Brisbane, Australia (16th Jan 2008)
The Bus pulled up outside our home for the next six nights, the Palace Backpackers in Brisbane at around 6pm after another long day on the road that seemed to last an eternity. To our surprise the hostel was built into a beautiful old heritage listed building that had been converted to become what the hostel claims to be "The Best Backpackers in Town". On checking in we got a coupon for a free drink in the bar under the hostel, cleverly named the Down Under Bar otherwise known as the DUB so in true backpacker style we quickly dumped our bags in the room and raced down to the basement for an ice cold beer, which being free, tasted even better than usual. Feeling well and truly refreshed we decided we might as well have dinner there too as it was pretty cheap and anyway we couldn't be bothered trying to find anywhere else since we were pretty settled and they even seemed to play decent music in here. By the time we had finished a very filling and satisfying dinner we decided to go for a stroll into the city and at least find out where the main drag was and to try get our bearings. By the time we arrived back at the hostel bed soon followed although it wasn't particularly late, we were just all totally shattered!
Day one in Brisbane for us at least didn't really start until tea time when Sam and Johnny returned from the Koala Bear Sanctuary and we all went and had something to eat, again in our new found favourite the DUB. After a good couple of weeks together, Sam and Johnny were leaving us the day after tomorrow as they were on a much tighter time scale and needed to get going up the coast. We decided that the only way we could have a send off was the only way that backpackers know how, GOON. For those people who are not in the know about what Goon is, here is a brief explanation; every year wine growers will have some slightly off grapes that don't quite make the cut, and are separated accordingly, these afore mentioned grapes are then mixed with the dregs that are left over in the good barrels and made into a type of wine, which is unclassifiable by wine making standards due to a mix of grapes etc, so it is sold as one of two types, Fruity or Dry, we opted for fruity. Basically it is the worst wine that you can get and comes in a big box equivalent to 5 bottles for the price of one glassful of cheap chardonnay, think Country Manor... So after dinner we settled into the dorm to have a few drinks and play a few games before going down back down to the bar. Luckily for us in Sydney, someone who had been staying in the dorm room we were in forgot that they had bought a bottle of Vodka and left it for, well... for us I guess. Anyway, 2 hours later after a bottle of vodka and half a box of goon we merrily headed downstairs where we were given a complimentary fetching yellow Australia hat and ushered towards the bar, not that we really needed anymore alcohol or could afford any really. By chance we happened to meet up with Catherine again and it was her last night in Brisbane too so we all messed around, drank more and talked till the early hours and had a really good time, even making it up onto the dance floor once or twice.
As we hadn't been able to update the blog for a while (over a month) Mark spent most of the day on the internet bringing everything up to date while Kara hit the shops with Sam. Thankfully the budget didn't suffer too much as there were plenty of sales around and shopping with a hangover meant the shopping trip didn't last too long. By the evening we had all pretty much recovered and so decided to take the opportunity to try one of the activities suggested in the Lonely Planet, hiring rollerblades to do the city tour! We made our way to the shop and with advice from the guys there got the right sized blades and the appropriate safety wear. Mark of course put his on straight away and declined any safety equipment; Kara, Johnny and Sam on the other hand decided to wait until we got to the safety of the cities Botanical Gardens, not wanting to embarrass themselves in front of the shop owners before pulling on their skates, elbow pads, knee pads, wrist guards...
For the entire walk towards the Botanical Gardens Mark zigzagged around, going forwards, backwards and sideways in a giddy mood, putting us all to shame. The fun really began when everyone was up on their feet, as nobody had ever really skated before except Mark; Kara and Sam soon got the hang of things and were getting along fine, the problems were with Johnny. Johnny just didn't understand the whole motion, couldn't balance and was just hilarious to watch as he walked along in the skates with a fall seeming inevitable with every step he took. We decided that we would split up into our couples and make our own way round and meet a bit further along the way to see how each other was getting along. The perimeter of the park is made up by the river for most of the way round, so we headed towards the river bank and skating along looking at the beautiful gardens on our left and the river to our right. It took us about 45 minutes to circle the entire park and neither of us fell over, Kara was especially pleased with herself and was glad that Mark didn't be big headed about being obviously better than everyone else, even when he was helping everyone else down the big slops and up some of the big hills giving pushes when people needed them. The whole way around we only had one near accident when Mark was going backwards and nearly tripped on a twig and came close to falling in the river. When the exhaustion finally got the better of us we made our way back to our starting point to have a sit down, Kara and Sam letting out a scream along the way as a Rat ran across our paths. It was while seated that we thought we saw another huge rat running across the path a short distance from us but upon closer inspection we realised it was a possum, and an unfriendly possum at that as it kept jumping at us. The possums weren't the only wildlife we saw, as we waited for Mark to come back from the7/11 with some drinks we spotted so massive bats, gliding low above our heads before swooping up to the tops of the trees and hanging upside down and making a real racquet. When we finally got back it was quite late so we didn't bother with any tea and just showered and went to sleep.
Since Johnny and Sam were off at 6.30am, we got up as well to see them off and say our goodbyes. No sooner had the door shut behind them and we were back to sleep in the sauna that is our room, and neither of us stirred until well after eleven. The last few weeks we haven't really being sticking to our budget, partly because it's just expensive coming up the coast and because we were in a group a bit more which tends to more eating out and drinking; so, we decided that we needed to get back to budgeting, which means doing a bit of a recalculation of how much we now have to spend and cooking for ourselves L. You can't cook without food, so reluctantly we headed to the big Coles/Woolworths in the city and did some shopping for the backpacker basics, pasta, tomato sauce, bread and some overpriced fruit. The rest of the day was spent cruising the cheap shops, i.e. The Reject Shop, where we picked up some toiletry's that are advertised as parallel imports, meaning all the writing is in Chinese, but it's still head and shoulders? and another favourite of ours Crazy Clarks, which is pretty much the same as Poundstretcher where we searched the selves for some more bargains to spend our last few cents of the daily budget on. In the evening we made ourselves tea in our ridiculously busy, stinking and messy kitchen before watching a bit of Simpsons and Family Guy on the laptop since the common room was just full of people watching cricket.
For the first time since we had been there, the room wasn't in the 30's at bed time so we thought we might get a good night's sleep for the first time since we arrived, but how wrong we were. At about 3am the 6 of us in our dorm room woke up to the sound of what we first thought was really, really heavy rain that was leaking into the room via the light fittings and onto some of our beds, Kara's included. After a minute of grumbling in the dark it was obvious that something else was going on as the noise levels in the corridor outside started to grow louder and people were begging to shout. Once we regained a bit of consciousness we realised that water was really pouring heavily from both of the long fluorescent light boxes in our room. Mark finally got up and turned our light on to see what was going on only to turn it straight back off as soon as he realised just how much was coming into our room through the lights; out onto the corridor we realised we weren't the only one to have been woken in the same way and on further inspection things seemed even worse with water gushing down the lift shaft all over the landing area and it was also streaming through the chandelier style light fitting. Not knowing what on earth was going on and still a little bleary eyed we armed ourselves with our torch and went on the search of some staff to find out what was going on, and just as we imagined, they had no idea and didn't really seem to care. After a bit of ear wigging on a few conversations we managed to find out that the latest theory was that some drunken idiot had come in wrecked and turned on one of the huge wall mounted fire hoses on one of the upper floors and it has been left spraying for up to 15 minutes totally flooding the floors above us and now pouring down, through and means possible, which seemed like the lift and all the lights. The fire men came and did a quick inspection of the building and must have decided all was fine as instead of being evacuated we were ushered back to our rooms and told to go back to sleep and to hope nothing gets damaged, or the room doesn't collapse. So with not much else we could do, we went back to our room, where the water was still coming through and went back to sleep; Not your average night!
On our last few days in Brisbane we decided to soak up the culture of the city visiting the Queensland Museum, Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane City Hall and The Brisbane Museum. We started off close to the hostel in a park called Wickham Park as Kara had read about an Old Windmill located there that is the oldest surviving building in Brisbane, built in 1928. After climbing what felt like infinity stairs we stumbled across the windmill and were quite disappointed as we were expecting quite a grand building but the Windmill looked in a state of disrepair, almost derelict. It was a real shame as there was so much potential in the Windmill to make it a more prominent tourist attraction and to just make it something Brisbane could be proud of but as we have found with much of Australia, they don't seem too bothered about things like history, tourism and improving what they have and then they whinge asking, "Where the bloody hell are you"? Ironic really!
Brisbane City Tower and Museum were a must see for us both as they gave us the opportunity to learn more about Brisbane and had the added bonus of both being free! The City Hall is a close contender for being the oldest building in Brisbane as the first stone was laid in 1920 but it took a further ten years to complete the sandstone edifice. It did however hold the title of the most expensive building in the country until the Sydney Opera House was built in 1921. Before we headed up the tower we decided to have a look around the museum. Our favourite part was a photography exhibition showcasing Brisbane's residents' response to an eco friendly way of living. It was here that Mark got to dress up as a Brisbane bus driver as part of an initiative to encourage people to use public transport! To get up to the observation platform in the City Tower we had to travel in two elevators. The first one appeared to be quite old so we assumed it to be original to the building, it was only when we saw the second one we realised we must have been wrong as this one was almost antique and even had someone operating it for visitors. The View from the top was well worth seeing but didn't give very clear views of Brisbane as there are many new taller building surrounding it. It was in-fact the journey in the second elevator that was the highlight as you travelled behind the four clock faces, of which you only really realise their true size (over five metres in diameter and the largest in Australia) from being stood only a metre or two away from them, it was quite a surreal experience especially when the attendant in the lift stopped us directly behind them for a few seconds and gave us a brief history lesson.
To the South of the Brisbane River is an area known cleverly, as "South Bank" Parklands and also the Cultural Centre which is home to two art galleries, a museum, a library and a performing arts centre. We started off in the Queensland Museum which, through several million unique items, documents Queensland's past and plays a crucial role in helping people gain a better understanding of its future. The exhibits ranged from the changes in transport over time to endangered wildlife displays right through to the documentation of the states aboriginal history. It was all pretty interesting and we even found ourselves sat in front of a large projection screen watching a number of programmes about the lives and habits of native insects, including spiders, cockroaches and butterflies. Next stop was Queensland Gallery of Modern Art which is Australia's largest gallery of modern and contemporary art and concentrates o the art of the late 20th and 21st centuries. We had heard there was an Andy Warhol exhibition on but unfortunately it wasn't free and our budget didn't stretch to letting us go in. A significant part of the Gallery was still very much open and free so we went for a walk around and saw quite a few weird and wonderful creations. As we walked around we got snippets of the Andy Warhol exhibition, usually quotes plastered onto walls and as Mark took a picture a Gallery worker rushed over and demanded he delete the picture as it was copyright infringement and he shouldn't be taking photos at all... not what we had just been told by another lady who said it was fine but just without the flash. Needless to say Mark wasn't too happy about this and did his best to get as many pictures as possible of both the permanent and the Andy Warhol exhibitions. A short wonder down the banks of the Brisbane River brought us to South Bank Parklands, 17 hectares of green space, picnic areas, walkways and cafes and restaurants. At the heart of the gardens we were surprised to find Streets Beach, an artificial beach that ambles its way through the park before opening up into a large lagoon. It all seemed a little too public and strange for us to go in and have a swim, however tempting the cool blue water looked!
For our last night in Brisbane we treated ourselves to some dinner and a beer in the bar before heading to bed for an early night, dreading the alarm going off at 4.30am for us to catch the train to the airport. Unfortunately we didn't get the good night's sleep we were hoping for as at 1am an alarm started blaring, waking us all up. At first we thought it must be another drunken backpacker setting it off as a joke but as the alarm went into evacuation mode telling us, "This is not a test" so we began to think otherwise, jumped up, put some clothes on and grabbed our backpack which we lucky we keep all the valuables in and got out of there. Some staff were shouting about a possible fire that was in the girls toilets, we didn't stop to find out and hoped we might get told later on outside; that did not happen, again! So off we went outside where most people huddled around the door as the firemen made their second visit to the Palace during our stay there. 15Minutes later the crowd slowly made its way inside, non-the wiser to what had happened and if there was a fire or not! Back to bed we went for the few short hours before it would be time to get up again. Thank God where leaving The Palace which never really lived up to its name!