Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A week of city livin'

After 9 days of Brisbane's version of city living, I'm back in Port Vila, a city of sorts. In Vila's defense, they do have plenty of buses, though not on any kind of schedule since you just tell the driver where you want to go when you get on and he takes you there . . . . eventually. There are also lots of restaurants for a city this size, probably because of its development as a tourist destination. I can't get everything I want in the grocery stores but it's still a lot more varied than Ambae. All in all, not a bad place to be for a couple of extra days.

Jeannette and I had a great time in Brisbane. I am hoping that she is recovering from the jet lag gracefully. My new travel strategy involves staying for several days in one place, taking day trips if necessary, before moving to another "home base" for several more days. Brisbane proved to be a great city for this kind of travel--we spent several days exploring what the city proper had to offer and several more taking trips to nearby attractions but we didn't have to pack up and move every day or two. It's a much more relaxing way to see a country than the "5 cities in as 5 days" type of trip.

The pictures below are of some of the more interesting things we did. If I'd given in to my impulses, most of my pictures would have been of fast food restaurants, paved sidewalks, trains and buses, grocery stores that were selling DELICIOUS strawberries and cherries, movie theaters (I recommend the new Karate Kid--it's a good approach to a remake), and other modern conveniences. Each day, after our stop for coffee and chai, Jeannette would say, "What should we do now?" My response was genuinely unhelpful since, having had a hot shower and holding a chai latte in my hand, I was content. Anything after that was a bonus for me. It turns out that this is not unique to my experience. When I got back to Vila, I ran into another volunteer who had also been in Brisbane and he experienced the same thing. One of his first comments to me was, "Wasn't it so nice to be in a CITY?" I couldn't agree more.

Brisbane makes great use of the river that flows through the city. They built a botanical garden and pedestrian walkway on one side of the river, several pedestrian-friendly bridges to get across, and a lovely park on the other side, complete with bougainvillea covered walkways, lots of restaurants, and a man-made beach. Jeannette and I spent a lot of our unscheduled, left over type time there.

One of our days was spent at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where we opted to have our pictures taken for free close to the koalas rather than pay $16 additional dollars to have it taken with koala in hand.

I have to admit they're pretty cute. Smelly but cute. If you look carefully at the picture of the lone koala, you'll see she isn't actually "lone." There is a baby koala hanging onto her stomach. Look for the browner shade of gray.

They also had Tasmanian devils at the sanctuary. After watching them run around for a few minutes we were both convinced that Tasmanian devils served as the inspiration for the in The Princess Bride. Now you can believe they exist, in miniature.

The day we toured the river bank brought us to the Maritime Museum. The displays were low budget like most maritime museums but interesting nonetheless and the highlight was the two ships we were able to tour. One was a replica of a wooden sailing ship from the 1800s and the other a decommissioned WWII submarine destroyer.

Jeannette and I didn't know anything about military ships beyond what we've seen in movies so we were happily speculating on what different spaces were for and what it would have been like to live on a ship like that when a docent, probably fed up by our naivete and silly observations, offered to give us an unofficial tour of the dry dock area. Hard hats required. Of course we accepted and got to go down into the dry dock area to get a close look at how it worked and at the undersides of the ship. Very cool.

We also toured parts of Tambourine National Park which is home to a sub-tropical rain forest. The vegetation was interesting--a mix of palms and eucalyptus and strangler figs--but the signs were better. Sign spotting actually became a mini-theme for the trip since Australians aren't shy about designing pictures that tell you exactly what they want you to know.

Wish I could tell you which mountain that is but I can't. We're standing on Mt. Tambourine and Brisbane is just off the picture to the right in the far distance.

One of our field trips was to Surfers' Paradise Beach on the Gold Coast. It was a little cloudy that day but not unpleasant enough to cause any good sized waves. As a result, we weren't able to watch any "real" surfers but we had a good time watching the surf schools that were going on.

Chinatown in Brisbane is one block of Chinese restaurants and stores so not much of a destination. But I found dried corazol (sour sop) in one of the stores and that was exciting. It's a common fruit here in Vanuatu and I think also in parts of the Caribbean but it isn't easy to find. The tree are kind of picky about pollination and then people don't sell them at the markets because they're just every day food. No one is going to pay money for a sour sop . . . . except me.

This was our other beach day, to the north of Brisbane instead of the south. We went to the Sunshine Coast on a day with very little sunshine. We arrived in the rain and left in the rain but had a small window of sun peeking through the clouds during the afternoon.

The beaches we visited were very deep and had very fine sand. The water was way too cold for me though it didn't discourage many other people. I got my feet wet and that was enough.

On the Tambourine/rain forest day, we went to a relatively new attraction. This sky walk bridge had been built in order to give people a walk through a rain forest canopy. At this point, the canopy hadn't reached the height of the catwalk but it was still pretty interesting. In another 10 or 15 years, it will be a fascinating place to go.

This is the north bank of the Brisbane River as we followed the river walk back toward our hostel. Brisbane is a great city for walking, biking, roller blading, etc. because of all of the footpaths they've created. We had to be careful to stay on the LEFT because of the bikes and skaters coming through. Not easy when our natural inclination was to stick to the RIGHT side of the sidewalk.

And this was the ultimate proof that we were in a developed country -- Krispy Kreme donuts available, hot and now.

I didn't intend to put two pictures of myself in a row but it gives me a chance to explain the unvarying outfits. When I packed for the trip, I packed everything suitable that I had available--3 pairs of pants, 5 shirts, one fleece and one windbreaker. Also socks, though I forgot the requisite tennis shoes. Plus the weather, in my version of reality, required some sort of covering for the better part of each day. As a result it looks like we took all of these pictures in one day, but no. Different days, same wardrobe.

The last picture here is of a banyan / nabanga tree. We have these in Florida and Vanuatu as well. On Tanna, the people have learned how to sculpt the roots that are growing down into benches, frames for houses, and frames for tables. This one was growing along the Brisbane River.
And that is some of our trip. Many thanks to Jeannette for (1) coming at all, and (2) for providing all of these pictures. I forgot the wire to connect my memory card to the computer so I used Jeannette's photos from my flash drive.

South Bank Brisbane--they had a purple theme going in the city.

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