Cultural Learnings in Brisbane

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May 28th 2015
Published: May 30th 2015
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Nick: So, this is the final blog update from dear old Oz, and I am writing it as we sit on a comfy leather sofa in Brisbane International Airport with a few hours to kill before our flight. What oh what have we been up to since our last update? Well, our final two days in Magnetic Island were fairly quiet. On our penultimate day there - our last full day on the island - we decided that after the previous two days' let-downs we weren't going to bother trying to do any snorkelling; there was still a fairly strong breeze coming in from over the sea, and the 'white horses' visible on the choppy water suggested that it would have been yet another futile attempt. Perhaps we would be able to make better use of our snorkels in the coming weeks and months, but for now we decided simply to head down to the bay nearest our accommodation, Picnic Bay, and chill out on the beach. Despite the breeze, we found a nice quiet spot sheltered by some big rocks and plonked ourselves down for a bit of reading. Being close to our latest gaff, when lunch came around we popped back in to finish off some leftover 'Orlando Salad' (which you must surely by now be aware is a dish inspired by something our tour cook, Orlando, put together on our trip into the Amazon). After lunch, and a bit of pottering about the place, we walked to a point around halfway along the edge of the island called 'Arcadia', where the rock wallabies lived. We still had a good half bag of wallaby pellets left, and dammed if we were going to let them go to waste!

At first, it was just the two of us and a small handful of the little critters, nibbling slightly at the pellets we threw for them, but they weren't nearly as keen as the previous day and we wondered it perhaps they were, literally, 'fed up'. Suddenly, an old boy on a motorised scooter whizzed up, parked right in the middle of the feeding area and started shouting out "C'MON! C'MON!", and making a tongue-clicking sound, as he started scattering great handfuls of what looked like grain (or something) about the place. Tentatively at first, wallabies started appearing from gaps in the rocks and approaching the old fella, but soon enough they were bouncing out of the boulders in their tens to come out and eat - there must have been a good forty or so eventually! We even saw a Mum Wallaby with a little young 'un (not sure if 'joey' applies only to kangaroos?) poking its little face out of her pouch - very cute indeed! Evidently the chap who'd been calling them fed them every day at the same time, and clearly they were used to him (and he claimed they preferred his gourmet food). We sat watching for a while, amused by the crunch-crunch-crunch sound made by so many wallabies gorging themselves, before heading back to get the bus. Great fun.

We jumped on the local bus to Horseshoe Bay, located at the other end of the island. The afternoon was idled away chatting and reading some more, and we bought and ate some fish and chips for dinner, eaten on one of the many benches whilst some of the funny long-legged birds watched us keenly (the same type as previously mentioned by Sarah, i.e. the cheeky one that was sneaking around the restaurant looking for scraps). Unlike their more refined colleagues in Picnic Bay, however, this lot were more than content to scoff the chips that we chucked their way!

Our final day on the island was a pretty quiet one. Having checked out of our room, we bussed down to the ferry terminal and dumped our rucksacks in a big locker for the day. Our flight from Townsville wasn't leaving until 19:00 and so we had almost a full day to while away. We caught the bus back up to Horseshoe Bay with the intention of visiting a place where you can see, and even hold, koala bears, but on arrival found it to be just the little bit too expensive and so opted to give it a miss. Instead, we wandered up and down the bay before finding a shady spot to sit and read for a couple of hours. We munched out egg sandwiches for lunch (and found ourselves an ice-cream, the elusive honeycomb Magnum that we'd discovered when visiting New Zealand and never been able to find back on the UK - not sure why as they're soooo good!), read for a bit longer, before making our way back to catch the ferry during the mid-afternoon. There's not really much to say about the rest of the day after that; we took the ferry back to Townsville, grabbed taxi to the airport, and after a bit of hanging around which included a grubby-but-reasonable airport dinner of assorted fried things, caught our plane back down to Brisbane. With the late departure time, by the time we'd touched down and collected our bags it was getting on for 22:00. Having checked in at our latest hostel, we took a token stroll around the area but there wasn't much going on at that time of night and so we headed back to our room with a view to exploring the city properly the following day.

Our hostel was a quaint family-run affair with lots of chintzy net curtains, old-school tea cups and that sort of thing...I'm not sure I saw a doily but suspect I would have, had I looked out for one. Breakfast was served only until 08:30, which proved to be a good impetus to get up and at 'em. After a bowl of cereal and a couple of slices of toast (topped with my trusty Marmite, which was turning into one of our best culinary investments...from my point of view anyway!), we stepped out into the sunshine to start exploring. We were located near the city's Central Business District, and soon found ourselves surrounded by whopping great towerblocks - of the tall, expensive, shiny kind, as opposed to the squat, shabby kind. We happened upon a gathering of official-looking people in various uniforms, sat in a few rows of chairs in front of a podium. As we stood to see what was going on, a sleek black car pulled up and a man with lots of medals climbed out, an event for which the audience members were all asked to be upstanding. All very intriguing, so we stuck around to watch for a bit. It turned out to be a ceremony to promote the integration of the indigenous Australians and the colonial, non-indigenous folks. For our trouble, we got to see an aboriginal chap playing a didgeridoo which was interesting enough, but when the speeches began in earnest we moved on. We ambled around the business district for a bit, and along side of the looping river which runs through the middle of the city, enjoying the good weather and just exploring. After the quietness of Magnetic Island it was good to be back in a big city again, with all the distraction it has to offer. Like Sydney, Brisbane seemed clean, modern and sophisticated, although it somehow lacked the atmosphere of fun that we'd picked up on in Sydney and seemed to possess a busier, commercial feel to it - plenty of snappily-dressed men and women bustling along the busy streets between office blocks, talking into mobile phones, basically.

Soon enough it was lunchtime (you're never far from a meal report with our blog) and no longer having a kitchen at our disposal we would be eating out for the next couple of days. We scouted out a few oriental places (mostly empty) until we came across a Japanese place which had a snaking line of office workers all waiting patiently to be served. It never hurts to follow local opinion so we joined the end of the queue and waited our turned out to be a very good decision, as we were very soon sat down on a street-side stool with a bowl of absolutely lip-smacking grub, a chicken katzu rice dish for Sarah, and a similar dish for me but with more of a golden curry sauce type thing going on. It was absolutely cracking, and dirt cheap to boot. Stuffed full, we made our way back to the riverside to catch one of the regular ferries across to the other side, a short trip of ten minutes or so which was, happily, free. Away from the hustle and bustle of the business district, we found ourselves in the South Bank area which appeared to be given over to more cultural pursuits, with plenty of museums, galleries and whatnot, interspersed with lots of nice communal spaces, gardens, fountains and statues - all very nice, and they even had a man-made artificial beach complete with water and assorted sun-worshippers in their beach togs. After a decent wander about the place to take it all in, we spotted the local science museum and decided to take an amble around. The entire place, aside from one or two particular exhibits, was free entry; what with the cheap lunch and free ferry, I was beginning to enjoy the financial elements of the day! We spent a good hour looking around the exhibits, marvelling at a preserved giant squid, assorted dinosaur skellingtons, and a variety of stuffed animals. It was interesting (certainly more interesting than I am probably making it sound), and a useful way of finding out the names of many of the birds we'd seen around Australia since we'd been here - for instance, the funny, long-legged chip-eating (or not) birds of Magnetic Island turned out to be a type of Curlew, and I can almost hear the collective sigh of relief now that I've cleared that up.

After the museum, we walked further up the river and back across to 'our' side over a bridge. By this stage we we getting a bit foot weary and so we made our way back to our hostel to relax for an hour or two before the evening. Suitably refreshed, and with night falling, we took a walk for twenty minutes or so away from our hostel to find the small Chinatown area. It wasn't really up there with, say, the London equivalent, but there were a good handful of Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. Once again taking our cue from the locals, we plumped for the restaurant which appeared to be the most popular, a Thai-Laos place which had outside seating. You may notice that we'd been eating a lot of Asian food whenever we chose to eat out in Australia - it certainly seemed to be the predominant 'genre' of restaurant, owing I guess to the many Southeast Asian immigrants to Australia...not to mention it was always so damn tasty! Our latest restaurant didn't disappoint, despite a minor mix-up with our order which meant that we had to go and remind them to bring some of it out. Sarah had a hot and sour veggie noodle soup and I had a prawn laksa (basically a similar thing but with a creamy coconut milk soup), with some veggie spring rolls and pork crackling in the side. Everything was superb, and as a consummate fan of good food I found myself looking forward very much to our coming time in Asia!

Once we'd finished mopping our bowls clean, we strolled back to the general area of our hostel. It was still fairly early, and so we decided to go for a drink at a place we'd seen nearby. When we got there, it turned out they were showing the Rugby League game - not just any game, but the first of three 'State of Origin' matches. This, it turns out, is a Big Deal around these parts. The State of Origin series is an annual tournament between Queensland and New South Wales, and it carries a pretty big rivalry with it...we'd seen posters all around the city hyping up the series, and many of the buses had "Go Queensland!" on the front, where the destination should be (not sure how this display of support helped people trying to work out which bus they should be getting). Even the science museum had had a display dedicated to 'The Maroons', Queensland's state Rugby League team! Clearly, this was taken pretty seriously by the locals! We grabbed a beer and watched the game with everyone else; I can't profess to fully understand the ins and outs of Rugby League (being a Southern Softy) but we managed to pretty much follow what was going on. In the end, Queensland won the game 11-10 to take a lead in the series, so the patrons of the pub were duly pleased and so the atmosphere in the pub was suitably convivial for the remainder of the evening.

Thursday - today - was our final day in Brisbane and indeed the final day of our three week visit to Australia. With the flight not leaving until 23:20 and the hostel requiring us vacate the room by 10:00, we had a good deal of time to kill in between. Fortunately we were able to leave our heavy rucksacks in the hostel for most of the day, until 17:00 anyway, and so we wandered back into the city for the day. The morning was spent ambling about, stocking up on a few bits and pieces, exciting things like soap, toothpaste, etc., and having a nosy around the main shopping area of the city, Queen Street. For lunch we opted for - you guessed it - some Asian food and we found a place that specialised in Chinese dumplings, dim sum, and ordered ourselves a variety of different types, as well as really tasty Chinese noodle salad which included cucumber, and seaweed - very refreshing. As always, the meal was superb. After lunch, we decided to pop into the cinema to kill a couple of hours - we'd done plenty of exploring over the last day and a half, and fancied a bit of a rest. Neither of us had heard of many of the films, so in the end we bought tickets to see the new "Mad Max", a post-apocalyptic whirlwind of special effects and (un?)intentional daftness - but, for all that, it appeared to be shot in Australia and included plenty of Aussie actors and so we figured we could chalk this one up to 'cultural enrichment', or something, and not just a trip to the pictures!

By the time the film had finished, and we'd stopped laughing about it, it was getting close to half past three, and we didn't have long before we needed to pick up our big rucksacks from the hostel. We made our way back, collected our things and took a taxi to the airport (drive by a wonderfully friendly Eritrean-Aussie bloke who claimed to support Liverpool). As I write this, we still have a few more hours to kill and so are about to go and find some dinner. Looking back on our three weeks down under, we both agree it has been our favourite destination so far, and we'd love to have had a bit more time to explore this huge place - certainly, we are both keen to come back here one day. But, for all that, we are also looking forward to the considerably cheaper cost of living in Southeast Asia, as well as experiencing places that are that much less like home - and, of course, all that wonderful food!


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