To the city! After spending many weeks in the country, it was nice to experience a big city for a few days. Shannon and I stayed at the Melbourne Metro YHA Hostel, which is just north of the main city. We were cheap and only bought one tram ticket the entire time we were there, so we got a lot of exercise by walking around. A good thing, because I didn’t skimp on the chocolate. :)
We got to the hostel on Wednesday night, and had dinner at a nearby pub. We talked to the cook after she was off, and funnily enough, she had seen us on the Today Show that morning. Celebrities! We were also cheap when it came to a room, and got beds in an 8-share for $29 per night. Unfortunately, the rest of the room were early-twenties douchebags, who were more interested in talking loudly in the middle of the night than sleeping. I kind of wish there were 30-and-over rooms at the hostels….yep, I’m becoming that old crumudgeon! :) But the hostel did have a cool lounge on the roof, with a 360 degree view of the city.
The next morning we went on a hostel-sponsored tour of the Queen Victoria Market. The market was only about 3 blocks from the hostel, and it was fabulous. There was a huge section of your normal touristy crap – kangaroo hides, tacky t-shirts, “Aboriginal” stuff, plus toys that are big in Asia. These were kind of funny, though:
I could care less for most of that stuff, but I could’ve spent all day in the food section. There were aisles upon aisles of fruits and veg, plus a small organic section. I was totally stoked because for the first time in about 20 years, I found real sugar apples:
They’re called custard apples here, and Californians might think they know them by the name of cherimoyas. But cherimoyas are just cheap imitations. They’re disappointingly not the real deal, but the custard apples were. The inside is white, sweet, and slippery, and there are shiny black seeds throughout. You can eat them with a spoon, or make a mess with your hands (my preference). It was every bit as good as the ones I remember eating on St. John as a kid. I was always envious of my friend Abby, who actually had a sugar apple tree at her house. Sigh. They’re still my favorite fruit. Genips might be second.
I also saw a range of wild mushrooms. You can find slippery jacks at Dan’s grandparent’s ranch, and I just happened to catch an episode of Italian Food Safari where a chef cooked them with olive oil, garlic, white wine, and pasta. They removed the sponge part before cooking, to prevent the shrooms from getting too soggy. Mmmmm….
Then there was the seafood. Wow, the range of fish, crabs, shrimp, and etc. was amazing. I wish I had taken more pictures of the fish, but I got some good ones of crabs and scallops still in the shell. Pretty.
There was also the fresh meat, but I was too star-struck at that point to take any pictures. Everything you could possibly imagine, fresh beef, pork, chicken, kangaroo, and alligator! And then there was the “deli” section, with the preserved meats, cheeses, and spreads. Finally! Some non-perishables that I could actually buy! I loved the variety listed under “Fresh Game”:
I got kangaroo salami (of course) and it was delicious. That, some crusty bread, and goat gouda made an awesome packed lunch for the next several days. Shannon found olives that are exactly like the ones that Dan’s grandma makes. They’re called Sicilian olives and they’re minimally pickled. They have a great crunchy texture, and you have to work to get the meat off of the pit. Shannon got some of this sausage:
We headed to Federation Square, which is mostly a big outdoor meeting space with free wireless internet situated around a few museums with interesting modern architecture. We went to the art museum there and that was kind of cool.
Then we headed to Chinatown for dinner. We picked the place that smelled the best and was the busiest – it was called Spicy Fish and it didn’t disappoint. I was set on Szechuan beef until I saw – Szechuan kangaroo. Well, the kangaroo sausage was tasty, I thought, and really – when will I ever get the chance to eat Szechuan kangaroo again? It was a done deal. And it was some of the best food I’ve ever had. I even had leftovers for the next day!
And the next day I headed to the yarn shops. I still wanted to get an idea of what yarns and fibers were unique to Australia, so I didn’t go to the 2 larger stores in the main city, and headed instead to two other stores that are a little on the outskirts. Thanks to Ravelry, I can actually find out about those places in another country! It turns out they’re in the hipster part of the city, on Brunswick Street. I call it the hipster district because every other shop is a coffee shop, the ones in between are vintage clothing, and the ones in between those are ethnic food. And everyone is walking around in funky clothes and there’s a higher instance of dreadlocks there than anywhere else. Definitely a cool place that you could spend a long time wandering about. The first store, Beautiful Silks, was just that. They mostly had silk fabric, but also a small selection of hand-dyed yarn and roving (both wool and silk). The second was Precious Purl and it was a more typical yarn store. The selection of “usual” yarns was small, but the owner had some wonderful mohair yarn and roving. Well it turns out that she has 350 angora goats and dyes it herself. She also had some Australian-raised cashmere roving (not from her farm) that I couldn’t help picking up a small bag of.
I met back up with Shannon at Federation Square, where we saw a very odd street performer. I couldn’t figure out whether his jokes were really awful or brilliant. Anyway, after 45 minutes of confusingly awful jokes, he did finally manage to lay down stomach-first on a bed of nails that was on a pedestal, and juggle 3 batons that were on fire. I gave him a dollar.
Then Shannon and I went on a street art safari. We hunted down a few streets mentioned in a brochure that were famed for street art, and you can see Shannon’s nice pictures here. It’s interesting because Melbourne has a couple of city-sanctioned alleys that street artists are allowed to paint. There’s some pretty cool stuff, and some that’s just plain lame graffiti. I liked the actual pictures better than the stylized tags.
We attempted to find real sushi that night, but failed. There are a lot of what I’d call “take-out sushi” places, where all the pieces of sushi and rolls are pre-made and lined up behind a counter and you point to which ones you want. We did manage to find a place that had an actual sushi bar, but you couldn’t order directly from the chef (only through the waitress) and the sushi was pretty mediocre. Plus the wasabi wasn’t even slightly hot. I’m not sure how they accomplished that, but Australians seem to have a fear of spiciness.
The next day we headed to the Rose Street Artist’s Market, that was back off of Brunswick Street in Hiptown. Shannon was taking pictures of every piece of street art on the way, and just as we were about to walk into the market, I saw one and thought, “That’s a really nice piece of the fairy from Wizards.” Then I realized it was a huge mural of Wizards. Sah-weet! I made a huge deal out of how cool the whole thing was, to Shannon’s dismay. She hasn’t seen the movie. It’s one of my favorites, which if you don’t already know me means that it’s probably 1) set in a post-apocalyptic world and 2) weird. All I’m saying is that you should definitely see it, but not sober. Anyway, here it is, click thru for a bigger view:
We headed into the artist’s market, which was really neat. I got a shirt that has a line drawing of mushrooms on it, a light woven scarf from Cambodia, some goat’s milk soap, and I resisted the urge to get 2 really cool handmade bags. There was a lot of really cool handmade clothing too, but it was out of my budget. It was a neat market with a lot of unique stuff, so I really appreciated it. Handknits would have fit right in, even with reasonable pricetags. The market is every Saturday and Sunday and definitely worth a look.
After a quick trip back to the Queen Victoria Market, to buy some non-perishables to take back and share with Dan, we headed back to the hostel to meet up with the crew going to the footy game. This was the event I was most excited about. When we asked Megan in Halls Gap what we should do in Melbourne, she said, “Go to a footy game!” If you’re not familiar with Australian football, or “footy,” it’s pretty much the Australian national sport. It’s not soccer, not American football, and not rugby. It’s kind of like a combination of all of that with the physical contact of ice hockey thrown in. Sweet! It’s played on a circular field that’s larger than a football field, and the ball is more or less like a football (only yellow). I couldn’t begin to go into all the rules, but you basically pass the ball by kicking it (throwing overhand is not allowed), and you’re penalized if you get tackled and don’t give up possession of the ball. So it’s very fast-moving and active and fun to watch. The goal is to rack up the most points by kicking the ball between the opponent’s goalposts. We sat in the nosebleed section, but you could actually see pretty well. And it was fun to be close to one of the goals.
The game we went to was Essendon vs. Hawthorne, both Melbourne teams, which have long been rivals. The crowd was pretty charged and there were 60,000 people in the stadium. The beer of choice was Carlton Draught and I ate my first meat pie. Tasty in a totally guilty fast-food sort of way. There were a few people who joined our group and actually knew a little about footy, so I got a pretty good feel for the game. There were only a few times that I didn’t know what was going on, but I didn’t feel bad because neither did they. Before the game, I had decided to – barrack – for Essendon and Shannon for Hawthorne solely based on the colors. Note that you don’t “root” for a team here, “rooting” means the same as “banging” does in the US. Anyway, Hawthorne’s colors were Charlie Brown brown & yellow, or wee and poo as one person said. Essendon was black, red, and white, had an airplane as their mascot (the Bombers), and were selling official plaid flannel scarves in the team colors, so it seemed like a natural for me. And Essendon won of course! Woo!
That brought the Melbourne section of my trip to a close – the next day I jumped on a train and headed back to Robinvale and Dan!