March 21, 2005

My new favorite city in Australia is Brisbane.

We have had such a great night here. We left the Ned Kelly Motel somewhat early this morning in hopes of getting to Brisbane in time to maybe get in on some sporting event for Andy. He's been trying to find one that coincides with our visit the last two weeks. Unfortunately, his plans for Brisbane did not work out, again. He holds out slim hope for Sydney, but it doesn't look good. But, we were able to get into Brisbane about 1:30 or so.

Before then, we stopped at several tourist traps along the Bruce Highway, between Maryborogh and Brisbane. The first was the Ginger Factory where they grow and process ginger into several products. We picked up a few gingerbread men for the road. Andy was just wishing for some the other day. So, he lucked out there. We then came upon the Giant Pineapple. I mentioned that Aussies like these giant things and this was no exception. The Giant Pineapple marked the entrance of a pineapple plantation, one that was very similar to the one we saw in Hawaii (even though we did not see a pineapple maze). We did, however, get a few slices of pineapple for ourselves, along with some nice dried pineapples to share with my team at work when I get home.

Finally, we stopped at the Ettamogah Pub. This pub, first envisioned as part of an Australian cartoon series by Ken Maynard, was built to commemorate the legacy of this cartoonist and his creation. Unfortunately, except for the cartoons that decorated the walls and the outer facade, I didn't see much of a resemblance. Also unfortunately, we had a less than great lunch at the bar and grill upstairs. The Shepherd's Pie turned out to be Steak and Kidney pie - bleacckh - which really tasted like kidneys.

And now, for Brisbane. We got in and Andy found a motel for us near the area we wanted to see: South Brisbane. It is a fine place called the Edmonstone Motel after the road it's on. It is walking distance from the South Banks Parklands that we wanted to visit. It is the south bank of the river that runs through Brisbane. Apparently, convicts first discovered the river and then the government built a penal colony around it to house convicts that committed crimes in Australia. Anyway, there is now a lovely park built on the south bank of the river. Andy and I walked first to the park and discovered that there is an artificial lagoon to swim in, as well as a rainforest to walk in, small places to grab some chow, and a place to catch a river ferry. We went back to the motel to get Vienna and our suits and then commenced with the best afternoon and evening we've had yet. We spent a lovely hour or so swimming in the lagoon. We then picked up a couple of souvenirs and had a bite to eat at one of the outdoor stands. We also found some great desserts: ice cream for Andy and Vienna and a wonderful crepe filled with strawberries and chocolate for me. Yummy. In the park, there were some great birds, Ibis, and we also got to see a goanna (a very large lizard). We recalled stories about how aborigines will catch and eat these, and we have come close to hitting a couple of the lizards while driving through the desert.

Then, we got to the dock just in time to get the ferry. Here in Brisbane, they use the ferry like a bus. You can pick up the ferry (a catamaran type boat) at any one of a dozen or so docks and take it into or out of town to another dock. We just happened to catch the very perfect ferry to see the sunset around the city as we drifted down the river. What a gorgeous sight: the tall city buildings, two or three different bridges, and many houses and apartment buildings. The sunset was beautiful and we could even see the temple alongside of the river.

A few kilometers down the river, we saw another amazing sight. Hundreds of black fruit bats came flying over the river, right over our boat. The sun had set but there was still plenty of light to see these beautiful creatures fly overhead. We wondered aloud where they were all coming from. A very attractive Australian in a crisp white shirt and tie (I love crisp white shirts) answered our question. He told us that they come from a large group of mangrove trees some distance away. They migrate each night toward the city. He even said that he went to school in the area, and when the bats flew overhead, the kids would all duck to avoid the bats' natural "bombs." He said that they call them flying foxes. It was an amazing thing to see. If you're curious, the attractive young man in the crisp white shirt will forever be known in our life as “Bryson” – probably not his real name.

The ferry ride consisted of going to the end of the river and then back again. The way back may have been even more beautiful, as now it was night and the whole city was lit up. The bridges were all lit up and the high-rises were sparkling. The wind was blowing through our hair and even though I was cold, I wouldn't have been anywhere else if you paid me. It was the best night yet.

After we got off the catamaran, we walked through the rain forest in the park toward our motel. We just kept seeing such wonderful things. In the middle of the rainforest, we saw the Nepalese Peace Pagoda that was left from the '88 World Expo. The Parklands were built for that expo. When we got out of the rainforest, we happened upon a tree with some activity in it. When we looked up, we realized that there were dozens of bats eating the fruit in the tree. We spent about a half hour watching them. Amazingly, they looked a little like monkeys, hanging and climbing from branch to branch. When one would get too close to another, they'd fight and one would fly off. When they got in the light we could see that their bodies were brown and furry. Sometimes, they'd notice us and watch us. Their faces were very smart looking and bright-eyed, also like monkeys. One of them looked at us and then spread his wings and flew. It was frightening but he didn't come after us. I couldn't believe that this city just kept giving us great experiences.

We returned to the motel, walking past the sky needle (which I believe is also a remnant of the '88 expo). After returning, I took a little jaunt of my own. I went out to the Temple site to take a night picture of it. It was tricky as the front of it is surrounded by homes and is inaccessible at night. I got some nice shots of the back, which faces the street. Tomorrow, I'll try to get a morning shot. Today was the best day, yet. I hope we get to do a little more in Brisbane tomorrow. If we ever live in Australia, I want to live here. I decided that I'd live and work near the river so I could take the river ferry every day and night. What a great city.