When a city combines literature, street art, beautiful parks, hidden boutique cafes, and a world of laneways and culture to explore, it’s unsurprising that your travel plans change. Melbourne is perhaps my favourite city so far: it has a clean, glossy surface, with their classic buildings and high powered events like the Grand Prix and Melbourne Cup, with an undercurrent of fast moving art, music events and a whole new sub-culture within itself.
It’s the sort of city you can wander through for days on end, and never quite stumble across the same cafe you did the day before, or walk in on a pop-up event that you never saw advertised. Being born in Melbourne, and having a spider-web of family and friends snaking their way around the city and into the outlying suburbs and towns, it was always going to be more of a personal visit than a touristy one: it was the chance to see where I was born, and where my parents spent a great deal of time. However, after arriving and stepping out around the city, I felt instantly as though I was home.
Melbourne is one of few places around the world to hold a UNESCO City of Literature title, and the Victoria State Library is guaranteed to take your breath away. It’s an imposing building, towering over the surrounding streets, and everything about it screams books and the love of reading – rather than the stuffy, look-but-don’t-touch feel of many public libraries. Bean bags and ice cream vans litter the sloped grass lawn in front of the building, and every available space was occupied by groups of people chatting, or people sat alone, heads in their books. The State Library is home to the Wheeler Centre, a space set up by the couple who started The Lonely Planet guidebook series. Being Melbournian, they wanted to invest money in the city’s passion for books and reading, and the Centre is home to many courses, talks and discussion panels from national and international authors, and on topics affecting people in socio-political sense, as well as an academic-literary one. Seeing these amazing facilities, and pure love for literature is making the decision to go back and complete a masters’ degree a lot tougher.
Surprisingly, visiting the library was top of my list, and after that was completed, it was onto the laneways. Melbourne has plenty of things to do if you stick to the main streets: there are huge department stores, shops selling anything you could possibly ever want, as well as an abundance of cafes, restaurants and street food. However, to truly understand what Melbourne’s about, and why it’s so addictive, you need to delve deeper. The laneways – narrow alleys branching off the main streets – may look empty and uninviting, but on closer inspection, hold the heart of the city. Whether you’re after street art, the best coffee in town, independent fashion designers, or one-off cafes, you’ll find it down these streets.
Manchester Lane, next door to the hostel I was staying at, was one of Melbourne’s worse laneways at one point, with high crime levels and abundance of heroin. However, the council gave the street a clean slate, and refurbished it, turning it into one of the more interesting lanes to walk down. Now it’s full of independent designers, namely fashion students at university, who can rent the space for next to nothing, and sell their creations. This is only one example of the forward thinking of the council; from inviting street artists to paint down selected laneways, to auditioning buskers, it’s nice to see the authorities helping to develop the heart of a city, rather than stifle it in favour of the mainstream.