If you go with big kids: Melbourne

With just a handful of weeks before Lauren leaves us for 18 months, we managed to scavenge a long weekend to go see another corner of Australia together. We tossed around a few ideas but Melbourne quickly became our unanimous choice. And, boy, did she live up to our hopes. There's a reason it was voted the most liveable city in the world for the past two years. Melbourne, save us a seat. We'll be back!
Here are a few ideas if you ever find yourself in Melbourne with some big kids and teens (a big thanks to some local friends for the hints and recommendations):

Royal Botanical Gardens

Royal Botanical Gardens

Melbourne park read.jpg
Eureka Skydeck

Eureka Skydeck

Melbourne photo booth.jpg
Melbourne photo booth pic.jpg
Queen Victoria Market + Cafe Verona

Queen Victoria Market + Cafe Verona

Shopping on Brunswick Street

Shopping on Brunswick Street

Old Melbourne Gaol

Old Melbourne Gaol

National Museum of Victoria

National Museum of Victoria

Melbourne eating.jpg

To do & see:

Go for a wander through the beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens Melbourne (free). Perfect for a picnic or an ice-cream-cone stop along the way. We found a grassy place to put our feet up and enjoy the scenery for a few minutes.

The National Gallery of Victoria is right across the street from the Botanical Gardens. It hosted a fantastic exhibit of Monet's Garden when we were there. The rest of the museum is well worth a visit, too.   (Free except $ for special exhibits.)

Take a trip up to the Eureka Skydeck for spectacular views of Melbourne's sites. You might want to stop to take a few photobooth photos. Because who can resist the siren call of the photobooth, even when you're on top of the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere? Not us, that's who. ($) 

 Queen Victoria's Market (also known as Queen Vic or Vic Market) shouldn't be missed. It's a sprawling, historic market in the heart of the city where you can shop for fruits & veg, flowers, clothing, and arts. (Free, closed Mondays, Wednesdays and public holidays.) 

Shopping on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, where vintage shops rub shoulders with cafes, artsy places, and one-of-a-kind shops. Even confirmed anti-shopper Sam enjoyed it. (Granted, his threshold was much lower than his sisters' but he did hang in there well. Plus there were burgers along the way.) Click on the link to get a flavor of the street in a panoramic view.

The Old Melbourne Gaol was a hoot. We got arrested and imprisoned by a sarcastic sergeant for an up-close and realistic view of the historic gaol and then wandered around the building learning about the infamous criminals who came and went within its walls. You can also do a night tour with the Hangman (not for young 'uns) and  watch a reenactment of the Ned Kelly Trial. ($)

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image was a fun stop. They featured a Hollywood Costume special exhibit from London's Victoria & Albert Museum when we were there this weekend, which was a big hit with all of us. ($)

For next time:
 The Melbourne Cricket Ground to take in some cricket or rugby or to visit the National Sports Museum.
Rod Laver Tnnis Arena: for tours behind the scenes of the Melbourne Open. You can also book a court and play a little tennis at those hallowed nets.
 St. Kilda neighborhood
Brighton bathing boxes
Great Ocean Road, 12 Apostles, and lighthouses

To eat: 

La Camera at Southbank: tasty and well-priced Italian fare. We went twice! 
 Cafe Verona (Queen Vic Market): you had us at mini pancakes. Yum.
 Brother Burger (Brunswick Road in Fitzroy): the best burgers and onion rings we've had in ages.

For next time: 
 Mamacita (Central Business District): we had read rave reviews but, alas, the wait was 4 hours for our party of five. Too long for our hungry crew.

To sleep:

We booked some hotel/apartments at Oaks on Market. They were pretty basic but the price was right and the location was perfect. And having a kitchen means lots more food flexibility.

We've also had great luck using Stayz in Australia to book a house or apartment.

We're certainly no experts after just one weekend there! Feel free to chime in if you have some Melbourne picks I've missed.

p.s. Things I realized this trip:
1.  Our cheesy travel doctrine of flexipositivity might just be paying off. Everyone was in pretty good spirits and willing to go with the flow as needed. (Exception: as Sarah sagely noted, a hungry child is a dangerous child. When we did encounter a bit of turbulence, it was nothing a little food and sitting down for a spell didn't fix.)

2. We have entered travel nirvana, age-wise (knock-on-wood). The kids are really pretty funny, can carry their own bags, and even sleep in their own hotel room. (I know!) We've been looking forward to this stage for decades. 

3. Travel nirvana has a very narrow window. I couldn't help but whimper a bit if I let myself think about how this whole-family travel thing might not happen again for quite some time. If at all. And isn't that just the truth about this parenting gig overall? Just when you get to the point that you can enjoy the whole thing, it's time for someone to move on.  

4. Vacation laundry is still a beast, no matter what stage your family's in.

5. I need to get in front of the camera a little more so I have proof I made the trip, too.