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Weekend of Melbourne Luxury

Spontaneous weekend getaways rock, especially when you do them in full luxury.

We started off by leaving on Thursday night instead of Friday, to extend the adventure just that much into the work week. (Trust me, few things feel more decadent than sleeping in while other people are at work.) An evening flight saw us in Melbourne in time to have a nightcap at our Most Luxurious Hotel of Luxury, aka The Hotel Windsor. This gorgeous Victorian hotel was our home base for the weekend, and I adored it the instant we walked into the lobby — chandeliers dripping from the ceiling, vases of pink cherry blossoms, leather chesterfields, plush carpets, bellboys hopping to attention the minute you walked in, ornate lamps bedecking the sweeping wooden staircase… Bliss. Our room had full marble bathrooms, leather furniture, 12 foot ceilings, curtains with valances, and a pillow menu. Yes, a pillow menu.

Up at a civilised hour the next morning and off to breakfast at a little cafe before heading to the awesome Game Masters exhibit at ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) in Fed Square. Game nerds delight! There were over 100 games to play, all the way from old arcade machines (Pacman! Donkey Kong! Space Invaders! And a lot of others that I was terrible at in the 80s, still terrible at now…) to the original Super Mario Brothers, Diablo, Zelda, to newer console games like Fable III, Kinect games like Dance Central, Rock Band, Eden — and, oh, waaaaay too many to name — plus a whole room dedicated to indie games, including many excellent little iPad games. So we spent Friday morning playing, then went upstairs to the other exhibits at ACMI, which trace the evolution of film from the first magic lanterns to zoetropes, silent pics to ‘talkies’, Australian television and cinema, computer graphics and some wonderful interactive screen installations… All in all, it was the perfect combination of nostalgia and innovation, and was loads of fun.

From there, it was off to a little bookshop that was, sadly, having a closing-down sale. On the upside, all books were $2, but I was very restrained (I bought Morality Play by Barry Unsworth, which is brilliant, and I have a paperback copy somewhere, but how could I resist the perfect hardcover for only $2?) Then it was back to the Windsor for Afternoon Tea, a tradition at the hotel since 1883. People queued up to gain access to the dining room, all dressed up and ready to be spoiled. And, boy, were we spoiled. First, the decor: sky-high ceilings, almost a chandelier per table, fine porcelain with silver accents on spotless white tablecloths, wood-panelled walls painted a delicate shade of cream, wing-backed chairs and chesterfields upholstered in leather of exactly the same hue as the walls, classical music lilting quietly while waiters swirled between the lovely round tables, carrying champagne, silver tea services, and three-tiered tea stands.

We had a selection of finger sandwiches, pastries, freshly-baked scones (with the thickest, most delicious cream in the world), and four varieties of sweets for dessert. The Hotel’s own blend of tea topped it off, and then it was time for a nap. (Also a decadent treat for a workday!)

Then, because apparently all you do on holidays, even short ones, is eat, we headed off for a late dinner at The Japanese Teppanyaki Inn on Collins Street. (Side note: the Windsor was also an excellent choice of hotel because we could walk everywhere. Not a tram was taken this weekend, which couldn’t have made me happier!) Pure deliciousness. Sashimi to start (tuna and salmon, yum yum yum), then amazing prawns, garlic and mushroom and potato, miso soup, rice and so much Wagyu beef we nearly exploded. OH! And the prawns’ legs! We ate them! They looked like something from Aliens, but we ate them anyway. And after the initial reluctance (I mean, they kinda looked like pink cockroaches) I have to admit, they were awesome. Really fishy tasting and crunchy and wonderfully weird.

Then we pretty much fell into a food coma until the next day.

But that didn’t stop us from eating a decadent late breakfast (french toast with real maple syrup for me) and then strolling through a rainy gale to the NGV for one of the most incredible exhibits I have seen in aaaaaaaaaages. I haven’t felt this in love with an exhibit since Patricia Piccinnini came to Adelaide, although, obviously, this show was quite different from that one. Napoleon: Revolution to Empire was so much bigger than I’d expected, so much more broad in scope. I was worried that the show would be a bunch of portraits of Napoleon at his fattest and runtiest, and not much else. But I was so happy to be proven wrong! I mean, look at this image. Who is this man? Certainly not the caricature I’d been led to believe Napoleon was:

How debonair! How dashing! This is an emperor-in-the-making. I’m sure my new opinion of Napoleon has a lot to do with the way the exhibition was set out: it made connections between France and Australia, it peered into the ‘private’ lives of Napoleon and Josephine, it related Napoleon’s rise and fall with such sympathy and respect that, honestly, I wanted to weep at various stages through the exhibit. This was probably also a result of listening to the excellent audio guide, which I’d initially resisted (because often they’re so lame). Narrated by Rachel Blake, it recounted snippets from Napoleon’s letters to Josephine, gave insights into her love of botany (and her servants’ boredom with the Empress’s non-stop ‘lectures’ about the plant life in her amazing gardens at Malmaison), and added so much to the (already informative) wall plaques that I honestly think I wouldn’t have enjoyed the show quite so much without it.

But the variety of pieces on show totally blew me away. Original paintings, such as The Death of Marat by David (pictured right). One of the most famous portraits of Marie Antoinette. Incredible works of propaganda, such as the painting of Napoleon below. Paraphernalia from the French Revolution — such as original flyers from the 1780s, cockades, revolutionary ‘souvenir’ dinner sets. There were books — so many books — the constitution, letters, atlases charting the southern coast of Australia (once called ‘Napoleonland’, believe it or not). There were the Emperor and Empress’s personal effects: jewellery, beds, chairs, locks of Napoleon’s hair. A dress worn by one of the courtiers at Napoleon’s coronation. Golden bees from Napoleon’s coronation cloak. (Be still my heart!) There were displays of the furniture at their mansions, dinner sets, tea sets, chamberlains’ keys, courtiers’ gift boxes, Napoleonic military garb, Napoleon’s infamous hat, a pencil sketch of Napoleon on his death bed. Portraits of Josephine, of Napoleon’s extended and rowdy extended family, of his mother, his bodyguard, the architect that renovated Malmaison. More and more and more, room after room after room of treasures, stories, the entire trajectory of this incredible man’s life.

We spent 3.5 hours in the exhibit, and I would go back and see it again tomorrow. Melbournians — and friends travelling to Melbourne — do yourselves a favour and see this show before it closes in October.

From there, we relived the exhibit while flicking through the catalogue (I can’t resist buying the exhibition catalogues!!) and having a bite to eat at Young and Jackon’s before heading back to the airport, and home.

A whirlwind luxury holiday, in and out in a blink, over way too soon, but thoroughly, completely excellent.

 

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