Melbourne is known as the cultural center of Australia, a title that Sydney is envious of and is constantly fighting to attain. One of the ways that Melbourne showcases all of its creativity is by a unique type of street culture. According to Wikipedia, "The city is sometimes placed alongside New York and Berlin as one of the world's great street art meccas, and its extensive street art-laden laneways, alleys and arcades were voted by Lonely Planet readers as Australia's top cultural attraction."
I was not only impressed by the abundance and ease of availibility of the arts in Melbourne but also the extent to which the visitors' bureau helps tourists to take it all in. For example, Melbourne offers a free shuttle bus that makes different loops around and in the city which hits all of the popular spots. Buses run about ever twenty minutes and function in the hop on/hop off style.
To add to this, they offer a free tram as well. One of the things that fascinated me about Melbourne was its enormous tram network - the largest in the world. The city has kept a few of the original, old trams and uses them to give free rides to visitors. The free tram makes a loop around the city and runs about every ten minutes. Sean and I rode both the bus and the tram the first day to get our bearings and take it all in.
We also went to the visitor center in the main plaza to ask for other suggestions. We were told that going on a walking tour of some of the more famous "laneways," "alleys," and "arcades" were a must-do in order to experience the true spirit of Melbourne.
The famous arcades of Melbourne are really just tiny rows and alleys of shops, cafes and restaurants. Many of them have themes or are decorated in various types of street art. We quickly found that it was necessary to have a map of the arcades as it was easy to get lost in the winding maze of alleys. Because of these tiny creative networks, walking around Melbourne was unlike exploring any other city I had ever been in.
One thing that we both immediately noticed was the prevalence of cafes and gourmet and experimental coffee shops. We had heard in New Zealand that Melbournians were definite coffee snobs and there was evidence of this all around us. Sean and I decided that we would buy one overpriced posh coffee each while we were there. When I asked the waiter for the best coffee they had he brought me back a double espresso. It's safe to say that because of those three little ounces, I didn't sleep for about a day and a half. Coffee in Melbourne packs a powerful punch.