In May I spent a fabulous few days in Melbourne with my mother, celebrating her 60th birthday. We’d both wanted to go for a long time (she had only been once, when she was 15; I’d never been), and this was the perfect opportunity. I was not a bit surprised to find that I was completely won over by it.
We got off to a good start with our accommodation, staying in a cosy apartment in a 60s-era block in South Yarra, which is out of the central city but close enough to get around easily. It’s a very leafy (and seemingly rather well-heeled) area, and offered the type of autumnal splendour that is sadly lacking in Wellington. Wellington is basically green all year round, which is splendid in its own way, but to my mind nothing beats autumnal colour.
Having only been to Queensland and NSW on previous Australian trips, I was not quite prepared for it to be so cold. During our entire trip it was colder than it had been in Wellington. But I’ll take a bit of chill any day over the sticky, sweltering heat of Brisbane.
On our first day, we headed to Queen Victoria Market, a huge open-air market selling clothes, bags, crafts, souvenirs, fresh produce and really any kind of food you can think of. The food hall is fantastic, full of wonderful cheeses, deli foods, breads and other baked goods – a wide array of international cuisines are represented.
We walked off lunch (spinach and cheese borek – delicious, could happily have had seconds) with a visit to the State Library, which is a huge, magnificent building. It was a brief visit, but we went up to the viewing gallery on the top floor, where you can fully appreciate the stunning neoclassical architecture. I mean, just look at it:
Grand old libraries are one of my favourite things, and it pains my heart that I’ve never had the opportunity to make one my local.
Next up was Federation Square, a creative and cultural hub near the river that features a number of museums (which, sadly, I did not have time to check out – they’re on the list for my next visit). It’s a terrific and lively public space and a great spot for people watching.
The real highlight of the first day was our walk around the laneways, which are filled with street art, shops, cafes and bars. I particularly loved Hosier Lane, where every single inch of wall is covered in street art. I loved the impermanence of it – the works I saw that day would inevitably have been entirely replaced by new pieces within a few days.
We ended our day with dinner in The Quarter on Degraves Street. The food was great and it was a mercifully warm respite from the cold.
The next day was Mother’s Day, and it was a day of so much walking. It was also the coldest day of our trip, so perhaps not the best for all the walking, but there you go. We caught a tram to the nearby Botanic Gardens, which are gorgeous. They are, however, immense, so we only saw a fraction of the sights.
We stopped at the Shrine of Remembrance, a memorial to those in Victoria who served in World War I. It’s a striking and respectful space.
We finally made our way into the city and headed to Central Place for a pancake lunch.
We ventured to the big shopping malls in the city centre for a bit of retail therapy, but we both found that we lacked the energy for a shopping spree. To be honest, I’m crap at shopping. I get tired and bored by it easily, and then I just want to escape. Unless I know exactly what I want, I’m a lost cause. Despite an abundance of fantastic choice, I came away from my holiday with a grand total of two clothing items. Hey ho.
Some desperately needed tea and citrus cake in Block Arcade was the perfect end to a long and tiring day. By the time we made it back on the tram to the apartment, we were completely done with the day, and instead of dining out, settled for tea and toast and an early night. I’m nothing if not rock n roll.
Our final day was Mum’s birthday, and we saved the best until last. The National Gallery of Victoria was high on our must-see list, and as luck would have it, a new exhibition, Van Gogh and the Seasons, had recently opened. Van Gogh is one of my favourite painters, and I never pass up an opportunity to see his work. My Mum is also a fan, so this was great timing.
The NGV itself is a remarkable building, and I loved the Waterwall at the entrance and the beautiful stained glass ceiling in the Grand Hall. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore (you could easily spend a whole day here) beyond the exhibition, but I’ll definitely be returning.
The exhibition explores Van Gogh’s deep affinity with and depictions of nature, with paintings grouped by season. I was particularly drawn to the Autumn and Winter works, perhaps because, like Vincent, Autumn is my favourite season. It’s a tremendous exhibition filled with memorable pieces. It is also very popular – we queued for about half an hour just to buy our tickets.
We spent a happy couple of hours exploring the exhibition before heading back into the city to catch a tram to Fitzroy. We had lunch in a small cafe and took a wander around the neighbourhood, though I suspect we barely scratched the surface. Fitzroy is a creative area full of boutiques, galleries, cafes and bars, and there’s plenty of street art too. I loved it, and want to check it out in more depth on a repeat visit (I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but really, three days wasn’t enough!). Also, I met a sweet, gorgeous dog called Bobo in a small gallery on Gertrude Street, and she made my afternoon, because dogs are the best. Fact.
Our day ended with a low-key but lovely dinner in a restaurant on Chapel Street in South Yarra, and then an early night because we had an early flight and a stupendously early shuttle pick up the next morning.
I loved everything about Melbourne, and it was special to share the experience with my Mum. I’m used to solo travel, so this was really different for me, but it was great fun. We both agreed that we could happily live in Melbourne, if we could afford it…
People often say that Melbourne is like Wellington, only bigger, but to me it seemed much more like London, only smaller. It’s diverse, vibrant and creative, and I felt drawn to it in a similar way to London. In contrast to London, however, it has a much more laid-back energy, and that is a most welcome vibe.
I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but I am super keen for a return visit, because there is so much we didn’t have time to see or do. See you next time, Melbourne.