On the Literary Quest
It’s a summery Christmas season Down Under as I write. I had ventured on a literary quest in Melbourne in the last winter days of August. In case you didn’t know, Melbourne was appointed the 2nd UNESCO City of Literature in 2008. There are now 20 of such cities! Each commissioned to foster literary exchanges on all fronts and pursue excellence in literature locally.
With four literary festivals and two of my favourite magazines: Smith Journal and Frankie based here, the adoring literati fan in me simply finds the brimming creative vibes of Melbourne irresistible!
And a taste of the ‘best cafe culture’
I’ve heard so much about Melbourne’s coffee and cafe culture. Just this year, 2 colleagues had visited this bookish city, raving about the great coffee or cafe culture on their return.
Does Melbourne have the best coffee indeed? This GoodFood guide sure claims so. As anyone knows, books and coffee – like lovers, go hand-in-hand. It remains that I make a trip to explore this exciting City of Literature fueled by wondrous caffeine 🤓 !!
Bunking with strangers too …
I decided to take my experienced traveller friend’s advice to stay in a hostel, as this saves money (lots!) and I’ll also get to make friends with other travellers 😊 . But I was damn worried, to say the least. My first time to stay in a room with 3 other perfect strangers (I booked only female dorms with 4 beds) and for 10 nights !! 😬 but try I must, for I’m an adventurer.
Getting to know Melbourne
So here we are! There is no doubt that the cafes are impressive, I love the layout of their counters! The sandwiches and salads had much Middle-Eastern flavour – I like that. Had long blacks most of the time. (I’m a big fan of it – thanks to McCafe!) Markets are a big thing here. I went to both the Queen Victoria Market (the largest!) and the South Melbourne Market that have loads of stalls. You must come here on an empty stomach with free hands cos they sell Everything, not just food!
I fell for mulled wine, a European winter staple, at the night markets. More importantly perhaps, was the company I had. It made all the difference.
At the European Night Market of Madame Brussels Lane, I managed a lone standing spot (with my mulled wine and sauerkraut sausage) next to a middle-aged lady, chatting on her cell with a glass of Sauv Blanc (which I learned later was her favourite). It was a Friday night. The air was warm from throngs of people chatting, eating, drinking, laughing; heaters set up all around (a nice feature of all alfresco dining during winter in Melbourne).
“So what you’re doin’ here?” the lady beside me (Maxine) chatted me up! I was waiting for her to put down her cell and chat with me actually. A strange thing happens once I hop onto a plane: I actually crave small talk with strangers! (Back home, I’m an introvert who’d much rather not be disturbed.) So I was glad to talk, especially with a Melburnian! Mid-chatter a few of her colleagues joined us, they worked in a school just like I did (before I left).
So they were my kind of people 😊 and we went on like that till almost 10. Maxine walked me back to the hostel, lucky me! (For the free tram service was over and she lived just a block away) We exchanged notes and chatted all the way, took a Wefie with ‘Chloe’ at Young & Jacksons; then as we reached the hostel, hugged and bade farewell.
Oh Maxine, I won’t forget the welcome and generosity you extended me. Thank you so much for the mulled wine too, and making my time at Madame Brussels Lane memorable!
The Perfectly Genial Strangers
You must wonder how my hostel stay turned out, hey? Well, it wasn’t perfect but much better than I thought 😉
I stayed at 2 different hostels. 4 nights at United Backpackers – 250 Flinders Street; then 6 nights at Urban Central – 334 City Road. Flinders Street was a great way to start – right next to Degraves Street, my favourite!
It was pretty exhilarating spending those nights with girls from all over the world: South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Holland, Hong Kong, France and China. Back home, I wouldn’t get to meet so many people of such diverse nationalities within 2 weeks! I didn’t get to know all of them well of course, some stayed for just 1 or 2 nights while others stayed beyond a week.
I suppose we were bonded by the same sense of wanderlust, curiosity, and a certain need to escape from the daily grind and have fun. Fun we did have! I won’t forget the 3rd night when my Japanese room mate handed out these fun facial masks (with Japanese drawings) to the rest of us and everyone donned it and laughed at each other! We even had a wefie of us with the funny mask on (but I’m not posting that here, ha ha 😝 ) !!
A big thank you mates 😍 for the company you provided, for the warmth towards a stranger – me.
Special thanks to my Dutch mate, Nancy, for hanging out with me so many days! How would I survive Melbourne city without you! To Tiffany, my HK mate, for lunch at Movida’s and evening at St Kilda’s Pier. To my beautiful Hangzhou mates, Tina and Candy, for the lovely conversations we had and for making me comfortable in your room.
Also my ex-classmate, Michelle (who lives now in Melbourne), for the impromptu brunch! It might have been just a few hours but it was such quality time we had! I absolutely loved Abbotsford Convent !! Thanks for sharing this gem with me.
Last but surely not least, Dorothy from Calcutta (whom I met on my 1st day), you remind me of Mother Teresa with your concern and generosity. Yes, I still have your Myki card. I’m keeping it to remember you.
It’s mid Christmas, readers! I wish you peace, health, and all the good things you’d wish on your loved ones! It isn’t easy to be vulnerable and kind to a stranger, but remember you are the One who can make a difference ..
Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year !!
P.S. the irony 😕 I got the dates of the Melbourne Writers’ Festival wrong so I didn’t get to attend the literati event!! (Boo hoo!) I arrived way too early in August and couldn’t possibly stay for a month just to attend it – Melbourne is an expensive city. For the life of me, I simply couldn’t locate the bookstores I wanted to visit. (Gee! am I that dumb?) The Wheeler Centre was closed just when I found it. Sigh! No literary trip …
For the loner (or perhaps misanthrope) that I usually am, I surprise myself always when I travel. I daresay the highlight of this trip was the people I met. Not the literature, not the attractions, not even the coffee/cafes. Melburnians I think are generally kind and really hospitable. Thank you for offering help whenever I was or appeared to be lost!