Saturday, 16 June 2012

Coffee...oh, specialty coffee!

"Coffees! Come get your coffees!"

My active imagination -> the blonde fellow in dark blue apron wrapped around his crisp, light blue collared shirt yelling to the customers passing by on the pavement from his coffee "laboratory" namely Market Lane Coffee. (Well, it did look like one!)

Melbourne is famous for specialty coffee. There's great coffee everywhere I went. It was another morning hovering like an empty soul in QV Market, in search for good coffee to perk me up. I remember reading an article from The Star paper about the coffees of Australia(Melbourne was in it!) right after I got home from my trip.

We had found ourselves again at Market Lane. This tiny coffe house with whitewashed walls, was introduced by Chanchan's friend, Penny. Located on the same row as McDonald's at QV Market.

Chanchan was queueing up for our "dunno--how-many"-th coffee for the week. Two days before I had ordered a cappuccino from Market Lane. This time, I had a short macchiato. I would say it was quite accidental that I bought something different from what I am used to. Well, I am a coffee lover but not an expert!

So, I placed an order for a macchiato, and the guy pipped, "Short?" Since I had no idea how it tastes like drinking a short - I had gone along with it because it seeemed to be a good idea to try something different in a foreign city. He mixed and stirred, and then my healthy dose of coffee was ready in a white paper cup. Beautiful chocolatey-looking brew...aaahhh...Took a whiff, and then a sip to jolt me awake with its aroma; my eyes twinkling and I found myself smiling, ahaha! As I was a little baffled as to why the macchiato was much, much, much more bitter than cappuccino without sugar, I plopped a teaspoonful of brown sugar into the beautiful mixture, which was a HUGE mistake. OHHHh!! Brown sugar turned my macchiato into a sourish concoction! Bad move.

Market Lane... good coffee!

Market Lane coffee "lab".  Slowly enjoyed with breakfast bought from QV Market.

Oh, do remember - do not repeat my mistake of mixing sugar into macchiato. It does not work that way.  Ouch!

A couple of other coffee stands/coffee houses we went to were:

  • Di Bella Coffee stand at Queen Victoria Market
  • Seven Seeds at Berkeley Street (near Elizabeth Street)

Each regular sized coffee cost me around AUD3.80 or AUD4..not bad at all!

No photos of Seven Seeds :( but I managed to salvage a couple of photos of coffee at Di Bella's :D

Creamy and foamy, yum yum yummm

Monday, 4 June 2012

Getting around Melbourne with Wifi and 3G service

A modern backpacker in a city should always move with the times. Gone are the days when we backpack, holding a paper map in our hands. The advantages of strolling in a foreign city with a smartphone or a tablet are abundant. I like Melbourne for the free WiFi connections I could get in the cafes and restaurants. But when I am walking on the street, I could be as lost as newbie in town.

My friend had earlier recommended a handy application for my iPhone and iPad if we are in search of gastronomic experiences. You could download UrbanSpoon, which gives you the best reviews of eateries in Melbourne CBD. Using this, we managed to make our way to Koko Black, a popular chocolate cafe which also sells rich Belgian chocolate (oh, the chocolatey luxury!) at Lygon Street which was many, many stones' throw away from our apartment. Before getting a 3G prepaid package, we made good use of the Wi-Fi in the apartment to snapshot a map to Koko Black :)

There are a few mobile network operators in the city, some of the common ones; Optus, Telstra, Vodafone. I was looking for an operator which gives me 24/7 connection even out of town when I move southwards, near the suburban and coastal areas on the following week. After googling for reviews prior to landing in Australia, I opted for Telstra. Pretty cheap for sharing among 3 people on a trip as it was only AUD30. With 3G, we had more options on our hands - where to eat, who to call for emergencies, hiring a car, making last minute accomodation bookings, people contacting me...uhhh very long story (stay tuned for more).

Surfed the net and made calls locally using this prepaid package.

Very affordable package, ain't it? Connection was satisfactory too.


Koko Black could also be found at QV Market by the way. BUT nothing beats a nice walk along Lygon Street though, passing by Argyle Park and admiring all the Victorian-styled buildings on our way there.

Opening hours of Koko Black

The interior of Koko Black on Lygon Street looked inviting and cosy. We were seated next to the barista's coffee (or chocolate??) counter and served by a very friendly waiter.

Below is a breakdown of the costs of our first meal of the day. (Yes, we didn't have proper breakfast!)

  • Chocolate florentines - 5.50
  • Hot belgian chocolate - 6
  • Soy dark chocolate - 6
  • Chocolate affogato - 6

Totalling up to AUD 23.50

Very rich chocolate content for the chocolate lover!
Before leaving, I even purchased 2 small blocks of Belgian chocolate to take home. I had never imagined they could create a chocolate recipe with ginger!

The apartment

We chose to stay for 4 nights in Melbourne CBD before moving on south. Here are a few photos:

The apartment on Wills Street. Highly secured. You need a security card to activate the elevators.

A not-so-comprehensive view of the apartment unit itself. Cosy, nonetheless!

Cost of my stay at Wills Street apartment :
AUD120 for 5D4N

Within our 5 days, 4 nights stay in this unit, we had an "exciting" encounter. The other half of a couple who rented the master bedroom had accidentally plugged his CD player without using an adapter into the wall socket which caused the electricity to trip. It was a BLACKOUT - woo!! They were quite apologetic, but we didn't mind it at all :P

During the blackout, we took it as the perfect opportunity to revel a little in the chilly night with the flashlights we brought along, happily chatting away while waiting for our pot of red dates to boil. We have summer and rain all year at home. This was the chance to have some "fun", ahahaha.  After what seemed a long 15minutes, the landlord came over to sort out the matter and the ambient lighting was back to normal.

If you reading this, and wondering why do we drink the juice from red dates on our trip, there's a particular reason for that. According to traditional Chinese medicine, red dates are a good source of iron. Revitalising drink if we had walked ourselves to exhaustion. It wasn't easy to get our hands on red dates in Melbourne. On our city excursions the second night we were at Melbourne CBD, we chanced upon an Oriental shopping mart which was somewhere along Londsdale Street called the Laguna Oriental Supermarket located on the first floor of Queen Victoria building.

Laguna Oriental Supermarket basically has almost everything an Asian needs; from toiletries, junk food to herbal ingredients. I suspected it was opened by a Malaysian as I saw alot of familiar looking biscuits and coffee brands. Nice!

Surrounded with Asian groceries.
Smile! :D

Day 1 in Melbourne

Checking into our apartment at Wills Street around 11am, we were amazed at how strong and cold the wind was, howling through the street where we were to stay. We had booked an apartment room that was rented out by a Taiwanese couple. The apartment was not as big as I had imagined. Unlocking the door lead to a tiny, squarish living room, which was cluttered with belongings of another tenant who was in Melbourne for a working holiday. A musky herbal smell pervaded the air (speaking of which, we were caught offguard later that weekend, where the tenant cooked Korean BBQ beef!)  Stuffy as it may look and smell, the place was quite clean.

The tenant's sleeping area was "sealed" with sliding bedspreads on clothesline, dividing the living room into two. Looking right, was the kitchen. Two long counters faced each other, one where you cook and store your ingredients and the other, where you chop and dice, and do the washing. Walking past the living room and the kitchen led us to 2 bedrooms and the washroom. The master bedroom was to be occupied by another tenant. Peering into the washroom, I saw plenty of toiletries and a bathtub. Lucky for us, we could use their shampoo and they also had a hairdryer!

Given the rate of less than AUD35 per night, the place felt adequately comfortable albeit the space being slightly narrow. We hopped onto the beds and started unpacking. Looking out of the tall glass windows which were adorned with wooden shutters, it was a delight to be able to see Queen Victoria Market. Scores of cars parked along it. The market is famous for being there since 1878, and if you could've guessed, it is also a tourist-y area which sells lots and lots of goodies :)

The view from the room window....

The skies were overcast that noon, but the sun was HOT. Sunlight was glaring into our room. Strong wind was still howling through the cracks of the window ledge. Hmm..I found the Melbourne climate strange.

We took our rest, and by 3pm we were prepared to explore Melbourne city. The landlady was helpful in pointing out several locations we could have our dinner later. We had to depend on the map we took from the airport.

Being new in Melbourne meant, we had no idea how to navigate our way around. We had yet to apply for a local 3G service provider, so there was no Google map for me to get directions. We simply walked down the street, onto the busiest streets we could find and started looking for restaurants. There were plenty of restaurants - Italian, Greek, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, (and Malaysian even)! We settled on a Shanghainese restaurant after much deliberation. The funny thing was, we did not realise we were on Russell Street aka Chinatown.

I had forgotten the name of that restaurant we went to. Could only remember the word "Shanghai". We ordered a (gigantic) plate of fried rice, (gigantic) plate of gyoza, "siew loong bao" - Shanghainese meat dumplings with soup filling, and chinese tea. When our food came, we couldn't help noticing the hearty portion and could not stop ourselves making comments on the sizes...again.

The restaurant had a charming interior.  Grey stone brickwalls. Old chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Wooden door frames, wooden pillars, chairs and tables. There were more of white people than Asians, gripping the wooden chopsticks awkwardly and picking on their food. The table next to us was having red wine over scrumptious Chinese platter.  Ahh... we don't usually do that at home unless it is somebody's wedding or to celebrate some big occasion. Interesting, I thought.

Snapped a photo to commemorate my first dinner in Melbourne.

A glass panel separated our table from the kitchen. Dumpling-making in the process!


Melbourne is walkable. Getting lost was quite easy too. Since the city was built in grids, each intersection has at least two signage. The same signage repeated on every intersection. To put it logically, we could not take 3 left turns nor 3 right turns lest we wanted to end up in the same place again. Chanchan had forgotten it wasn't KL. Turning left too many times would not land us in a different location. What a pretty good walk we had that evening!

And so, that night after dinner, we were slightly lost, walking round and round the CBD before we saw Beckett Street and reached our apartment safely. The air was chilly and windy. Shops close early in Melbourne. Had nothing to do, so we slept at 8:30!

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