One of the best places to take a tram to is Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne's premier mercado. The easiest way to get there is via the CBD loop and the station at Flagstaff. When you take the escalator up (incidentally they stand on the left in Australia), you emerge at La Trobe Street on the edge of the business district. The place is full of businessmen scurrying around, but across the street is Flagstaff Gardens. If you follow the tram tracks north, you come to a 100-foot-long shed with the words VICTORIA MARKET emblazoned across its roof. As Rolf Harris would say, "Have you guessed what it is yet?" And to think I was worried about not being able to find it.
Inside is an aircraft hangar with rows and rows of stalls, like a mini-city selling everything you could possible conceive. It was a mixture of ordinary clothes (ie socks for $5--I love a bargain!) and the worse kind of tourist pap--"Melbourne: Australia" T-shirts, cork hats, fluffy koalas, boomerang key rings, Opera House bookmarks--they do their best to shoot Melbourne for calendars, but how many times can you shoot skyscrapers at sunset. But at the same time there is plenty there that can only be found in Australia: Billabong T-shirts, Uggs and as much surfing gear as you can carry.
But the food halls are the best feature. The fresh food was exceptional, with everything freshly "plucked" that morning. Huge great steaks of emu, camel, crocodile and kangaroo were on sale. The fruit and veg stalls were impressively piled high with melons, courgettes and the biggest green peppers I have ever seen. There was also a number of fruits we don't get in Europe: papaya, lychees, green bananas and, of course, coconuts. The fish stalls were at the back, and Australia has its own version of cod and trout. Yabbies, a kind of blue freshwater crayfish scrabbled in a tank and the cold eyes of a barramundi, looked back at me from a slab. Victoria Market looks like it gets the best produce; I could see vans from numerous restaurants arrive and stock up for the day.
Afterwards it is worth a wander around the Central Business district. Skyscrapers dominate to create an almost American cityscape, but once in a while a bit of Europe breaks through: schoolkids in uniform, a Victorian church or an ornate department store. The best shopping is on Collins Street, which is thronged with crowds. Australia on Collins is a superior mall with a superb food court. And I thoroughly recommend Dymocks bookshop, with its superb travel section.
I'm an IgoUgo veteran--how can I pass by a good bookshop?