Coming to Brisbane was more of a logistical decision than a conscious choice. Gayle was doing some networking at a festival close-by and the crew was all flying to Brisbane so I thought, why not? I booked the flight back from New Zealand (oh yes, I went to NZ unexpectedly for two weeks, but that’s a whole other story) to Brisbane and decided to consult Mr Lonely Planet on the plane so I could get the lowdown on Brisbane’s best. Airport time in Brisbane was totally painless as the ‘declare your animal products, fruit, nuts, seeds and boots used out about’ security person decided that we were not bringing doom to Australia and waved us through without the usual bag checks and questions. Success. We (not the royal plural – party consisted of Gayle and I together with Rita, Jules and Selena, all members of the Luminate festival exec committee) all bundled into a large van taxi and headed towards Bowen Terrace in New Farm. The taxi driver kept us entertained (and at times a little exasperated) with tragically lame jokes and a million silence-filling questions about everything and nothing in a true taxi driver fashion. He went through a portfolio of veggie, tree hugger and New Zealand jokes catered specifically for his audience however our post travel, pre food, collective selves were not playing ball and he kept getting silence, though this seemed to not affect his enthusiasm.
Digs and Backpackers survival lessons Bowen Terrace accommodation was simple but pretty. A converted old house with dorms, single, double or queen rooms which take up to three people. Not too expensive ($89 Ozzie dollars for the double room), comfortable and kitted out perfectly (good quality linen and extra blankets, crockery and cutlery and a small fridge in each room, the place made for a great base. Maria, the manager, did a great job of making sure things run smoothly and filled the place with info with what’s on and what to do, tourist info and cute little signs that give detailed instructions to just about everything. Being a bit far from the city centre and South Bank, I first thought the location was a little cut off but I since learnt about the Powerhouse (an old, you guessed it, Power House, converted into a stunning theatre and exhibition space which hosts a lot of the ongoing theatre and dance productions in the city) and The Valley (home to clubs and bars and apparently a couple of indie places), both really close to Bowen Terrace. The neighbourhood is also home to some great-looking restaurants and cool bar / bistro type places that have made the effort. Coupled with the up-market / suburban feel of the residential buildings, New Farm can make a super great base for a somewhat refined Brisbane experience. After Gayle and the crew left for Earth Freak I decided to move to a more central, more social and more budget friendly accommodation of the Backpackers (hostel) type. Online reviews led me to the YHA which I only spent one night at due to the general stiffness and lack of interaction between people inside. Stiffness aside, the YHA is clean, secure and well planned out, with What’s On calendars and really patient front desk staff. Backpackers version two was the slightly more raw Brisbane City Backpackers. Just two doors down from the YHA. This one was a lot more lively though still clean and well kept. Security does not seem to be the place’s strong point after my food bag was stolen right out of the common fridge, apparently by a stranger who walked in off the street. Being completely green on the whole backpacker survival guide I left my food visible, accessible and in an organic shop carrier bag which obviously made it stand out from the crowd. Must brush up on my survival skills or I’ll go hungry. Aside from the challenges of food thieves, communal kitchens shared with a million students cooking noodles, spaghetti and MSG-laden Asian concoctions which do not always appear edible, trying to find an unoccupied corner for your rucksack in a typical messy teenager bedroom occupied by 5 such messy teenagers (and one messy post post teenager – me) and attempting to quietly make your way across a pitch black room peppered with clothes/ shoes / random crockery and clamber up to the top bunk without waking up the whole dorm; I’m quite enjoying the whole backpacker experience. I’ve met some great people from all over the globe, found willing companions for city explorations and managed to live well on a tight budget. Happy puppy. Brisbane explorations and some (mis) adventures Being in the city for a couple of days with the luxury of no prior plans I did a bit of reading here and there, asked around a bit and put together a list of must visits for my time here. Having a very compact centre concentrated around the main river, Brisbane is very walkable (though the heat is sometimes a bit much) and also has the luxury of a free City Hopper ferry that goes up and down river.
The City Hopper is an absolute gem, serving as transport and also a great way to see the city centre from the water both by day and by night; totally for free. I did the full City Hopper route after dark one evening together with Hannah, a German girl I met about an hour earlier at dinner. We marvelled at the pretty sights, expressed disappointment at the Christmas-tree-green lighting of the main bridge and randomly gate-crashed an engagement do on south pier. Sadly our not very engagement-do appropriate attire had us quickly sussed out by the groom-to-be who booted us out of his event. Adventures continued for Greta as a flip-flop folding incident on the way home ended in me sprawled headlong in the middle of a street (with a full line-up of cars as an audience), and a resulting bruised and bloody big toe which was thankfully the only casualty.
My favourite haunt by far was the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) where I got to see a fabulous exhibition by Cai Guo-Qiang (as well as learn about him and his very interesting history with Brisbane Art Gallery AND learn to pronounce his name) called Falling Back to Earth, a grounded, nature-focused set of three artworks which were visually impressive, thought provoking and for me rather emotional. I have to confess I was not at all familiar with any of Cai’s work and was fully awed by his vision for massive artworks (especially his gunpowder and firework pieces) as well as courage to attempt such ground-breaking, risky projects (some of which went quite wrong).
Aside from Cai’s exhibit, I also browsed a multi-artist collection called Everyday Magic, (all about seeing the magic in every day experiences and things), found Malta on a postcard which formed part of a world map made up of country names found on building signage in Brazil (random but fun) and watched two free great foreign films in an absolutely stunning cinema (Manila – In the Claws of Light, a 1975 film about life in the Philippines under president Ferdinand Marcos through the story of Julio who travels to Manila in search of his love, Ligaya who was lured there by the promise of work and study and Ponyo, an animated Japanese film by Hayao Miyazaki about a goldfish with super powers who wants to become a human girl. The Queensland Museum, City State Library and Queensland Art Gallery are also part of the Cultural Centre (together with the GOMA), all fabulously free and full of wonders.
Museums-aside, Brisbane has a great river-side walkway along which Brisbanites jog, bike, walk fast and generally act very active even during scorching temperatures. I found the city’s weekend markets sweet but a little unsatisfying (being a bit of a markets-addict I kind of explored a few), possibly because they were quite compact and somewhat missing the artisan / bric-a-brac / vintage feel that makes you hope for an unexpected find or a huge desire to eat each and every food item on display (a desire which Gayle and I have been known to fulfil completely on several occasions, only stopped by a lack of available interior food space or actually finding we’ve tried EVERYTHING (veggie) on offer). Sadly I seem to have missed the exciting sounding Davies Park Market (daviesparkmarket.com.au) which sounds very up my street. Oh well, there’s always next time.