Three Perfect Days: Melbourne
Story by Jacqueline Detwiler | Photography by Mark Roper | Hemispheres, October 2014
Some cities, like dogs rolling over for a belly rub, give themselves up to you at once. These are places that clamor for your attention—the hip and the new announce their presence in sidewalk tables and neon signs, while terms like “biggest" and “best" are liberally conferred. Artier and more enigmatic than its shining sister city Sydney, Melbourne is not this kind of city.
After traveling to Australia in 1895, Mark Twain said that the country is “the most beautiful of lies ... full of surprises, and adventures, the incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true." In Melbourne, this sense of wonder is best represented by the city's apparently endless maze of alleys (or laneways), which would be seamy and uninviting were they not bursting with art, eateries, retailers and a theatrical lust for life.
A night out in Melbourne can have you in a fake gymnasium drinking a cocktail out of a syringe, or driving in a car with a snorkel protruding from its hood. There are dessert-themed hotels, forest-themed desserts and animals that don't even make sense. You can tell from the moment you arrive that some of the best stories of your life will come from here. You can only hope that people will believe them.
DAY ONE | The problem with waking up in the Flinders King Suite at the Adelphi Hotel—a “dessert-themed" property with dangling couches and zigzag floor patterns—is that every day the staff refills a glass bucket with free candy. It sits there as you shower. It sits there while you peer out at Flinders Lane through the warehouse-style windows. Here's the thing about this candy: You can tuck it behind the loveseat or under the desk, but you will eat it eventually. “Fine," you say, popping a handful of confectionary into your mouth, “what's a half dozen Honeycomb Clonkers before breakfast?"
Before the candy can make a second stand, you ride the elevator down to the lobby. You have plans to spend the morning exploring Melbourne's prime dining and entertainment area, the Central Business District (or CBD), which is right outside your door. To find a proper breakfast, you'll need to look for the scrum of trendy locals jockeying for a table in front of The Hardware Société. You secure an alfresco perch and merrily dip hunks of bread drizzled with olive oil into a pot of baked eggs with chorizo and manchego cheese. Your iced coffee comes with ice cream, a spoon and a straw covered in polka dots. By the end, you feel like a kid at a malt shop, only much more caffeinated.
Service with a smile at Das T-Shirt Automat
Buzzing, you head off to explore the city's squiggle of alleys with the help of Michael Fikaris, an artist, illustrator and guide for Melbourne Street Art Tours, who knows the local street art scene so well he may have been born with a can of spray paint in his hand. He leads you through the labyrinth, leaning over balconies and darting across streets to point out his favorite bits—little characters made of repurposed garbage and affixed to telephone poles; cell phones painted gray and pasted to the curb. “There's a French artist, Invader," Fikaris says, indicating a small alien made out of colored tiles. “He came to Melbourne and put these all over the city. Now that you know about them, you'll see them everywhere."
After three hours of this, your legs are screaming, so you hop a tram to Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, one of two excruciatingly hip enclaves northeast of the CBD, and take an elevator a few floors up to Naked in the Sky, the rooftop bar at the Basque tapas joint Naked for Satan. From here, you can look out across Fitzroy and Collingwood—both blocky and pastel and broken only by the periodic spikes of church spires. You contemplate the view over indulgent appetizers—cheese and walnut croquettes with quince aioli, a fried soft-shell crab in red pepper sauce, roasted figs with goat's milk curd—and a sprightly Cascade Bright Ale, brewed in Tasmania.
The afternoon stretches away from you in the way that lazy rooftop afternoons tend to, and you only reluctantly abandon your post to poke around the area's many bookshops, clothing stores and galleries, one of which prominently displays an AC/DC-themed kimono surrounded by crosses. Inspired by your street art tour earlier, you pick up a hoodie with a picture of a crying lemon, courtesy of Das T-Shirt Automat, a storefront that will print the shirt of your choice in four minutes.
From here, it's a short jaunt to Saint Crispin, a pleasantly unadorned boîte in Collingwood whose lighthearted vibe belies an impressive menu. Your dinner starts with a “snack"—a bite of cantaloupe sprinkled with powdered breadcrumbs cooked in jam, a seaweed rice cracker topped with whipped taramasalata (Greek-style carp roe). The meal continues through a dish of marron with vegetables, pickled mushrooms and herb puree that's so artfully composed it could be a watercolor. Having never heard of a marron before, you inquire about the main ingredient.
The Fitzrovia Deli's healthy, farm-fresh fare is perfect fuel for a stroll at the nearby St. Kilda Pier
“It's like a cross between a yabby and a …" the bartender pauses at the quizzical look on your face. “Do you know what a yabby is?"
By way of an extended conversation involving at least four kinds of shellfish, you learn that marron is a sort of freshwater crayfish indigenous to Western Australia, and that it's mighty tasty. The next course requires less explanation: pork so crispy you have to fight your neighbors for the cracklings, served with blood plums, baby fennel and mustard.
After dinner, you're too stuffed to walk, so you float back to the Adelphi via cab. “Hey," you note, as the car starts to cover some of the same ground as your art tour, “there's one of those Space Invader things!"
DAY TWO | Despite being a buzzing, avant-garde city in its own right, Melbourne is not immune to the Brooklynophilia sweeping the globe. You stop for a New York–inspired breakfast of a lox and dill cream cheese bagel at Bowery to Williamsburg to see how the Aussies do your native nosh. (Pretty accurately, it turns out.)
Bagel in hand, you head off to the Shrine of Remembrance, a World War I memorial that looks like a cross between an Aztec pyramid and a Greek temple, flanked by Italian cypress trees. Inside, light from a chink in the ceiling illuminates the word “love" in the phrase “Greater love hath no man," which is inscribed on a memorial stone set in the floor. The chink is situated so that this effect only occurs (naturally, at least) once a year: at 11 a.m. on November 11, the time and date of the armistice. Today, through the use of artificial light, visitors can see it every half hour.
Tranquility prevails at the Shrine of Remembrance
It's a five-minute stroll to your next stop, the exquisite Royal Botanic Gardens, where you've signed up for an Aboriginal Heritage Walk. It begins when your guide, Charles Solomon, builds a fire so you can waft sweet-smelling smoke onto yourself—a traditional aboriginal welcoming gesture. Next, Solomon leads you through the greenery, explaining the traditional uses of plants like kangaroo apple (food, when treated to remove poisons), foambark (fishing aid) and tea tree leaves (antiseptic).
The walk ends with a cup of lemon myrtle tea, which provides a refreshing segue to lunch. It's a perfect beach day, so you tram it toward the bayside suburb of St. Kilda, hopping off near Fitzrovia, a homey farm-to-table deli. The plate that appears before you contains charred corn, avocado, quinoa, black-eyed pea and pomelo salad with cilantro and minted yogurt dressing and chorizo. You dispatch it handily and, feeling healthier than you probably are, take a stroll down to St. Kilda Pier, where you while away the afternoon watching a parade of fit-looking locals stroll down the beach.
After a quick shower at your hotel, it's back to the laneways, which seem more promising and more foreboding in the dark. In a dim room with metal mesh chandeliers that remind you of Warhol's “Silver Clouds," you find Tonka, the newest outpost from the much-lauded Adam D'Sylva. Tonka specializes in high-concept Indian food, a neglected culinary pigeonhole if ever there was one. You order a lamb curry with roasted coconut and cardamom, which arrives with naan in a bag, and a small pile of smoked trout with coconut, chili, pomelo and kaffir lime, which you wrap in a betel leaf and eat like a taco. This last bit, delightfully sour in the way of Filipino food, is inspired.
It's deep evening now, and everyone's a little loopy. You make friends with a local winemaker and his girlfriend in the line for the elevator at Curtin House, a nightlife version of an office tower. Every time the elevator stops, there's something new to see: A restaurant, a dance hall, a restaurant, a bar, a bar, a bar. As you bounce between floors like video-game characters, your new buddies suggest that you visit the Yarra Valley tomorrow and check out the winery. You suggest that they hang out with you tonight and show you around Melbourne's best bars. A deal is struck.
St. Kilda Pier, with its famed Pavilion
After several hours, you find yourselves dancing next to a palm tree at Workshop, an art space that serves coffee in the morning and hosts local bands and DJs at night. Unbelievably, you are hungry, so as dawn approaches, you and your assembled coterie stop off for meat pies at Pie Face, a chain that seems to be on every street corner. Later still, miniature pie in hand, you have a standoff with your room's candy jar and, having been soundly defeated, go to bed.
DAY THREE | You may have been tipsy enough to eat a pie with a face on it last night, but you don't make idle promises. So after breakfast at the hotel's Om Nom dessert bar and restaurant—banana bread with vanilla mascarpone cream, a passion fruit–poached banana, vanilla ice cream and caramel syrup—you hire a driver to take you to the Yarra Valley wine region, located about an hour northeast of the city. As opposed to the sweltering Barossa Valley in South Australia, which is known for fruity shirazes and heavy cabernets, the more temperate Yarra Valley produces pinot noirs and sparkling varieties, which you intend to taste.
You've been told by friends that if you don't snap a picture of a kangaroo while in Australia, you're not to come home. Luckily, Healesville Sanctuary, a zoo and animal refuge in the valley, is home to dozens of photogenic red and gray kangaroos—along with wallabies, wombats, koalas, dingoes,Tasmanian devils, platypuses and all manner of colorful birds. Given the heat, you're surprised to find most of the animals capering in their enclosures; only the wombats are sleeping (“They do that a lot," says a park attendant). Even the koalas are having a romp, climbing on each other's backs and heads on their way to better perches.
Watching the koalas munch eucalyptus leaves makes you crave salad, so you have your driver stop at Innocent Bystander, the glass-walled restaurant at Giant Steps Winery, where you order a pseudo-niçoise, with anchovies, green beans, potatoes, olives and an implausibly breaded soft-boiled egg, alongside a brisk rosé and a plate of thick truffle and parmesan frites.
Marr park is tucked between the Central Business District and the Yarra River
Now it's time to fulfill some promises. At Yering Station, you find your buddy from last night driving a forklift before the purple panorama of the Dandenong mountain range. What a place to work! By the time you air-kiss goodbye, your hands are full of bottles you're not sure how you'll pack. You also stop at TarraWarra Estate, where you stroll among the vines, breathing in the scent of steaming fruit. There's an art gallery on the grounds, inside which you fall in love with a painting of a gruff bushman surrounded by parrots.
The ride back flashes by and you emerge sleepily in front of your hotel. What you need is an invigorating dinner, and you're in for one. Back in the CBD, a short walk west, you are swept up to the 55th floor of a perfectly ordinary-looking office building and released into Vue de Monde, a succession of dark rooms bordered by windows. White neon lights on the walls echo the twinkling city below and the stars above, and there are so many mirrors that you get lost on your way to the bathroom. Twice.
Your table is set with an array of rocks and twigs that morph into knife stands, plates, a mortar and pestle. Your meal includes perfectly flaky fried barramundi collar with lemon myrtle salt, followed by a pine mushroom with figs that tastes the way a forest smells. There's plenty of red wine, and plenty of white. Dessert is a eucalyptus ice cream that reminds you of a better, creamier Vicks VapoRub.
By the end, you feel like Alice in Wonderland—loosed from the earth and not entirely sure which way is which. You can be certain only that you are somewhere in Melbourne's hidden otherworld, where everything is more than it seems.
Former Hemispheres senior editor Jacqueline Detwiler has never actually tried to eat Vicks VapoRub, but she did sniff it really intensely once.
Canada's largest city spreads out along the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, and it's a dynamic, multicultural and inclusive experience like almost no other place on earth. Not only is Toronto a thriving living city,it's also become one of the world's truly must-visit destinations. Regularly ranked as one of the greatest places to live, Toronto is the cultural center of the country and home to the biggest events, the most pro sports and the greatest concentration of theaters and restaurants.
Recent decades have seen regular multi-million-dollar upgrades to the city's public spaces, with a slew of great museums, iconic architecture and the redevelopment of the now glittering lakefront adding to the city's appeal.
Add in an ever-growing number of world-class hotels, upbeat nightlife that runs from dusk until dawn and a vibrant and diverse culinary scene influenced by the eclectic makeup of the city's people. Bright and bustling, cosmopolitan and cultured, unpredictable and energetic, Toronto has become one of the greatest cities on earth.
What you see and where you go will depend on the length of your stay. A week is good, longer is better. But even a long weekend will give you a taste of 'The Six' — one of the city's many nicknames, reworked recently as 'The 6ix' by one of its most famous sons, Drake.
However long you stay, you can't hope to see it all. So, consider what follows a starting point for your first visit…
City Hall, Toronto
The checklist sites
No visit to The Six can be considered complete without ticking off several of Toronto's true heavyweight sights. All of the following are in or within easy reach of the city's compact, walk-able and very vibrant center.
The CN Tower is unmissable in every sense, a vast freestanding spire that looks down upon the city and takes its place as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Modern World'. Head up for the city's best 360-degree views, or get your heart racing on the EdgeWalk — a journey around the circumference of the tower's main pod, 116 stories high and tethered by a harness.
Back on solid ground, Ripley's Aquarium is almost right next door to the CN Tower and is home to 16,000 aquatic animals and the Dangerous Lagoon. A moving sidewalk that whisks you through a long tunnel surrounded by sharks and stingrays is guaranteed to make your heart race all over again.
Also close to the CN Tower is the Rogers Center, home to Canada's only baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Visit on game day for the full experience, or take the stadium tour to go behind the scenes and through closed doors.
In a city of so many museums and galleries, the Royal Ontario Museum stands out. Not just because it's home to a world-class collection of 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, but as much because it hosts exciting Friday night events that include dance, drink and top DJs.
Two other must ticks include the Art Gallery of Ontario, which houses 95,000 works of art and is free for visitors under 25, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, which taps into Canada's national obsession in stunning depth.
Art Gallery of Ontario
Casa Loma is a must-visit Gothic castle in the heart of the city. North America's only castle is filled with artworks and treasures from Canada and beyond, but its big pull is the network of hidden tunnels to explore as they stretch out beneath the city.
Toronto's multi-cultural makeup is visible all across the city but reflected best in its remarkable culinary scene (see Where to eat and drink). The city's 'fresh and local' mantra is perfectly showcased at St. Lawrence Market, one of the world's greatest food experiences. Pay it a visit and grab a peameal bacon sandwich — a Canadian staple invented in Toronto and now considered the city's signature dish.
St. Lawrence Market
Afterwards, walk off the calories by wandering the historic cobblestone and car-free Distillery District. Once a vast whiskey distillery and an important spot during prohibition, historians mention that even Al Capone would visit the Distillery to load alcohol destined for the States . This iconic landmark now distils creativity within the 19th century buildings now home to hip restaurants, bars, independent boutique stores, galleries and theaters. Visit in December for the Toronto Christmas Market.
Finally, don't even think about returning home without having had a picture taken with your head poking through an 'O' of the multicolored, 3D Toronto sign at City Hall — the most Insta-worthy location in a city of so many. You'll need to head there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
If you stay long enough, take a ferry and hop across to Toronto Islands, a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario just south of the mainland. They're home to beaches, a theme park and a breathtaking view of the city's skyline and will very happily fill a full day of your stay.
The bucket list
You absolutely cannot leave Toronto without having witnessed the power of the Niagara Falls and its hypnotic mist up close. Trying to visit the Falls from the States is a trip on its own, but it's almost non-optional when you're less than two hours away in Toronto. Take the trip, buy the T-shirt and tick off one of the world's must-see sights.
Explore like a local
Away from the sleek, gleaming towers of downtown lie many of Toronto's less obvious but no less essential attractions. West Queen West is Toronto's hippest neighborhood and artistic heart, a one-mile strip of very chic galleries, stores, restaurants and boutique hotels. Kensington Market is a fantastically chaotic neighborhood and perhaps the best example of the city's famous multiculturalism. It's not a market as the name implies, but a collection of independent shops, vintage boutiques, art spaces, cafés, bars and restaurants from every corner of the globe.
The Bata Shoe Museum is one of the city's quirkiest collections, an unexpectedly fascinating exhibit that retraces the 4,500-year history of footwear. And as you wander the city, you can't fail to notice that Toronto's walls are alive with graffiti. Take a free 90-minute walking tour through the back alleys of Queen Street West and down Graffiti Alley to gain a better understanding of the city's street art scene. If you visit during the sunnier months, escape the hustle by heading just east of the center to High Park, the green heart of the city where forests, walking trails, picnic spots and even a zoo await you. Ideal to unwind after a long day of urban adventures.
When to go With the sun shining, May through October is a great time to visit, but the city is alive through all four seasons. The Spring and Autumn months are ideal as the humidity and visitor numbers are lighter, while Toronto comes alive through the colder months through a wide array of winter celebrations. One of the most spectacular is the Aurora Winter Festival, a six-week celebration that sees the Ontario Place, West Island transformed into four mystical worlds. Whichever season you choose, plan to stay for at least five nights to get a true flavor of the city.
Toronto skyline view
Where to stay To be at the heart of most of the attractions you'll want to see, aim for downtown. One of the best options is the Marriott City Center, not only because it's located right next to the CN Tower but also because it's attached to the iconic Rogers Center where the Toronto Blue Jays play and countless concerts and popular events are held.
Toronto Blue Jay stadium
Opt for a Stadium room and you'll look out onto the field. If you want to experience Toronto's non-stop nightlife, the Entertainment District is the place to be. If you're looking for a luxury experience, discover Canada's first St. Regis hotel in the heart of downtown.
Where to eat and drink Nowhere is Toronto's incredible diversity more evident than in its food scene — taste Toronto and you're tasting the world. The city is brimming with restaurants and cafés serving everything from high-end fine dining to comfort food from an informal neighborhood joint — plus every option imaginable in between.
For fine dining, consider Alo, Canis and Edulis. Book a table at Canoe, Lavelle, The One Eighty or 360 at the CN Tower and you're guaranteeing a view as spectacular as the food. Or experience the city's remarkable fusion food at DaiLo (French-Cantonese), El Catrin (Mexican-French) and the unexpected mashup of Rasta Pasta (Jamaican-Italian).
The above suggestions don't even scratch the surface of a food scene to rival any city on earth, with options to suit every taste and any budget.
How to get around Toronto is perfect to explore on foot or via a growing network of cycle routes. For a quicker journey, buy a Presto card to use the TTC, Toronto's subway, streetcar and bus system.
How to get there Fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) with United and you're around 15 miles west of the city center. The most comfortable route in is via the Union Pearson Express, which runs every 15 minutes and gets you downtown in 25 minutes ($13).The TTC is a cheaper option at under $5, but it can take an hour and a half and involves a number of transfers, while a taxi will take around 30 minutes and cost $45.
United flies to Toronto from numerous U.S. cities including our Hub city locations. Book your trip via united.com or by downloading the United app.
Around the web
Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).
Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes
Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.
These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.
Australian wildfire relief efforts
Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.
Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.
These medical supplies will fly to Melbourne (MEL) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.
By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives
Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.
On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.
Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund
We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.
Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.
In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.