Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Shock to the system

After a relaxing day on Stradbroke Island, we knew our last week in Brisbane would be full of packing and goodbyes. On Tuesday night we went out in the city to say fairwell to Joe and Steph. We met at an Irish bar to grab some food and a few drinks. Once we were there we realised we were in the middle of a quiz for a laugh we jotted down a team name (Bananarama) onto a sheet and away we went. Unsurprisingly we didn’t come first, but saying that we didn’t come last either! All in all it was good fun and we finished it all off with a game of bowling. 
The following day was my last shift at the bakery. Most of the guys were there, giving me chance to get some photos and exchange emails. My time at the bakery has been enjoyable and not only will I miss the people but also the yummy cupcakes that they make :)

Jo finished work on Friday. Some of the crew weren’t working but they popped in to wish her well. She has enjoyed her time at the cafe over the past months and she can now make a mean coffee! They bought her a box of chocolates and gave her a postcard with messages on as a leaving present. She said she will miss the staff there as she got on really well with them however, the early shifts she won’t miss!
Friday evening was our last night in the house. After cooking our final meal and finishing off the biscuits it was time to pack. We both couldn’t believe how much we had accumulated since being over here. We just hoped we wouldn’t have any problems at the airport with baggage fees...
After a really good night’s sleep it was time to go. Before getting on the bus we gave one last wave to Morningside. We have really enjoyed our time in Brisbane and we now have lots of memories to take away with us.
Our next stop was Brisbane airport. We were flying with Tiger Airways to Melbourne as they are one of the cheapest airlines, and we were about to find out why. Whilst queuing to check in our luggage, we noticed a lot of people handing money over the counter. Once at the check-in desk the lady asked to weigh our luggage. We thought we would be OK as in the past no airline has weighed our carry on luggage or my laptop bag, giving us chance to spread our weight. However, Tiger weighed everything, even Jo’s handbag! We were informed it was $15 per kilo if you go over...$75 later and we were through. Oops!
The reason Melbourne was our next stop was to visit family. My dad has family there, who we visited last time. However, this time we planned to stay for a bit longer. We arrived at Melbourne airport just after 5pm. As we got off the plane we noticed a change in the temperature. Everyone had joked about how cold it is in Melbourne, however we didn’t believe them. Our last visit was in early 2008 and it was very hot. With summer just beginning over here we thought we would be OK. We were wrong. When you can see your own breath you know it’s cold! Jo and I both looked at each other in disbelief and darted for an extra layer. As we exited the terminal, Mark was there to greet us. The drive back to the house took just under an hour. We picked up the kids and headed off out. Mark said he was going to treat us to a meal so we headed off to a restaurant. It was a lovely meal and it gave us chance to have a catch up and talk about lots of different things.
That night we had our own room which was attached to the house like an annex. It was good as it gave us both a chance to catch up on sleep.
Mark, Jane and the kids all live about an hour from Melbourne in a place called Beaconsfield. We thought we would spend most of Sunday just exploring the area as Mark said how similar it is to Devon. We headed off towards a pub which both Mark and Jane recommended. It was a really nice walk full of greenery and lots to see. Some parts reminded us of home.
Along the way we kept on talking about the sudden change in weather. One minute we’re all in shorts and the next we’re all wrapped up. It just goes to show how big this country really is.
We stopped at a pub along the way to grab a worthy drink. This would hopefully give us enough energy for our short walk back (*cough*). The plan was to simply do a loop and approach the house from the other side. After one wrong turn we realised we were going the wrong way. It was too late to turn back so we just got on with it. It added another hour onto the journey but it gave us chance to take in some more scenery.
That evening Jane cooked lasagne for everyone. We spent another night talking about home and our time over here. We then huddled around the fire and watched a bit of telly.
The following day Mark dropped us off at the train station and we parted. After tackling the ticket machine we jumped on the train and headed for the city. Once at the YHA we dropped off our luggage and headed out for some grub. Last month we noticed that there was an exhibition on in Melbourne featuring all the work of legendary film director Tim Burton (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice and Batman) With us being film fans we thought we would go along. Unfortunately we couldn’t take any photos but I managed to get a few before we went in.
The whole exhibition was fascinating. They had everything in there from when he was a kid right up until his recent films. You can see from his early drawings that he had something special to offer. From poems to sketches all the way to costumes from Alice in Wonderland. It was all there. It was a pleasure to see and if it comes over to the UK we would highly recommend it!
The rest of that day was spent pottering around. Because we had already spent a lot of time here in 2008 we just enjoyed taking it easy. One thing that wasn’t here last time was a ‘bike scheme’ that the city is trialing. Basically, you pop your card into the machine and select the duration and hey presto you have hired a bike. You can hire it from as little as 2 hours all the way up to a year! It all looked very impressive. I wonder if Barnstaple will ever get something similar...!!
Later that day we popped into a shoe shop as my trainers were in need of replacement. With my birthday being the following Sunday Jo said she would treat me to a new pair. It was still over five days away but I had something to look forward to after our visit to Alice Springs...!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

From one island to another

Yet again we've had a busy weekend. With only a few weeks left before we fly home, we're desperately trying to see everything worth seeing around Brisbane.
On Saturday night I dragged Dan along to see Mamma Mia! the musical at the QPAC theatre at South Brisbane. Well, I say 'dragged', but to be honest I think he was looking forward to it just as much as me (he's a bit of a closet Abba fan!!). I've seen the film, so knew what to expect, but I think Dan was pretty impressed with how the story and songs are tied together so well.
We got to the show nice and early and had a drink in the bar beforehand. A member of staff handed us a leaflet about a free photoshoot that was going on upstairs, so we headed up to check it out. As a promotional stunt the network Optus were taking pictures of theatregoers in front of a green screen, and then superimposing them into various scenes from the show. Needless to say Dan and I joined in...

The performance itself was mesmerising. I absolutely love musicals so laughed, sang and clapped my way through the entire show. As the 10th anniversary tour, many of the original cast had been drafted in, meaning that the standard was incredibly high. I literally could have watched it again, straight away!
After the late night it was up at 5am to catch an early train to Cleveland, as we were spending the day on North Stradbroke Island (or 'Straddie', as it's known to the locals). From Cleveland we took the 30 minute water taxi across to the island, which is the second largest sand island in the world. Like Moreton Island, it is located in Moreton Bay. However, unlike the island we visited a few weeks ago, Straddie actually has a couple of roads! The boat dropped us at Dunwich and from there we caught the bus up to Point Lookout, the hub of the island.
We found a cute little cafe and had coffee and toast for breakfast, before setting off on the Gorge Boardwalk around to Main Beach. The trail takes you high above the sea, with many purpose built viewing platforms for whale watching. However, we unfortunately didn't see any on our visit, although we were pleased to stand and watch hundreds of dolphins riding the waves. They are so cute!
The view as we came round the corner to Main Beach took my breath away. The white sand stretched so far into the distance that it just petered out and blended into the skyline. We sat on the beach for a little while before heading off on another walk, this time along the beaches back in the direction the bus had taken us.
When we got to Frenchman's Beach we stopped for a while to watch a surfer who was so good he had a guy on a jetski with him to take him out into the massive surf, to pick up waves.
From there we walked all the way round the headland to Deadman's Beach, where Dan's foot had a fight with a rock and came off worse! Luckily, in the massive bag that Dan had been complaining about all day, I had wetwipes and plasters so was able to patch him back up. He didn't moan about the size of the bag after that!!
Cylinder Beach is the most commercial of all the beaches, with lifeguards and a few holiday chalets. There were quite a few people here, as it was the only place where you were officially allowed to swim that day.
It was walking down to here that we saw a witchetty grub. It had fallen onto the path from a tree I think, and Dan accidentally kicked it! It was the most hideous looking thing I've ever seen so, even though Dan went mad with the camera, I'm not going to publish a picture of it on here! Anyone who's watched I'm a Celebrity will know what I'm talking about.
At about 3pm we caught the bus back to Dunwich in time for the water taxi home. Although we didn't 'do' anything as such when we were on Straddie it was so nice to spend some time just chilling out in the sunshine.

Monday, 13 September 2010

To Hell and Back

One place we have wanted to visit for some time is Noosa. It is located north of Brisbane on the Sunshine Coast. After Jo's run on Sunday we decided the weekend after was for us to get away and unwind. We caught the train at 5.30am from Morningside in order to make the most of the day. I felt sorry for Jo as this is the train she catches during the week and Saturdays are normally a lie in! The journey was going to be over three hours so we decided to break it up by stopping at Eumundi. This small town is host to a popular market which takes place every Wednesday and Saturday. We had both heard it was big but weren't sure how big. Once we hopped off the bus at Eumundi we realised there were between 550 and 600 stalls dotted around the town! On the left hand side were shops and cafés and over the road was the main attraction.

There is lots to see and do at the markets. Each stall has something different to offer from homemade muffins, soap, jam, ginger beer, t-shirts, local art and even ironing board covers. You name it and it's (probably) there...!
Among all the stalls were different entertainers, including clairvoyants. One guy who stood out for me was a busker on a piano. He knocked out a few tunes and seemed popular with the locals.
We have seen lots of different markets in Australia. Eumundi is now another great addition to the list. We spent about four hours in total which was finished off with a look in the local Christmas shop. I think Jo wanted to get a quick festive fix after feeling like we missed one last year :(
The bus took about an hour to get to Noosa Heads. Once we got off we could see our hostel for the night over the road. Inside we realised it was a YHA. The website didn't say anything about this but we have had good stays with them before... As we climbed the stairs, Jo sighed with relief as written on the steps was 'Please remove shoes after 11pm'. This was due to the noisy wooden floorboards. Our room was also occupied by two Germans who seemed friendly. This was good news as in the past we have shared rooms with some right fruit loops (I'm not kiddin'!)
We dropped off our luggage and headed out. Our map showed us different walks to do at Noosa National Park. The boardwalk was easy to find and off we went.
With names like Tea Tree Bay and Fairy Pools you can imagine what the scenery was like. However, Jo and I were heading for Hells Gates...!
During our time over here we have encountered lots of different species, from the likes of spiders to kangaroos, possums, kookaburras and dingos. Another addition to the list is now a goanna lizard. About halfway through our walk one crawled out from the bushes and crossed our path. It glared at us before continuing its journey into the trees. Both of us were a little bit on edge after that as we weren't sure what else was nearby. It was pretty big...!
Two hours of breathtaking views later and we arrived at Hells Gates. We were so lucky with the weather as it made the view even more amazing. We both sat and admired the view whilst trying to spot whales. The map showed the walk continuing around the coast but time was getting on. Instead we turned around and headed back.
The walk back was lovely as the sun had started to set and the beach looked even more inviting. As we exited the National Park a group of tourists were pointing up a tree. We had a good idea what it was and we were right. Perched up a tree was a sleeping koala. It's fascinating how they can balance there and manage to sleep. This one wasn't as tame as the ones we saw on the Great Ocean Road in '08 however, it was still just as cute.
We ended the day by grabbing some grub from Hog's Head followed by some ice-cream. A lovely end to the day.
Unfortunately the weather the next day wasn't as nice. It had rained all night and fortunately stopped by the time we checked out from the hostel. We treated ourselves to a sit down breakfast consisting of French toast and pancakes. We spent the rest of the morning pottering around the shops before another big walk.
We knew we had quite a bit of time before the bus left so we headed off towards Noosaville where we stumbled across a giant bird. Noosaville is the place to come for fish and chips and if you're lucky you might spot a pelican!
This particular pelican has been there for over 30 years. In the last few years it has undergone a makeover. Along with its flapping wings and blinking eyes it can also move its bill. It is one of many 'big icons' found within Australia. Back in '08 we saw the big prawn which is located in Ballina just below Byron Bay.
Noosaville is very popular for boat hires and a great place to sit and watch them come in!
We thought it would be best to go via the lookout on our way back to Noosa Heads. The walk took us up a long hill which helped burn off our big breakfast! It was really quiet with only a couple of cars passing. Once there we were rewarded with a great view over Noosa.
The loop continued down another hill involving lots of steps and more wildlife. Once at the bottom we grabbed our luggage from the hostel and then sat down whilst eating Marmite scrolls until the bus came. Another lovely weekend away.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Jog on!

As an incentive to keep fit, when we arrived in Brisbane I signed up for the Bridge to Brisbane fun run. This charity event takes place every August and attracts over 45,000 participants. There are two races - 10k and 5k (I chose the latter) - which follow the river through Hamilton, finishing at the Ekka showground in Bowen Hills.
On the day of the race we walked from our house to the Citycat at Hawthorne, to catch the ferry up to the start of the race. Dan came along for moral support and to hold my water bottle, towel etc!
I couldn't believe how crowded the Citycat was with runners, at one point I was worried we wouldn't even get on. The number of participants just from the Morningside area was alarming. As we docked at Hamilton we could see floods of people heading for the start line - this was going to be a bit different to Rock Park's Race for Life, I thought!

At the start line there was a big stage with live music, plus lots of other entertainment and food stalls.
I made my way to the Orange Zone, for runners aiming to complete the course in less than 30 minutes. In front of us were the elite runners (under 20 minutes!!) and behind were the joggers and then the walkers. The sea of people lining up seemed to stretch for miles.
When the gun went off it was a bit of a slow start to get everyone through the narrow start line, and round the first bend. However, the microchips we had been given beforehand ensured we would all get an accurate recorded time. I still started my watch just in case though!
It took until about 1k into the race to actually be able to run properly, without the risk of tripping someone up or vice versa. It was a great atmosphere though, with many people in fancy dress and spectators hanging over their balconies to cheer us on.
Although I'd done a fair bit of training for the race I didn't push myself too hard, as I didn't want to burn out in the extreme heat. Even though the race started at 9.40am, the sun was still very strong and the fact that the whole race was on the road made it pretty warm to say the least.
As soon as Dan had watched the race he made his way to the Ekka showground to collect me. Despite getting on the bus straight away, he wasn't able to get there in time to see me finish.
As soon as I crossed the finish line I headed straight for the 'cool down' tent - a shady area, with pipes spraying out a fine mist. I then collected my well-deserved finishers' t-shirt and tucked into the free watermelon!
The time on my watch said I finished in 25 minutes 55 seconds, which I was very pleased with. I was worried that my official time would be over 25, as I'd fiddled with my watch during the race. However, my official time was 25.57 and my position was 519 which, considering the heat and how many people entered, was not bad at all.