I had a stint calling London home, and have recently moved to Ballarat, but Melbourne is my hometown. I've known its tram routes and laneways and cafes and gallery spaces. Browsed in its best bookshops, known its hidden shops and where to find the best Vietnamese and Italian food. I've watched its streetscapes and people change over time. I've waited at Flinders Street Station meeting friends and walked around Southbank countless times. I recall when Fed Square housed the brown box gas and fuel buildings, and the excitement of the city loop stations opening. I remember when Daimuru opened in Melbourne Central and I remember when it closed down, and the shopping centre was re-developed. I remember the expansion of the city when Crown and Jeff's shed opened, and later Docklands. I've seen the cityscape broaden and grow, and watched as the Eureka superseded the Rialto, and Spencer Street became Southern Cross. Stadiums have changed names, buildings have come and gone, shops have had opening and closing sales. I've worked in companies both at the Paris end of Collins Street and the business and law end. I spent four years at Melbourne Uni and knew every street name in Carlton. I spent nearly a year amid the microfilm and tomes of the State Library, researching for my Honours' thesis. I was married at the Windsor Hotel.
Sometimes it's not until you've been away from a place for a while that you realise how much you love it. I always loved Melbourne during my uni years and beyond, but when I moved to London it far exceeded Melbourne in every way - everything is more exciting, bigger, brighter, busier, with a far greater reach of history and status, and the world at your fingertips than Melbourne could ever achieve.
Last week I had a Melbourne mini-break, seeing my own city through fresh eyes and enjoying every element of it. I started with a beautiful lunch at the National Gallery. It's one of my favourite Melbourne places with its gilt mirrors adorning one wall and its tiered stands of afternoon tea delights. It was made all the more special because I was with my baby girl, and last year when I was there I was only just pregnant. I then wandered around the marvellous European Masters exhibition from the Stadel Gallery and saw amazing works by Sisley, Degas, Renoir, Rodin and Ernst. I appreciated it all the more as I knew I had limited time because my baby girl wasn't far off a change/feed/nap, so I couldn't spend the usual amount of time perusing paintings. I then wandered Melbourne's many laneways, appreciating street art and popping into shops I haven't been in for a while. Next stop was David Jones's newly refurbished store. When it was under renovation, the signs said it would be the world's most beautiful department store, a claim I felt was far-fetched, given places like Galeries Lafayette in Paris and Harrods in London. Nonetheless, the new store is elegant and airy and sophisticated and has some lovely labels. From there it was a trip to Ikea, which is always either hideous or wonderful depending on the crowds shuffling through, and this time it was quiet which enabled me to wander and browse without feeling the pressure of being herded through specified walkways.
The final stop, a few days later, was the Langham Hotel chocolate afternoon tea. An annual indulgence and treat, and much looked forward to. Two hours of chocolate indulgence from souffle to fondue to tarts and macaroons and cake. My husband and I left feeling full and ready for some fruit and veg. Even our baby girl who only has one tooth got a taste, sucking on strawberries.
So, once a year take yourself into your city. Leave the car and suburbs behind and tram it, train it, walk it, and give yourself a little indulgence discovering and appreciating the hidden gems of your hometown.