The second part of my birthday long weekend involved adventuring in Central Victoria, an in area of our Garden State of which I am particularly fond.
We commenced by visiting Castlemaine and enjoying the delights of the local artists’ market. Castlemaine is a great place. I pretty much spent my school holidays there growing up, as both parents hail from the ‘maine. It’s become a pretty cool town in recent years (with many people moving there and commuting to Melbourne, it’s also known as ‘North Northcote’ to some). The market is good, and has a broad range of artists, including a couple of my favourites – the printmaker Bridget Farmer (I have a couple of prints, and have given them as gifts) and Cathy from the Industrial Sewing Workshop (I have their fabulous Arrietty’s Bag as well as some bicycle gear). We also did a quick spin of the Rotary Art Show which was exhibiting in the Market Building.
Castlemaine now has many excellent places to eat that could easily be found in inner Melbourne (including Northcote!). However, one of the best places to have lunch is Tilley’s Team Rooms (no website), in a little covered mall off the main street. It is a very low key establishment, with slightly old-fashioned decor. Glenda has been running the show for a bit over 17 years (long before the hipster food places began arriving). It was a favourite of my Grandmother’s before she died, and this is another reason I like to go there. You cannot get quinoa, freekeh or a pea foam reduction, but the coffee and tea is hot (country-hot, not Melbourne-hot), and the tea comes with an extra pot of hot water without one needing to ask. You can usually get jelly slice (although on this occasion, another customer beat me to the last slice and I had to settle for chocolate cheesecake).
We next headed up to Bendigo, another regional town that has become cool in recent years. Growing up in Ballarat, I always thought Bendigo was some sort of try-hard Ballarat, but it really is a great town in its own right. I wouldn’t mind living in the Bendigo-Castlemaine region one day.
Greg had booked us into the new Schaller Studio hotel (Art Series Hotel) for the night. It had only been open about six weeks and is a fantastic hotel, near the hospital and close enough that you can easily walk into the town centre. The service is excellent and they even provided us a bottle of sparkling white when they realised it was my birthday weekend. As the name may suggest, the hotel is furnished extensively with Mark Schaller’s art and is very funky indeed. We actually own a Schaller, which added an extra layer of meaning for us. The only criticism I would make is that they openly provided cage eggs for breakfast. I found this quite surprising, the breakfast buffet being otherwise fine, but I guess it is good that they were transparent about it.
Going out for dinner in Bendigo on a Sunday night reminded us that it very much still is a country town at heart – hardly anything was open, even though it was a long weekend, and full of tourists. We dined at the Rifle Brigade hotel, they provided us a good, modern pub meal, with fast but friendly service.
On Monday we went to the Bendigo Art Gallery to see the touring exhibit on the Royal Academy of Arts. The Gallery is known for its blockbuster exhibitions, particularly for securing V&A exhibitions from London, and is generally excellent. The Royal Academy of Arts exhibition was no exception, but pleasingly the Gallery also has a broad collection of Australian art, and a recently renovated and expanded wing that includes a cafe. Despite being chilly winter’s day, the sun was shining and the sky was blue, and we enjoyed walking around the extensive gardens surrounding the Gallery and into the town centre.
On the way back to Melbourne we made the effort to turn off the freeway into Malmsbury to visit the famous bakery. Growing up, the road from Melbourne to Castlemaine went right through the middle of Malmsbury, but the freeway has now bypassed this and many other small towns. The bakery is great, and it was pleasing to see that plenty of other people continue to turn off the freeway. They are very proud of their Dundee Cake, but we went with a vegetarian mushroom pie – hardly traditional fare, but yummy none-the-less. The tea came with the extra pot of hot water.
The weekend concluded with a lazy night in West Footscray with wine and home-made pizza. I also had the joy of knowing that I had the rest of the week off and could sleep in on Tuesday morning. So the birthday long-weekend was over, but the birthday-related festivities continue!