February 28, 2011

Melbourne: walk the town

Melbourne is eminently walkable. The city centre and most of its attractions worth visiting are all easy to reach on foot, and it's a great help the city isn't hilly. Along the waterfronts on both sides of the river it is largely pedestrianised with quiet places to sit and expensive places to eat and drink. There are two marvellous footbridges across, one where you can check out Australia's multicultural make-up and the number of foreign nationals that live here ranged per nationality.
There is a large array of walks available on the tourist website. We did four:

Secret Gardens: taking in most of the Royal Botanical Gardens and areas around the riverfront. Gardens are not really my specialty but I was happy to tag along and we saw some spectacular plants I hadn't come across before, such as the grass tree (pictured left). There was also some unusual wildlife in the Botanic Garden such as turtles on the search for new nesting places. The Gardens are right in the centre of town, which make them a popular refuge from the bustle, and a popular jogging tour (but why you would want to run in high temperatures is a mystery to me).
On the edge of the Botanic Gardens is the large Shrine of Remembrance, a memorial to the Australian war dead, pretty much standard issue, but you could freely walk up to a balcony and the view over the city was spectacular. War memorials always have a schizoid nature of wanting to both glorify the dead (and by extension, war) and to be a place to contemplate peace (or any alternatives to war). This one certainly bended towards the glorification side, what with very little individual names of dead soldiers on show and concentrating more on the various battles and wars the Australian forces have been involved in.

Arcades and Lanes: a real treat in the Melbourne urban landscape are its myriad of little lanes between broad avenues and arcades linking them too. Too narrow for traffic and expressly conceived as upmarket shopping areas with beautiful architecture and flooring, it's a pedestrian paradise. Alfresco dining (even if it was slightly too cramped during busy times) is popular and tasty, if somewhat pricey. Niagara Lane was my favourite, devoid of any commercial activity but looking very much like Amsterdam without the canals.

The Cosmopolitan: very much a trek through Chinatown, the Greek precinct and the upmarket Collins St shopping area. One financial centre had a sumptuous (if somewhat gauche) ground floor entrance complete with indoor water pools, gold leaf walls 5 metres up and an array of corporate art - i.e. meaningless but expensive looking sculptures.

Elegant Enclave: definitely my favourite walk taking us to the eastern side of the CBD beyond the Government buildings and parks to a largely intact, lovely restored and sensitively built quarter with Victorian, art deco, gothic and modernist architecture. Many upmarket early Melburnians lived here, and it was remarkably quiet and leafy. The George Street Cafe was fantastic and surprisingly affordable for lunch.


Jaydee said...

The laneways were formally right of ways that resulted from subdivisions to the original lots that were subdivided after the initial lands sales in 1837 - 2 years after Melbourne was founded. Very early on, these laneways were the places that the poor and criminals resided and those of higher standing dared to enter. It is only in fairly recent times that these laneways have become upmarket and safer for more regular people to enter. While access to the rear of buildings was needed, the 'small' streets such as Flinders Lane and Little Collins St were supposed to serve this function. This detail and more interesting facts can't fit onto a brochure for people to use for a walking tour of Melbourne. There is simply too much information that local walking tour operators can give you while walking through the lanes when you are next in town. Simply using a printed guide will only deliver half of our great story.

Hans Versluys said...

Hi Jaydee, thanks for your illuminating comment. I agree the tourist info is a little light on historical details. Something you need to take up with your council. I would definitely like to see an "Underbelly" walk added!