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.

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