Through The Eyes Of A Local : The Hidden Secrets Tour Melbourne

Melbourne is an interesting city, full of things to see and do at every corner. While it’s great to explore and discover hidden gems on your own, some travellers might prefer having a guide to show them secret spots that only the locals would know.

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Enter Hidden Secrets Tour Melbourne, a walking tour established in 2004 that aims to uncover a side of the city not usually seen beyond the usual tourist hotspots. There are several itineraries to choose from, depending on your areas of interest, and a tour will usually take around two to three hours to complete. Ideal for those who are short on time, or just want a quick glimpse into Melbourne as it is for Melburnians!

I was in town earlier this year for a media trip, and our organisers booked us a tour which was a good mix of coffee, food, arts and culture. Right from the get-go we got a map and a mug (which can be used for coffee along the tour), which I felt was really thoughtful of them (and environmentally-friendly as well!).

LANEWAYS

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Inseparable from the city’s identity is its laneways; narrow streets once used for horses and cargo. They gained a reputation for seediness in the days after the Gold Rush, but are now considered cool, hip places, filled with hole-in-the-wall eateries, bars, indie art galleries, jewellery stores, boutiques and more. There are over 40 laneways in Melbourne. Our tour brought us to AC/DC Lane, named after one of the biggest rock bands to come out of Australia.

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I came here on my own a couple of days ago, but it was nice to come back with a guide. Wouldn’t have noticed otherwise details like these shoes hanging from cables. Apparently since the laneways were known to be slums / shady places, the shoes were used to indicate that drugs were sold at a particular place!

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A short walk away was Strachan Lane, which was marked by a large mural by local artist adnate.

 

Koko Black

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Chocolate lovers will want to stop by Koko Black, which offers premium chocolates in a phenomenal range of flavours: you name them, they’ve got ’em. Started in 2003, you can find Koko Black’s flagship store in the Royal Arcade, as well as in major cities in Australia.

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Aside from nicely packed gift boxes that make for ideal souvenirs, the shop also carries individual pieces, each lovingly handcrafted to sweet perfection.

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Tasting board.

La Belle Miette 

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The sweet adventure didn’t end there, as our guide brought us a few doors down to La Belle Miette (Beautiful crumb in French), which specialises in macarons, bon bons and chocolate drageés. Everything about this cute-looking shop exudes Parisian chic, from the heart-shaped chairs to the cute storefront decor and elegant white counters within.

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Too pretty to be eaten! Expect top notch quality as only premium ingredients are used to make the macarons, such as pure fruit purees, vanilla beans, Girgar butter and chocolate exclusively from French chocolate house Cacao Barry and Belgian Callebaut.

Sensory Lab

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Our next stop was Sensory Lab, which felt like a true hidden gem. Tucked away from the main street, it was nevertheless packed with customers. Got a taste of awesome Melbourne coffee (which is world-famous, by the way!) in our mugs before moving on.

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More beautiful murals. It’s easy to stumble across these while walking around Melbourne – just pop into any alleyway and be surprised.

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The shops here are so picturesque / cool-looking I think I could dedicate an entire photo album just for them.

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This is an interesting one! The Waiter’s Restaurant is a pasta speakeasy that dates back decades; at least to the 1940s. The story goes that Italian, Greek and Spanish waiters would come to the restaurant after their shifts to play cards and drinks, hence the name. Its reputation grew, and soon became a meeting place for people from all walks of life, from politicians and journalists to the local gang members. The Waiters have served generations of Melburnians, and their signatures include ox tail, chicken liver and spaghetti bolognese. This sounds like one of those places I’d gladly queue up for !

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Another classic establishment founded in 1950, Pellegrini‘s reputation is legendary. Started by the Pellegrini brothers, the cafe initially served the Italian migrant community. But the shop’s close proximity to the theatre district meant it was soon pulling an intellectual arts crowd. The cafe was later sold off to another pair of Italian migrants, but the offerings and menu, as well as the decor, have largely remained the same.

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Arts is a big thing in Melbourne, as evidenced by its East End Theatre District, home to no less than six major theatre and production houses, some of which date back over a 100 years. Here, plays and world-class shows are regularly staged. Must be great to be a Melburnian and have such convenient access to all these great art shows!

With that, we concluded our Hidden Secrets Tour of Melbourne! It was certainly an eye opening experience, and we discovered many little gems along the way. Our guide provided plenty of information, although I did get the feeling that we were being rushed despite still being within the stipulated time – perhaps she had another tour to conduct. Anyways, I’d highly recommend booking one of their tours if you’re ever in the city. 🙂

Bookings can be made here.

Street Art in a Rural City: Benalla Wall to Wall Art Festival @ Benalla, Victoria Australia

Benalla, some 200km northeast of Melbourne, has all the makings of a well-equipped rural city. Founded in the early 19th century, it may be small by big city standards (population 10,000) but it has a rich history, thanks to its connections to Australia’s most notorious bushranger/outlaw, Ned Kelly. Kelly’s gang operated in and around the area before it culminated in a shootout with the local police, whereby he was arrested and executed for his crimes.

In more recent times, quiet little Benalla has been making its name other ways – street art. Since 2015, the city has hosted the Benalla Wall to Wall Art Festival, bringing buildings, streets and pavements to life with colourful, vibrant street art.

Portuguese artist Odeith at work creating a giant, life-like 3D tarantula

I was very lucky to be in town while the festival was on last April, bringing together 50 artists from all over the world who made the city their artistic playground and canvas. White walls were turned into bright and vivid tapestries, and there were activities relating to arts, culture and music happening all over the city throughout the three-day period. Locals and tourists alike were out on the street watching the artists at work and there was a highly festive, carnival-like atmosphere in the air.

Three giant murals adorn the side of the Benalla SEC building.

I really liked this one by Phibs and George Rose. 🙂

For those who missed the fest, fret not as the murals will be there until the next year. Guided tours to spot these artistic pieces are available, or you could get a brochure from the tourist information centre/art museum and try to locate them on your own.

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What else is there to do in Benalla? If you like greenery, then take a stroll in the city’s picturesque heritage park, the Benalla Botanical Gardens. First established in the late 1800s, the place has its own rose gardens and also plays host to the annual Benalla Rose Festival. The art gallery, another major attraction, is located within the park, sitting next to the tranquil man-made Lake Benalla. Great for picnics and evening excursions to watch the sunset.

Inside the spacious gallery, which houses permanent and temporary exhibitions by local and international artists.

Had a quick coffee before we left town.

It was a shame we were rushing for time so we didn’t get to see as much as we’d like to, but I think visitors going on the food and wine trail from Melbourne should definitely stop by Benalla.

 

 

Travelogue Penang: More Sightseeing in Georgetown – Murals

Graffiti or ‘street art’ used to be looked down upon as mere vandalism in Malaysia, but in recent years, thanks to talented street artists and good promotion, street art has become a strong tourist attraction. Penang, in particular, has embraced this and made it a big selling point. Tourist maps pinpoint the locations of all the murals you can find around Georgetown.

Although it’s a little sad that it took a foreign- born talent to popularise it (even though Malaysia has so many talented artists), we have to thank Lithuanian-born street artist, Ernest Zacharevic, for kicking off the trend at Georgetown Festival 2012, an art fest to celebrate heritage, culture and all-things indie.

His works, which include the very popular ‘Little Children on a Bicycle’ have become a must-snap photo when wandering the streets of the city.

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Ah Quee? on Ah Quee Street depicts the famous and wealthy Chinese merchant Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee, who also built iconic historical buildings such as the Peranakan Mansion.There is also a random minion.

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Some of the artworks were not drawn but welded from iron rods, giving them a 3D appearance. Most tell stories of the rich heritage and culture of Penang island.

“Procession”  shows the Grand Float Procession held in 1926 to celebrate the birthday of Tua Pek Kong (A Taoist deity, widely worshiped by Chinese communities in Penang). As it was the Year of the Tiger, effigies of the tiger was carried through the streets.

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The Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple, or Poh Hock Seah, is a clan temple of the Hokkien people who trace their origins to Southern Fujian Province in China and was constructed in 1850. Since Penang’s population is largely Hokkien (which is also a commonly spoken dialect here), this temple would be significant during festivals and holy days.

Coincidentally, there was an exhibition by Obscura Festival, ‘Trading to Extinction” by Patrick Brown, which captured some disturbing and powerful imagery of illegal animal trading and poaching, in the temple’s courtyard.

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A quick break from mural hunting. We stopped by at a corner shop near Armenian Street. Wanted to have cendol, but it was already 4pm and they ran out D: We had ais kacang instead, which was perfect for a hot day. To those who haven’t had it before, it’s basically shaved ice topped condiments such as grass jelly, sago balls, sweet kidney beans, chopped peanuts and drizzled over with syrup, condensed milk and gula melaka (palm sugar). Sounds refreshing? You bet it is.

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Some pretty good fried snacks of crispy popiah, stuffed with grated radish and carrots.

More of Georgetown to come!