A capital weekend

Only an hour’s flying time from home, yet I can fancy I’m in another country. This pleasurable feeling is a distinctive delight of spending a weekend in Melbourne, a city that’s geographically close to Sydney yet feels so distant, so utterly distinct in atmosphere and culture.

Walking in the Victorian capital is so unlike being on foot around my home town that, if it were not for the language and familiar vocal twang heard on the street, I might pretend I’ve touched down somewhere in Europe. This sense of “pleasant dislocation” provides an underlying thrill throughout our two-day breakaway.

I think it results from the combination of an acute local fashion sense quite unlike what I see in Sydney, together with the popular, casual lane-way dining, wonderful arcade shopping and, of course, the Melbourne trams. These are some of the elements imparting a European feel to life on the streets.

One initial pleasure is the efficient Skybus service from Tullamarine to Southern Cross station with connecting shuttle service to our hotel. Such seamless transport is wishful thinking in Sydney. And Melbourne – just like London and many European cities – also has an easy top-up transport card.

Another pleasure is exploring Fitzroy, now ranked among locals as one of the city’s most lively neighbourhoods with its all important fashion credentials honed by edgy outlets such as Bruce, E.S.S, Nu Couché, The Signet Bureau, Sadotna, NOM*d and Dagmar Rousset.

Fitzroy’s urban vivacity is best illustrated by the forever-feverish-at-weekends De Clieu cafe, for wine lovers by the Gertrude Street EnoTeca, for food lovers by fine dining at Casa Cuccio, Cutler & Co or Moon Under Water at the Builders Arms Hotel, while its artistic cred is shaped by the likes of the Dianne Tanzer Gallery.

Add on the multiple attractions found on nearby Brunswick and Smith streets and you have a dynamic precinct set on generating maximum buzz.

A weekend away is the perfect opportunity to take in something special. Our choice was The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia currently being staged at the Melbourne Museum in collaboration with the British Museum.

Who knew that the concept of the hour is based on ancient Babylonian measurements? So are the signs of the Zodiac. I’m happy to say that I learn something new every day.

Saturday night saw us return to favored haunts. Dinner at Movida in Hoosier Lane was as expected: forever good, the tapas forever tasty, the wine choice terrific and altogether great fun. We could have been in Spain! I can’t wait for Frank Comorra to open up a branch in Sydney which, I am told, will occur this October in Holt Street, Surry Hills.

Sunday being perfect weather for outdoor walking – bright yet with a chill on the breeze – we chose to stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens where green lawns lay dappled in soft sunlight.

Such was the gentle weather and the atmosphere in the tearooms – children sucking ice cream cones, adults devouring scones, jam and cream – it brought to mind similar afternoon pleasures at Kenwood House on London’s Hampstead Heath.

My sense of pleasant geographical dislocation – one minute being reminded of green and pleasant England and the next of some Italian, Spanish or Greek city – stayed with me until the moment I stepped aboard an ancient Qantas 737 to head home.

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