Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Brisbane Chronicles (Part I)

Don't rub your eyes, pinch yourself or keel over with shock: you are not seeing things. This is an actual update. A bona fide progress report from the other side of the world. Yes, finally (I know, I know, it is long overdue), I am back blogging. In case you've forgotten who I am, please refer to the profile section for details.

I'm now in Brisbane (or Bris Vegas, as it is known locally [for reasons that are yet to become apparent - the best I can come up with is that the words Las and Bris both contain a letter "s"]). The sun is shining outside and yet I am stuck inside the (albeit rather plush and airy) State Library, making the most of the bountiful supply of free-internet terminals. Once again, let's give our collective thanks to the tax-payers of the world and, more specifically, the residents of Queensland (and the politicos and bureaucrats who represent them) who saw fit to spend millions of dollars on this particular edifice. Well done - it's lovely (in a slightly over-the-top postmodern kind-of-way). I should also give a rather smaller nod to the hand-written notes in my diary, without which this would prove a head-scratching exercise (to say the least) and probably end up being a futile attempt to remember the unmemorable*.

Reet, given that it has taken over a month to get to this point, I had better stop procrastinating (I'm sure you've already noted that I am in a particularly waffly mood today), get my head down and start typing.

*That isn't meant to criticise the wonderful sights of Australia, but simply suggest that without a written record it is almost impossible to recall in detail what I did on any particular day. That is definitely one of the pitfalls of being a perennial sightseer (sensory overload!), and rather at odds with my chronological approach to blogging. I probably should have adopted the maxim "if I can't remember it, it's not worth writing about", and just stuck to the particularly exciting bits. Ah well, it's done now. At least it gives a more accurate picture of the ins-and-outs of travelling and, at any rate, is as much a record for me as anyone else.

So, here goes:

Friday 2nd March 2007

It was a return visit to Botanical Gardens in the morning. They really are lovely, with great views over the harbour to supplement the beautiful plants and abundant wildlife (as cliched as it is, I'll never tire of looking across the harbour to the city centre, with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge floating out into the water beside). The Moreton Bay Figs with their gigantic buttress roots and huge shady canopies are simply stunning. There are also thousands of flying foxes hanging in the trees (beware the poo - the smell is fruity to say the least), ibis and cockatoos everywhere you look and butterflies, spiders, cicadas and other creepy crawlies galore. Yes, it is time for the usual trite observation about an wonderful oasis of verdant bliss in the middle of the city. With knobs on.

In the afternoon, for a change of pace (well, more a change of character than pace - both were pretty quiet as it turned out), I went up to the urb (as the otherwise tautologically-named "inner-city suburb" shall henceforth be known) of Paddington. It is a really nice area with beautiful Victorian terraces (all wrought iron balconies and shady avenues of trees and million dollar price-tags) and (most importantly of all for the budget conscious travel [aka tight git!]) a library with free internet access. But I think I've already said this about the previous day, haven't I? It's so long ago now that I can't for the life of me remember what I wrote (and can't be bothered to refer back to my earlier entry). Anyway, after meandering my way through the urb, I went to the library and then to the cinema. Old Joy was certainly an interesting film. It was very minimalist (i.e nothing happened) and luckily (for me) quite short too. My sort of film, given that I don't like busy and I don't like long. The Yo La Tengo (one of my favourite bands for those not in the know) score was great and their question and answer session proved quite entertaining (more due to the geeky questions from the audience than the band's responses, mind). It made for an interesting evening and certainly make a change from the other stuff that I had been doing up until that point (mostly involving the great outdoors).

I can't remember what I did in the evening once I got back from the film and I didn't see fit to write it down, so it probably involved food and bed and not much else. Although, having said that, my friendships with Lisette, Rob and Roberto were progressing apace and I'm sure that chatting with them would also have fitted in the equation somewhere.

Saturday 3rd March 2007

Must try and be more concise today, as an antidote to the overwrought entry of Friday 2nd.

I did a full tour of central Sydney on foot (in glorious sunshine). I walked around the Opera House, under the bridge (yet to walk across it though), through the Botanical Gardens (visit number 3 - still really lovely). In fact, it is beautiful all around the waterfront - especially under the bridge and around The Rocks (one of the oldest bits and the heart of colonial Sydney). And it is such a nice city just to wander around - thus justifying my general plan to spend quite a bit of time just going on random walks around different parts of the city.

I had the room to myself in the evening, which made a nice change. Everyone else was attending the Mardi Gras Parade. Of course, it was a shame to miss The Dykes on Bikes and other assorted displays of over-the-top gayness, but I wanted to save my energy for tomorrow's festival and also avoid the crowds that had already started to build as I made my way back to the hostel.

It was fascinating to watch the thousands of bats (flying foxes) from the window of my dorm. They leave their perches in the Botanical Gardens at dusk and fly off (directly past my window) to do whatever bats do during the night (eating I guess). They seemed particularly abundant this evening, so perhaps they too were joining the crowds at Mardi Gras.

Sunday 4th March 2007

Seems a bit strange writing all this so long after the event. Quite interesting though - I had forgotten bits of it already.

Today was the day of the Laneway Festival. I had booked it about a month previously and was excited about seeing some live music for the first time in ages. The line up was a relatively obscure mix of local and international indie bands, which is just the way I like it. The location was great, with the main stage in a small square in the heart of the city (more gorgeous Moreton Figs to provide some welcome shade), another couple of stages in small lanes off said square (the skyscrapers rising dramatically on each side created amazing narrow spaces... unlike any concert venue I have been to before.) and one stage in a basement club (which I didn't go to because they wouldn't let you take in your own water - miserable gits). All told, I had a really good time. There were lots of bands that I wanted to see - and apart from the Sleepy Jackson (who tried "rocking-out" to a ridiculous and unflattering degree) not one of them was a disappointment. Camera Obscura, Yo La Tengo and the Walkmen were particular highlights, but it was high-quality all round and between acts it was fun to watch the Sydney Fashionistas strutting their stuff in their comedy garb, which included a preponderance of charity shop crinoline, large leather boots (in 30 degree heat!) and over-sized sunglasses. I myself revelled in the fashion faux-pas of a faded t-shirt, walking shorts, rucksack and comfy trainers. Give it 10 years and they'll all be wearing it.

I was really lucky with the weather - it was fine all day, but there were massive thunderstorms during the later part of the evening/night (it started raining just after I got back to the hostel). It was fun to watch the storms from the dorm window. There are great views across the Domain (an area of open space next to to the Botanical Gardens) from the window and we (Rob, Rob, Lisette and I) desperately tried to take good photos of the lightning as it forked over the city, lighting up the night sky and appearing to strike the skyscrapers of the CBD one by one.

Monday 5th March 2007

Only 3 entries in (plus a load of over-edited pretentious preamble) and nearly a day spent doing it. It seems that travelling has failed to dull my procrastination skills. That and the (over-)excitement of returning to the internet age after weeks in the wilderness adds up to heaps of surfing and not much output. I suppose it has been interspersed with other necessary internet stuff, the search for a replacement tent pole and a visit to the Art Gallery, but even so, I need to quicken the pace if I am to be up-to-date by tomorrow evening.

So, Monday 5th:

I went to the art gallery in the morning (very big but tending towards quantity rather than quality - still, the complimentary newspaper was a nice touch) and then walked around the city centre (in between showers) in the afternoon. In fact, I got soaked on my way back from the library in the evening - but I didn't mind so much as it wasn't at all cold.

In the evening I cooked curry for the troops (the aforementioned gang of three) and we partook in the Hostel quiz. Good fun, but what can I say: we wuz robbed. Partly as a result of Roberto mishearing one of the questions (and with me in the kitchen, I was unable to countermand) and partly as a result of ineptitude on the part of the quiz master. Well, it isn't a proper quiz unless it ends in an argument about the veracity of one (or more) of the answers.

Tuesday 6th March 2007

The sun was back out after the low cloud and rain of the day before (still really warm - nice and tropical).
The morning involved more library/internet antics and a visit to Centennial Park (a mad dash to the toilet - the cinema next to the library was closed!) to suss out the location of the outdoor cinema where Dutch Rob and I were going to see a film in the evening. Just as well I went to look as it was much more of a trek than I had imagined. I walked back via Elizabeth Bay (plush residences) and Wooloomooloo, both of which enjoy lovely harbour-side settings

In the afternoon I went to the state library (where my flip-flop broke - I had to walk back in bare feet like a hobo/person from New Zealand) and generally pottered around.

In the evening I went back to the open-air cinema in Centennial Park (by bus, this time, as Rob was making risotto [yum] to take with us, which, as aways, took much longer than anticipated. The film was a documentary about Frank Gehry, who, it turns out, is a bit of a character. I enjoyed the film, even tough it started raining as soon as we got off the bus. It then proceeded to rain on and off throughout the screening, although Rob had an umbrella and I had my waterproof, so we managed to avoid getting completely soaked. It's just a shame the bottom half of the screen was periodically covered by the umbrellas of the people in front of me and the sound was interrupted by the noise of rustling cagoules and plastic sheeting (some people had come really well prepared and made themselves feel right at home - i.e. it obviously didn't occur to them that there might be people around them who they were disturbing]). At least the rain helps to keep Sydney lush and tropical looking.

There was quite a lot about the Bilbao Guggenheim in the film, which reminded me of the trip I made there with Mum, and the rain added to the memories! Still, it was interesting to be outside and watch the flying-foxes soaring overhead during the film. Perhaps they are going to Centennial Park when we watch them flying past our window of an evening. I like things like that, which offer a touch of the exotic. Generally the wildlife in Australia is really interesting (there are also loads of different birds about the place and the odd lizard - no snakes yet though). All of which (added to the warmth) means that I think I prefer it to New Zealand.

Wednesay 7th March 2007

Lisette moved out of the dorm and into a shared house in the morning (between Central Station and Redfern), so I helped her with some of ther bags. I had just bought a weekly travel pass so was only too happy to make use of it, see a different area of the city and offer a helping hand, all at the same time. She showed me around the University on the way back and let me check my e-mail on the Uni's lovely Macs. Fun times!

I went to Manly in the afternoon (which involves a very pleasant ferry journey across the harbour). Manly has seafronts on both the harbour and ocean sides, which are just a few minutes walk apart. It's a lovely place and I spent a couple of hours lounging on the beach. It wasn't that hot (low 20s) and the sea was really rough, so I didn't venture in for a swim. There were also loads of bluebottles (tiny blue Portuguese Man O'War jellyfish), which didn't exactly make swimming an inviting prospect. I managed a paddle though and the sea didn't feel too bad (low 20s, I think).

There was free wine (well, "goon" as it's called here - the cheapest cask wine you can get) and cheese on the roof of the hostel in the evening (more great views across the city). And, in case I haven't said so already there are free pancakes for breakfast every morning at the hostel - not exactly my fav foodstuff, but when it's free it's hard to say no. So the hostel is proving a really enjoyable place to stay (and all for a bargainous $19 a night). Of course, the good company helps, and although our little posse is down from four to three, it is going to be a hard place to leave...

Thursday 8th March 2007

The morning involved a tour of three different libraries (my new pastime it would seem - and a good way of exploring the city), in a search for faster free internet. Kings Cross was the most modern set-up (in a lovely new building), but unfortunately only allowed internet for research purposes, which funnily enough excluded e-mail and blogging. Sigh.

I walked from Bondi to Coogee in the afternoon, stopping at Bronte beach for a swim (no jellyfish there and lovely clean water - still a big swell though). There was an amazing thunderstorm just out to sea. Incredibly black sky and vivid lightning. Luckily it just circled round and apart from a few heavy drops on the way into Coogee (resulting in a mad dash to some shelter - whereupon it stopped immediately) there wasn't actually any rain/thunder where I was. It was a lovely walk, proving that Sydney has a great coastline and fabulous beaches, in addition to its world-reknowned harbour, beautiful open spaces and pockets of interesting architecture.

Again, I have nothing noted for the evening's activities (my handwritten notes are getting scantier by the day), although it could well be the evening that Roberto made lasagna, which was delicious (even more so coming from a genuinely humble and open-minded Italian), and washed down, in time-honoured tradition, with copious amounts of red wine.

Friday 9th March 2007

The library beckoned again in the morning. Yes, it would seem that I am as boring as the blog entries that I write... However, in my defence, there are guidebooks galore in addition to free internet (and wending my way through the streets of Paddington is always a pleasure), so I wasn't just being cyber-nerd.

In the afternoon, I was a little more active and got the ferry to the other side of the harbour (more beautiful views - I am becoming rather blase about seeing the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, although will never tire of their splendour). I got off at the Zoo (choosing not to go in and thus avoid another hefty entrance fee). Instead I walked in the opposite direction around Bradley Head and through Sydney Harbour National Park. I walked quite a long way - probably 10 miles or so. It was really nice - through patches of native bush andpast some lovely looking harbour-side properties. They have built a sort-of amphitheatre at Bradley Head (very "landscape architecture"), which offers some of the best views across the harbour and is actually pretty hard to fault (good materials, sensitively designed, well-maintained, unbeatable location). And as seems usual with slightly out-of-the way places, there was hardly a soul about. It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon and as tempting as it was I didn't have a swim. The wind was quite cold and in the only area with a shark net the water was a bit murky looking. Still, I was able to paddle and the views across to the city (Opera House/Bridge etc.) were uniformly amazing.

Lisette had invited us around to her new place for dinner in the evening, which again made a nice change from the backpacker norm. There was a Mexican feast waiting for us (washed down with a nice chilled rose [add your own acute accent to change it from a flower into a wine]) and whilst the house is a bit rough around the edges (cockroaches - which it would seem are more-or-less everywhere in Sydney - and peeling paint), it had character by the bucket load (including a lovey courtyard garden with large trees growing in the narrowest of spaces).

Saturday 10th March 2007

In the morning I went around a few different parts of the city (Darling Harbour, Potts Point and Glebe) to look at some landscape architecture projects with Roberto. It was all very interesting (and in great company) and there were some more lovely developments next to the harbour (along with a good helping of tat - but even that is generally blessed with a gorgeous setting. I can't remember whether or not I wrote previously that he is a doing a PhD about Australian Landscape Architecture... well, it sounds a bit of a mammoth task... looking at how both the Australian landscape has influenced art and how modern landscape architecture is responding to the challenges of the Australian environment. Interesting though... and perhaps even enough to make me think that one day I might feel refreshed enough to enter back into the world of Landscape Architecture (no fears of an imminent return, mind).

In the afternoon I went to Coogee beach with Dutch Rob - the site of my second swim on the East coast of Australia. It was great fun frolicking in the waves, which can be viewed as either body-surfing or getting totally pummelled by tons of water, depending on your perspective. The weather was great once again (the morning had been really hot although it was
slightly cooler on the cast) and the combination of sun, sea, sand and walking miles had left me with that pleasant glow of contented exhaustion.
Being Saturday evening I decided to make a hearty soup for myself and the two Robs. Made loads so offered some to a skinny German called Alex (shy and awkward, but friendly enough and the sort of person who make you a bit sorry for them in a "they need mothering" kind of way).

Sunday 11th March 2007

Well, I think this is going to be the last entry for today. At least I will be able to say that I am now less than a month behind schedule, in the world of blog updates. Which sounds somewhat better than 6 weeks (as it stood this morning), it has to be said. I'm not sure I'll manage an entire month's-worth of updates tomorrow, but I'll give it my best shot. Until then, here is one final day of ramblings:

In the morning I helped Roberto carry his stuff to the station (he's off to Canberra to look at more Landscape Architecture projects). I was sorry to see him go, as he isreally nice (and for an Italian he's exceptionally open-minded and not at all dogmatic - he'll even eat curry!). Upon returning to the hostel I discovered that I'm now in a room with 7 Dutch people! I'll need to buy a pair of clogs (klompen) at this rate. Still, the fresh tulips are nice.

I went to Manly Beach (again with Dutch Rob - also really nice) in the afternoon. Swim number 3! Sea was gorgeous and so was the ferry ride through theharbour.

Again there is a lack of written evidence regarding the events of the evening, but I seem to recall cooking together with Rob and then sitting on the roof of the hostel, enjoying the balmy evening air and the glorious view of the city skyline.

If you got to the end in one sitting I can but commend your tenacity and wish you luck with the next instalment (likely to be even longer, I'm afraid)

Best wishes,
James xx

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