Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Melbourne - Day 3

The third day, I woke up, looked at the various drawings and writings on the other Couchsurfers' van, and headed into town to Queen Victoria Market, where I was to meet Jake. Queen Victoria Market, established in the 1850s, covers an areas of a few city blocks organised into different, but related sections. Located just inside the northern bound of the CBD, is set against a marvellous backdrop of skyscrapers with their tops poking into the low, dynamic clouds that day. Combined with the steam rising from the vents on the high rooftops, the skyline seemed alive.

As I arrived, it was clear that the market had not opened up for business yet, as everything was closed. There were a few workers and truck around, loading and unloading their produce. As we arranged to meet at the south-western entrance to the market, I had arrived at the outdoor fruit and vegetable area, and was greeted by the giant "QUEEN VICTORIA MARKET" sign painted on the slanted roof of the enormous shed there. This part of the market was also the site of a huge parking lot, as well as a large solar installation on the roofs of the various sheds lined up in rows. Covering 2000 square metres, this was the largest urban solar installation in the Souther Hemisphere that is connected to the energy grid.

I tried to look for an indoor area to wait for Jake, but as everything was closed, I had to stand outside and endure the cold - I was surprisingly cold even though I was wearing nearly every article of clothing I had brought on this trip! Luckily, it wasn't long until Jake arrived. Since the market was closed, we decided to come back the next day and head directly to our next destination - Brunswick, to try some of the Lebanese bakeries that Ben had suggested. Since Jake was staying in the Brunswick area, he knew what trams to hop on to get there. However, it turned out that he stayed in Brunswick West, so it was only after consulting the map and hopping on another bus that we arrived on Sydney Road, where the commercial district of Brunswick was centred around. No matter, the detour was pleasant, and I took the opportunity to send a postcard to my parents.

We walked along Sydney Road and stopped off at a few Lebanese bakeries. There were also many other Lebanese shops and supermarkets, which we took the chance to explore. We had a lot of tasty pastries and a few drinks and juices, and were soon quite full and content. This was quite a bustling area lined with cafés, restaurants and shops. I noticed that this area had the typical Melbourne style, which was based on older and decorative brick buildings. There were also some good example of graffiti here as well, which Jake took the time to take some photos of.

Following Sydney road down farther, we exited the Lebanese district and wandered around what appeared to be a mixed community, with Chinese, Caribbean and Greek shops. Since we didn't have many plans, we just wandered around for a while, and stopped in a Greek café for a coffee. I love travelling with others who aren't fussy about seeing as much as possible on a trip. It was clear that Jake valued the company over seeing specific sights, which was great. We sat for a long time on a bench on the side walk, people watching and chatting. I had some deep thoughts about what I wanted to do after New Zealand and how the world fit together. This is also when I started having serious thoughts about moving to Australia, to Melbourne in particular. Unfortunately, we didn't make it to nearby Lygon Street, where there is supposed to be a happening Italian community, but we didn't care.

After chatting for a while, it was time for us to go meet another Couchsurfer downtown. Jake was changing hosts today, so we went to pick up his stuff and head over to his new place. Walking to Brunswick West, we sat for a while at his host's house - no one was home, so we just sat and chatted in the back year. There was an overly-enthusiastic puppy there that peed itself quite often and constantly nibbled at our bags and hands, while jumping around non-stop. Hopping on a tram and searching around for a while, we found Jake's new host in Southbank, near the Eureka Tower.

From here, we still didn't really have any ideas of what to do, so we went to see if we could catch the last Parliament tour of the day. Unfortunately, we arrived just five minutes late, but at least we got to see the Parliament House, where the government of Victoria was based out of. The parliament building was quite impressive, and the style reminded me of some of the buildings of Kensington Palace in London. Set on a high pedestal of stairs, large towering columns lined the front part of the solid-looking building. The lampposts outside the building were capped with crowns, giving a sense of importance to the site.

From here, we headed to Richmond and walked all around in the area, getting lost a few times. There is quite a bustling Vietnamese and Chinese community here, with many ethnic restaurants, markets and stores. We saw a few typical Melbourne houses (a small unassuming façade, but extending very deep into the property), but decorated with typical Chinese stone lions out front - an interesting contrast. We also saw a lot of houses with beautiful delicate ironwork around the windows and doors in a few of the neighbourhoods. We even wandered as far as Abbotsford, and crossing the murky Yarra, had a brief walk in Dickinson reserve. It was a good, but tiring, tour of that portion of Melbourne, seeing the typical neighbourhoods, including a few rather industrial ones. Jake also told me a story about him and a few other Couchsurfers getting arrested in New Zealand, and how their court proceedings with the judge was just like a casual conversation in an office, with people making jokes and getting them processed quickly - but that's a separate story from the Melbourne trip.

As it started getting dark, we went into the next train station we encountered, and headed back to the CBD. After dinner, we spent some time wandering around Chinatown looking for Berlin Bar, which someone had recommended to us. There were apparently many bars with interesting themes in Melbourne. Berlin Bar, we were told, was very difficult to find and had two rooms. One room, "West Berlin," is lavishly decorated and serves fancy cocltails, while the other room, "East Berlin," through a door, is barren, with only crates as chairs, and serves only cheap beers and other cheap drinks.

As it turns out, although Melbourne Chinatown is not very big, it is very interesting to explore due to an extensive system of alleyways, just like the CBD, albeit smaller. The main street, stretching across three blocks, is quite busy, decorated with lanterns and lined with restaurants. After asking a few people who were not sure where Berlin Bar is, we decided to start at the beginning and walk down each alleyway to look for it.

We found many interesting restaurants and bars, including some open-air bars in the alleyways. One of the most interesting discoveries is the Croft Institute, which is also mentioned in Lonely Planet. To get to the Croft Institute, one has to walk down a winding alleyway that become dodgier and dodgier. Walking past workers from Chinese restaurants smoking outside and taking the rubbish out, the graffiti on the wall becomes denser and denser, which the alleyway grows darker. After one final turn, a door leads to a laboratory/hospital themed landing, from which one can enter the different floors of the bar. Apparently, the bar sponsors the graffiti in the alleyway, and they had recently had a lot of new work done just in the past few weeks. They pointed us in the right direction towards Berlin Bar, and still not finding it, we continued searching. As it turned out, we skipped exactly one alleyway in all of Chinatown - the alleyway with Berlin Bar in it! In fact, we had even passed through this alleyway while looking for the Szechuan restaurant, but the entrance was so inconspicuous that we didn't spot it the first time! In any case, the bar was closed for the night, as they were only open four days out of the week.

On that note, we decided to call it a night, but not until after finding the alleyway where we saw the graffiti artists working the other day. We did a lot of walking today, and I was quite happy that it was time to rest.

Edit (Oct. 24, 2010). Since I wrote about this experience after such a long delay without making any notes about my Melbourne trip, some of the events may be in the wrong order or have been left out. I just remembered an important part of the night that I did not write about in my original post: Jake and I went for Ethiopian food in Footscray. I had been craving Ethiopian food since discovering that none was to be found in Auckland, and after raving about it with Jake, he was sold on the idea. We contacted Kirin and Damien as well, as Ethiopian food is better with more people, since all dishes are shared. Unfortunately, Kirin was busy, but Damien told us that he would be joining us - about two minutes after we ordered! Finding a good Ethiopian restaurant was quite an adventure as well, as Footscray was dodgy to the extreme and relatively empty an night! The restaurant was also dodgy and empty with the exception of a loud Ethiopian family who shot glances over at us from time to time. When Damien arrived, we had nearly finished our portions, but what he ordered was the best dish of the meal - gored gored. This was the first time I had gored gored, as I have always been hesitant to order raw meat at restaurants, but after this, I've decided that the risk was worth it for gored gored! After the meal, I was glad that Damien was there to walk back with me, as the area was quite intimidating at dark, but with someone that knew the area, the walk was quite pleasant under the calm starry night. He tried to take me to a bar (or café?) for a drink, but unfortunately, it was closed. I headed off to bed after a bit of chatting and lounging around with Damien and the others that were present for the night.