The Travel Blog That Wasn’t – Australia part 7 (May 2011)

As usual, I went crashing into the beginning of May after an exhausting April.  I spent the first week of the month catching up on sleep, and all those silly things (like groceries) that one loses track of when one is absorbed in work and life.

I also took a much-needed day off at the beginning of May to do something kitschy.  I went to Toronto, New South Wales, making a brief stop in Niagara Park on the way back.  I’ve never been able to track down the history behind the name Niagara Park, but various internet sources suggest Toronto was named in honour of Ned Hanlan (a famous rower from Toronto, Ontario) who visited Australia during his life.  There’s nothing particularly interesting in Toronto – it’s basically one of many many seaside towns along the coast North of Sydney.  The train ride to that part of the suburbs is always pleasant, as was the bus (the only bus).  Toronto used to be the terminus of a two-stop railway connecting from Fassifern, which has long been abandoned.  There’s now a very nice walking trail along the old tracks that terminates at the old Toronto Station, a historic small-town station that now houses a very small museum telling it history, as well as a number of homeless people who live on what was its platform.

Look everyone I'm in #Toronto! (pardon the squint)

(Apologies for the awkward expression – I was looking into the sun and taking this photo with my iPhone while attempting to get both myself and the sign in the photo!)

I also spent much of that week absorbed in the Canadian election, despite being many time zones away!  There was even one almost-sleepless night writing this blog entry that no one read.  I also got to catch up with the Canadian Australian Club again, as well as getting to celebrate my birthday along with Josh, whose birthday is very near mine! (Interestingly, both of these things happened in the same pub in Erskineville).  Then there was booking my New Zealand trip, which took a lot of time and still led to a very loosely-planned trip.  Finally, I got to go to the Washington concert, which was a total blast — she puts on an amazing live show, and I really hope she comes back to Canada (I discovered months later that I actually missed her show in Toronto, Ontario despite having been there at the same time!)

And then, I went to Brisbane.  I don’t have a lot to say about Brisbane.  Virtually everywhere I had gone before in Australia (Perth, Adelaide, and Darwin being the most common targets), people in Sydney had said “ewww, why would you go there?” or “there’s nothing to do there, what a boring place.”  That never became reality – I enjoyed all of those places – until Brisbane. Brisbane was a nice city, but not particularly exciting or interesting.

This trip was in place of the trip I had planned in January that fell through due to the floods.  Impressively, it was only four months later and the only damage I could still see was the closure of a few areas in the botanic gardens.  And even those didn’t look all that bad.  The city cleaned up well.

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I spent the first day I arrived wandering around a couple of the inner suburbs – Fortitude Valley in particular – and taking a sunset walk (and ferry ride) along the now-very-tame river.  I also got some erroneous Twitter advice to take a bus out to Mount Coot-Tha lookout at night to get a nice view of the city… only to discover that the bus that actually goes there no longer runs at night, so the bus I took to the middle of nowhere wasn’t useful.  Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long to get back on the return bus to the city!

Having attempted it once, I headed back the next morning to Mount Coot-Tha, which was indeed quite lovely.  It was here when I really came to recognise how absurd it was that anyone decided to build in Brisbane in the first place — anyone standing on the mountain in the times of settlement had to have realised it was on a flood plain, given how clearly the river meanders.  But that aside, the weather was refreshingly warm compared to Sydney which was rapidly heading into winter!

I spent the rest of the day idly wandering the CBD – Brisbane is a coal town (not drastically different from Calgary in that sense, just a different fossil fuel) so it’s a lot of big money businesses and not a lot of real life in the city itself.  That said, its pedestrian mall is pleasant, and there was plenty of coffee to be found when I needed to just sit and relax.  I spent my final day (I had a flight late in the day) just wandering the museums and art galleries on the South Bank, which were also nice but since it was off-season very few of the exhibits were open.  I enjoyed a lunch (an “Aussie” pizza – the first and only time I’ve ever had egg on pizza) in the company of a water dragon that was surprisingly un-shy!

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I left Brisbane with ideas of how not to design a public transport system, how not to make a bike sharing network work, and where not to build a city.  I did appreciate the time away from work, and I always love seeing new places, but I now handily advise anyone planning a trip to Australia that they can easily cross it off their list without a visit.

I got back to Sydney just in time for The Rolling Festival.  This was a festival celebrating the new Bourke Street Cycleway.  I kind of wandered up and down for a bit but didn’t do much else — I had gone the week before for a photo walk of the street, since I lived practically on it.  I rather enjoyed that they were making such a big deal out of the new infrastructure!

Woop - The Rolling Festival

That same weekend was the Katy Perry concert, which was sort of absurd.  I was by far the oldest person in the room that wasn’t a parent.  And she did Ur So Gay, which was just really uncomfortable.  But it was otherwise a fun show, and I was at this point really starting to feel ‘at home’ in Sydney.  I was excited to discover that the Starbucks nearby in Darling Harbour had re-opened with a massive upstairs seating area.  These little things were starting to become highlights!

I think it was also sometime in May when I got into Q and A.  For so long I had been seeing my Twitter feed fill up with the #qanda hashtag every Monday night and wondering what the heck it was about.  Someone finally pointed out to me what it was, and that I could stream it online (I can’t anymore – it’s geoblocked for only Australians to watch – but I’ve kept up with the vodcasts on iTunes).  Ever since then, I watched the show religiously – I’ve met a number of Twitter people through it!  The #qandadrinkinggame was always fun too — bonus drinks for a mention of “Stop the boats!”  It was such a fun and interesting way to get up to date on Australian politics and to hear some differing perspectives.  I wish Canada had something this engaging — or, heck, I wish Canada had citizens engaged enough for a show like this to be as popular as Q and A is.  I think I will be a life-long Q and A fan!

I was back in Sydney less than a week when I headed back to Melbourne.  I had planned to return when I made my original visit, and this was really the only time I could do it… plus Love Never Dies was in previews and I really wanted to see it.  My review of the show is here – it ended up being an unusual highlight of the trip.

I used this trip to Melbourne to spend a bit more time exploring on the Bike Share – I even brought my helmet back with me for the purpose!  I had wanted to spend some time around Docklands which is a very new and very developed area; it’s somehow magically woven Melbourne’s laneway designs into the new building styles and worked really well.  It’s still a work in progress but it’s definitely a really nice area.

Cow Up A Tree

I also met up with a friend I’d met on Twitter through a mutual Canadian friend and we spent a bit of time enjoying the Melbourne night life.  This led to a late start the next morning, but I still got to Northcote, and also back to the Savers for a few more purchases!  I basically spent the rest of the time I had there hanging out in the city — of course catching trams and Bike Share bikes, and drinking plenty of coffee… it was nice to not feel the need to do the ‘tourist’ thing and really just to be able to hang out.  It’s a shame it’s so hard to do that when I’m in the place that I live – there’s something about being away and having nothing but a hotel to go back to that makes doing nothing so much easier!

I got back to Sydney with a little over a week left.  I had to go back to Canada (this was long planned) for a six-week stint for work.  More on that in a minute.  I spent the time tying up loose ends and catching up on work, which was getting busier again.  I also finally got to see the Priscilla show at the Imperial — neither Josh nor I had seen the film so we made an evening of it, watching the film at his place, then heading over the road to see the show.  That was a lot of fun, I wish I’d spent more time in that end of town!  I also went with Marni to the Stuffed Beaver — a Canadian-themed pub in Bondi.  They tried really hard to make it Canadian… and apparently the owner had some loose connection to Canada… but they really weren’t all that successful. They didn’t even have Canadian beer!

Priscilla show at the Imperial

I blogged a few thoughts on my return to Canada right before I left.  It was hard to leave.  It was wonderful to get back to Canada (which by that point was, generally, warmer than most of Australia).  It was wonderful to see my Canadian friends again.  But I wasn’t ready to go.  At the same time, the whole 6-week return was poorly planned, involved a lot of couch-surfing, and was nowhere near financially worth the cost.  Part of that had to do with some work falling through that I had been relying on, but even without that the flights were long and expensive, and the whole thing was exhausting.  And most people asked, logically, one of two questions — why would you go back to Canada for such a short period of time, or why are you going back to Australia for such a short period of time?

As I’ve said before, the initial plan was that this was an experiment.  I wanted to see if I could make the living-abroad thing work, while continuing the work that I do.  That meant coming back to Ontario every June and Montreal every October.  In retrospect, having lost a big chunk of the work I was expecting in Ontario, I could have also given up the remaining work there and found other work in the same time frame (though I really enjoy the work I would have to give up, as well as the people I work with, so it would be very difficult for me to do so if I did).  Regardless, however, the tickets were long since booked.  So I went.

As for returning to Australia — as I said, I wasn’t ready to leave it yet. I also was in no position to deal with breaking my lease (which I had to do anyway when I left in September, but that’s another story) and then finding a place to live in Canada in June or July, a peak time for my work when I simply wouldn’t have had the time to deal with it.  I hadn’t even decided for certain where I would be returning to — another complication.  Plus, I really only had one year (immigration-wise) to spend in Australia, and I wanted to maximise the time I could spend there.  I had come to really like the place!

So, I returned to Ontario, spent most of the time working and/or catching up with all the folks I left behind (I also had a week or more spent recovering from one of the worst colds I’ve ever had), spent a week in Vancouver on the way back to get a better feel for the city, and headed back to Australia.  We’ll call it a victory lap.  And it will be in the next (and, depending on how concise I can be, possibly last) blog post in this series.

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  1. […] The Travel Blog That Wasn’t – Australia part 7 (May 2011) […]

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