Time was running away from us and I was determined not to fall into the trap of counting down the days until we had to say good bye. Not easy. Before we knew it we were back at Queensberry Street collecting suitcases and juggling the dirty washing with the clean, preparing for our final two nights in Melbourne staying at The Hotel Windsor.
One of Australia’s oldest hotels, since 1883 the Windsor has been welcoming guests to its five star splendour, and stepping through the polished, brass edged doors held open by a traditional, braided concierge was like stepping into old London. Traditional afternoon tea for two leaves little change from $200, and needless to say we never normally stay anywhere even close in grandeur. But Joe works there and seems to have made an impression in the few months he’s been front of house – recently he’s added the end of day account keeping to his CV, resolving financial discrepancies and reconciling the day’s takings, whilst also being Duty Manager on the night shift. There was one slightly bizarre moment when the much older, uniformed doorman called him ‘boss’! Joe had requested staff rates for our stay, which were reduced enough to be comparable to our usual hotel of choice – that one Lenny Henry also likes!
As a measure of their regard for Joe, they threw in a few unexpected extras – an upgrade to a ‘superior’ suite, complementary breakfasts and wifi, plus a bottle of champers chilling on the oak sideboard, which went down very nicely as the three of us planned the final couple of days reclining on our brocaded silk, three piece suite. I could get used to this. Another lovely touch was a copy of their famous guest list of distinguished visitors, with our names discretely added three quarters of the way down just above Mohammed Ali!
Joe was due back at work the next morning, so we walked together to book a tour out to Phillip Island, before he abandoned me in Federation Square when he shot off to join his running group for a swift 10km. Later that evening he treated us to supper in a cool restaurant just around the corner from the hotel, hidden behind a nondescript door, one of the things I loved about Australia was just this – high quality, diverse eating at prices that weren’t too painful, within individually designed ‘one off’ bars and restaurants that are stylish but not ostentatious. This particular bar served unusual sharing platters (loved the green peppers in goats cheese) in a narrow room designed at many levels up a steep flight of stairs – a large, circular window and candles casting an ambient glow over diners, who were then surprised to walk to another area and find old oak curved back chairs displayed hanging from the ceiling!
The next morning a smartly suited and booted Joe greeted us on reception, with his walkie talkie discreetly visible where the cord curled down from his ear, but there was no time to linger for a chat as he was busy checking out guests. So we indulged in the first of our luxurious breakfasts, discretely delivered by silver service beneath the chandeliers.
We retraced our steps back to those first days in a Melbourne, recreating some of the photos that were sadly lost when I mislaid my decent Fuji on day three. What a plonker! It all had a weird sense of déjà vu as our epic trip came full circle.
What was there left to do? The Penguin Parade! Our final treat, a two hour coach drive out to the nature conservation sites at Phillip Island, to see the Fairy Penguins (the smallest breed) walk up the beach at dusk to their nesting burrows, a true high spot of our holiday. Whilst it was a little sad to see what a commercial enterprise this has become, I loved every minute, including our tour guide’s ability to imitate the mating calls of koala bears!
So what next for Joe? To get a second year visa he needs to do three months agricultural work, so he will possibly be researching this as I write – cherry picking in Tasmania is currently the number one preference. Whilst there he can watch the penguins ‘parading’ on a multitude of beaches – without the car parks and gift shops. And then, maybe, back to the Windsor (hotel, sadly, not the town) for a while. Somehow I suspect it won’t be for long – he’s determined to build up that CV and see the world at the same time.
We’d better get saving …