Melbourne Airport is delightfully easy to be in: it is spacious, light and its terminals are just a short walk away from each other. I landed here, learned that mum’s Etihad flight was delayed, walked across the footbridge and checked into the Hilton. I had booked a room (Wotif: $240) for mum and I to stay overnight before catching a connecting flight home to the Northern Rivers region of NSW.
At concierge, Andrew welcomes me with a beaming smile and a room upgrade. Had we been in Bondi, someone with his blue eyes and good looks would have known better than smiling to a customer. The scores of aspiring models and actors working in hospitality on the most famous Australian beach know that smiling is uncool and wrong. Being in Melbourne feels different and I am suddenly pleased that my friend Daniele and his family, who are accompanying mum over from Italy, have chosen the Victorian capital as their first port of call. The city will welcome them with poise and their jam-packed holiday in Australia will start on the right footing.
The hotel room is full of natural light; it is virtually silent and fits two double beds plus a sofa and a desk in the reception area. The décor is minimalist and the bathroom has separate bath and shower. The toiletries are by Crabtree and Evelyn. The view –needless to say- is of the airport. The bottle of water on the bedside table carries a card: $6 for 600ml of Mount Franklin. I wish I had been charged $6 more for the room and given water “for free”. It feels mean, for the Hilton to charge for water and it is a lost opportunity: small acts of kindness lure a guest into feeling welcome. I once found a plate on my hotel pillow: three strawberries dipped in chocolate and a card: Microsoft welcoming Frank to their Phoenix convention. I was travelling for Deutsche Bank and I was not Frank but I enjoyed the treat immensely.
I have a couple of hours to kill before mum’s flight is due to land so I head straight to the pool for a swim and discover that there is a gym as well, which is not mentioned on the Hilton web site, which is why I have packed my goggles but not my gym gear. Bummer. I share the pool with a couple of polite kids, who play in one lane and leave me the other and, after a few laps, I realise how pleasant a time I am having.
My day had started with a brief but stressful experience: one of the horses living on the hobby farm, which is now home got stuck on a fence. Poor Gandalf bruised his leg and his confidence in the ten minutes that took me to work out that something was wrong, decide to trap my toddler son in his high chair to keep him out of trouble and find something to cut the wire with. Releasing Gandalf worked like magic: the herd ran to the furthest corner of the paddock and stood there, each animal with an expression ranging from the terrified to the bewildered; I freed my frustrated son from his improvised jail and all was well again. After a busy morning and a snoozy flight, I woke up in mid air between the clouds’ blanket and the flat countryside on a greyish afternoon. The experience felt familiar and soothing. Landing in Melbourne reminded me of doing so in England and, perhaps because I was about to see mum and meet old friends, it made me feel, in an odd sort of way, at home.
After my swim and a reconnaissance mission through the hotel’s lobby, restaurant and business centre, I walk back to the international arrival terminal and watch the customs’ sliding doors drip-feed tired travellers to the waiting crowd until Daniele’s wife appears, then mum and then the rest of the party. My friends look tired but surprisingly unchanged. Their two curly haired kids though, are approaching teenage-hood, which is an icy reminder of the passing of time and which for a second throws me off balance. Mum is tearful and well and relieved to have finally arrived.
My friends head straight for the city, while I take mum to the Hilton’s restaurant. Dinner is “crisp skin kingfish, crushed kipfler potatoes, tomato consommé, basil mousse and micro herbs” and a glass of 2008 Cape Mentelle Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, from Margaret River, WA. Mum laps it up despite her protestations of having no appetite. She is unfazed when her glass plate cries a loud, obtuse noise and splits in two. She simply carries on her long rambling monologue updating me on distant cousins, sicknesses new and old and the still flourishing web of her social life, which she is rightly proud of. Her only immediate concern: that the staff might blame her for breaking the plate (two mains and two glasses of wine: $94 plus tip –small on account of the plate incident).
A good night’s sleep and a flight back conclude my (very) short break at Melbourne airport. I leave slightly bemused at having enjoyed the experience. I feel stimulated, refreshed and ready to go back home.