Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Magical Melbourne

Magical Melbourne

We land in Melbourne at 10:30 A.M. We have lost an entire day but we both feel surprisingly good. After claiming our baggage, I assess our travel options into the city. I quickly opt for a shuttle service costing $35.00 for both of us. A tram is available for $14 per person; but I choose the more convenient option that for just a few dollars more, will deliver us to the front door of our hotel.

A dozen people are on our shuttle bus and we are the last to be deposited in front of our Citigate Hotel. We enjoy the scenic drive throughout the city. Our first impression of Melbourne is that it is much like San Francisco. Trolley criss-cross the streets and the city architecture is a mix of 18th century historic and futuristic modern with the usual blight of fast food restaurants and brand name stores. Our Euro-modern hotel is across from the main Flinders Street train station. Our reservations are in order and our room is immediately available. The online rate was just $139.00 per night including all taxes and I am delighted with the location as well as the stylish minimalist accommodations. We quickly deposit our luggage and set out to explore the city. We are hungry and the concierge advises that we walk just a block down to Degraves Street where we will be able to find something to eat. We turn into a laneway lined with charming cafes and restaurants. It is a narrow walking street with small bistro tables spilling out onto the street. Even on this overcast winter day, most of the tables are occupied. Choosing a café is difficult, but we settle on one at the end of the lane. We squeeze into a corner table adjacent to an alley, brightly painted with graffiti and murals. John orders a salami baguette and I choose vegetable lasagna. We drink only water and our bill is $17.00. A trio of jazz musicians’ play in a recessed alcove across from a row of painted dumpster. We have lost a full day in traveling and are not sure if we are eating breakfast or lunch. I have no watch and my sense of time and place is altered.

*I am told that Melbourne has more restaurants, cafes and eating establishments per capital than any other city in the world.

After lunch we meander down the laneway which morphs into a covered arcade lined with upscale boutiques. We pass a student booking agency and I arrange for a rental car so that we may drive the great ocean road tomorrow. Our next stop is to exchange money at the bank. Hours earlier, I exchanged $100 at the airport and was charged a high commission. With money in my purse, we walk a few blocks to Federation Square; an impressive public space. The multi level square has wonderful views of the surrounding city; exhibit halls, theatres, galleries and eateries. There is a remarkable central glass atrium and the surrounding buildings are built of steel and Zinc. An immense white ball floats tethered above the massive structure. It starts to drizzle.

John and I walk through China Town and purchase an inexpensive folding umbrella. John carries the umbrella gallantly above me until it breaks. It is cold and raining and I buy a waterproof, windproof jacket at an outdoor store. The jacket is an Australian brand, Gondwana, and seems well priced at $109.00. Levi jeans are priced between $95 -$125. John is already well outfitted with his hooded waterproof Patagonia jacket. We jump on the #112 trolley towards Brunswick Street and after much confusion and help from the locals, we manage to purchase our two hour return trolley tickets from the vending machine on board. Each ticket is $3.70 which seems expensive. I wonder how much a taxi for the two of us would cost? We get off at the far end of Brunswick and walk back along the colorful street lined with boutiques, cafes, restaurants and bookshops. The rain has let up and our jackets are ample protection in the intermittent drizzle. We pop into a few off beat boutiques and art galleries. It is nearly 5:00 P.M. on a Friday afternoon and I imagine that in two hours this district will be extremely lively. Not quite satiated with this hipster district, we cross over and walk back along the opposite side of the street, eventually catching the #112 trolley back to our hotel. We walk a block over, returning to charming Degraves Street in search of dinner. Tonight, the street feels very French, with its many bistros, aglow from within. Wonderful aromas fill the air and the tables in the street are beginning to fill with diners, bundled for the cold, but warmed by the overhead heaters. After reading many menus we choose Cafe Andale. All the cafes along this street serve similar fare and all are moderately expensive, but this café is as charming as the rest and the prices are 25% less than the surrounding restaurants. John orders a penne pasta and I choose their special, baked chicken, cordon bleu, with asparagus. Dinner for the two of us with a glass of wine for me and a soda for John is $60. Tax is included in the prices and tipping is not expected. We leave a few dollars extra for the service. It has been a very long day and we return to our hotel to sleep and get over our jet lag.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Flying Down Under- June 23

Flying Down Under- June 23

Our flight from San Francisco to Sydney Australia is at 11:10 P.M. on Wednesday night. We leave for the Airport at 6:45 P.M. Art drives and we talk over all the details of both the trip and keeping the Marty Magic business running smoothly in my absence. Art will have much to do, but he will also enjoy 18 days at his own pace. John and I will share an adventure and we travel well together.

We arrive at the airport nearly three hours before our flight, check in easily, plod through security and after locating our gate, we choose to sit down at the Firewood Grill restaurant for a late night bite to eat. Art cooked us dinner earlier tonight, but John is hungry again. John orders penne pasta with chicken and I choose a steak shish-ka- bob with salad. The food is decent and the hour passes pleasantly.

Our Quantas plane boards on time, but it is after midnight before we are airborne. A small television screen is mounted on the back of each seat and a good selection of movies are available. John and I watch Alice in Wonderland, but the roar of the jet engines makes it difficult for me to hear the dialogue. A late night dinner is served but we eat little, more tired than hungry. I take half of a sleeping pill and drift off but John has difficulty sleeping; his long and lanky body contorted into the confines of his economy seat. John eventually falls asleep and is sleeping soundly when breakfast is served. The flight is 15 hours long and relatively painless.

We land in Sydney with a two hour layover before our flight to Melbourne. It is raining and as we exit and the pilot announces over the loud speaker; to mind the “slipperies.” We deplane to a chorus of “cheerio’s.” I am excited to be in Australia and my guard is down with our extended layover. We take time to use the restrooms and follow the signs towards international? (We are indeed international travelers.) As a seasoned traveler, I should have known that something was amiss when we are again funneled through a security check. John and I wait patiently through the inefficient line, eventually putting all of our gear through the x-ray machine. We exit into a glittering duty free shopping mall and I gravitate towards the overhead arrival and departure screen in search of our departure gate to Melbourne. It takes me just a few seconds to realize that we have taken a very wrong turn and I hail down a security personal and tell her our plight. She quickly checks our boarding passes, swipes a security card along a sealed doorway and John and I enter the correct rabbit hole into the domestic terminal.

We have missed our connecting flight by a few minutes, but are quickly assigned a flight just 30 minutes later. My stress level is high but we are soon airborne and I am grateful that we have not been charged anything extra.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Baja Road Trip

With our official business in La Paz complete, I want to explore the city. We ask directions to the Old Town and the Malacon; navigate there easily and find a suitable parking space. It is a glorious day; hot but cooled by the sea breeze with a clear and blinding blue sky above and intoxicating turquoise water beyond in the bay; perfection. We wander; poke into a few shops and one charming gallery where an endearing clay monster calls to me and I adopt him. The shop keeper carefully wraps his protruding extremities in bubble wrap; I part with my $15.00 and we continue our leisurely stroll. We want to exchange a $100 American bill and stop into several banks before finding one that will accept American currency. Finally successful and hungry, we begin our search for a restaurant for lunch. For those of you who don't know our bad habits, Art and I have an extremely difficult time deciding on any restaurant. Art is always certain that a better choice is just around the corner; or we have different criteria, so we often read menu after menu before making a decision. Today is no different, but we eventually ask the advice of an inn keeper and following his directions we choose an open air restaurant along the Malacon. I think that Art and I both know that the food here will leave us disappointed but nevertheless, we order a platter of the days catch to share. We are visiting off season and there are not a lot of tourists in town; a good thing. A large soft drink truck is making it's delivery to the restaurant, blocking our ocean view and the food is disappointing. We hastily depart La Paz for our drive back towards San Jose Los Cabos.

I love road trips, especially when I am not the driver and I successfully navigate us through the maze of La Paz and back onto highway 1 heading south. When Art grows tired, I take over the driving and when we pass through El Triunfo, Art spots a road side gallery of some interest and suggests that we turn around. I make an abrupt U turn and pull off into the dirt parking area in front of a simple roadside shop. A lone man sits reading in a chair on the raised shaded porch of the shop. After brief introductions and a look around the gallery, he invites us to sit down and visit. Link is in his mid to late 60's. He has opted for Mexican citizenship and has purchased considerable property in El Triunfo where he is has built his home and is the process of constructing an inn. He has a local sweetheart. Before long, the three of us hop into our rental car to drive the short distance back into town so that he can show us his digs and to share a drink together. El Triunfo was a mining town and the smelting tower still stands, constructed by Eiffel. We walk the circle of the town in just a few minutes ending back at the local cafe, resurrected by a California man from Camarillo. Link orders a beer and Art and I share a coffee. The pastries are heavenly. We depart two hours later with regrets and drive another hour towards Los Barriles where we find a room at the Los Barriles Hotel, recommended by Link.

Art wishes to rest so I leave him napping and I walk down to the beach to enjoy the magic of the afternoon light on the water. Los Barriles is an American enclave. There is not much that is authentic here, but the evening light on the bay glows bright. A few local men fish for their catch and ostentatious American yachts are moored in the tranquil bay beyond. After an hour wandering along the beach, I return to our large, simple and clean motel room and rouse Art. We set out in search of dinner but the restaurant choices are few. I do not want to settle on the sports bar so we walk a block further down the street until we are accosted by a woman from Tahatchapi, California, who recently opened a small sushi restaurant in Barriles. She guilt trips us into eating at her establishment but happily our decision results in two of the most delicious Tempura Shrimp dinners that we have ever eaten. Her small establishment fills up with another 4 or 6 patrons and we nosh and drink heartily before walking back to our motel. Art and I take a late night dip in the hotels pool; another couple also enjoys the cool of the water on a warm Baja night.