Reconnecting with Melbourne

7 years. Holy cow, 7 years. When I left Australia in 2015, after living there for nearly half a decade, I never thought it would be so long since I would visit again. I became an Aussie citizen before leaving, so I had assumed I’d travel back at a minimum every few years and maybe even one day have a second home there. But year after year my reunion trip had been delayed, first due to finances, then to covid, then deprioritised for trips to the USA to see family. When my life took another sudden turn and I lost my job this past October, enough I said, this was my time to finally reconnect with the land down under.

Aussie passport - on my way to Aussieland!
Aussie passport – on my way to Aussieland!

It’s important for me to note that I didn’t leave Australia because I hated it. In fact, I loved it! So much so that I started to feel too disconnected from the life I had come from. There was also the small fact that friends or family didn’t visit, and so it always felt temporary, far away, and like I couldn’t settle. It goes without saying that I have no regrets about the fantastic life I’ve built in London with my partner Jamie, but over these last 7 years, I dearly missed my friends and the accessibility to that part of the world. 

So I finally bit the bullet and booked my much overdue flight to Aus. That alone was the toughest part – knowing how long to spend there, which friends I could see, and even which cities to visit considering it’s such a large country and it felt impossible to get to Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane all in the same trip. Unfortunately, I now regret not leaving enough time to see people I love who I didn’t get the chance to meet up with.

Leading up to my flight I was a ball of nerves. All of a sudden I forgot how to fly long haul, despite doing it so many times before. Just the thought of nearly 24 hours on a plane gave me severe anxiety. I revisited my old blog, The Art of a Long Haul Flight, to bring me back into the swing of things. Oh, I was pretty funny back then I thought to myself. 

So off I went, totally excited that I scored my favourite seat on the plane (upper deck, front row), albeit not on my favourite airline Qantas – and yes, of course, it is totally reasonable to have a favourite plane seat. Flying the first leg was fun even until I laid over in Qatar and switched planes, only to be sandwiched super tight – the guy in front with the seat reclined, the guy next to me overextending into my space, baby behind me, which meant I couldn’t recline. What joy for FOURTEEN HOURS! But alas, I finally made it to Melbourne. 

Day 1 – My Old Stomping Grounds

The minute I walked out of Richmond Station an overwhelming feeling poured over me. It was quite unnerving as if I stepped back in time and into another life. As I wandered down Swan Street, smiling as I recognised my favourite bars and restaurants, I experienced such an unexpected wave of emotions. The minute I saw Dickmann Street, where I first lived when I moved to Melbourne, I stifled the urge to cry. 

My first stop was for lunch with my friend Jesse at a cheerful Mexican place I used to eat at often, Fonda. I quickly recognised my old top choices on the menu, the fish burrito and chargrilled corn – they instantaneously brought me back on the first bite. I then walked up Church Street to Bridge Road, by nature turned right and walked toward my old home on River Street where I lived with Wes. Everything felt so familiar, I couldn’t help but smile and my heart filled up with happiness.

Walking up and down Bridge Road was such a pastime for me because it’s how I used to kill time when I was bored. I’d walk about a mile there, and a mile back looking in the shops, having brunch and just basically using it as a place to be with my thoughts. Even when I passed by the Dan Murphys liquor store and the sliding doors opened, the smell of it put me back to where I used to buy my weekly wine shop, I could picture exactly which aisle to go to. Then I passed the Spread Eagle Hotel, remembering its famous steak night, brunch at Lumberjack, drinks at LadyBoy, and shopping at the Gorman Surprise outlet. It was a nice familiar feeling despite many elements of change as too many of my other favourite spots went out of business over the years.

Bridge Road, Richmond, Victoria
Bridge Road, Richmond, Victoria

After I was done roaming around I Richmond I jumped onto the tram from Swan Street, a bit hesitant, despite it being a regular form of transport that I used to take daily, and headed toward trendy Fitzroy. Or at least I thought I was heading in that direction, as I sat on the 86 tram the wrong way and wasted a good 20 minutes before finding my way back to the corner of Gertrude and Smith Street. I popped into the Rollie Nation store, my favourite Aussie shoe brand, and bought myself a pair before meeting Hannah at a hot new bar and bistro called Poodle. It was so lovely to settle in with Hannah and finally meet her new husband over a super yummy meal, it felt like our old times being together full of laughter and gossip. 

Rollie Nation, Gertrude Street
Rollie Nation, Gertrude Street

Coming home to Anne Marie’s house that evening in a taxi I really felt enlightened and quite excited to finally be there for those first 24 hours. It only hit me then. Hey, I used to own this city I said to myself. I used to know every new restaurant and bar opening and be at all the coolest hangouts and here I am again ready to experience it all with my same friends. It was a fantastic first day and gave me so much to look forward to. 

Day 2 – Reunited At Last

I was grateful to Anne Marie for letting me stay at hers in the cute suburb of Yarraville. We woke up to go for a long run around her neighbourhood before heading into the CBD (central business district) to play tourist and walk around Melbourne’s famous graffiti-clad lanes. We then parked ourselves back at our old local stomping grounds in Richmond, and sat outside The Posty where we used to go for after-work drinks and pizza, people-watching as cool kids went in and out of the famous music spot The Corner Hotel

Wes and Rob, my two really good friends joined us there and we immediately fell back into our old ways, it was a heartfelt reunion after all those years apart. Our highlight was a full-tasting menu across the street at New Quarter, where the food was absolutely show-stopping. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that it was the best meal I’ve had on that trip (tip: try the banh mi fingers). We ended the evening next door at a new cocktail bar called The Blacksmith Bar and OMG the cocktails were so delicious, I can only imagine that if I still lived there we’d get into a lot of trouble.

Day 3 – Food For Days

Call it jetlag or the cocktails but I slept until midday. Luckily, Anne Marie went to the local deli Rocco’s to grab some delicious prosciutto, olive and artichoke sandwiches. We spent the afternoon walking around Yarraville (I recommend coffee at Willis and Anderson), then to the shops and boutiques in Seddon (Kith&Kin is one of my favourite boutiques for clothes), and then onto multicultural Footscray before completing our 10k walk.

The Sun Theatre, Yarraville, Victoria
The Sun Theatre, Yarraville, Victoria

That evening we headed out to Curious in the W Hotel for pre-dinner drinks and the ultimate Insta-worthy snap. Despite the $25, yet delicious cocktails, the best part was the interesting interior design. Dinner followed at Chancery Lane on Little Collins Street, naturally with bumps of caviar (my first time!), chicken liver parfait, and an outstanding steak shared at the table. While the service was hit and miss, the funky bathrooms are totally worth a peek. 

Curious Bar, W Hotel, Melbourne
Curious Bar, W Hotel, Melbourne

It was here that I was first reminded again of how much everyone knows their Australian wines, often prioritised over ‘foreign’ wines and I was envious of that as I used to be so much more clued in than I am now. This is what I missed about the local Aussie scene: Rob rambling off Aussie wine labels and collectively they all agreed, as of course, they all know them. European wines are so much more complicated.

We finished the night at Luis Bar on the 55th floor of the second tallest building in the city, Rialto. The service was quite snobby and we had to do a minimum spend which was a bit off-putting so I probably wouldn’t go back but for the view over Melbourne and the laughs with friends, it was still worth it as a one-off.

Lisa & Rob, Luis Bar, The Rialto
Lisa & Rob, Luis Bar, The Rialto

Day 4 – All About Balance

Anne Marie and I drove over to Williamstown, Melbourne’s first port settlement, which was a great place to enjoy a long walk and coastal views. I was also grateful that it was also the first day not raining since I arrived. I really felt at ease being back in Australia and just enjoyed the time catching up with an old friend. 

We later stopped off at Rob‘s to have some cheese and wine before heading to Smile Buffalo, an upscale Thai restaurant in downtown Yarraville. I started to realize a theme developing of long day walks and intense evening eating and it was starting to take its toll, but I was only getting started!

Day 5 – The Yazza Vazza

Wine Tasting in the Yarra Valley is something that both locals and tourists often do when in Melbourne. For my squad, it was a favourite pastime that I couldn’t miss out on. Luckily, Wes organized a private day trip with Rick’s Wine Tours and we had lovely Cindy guiding us throughout the day.  

Stop 1: Hubert’s Estate

The grounds are absolutely breathtaking but Rob was disappointed that the tasting only included the bottle shop quality wines (not the cellar door exclusives). They also have a restaurant on site and an art gallery in the basement featuring indigenous artwork which is worth a visit. 

Stop 2: Soumah

Soumah was by far the best service of the whole day. We loved their chardonnay and viognier, cute and warm decor and enjoyed a long lunch with big portions. Following lunch we sat outside and enjoyed a bottle of chardonnay among us, talking about our past wine trips in the Yarra Valley, Mornington Pennisula, Bellerine, Tasmania, Adelaide and others. I really missed being in touch with Australia and the wine scene. Before leaving, it didn’t take much to convince me to buy 3 bottles and score a lovely wine tote bag as a free gift. I highly recommend this vineyard and its wines!

Stop 3: Levantine Hill Estate

A visit to Levantine was a special upgrade request from Wes. It’s a place to be seen, with helicopters dropping in the elite from the Crown Casino for $1100 per person, and their sparkling Rose starts at a high price of $150 per bottle if you get the drift. We weren’t too impressed with the snooty service either, despite our tasting being held in a very picture-worthy oversized barrel. Luckily, the marketing director was on site and took over with generous pours and carefree chat which redeemed the whole experience. We love a host who doesn’t mind a cheeky top-up. 😉

Stop 4: Helen & Joey Estate

Unicorns, a great view, and cheese platters. What more could you ask for?! We really enjoyed finishing our day at Helen & Joey’s. Our host Phil was super friendly and we couldn’t leave without a few pinot noirs from their Alena selection. 

It was such a fab day, full of giggles we were super smug that we coined the Yarra Valley a new term, the Yazza Vazza! It was at that point, a bit buzzed from the day’s wines, sentimental about my friendships and after such a fantastic reconnection with Aussie wine culture that the tear’s started to fall. 

Later that evening we had a gathering at Wes’s to sample all the wine purchases from the day and then I had to say goodbye to Anne Marie and Rob, at least until I’ll see them next year at our wedding in Sicily. Oh, I was so sad… I thought to myself for the first, but not the last time, “should I try and stay a bit longer?!”

Day 6 – The Melbourne Cup

In the morning, Wes and I took his dog Freda for a long walk around the neighbourhood of Baldwin. I used to know Freda really well as she lived with us for a period so it made me really sad that she didn’t even recognize me. I wasn’t sure if she was just pretending like she didn’t know me because she was mad at me for leaving her all those years ago or if her life is so good living amongst three other hotdog dogs, she doesn’t need her old mother anymore.

My last day was Melbourne Cup day. This horse race is such a big deal, it’s literally a holiday off work for some companies. We celebrated the Melbourne Cup back at Wes’s friend Russell’s house, a beautiful flat with floor-to-ceiling windows on each side overlooking my old neighbourhood of Richmond. It was a fab day of drinking champagne, dining on frittatas and cheering on the horse race as the only female among nine gay men. In the end, Wes and I got lucky with a bet and finished $175 up, so when we said goodbye to the group we wandered back down Swan Street for one final meal, just him and I back at New Quarter where we sat at the bar drinking margaritas and tasted the best banh mi fingers I’ve ever had in my life. It was a quiet night after that before beginning my journey down to Sydney in the morning.

Oh, Melbourne, full of delicious food, buzzing culture and some of my best friends, I’m so happy to have seen you again. Thank you, Anne Marie, Simon, Wes, Rob, Meryl, Hannah, Jesse and all the new friends I met too!