Today I’m thrilled and honored to be sharing a post by one of my closest online friends. Rachel and I actually “met” over at Mothertalkers, my favorite online community and home to many amazing women. She is the one who suggested that I start a blog in the first place and it is in no small part to her encouragement and support that The Mother of All Trips has come as far as it has. She is also a fantastic writer who has lived and traveled all over the world, most recently in Melbourne, a place I would love to visit – especially if she could be my tour guide!
This post talks about the challenge of showing someone around the city you live in when you also happen to have small children. I hope you enjoy.
Being Melbourne’s tour guide, not the tourist
I presume myself to be a good traveller, but I’m never sure that I’ve made the leap into being a good tour guide. However, I feel like I know Melbourne much better than any other place in the world, so much so I’m starting to think I should get in touch with home renovations Melbourne based companies to have a home built! I guess we all have certain places that felt like home the minute we arrived. Trust me, I don’t have to search luggage storage Melbourne to find out where the best facility is, I know exactly where to go! Having lived in Paris, London and now Melbourne, Australia in the past decade, I’ve had my fair share of visitors, and assuming the mantle of ambassador and minister of culture has always sat uneasily as I have lingering doubts that I’ve really shown guests a good time. I have found that reading the local Melbourne news does really helps inspire me with new ideas for places to take my family and friends when they do come to visit.
This anxiety that I haven’t succeeded in showing off a home city to its fullest extent (there has to be a German word for this) has only intensified since my first daughter arrived four years ago. Whereas before, I could open up a Lonely Planet, mix in some personal destination favorites and put on a reasonably good show (and, let’s face it, if you can’t conduct people around London or Paris, there’s a real problem), I have the distinct suspicion I’m not exhibiting Melbourne to textbook level. It’s a lower-key city than Sydney, which will absolutely poleaxe you with unbelievable views from just about anywhere in the Harbour. But Melbourne is music venues and fashion, cafes and restaurants (all you have to do is search fine dining in Melbourne to find some excellent places to eat), and is the sporting capital of the country (God help you if you don’t have a “footy” team during the Australian Rules Football season; your conversational outlets have just halved). It’s big/small city that I’ve grown to love, and I want to do right by the old girl when people come calling.
When my sister booked a trip that recently ended, I wondered what – and more importantly how – I was going to show her. If you’re wondering what I mean by how, the ostensible reason for her visit is the birth of our second daughter, who is now 3 months old. She’s portable, but I’m a bit whacked out on less than my full measure of sleep and I don’t think I’m up to my Letita Baldrige best. Nevertheless, c’mon – if you’re going to travel 10,000 miles over 24 hours and lose a day in the process, you don’t want to be stuck in the house, adorable niece or no.
So this was my mental soundtrack for at least the two weeks running up to my sister’s visit:
Waddarewegonnado? Waddarewegonnado? I haven’t been out for a big night on the town since last July, just before confirming that I was pregnant. My older daughter is a good sport for travelling, but will she go to multiple museums? Will I let my sister down?
This mini-angst-crescendo was interrupted about 24 hours before the big arrival by my older daughter, who came up to me bedecked in her nightgown and clutching her toothbrush, and asked, with the gravitas worthy of Walter Cronkite, “Can we please give Auntie Debbie a tour of my crèche? I want to show her my classroom. It’s important.” It was as if she’d switched on a light when I realized that the tour we were going to give may not be featured in a Condé Nast spread, but it was a tour and it was authentically Melbourne.
Local Melbourne fun
So “my” Melbourne begins local, with a visit to Ceres, an environmental/educational park with an awesome cafe. Ceres is a localvore’s nirvana – they grow the produce used in the cafe and sell some at their twice weekly markets. I love it because it’s less than a block away from home and the cafe is next to the play area, and they have a scrumptious chai latte. My daughter loves it because she can climb trees and have a babyccino with a homemade chocolate frog.
Like the 24 bus line in Paris, which travels past the Latin Quarter, Notre Dame, and the Louvre all for the price of a normal ticket, or London’s 341 bus line, the 96 tram line here in Melbourne takes you from my doorstep (practically) through the heart of the city and out to St. Kilda Beach, on the bay, neatly bisecting the city’s inner suburbs from north to south. On the way through, you stop by the state parliament building, the Exhibition Building, and go through the central business district and the mix of Victorian, Federalist, Art Deco and modern buildings on Bourke Street. All for about AU$4, and you get the fun of eavesdropping on normal conversation on the way. My tram line.
We did fit in a visit to the National Gallery of Victoria, which had a special exhibition on Salvador Dali. I’d wondered how Surrealism and 4-year-olds mixed, and I’m still not sure; the older daughter was more intent on the kid’s area and the water wall on the outside, and the baby slept in our essential touring equipment – my sling. We also stopped by the Shrine of Remembrance, built originally to honor the fallen in World War I. But we spent far more time in parks around the city that have entered our personal pantheon with family names – The Park with the Maze, the New Park, the Park That We Visit When Mummy’s Running, the Park with the Butterfly Statue, the Park by the Beach, and the Park Where I Had to Use the Toilet but Nearly Couldn’t Find One.
While we didn’t sample Melbourne’s gustatory highlights in the fine dining sphere, we did walk to our local gelato store, GeloBar (hey, even in winter, we’re ice cream people), which is, apparently, rated by critics as one of the top spots for gelato. We kept postponing a trip to the open air Queen Victoria Market, then ran out of time after a leisurely last morning in that included a leisurely feed by the baby, but we went to the Preston Market, where I usually do all our shopping and which I personally believe you can get as many goodies as the Queen Vic, but usually at about half the price.
And yes, Auntie Debbie did get a tour of my older daughter’s crèche – complete with introductions to all teachers and the gift of a complementary work of art from her mixed media collection.
The moral of the story? Something along the lines of, wherever you go, there you are. Wherever you visit me, there I am and there is my city. If you’re lucky, my daughter will draw you a personalized map. Hope you like ice cream, parks and walking.
Rachel Alembakis is an expat American living in Melbourne with her husband and two daughters. She’s not sure whether she’s a cautionary or celebratory tale about what happens when you go to a bar and meet an Australian man.
Photo of Queen Victoria Market courtesy of Kelvin Tay via Flickr.