Monthly Archives: September 2010

Coffee on the ‘Fair’ Side

Found a little gem in Melbourne the other day — quite by accident.

Whilst out and about taking photos for hours, my energy began to slump for a very simple reason. I had forgotten to eat lunch.

Bare Pear Cafe in Melbourne, Australia

This charming and ‘cheeky’ placard on the sidewalk caught my attention and we ducked inside for some hot food at the Bare Pear Cafe (148 Queen Street). The lunch was pleasant, but what really stood out was the quality of the coffee — organic fair-trade coffee.

Melbourne is usually known as the coffee capital of Australia, so good coffee, whether ‘normal’ or organic or fair trade, is in abundant supply. But honestly? That had to be one of the most flavour-filled cups that I have ever ingested.

Bare Pear Cafe's Organic Free Trade Coffee

Just passing that along!

Frugal Travel in Expensive Melbourne – Part 3

What to do — what to see. You have arrived in one of the most vibrant cities in the world, so how can you make the best decisions about where to spend your energy and your dollars?

First, wrap your head around the idea that you are going to nibble at the edges of a very LARGE cake full of delights. That will give you some perspective as you begin to realize that you will be coming back to Melbourne again and again before you can begin to say that you ‘know’ the place.

Consider planning your to-do list by going to either of these websites for information prior to your arrival. The first one is the That’s Melbourne site where you can click on the various categories in the left-side column to find out what art, music, festival, sports, or other events in your own particular areas of interest are available during your visit. The second site to check is the What’s On Melbourne Guide which lets you search by DATE or by TOPIC.

You can learn a lot about a city and its ‘vibe’ by people-watching and often this proves to be a highly amusing free activity.

Lunch hour tap dancer on Bourke Street, Melbourne, Australia

Lunch hour tap dancer, Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne, Australia

A few days ago as I walked down Bourke Street, I saw a young red-haired man with a backpack and a bright yellow milk crate suddenly stop and plonk a portable tape player down on the pavement. Next a flowerpot appeared. Finally, he carefully placed a square of timber halfway between the tram stop and the steps in front of the GPO building. Without saying a word, he began to tap dance vigorously (and well!) for the lunchtime crowd that was milling around, his flowerpot began to fill with coins, and the silent tap dancer smiled sweetly at everyone. It was a tiny bit of magic on a cold and gloomy day.

Having walked a mere few metres further down the street, I began to chuckle quietly when I saw a faux-concrete mime who had removed his hat, thus revealing part of his un-made-up face and hair beneath. As he stood next to his upturned hat, his hand resting on his cart full of props, he dropped all pretense being in character as he made a phone call. As surreptitiously as I could, I raised my camera and began to take pictures of this unguarded and funny moment.

Mime Making Phone Call

If fine arts and culture are as much ‘your thing’ as they are mine, you will be happy to read that Melbourne is quite blessed to have three art museums that charge absolutely NO admission price. The only exception to that statement is for those blockbuster travelling exhibits from overseas that arrive once a year or so.

The permanent collection at the beautifully proportioned bluestone building housing the NGV International – National Gallery of Victoria on St. Kilda Road is quite comprehensive and covers several floors of exhibits that range from the ancient through to the contemporary. You can easily allow yourself a half of a day or more to see it all. And as an added bonus, there are wonderful cafes on both the ground floor and the first floor that serve quite good food. Seating areas are tucked around on every level and are much appreciated by those who wish to enjoy the various galleries at a more leisurely pace. The large gift shop on the ground floor, just before you exit next to the wall of water, is a joy for art lovers, book lovers, or anyone who appreciates finely crafted jewelry, stationary, art objects, and educational toys.

Another entirely free (except for those previously mentioned special exhibitions) museum is the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square (corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Street). This smaller museum is dedicated to Australian art. Although it is part of the National Gallery of Victoria, it is housed up the street from the main NGV in a light, airy, and very contemporary glass and steel building set amidst the ultra-modern Federation Square complex.

Finally, there is the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art — ACCA (111 Sturt Street in the Southbank area) and it too is completely free of entry charges. The stated goal of this particular institution is as follows. “It is the only major public art gallery in Australia focused on commissioning rather than collecting.” For that reason, there is a non-stop stream of cutting edge exhibitions to entice those interested in contemporary art.

This three-part article on frugal travel in Melbourne has barely scratched the surface of your options for places to stay, places to eat, sights to see, or walks to enjoy. My intention was to allow the reader to fine-tune their trip according to their interests and needs. I also hoped to let you understand that absorbing the media’s ongoing statement that Melbourne is one of the world’s most expensive cities comes at a cost. It closes people’s minds to the alternatives to big-price-ticket travel — alternatives called frugal travel, budget travel, manageable travel that keep those dollars in your pocket to spend as you choose, not as you must if you are booked into 5 star hotels and are only eating at 5 star restaurants. Frugal travel makes the world a better place for all of us because it gives us freedom and choice.

Frugal Travel in Expensive Melbourne – Part 2

Now that we have the where-to-sleep question handled, let’s move on to how to get around Melbourne quickly and easily without hailing a taxi and paying heart-stopping fares for that ‘privilege.’ The cost of parking in Melbourne can also be prohibitively high, so it’s best to avoid driving your rental car or personal car in the city and being forced to pay $10 or more per hour in parking fees.

Visitor Information Booth on Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne, Australia

Start your trip off right by getting a good map of the inner city since most of the sights and museums are within that area. Consider printing out a map of the CBD prior to arrival and an easy to read version is found online at the only Melbourne website. The map is downloadable in pdf and prints out beautifully.

For a comprehensive range of tourism maps and brochures, the two easiest to find Visitor Information Centres are (1) located inside their own building on Federation Square – corner of Swanston St. & Flinders St. – and (2) in a booth right on the main shopping street, the Bourke Street Mall.

Yellow Yarra Tram on Bourke Street, Melbourne, Australia

For the ultimate in ease and convenience, the extensive tram network in Melbourne is hard to beat. The trams themselves range in ‘vintage’ and size from the lovely and modern ones such as the yellow tram pictured to the right to the last of the old “Red Rattlers” which run on the City Circle route around the fringes of the CBD (Central Business District).

City Circle Tram in Melbourne, Australia

You will need to purchase a METCARD to use any of the trams other than the City Circle which is seen on the left. That one tram route is completely free and is offered as a tourism incentive. For that reason, it is always quite crowded — so just be aware of that.

For all other trams, you will need a valid ticket and signs for the METCARD are found everywhere from the trains stations to the local convenience stores such as 7-11. Although they can be purchased at the coin-operated machines on some of the trams, it is always safer to have a METCARD in hand before you board.

There are quite a variety of fares depending on the time of day that you travel, your age, and several other classifications. The full range of fares are listed online at Metlink’s METCARD page.

An easy to read map of the tram network can be found online at Metlink Melbourne

Now let’s discuss what to eat while you are in the city. Even if you have chosen a budget friendly option like the Cube Serviced Apartment that was mentioned in yesterday’s post, no one arrives in Melbourne with the idea of eating all of their meals in their apartment-hotel, so finding reasonably priced food choices for lunches is the next challenge.

Yes, fast food is available everywhere in Melbourne, but it is almost never a healthy option. For a mere few dollars more you can eat at places like Basic Bites at 26-28 Hardware Lane between Bourke Street and Little Bourke Street. The “Crazed Hen” salad that I had there was actually the most enjoyable lunch that I ate on this trip. And there was so much premium quality chicken breast squeezed into that bowl with all of the salad greens that I couldn’t finish it! Cafe lunches in Melbourne can cost as much as dinners in some other Australian cities, so this small but lovely little cafe is a perfect example of finding good value for money when you do choose to eat out.

Basic Bites cafe on Hardware Lane, Melbourne, Australia

Other budget options for healthy eating include the large Riverside Food Court at Southgate where you can eat inside on gloomy days or outside facing the river and the Melbourne skyline on pleasant days.

If a delicious and filling curry at a rock-bottom price and served with a smile is what you are craving, then head up Bourke Street past the retail district to Funky Curry at 164 Bourke Street. The decor is basic and plastic — but oh — the food. I have eaten there many times and never, ever been disappointed by any of the options which can be fine-tuned to your own idea of how-hot-is-enough.

In our next segment we will look at the visual delights of Melbourne and sources for finding out prior to arrival what’s happening in the arts and entertainment world, sports, special events, and more.

***NOTE*** The author received no compensation during the research for this article from any of the sources which are cited.

Frugal Travel in Expensive Melbourne

Magical Melbourne — one of the jewels in Australia’s crown — a world class city with price tags for hotels and food to match Paris and London. So how then is it possible to travel to Melbourne if you are inclined towards a frugal and healthy approach and inclined away from backpacker style accommodations and ingesting fast food?

The first step in finding an inexpensive place to stay is to register with an online site such as HotelClub which, according to their website, represents “60,000 Hotels in Over 134 Countries.” By registering and selecting the specific countries or cities that you are interested in, you will receive weekly alerts on deeply discounted accommodations.

I was curious about the quoted fee-free price compared to the hotel’s own stated per-room cost, so I selected several hotels for comparison and in every case the HotelClub discount rate beat any specials that were being offered by the hotels on their own websites, sometimes by 50% or more.

How can you make a $99 rate better? By making that the discount rate on an apartment right in the heart of Melbourne! An alert came into my box on a Monday that 33%-50%-off rates were available for the weekend we had chosen.

Astute travellers know that one of the key ways to stretch your travel dollars is to rent an apartment and do some of your own cooking. Why pay $25 for a breakfast for two when you can cook your own and drink the tea or coffee that the hotel has on hand in each apartment. Having a major grocery store like Woolworths inside the huge new shopping and dining centre QV Melbourne a mere few blocks away means that you can bring home the ingredients for a dinner that totals a fraction of what most Melbourne restaurants must charge with their high overhead and staffing costs.

We were pleasantly surprised when we disembarked from the tram on LaTrobe Street, walked half a block to the Cube Serviced Apartments at 19 Exploration Lane, and discovered that we were staying right in the heart of the theater district. Our studio apartment was quite spacious for two people and was spotlessly clean.

The king-size bed was quite comfortable and the nearby writing desk had enough room to spread out my laptop and various pieces of camera gear.

Cube Serviced Apartment King Studio - Melbourne, Australia

Cabinet Wall at Cube Serviced Apartment in Melbourne, Australia

An entire wall of cabinetry has been divided up to house coats, linens, pantry, dishes and pans, an inset niche for the kitchen functions and an area for the flat screen television and dvd player. The kitchen area has a 2 burner cook-top, dishwasher, and a refrigerator and microwave are neatly hidden behind some of those cabinet doors.

Melbourne is easy to maneuver and the urban heart, the CBD (Central Business District) contains most of the art museums, theatre venues, and a vast array of upmarket and discount shopping. Between the on-foot accessibility of almost all major sites in the city and the splendid network of trams, you’ll soon discover that Melbourne is a joy to travel through.

In tomorrow’s post I will discuss the Metlink network of trains, trams, and buses and the daily or weekly cost of getting around Melbourne. I will also offer examples of wonderful places to eat healthy food at a reasonable price and fun activities that are free or practically-free. Check back for more!

***NOTE*** The author received no compensation or free accommodation during the research for this article.

Photos and Body Clocks

Day Workers Only -- Sign on Former Dairy Building

Once past childhood, I always aspired to be one of those people who did both efficient and creatively spiffy work during the daytime hours and who then slept soundly at night. But for whatever genetic reason (thanks, Gran!), I have been a night owl all of my life.

I’ll be editing for the next few days — but I have already set up a separate page for PHOTOGRAPHY. To find it, hover over the tab that reads PAGE up at the top and a drop-down menu will appear. The PHOTOGRAPHY page is there.

Since the site is going to end up being so much more graphics heavy, I decided to discard the previous WordPress theme with the cute but cartoonish ocean ship and stick with something a bit more straightforward. And if I get bored with this one I’ll simply change it again!

Keep watching — there’s a lot more on the way.

Photos Ahead

Boy On The Bridge

Learning curves — love them or hate them, once you are past 40 they are one of the things that keeps your brain ticking over nicely, stimulates those cells, and supposedly makes you less likely to get something such as Alzheimer’s (dementia) as you slide into senior citizenship. Right??? (just nod your head up and down and say yes!)

So my learning curve this week has been to get a better handle on two programs — one a watermarking program so that I could post my photos online with a clear copyright symbol — the other Adobe Lightroom. I had gotten quite comfortable with the programs on my old Windows desktop, but now I am stretching the ‘little gray cells’ because I moved to a MacBook Pro a few months ago.

Slowly, slowly (sigh!) I am getting the hang of both of them and will be sending links to new photo archives in the coming days. Wish me luck!