxing.

The tour ended on a bubbly note, with a glass of champagne offered to all walkers who had no doubt developed a greater appreciation for the landmarks of Melbourne. I appreciated the historical and architectural insights that Monique offered; even a well-informed local is sure to miss out on some excitement or walk by a historically rich icon without so much as a silent moment of acknowledgement. If you're interested in joining this tour or others offered by Walk Melbourne, check out www.walkmelbourne.com.au or contact them via

// email questions@walkmelbourne.com.au 
// phone 0411 182 911

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Melbourne Experience Tour

Where: Around the CBD
Duration: 3 hours
Cost: $95 including some bites and beverages

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