Laneway Life

Recently I advised a friend visiting Melbourne to take a wander through the laneways that make up so much of the quirky eating culture of this incredible city. So, since I’m here I thought I’d do the walk I recommended, getting off the tram at Federation Square opposite Flinders St Station. I do love Fed Square, thriving with people coming and going, flags flapping, all corners and nooks and crannies, but it does look a bit like Italian designer luggage that’s been around the baggage carousel one time to many. This time I didn’t go into the Ian Potter Gallery, or into the Centre for the Moving Image, both of which are amazing cultural resources. Instead I crossed over to the Young and Jackson’s corner and headed west down Flinders St. Of course Melbourne aficionados will tell you I should have gone upstairs in Young and Jacksons for a drink with Chloe, and it was about lunch-time, but well, once you’ve seen one Brazilian it’s appropriate to keep your blog PG rated.

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So, down and right into Degraves St. I’ve loved it for years since it was dodgey and dirty, and a way out of Flinders St Station to avoid both crowds and rain. Used to be quite the challenge to work out how to get to work zigzagging through laneways to avoid getting wet. Now it’s the scene for street cafe’s and some pretty unique shops. Including one specialising in hand made Italian paper and ink pens.

At the end of Degraves St you dash over Flinders Lane into Centre Place, well after looking up at the wonderful architecture of the fashion district again. I love the Majorca Building, I’m sure it’s the inspiration for Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delights series (totally recommended reading, Allen and Unwin, 2004)

Couldn’t you imagine living in an art deco apartment in there? Oh, dream on Wendy! Anyway you head up through Centre Place, up the stairs past the cello playing busker and out into Collins St. Beautiful, tree lined Collins St, home to the odd banker and fashion house. Remember Melbourne’s first heyday was back in the 1850s and 60s during the Gold Rush era, and this architecture dates to that glorious, extravagant era. Including our next stop, Block Arcade. Well ok Block Arcade only dates to the 1890s, but designed to bring a touch of Milan to Melbourne it continues to be a very classy place to be. Especially if one can get a table in the renowned Hopetoun Tea Rooms and one takes high tea. Yep me and photos of cakes again!

Wander around both arms of the arcade – look up and down – you’ll be delighted by delicate glass, antique dolls, exotic spices, hand made shirts and more chocolate than is healthy for anyone from a shop where an antique mechanical man still taps on the window. Then head down Block Place which is a great venue for lunch or a beverage if you can’t wait.

At the end of Block Place shimmy your way over Little Collins St and into Royal Arcade. Opened in 1870 it’s always been a place of wonder to me. Stop and turn back toward Little Collins and look up at Gog and Magog, aren’t they magnificent?

Melbourne really does have some classy stuff. And that’s even though George’s department store at the top end of Collins Street has been closed for about two decades now. Oh I used to think we were real toffs when Granny and I visited George’s, one of the first places in Melbourne to have electric elevators! Royal Arcade’s collection of shops remains eclectic from hand made lollies, to spells and witches equipment, incredible puzzles, chocolates, children’s toys, Russian dolls and true marionettes.

From Royal Arcade you emerge into the bright sunlight and retail hub of Bourke St Mall and you’re opposite Myer Melbourne. After it’s most recent renovations it’s quite the store to visit. And of course, being Christmas the Myer Windows are the delight of millions of Melbourne Children young and old, well tens of thousands at least. Don’t get run over by a tram!

But keep left of Myer and head down what was the delivery laneway between Myer and the old Melbourne GPO. There are now wine bars and diverse Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants that are welcoming to the weary tourist and shopper. I did enjoy the duck pancake, and the beer.

Of course you can stop anytime, but for those who have the legs for it you need to make a choice at Little Bourke St the end of the lane – right to go to China Town, or left up Little Bourke to a right onto Hardware Lane and more restaurants. I went left because I was aiming further up Elizabeth Street and the Queen Victoria Market. On my way I found another amazing laneway parallel to Hardware Lane – Niagara Lane. It’s cobbled in bluestone, and named after the Niagara Hotel, named after the boat on which the then owners had arrived in Australia. Look at the red brick warehouses and those raised delivery doors, look up to the heights of the pulley and hook systems for lifting goods out of wagons and carts. I have no idea the businesses that would once have been on this lane, will have to try to find out.

So from Lonsdale St I walked up Elizabeth to the Queen Vic Market, going passed the old Argus Newspaper building. While the Queen Vic is not open for the conventional market on a Wednesday, it is open for the Food Night Market and wow, food and Christmas and millions of people having fun! (Yes I am given to exaggeration!)

Anyone for Pebbles & Bambam’s turkey drumsticks? Maybe a mussel?

And yes, I ended the evening taking my no. 16 tram back to St Kilda for a hot chocolate and cake in Ackland Street. #notgettinganythinner!

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Author: Wendy's Out of Station

I write as a way of processing and reflecting on experience, and as a way of sharing that experience. When I travel I used to write email journals back to friends, family, anyone who’d read and risk immersing themselves in my reality for a while: writing for them was a way of writing for me. Borrowing from Graham Greene in a flip of Travels with my Aunt, I imagined writing letters to my nieces, as their travelling aunt. Crafting the sentences became a way of extruding the experience, giving it birth, drawing its meaning from my soul, nurturing it into something tangible with a life of its own. The aim of my blog is to open the world to my thought-children, to let them out of the safety of my friends and family and let them experience the world. And in the process I get the honour of taking a larger group with me when I’m wandering around India and beyond, or just reflecting on parallel truths, thinking thoughts that take me to new places new beginnings. Please journey with me

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