Published: January 24th 2011January 21st 2011
Happy return to Lonnie/ Launie
Woke to a lovely grey rainy day this morning. Couldn't find my shoes (no it was not a big night last night, either!) so walked to the amenities across the tiny sharp gravel barefoot - confronting start to the day!! Smooth packup and on our way. We stop in at Boatharbour Beach just to admire it again, and then drive towards Launceston with one eye on the inland countryside to our right. It is stunning! I like it even more than the land we have been looking at the last couple of days. Gentle, civilised, rolling green pastures, very reminiscent of our beloved Atherton Tablelands in the hills behind Cairns.
We make fairly directly for Launceston, where we had several splendid days on our winter trip a few years ago. Launceston is set in a kind of natural amphitheatre, with houses stretching down the hillslopes all around the city below. In the winter, the air quality there is notoriously bad as the the basin seems to hold the woodsmoke from everyone's stoves and fireplaces and it can't blow away. We certainly did find it hazy and a bit asthma inducing in the winter. Today
it is clear and warm. We find our way easily to our backpacker's hostel, which is a large, grand looking red brick building a few blocks from the city centre, and with a lovely big park opposite (called "Brickfields"). Our room, although the doorway enters off the laundry and opposite a row of washing machines, is very spacious, immaculately clean, light and airy, wonderfully private, and has a sparkling clean ensuite bathroom - all for $67/night. The kitchen is amazingly clean, spacious and well equipped. This is only the second hostel I have stayed at where I have been impressed by the cleanliness of the kitchen - the other being Gilligans in Cairns, only a couple of weeks after it opened. Some others I have just refused to prepare food in. Even the sponges and teatowels are fresh and clean - amazing and wonderful!
We unload our luggage from the car and set out immediately to walk into the city to find some lunch. It turns out to be a bit of a dazzling walk - extremely bright, heaps of traffic noise and fumes, and surprisingly hot. Before we are halfway there I feel I am getting sunburnt. We
hit Charles Street, which bears banners up and down the street saying "Charles St for food". Well good, coz that is what we are seeking. We traverse the length of Charles Street, and turn up a couple of dodgy looking takeaways serving the usual uninspired/ing fried food and burgers, and a sushi shop that has no raw fish sushi choices and some fusion type sushi, which I detest (sun dried tomato sushi?). Hot, hungry and thirsty (lunch first, then
beer...!) we spot a Banjos and decide to just make do with whatever we can find there. We both get a toasted panini with ham, cheese, tomato, rocket, seeded mustard and mayo. Actually, very nice.
Now onto the important mission - beer. On our first trip we wandered around the city for ages, finding it hard to find a pub (I know, they are everywhere. What was going on that night? I don't know.) Anyway eventually we found one and sat out in a little courtyard out the back and had the best tasting beer I ever had - my first Boags on tap. We can't exactly remember where this pub was but I have been looking at images
of pubs online and suspect I may have located it. We wander back and discover that yes, this is our First Tasmanian Pub - variously known as Hotel Tasmania, the Launceston Saloon Bar and the Sports Bar. Yay - back to our old table in the courtyard for another tasty beer.
After that, onwards to another pub we knew and loved the last time we were here - the Batman Fawkner hotel. Took a bit of wandering up and down (hot and sunny!) and reorienting ourselves but found it after a while. The last time, we were staying there and after we checked in we went down to the bar and enjoyed several cold beers while we watched a band loading in for their performance that night. Later found out the the band was Magic Dirt, whom I had read about but not heard before. We were quite tired and also quite broke and decided not to attend, but we were treated to the concert anyway from the comfort of our room. Those dudes were LOUD! I quite enjoyed the show, but it was the sheer volume that impressed me most of all. I can only imagine how ear-shattering
it must have been in the auditorium below. Since then, Adelita has become a familiar face on various shows like Spicks and Specks and I am a huge fan these days.
Today, however, there was no sitting in our streetside spot and reminiscing because that part of the building is now locked off and the windows blackened. There is a different little venue, the Honey Lounge, which has been opened on the other side of the pub and we have a beer there, but it still feels like a bit of a loss so we decide to move on. I am hot and feeling sunburnt and a bit weary of the noise and traffic and yearning for our quiet, cool hostel room so we head back to shower, cool down and contemplate our dinner options.
Eventually we decide on an Indian restaurant that I have read good reviews of - The Indian Empire. We feel uncharacteristically weary of walking and decide to be extravagent and call a taxi. A friendly older gentleman picks us up promptly and I tell him we would like to go to the Indian Empire restaurant in George Street. He looks a bit troubled
and then replies that he does not know where it is. I am quite astounded. I did not bother to note the street number...in my experience, in towns the size of Launceston, the taxi drivers know the way to any restaurant or hotel that has been in place for even a short period of time. This restaurant has been there for a very long time, and this taxi driver looks as if he has been here a long time as well! Eventually he sets off, muttering reassuringly to himself/us that he is sure we will be able to find it, but not looking at all assured. We get to a T intersection with George Street and he repeats that he does not know whether the restaurant is up or down the street, and just sits at the intersection, waiting? After a moment I break this impasse by saying "well, let's go up, then". This turns out to be the right decision and he delivers us relievedly, for the huge fare of $7.
We discover that this restaurant is one that we ordered a takeaway meal from the last time we were in Launceston, and as we remember, we liked
it. It is almost full but we have a booking. We order and settle in to check out the decor and the Bollywood movie playing on the screen behind our table. At around the time I would have expected our entrees to appear, we are brought a plate of papadums and a small bowl of some kind of green, creamy dip - it is explained that this is on the house because there will be a short delay before our entrees are ready. This is a nice service gesture and we appreciate the reassurance that we have not been forgotten. The papadums are excellent but the dip is ghastly - sweet and odd. In a short while our entrees arrive - we have ordered a shared mixed platter of entrees and it turns out to contain 2 onion bhajis, 2 potato slices coated with a mildly spiced batter, 2 crispy pieces of cauliflower treated with the same batter, and 2 meat, potato and pea samosas. All of these were delicious and very pleasing, most especially the onion bhajis. We had ordered a platter of assorted pickles/raitas and my only wish about the entree was that the pickles could have been
served with them.
For our mains, Eric has ordered Chicken Vindaloo (very hot! Chef's dynamite sauce!) and I have ordered a dish called Lamb Chilli Fry. We have ordered naan bread stuffed with mince meat and a serve of saffron rice each (rice does not come with the curry here). Eric's vindaloo is an unusual tomatoey colour and when I taste it, it tastes to me like chicken cooked in an Italian passata, with chilli added. Not at all unpleasant, moderately hot, but also not at all like a vindaloo. We are great devotees of authentic recipes and chicken vindaloo is very high on our rotation of indian curries which we make from scratch - roasting our own spices and making our own curry pastes - and an authentic vindaloo is redolent with the aromatic spices - cloves, cardamon, peppercorns, cinnamon - none of these spices are evident in this curry. Eric enjoys it, but it was not the vindaloo experience that he had been looking forward to.
For this very reason, I have deliberately chosen a dish I know nothing about so that there is no risk of my finding it frustratingly inauthentic. The substantial chunks of
lamb are wonderfully tender and flavourful, and the gravy contains whole dried chillies but is not particularly spicy on its own. I cut up one of the dried chillies and eat it with a few spoonfuls of the curry, and it is delicious, and very hot. The naan bread is light, golden and contains a minute amount of lightly flavoured mince. It is nice but I don't think I would bother with it again - go back to my favourite garlic naan! The rice is very lightly golden from the saffron and deliciously separate. Our plate of pickles/raitas contains a small bowl of Indian lime pickle (very good), a sweet mango chutney, slices of banana rolled in coconut, and a generous bowl of a cucumber and yoghurt raita - one of my favourites, except that this example was once again, strangely, very sweet. It seemed almost like someone had accidentally used vanilla yoghurt instead of plain? In any case, unpleasant and just wrong! I also took this opportunity to sample my first "Kingfisher" beer. I have previously tried and not particularly enjoyed an assortment of Asian beers so I did not have high hopes for the Kingfisher but it turned
out to be a fine, lightly bitter, delicious beer. And it did go well with the Indian food, as promised on the menu. Our total bill for the night, including 2 glasses of wine, one spirit drink and a beer, was $99.
We have recovered suffiently to walk back to the hostel and given the large dinner, this is a good idea. We wander the streets of Launie somewhat warily, having read some reports of street gangs and violence, but at this reasonably early hour at least, all is peaceful and mild. On our wander home we come across a luthier's shop! I have never seen a luthier's shop before, so that is exciting, but more thrilling is the fact that this luthier makes upright basses, cellos and violins! One day, I will have me an upright bass. Magic to see the birthplace of basses!
Even though all is peaceful, we take the cautious approach and skirt around the perimeter of Brickfields park, rather than cutting through it as we had done earlier in the day (when at lunchtime we saw a young fellow in a fluro safety vest sitting under a tree swigging Spumante from the bottle - we hoped he was not heading back to work to operate heavy machinery after lunch! but on our way back after lunch he was still there, under a tree, sleeping peacefully!)
Back to our lovely hostel room and we tumble wearily and well fed into our bed and off to dreamless sleep.