Thursday, December 18, 2014

Melbourne: Art, Conversation, and the Limits of Google & Yelp


If the first thing that struck me about Cairns was the birds, the first thing that struck me about Melbourne was the buildings. Melbourne is old enough to have a mix of modern and classic architecture, but there was something uniquely exciting about the newer stuff that surrounded us. And Melbourne is a street art city. We were staying near the university, with its art school, so our concentration was probably slightly skewed, but just about everywhere else there were murals and graffiti art. This gave the entire city a kind of pulse or a sense of energy or propulsion. I honestly don't know what kind of art is happening in Melbourne now, but the overtness and publicness of it in their streetscapes made me feel as if the city must be a hotbed of creativity.
Our Victoria Market Lunch

We spent time at the Queen Victoria Market, which was a massive semi-enclosed market that sold basically everything (though we didn't stray too far from the sections selling food) and was the only place in our travels we found that had a coffee shop that made cold brew iced coffee. (Which they served in shot glass portions), the botanical gardens (which Riss would've slept in if given the options. Pictures below.) and the museum (because we always spend time in the museum). The museum was good, though not one that really stood out in the world of museums, but the botanical garden was a real highlight.
Melbourne Skyline from our hostel

As I mentioned in my post about travel, to me, there is something exciting in the simple act of seeing something I have never seen before and a massive botanical garden in the a different hemisphere is guaranteed to be filled with things I've never seen before, even if I, personally, don't have the botanical knowledge to truly appreciate the difference and diversity. Even if I couldn't tell how this type of parsley was different from the type in my fridge, just knowing it was, and that I will likely never see it again, was thrilling. Perhaps the starkest example of that personal and global fragility was the section of the garden dedicated to endangered species. Every plant in that section was threatened, like the Great Barrier Reef, with extinction by climate change, human development and/or invasive species. Humans are a very strange species, often capable of preserving a scrap of something in a zoo or museum because of its importance to us and the world, while we destroy it everywhere else.

As much fun as we had eating and drinking and looking, the three highlights of our Melbourne trip were of a slightly different nature. In chronological order:

Martin Day!
View from Mount Dandenong
Martin is engaged to one of the booksellers at PSB and he lives in Melbourne, so we were able to connect with him for a day of driving around the South Yarra Valley. The South Yarra is something like the Napa Valley in California, a concentration of vineyards and their attendant industries, which I assume involves quite a lot of cheese and cracker making. There were also a good number of brewpubs so were able to sample the wares of man of brewers and vineyards. We even bought a case of wine to send home (which, at time of writing has been returned to sender by someone in Los Angeles for reasons we are having a very difficult time ascertaining), met Martin's parents (who grew up in Poland, before fleeing Communist oppression to South Africa, before pursuing economic opportunity in Australia, and probably have one hell of a life story) and had a pretty solid burger for dinner. But as with so much about, well, life, I guess, it is difficult, if not impossible for me to communicate the most important part of Martin day. Starting when he picked us up, and through a quick snack and drink at the coffee shop and restaurant where he works all the way through till when he dropped us of, was one long, relatively uninterrupted, sprawling, brilliant conversation.

How to Get Drunk in Melbourne
Now THIS is kimchi
Not that we set out to spend our entire time in Melbourne intoxicated, but we did want to try a fair amount of local beer. However, even with the reputation for alcoholic excess Australia has, on our budget, actually getting drunk was fairly difficult. Pints were all at least $8.50 USD and given that it was variety were going for, we usually opted for “pots” which were half pints (I think) at about $5-6 USD. That adds up pretty quickly. And then one night we made our way to a cool looking little place not far from our hostel that turned out to be a Korean restaurant. The food was amazing, including the house made kimchi and the other appetizers we had. But they also served a range of delicious and very potent plum wines and a massive two-person cocktail not unlike a scorpion bowl. Riss and I hadn't really planned on staying in any one place that night, but that's where we ended our night. They also were playing a mix of American music from the 90s, which was weird, but in the perfect kind of way weird can be weird, that paired well with drinking a beverage we couldn't pronounce while eating damn near a pound of kimchi.

The Inadequacy of Google & Yelp
Tasting flight from James Squire
You've caught on about the whole looking for craft beer thing? Well, we searched on Google and Yelp and used the craft beer app Untapped looking for bars that served a lot of local craft beers and the results of those searches were disappointing. What we tended to find were bars with one or two craft beers on tap. As we learned when talking to a brewer, part of this problem was that Australia is still about fifteen years (his words) behind the states in terms of craft brewing and there are some costs and regulations that are constricting the market, but, a bigger part of the problem, as you'll see, is that Google, Yelp, and Untapped rely on metadata and can only work with what metadata they're given. Often, especially in terms of small, local, businesses and attractions, the internet doesn't know enough about them to tell would be customers. However, people often do have that data.

At Moon Dog Brewery
The brewer for James Squire (pretty much Australia's Sam Adams) gave us directs to a place called Moon Dog Brewery, which was near the end of a somewhat sketchy street in an old mechanic's shop, with a pizza food truck parked outside. This (THIS!) was what we were looking for. Given the atmosphere and the d├ęcor it could've been a friends garage, if that friend happened to also sell awarding beer. We ended up chatting with one of the bartenders there (Pat) and he told us Forester's Hall was the next place we should hit. Not only that but he gave us a note to give to one of the bartenders there that said to put two particular pots of beer he wanted us to try on his tab. (When we handed the note over, the bartender at Forester's said, “This is totally something Pat would do.”) We had more good beer and more good food. If this had been any other night in our trip, we would've followed bartender suggestion to bartender suggestion until some exhausted and elated versions of ourselves stumbled back to our hostel, but, as this was our last night in Melbourne and we had to get up at like 5 in the morning to catch our flight to Christchurch we went home after that.

The Biggest Surprise on Our Trip
So weird
I bought shoes. Seriously. How weird is that? And they weren't like, shoes with books in them or something. Florsheim is one of the few brands that makes shoes that fit my, essentially square hobbit feet. There was a Florsheim store near our hotel. They were having a sale. Throw in the exchange rate and, in a shocking turn of events, Josh Cook bought shoes on vacation.























The Botanical Gardens







South Yarra Valley, Street Food, & Other Melbourne Pictures









 


 

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