The crisp chill on the breeze, combined with the warm sun on my skin is refreshing and invigorating. I pull my jacket around me and inhale as I stop outside the hotel doors and direct my face upwards, soaking it in.
Sunday morning, the street is quiet and clean. It’s a stark contract to the bustling and grungy streets of Melbourne, that I call home. Looking down Elizabeth St, we can see the market. It invites us in warmly, there’s activity yet it’s not overcrowded.
We move in to it’s heart. There are colours and vibrancy, yet there is a lovely sense of calm and consideration. Families, couples, wanderers pass each other with a smile. No one pushes past or bumps into each other.
We taste the wares of local producers. They share their stories. A tall, well built man shucks oysters fresh from the sea, serving them up with squeezed lime and hot chillies. The aromas and visuals of the culinary delights speak for themselves. There is no sales pitch here. A local brewer offers us samples of his beer based dressings and jams. He moved here from Byron Bay to care for an ill loved one, and then made it his home. I can see why.
There is such freshness to this city. Historic architecture has never been of great interest to me, but I can’t help but marvel at the juxtaposition of a decadent old building and the shiny new David Jones alongside it.
Only a handful of stores are open as we meander through the streets, often crossing to choose the sunny side. Arm in arm we reach the harbour. With child like curiosity and wonder we stop to peer over into the water. I clutch his arm tightly as I point out a huge starfish, then a darting cormorant. Having spent my childhood near the Yarra River I am fascinated by the clarity of the water and the treasures it holds.
Floating food vans line one side of the harbour, selling their fresh catch. As we stand in front of one, a seal pops his head up between them like a puppy, waiting for the fisherman to throw him some scraps. He rolls around in the water, exposing his belly, rubbing his nose and snorting. I sit down and wish my little miss was here to see it. A burly man strides out, fish heads in hand. Our seal friend either spots or smells them as he focuses on the man intently. Then the show really begins. Throwing the scraps out as far as he can into the harbour, we are amazed at the speed of the large brown animal. Like a torpedo under the water, he shoots off and within seconds is back, throwing his catch around. It’s clear this guy is a local. I stroll off feeling a delighted and a little giddy.
Dinner that night is at a little pub, chosen simply because it is the first we pass on the walk from our hotel. It’s noisy and crowded but not rowdy. An open fire keeps the air warm, thick coats hang on the backs of chairs.
Nothing happens in a hurry, but somehow it’s not frustrating so much as coaxes you to slow down. It’s easy to shift into ‘tassie time’, rather than constantly demanding efficient service and rushing off to the next place. Our waitress spends time discussing local wines and how they pair with our choice of twice cooked beef ribs, humouring my companion and laughing at his daggy jokes. The people here seem to embrace simplicity and friendliness.
Though this is a working holiday it’s easy to switch off and be present, enjoying the brilliant flavours and sights of this small city with a big heart. It is clear there is so much to explore and experience here. Only a short drive from the city you can take in the breathtaking views from Mount Wellington, or the rich history of Port Arthur.
A quick stop at a roadside pub for a beer can easily turn into the entire afternoon in the sun, watching a lively brown-suit-and-braces-wearing quartet called Yesterday’s Gentleman.
As I board my plane for a flight that barely allows time for a cup of tea, I know that next time I am looking for an enriching and refreshing county-feeling break in a capital city, I will most certainly be back.