“I want to give you some good advice,” my friend Lucy said. “But I can’t think what to say.”
My mum couldn’t think what to say either, but she tried anyway. Her parting words to me at the airport were “don’t go swimming.” Then, realising how silly that sounded, she added quickly, “In the sea.” My dad and I rolled our eyes.
By far the best advice I got was from Melbournian Eleanor, recently relocated to Edinburgh. She gave me the lowdown on all the inner city suburbs, bringing them to life with her enthusiasm and colourful descriptions.
A few days after my arrival in Melbourne I decided to check out one of the cafés Eleanor had recommended, Seven Seeds in Carlton. I arranged to meet Clare there, a friend of a friend from Sydney.
The address I had for Seven Seeds was 114 Berkeley Street. Walking around Carlton, however, Berkeley Street seemed to go from numbers in the thirties to two-hundred-and-something, skipping out the one-hundreds in between. I walked once round the block then asked two passing students for directions.
“Oh, we go there all the time!” the girl said brightly, then, looking genuinely puzzled: “Now let me see, how do you get there?”
They walked with me up to the main road then pointed up a side street. “It’s in one of the laneways off that street. Just look down every single one till you see it.”
The second last laneway ended in a building that could have been a café – there were a couple of tables outside where people were drinking coffee – but it was devoid of any signs indicating its purpose. It was only when a group of people emerged from the door holding Seven Seeds takeaway cups that I knew I was in the right place.
While I was waiting for Clare, a guy sitting opposite me at the table clocked I was foreign. “How did you find this place?” he asked. “It was hard,” I admitted. “Melbourne’s like that,” he said. “You’ve just got to push on doors and hope they’re heading into the place you want.”
Coming from a nation of tea drinkers, I’m not at the stage yet where I fully appreciate a decent cup of coffee. I normally drink instant at home. I’m sure the coffee at Seven Seeds is good – it’s thick and dark and bitter, like 90% Lindt chocolate – but at the moment I’m more interested in café culture than coffee. It’s exciting to think that there are loads of unmarked, hidden coffee places waiting to be discovered. When Clare asked if there was anything she could help me with, I asked her to tell me about her favourite cafés in Melbourne.
That evening while I was studying a map of the city, planning an itinerary for the next few days that would take in all the places Clare recommended, my mobile phone rang. It was a very bizarre call indeed, but more on that later.