Street, right in the heart of Melbourne's CBD, we were excited to be staying in a fresh new part of town and waved goodbye to our car as the valet took it off to be parked in the bowels of the city somewhere.
Whenever I hand over my keys to a valet I'm always reminded of the scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off where the attendant takes the sports car out for the ride of its life. Today, however, I'm happily convinced that the affable staff will treat the car kindly.
Our apartment is like a home away from home. Ainsley Aldons, the Residence Manager, has welcomed us with a basket of treats that bring joy to all. Lollies, chocolate biscuits, breakfast supplies (bacon, toast bread, eggs, muesli) and fresh fruit that will keep the kids going all weekend. Strawberries, raspberries, and apples are a healthy treat that parents will appreciate but even better is the addition of games for us to play, Jenga and UNO. That someone has picked out this welcome gift specifically to meet the requirements of our family is obvious and very much appreciated. Ainsley tells me that the Somerset likes to welcome all long stay guests with a similar gift to make them feel at home.
Our two bedroom apartment on the tenth floor is perfect for us and prompts me to think about trading in my big house for something small and easy to clean. The kitchen is functional and has a fridge, microwave, dishwasher and is well stocked with all the essential equipment needed to produce meals. We don't want to cook during our 'staycation' but if we did, this kitchen would make it a pleasure.
The apartment has two TVs with Foxtel and two bathrooms, making it very practical for a family of four. The lounge area has a large, luxurious sofa and a dining table in the corner, giving us the chance to spread out and enjoy being together, without feeling like we're in each other's space.
The beds are luxurious and come with a range of super soft pillows and a teddy bear on each bed for the kids to snuggle with. Staff are happy to oblige when they realise it's one adult and three kids, not two and two as they'd originally thought, so while we are out exploring the city, they send in a fold out bed.
The city views are pretty and the kids decide to sleep with the curtain wide open so they can see the lights at night. I prefer to cocoon myself in the room and pull the blinds together, blocking out the sunrise and hoping for a little sleep in the next day.
The kids inhale the lollies and set up at the coffee table playing Jenga immediately, having a ball until one of them remembers that The Somerset has a pool. Clothes are thrown around as they jump into swimsuits and we head for the gym/pool area. The warm spa soothes our muscles and the swim jets give us the opportunity to swim a few 'laps' to increase our heart rates.
It's a fun start to our Friday night sightseeing. We dress quickly then head out to line up for the highlight of the evening. The bureau of meteorology has suggested that there might be lightning and we want to see it from the Eureka Skydeck, where visitors can get a bird's eye view of Melbourne from its tallest building. It's a quick tram ride from The Somerset to Flinders Street Station. We then take the tunnel underneath the tracks and head across the river. It's a pleasant stroll along Southbank to the entrance. Noticing the thousands of people enjoying their Friday night drinks in the myriad of bars on the Southbank promenade on this balmy Melbourne evening, I'm a bit envious and I must remind myself of the purpose of this family staycation - to reconnect with the kids.
We decide to head back into the CBD for dinner and a heated debate occurs while weighing up the options. Within two blocks of our apartment, there are literally hundreds of restaurants and cafes. Some of us want to venture uphill to Chinatown and eat juicy steamed dumplings and noodle dishes, while others are keen for a more sophisticated Italian meal in one of Melbourne's many laneways. Hardware Lane, recommended by hotel staff, is metres from our door and offers lots of entertainment for the kids as spruikers vie for our business.
Finally, we settle on The Emporium Food court which offers a little bit of everything and the whole family is happy. There's George Calombaris' Jimmy Grants for those who want Greek, there's a sushi train, a dumpling shop, pizza, pasta, and so much more.
After dinner, we partake in a shopping spree. Melbourne's stores are open till 9 pm on a Friday night so we go for it. Myer, H&M, DJs, Emporium, etc, are a stone's throw away from our rooms so we can fill our bags without worrying about how far we have to go to carry them home.
We settle in for a bit of TV before bed as the city revellers dwindle away into the night. The Somerset is in a very central part of town which is its greatest draw card and my initial concerns about noise were proven unfounded. The walls are thick in this former office block and the apartments have been designed for city living. However, I can hear the tram bells dinging as they travel up and down Elizabeth St, an iconic Melbourne sound, and we also hear St Paul's clock tower striking the hour. My kids have never been to Europe to hear Big Ben chime. In fact, they've been raised in the suburbs where there is no central aural marker of time for the general community. They just look at their iPods or their iPhones to see what time it is, so this is quite a novelty for them.
On Saturday morning we're up bright and early and back in the pool area. The teenager hits the gym and even convinces me to try some of the machines. The huge window between the gym and the pool area is perfect for keeping an eye on the swimmers while we have a good workout on the brand new and state of the art equipment. There is a communal outdoor area which is often used by guests on sunny days. However, for social events, the team puts on events for guests in the lobby, most recently a Spring Carnival get together. The Somerset likes to encourage a sense of community, especially for their guests who are long-term residents who, Ainsley says, become their friends.
Guests range from country folk who visit for weekends and special events, corporate workers who live in during the week and travel home on weekends, to international guests who make The Somerset their home for up to 18 months at a time. It's easy to see why this place would suit them. The staff are incredibly friendly and helpful and the location is ideal for those working here.
Melbourne is famous for its four seasons in one-day weather variations and this weekend was no exception. The sun shone warmly upon us as we walked up to Federation Square via Flinders Lane so I could indulge in my absolute favourite pastime in Melbourne - drinking coffee in the famous Degraves Street. By the time we returned, rain had bucketed down and we were completely soaked.
Saturday afternoon is a step back into our normal routine. The kids have basketball games and parties to attend. We return to our room late at night, welcomed, as usual, by the friendly staff on the front desk.
On the Sunday morning, the city is quieter and we stroll along looking at the Myer Christmas Windows before the crowds arrive. We decide to catch a tram and visit the Botanical Gardens. The gated children's garden has much appeal on a hot day, its bamboo forest offering protection from the heat, and the little stream a refreshing place for kids to cool their feet.
At midday, we have to accept that our mini-break is over. We head back to the city to collect our bags and check out of The Somerset on Elizabeth, hoping that one day we can stay at another of their properties in either Hobart, Perth, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore.
I highly recommend this property for anyone who is looking for somewhere to stay in Melbourne. The staff are wonderful and its proximity to Melbourne's tourist landmarks makes it super convenient. For a girls' or boys' weekend, a shopping trip or for an extended stay in town, The Somerset is an obvious choice.