Everything was in place for a romantic weekend away. But
the course of true love never did run smooth, as Bruce Munro
rediscovered recently in Melbourne.
My wife thinks we are going to Melbourne for a
much-anticipated break together.
Little does she know I plan to leave her, sort of.
So here's the plan.
Our wonderful children have been farmed out in various
directions for the weekend. And Francesca and I are winging
our way across the Tasman for a long weekend in historic,
cultural, friendly Melbourne.
As far as she is concerned this is an out-of-the-ordinary and
exciting four-day overseas jaunt with her mate.
But after 22 years of marriage, four kids and full lives, I
have decided it is time to freshen things up. I plan to
ditch, meet, get to know, and woo my wife all over again.
Little do I know, we are both headed for the unexpected.
I love air travel. I did a lot of it as a child. What to
others was frustrating queuing followed by long,
uncomfortable flying and more queueing, was to me, and still
is, the excitement of being transported from one life to
something completely different. Take a bus or a boat if you
want incremental development. For step change, take a plane.
My first impressions of Melbourne as we travel in from the
airport late on Friday afternoon are a little disappointing.
This could be any city with endlessly sprawling suburbs. But
not long after we pass under the huge, motorway-spanning
yellow and red sculpture nicknamed the Cheesestick and Zipper
we begin driving down wide, tree-lined boulevards framed by
many beautiful 19th-century buildings.
If change is to be the theme, our accommodation is spot-on.
This is certainly not my everyday life, standing at the glass
outer wall of our room on the 30th floor of the Grand Hyatt
Melbourne hotel, looking down to the Yarra River wending its
way through inner-city Melbourne skyscrapers and across a
wide swathe of this flat, green city towards the ocean, the
setting sun throwing a golden glow across the whole scene.
At 6.30am Saturday morning, I am standing in the middle of
Flinders St, across the road from downtown Federation Square,
clutching my copy of Lonely Planet's Melbourne
Encounter and waiting for a tram.
In our room Francesca is probably still asleep. Although I
thought she did look at me when I slipped my head around the
corner and placed a note on the bedside drawer.
''Morning my darling. I have left so I can woo you afresh,''
the note reads.
"Enjoy breakfast at 8am at Cumulus. Perhaps we will chance to
meet as you stroll the Laneways this morning. And I'm
guessing a stranger would like to invite you to a picnic
lunch across the Yarra in the King's Domain gardens.''
It is a well-executed and beautiful plan I assure myself as I
ride the tram east to Richmond in search of what the hotel
concierge tells me is a 24-hour florist.
An hour later I am standing in Flinders Lane - Flinders St's
narrow cafe-filled little brother - outside the stylish
eatery, Cumulus. I plan to walk in, hand the bunch of red
roses to the maitre d', ask him to ''give them to the
gorgeous woman seated in the corner, and tell her they are
from an admirer'', and walk out.
Only, she is not there.
OK, she can be given them when she arrives.
Now back to the hotel to grab a small backpack, pick up a
bike from Riverside Rentals and pedal uptown to Queen
Victoria Market to buy a picnic lunch.
But when I open the hotel room door, there is my wife on the
She had not found the note for some time. She does not want
to be suddenly told she is in Melbourne on her own. And where
on earth is the blasted King's Domain?I press ''pause'' or
maybe ''cancel'' on my wild scheme. We collect ourselves and
head out together for a belated but delicious breakfast.
Twenty years ago this could have taken days to sort out. But
it seems we have not only aged but matured. As we walk back
towards the hotel we agree my madcap idea can be played out,
but reassessed some time this afternoon.
Queen Victoria Market is a fabulous sensory explosion. I let
the smells of fresh fish, meat, and fruit; the sounds of
stallholders shouting out the qualities and prices of their
wares as they have done for generations; and the constant
jostle and ever-changing sights of the southern hemisphere's
largest open-air market wash over me. Eventually I begin
choosing delicious bits of this and that, and then pack it
all into panniers on the bike and head back downtown and
across the Yarra to the King's Domain, one of several
seamless botanic gardens that surround historic Government
A few minutes later I spot an attractive woman in shorts and
T-shirt pushing a bike up a gentle, woody incline. She stops
to look around and I am suddenly not sure how to do this. It
has been so long. I make some inane comment about how warm it
is, and add that I am about to have a picnic under shade and
would she like to join me?
Having lunch with men she does not know is not OK with her,
and she would rather be in the sun getting a tan, she
OK, I think, don't make it easy. Game on.
''Well then, I'd better introduce myself,'' I say.
"And I'm sure we could find somewhere with shade and
"I really do have too much food for just one person, and it
would be a shame for it to go to waste and for you to go
On a warm Melbourne Saturday afternoon, over a sumptuous
bread, wine and antipasto picnic, Francesca and I get to know
each other. She is forthright, cheeky, thoughtful and
The conversation traverses work, family, travel,
spirituality, world events, politics ...
We discover, despite our different backgrounds and
personalities, we share many of the same values, beliefs and
At some point it strikes me how much I like who this woman
is. By getting rid of the necessary but mundane minutiae of
ordinary life and removing the assumptions of foundational
conversations held long ago - even just for an hour - I am
seeing with fresh clarity why I wanted to spend my life with
We step out of our role play and I give my wife a kiss. We
cycle off to explore Brunswick St, Fitzroy, a multicultural,
Victorian-era suburb replete with cafes and vintage clothing
stores. By mid-evening we are on the city's swanky Southbank.
The city is in the midst of its annual International Arts
Festival and we have caught a performance by acclaimed United
Kingdom dancer Akram Khan. But now we are wandering the bund
somewhat aimlessly, enjoying the nightlife around us and the
city lights reflected on the Yarra's dark waters.
Drawn by the sound of a distinctive rhythm, we find ourselves
in front of the Festival Hub, a brightly coloured two-storey
corrugated iron building on the river's edge.
There is not even standing room downstairs, but we are lucky
enough to find a gap on the mezzanine floor. Immediately
below and in front of us on the stage are a charismatic young
Melbourne Indian couple and the rest of their band, Bombay
Royale. Voices, guitars, sitars, trumpets and drums fill the
venue with the most fantastic retro-Bollywood, funk fusion
sounds we have ever heard.
Next morning from our breakfast seats on the 31st floor it is
obvious Sunday will be cooler and more windy. We catch a tram
up to QV Market to hunt out a special something for each of
the children, then pick up a packed picnic lunch back at the
hotel before finding a tram that will take us to seaside St
Friends now living in Melbourne are a no-show at the St Kilda
Pier, so we find a sheltered corner to enjoy our picnic, and
then browse the kilometre of craft stalls on Jacka Boulevard.
It seems the whole of Melbourne is out cycling, as we are
passed by a constant stream of Lycra on wheels.
Back in town we duck out of a rain shower to get lost in the
National Gallery of Victoria. Then Francesca takes me on a
highlights tour of the Laneways she explored the day before.
Late on a weekend afternoon these atmospheric shop, cafe and
graffiti art-filled alleyways are being used as backdrops to
wedding photos, modelling shoots and even a well-known
singer's press conference-cum-photo op.
We slip uptown for a pre-dinner drink at the Rooftop Bar, on
Swanston St. Our ever-informative hotel concierge has warned
us not to take the lift. So we climb the six floors of stairs
in this somewhat abandoned-looking building, to emerge at an
un-touristed locals bar with engaging views of rooftop
Melbourne slipping into shadow as the sun drops low between
It is dark when we step in to Hosier Lane and pull open the
door of MoVida Bar de Tapas.
For the next couple of mouthwatering hours we are initiated
into the world of authentic Spanish tapas. We think we have
sampled this cuisine before, but it is a colourless facsimile
compared with MoVida's hand-filleted artisan anchovy on
croutons with a smoked tomato sorbet, the crispy pig's ear
with compressed apple, the quince paste cigar with whipped
buffalo milk cheese ...
We roll out of there late, having scored a minor victory for
My arms are around my wife's waist as we once again stand at
the glass wall of our hotel room, looking out across the
colourful city nightscape. In just a few hours our Melbourne
sojourn will be over, and we will return to jobs, family,
mortgage and unmown lawns. Has this trip worked its hoped-for
rejuvenating magic? Yes, to a degree. But it has also given
an unexpected, deeper insight.
The first, intense flush of new love is unique, but
comparatively short-lived. That does not mean a relationship
has to stagnate. Getting out of the routine helps keep things
fresh. And continuing to grow as individuals means we
regularly bring something new to our partnership.
The alternative is the never-ending pursuit of new love in a
string of short relationships. But the benefits of a
long-term relationship belong to those who accept it has to
mature and change. Here I am standing with my companion of 22
years. There is so much we share without a word spoken -
years of excitement, hard work, boredom, tears, laughter,
reality and dreams. And this weekend in Melbourne is pouring
more water into that deep well.
Yes, that is how I will love you Francesca - deeply.