Nearly every day since I started working in the city I have gone for a walk. Sometimes I needed to catch up with a friend, sometimes I needed to unwind from my desk job, and sometimes I just felt the urge to explore.
Inevitably though I found that most of my walks lead me to related destinations, and that I was always drawn to Melbourne’s pockets of Hellenism.
Let’s go for a walk
Our day begins across the road from the Queen Victoria Market, at Lukumades, on Peel Street. Here we pick up a Greek coffee and a Freddo Espresso to power us through our day. Lukumades is a Greek Australian food chain which began in Melbourne, as a food truck in 2016, and has grown to over 15 stores in four countries. It’s busy in the evenings full of young people.
We’ve come at a quieter time. Greek stalls and delis at the Queen Victoria Market operate on certain days, it might be worth coming back to grab some Greek food at the night market, but the stalls are popular, the lines are long and we have other options planned for today.
Once caffeinated we walk south down Peel Street onto William Street until we reach the Former Royal Melbourne Mint. The building is over 150 years old and is home to a few Greek cultural institutions, including the Greek Media Group, the Hellenic Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Hellenic Museum. The Hellenic Museum was founded in 2007 and remains Australia’s only dedicated museum of Hellenic culture. We are greeted here by the imposing ‘Memento Mori’ public art displays which cheerfully remind us of our own mortality. Inside, the Museum presents us with many Hellenic treasures via its exhibitions including ‘Gods, Myths and Mortals’. We spend some time at the museum looking over Byzantine artwork but we aren’t able to join the Museum’s philosophical discussion group today, they run on Saturdays.
From here we wander two blocks east down La Trobe Street and turn right down Elizabeth Street to find Ithaca House, the home of the Ithacan Philanthropic Society. The club represents some of Melbourne’s earliest Greek migrants from the Island of Ithaca and has over 100 years of history. Most weeks we have the chance to pop in on one of the society’s events, including lectures for members, coffee days for seniors and film nights. From the footpath the only clue of Ithaca House is a single entry doorway, and it’s closed today. We make a move to our next destination, which is not as inconspicuous.
We travel south down Elizabeth Street and turn left at Lonsdale Street, walking two blocks east until we find the Greek Quarter of the Melbourne CBD. We’re welcomed by a statue of Άγιος Δημήτριος which commemorates the official sister city relationship between Melbourne and Thessaloniki. We continue our walk down the precinct which is adorned with the Greek key in its footpaths, signage, shelters and imposing light installation. The Greek Quarter was once the epicentre of Melbourne’s thriving post-war Greek culture and although its Greek footprint has diminished over time, it is still evident in its sights and sounds.
Greek music is the soundtrack of this neighbourhood. It thunders through the city at the annual Antipodes Festival and we can dance to it at the Greek Centre’s frequent events. At the very least, we will be able to hear it when we pass through the Caras music store to buy a σοκοφρετα or two.
It’s time for lunch now we find ourselves in a good spot to eat. We can grab a nice sit-down meal at Tsindos or if our legs aren’t too tired we can wait in line at Stalactites and grab a souvlaki. Of course, we need to follow lunch with something special. What about a sweet from at International Cakes, or even an ouzo at Fable, Melbourne’s highest rooftop bar? It’s easy to lose time up here, with a stunning view of the city on top of the Greek Centre. As the sun sets, the Greek Precinct street lights turn on and the street below us glows blue and white.
We travel south down Russell Street and turn right at Bourke Street, walking east until we reach Kafeneion for dinner. Kafeneion is the latest Greek restaurant to make a splash in the Melbourne restaurant scene, offering mastika cocktails and magiritsa to Melbourne’s nocturnal foodies. It’s a good spot for us to enjoy nourishing village favourites amongst young professionals. Greek in the Paris End. Although the restaurant is just a pop-up operation and scheduled to close in September, I hope the owners can find a new location to suit our future Greek walks through the city.
We leave our youngest destination for our oldest one by continuing east down Bourke Street, turning left at Spring Street and heading north to Victoria Parade. From here we walk east down Victoria Parade until we find Evagelismos, Melbourne’s oldest Greek Church. Most inner-city Greeks may have migrated out to the suburbs but Evagelismos remains open, in the shadows of Melbourne’s skyscrapers. It is a nice quiet place to light a candle, and pray that we don’t have to walk anymore to get home.
The Melbourne CBD may not be as vibrant as the concentrated Greek enclaves of generations past, but Hellenism is present in our city and it is alive. There are places to grab a Greek Coffee, shop for Greek products and enjoy Greek culture every day, and every day that’s what many people do.
*More by Emmanuel Heretakis via ehhere.com