Three of my favourite things: food, travel, and cycling. I’ve always wanted to visit Melbourne and now that I’m here I’m exploring every neighbourhood, street, and restaurant that I can. Joining a cycle tour is a great way to get oriented and see what a city has to offer. Freddy from Freddy’s Bike Tours knows all the quiet backstreets and some great places to get a good meal. Plus he rents comfy cruiser bikes that are easy on the backside.
We met up with Freddy along the peaceful Yarra River and quickly headed into the busy Central Business District, abuzz with holiday shoppers and office workers rushing for trams. Our first stop was Federation Square where we got to see a giant Christmas tree made from legos and some unique architecture that many Melbournians love (and others think of as the ugliest building in the entire country).
Melbourne is an incredibly diverse and multicultural city and Freddy’s food picks reflect this. First up was dim sum. Having just come from Singapore, I wasn’t expecting too much in comparison, but we found that they can do a good dumpling meal even here in Australia. But that shouldn’t be surprising. Chinese were some of the first immigrants to Australia, arriving in search of fortune as soon as news of the 1850s gold rush swept around the world.
It’s nice to learn about the history of a city along with a good helping of steamed shrimp dumplings, so Freddy brought us to see the Royal Exhibition Building. Back in the 1880s, Australia was rolling in money from rich gold mines and Melbourne was, perhaps, the richest city in the world. The Exhibition Building was built to showcase this wealth and to encourage more Europeans to immigrate. It later hosted Australia’s parliament until Sydney decided its southern neighbour was getting to high on itself and the two had to settle for the creation of a new and neutral capital city. Thus, began the life of Canberra.
Australia is a country of immigrants and it has always encouraged newcomers. Up until the 1960s, though, the country maintained a “White Australia Policy” that discouraged anyone outside of Western Europe (and other British colonies) from coming. When this policy loosened, a flood of Italians and Greeks began to arrive. At one point, Melbourne had the largest population of Greeks outside of Athens (!) and our next food stop reflected this change.
You can’t have two great dinners without finishing it off with a delicious dessert. All those Italians who started coming in the 1960s (and who are still moving to Australia today) hardly go unnoticed. Usually when I travel I avoid Italian food because it’s always such a disappointment compared to the real thing. Here in Melbourne, there’s no need to deny yourself that pleasure. From great thin-crust pizza to authentic al dente pasta, you can get a meal that’s right up there with anything you’d find in Rome or Venice. Tonight, Freddy took us to a traditional pasticceria that Sil swears looks just like one in Sienna where we may have indulged ourselves once or twice.
To end the evening, we cycled back to the Yarra River rather leisurely (we had to – our stomachs were too full to go any faster). On the way, we passed by the Crown Casino that shockingly blasts balls of fire into the air, making kids jump and scream with delight!
Freddy was a fun guide and I’m glad we explored some funky areas of the city with him. Melbourne is very bicycle friendly and it’s a great way to see the sights.