MELBOURNE DAY 3: Chinatown, Islamic Community and Phillip Island
Today, explore Melbourne's different ethnic precincts. The Melbourne Immigration Museum, open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, located in the Old Customs House at 400 Flinders Street, is a good point of departure. If you wish to immerse yourself further, take a Heritage Walk through Chinatown organized by the Chinese Museum, 22 Cohen Place Melbourne, followed by yum cha or what the locals call dim sum, the traditional "small bites" to be eaten while drinking tea. Trolleys are wheeled around and you just have to point to what you would like. There are steamed dumplings with many fillings, fried delicacies, roast duck or pork — the selection is endless. On a weekend, there are many choices and all of Melbourne seems to be lined up waiting for a table. However, a full yum cha is available all day, every day at the Dragon Boat restaurant on Little Bourke Street.
Another option is to tram it down Victoria Street, Richmond (Tram nos 24 along Collins St or 109 along Latrobe St) and immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of Vietnam. Enjoy a bowl of the famous pho — Hanoi rice noodle soup — with its aromatic herbs and accompaniments for about $AUS7.
Sydney Road Brunswick is the center of Melbourne's Islamic community and abounds in exotic produce shops, Turkish and Lebanese bakeries and the wonderful El Faiha at No. 648 where you can sample exquisite Lebanese cakes. The area is also home to a burgeoning collection of pubs and cafés such as Ray Café. If you prefer the beach, spend the morning strolling, rollerblading or cycling along the Esplanade at St. Kilda. Book a window table for lunch at Donovans where you watch the locals cavorting on the sand or splashing in the shallows. Another good lunch spot is the Stokehouse, also right on the beachfront. Before leaving St. Kilda, be sure to make a detour in Acland Street, an old haunt of the immigrant community from Europe in the '50s and '60s and now a hang-out for backpackers who flock there for its cheap eats, European cake stores, and funky street art.
In the afternoon, check out the fashion shops on Chapel Street and Toorak Road South Yarra, stopping for a drink or a bite to eat at Caffe e Cucina, located at 581 Chapel St. South Yarra. For discount shopping, factory outlets of most of the sought-after labels can be found on Richmond's Bridge Road while discount sporting and surf clothing and footwear can be found on Smith Street Collingwood.
Those with children might like to visit the Melbourne Aquarium, the Melbourne Scienceworks in South Melbourne or the Melbourne Museum in Carlton designed by the leading Melbourne architects Denton, Corker Marshall. The latter's futuristic shape contrasts strongly with the adjacent Royal Exhibition Building, which was constructed for the World Exhibition in 1900. The museum features many new interactive exhibits and an exceptional exhibit on the Australian Aborigines, their history, culture and art.
In the evening, have a drink at one of Melbourne's many pubs or wine bars, some of which have really good dining rooms such as Mo Vida, on Hosier Lane or The Deanery, on Flinders Lane and stay on for dinner or take in a play, concert or one of the events in Melbourne's seemingly never-ending choice of festivals.
If you would like to venture out of town, take a half day tour to Phillip Island, some 2 1/2 hours' drive from the city to see the Penguin Parade at dusk where hundreds of fairy penguins return from their day's fishing and waddle up the beach to their sand-dune burrows. Be sure to dress warmly as it can get cold at night.
Or consider a trip to the Yarra Valley. It offers great wines, fantastic food to enjoy with that wine, colorful history and luxurious accommodations. As an added bonus it's around an hour's drive from the city.
* Cityscape image courtesy of the Melbourne Convention and Visitors Bureau