Our first home exchange in Australia put us in a highrise apartment in the Central Business District of Melbourne. In other cities, the CBD might be called Downtown, the Financial Center, Stadtmitte, or, as in Chicago, the Loop.
Many families and busy professionals are looking for home exchanges in a quiet and relaxing environment. They want to escape their high-stress daily lives and enjoy leisure and sports activities far away from the city. As retirees, we lead a sedate and unhurried small-town lifestyle at home, therefore we prefer the excitement of an urban setting for our exchanges, where we can step out onto the bustling sidewalks of a vibrant cityscape. We like to explore on foot, having restaurants, museums, shops, and theaters within easy reach. To venture further afield, we prefer public transportation over the hassle of driving in unknown high-traffic areas and I loathe those desperate searches for a parking spot. During our seven home exchanges in 2016, we used our car in only one of them to get around on a daily basis. Mainly because it was a more rural exchange.
Our Melbourne hosts very graciously picked us up from the airport. After a day and a half on the road, that gesture was priceless! They spent the next couple of hours with us, introducing their home and explaining the workings of household machinery and the proper disposal of recyclables in their building, before taking off on their own adventure.
Actually, our hosts also provided another important service. They arranged for some needed medical care for me. I am mentioning medical care in foreign countries here as an important issue for home exchanges, especially for families with children or the elderly. Many home swappers create a guide book for their guests and it is my considered advice to prominently include emergency numbers and, if applicable, other information on medical care available.
In my case, I must have developed a urinary tract infection in the days leading up to our trip, but I completely missed any early symptoms. We were just too busy getting ready and when our heating and hot water boiler conked out 48 hours before we were due to leave, everything else fell by the wayside. My symptoms peaked during the flight from Hong Kong to Melbourne and by the time we landed in Australia, I needed antibiotics in the worst way. Since we arrived in Melbourne on a Saturday, I was concerned that I might not be able to see a physician outside of a hospital emergency room.
Fortunately, our host sprang into action immediately and secured an appointment at a full-service medical clinic for me just steps from the apartment. Thus I was able to see a GP before noon, the labs were done on site and I got my precious meds from a pharmacy just around the corner. What a relief! That night I already slept more comfortably. But owing to jet lag, I wandered about at four in the morning taking some night shots of beautiful Melbourne.
By 07:30 Sunday morning I was on my way to the supermarket for some groceries. Along the way, I discovered a little bit of Melbourne’s colorful past during the days of the famous mid-nineteen century gold rush. Our CBD neighborhood used to be the notorious Lil’ Lon slum, a precinct ripe with opium dens, gambling parlors, and brothels, foremost among them Madame Brussels’ whorehouses [she who was born Caroline Lohman in Potsdam, Prussia] – none of which I realized as I was ambling along, pulling my blue shopping cart, stopping here and there to take pictures.
One Victorian terrace deserves special mention, the Leitrim Hotel. It stands out proudly among its more downtrodden neighbors and towering contemporary highrises.
When I googled the Leitrim Hotel, I learned about its history and the valiant battle to preserve it. It was built in 1888 and the unpainted stucco façade has been preserved intact to this day. A unique condition in a building that underwent many different incarnations over the years and was almost razed to make way for an apartment highrise.
But then I crossed Russell Street with its Lunar New Year banners and entered the vast QV shopping mall. Back in contemporary times for sure!