Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Bendigo Bliss

Easter started early for Mr Rosanna and me - I'd bought tickets a while ago to see US soul singer Charles Bradley at The Corner Hotel in Richmond and his second sold out gig in Melbourne was last Wednesday night before he and his entourage headed north for the Byron Bay Bluesfest.  If you do have access to Netflix, it's worth watching the documentary on his life called Soul of America - like most soul singers, he's had both a terribly tragic as well as an incredibly inspiring life.
While we've previously been to Bright and Beechworth for Easter, this year we headed to Bendigo the next day as I had booked a holiday house there last year given the annual Easter Festival (Australia's longest, continuously running festival) which is huge, and to visit good friends who've permanently moved there.  We stayed in some gorgeous boutique accommodation - an Art Deco house called Pengallie which is just a bit further up from the View Street Arts Precinct and walking distance to The Corner Store Cafe.  We loved it - the two bedroom house is fully self contained with laundry facilities and is also pet-friendly with a lovely front and back garden - perfect for couples, girls weekends and small families.  It was great just to sit at the front of the house taking in the sunshine every afternoon with a cup of tea.
Pengallie Bendigo

The Easter Festival actually started on the Thursday night with live music in Rosalind Park however we didn't make it there until Good Friday for the annual Easter Egg Hunt by Vision Australia which was massive!  It's broken into different age groups and we'd pre-booked tickets.  It's also run by SES volunteers who sprinkled copious amounts of eggs everywhere and it was funny to see the kids being marshalled prior to being let loose to find their eggs, all of which was accompanied by a live DJ from the local radio station.

Bendigo turned it on weather-wise as both Good Friday and Easter Saturday were glorious - after the hunt, we grabbed some food from the food stall area and sat in the sun picnic-style to eat before going for a walk past the vintage car displays, rides (where the kids took ages to go on both a jumping castle and inflatable slide) and market stalls which went on forever.  It actually got quite hot in the sun - Mr R got sunburnt.  The walk was interesting in that you can see Bendigo's resident bat colony in the trees during the day - something I'd never seen before.

On Easter Saturday, we took the boys to the Central Deborah Gold Mine and did an underground tour (take a jacket and wear closed toe shoes if you go).  From there you can do the Vintage Talking Tram tour all the way out to the Bendigo Joss House (stopping on the way there if you like at the Discovery Science & Technology Centre, Bendigo Tramways Museum & Depot, and Lake Weeroona before ending at the Bendigo Joss House).  Sadly, we didn't do the tram tour - we tried to the following day on Easter Sunday but the tours weren't running due to the Easter Parade.
I managed to go out to Bendigo Pottery on Saturday afternoon on my own and while the pottery itself isn't quite my taste being more traditional, I did love some of the local ceramic art including works by Mooroopna-based artist Kaye Poulton.  I also loved the accompanying Antiques Centre based at the pottery and spent a couple of hours having a browse and discovering an Art Deco style section just at the very end after the counter.  There are also a number of artist galleries and studios on-site as well as olive oil and wine tastings so it's well worth a visit.
Bendigo Pottery & Antiques Centre
Image via Kaye Poulton blog
We also took the boys to Lake Weeroona to stretch their legs at the playground and it's a very peaceful place to go (the owner of Pengallie also recommended the Bendigo Botanic Gardens and its playground although we never made it there) - there's also a restaurant called The Boardwalk which sits right over the lake and is in a beautiful spot.
The Boardwalk Restaurant on Lake Weeroona
We actually went to both Easter parades at Bendigo - there is a night parade on Easter Saturday as well as the day parade on Easter Sunday.  We had an early dinner with our friends at Clogs on Pall Mall before heading out onto the street to then watch the night parade and fireworks.  The night parade showcases all the Emergency Services of the area - police, CFA, SES etc and the valuable work they do especially in rural areas - it was very entertaining watching all the different trucks and sirens compete with each other and there was even a disco truck that went past.  There was also a brass band playing Gangnam Style, a Scottish bagpipe band, floats of all kinds from the many local clubs and organisations in Bendigo and most surprisingly for me, a large contingent of Chinese New Year floats (they were also celebrating the Spring Festival).  Being a former gold mining town, Bendigo attracted a huge amount of Chinese during the gold rush era and that history has clearly not been forgotten.  As a second generation Australian-born Chinese person, I was really touched to see so many Anglo Saxon Australian men, women and children manning the Chinese floats in traditional Chinese dress - almost a third of the parade was dedicated to the Chinese in some way.  Dragons and lions and dancers and drummers - it was spectacular and the fireworks at the end capped off a pretty magical night in Bendigo.

Mr Rosanna and I hadn't intended on going to the Easter Sunday day parade but discovered when we got to the Deborah Gold Mine that trams were only going into the city and back so we caught the Art Series Schaller Studio Hotel Tram in and ended up checking out some of the antiques stores on View Street before grabbing a coffee and cake at a cafe and watching the parade from the sidelines.  I'd say 80% of the parade was the same as the previous night with the exception of the Sun Loong Dragon - the world's longest imperial dragon (which normally lives at the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo) who appeared at the end of the parade.  Once again, I was really touched to see the amount of people who clapped after he went past and the amount of non-Chinese people manning him.

Bendigo is filled with beautiful buildings, history and culture - it's worth doing a day trip if you can and coming up on the train just to visit the Bendigo Art Gallery and to enjoy the shopping and dining experiences to be had.  Mr Rosanna and I were lucky enough to get an early dinner booking (due to our friends kindly minding our kids) at The Dispensary in Chancery Lane - a very hip Melbourne-looking and feeling laneway restaurant run by a Bendigo-born owner who spent many years living in Melbourne before returning home.  The food and service were excellent and we loved the vinyl tunes being spun on the record player.  It's one of the places to go in Bendigo.  We had also heard great things about Masons of Bendigo - the pre-eminent dining establishment in Bendigo and I also liked the look of Wine Bank on View (despite not being a drinker!), which reminded us a little of Syracuse in Melbourne.
Mr R at The Dispensary 
Me at The Dispensary 
Wine Bank on View Street
On our last day there yesterday after packing up the house, we made it to The Corner Store Cafe for an excellent brunch - it's worth buying a couple of their branded ceramic coffee cups as souvenirs (which are made by Bendigo Pottery and more contemporary) before stretching our legs on the tower in Rosalind Park for a bird's eye view of Bendigo (some clever boys had made paper planes to send off from the top) before heading home to Rosanna.  We loved Bendigo and will be back some day soon.
The Corner Store Cafe

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