Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Posted on December 10th, 2004

I have bad bus luck. Or perhaps the all powerful, seat assigning Aussie bus drivers have it in for me. I’ve been on seven bus trips in Australia now and every single time I have had a seat buddy, it has been the least desirable person on the entire bus. From Noosa to Brisbane, I sat next to a 70 year old guy with a forest of exposed nose hair, 80 pounds overweight, half in my seat, machine gun burping a recently ingested meal with a garlic emphasis and sporting shag-rug arm hair that brushed up against my arm the entire time, giving me an acute case of the willies. It was all I could do to keep my breakfast down from the smell and noise from all his “urp, urp, urping.” Why couldn’t I have been seated next to one of the five petite, nice smelling, non-burping, arm-hairless girls that had double seats all to themselves? Why, God, why???

Which zoning guy was on duty when they approved these neighbors?

Brisbane is the cosmopolitan capitol of Queensland. Beautifully designed river walks, gardens, squares and historic buildings surrounded by trendy cafes, clubs and restaurants. Plus the largest used book shop for hundreds of miles. You can waste a lot of time in Brisbane.

Sick of pigeons? Just be glad you don't have to do battle for your food with this thing!

I chose to stay at Aussie Way Backpackers because the price was right, the neighborhood wasn’t dodgy and it was housed in a very cool looking humongous timber house with an old fashion porch and balcony. I unpacked quickly and headed out for a reconnaissance of the city and an early dinner with an online travel acquaintance. When I returned, my roommates, temporary workers, were heading out for a long night of drinking and insisted that I accompany them. I passed on this invitation in the interest of succumbing to exhaustion and to avoid becoming a character in one of their numerous barfing stories.

Brisbane’s three day weather forecast was for rain, then thunderstorms and then more rain, all cloaked in swimming in humidity. The next morning, I waited around the hostel for as long as decency would allow for the rain to abate and then headed out, submitting to a day of sogginess. My first stop was at the aforementioned largest used book store for hundreds of miles. My hope was that I could browse for two hours and by the time I was ready to leave the rain might dry up. Well, as desperate and hopeless as this sounds, I was pleasantly dumbfounded when I emerged from the store and the sun was just coming out. I put my head down and made the rounds through all of Brisbane’s outdoor attractions. I headed down Albert Street and plunged into Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens, which were lush and nicely done, but disappointingly small. Then I crossed the Brisbane River on the Goodwill Pedestrian Bridge into the South Bank Parklands, the sight of the 1988 International Expo. The South Bank riverside walkway is lined by a modernist series of sculptures made to look like giant, swaying seaweed stalks (or so it seemed to me). Among other attractions along the way, there is the Aussie-requisite fake, swimming lagoon, a small food court, a tourist arcade and an ornate, wood carved Nepalese Pagoda (temple) left over from the Expo. Heading back over the Brisbane River I wandered down the Queens Street pedestrian shopping mall where I stumbled onto a small, outdoor, afternoon circus performance, that included an achingly beautiful contortionist, who’s moves captivated me almost as much as the threat of her massive breasts popping out of her ill-fitting top. From there I slipped back onto Albert Street, heading north for a traipse through the Roma Street Parkland, strangely located directly behind the bus station. I rounded up the day firing off follow-up emails, still trying to get the Indian Pacific trip together.

South Bank Walkway

Nepalese Pagoda

That evening my roommates succeeded in drawing me out to a pub that was offering $5 steaks, with the purchase of a pint. This would have been a dubious offer anywhere else in the world, but Queensland has a wonderfully huge and respected beef industry, centered around Rockhampton, just a few hours north of Brisbane - a city I almost spent the night in on the strength of the stories about the quality of their steaks - and if I was going to get an edible $5 steak anywhere (that’s AU$5, by the way, which comes to US$3.90), it was going to be in Queensland. And sure enough, it wasn’t half bad. Plus, they had Strongbow cider on tap, so the night was a huge success all around.

The next day, frequent rain showers and stifling humidity had me washed in sweat and wishing for a shower by the time I finished breakfast. A full day indoors was in order and for once, I was prepared. During a break in the rain, I sprinted down to the undersized Parliament House for the free tour and to hopefully see some lively debates, but Parliament wasn’t in session. Or perhaps it was in session, but no one bothered to show up, like in the U.S. I was cricket season after all… Next I headed across the river to meander through the free Cultural Center Museum. The Museum’s collection is arbitrary, strangely organized - a display about the largest variety of cockroach in the world (35 grams, equivalent to 35 American cockroaches), found in Australia of course, is across from a display about bikinis - and the screaming, rampaging, sugar-wild, little kid quotient was nearly intolerable, but on the whole it is wonderfully interesting and informative. I wouldn’t have been sorry to have paid to get in. Conversely, the hands-on, interactive Sciencentre, downstairs from the museum, was a smaller, poor-man’s version of the Science Museum of Minnesota. Though I may be selling it short as the entry price was an ambitious $8, while being much less engaging than the Cultural Museum and three times more infested with the abovementioned children from hell, trying their best to trash every single exhibit, succeeding with four by the end of the afternoon.

Nevertheless, I managed to spend five straight hours out of the rain, in humid-free air conditioning and boy was I happy. That evening I was agreeably entertained by yet another online travel group acquaintance, who resolutely bought me several rounds of cider and told me that she loved my writing. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Brisbane has the usual offerings of day tours into the rainforest, skydiving and brewery tours that could have kept me lingering for another week, but I had had my fill of rain and marinating humidity and decided to keep moving south in the hopes I might enter into a new weather pattern. I made my way back to the bus station the next morning, under a cloud of continued disappointing weather and boarded a bus for Aussie Hippy Ground Zero, the town of Byron Bay.

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