Sunday, June 03, 2007

Australia Day 4: Melbourne Victoria Market

After my quick stop in Sydney, I got back on the plane and flew to Melbourne, heaving a sigh of relief as I would get to stay much longer on this leg of the trip. Every time I go to Melbourne, I like it more and more.

While Sydney is more commercial and probably a bigger and more exciting city, Melbourne has more cultural awareness and couture consciousness. That is to say, I have found it extremely hard, to ever find a boutique chocolate shop in Sydney. I've scouted down a few and they are either horrendously cheesy or just crude in their technique. Melbourne though, has quite a few. The same goes for unique specialty shops, butcheries, bakeries and single-origin produce. I think perhaps it has something to do with the slightly more laid-back pace and homeliness of Melbourne that these very local yet particular tastes have developed. Or maybe the particular tastes come from the strong influence of Italian, Lebanese and Vietnamese populations (even though that is present in Sydney as well).

I love that Melbourne still has a tram and that different parts of Melbourne are extremely distinct; I've have spent many happy mornings in St Kilda, at Carlton in Brunetti, eating Bluebird pies at the MCG and trying on local designerwear in Prahran. More than that all of that, I love, of course, that Melbourne is the true home of Australian fashion, especially street fashion shopping and that the traffic and livability of the city is quite easily superior to Sydney.

I also love Melbourne because of this wonderful institution, the Queen Victoria Market, or Vic Mart, as it is sometimes referred to as. This is a large open-air market that runs on most days of the week, with sections that sell odd knick knacks, sections for fresh fruit, meats, jams, vegetables, souvenirs and the like. The fresh foods section is a veritable smorgasbord of fresh Aussie produce and I could walk up and down the long aisles of varied fruits and vegetable on display for the entire day. Even if I'm in town for short period of time, I try to swing by, if even for an hour over lunch. It's a great place to pick up some fresh foods, although you'll always get tempted by the fruit seller offering mangoes for a dollar, five dollars for the crate. If you go around 3pm or closing time, it's food galore, with peas, grapes, anything and everything for three dollars or whatever price can be squeezed out of you. If I were a student, I'd be here after class everyday.

My cousin actually does live near here and I'm entirely envious. The day I was there, I tried to propel myself quickly through the fresh fruit sections, lest I buy something I couldn't carry away and through the non-perishables section, which is a great one if you are looking for some souvenirs or woolly items, like Uggs by the dozens or some other item, maybe rabbit-fur lined indoor moccasins. Even so, I wound up picking up some big bunches of green grapes (two dollars each) for my service apartment, a bag of fresh pine nuts and two packages of tea from this place below.

Walking around the parameter of Victoria Market is also very fun because there are some great shops that have set up along its boundaries. Amongst some of the great finds are a discount bulk purchase bottle shop, where you can get the cheapest deals for cases of wine (basically the more you buy, the cheaper the per bottle price), a Sohum fragrance stores that makes their own blend of perfumes, soaps and body creams (I love the Mango, Ginger and Lily scent) and they come in these brilliantly chic little glass spray tubes or delicate Demeter-like scent bottles and this shop, called Tea Party, which specialises in traditional and blended loose-leaf teas. Australia has some great tea companies, the more commercial of which are names like T2, (now available in Tangs) this one is a lot more boutique and a bit tea-time-old-fashioned, with their hand-painted tea sets and black and white checkered floor. A great place to buy some gifts and I'd definitely recommend their Ginger and Lemongrass tea.

I don't have a photo of Sohum in Vic Market because they are rather publicity-shy but its the kind of shop that wafts pastel pinks and blues but somehow in a girly but sophisticated way. If you don't know what I mean, their display card has a big poofy old-fashioned Monroe-eque powder puff, with the red cursive lettering 'Sohum' on a baby blue background and their scent labels come in ten different shades starting from light yellow, to cream, lily orange, light and dark pink to pale green. I Always stop here. This is a quick snap of another location, their Chapel Street store.

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