Adventure in Melbourne, Australia
My last time in Australia was 10 years ago. I spent 30 hot and sleep-deprived days in a military training area and four glorious days in Sydney. Throughout the years, I always felt the need to return to this vast, magical place. Lucky for me, I was sent on a work assignment to Melbourne. Given I had a long road ahead of me, I took the opportunity to take some days off and experience a small fraction of what this continent has to offer. Getting to Australia from Washington, DC, is a long journey, but it only takes a short time to acknowledge the trek is worth it.
During my adventure Down Under I spent a week working during the day and indulging in the amazing culinary life of Melbourne on my time off. Upon our arrival, we headed to the Prahran neighborhood for brunch. As we walked through Chapel Street we found it difficult to choose where to eat; the choices in this modern neighborhood range from Russian to Basque.
My Dutchman and I have both been suffering a sunshine deficit in our respective countries, so when we saw the corner outdoor seating area at Tusk we were sold. After enjoying a delicious dish of cornbread, egg, and guacamole, we walked around the vintage shops, art galleries, and bars with some old neighborhood stores intertwined. If Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and The Mission in San Francisco had a hip baby, Prahran would be it.
We finished our stroll at Babble Café, where we sipped on Australian wine, people watched, and took advantage of the free Wi-Fi. (Many establishments in Melbourne do not have Wi-Fi).
Another treat of traveling to Australia for those of us in Northern Europe and the Mid-Atlantic is the sunshine. The last few days before my departure, the days in DC were wet and gloomy. What better way to cure the winter blues than to go to the beach? St. Kilda Beach was relatively close to the hotel, so we enjoyed a Sunday with ciders on the pier and even caught a fast glimpse of a little penguin.
Later during the week, we went on a run along the pier; the boardwalk offers a nice, flat course that is very runner friendly. It is nice to be traveling in the early fall in Melbourne; the beach is not invaded by crowds, and it is still warm enough to take in the sunshine but cool enough to go on a nice run.
A trip to Melbourne is not complete without a trip down the laneways. Laneways are tiny alleys in the city center that are lined with shops, cafés, and restaurants. We took a break from exploring at the Brown Sugar Café, where we shared a delicious bottle of Tasmanian Pinot Noir and witnessed a merge of personalities: the tourists, the businessmen having an after work drink, and young girls hanging out after school.
Aside from the sunshine and the beach, two of my main takeaways from my week in Melbourne were the food and the hospitality. As the director of my conference pointed out, Melbourne is a very culturally diverse city, with 30 percent of its citizens being either foreign born or second generation. It reflects on the food we sampled throughout our stay, from the Malaysian laksa soup to the Italian gnocchi with duck ragu.
We got a taste of local delicacies at Cumulus Inc., a popular spot in the city center. This ample dining space gives you the opportunity to see the chefs in action and take in the liveliness of the crowd. From the grilled octopus to the newly sliced charcuterie, we felt the freshness in every bite. We had the same feeling at Balancea (which recently re-opened as Hunter’s Kitchen & Bar), an Italian restaurant in South Yarra. On a rainy night, we indulged on Prosecco, local oysters, and fresh pasta.
Overall, the best part of the trip was the service. Although expensive at times, we felt we had superb service in all the things we experienced in Melbourne. I must find a way to go there again.