3 March 2000, Sydney, New South Wales to Melbourne, Victoria

As expected, we had a tough time responding to the alarm at 6:00am. We pulled ourselves from bed, showered and headed down for breakfast. When we got back to the room, we packed all of our stuff and pulled it to the lobby. It seemed heavier than when we arrived, but we hadn't bought anything yet.

While we waited in line to check out, Chris thought she heard our name downstairs at the concierge desk, so she went down to check. She was right; the shuttle bus had arrived fifteen minutes earlier than expected. Chris delivered the bags downstairs, one set at a time, while I checked out. By the time I was finished, the bags were on the bus, and we were set to go.

We got to the airport in plenty of time, checked in, and waited twenty minutes to start the boarding. The flight from Sydney to Melbourne was smooth and only a few minutes late arriving. We were disappointed to see overcast skies. Our shuttle driver was waiting for us at baggage claim. Once we had our bags and the other passengers were ready to go, we all headed out to the bus. When the driver loaded our bags first, we knew we'd be the last ones dropped off. No worries; we'd get to see more of the city.

On the drive from the airport, it started to rain lightly. By the time we reached the city and started dropping off passengers, it had stopped, but remained overcast. As expected, we were the last ones delivered to our hotel. The Novotel Melbourne on Collins is right in the thick of things in Central Melbourne. There are hundreds of shops and restaurants in dozens of arcades within five blocks of the hotel. In fact, there is a circular flight of stairs from the hotel lobby right into a four-level arcade of very nice shops, including a one-hour photo place that I would use the next day.

The entrance to this hotel is odd. You can either come into the reception area from the fourth level of the arcade or enter from Collins Street. The entry from Collins goes into a small space that is occupied by the porter and concierge. To get to reception, you take an elevator to the sixth floor. I haven't yet figured out where floors 1 and 2 are.

Our room is on the top floor -- the 14th -- of the hotel. There is a 13th floor; at least there's a button for it in the elevator. We haven't tried to go there yet. Our view isn't terrific. It looks at the tops of a lot of old buildings, and nothing very interesting. Not nearly as nice as the view of Darling Harbour we had from the Novotel in Sydney.

We unpacked, got settled in, then headed out in search of lunch. One of our guide books recommends the Hopetown Tea Rooms, which is in the arcade two doors away from the hotel. We decided to check it out, but, when we found it, it was pretty full, and nearly everyone in there was a gray-haired woman. The food counter didn't show us anything we really wanted, so we changed our minds. Back out at the street we saw a sign for the Charles Dickens Tavern, one level down. We went down and had our choice of ordering from the bar and finding a seat amongst the throng watching a cricket match, or eating in the bistro. We chose the bistro.

Lunch perked us up some, but we still felt tired from our short night. I headed back to the room while Chris looked around in the shops in the arcade adjacent to the hotel. When she got back to the room, with no new purchases, she took a nap, and I worked on the previous day's journal.

Once I had updated my internet connection for Melbourne and posted the journal, I started trying to figure out what we would do for the evening. I looked at the CitySearch web site for Melbourne and found out that a local Jazz club was putting on a tribute to Billie Holiday with three local female vocalists. That sounded good to us. We needed to be there between 8:00, when the bar opened, and 9:00, when the music started. That left us with a decision on where to eat.

We were in the mood for Italian, and I check Fodors for recomendations. There are two Italian restaurants listed near the hotel. One is very expensive, and the other is pretty casual. I called Becco, the casual one, to see if we could get at table, and there was no problem. I made the reservation for 6:30, and we got ready to go. While we were getting dressed, it started raining again. Harder this time. On our way out of the hotel, we stopped by the concierge desk and borrowed a nice big umbrella, but didn't need it most of the way to the restaurant about five blocks away, since overhangs covered the sidwalks, and it had nearly stopped raining.

We got to the restaurant just a few minutes late, checked the umbrella with the host, and were seated immediately. From our table, we could see the chefs in action behind a high counter. A wonderfully eclectic blend of music accompanied our meal, and we really enjoyed the atmosphere: looking at people passing in the light rain outside in the narrow street, listening to the music and the laughter from the bar area, and just relaxing to let it all sink in. The menu cover was a Matisse-like painting of an Italian sea-side city. Chris liked it so much we bought a menu to keep.

Our dinners arrived and were excellent. Chris had penne pasta with tomatoes, basil, and olive oil which she enjoyed along with green beans and goat cheese on the side. I had tagliata, which is grilled rare porterhouse. I took one bite and was in heaven. The meat wasn't the most tender I've had, but the flavor was outstanding. My mouth waters again just thinking about it.

When we had finished with dinner, I asked our waitress if there was a good place to catch a cab nearby. She offered to call one for us, which she did, saying it would be there shortly. We left the restaurant to wait outside, where the rain had stopped. After twenty minutes, at about 8:10, we gave up and headed to the nearest major street to flag one down. As we walked up the street, it started to rain again, so up went the umbrella. We saw a taxi ahead of us letting people out, and reached it in time to catch a ride. The taxi got us to Dizzy's Jazz Bar at 8:20. That turned out to be plenty early, as there were only 5 other people in the place, and the band wasn't even set up yet.

Dizzy's is a historical building that started out as a post office. It's quite small; a couple of alcoves and a large room for the bar, tables, and the stage. We got a table in an alcove to the right of the stage and settled in. The alcove had two tables, and we shared it with a man in his 50's or 60's who comes to Dizzy's pretty frequently. We talked about our trip and he told us about his farm east of Melbourne. As we were talking, another man seated just outside of the alcove joined the conversation. He has been to the U.S. quite a few times, so we talked about the places he had been and places he needed to see yet.

More and more people arrived, and by 9:00, the place was pretty full, but there was still no one on stage. 9:30 came and the bar was nearly packed. By this time, the drummer had made his way past our table with the components of his drum set, so the band was at least set up. Five minutes later, the trio took the stage and played a warm-up number, sounding really good. Then they were joined by an excellent vocalist, named Rebecca Barnard, who launched into a series of songs that had been recorded by Holiday. The vocals, accompanyment, and solo breaks were all very good. The drummer performed his first solo with just his fingers, palms, and knuckles, sounding more like a quiet bongo player than a trap drummer.

The first set ended around 10:15, and the second set started about twenty minutes later with a new singer, named Kerri Simpson, also very good. At 11:00, we gave into our exhaustion and fought our way to the door during a break between songs. I'm sure the show continued until the bar closed at 1:00am, but we were just too tired to stay. I flagged down a cab after a couple of minutes and we were back at the hotel and in bed within half an hour. What a great evening!


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