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.
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
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.
The writer was a guest of Mantra.
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