The middle of January in Chicago is a challenging time for any human being. It’s the month of dark days, cold-cold-cold and slushy streets (that sneakily freeze overnight so when you walk on them, you fall over and hurt your arse sumthin’ awful). But, I’ve decided that January is going to be my month of redemption. I’ve received official confirmation that yes, Obama will allow me to work in his country, so the job-hunt is on. This comes as an unbelievable relief, for after months and months of inertia, I am finally allowed to get back into the real world, and become a functioning member of society again.
In the midst of all this employment-excavation, I’m regularly transported back to my home city, where I remember the parts of working I loved most, the parts that urked me, but most of all, the way weekends were two sacred days of unfettered freedom and metaphorical (well, sometimes literal) pant-unbuttoning.
Andrew and I spent the past Saturday night on the couch, watching the Bulls destroy the 76’ers, eating pretzels and drinking amaretto sours. During the always-horrendous half-time ‘entertainment’, Andrew asked me an interesting question: if you had 24 hours back in Melbourne, one weekend day, what would you do? He inserted a caveat too—travel time to and from the airport is not included.
This I needed to ponder, but Andrew knew his answer straight off the bat. And it was weird.
He said “a Carlton Draft”.
Not, “I’d drink a Carlton Draft” or “I’d catch up with the boys for some laughs and I’d have a Carlton Draft”.
Just “a Carlton Draft”.
For those of you not familiar with this, it’s a beer. Not a fancy beer or a rare beer. A cheap-as-chips, All-Australian sudsy swill that evidently resounds fondly with an expat.
All he wants, apparently, is a day of Carlton Draft. Classy man, my husband.
Not being one to do things by halves, I told him I’d have to think about my answer in some detail, and then I’d blog about it.
So, if I had one full day in Melbourne, this is what I’d do:
Firstly, we have to agree on the weather—this is an ideal day after all. It’s a balmy 32 degrees (90 for all your Farenheiters), zero humidity, just sun and blue skies. My day (as most things in my life are) will be dictated by food locations, so let’s begin with the most important meal; breakfast.
In a city with more amazing breakfast places than virgins, this was a hard choice. But, when it comes to perfection, sometimes simplicity and ease is key. Let’s begin.
I’d start out at Depot de pain, a little cafe in Rathdowne st, Carlton (the suburb, not the beer). It’s all whitewashed walls, bentwood chairs, complete with a glossy black wrought-iron staircase spiraling down to the cellar. Top five reasons for my choice?
1. Excellent, excellent coffee.
2. Lovely staff with French accents.
3. Perfectly poached eggs.
4. Even better French toast.
5. A cabinet full of pastries to take away.
I’d eat 2 poached eggs on properly-buttered sourdough toast, with a Christ-load of salt n’ pepper. I’d have a skinny cappuccino, then water, then another skinny cap. I’d get an almond croissant to take away, and flirt with the waiter when paying whilst Andrew rolls his eyes behind me (I know you do that, I have a sixth sense when it comes to personal mockery, oh husband of mine).
At this point, we get back into our car, and, being on the north side of town, we make a little stop to the ubiquitous Melbourne Zoo. I couldn’t come back to my home city without a peek inside here.
You know that smell of cut grass, eucalyptus, sprinklers and well, happiness? That is what the Melbourne Zoo is like (with a soupcon of Elephant dung drizzled over…) Since this is a quick visit, I’d march past the giraffes and stupid zebras and head straight down to the Elephants, the Orang-utans and Gorillas, finishing with the seals (because they always smile at you through the glass). Andrew would have found a bench by now, and some vendor has sold him a Solo and a packet of popcorn, so he’s happy, and so am I.
But, the weekend is fleeting, and our 24 hours can’t be spent sheerly with animals and children who’s faces are covered with multi-coloured ice-cream. So, we move on.
Having walked around for a good 2 hours, it’s time for some more eatin’. And it’s almost a crime to be in the vicinity of Laksa King without stopping by for a bowl of their delicious, hip-wideningly creamy broth. A bowl of vegetarian Laksa (hold the tofu), accompanied by roti and peanut sauce, with some prawn and pork rice paper rolls on the side, and I am officially filled up to the gullet.
I can hear my lunch sloshing around inside of me like the beginning cycle of a car wash, so we should probably take a break from the eating, and stretch our legs for a bit. We drive across the city to South Yarra, and walk a quick lap of the Botanical Gardens (or, as Melburnians refer to it, the ‘tan’). And, since it’s oh-so-coincidentally across the road from The Botanical, we stop in for a drink. Having warned our family and friends that we’re coming, everyone is out the back, enjoying the sunshine with glasses of prosecco (obviously, Andrew is having his Carlton Draft). It’s a lazy-but-lovely way to spend three hours, chatting and laughing with those we love most, toasting the warm summer day and reminding ourselves of how lucky we are to live such a life. Rose-colored glasses are not needed here—reality is better than any illusion I can muster.
But, our day grows older, and we still have a few stops to go before heading back to the coldness of North America.
There is no way that we could come back home and not swim in the ocean. In Chicago, we live right on the lake—there is a swimmable ‘beach’ a 2 minute walk from our apartment that comes complete with a beach bar, a life guard and an ice cream stand. But, being a lake, it’s freshwater. It’s browny-greeny-grey, without any real waves. For someone that didn’t know any better, it’s a great summer option. But for a girl who’s grown up with the Australian coastline always tucked around the corner, it’s simply a sad imposter. In Melbourne, our two beach standards lie an hour and a half along the Mornington Peninsula to Sorrento or an hour and a half along the Bellarine Peninsula to Ocean Grove. We opt for the second location—it has a spectacular surf beach, zero poseur factor (important for pasty people who haven’t quite got their bikini bodies under control yet), and seriously excellent fish and chips (an après-beach staple).
Since it’s still hot when we arrive, and the sun shows no sign of setting, we run into the water and swim, catching waves and body surfing up and down the sand banks until our arms burn.
We rinse off the salt water under the public showers just up the cliff, and it’s time for arguably the most satisfying meal of the day.
- 2 piece flake (one grilled, one fried)
- medium serve of chips with chicken salt
- 4 potato cakes
- 4 dim sims (2 steamed with soy, 2 fried)
- 2 cans of Passiona (it’s an Australian summer, who am I to argue against a classic?)
We walk back down to the beach, sit on an old tartan blanket and feel the warm sand beneath our salty-bathered-bums.
And we sit here until the sun goes down.
The day has departed, but we are determined to make the most of the last 11 hours we have in Melbourne. We drive back to the city—my hair looks AMAZING from the salty water (in reality, I look like young Einstein, but this is my ideal day, so shhhh), we are tanned and relaxed and ready to embrace the night.
We walk up the stairs of the Melbourne supper club to Siglo, my favourite rooftop bar in the entire city*. All of our favourite people are here to bask in the mild evening air—and being a cigar bar, the waiters are darting in and out of our crowd, igniting those spicy rolled tobacco cylinders with gas-jet lighters. And we stay here until the hours wane into absolute darkness, with only tiny candles on the white-topped tables to light the faces of those we love most as we roar with tipsy laughter.
Only a few hours left, and in the hazy morning light of Melbourne there are still places ready to welcome the few who choose not to sleep. We buy some take-away drinks from the Exford, and go to sit in Treasury gardens, waiting, watching and talking as the sun makes its full arrival for the day.
Our last stop to round out a perfect day. We head to Cumulus Inc. for coffee, madeleines and a smoked trout bagel.
And then we go home.
Until next time Melbourne, until next time.
*Up until a few days ago, I wouldn’t have chosen this location first—that honour would have gone to the Stokehouse, the place we got married, the place I have spent many nights drinking cocktails and watching the sun set, but it sadly burnt down four days ago. However, by the time we actually return home for good, I have every faith she will be rebuilt, and ready for a welcome-home night of laughter and mojitos.