Melbourne: City with Soul

I have lost count of the times people have told me I would love Melbourne. They were right of course, it’s a gorgeous city and, after 3 days of wandering her streets, I love her very much. The locals are friendly and laid-back, the food is incredible, the architecture is eclectic and the cafés, bars, restaurants and shops are cool without being pretentious. But, most all, it’s the ease that descends in her presence, that truly endears one to her.

Infinitely increasing the glory of Melbourne was the fact that I was there with my beautiful Lauren and her equally beautiful friend, Alethea. For as long as I have known Lauren, I have heard about Alethea, and it’s not for nothing that in that 14 years she has taken on mythic proportions – she is a thoroughly gorgeous woman. Meeting her was definitely a highlight of my trip; she’s funny and outgoing, and has a warm, generous spirit that bathes you in light when you’re with her. It’s no surprise that her and I got on like a house on fire, as Lauren has excellent taste in women.

The Girls! (Alethea, me and Lauren)

Lauren is also a superb organizer; and for our Melbourne trip she did not disappoint. She found us an amazing apartment, through Airbnb, in the heart of Chinatown. The couple who owned the apartment were lovely, and gave us lots of tips on where to eat etc., and left personal touches, like chocolates on our pillows and a bottle of champagne to help us celebrate Lauren’s birthday. Despite the sun hardly being over the yardarm, we thought it was only good manners to partake of said champagne then and there; plus, it gave Lauren and Alethea a chance to catch up and for me and Alethea to get to know each other – which took all of two minutes, as it felt like we’d known each other forever. Oh, and for any Kiwis reading this, Alethea – who’d travelled from New Zealand – bought with her some Rashuns and Chocolate Macaroons, so it was a proper party.

Toasting Lauren’s coming of age!

After acquiring a fizzy glow and licking the Rashun dust off our fingers, we headed out into the beautiful summer’s day Melbourne had laid on for us. Now, while Lauren excels at oragnisation and the picking friends, she excels not so much at directions; Alethea is about on par with Lauren; and me, well, I couldn’t find my way out of a one exit tunnel. As such, it took us some time to find our way to the nearest tram stop, which, it turned out, was just around the corner.

When Google Maps got us lost, we had to go old school.

We got there eventually and took a tram to the bohemian paradise of Chapel Street – the King Street of Melbourne, though way cooler. I wandered around like a tourist, my eyes popping out of my head with the wonder of it all. There were shops selling remarkable things, much of it second-hand and eccentric; cafés and bars with footpath seating reeked of originality and understated artistic expression; and chilled and friendly folk milled about with no hint of aggression. Indeed, everyone was so chilled, one couldn’t help but wonder if Valium had made its way into the water supply

One of many magnificent shops on Chapel Street.

After strolling up and down the street, wandering in and out of shops, we made our way to Hawkerhall, a restaurant that had been recommended to us by Alethea’s husband. There we met up with Aletha’s friend Ruwai, who is just gorgeous. Also a Kiwi, Ruwai and Alethea hadn’t seen each other for eons, so it was great to be part of their reunion. I also had a reunion of my own, with the utterly adorable Anne-Laure, whom I’d worked with in the art supply store with Kat and Anna back in my Sydney days. It was great to see her again after 7 years and catch up on all that had happened in both our lives since then.

The gorgeous Anne-Laure and me.

After a good night’s sleep (good because we went to bed early like the nanas we now are), we set off mid-morning in search of adventure. Adventure soon found us, when we happened upon a beautiful Synagogue, home of the East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation. There were some gentlemen standing outside and, with Purim afoot that evening, we stopped and asked if they had any festivities planned; they didn’t as such, though they told us of some elsewhere in the city, adding that the morning’s Shabbat Service was about to begin and we were welcome to attend. We accepted their kind offer and made our way upstairs to the women’s section – being that it was an orthodox synagogue – which allowed us a superlative view of all the goings on in the men’s section below. Lauren and Alethea decided not to stay for the whole service and we arranged to meet up when it was finished. As for myself, I was enthralled; I have only ever attended reform services before, so I found it fascinating to be part of a more traditional one. I had the good fortune to sit next to a very kind and gracious woman called, Margot, who guided me through what to do when. The service included a blessing for a groom, which was beautiful, and after Kiddush (the ritual blessing and drinking of wine, which, in East Melbourne, included whisky – much to my delight) there was a luncheon in the bride and groom’s honour. The food was amazing and included the most delicious chocolate layered thingy I have ever eaten.

The Beautiful East Melbourne Synagogue

Feeling spiritually and choclatically sated, I met up with Lauren and Alethea, and we made our way, on foot, to the Rose Street Artists’ Market in Fitzroy. We saw some wonderful buildings along the way, which looked resplendent in the shining sun. The Market, though small, was excellent; Melbourne has some seriously talented creatives. We didn’t stay too long looking at all the wares, as much of the market was in a tin shed that was stinking hot; so, we ate the apples Lauren had brought with her (like the excellent mum she is) and we wandered back to our apartment in Chinatown, to freshen up before embarking on our afternoon and evening events.

Rose Street Artists’ Market

The main event was meeting up with Alethea’s old friend Nathan and his friend Matt (it may be that Alethea also knew Matt, or maybe not; either way, that’s who we met). Our initial meeting took place at a rooftop bar called Madame Brussel’s. It’s impossible to describe just how amazing the bars in Melbourne are, I have never seen places like them; it seems even alcohol vendors in the city of soul are creative geniuses. Madame Brussel’s was no exception; I thoroughly enjoyed being in such unique surrounds.

Alethea and Lauren enjoying the sun at Madame Brussel’s

Next, the 5 of us went to a dumpling restaurant, called Hutong, for which we’d received two separate recommendations within 20 mins of each other. Its reputation was well-founded and clearly well-known, as it was very busy. Everyone enjoyed their meal; everyone, that is, except me. It can be tricky being a vegetarian when you don’t really like vegetables, especially of the cooked variety, which is what restaurants tend do to them. Even so, I enjoyed being there, as the company was excellent.

Hutong Dumpling Bar

After everyone had finished eating, and I had ceased moving spinach dumplings around my plate, we went to Section 8, an outside bar and music venue favoured by New Zealanders. It was easy to why; it was laidback and grungy and a little bit dirty, just the way we like it. Instead of chairs and tables it had warehouse crates and oil drums, the roof was made of corrugated plastic, the front wall was a wire fence, the bar was a hut and the music was awesome, which, in keeping with the venue, was dirty and deep. We only stayed for one drink, as the music was too loud for conversation and we are old now and prefer genial conversation to shouting inane comments to each other while bobbing our heads and checking out the talent.

Section 8

Next stop was The Toff in Town, a bar come music venue come movie theatre spread over 3 floors. We went to a section which had these booths that were reminiscent of first-class train carriages. It was the perfect place for us, for, even though the music was loud, we were cocooned in our little booth, so we could still hear each other talk. Plus, there was a buzzer inside the booth that you just had to push to summon the waiter. On offer was an extensive and imaginative range of cocktails, which everyone partook of; everyone, that is, except me; not because they had vegetables in them, but because I was due to embark on a 23 hour flight the next day (which I happen to be on as I write).

A Toff in Town booth

In preparation for my long haul, I decided not go with the others to the next establishment, so they walked me back to the apartment (in case I got lost, which, if left to my own devices, I most assuredly would’ve have), before heading off to…actually, I have no idea where they went. For myself, I tucked myself up in bed with a bowl of Rashuns, two Macaroons and my book – which, while fascinating, is not what you’d call a ‘holiday read’, being that it is dark and rather depressing.

The next morning, I woke up feeling sick; not, as might think, from the Rashuns and Macaroons, but because in a few hours I knew I’d have to say goodbye to Lauren. We all had afternoon flights – Lauren to Sydney, Alethea to New Zealand, and me, the Isle of Man – so we decided to go out for breakfast and then have a little wander around the shops in the city Centre. We went to a gorgeous café called Magic Mountain Saloon, which Lauren and Alethea had found the day before when I was at the Synagogue. The menu was a bit too vegetably for me, but I did have the loveliest lime and mint drink.

Me and my beautiful Lauren in Magic Mountain Saloon.

After our wee shop, we caught a tram to the bus station and, as my flight was a couple of hours before the others, I said goodbye to Lauren and Alethea, with big fat tears rolling down my cheeks. I should probably point out that I didn’t intend to catch my flight from the bus station (I’m not that disorientated); rather, I was there to catch a SkyBus to the airport. Now I am sitting here, way up in the sky, marveling at what has been an incredible holiday. In the last 3 weeks, my heart and soul have expanded a hundredfold. I feel reconnected to something essential in myself and to the beautiful friends I made in Australia, before I fled, brokenhearted, to the gentle mist-covered island in the middle of the Irish Sea that I have called home for the last 7 years. A cycle is complete, of that I am sure; which can only mean, a new one is in the throes of beginning.


Postscript:

In the throes of a new beginning I may be, but it seems some things are set to stay the same. Yes, a mere few hours into my new life, I had yet another shoe debacle. This time it involved my chosen airplane footwear, my jandals (aka flipflops). I have been wearing my jandals since my King Street blister incident; and it’s been all well and good, except I spilt my orange juice on my first flight and didn’t discover until I was ready to disembark, that I had spilt it all over my jandals; as such, I spent my two-hour transit in Abu Dhabi airport with my jandals stuck to my feet. I did think of giving them a wash in the bathroom, but thought that might be a bit uncouth; not only in a general sense, but also, specifically, as I subscribe to my Uncle Ian’s philosophy on jandals, that they are not just for a summer, they are for life. In which case, if the central toehold pops out, you certainly don’t consider throwing them away, you simply bend down and pop it back in; and when they are minging and the heels have worn away, you continue to wear them, remaining loyal to your jandals until the there is literally nothing left of them. My jandals are about midway through their lifespan and, it has to be said, they have seen better days, and are certainly not fit to be waved around in a fancy Abu Dhabi bathroom. As such, I had to wait until I boarded my flight to Dublin, to give them a sneaky clean in the privacy of an Etihad lav.

As my uncle would say: There’s years of wear left!

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