Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Brisbane and around

After the most uncomfortable airplane seats I’ve ever been in and hardly any sleep, we arrived in Brisbane at 5:40am. We had no accomodations booked, and no idea what in the world we would do in Brisbane. We took the train to the Roma street station, and found a hostel in easy walking distance, where they told us we could check in at 1030, and let us put our bags in a locked room. On the first floor, we found a laundry room to wash all the sooty clothes and sleeping bags, and some couches to doze away the morning in between checking on laundry. That done, we were finally able to check in and stow our stuff in our room. No time for relaxing, Laurie’s got itchy feet... we phoned up Fahed and met him near the Casino (we actually never saw the inside of the Casino, though it makes a good landmark for meeting people). A trip to the Museum resulted in some interesting diversions...
We then tried to find Fahed a good jacket, and managed that at the last possible minute as the store was closing up. It was a good fit on him too! Fahed then called up a friend of his, Yu, who took us all to an authentic chinese restaurant. He ordered off the chinese menu, and we got the real stuff, bones and all. I’ve never had chinese food to equal it! As usual, there was way more food than we could even think of eating, but we tried! After that we went up to Mount Coot-tha for an excellent panoramic view of the city all lit up at night. The next morning we were off to the Gold Coast.
Here's Laurie's version of the Gold Coast:
Surfers Paradise…the name alone conjures up images of tall waves and beach bums..well the waves were in fine form but the beach bums were lacking…but winter in Surfers doesn’t seem to slow down. It’s a mini Vegas; with high rises along the waterfront, casinos, bars, clubs, surf shops, gourmet dining, and designer stores. Its anything and everything you can think of. We spent our first weekend in Brisbane actually in Surfers otherwise known as the Gold Coast. This is where Tom and Laura, a good friend of mine from high school days from church, lives and since we were in the area I wanted to meet up with them! I hadn’t seen them for a few years. We caught the train in Brisbane before lunch on Friday and took the one hour train ride to Nerang where we hopped off and caught the bus to Surfers…Tom had found us a hostel to stay at and had given us directions on how to get there. Thank you Tom! It was less than a block from the beach, and we ended up having a twin room with our own bathroom! Remember how much we like having our own space! The other great thing about this hostel was we found out that someone somewhere around us had wireless internet that we could tap into. That doesn’t happen all the time! The only down side, our bathroom window was on the next rooms balcony and our first night there we had peeping tom…we devised a curtain the following morning.

Tom and Laura picked us up for dinner our first might there and we headed out for “the best pizza I’ve had since Rome” (according to Tom). Altos, was located a short drive away at one of the sprawling malls, and we met up with 2 other couple of Tom and Laura’s friends. The pizza was fantastic…one with fillet and blue cheese and the other had close to everything on it (minus the anchovies). We spent an enjoyable evening eating, drinking and chatting.
The following day Heather and I headed out to explore a bit of the town. We had left later in the morning and we were also looking for a place to eat…the city center was crowded and neither one of us wanted to deal with masses of people so we doubled back because we knew the little Indian restaurant right next to our hostel would be opening shortly. It was some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had…and the chai tea was….umm…there aren’t words to describe it! After we decided to find a bookstore as it was July 21st and Harry Potter had finally hit the shelves. We knew of one mall which we had passed on the bus coming into town and thought we’d walk there. It was a good hours walk, which we made longer by stopping at a used bookstore to give ourselves a bit of a rest. Malls in Australia are built differently then in Canada, as much of them are open to the outside and resemble winding streets with shops along them. We wandered around for a bit and then headed back to the hostel as Tom was going to pick us up later to go back to their place for dinner.
We had Indian twice that day. Laura had gotten Indian take away…and after we had snacked on Turkish breads and dips, and crackers and pate we found a little bit of room for more Indian. It was the first time we’d eaten Indian twice in one day since…well…India…

Sunday, we started out lazy again and wandered our way back to a coffee shop Heather had spotted the day before. After a good cuppa and some breakfast we took in one of the sights Tom and Laura and their friends had been telling us to do, Q1. It’s the tallest residential building in the world at 80 stories 74 which are condos. I wonder what they look like. The design of the building is taken from the Sydney Olympic torch and the sails of the Sydney Opera House. It’s glass and steel and the observations decks on floors 77 and 78 boast 360 degree views of the Gold Coast all the way south to Byron Bay approximately 60 km south. The beach is a white expanse that meanders its way along the Gold Coast and from that height you could see the waves churn up the sand beneath the water.
We didn’t spot any whales as it’s currently whale season and there’s the potential to spot some. Surfer’s is built on canals behind a spit, and many of the suburbs are mini man made islands with every backyard having their own dock and boat. Heather spotted that the majority of the houses had they’re own swimming pools and asked why. Tom told us later that the canals are home to many smaller sharks and it’s actually quite dangerous to go swimming in them especially at night. That evening Tom and Laura picked us up again and in true Aussie fashion we were off to a local Irish pub for a round of goodbye drinks!

The following morning Heather and I headed out to “Pancakes in Paradise” an all you can eat pancake restaurant. The sign as you walk in tell you the current record holder ate 24 pancakes. They were also the second place in all of Australia that I’ve found that serves drip, filtered coffee…it’s a rare sight Downunder…and here it wasn’t that good. Made me wonder when the last pot had been made as drip coffee isn’t popular. I made sure I got seconds just to say I could! Afterwards we headed to the beach to take it all in before Tom picked us up to drive us to Nerang where we could catch the train back to Brisbane.

Thanks Laurie.
After the Gold Coast, we were trying to decide what to do with our remaining week, and our friend Andrew who we’d met in Bourke told us we HAD to go see his parents, they’d love to have us. When Laurie phoned, it wasn’t a question of us asking them if we could visit, but rather Bronwyn (Andrew’s mom) asking us when we could get there. So we decided we’d head out Wednesday morning on the bus. In the meantime, we got together with Fahed a couple more times, went to his university to check it out (we wimped out on attending class with him), and spent some delightful time at coffeeshops in various areas.
A little casual shopping, and we found Laurie a really cute pair of jeans that were on for a great price. And it’s amazing how retail therapy can brighten a person up.
Bronwyn and Jim live in Ballandean, just outside of Stanthorpe. It took 4 hours by bus to get there, and Bronwyn picked us up in Stanthorpe. She took us straight to the cafe they’re opening up and leasing from a local winery. They were just in the process of repainting the stark white walls a warm, soft, pumpkin color, making the place much more homey. By the time we left, the pumpkin had been toned down closer to a butter color, and the wooden tables were set out all around the warm wood fireplace. The smell as Jim started up a beef stew made with 4 bottles of red wine (cabernet savignon, shiraz, merlot and a second shiraz) was enough to make us want to just sit down and eat there, even though he needed that for the bus tour coming through the next day.
The first night we stayed in the barn. I forgot to take a picture of it, but it looked like a cute little barn with window boxes of plants. Luckily for us it was insulated and had proper beds and a bathroom inside, as well as a portable radiant heater. It was a touch cold, but not bad. And the next night we slept in the house, which was much warmer, especially since we had to share a double bed. The area they live in is called the Granite Belt, and is at an elevation of just under 800 meters above sea level, and so they have much colder winters than the coastal cities like Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Apparantly they were going through a heat wave while we were there, the temp being above 0C at night. The week before it was around -11C at night, and that was a normal thing for that time of year. It gets so cold, they call it Brass Monkey Season, which stands for the old saying “it’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.” In reality, that’s a purely nautical term, referring to the stand for cannon balls, called a brass monkey, and the fact that when the balls freeze they expand and fall off the stand. The creative people of the area have erected a small monkey statue that has lost it’s balls, and have numerous smaller figurines in various areas. The locals have managed to make this the most popular season of the year in the area, and people come from miles around to experience the cold and sit around wood fires while sampling local wines.
Bronwyn and Jim were some of the most welcoming people, treating us like family right from the start. We hadn’t had a home environment to lounge in like this since we left Lynn and Grant’s in Adelaide a few weeks before. Jan and Bob, friends of Bronwyn and Jim were staying with them the first night we were there (which is why we had the barn), and Jan made an amazing supper. Zucchini Basil soup, Pork ribs, baked potatoes, it was excellent. Every supper included a variety of local wines, all nice. The second night we went out to the town hall for fish and chips. Every thursday, locals get together at the town hall, and a man named Chooky cooks dinner, which always includes hot chips and something else. It was excellent, Laurie and I each managed to get seconds of both for free (actually, Laurie managed three helpings of chips). We chatted with various locals... it was good fun. And for the last night we made potatoe cheese perogies from scratch, much to their delight.
We were actually sad to leave on Saturday. We may have to return someday. Saturday ended up being a busy day, catching the bus (after a leisurely couple of hours at a local cafe, where the owners actually offered to buy us seconds on our coffee after we chatted with them for a while), checking in to the hostel, trying to read Harry Potter (Laurie was bored and wouldn’t leave me in peace), and heading out for dinner and drinks with Fahed, Andrew and Rob. It was a day that lasted much too long for my tastes, and I started out feeling nauseated, so the longer it got, the testier I got, and the more I just wanted to get back to the hostel and sleep. Sorry to anyone who may have thought me rude! She did good though...making it to 3:30 am!!!
Sunday we slept in a bit, attempting to recover from the late night. We went out to a local bakery, wandered around town, met up with Fahed and watched some movies at his place, before returning to the hostel. Monday morning, we checked out of the hostel, picked up the bags we were storing at the train station, went to the airport and repacked. We proceeded to stand in line for over an hour waiting to check in... I couldn’t believe how long that line was! No consideration for the customer, New Zealand airlines had 2 flights leaving for the same destination at the same time, and no extra staff to check us in! And when we finally got to the ticket counter, the man told us we weren’t on that flight! We had confirmed at two separate occasions already. Our paperwork even said confirmed! While he sorted it out, we contemplated returning to Bourke for a couple more weeks before finding a new flight to NZ, but then it all worked out, and we were off to New Zealand...

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