Exclusively for CoffeeBreak, George Liakatos, Head of Sales, and Franziska Rölli, Head of Finance, both of JURA Australia, present Melbourne.
As our pocket travel guide informs us, the name Australia is derived from the Latin terra australis, meaning ‘southern land’. We’ll no doubt be consulting the guide a lot. After all, there’s plenty of time for reading because we have a 12-hour flight to Singapore, followed by another ten from there to Melbourne. Cruising high above the clouds, we seem to glide over endlessly vast tracts of land, crossing oceans and continents, before our destination appears in view. During our final descent, the layout of the city resembles a mosaic with precisely arranged quarters and blocks. Then it’s touchdown, on the other side of the planet.
‘When you come to Melbourne,’ George Liakatos had instilled into us, ‘you should follow in the footsteps of Queen Victoria and King Roger. You must stop at the Crown Towers: it’s one of the best hotels in town.’ Our taxi driver is clearly of the same opinion. ‘That’s where Roger Federer always stays during the Australian Open,’ he tells us enthusiastically. ‘And you know what? I once met him personally in the lobby.’ We let him know we’re Swiss and immediately the man up front on the right-hand side of the car (Ed.: they drive on the left in Australia) starts gesticulating wildly and rabbiting on about tennis. We arrive at our destination and, along with his tip, give him a JURA card autographed by Roger Federer. For the first time, our chance acquaintance is lost for words.
Kicking off with history and anecdotes
Next morning, we hear the sonorous voice of George Liakatos resonating around the foyer: he is a trained opera singer and knows how to fill a room. ‘Welcome to Melbourne!’ he booms. ‘Did you sleep well?’ We are jet-lagged, but as he and Franziska Rölli describe the day’s programme to us, it soon becomes clear there will be no time for fatigue.
As our travel guide informs us, ‘Captain James Cook discovered the fertile East coast in 1770 and claimed it for the crown under the name New South Wales.’ Initially a penal colony for the British Empire and later a magnet for immigrants, Australia brings together a colourful and varied mix of cultural influences. The buildings dating back to the Victorian age are undoubtedly the most prominent of them. We take the tram to Carlton. ‘Melbourne has the biggest tram network in the world,’ Franziska informs us. ‘The trams themselves are legendary. The City Circle service, with its historic trams, is particularly popular.’
We arrive in Little Italy. ‘What does the name Brunetti make you think of?’ asks George. We suspect a catch. ‘The inspector in Donna Leon’s novels who clears up murders in Venice?’ we answer tentatively. Our city guides laugh. ‘Well, from today on it’s going to stand for Italian sweets and chocolate at their very best,’ Franziska assures us.
Brunetti calls itself an authentic Roman confectionery. Rightly so! And George tells us that here we are in the birthplace of Melbourne’s coffee culture.
World Heritage Site in Melbourne
Our stroll takes us to the Royal Exhibition Building, a typical example of the international exhibition movement and today a World Heritage Site. When it was inaugurated, the building (in Victorian style, of course) was the largest in Australia. And to this day, the fabulous pavilion has remained a venue for exhibitions as well as cultural and community events.
A cityscape defined by Victorian architecture
‘Are we all up for more Victorian?’ asks George, grinning, and takes us along Victoria Street to Queen Victoria Market. ‘The citizens of Melbourne have been buying their vegetables, fruit, gourmet food, local and imported goods, clothes, cosmetics and souvenirs here since 1878,’ says our man in Melbourne knowingly. It’s amazing. So much industry, business, and life: and, yes, all slightly hectic. To get a break from it all, we take a seat in a café and try some freshly brewed filter coffee. ‘It’s a speciality,’ we are assured by a couple of lively baristas, who obligingly fool about for us in front of the camera.
‘How about something Victorian?’ laughs Franziska. It’s a question that could well become a bit of a running gag. Sure! Next stop is the State Library of Victoria. The magnificent edifice is Australia’s oldest public library and one of the world’s first. Inside, there is the breathtaking sight of a 35-metre-high, octagonal cupola. And, viewed from the gallery, the counter at the centre and the seemingly endless workspaces and tables radiating geometrically away from it are a fantastic sight to behold.
Venues promoting exclusive coffee culture
Visibly proud, George and Franziska next take us to our next, very unusual stop: The Beanery Coffee House is widely regarded as one of the most exclusive addresses of them all when it comes to coffee. It has committed itself entirely to promoting this mystical beverage and carries a selective range of fabulous coffee. The aroma that greets us behind the inviting glass frontage is intoxicating. George, towing the rest of us in his wake, makes a beeline for the JURA Corner. A quick word with the woman on the counter, a restorative espresso from the Z6, and we’re off again, still on our quest for more espresso.
From the distinctly modern, we take a step back to something more traditional. Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar opened back in 1954. Here, where Melbourne’s very first espresso machine was set to work, time seems to have stood still. The entire bar has been left in its original state, so a visit here is like taking a trip back into the past. Sisto, the owner, still works as a travel guide. He has worked here from the first day, filling the space with his typical, Italian joviality, and has established a cult following equal to that of Pellegrini’s itself.
The Royal Arcade, opened in 1870, is our introduction to the sophisticated art of traditional shopping. You could spend days here and never tire of the endless succession of surprises. We decide to take a break at the Hopetoun Tea Rooms, originally established for the Victorian Ladies’ Work Association, to digest our impressions and treat ourselves to a traditional cup of tea from the – you’ve guessed it – Victorian era.
Culinary heritage and culture
‘In the evenings, people form long queues here in the hope of getting a table at the Chin Chin,’ explains George. The reason being that the hip restaurant, which serves South East Asian specialities, does not take reservations. But now, at lunchtime, Fortune smiles on us. We soon find a table and tuck into a selection of delicious items from the vast choice of freshly made titbits. ‘What would you say is Australia’s best-known export?’ we ask inquisitively. ‘Music,’ answers George. ‘AC/DC!’ adds Franziska, more precisely. Needless to say, the band even has a street named after it here. After lunch, we take a stroll to AC/DC Lane, where George quotes the memorable words spoken by Mayor John Sos at the opening ceremony: ‘As the song says, there is a highway to hell, but this is a laneway to heaven. Let us rock!’
We now move on to Flinders Street Station, the oldest railway station in Australia. The afternoon sun bathes the yellow façade and green copper dome in glorious, golden light. ‘If you’re arriving by train or lose your way in the hustle and bustle of the city, this is the place to meet: underneath the clocks,’ explains Franziska. She found her way around the city right from the start. No one has ever had to pick her up from here, she says proudly.
Nowhere can you feel the pulse of a city more intensively than at its heart. In Melbourne’s case, this is probably Federation Square, a melting pot and piazza in the modern style known for its cultural happenings and the countless restaurants, bars and specialist retail stores running around its perimeter. ‘Time for a waffle,’ George decides and gives us an insider’s tip: the Waffle On. Authenticity is the keyword here. To guarantee it, the owner imports his sugar from Belgium and makes all the waffles fresh here at his store. The road that takes us to the Everest of waffle making is lined with street art. The plastered walls on both sides of the narrow thoroughfare known as Degraves Street are covered from top to bottom with colourful graffiti.
On the stages of Australia
Heading for Southbank, we cross the Yarra River and make our way towards the Arts Centre. You can’t possibly miss it because its tower rises like a gigantic needle over 160 metres into the sky and dominates Melbourne’s cityscape. Below it is Australia’s prime venue for world-class theatrical productions, concerts and exhibitions. In stark contrast to all this modernity, our next goal, the National Gallery of Victoria, is Australia’s oldest public museum. We can’t possibly resist going in to see the current exhibition, which juxtaposes the impressive work of two titans of the modern art scene: Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei.
Back outside, George’s eyes suddenly light up and he almost unconsciously steps up the pace as we move off in the direction of the Melbourne Recital Centre. If you like music, you simply have to love this place. From the baroque to the contemporary, from jazz to musicals and from chamber music to opera: culture lovers will find everything their hearts desire. Then we discover the reason for George’s excitement: many’s the time he has taken the stage here as a singer and enchanted his own audiences. Still ringing in our ears is the performance he gave at the last Global Sales Conference, where he treated us all to an unforgettable goosebump moment with his rendition of a song from Les Misérables.
From Queen Victoria to King Roger
Over dinner back at the hotel, we take in the awe-inspiring view that stretches into the distance before us. ‘So much for Queen Victoria,’ says George mischievously. ‘Tomorrow it’s time for you to go off in search of King Roger!’ ‘Exactly,’ concurs Franziska, ‘and one of the must-sees is the Rod Laver Arena, where he won the Australian Open four times!’ We nod in agreement, before heading off, exhausted, to our rooms, where we are soon overtaken by sleep.
Images: Jodie Hutchinson