Four rea­sons in one day

The world’s most live­able city is a joy to ex­plore, even when time is short

Life & Style Weekend - - ESCAPE - BY Letea Ca­van­der The writer was a guest of Mantra.

THE trees were naked of leaves. Water dripped from the branches, and a man leapt from a street cor­ner as a cop car drove around it and caused a mas­sive splash of water up and over the foot­path.

Even in the rain, Mel­bourne is a beau­ti­ful city. Although the weather had scut­tled any plans of find­ing a sunny spot in one of the gar­dens that ring the cen­tral busi­ness district to read and eat cheese for the af­ter­noon, there are many ways to en­ter­tain one­self dur­ing a quick stopover or in be­tween busi­ness meet­ings in the city.

So, if you have a spare day in Mel­bourne, whether on the way to some­where else or fill­ing in time be­tween work, here are a few ways of spend­ing it.

Visit the state li­brary

It is not the yawn­fest one might think. The domed glass roof above the La Trobe Read­ing Room is one draw­card, as is the long-stand­ing ex­hi­bi­tion with in­fa­mous bushranger Ned Kelly’s ar­mour on show.

Start at the top of the build­ing (stairs and lifts are well-signed) for the best view of the dome.

The dome did have prob­lems right from the start of its con­struc­tion. On­go­ing re­ports of fall­ing plas­ter came to a head in 1917 when a reader was “slightly in­jured”. The dome’s glass was cov­ered with plas­ter, in­ter­nally, be­fore con­stant rain­wa­ter leak­age meant the out­side was cov­ered with a cop­per sheet.

It stayed that way un­til 1990 when a re­de­vel­op­ment of the li­brary be­gan. The cop­per sheet­ing was stripped off and lam­i­nated glass panes were in­stalled.

In typ­i­cal Mel­bourne fash­ion, the rain I had ex­pe­ri­enced on the drive from the air­port had dis­ap­peared as I vis­ited the li­brary. Sun­light streamed through the dome and flooded the read­ing room be­low with light.

Take the stairs down to the ex­hi­bi­tions on the bal­conies that ring the read­ing room. Ex­hi­bi­tion ar­ti­cles ex­am­ine Vic­to­ria as Abo­rig­i­nal coun­try to the first white set­tlers. And, of course, there is a sec­tion ded­i­cated to one of our most in­fa­mous bushranger­s, Ned Kelly.

He was born in Bev­eridge in 1855 and went on to form the Kelly Gang, which robbed banks and took part in other bushranger-type ac­tiv­i­ties. It all cul­mi­nated in the Glen­rowan shoot-out in 1880, where the bushranger­s wore their makeshift ar­mour to pro­tect them­selves from po­lice bul­lets.

Kelly was ar­rested fol­low­ing the shoot-out, and hanged in Mel­bourne Gaol later that same year. Three of the four sets of ar­mour were kept by Vic­to­ria Po­lice. There was con­fu­sion over which bushranger­s had worn which items but re­search even­tu­ally sorted the suits into their orig­i­nal con­fig­u­ra­tions.

The suit on dis­play at the li­brary was the one worn by Ned Kelly, and the ones worn by Steve Hart and Dan Kelly are on dis­play at the Mel­bourne Gaol.

◗ DE­TAILS: State Li­brary of Vic­to­ria, Swanston St. Free en­try to view the dome and the ex­hibit.

ACMI

The Aus­tralian Cen­tre for the Mov­ing Image is a must-see for any­one in­ter­ested in cinema and gam­ing his­tory.

Dis­plays ex­plore the first tools used to cre­ate mov­ing im­ages, and their in­ter­ac­tive na­ture de­lighted the lit­tlies who were there (and the young at heart, too).

There are also props from movies on dis­play, and even one of Countdown su­per­star Molly Mel­drum’s famed hats.

A num­ber of old games are also on dis­play, and ready to play.

◗ DE­TAILS: ACMI, Fed­er­a­tion Square. Free en­try to per­ma­nent ex­hibit, oth­ers have an en­try fee.

Eat, eat, eat

The num­ber of res­tau­rants, cafes and tucked-away bars in the cen­tral busi­ness district is stag­ger­ing. I stayed at the Mantra on Rus­sell, in Rus­sell St.

Chi­na­town was pretty much next door, and less than a block away, Greek fare beck­oned.

A short walk one way and Rus­sell St be­comes Ly­gon St with its dizzy­ing ar­ray of Ital­ian (hello gelati – I know, win­ter, but that did not stop me), Turk­ish and even Ja­panese foods. And a short walk the other way meant I was near Fed­er­a­tion Square.

On a friend’s rec­om­men­da­tion, I ven­tured down Fed­er­a­tion Lane to check out Chin Chin and Gogo Bar. Its loud and colour­ful in­te­rior was com­ple­mented by friendly and ef­fi­cient bar staff happy to share rec­om­men­da­tions of the menu.

Bar seat­ing was set up for sin­gles and pairs, and ta­bles were for big­ger groups. There was just enough room to push a pram to many of the seats.

The menu is made for share din­ing. I had a snack of salt and pep­per squid, which was heav­enly, and they knew what they were do­ing on the drinks front. Cock­tails for guests flowed, and the old favourite of lemon, lime and bit­ters was just as tasty as a weary coun­try pub­li­can would mix.

Plus, just for a lit­tle celebrity fac­tor, Hamish Blake was din­ing there at the same time. If it’s good enough for a tele­vi­sion star, it’s good enough for me!

◗ DE­TAILS: Chin Chin and Gogo Bar, Flin­ders Lane. chinch­in­restau­rant.com.au

Stay in

Of course, if the flight is a late one and the num­ber of din­ing op­tions too over­whelm­ing for a tired mind, the other op­tion is to stay in and or­der up.

The Mantra on Rus­sell’s Home Kitchen and Bar had a warm and wel­com­ing at­mos­phere and a menu that re­flected home cook­ing that was a lit­tle bit fancy.

Try and nab a seat by the fire to re­ally get into the city’s cool weather spirit. I felt the warmth on my back as I de­voured a gen­er­ous-sized meal and watched the light change to night out­side.

The gnoc­chi with cau­li­flower was a lovely way to fin­ish off a day of ex­plor­ing the city. And the bar staff there also knew how to mix a mean mock­tail. In the morn­ing, the break­fast buf­fet was a pleas­ing ar­ray of hot food, fresh fruit, yo­gurts and baked goods.

Or or­der room ser­vice and en­joy the spa­cious room. I could have swung a cat in the one-bed­room apart­ment that had its own kitchen. Smart fur­nish­ings and wall art also made it feel less ho­tel and more homely. The mas­sive bed was com­fort­able, the shower was hot, and the two tel­lies worked well – so no chance of a fight over the re­mote.

◗ DE­TAILS: Mantra on Rus­sell, Rus­sell St. mantra­ho­tels.com/ mantra-on-rus­sell.

PHO­TOS: THINKSTOCK AND CON­TRIB­UTED

Flin­ders Street Sta­tion is a spec­tac­u­lar build­ing near the Aus­tralian Cen­tre for the Mov­ing Image; top right, the spec­tac­u­lar dome over the La Trobe Read­ing Room in the State Li­brary of Vic­to­ria; and the Home Kitchen and Bar in Mantra on Rus­sell.

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