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How to spend a perfect day in Melbourne, Australia

Jonathan Ames
August 1, 2013

Jonathan Ames is an American writer with multiple novels and comic memoirs to his credit. He created the HBO show "Bored to Death."

If you are a romantic couple, read on –

If you are a foodie couple, read on –

If you’re a couple that likes to swim, read on –

If you misread the previous sentence and thought I wrote that if you were a couple that likes to swing that’s not what I meant but please feel free to read on –

If you lead a jet-setting lifestyle and because you lead such a lifestyle you only have 24 hours in Melbourne, Australia, but want to get a taste of this lovely city, read on –

If you answered yes to any of the ifs above, or if you didn’t answer yes to any of the ifs above, I hope you will read on, regardless, as these “ifs” were not meant to be exclusionary, but simply an attempt on my part to be clever and to catch your eye, as I set out to provide a programme[1] for 24 enjoyable hours in Melbourne, Australia:

1. Crown Metropol

Arrive around 10 a.m., which I hope implies that you haven’t been travelling too long or too arduously, and go to the Crown Metropol, having secured an early check-in. This may not be the most beautiful or the most quaint hotel in Melbourne, but it is gleaming, sophisticated, centrally located, has spectacular views from its upper rooms, and at its very top there rests a magnificent indoor swimming pool.

I can’t suggest any other hotel, because I didn’t stay anywhere else, but I certainly enjoyed the Crown Metropol. But who am I for you to take my advice on hotels or anything else? Well, that’s a good question. I don’t know who I am.

Recently on Wikipedia, while researching the British psychiatrist R.D. Laing – too long a digression to explain why I was looking up Laing, but I was – I happened to read a little bit about a friend of his, another psychiatrist, D.W. Winnicott, who could perhaps explain why I don’t know who I am, if he were still alive.

I had heard of Winnicott and so I clicked on his name while reading about Laing. An old friend of mine, whom I no longer talk to, was obsessed with psychiatry – he was trying to understand why he was upset all the time – and he often dropped Winnicott’s name the way other people name-drop famous acquaintances, and so there I was looking up Laing and clicked on Winnicott as a nod to my old friend, whom I should call, but I don’t think he’d call me back. I didn’t do anything wrong, but our connection has been severed. This happens as you age. Friendships die. They go bad like things left in the fridge.

Anyway, I read about three sentences on Winnicott’s notion of the false self and the true self, and in a psychologically hypochondriacal way, I immediately identified with the concept. Due to early childhood trauma, you develop a false self to survive. You can then spend a whole lifetime in this false self, like wearing the wrong pair of shoes and always having your feet hurt but never doing anything about it.

So my point is, having read three sentences on Winnicott, I can assure you I don’t know who I am and why you should take my advice on hotels. I can only think of one reason why you might – I have a human body that likes to breathe, eat, swim, and look at things. Thus any suggestions I make come from my body and not from a self, true or false.

And there’s the old saying about listening to your body, so all I can ask is that you listen to my body and not my mind, which is probably the mouthpiece for my false self, or false selves, of which I probably possess many. I don’t think they are whole personalities, like what Sybil did or did not have[2], but just masks, the way the sky has many different looks over the course of a day and yet is always the sky.

Now back to our travel piece. I wonder if anything I’ve written so far will actually be published.

So if it’s 10 a.m., you check in and you go to a corner room high up in the Crown Metropol. The room has four walls and two of them are enormous glass windows. From these windows you can see the whole city – its rivers and distant sea; its buildings and cars and trains; its tiny Australian people going this way and that.

[1] I used the word programme instead of program to try to sound sophisticated, which to my coarse and vulgar American ear means trying to sound British.

[2] The diagnosis of multiple personality disorder, so I’ve heard, has been questioned. But I remember, as a child, being horribly frightened and mesmerized by the TV movie “Sybil,” starring Sally Field, and this movie, based on a book, based on a supposedly true story, was about a woman with multiple personalities.

Then you play with the electric curtains, which hide the windows and turn your room into a romantic cave. Maybe you and your partner can quickly make love. Why not? I was traveling alone with my body, but that doesn’t mean you two shouldn’t have some affection and tenderness, not to mention nursing or grabbing or whatever else you like to do.

After you make love, put on your bathing suits and go to the top floor, where the pool waits for you like an alternative universe. It is a very long and wide infinity pool, surrounded by enormous windows, which frame the whole city even more beautifully than the windows in your room. Do a few laps and pretend that you are some ancient god swimming off the edge of a moist dimension.

After your nice swim, go to the steam room to get rid of any germs you may have picked up on the plane and to expunge any residual hangover from last night’s binge, assuming there was one.

2. Centre Place

It’s now about 11:30, depending on how long you made love. If you’re American that’s probably, according to AOL[3], about six to seven minutes, with two of those minutes spent lying there afterward thinking, if you’re the man, that you should have lasted longer and that you’re a lousy lover because the same article in AOL said that Italian love-making, on average, lasts about 16 minutes, with the French, for obvious reasons, clocking in at about 19 minutes.

But there you are exiting the Metropol, holding hands, feeling alive and privileged, and so make your way over to Centre Place, which is a wonderful little lane of food shops and cafes. I sampled a number of things – I won’t bore you with the details, I’m not actually a foodie myself[4] or a food writer – and all of it tasted better than most anything I get here at home in New York. I did more than sample the menu at a place called Blue Fish, which specializes in fish and chips, and my food – a proper lunch – was fresh, beautifully prepared, and an overall excellent gustatory experience.

3. Queen Victoria Market

After you’ve had your fill, leave Centre Place, gawk at the handsome and monstrously large Flinders Street Train Station, and make your way over to the Queen Victoria Market, which shouldn’t be a problem. Getting around Melbourne is easy – it’s a good-looking, clean, and efficient city. To my American eyes, with their limited frame of reference, Melbourne, architecturally and in its personality, is a cross between what I know of Canadian and English urban centers, and the whole thing is lit with a California-like sun and clarity (at least when I was there in mid-March, which is their September.)

So, since you’re a foodie or even if you’re not, you will love the open-air 19th-century Queen Victoria Market, with its rows and rows of purveyors. To me the thing was like a big art gallery or jewelry store of food – meats, cheeses, fish, olives, vegetables, everything! It was just a gigantic and splendid cornucopia of all things digestable, tasty and nutritious.

I would go around, sample what calls to you, and maybe have some oysters. Every oyster I ate in Australia – and I had quite a few – was excellent: smooth and delicious, with hints of the sea, and not at all gross. Also, if you followed my advice and made love earlier, oysters, which are supposed to be aphrodisiacs, should also be, I imagine, restorative for the sexual glands.

[3] I’ve happily used AOL as my e-mail service since I first started using e-mail, which was around 1998. Despite writing, for the first time, for the opposition – Yahoo! – I will not be switching. I like AOL, though clicking on its tawdry headlines of scandal and reading the drivel that follows has sucked up weeks and months of my already frivolous and desultory life.

[4] But the press-junket that Yahoo! sent me on was for foodies. Somehow I got included, like something out of the Twilight Zone. Instead of being beamed to an analyst’s couch or Wimbledon, two places I would like and need to be, I ended up on a food tour, which being a good eater was not such a bad thing.

4. Sandringham

It’s now about 2:30 or 3 p.m. Go to the hotel, grab your bathing suits and some towels, and make your way back over to Flinder’s Street Station. Get on a very-easy-to-figure-out train and head for Sandringham for a swim in the bay. It’s only about a half-hour train ride and the Sandringham station is about two blocks from the beach.

To get to the beach, you take a long set of wooden stairs down a cliff and then there’s a fairly endless ribbon of sand for you to stroll along, until you determine where you want to park yourself, like a cat looking for just the right spot. Then wrap your towels around your mid-sections and change right there. Properly clad, go for a swim and try to be grateful for such a beautiful moment, since they say that a grateful heart is a happy heart.

5. Yarra River Walk

Get back to the hotel by 6 and take a nap, while spooning, for half an hour. Then shower, change, and go for a walk along the Yarra River, which is right near the Metropol. There’s a very charming promenade, what they call the River Walk, and it comes with street performers – jugglers, break-dancers, that sort of thing – and lots of Melbournians out strolling. The heart of most every great city is its river, and so to experience Melbourne, it’s important to walk along the Yarra.

6. Hellenic Republic

After your walk, get in a cab and since the day has had a Mediterranean feel, despite being in Australia, go to a fantastic Greek restaurant called Hellenic Republic at 434 Lygon Street. There’s a sharing menu, which is the way to go, so you can try many things. I found every dish to be marvelous. I would especially recommend the white-cod roe dip, the grilled haloumi, the Cypriot salad, the green beans in garlic butter with feta cheese and pine nuts, the braised leek pie, and the swordfish.

7. Go to bed

Sated by your meal and a full day, return to the Metropol, sit on your bed and look out the windows. Take in the gleaming, flickering lights of the city, then fall back onto the bed and hold each other until you fall asleep. Maybe make love again if you have the energy. I then hope you have dreams as beautiful as the day you just experienced[5].

[5] I’m sorry that as I percolated along writing this piece that I didn’t have any more silly digressions, in case you were enjoying those. So I’m wracking my mind to think of something amusing to tell you here at the very end, but for whatever reason I’ve grown sort of pleasantly sentimental and don’t feel the need for neurotic and ironic asides. I think maybe I grew sentimental because it pleases me to imagine some happy couple actually following my little prescription for a day and genuinely enjoying themselves. So I guess that’s it. I’m done. Now I’ll check my e-mail at AOL and read some scandalous bit of news that they’re always pushing at us. Does Yahoo! do the same thing? I don’t know. I’ve never looked at Yahoo! I guess I will now. I hear they have a travel section.