Day 4: Melbourne – our first tour

Being introduced to someone you don’t know? Start with the outward appearance and later find the veins that provide their pulse. Such is our planned exploration of our new friend Melbourne.

What we planned:

Day 3 was our arrival in Melbourne and a chance to absorb her look, followed by this day of getting more intimate with our first planned tour, which promised we would discover “Hidden Secrets.”

After the mid-morning-to-early-afternoon tour, we might grab grub and make our way to the second sports-related palace we visit on our own time, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

There will be time and energy to dine at a Melbourne restaurant this evening. The challenge will be to choose just one.

What we saw today:

The secrets of the city are available to anybody with a few dollars wanting to get acquainted with “the life of the city that the locals love” (well put!).  These discoveries are to be made in a portion of downtown, within the small streets and mini-malls that Melbourne calls “laneways” and “arcades,” respectively.

Laneways are sometimes explained as akin to alleys, but the secret unfolded during our tour was the presence of both, with some degree of difference. Alleys are tiny roadways between streets with their past and present primary function being delivery of goods to shops and restaurants. Laneways are even tinier pathways created from the odd spaces between buildings, likely less than the width of one vehicle.

What the laneways and alleys have in common is that since about 1980, Melbournites have shown the determination that only hopeful entrepreneurs have. With that mindset, they turned many of these “less traveled” paths into space for retail shops, food service, parlors, and unique types of business one can barely imagine.

Witness a shop that promises to publish your budding-author story for next to nothing – but just ten copies. There is a chef that serves creations to customers approaching in the alley and directs them to a stack of milk crates that serves as his dining chairs anywhere in the dead-end alley. A coffee shop with no cash register knows nearly all his customers by name and trusts them to place payment in the brass bowl that rings a loud clang with every coin tossed into it. There is a spice shop that includes their personal creations, a stand-up-only bar with capacity twelve, a custom shirt maker who makes everything one-of-a-kind, a candy store equally “custom” to the point they will fashion a sweet pop in the shape of your name, and endless others.

Our tour promised “arcades” as well as the laneways, and thus delivered an assembly of retail that ranged far and wide. There was a button shop over 60 years old, complete with the owner’s button “press” to fashion new creations. One shop dealt only with Melbourne honey, from roof-top beehives throughout the city. There was the Belgian-inspired chocolate shop that focused on drink more than candy, inspired by the history of chocolate as a beverage for over 3000 years before someone determined to make it a solid substance. Among multiple fabric stores was one carrying only Japanese patterns. Some arcade shops were upper crust with designer fashion, elegant jewelry, imports from around the world, or original works of art. If you could think of “it,” I dare say “it” exists in these off-the-beaten-path and not-your-suburban-mall shops, side by side in an arcade, but each often in a space lacking the square footage of a typical grocery store’s shopping cart corral!

Every step in the “laneways and arcades” tour was movement along the path of discovery, and it was – – – so – – – much – – – fun!!

For us, seeing Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) had nothing to do with cricket, which we know not. Rather it is our time to see an epic venue comparable in lore to Yankee Stadium or The Rose Bowl.  Of course we saw the latter this year, too! Michigan State beat Stanford, 24-20, in a thrilling 100th Rose Bowl Game, bringing the Big Ten a victory it hadn’t seen many years. Dare I digress more than that? Not at this time.

The Cricket Ground is a stadium seating 100,024 but a record crowd of 121,696 for a football match in 1970 – their Super Bowl known as “The Grand Final.” Did I confuse you by saying “football” in a stadium known as the “Cricket Grounds?” The MCG has two seasons: 6 summer months of cricket and 6 winter months of “Aussie Rules Football.” Perhaps you thought “football” in Australia meant “soccer” as it does nearly everywhere outside the U.S.A. We Yanks and Aussies agree that soccer is what it is; we don’t agree on football, where the AFL is the Australian Football League, or “Aussie Rules Football” for those who have seen it on “the tele” during rare late night broadcasts in the U.S.

We wish our itinerary allowed us to see an AFL match, but alas, we depart Melbourne before the weekend, when those contests are scheduled.

We made a late-day sweep through the MCG National Sports Museum like a Spring Breaker from Michigan sweeps quickly through Georgia to alight in Florida for a week at this time of year. In the museum we found rough sports like Rugby and Aussie Rules, plus basketball (3 Olympic team medals), cycling, tennis, golf, Olympic swimming, and a splendid display on horse racing history in this region.

What we learned:

We were informed that MCG hosted the 1956 Summer Olympics, and that Melbourne hosted some events of the 2000 “Sydney” Olympics as well.

One thing we discovered is very short family lineage in the city’s history. Almost one-third of Melbournites were either not born in this area or have parents that were not. Numbers like that evoke thoughts of Florida cities, maybe Orlando where that statistic should show an even stronger ratio.

I said we would grab some “grub” for lunch. I’ll use this chance to divulge more local lingo. “Grub” is not the colloquial word for food in Australia (or the U.S.A. in most of our day to day speech, I guess). Aussies might call upon me to say we grab some “tucker,” which is slang for food down here. Hmm; I think that terminology could be confusing for my relatives!

The MCG is vast. It has a “pitch” that Americans would call the playing “field.” It is shaped in an oval, not a rectangle. That is the shape of play for both AFL and cricket, with the former played east-west across the slightly longer ground measurement, and the latter played north-south.

We learned today the passion that Melbourne has for sport. It claims to be the best sports city in the world. We suppress the desire to quibble when shown this piece of evidence from them: one-way glass in that wall that separates a V.I.P. restroom seats looking out to the field, allowing particular patrons to attend to all their needs without missing a second of the action on their “pitch.”

Not everything operates clockwise in Australia, but nothing runs counter-clockwise. Instead, we learn that a particular tram line runs both clockwise and anti-clockwise.

We now know:

  • A “busker” is a street performer, which are licensed, vetted, and can make a lot of money in this town by “busking.”
  • Melbourne has no manufacturing industry, which yields expensive imported goods but clear skies free of industrial pollution.
  • The small café where we found lunch on Day 3 is the budget offspring of a well-regarded downtown restaurant.
  • There is a shop in Melbourne eager to make a plaster cast of your nose, but with the agreement they will retain the casting as part of some art exhibit being assembled.
  • Doug’s quest for a dish of Veal Saltimbocca that could match his first taste of it (1982, Cincinnati) was fulfilled after 32 years in the elegant but secluded Melbourne alley location of the Becco Restaurant.
  • Betsy can talk a top-notch recipe out of a foreign diner to bring a great veal dish to a NC location soon, but it can cost Doug a American-sized tip in a country that generally does not bother with tips!

Photos may be added as time permits.

Guide Danae (right) in one shopping arcade
Guide Danae (right) in one shopping arcade
Golf bags with a stand were 100 years old by the late 20th century.
Golf bags with a stand were 100 years old by the late 20th century.
Flinders Street Station for trains, trams, subways, busses
Flinders Street Station for trains, trams, subways, busses
A laneway of shops barely has room for pedestrians, not delivery vehicles.
A laneway of shops barely has room for pedestrians, not delivery vehicles.
We "shopped," but didn't "buy," the "late," nut not "latest" fashions.
We “shopped” but didn’t “buy” the “late” but not “latest” fashions in a tucked-away vintage clothing store.
Eureka: It towers over Betsy with it's 24-karat gold-plated windows atop.
Eureka Tower: Does what its name says, “towering” over Betsy and the Melbourne skyline with it’s 24-karat gold-plated windows atop.
This scale model about 6 feet across shows MCG as if we had an aerial view.  The on-field white dash is the 22-meter (68-feet) pitcher-batter space for a game of cricket.
This scale model about 6 feet across shows MCG as if we had an aerial view.
The on-field white dash is the 22-meter (68-feet) pitcher-batter space for a game of cricket.
This alley supports retail shops, with enough space for a delivery vehicle.
This alley supports retail shops, with enough space for a delivery vehicle.

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