While there is a certain relaxation that is made possible with guided tours - food, accommodation, famous attractions included - my painstakingly detailed, home-made itineraries are probably testament to my preference for a more 'local' touch when travelling.
And there are few things more 'local' than visiting markets - there's an organic feel about walking through them, instead of the certain 'sit up straight and best face forward' feel of iconic attractions, and it's a great way to pick up the vibe of a city (Beijing's 秀水街, for example, is a lesson in people skills and high energy bargaining).
Of course, when you're travelling interstate, fluent in the language and might as well be in a slightly less familiar suburb, there is no excuse not to visit as many markets as possible. Especially in Melbourne, where shopping of all variety is widely lauded. Some of my favourites below.
Rose St Artist's Market (Fitzroy)
Melbourne is chock-a-block full of designers and Rose St Artist's Market is a quaint space carved out of Fitzroy's suburban strip where you can pick up some lovely pieces of art - many of them made by locals. I was particularly drawn to the adorable miniature cacti and succulents, kept live in little glass jars and necklaces and as magnets no bigger than a 50c coin. They seriously look like plants for dolls.
The price point is fairly high but if you do have the means, support local artists and designers and get something rather unique for yourself.
Camberwell Sunday Markets are, hands down, the place to go for bargains of the second-hand variety. It's the place to get onto your knees and dig for gems in those boxes of clothes, makeup, books, shoes, antiques, toys and trinkets.
In the face of heavy-handed mass production of cheap, generic clothes and the speed of fashion turnovers, the revival of a 'recycling' culture for a fraction of the price (to appeal to that culturally inherited love for a bargain) is great. One man's trash and all that.
I really don't know if there's a similar one of such scale in Sydney - and I need to know where, if there is.
It's especially good for young women because a huge number of stall owners were of that demographic and literally selling extras from their wardrobe, often close to brand new in quality. I spotted (among others) a lady selling entire racks of designer labels - Valentino to Chanel - and a gorgeous Saxony leather jacket that was a bit too thick for me to justify a $100 investment in.
Personally, the adrenaline rush of the hunt - getting a barely-worn, branded jacket for $15 down from $150, for example - was enough to carry me through the increasingly sweltering 39C temperatures, made worse by my camera (not a good idea) and the failure to bring a water bottle (also not a good idea).
The place is definitely overwhelming in the sheer amount of stuff to browse through and there's very little signage so it's very easy to forget where you saw that really nice dress (or that you saw a nice dress at all!). I found I could generally find places I visited though...but there's no guarantee the item will still be there when you come back. Think fast and snap it up if you're feeling the vibe.
And, of course, there's the Queen Victoria Market, which was a pseudo-Paddy's Markets combined with Flemington Markets here in Sydney.
The merchandise section was not my cup of tea, as an Australian resident already - it's definitely more of a tourist highlight (fashion-wise, think Aussie flag themed everythings and toy kangaroo and koala invasions). We ventured more in the area that was selling fresh produce and bought some delicious pesto and smoked salmon for lunch (as part of my 'intro to antipasto' course).
We also met a lovely man called John while eating lunch at his table, who recommended us the restaurant that is to be the subject of another blog post coming soon. I'll reserve the story for then.
"Snap a photo for us!"
Father and son duo selling organic, hand-made goat's milk soap specifically for people with eczema and sensitive skin. The soap was very gentle and soothing to wash with, though it disappeared surprisingly quickly.
We also popped into a large pet shop close to the Vic Markets and while I would not buy a pet from a pet shop, there were some gorgeous looking animals inside with workers who genuinely seemed to love and care for them.
Photos through at Images from Nowhere - click the link below (I should really work on getting this site coded so you don't need to jump to another blog to view more photos... pet project for the Winter semester break, perhaps?)