There is something about a city’s energy that captivates me. It is an energy that leaves me bewitched. I feel my eccentric persona being drawn into the vortex of multiculturalism, leaving me wanting to throw caution to the wind and rebel in the urban frenzy that only a city can offer.
Every city has a tale to tell and it is true that every city’s history is expressed through its architecture, developments and style. Always open to learning more about different cultures and their history, I enjoy taking time to visit local museums, places of interest and major tourist attractions. But I believe that if it history that you are after, the society of a city is truly a living history lesson. Walking through a city you will be astonished by all of the history and culture that surrounds you, if only you open your eyes to sights that surround you and listen to the whispers of the locals.
While the majority of tourists flock to fight their way into entrance queues at major sites, I would much rather be getting lost in the heart of a city’s downtown district with old Victorian-era architecture, representing times gone by. While trying to find my way around, accidentally stumbling upon lightly dimmed lanes, only to find an explosion of expression of history and current times showcased on street walls through the eyes of graffiti artist.
Walking through the streets of Melbourne it does not take long to realize that this vibrant city caters for all walks of life. Wandering in and out of the side streets of the central city district, the warm windy breeze is refreshing and the sun, shyly sneaking through the high rise buildings, reflecting on glass windows luminating the city, reassures you that the city is slowing waking and soon it will be open for the enjoyment of one and all.
It is early Saturday morning, my friend and I find a 24 hour eatery and settle down for a hearty breakfast and a spot of people watching. A bubbly brunette waitress comes over to our table and takes our order and I am pleasantly surprised by her jolliness, as this usually is hard to come by in a city. Sitting back watching people is an art to itself; it is at this moment when we realize that we do not want to see Melbourne and all of its major attractions and high-street shopping havens. After much discussion, we decide that our plan of action is to explore alluring alleyways and hunt down hidden unusual shops.
With high spirits we wander through the city, absorbing every sign and street, waiting to find that something extraordinary. As we swerve to avoid oncoming footfall, we turn up a side street and find ourselves in China town. Ecstatic explorers that we are, we meander through the streets like a floating Chinese dragon, constantly moving and bobbing in and out of every store we come across. The colors are bold and vibrant and the smile of a toothless, elderly Chinese man welcomes us and makes us feel at peace that we have such inquisitive minds. With time, not on our side we decide that our trip to China town must be cut short if we are looking for that something extraordinary and we realize that leaving without a fortune cookie is worthless. We scurry into the nearest corner restaurant and purchase our cookie, which reveals that fortune is fair to us and it is foretold to explore further.
A few blocks away we stumble across what could be described as Little Greece, an array of Greek restaurants and shops. The aromas are alluring and the smells coming from the little kitchens are heavenly. Blue and white décor and Greek symbols lovingly adorn shops and restaurants. We peak into each window to see what is inside. At one local restaurant a Mother is engrossed in conversation with what seems to be a close friend behind the counter and we stop to watch her purchase what looks like a tray of Baklava. She displays a remarkable skill that Mother’s usually have, as she bids farewell to her friend and balances her purchase in one arm, a baby in another and a swarm of children buzzing around her. Momentarily we forget that we are in Melbourne and are transported to a local restaurant somewhere in Greece.
Engrossed by our surroundings, we decided to continue and walk on only to find a street that is home to a second hand book store. So well hidden, if you were not vigilant, you would walk straight past it. Walking down the stairs into this sea of words, we notice that this store is unlike any other bookstore and is home to row after row of second hand books with every imaginable topic. Although not a library people are quiet out of respect for others. As we quietly tiptoe through each isle we notice that some of the books are so old, they are falling apart. Taking one off from the shelf we carefully open it to find an old inspiring inscription dated from the 1920’s and we are mesmerized and begin to wonder how different the lifestyle must have been back then. Soon we realize that this little secondhand bookstore is truly a gem and safely harbors literature and knowledge from years gone by to that of the present day. Scanning the shelves arouses a feeling of excitement and makes us feel as if we are going to get lucky and find a rare autographed first edition from a famous writer that might be worth a small fortune. Truth be told, if we had the time and patience, I am sure that we would probably discover one or two hidden in between the thousands of books in the store. Truly any collectors dream!
With starry eyes and a renewed passion we leave the bookstore to wander off and end up in a vintage clothing store. The average signage does not do justice to this little piece of history and as we enter, we notice a ground floor that is dedicated to the gentlemen and here you would find anything and everything. The ladies section is upstairs and as we enter, we are stunned with the vast array of polka dot petticoats, casual cardigans, pencils skirts and vintage accessories from birdcage veils to pretty pearls. It is as if we entered a time warp. The staff is warm and friendly and makes you feel as if you have popped in to visit old friends, in actual fact you feel slightly inclined to put on a frock and veil and start dancing away to the soft background music.
Accidentally finding these unique little stores and experiencing the hospitality that was bestowed upon us, we ask one of the locals for a bit of advice on where to find more places that might suit our taste and where the locals enjoy going to escape the clutches of the city center. Immediately we are given directions to what is known as Flinders Lane. Amazingly enough we manage to find this mecca of lavish eateries, vintage chic boutiques and interesting people. Victorian style buildings radiate warmth, welcoming you to wander into the lane. You are immediately drawn to how busy everything is. Here you will find the creamiest cappuccinos, gourmet noodles, gluten free fresh soups with soft taco shells and deli decadences to die for. Taking the time to stop and read the menu’s from each eatery is an accomplishment on its own, as you walk away with your mind full of wonder for the gastronomical geniuses who created them, one can tell that this little lane is bursting with pride and passion.
What makes this lane so interesting is the fact that everywhere you look you will notice graffiti. It is entwined with the local businesses signage and it makes one feel as if this little community has reached a compromise with the Graffiti Artists, who are often misunderstood. Their work shunned by many as society feel that this form of art is degrading, they have seemed to reach out with locals in the lane and together they have created a fusion of art that leaves one astonished.
This eclectic blend is breathtaking and as you walk through you are captivated by almost everything you look at and long after you leave, you still have vivid images in your mind and you will remember the names of the eateries and boutiques that you saw.
If you take a moment to stop you will notice old friends meeting up with one another and locals coming out into the lane to talk to tourists that have stumbled upon it, giving advice and directions to all. It is through this warmth and hospitality that was portrayed during our brief visit into this lane that an immediate mutual decision was made and we realized that we had accomplished our mission. We found that something extraordinary in the city that we were looking for.
Of all the places that you can visit during your stay in Melbourne, we felt that this little lane, bursting with locals and a culture of its own, was a truly unique experience. Escaping from all of the high street stores and over advertised jargons was tremendous. Having had the opportunity to talk with the locals without being rushed was an experience that will not be forgotten.
I am sure that I speak on behalf of my friend when I say that it truly has been a long time since I have been as attracted to a city, as I am attracted to Melbourne. It is a unique city, a city with a beating pulse of diversity that is often hard to come by.
As individuals our tastes all differ and that is what makes life so interesting.
I know that the memories from our decision to seek out the extraordinary will be treasured and for once it is not the major attractions that will draw me back into this vibrant city, but the humble and friendly nature of the locals that we met along our way, which will ensure another visit back.