Scotland 5: Day 16

03.16.16 | Stirling > Pitlochry Train | 10:43

I really enjoyed two out of three of my hostel mates last night. One was the guy I already talked about, the Ukrainian who lives in Greece, the second one is a guy who joined us just yesterday. He’s from Germany but is staying and working in York at the moment. Both of these guys are in great shape. I’m almost inspired… almost. I’m in better shape than I used to be, but I still have a lot of work to do.

The third hostel mate was a girl from Taiwan. She more or less kept to herself. I tried to strike up a conversation, and even though I could tell she spoke good English, she just wasn’t having it for some reason. I would blame America but she wouldn’t really talk to the Ukrainian or the German either. I love it when it’s not personal.

I’m now on my way to my next stop, which is Pitlochry. I love this little town! This will be my second visit here. The first time I visited was simply because I’d remember seeing it from the train, heading north to Inverness. I wondered what it was all about… when I did finally stay in Pitlochry, I discovered that like most places in Scotland, it was great!

The hostel I stayed in last time I was in Pitlochry is either full or not open for the tourist season just yet. Since I couldn’t find any accommodation when I was booking, I had to use AirBnB and had to fork out some extra money. The good news is that it’s already paid for- so they aren’t going to charge my card. So many of the places I stay only take 5% down and the rest when you arrive. I don’t appreciate this because it’s so much nicer to pay for everything in advance.

03.17.16 | Pitlochry B&B | 07:18

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Pitlochry is as lovely as I remember. It is a dinky little village but so much beauty all around! I look forward to the next two days! For dinner, I walked around town, looking for something promising. Since it was just before 17:00, so many restaurants weren’t open yet. I hadn’t had anything for lunch, so by this point, I was searching hard. I finally found a pub/restaurant that seemed to have great food, even if the service was horrible.

I ordered a steak pie. I’m looking forward to having a REAL steak pie, that is baked in a crust. So far, however, it’s only been steak pies that are in the pot, and they lay some puff pastry over top. That’s cheating. The last real steak pie I had was in 2014 in Brisbane, Australia. Still, this one was a tasty fake- steak pie!

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Back to the beginning of Scotland 5 | Forward to Scotland 5: Day 17

Australia 2014: Part 16

<BNE – LAX | 00:51>

My last few days in Brisbane were wonderful! Arron and Brendan took me to a Turkish restaurant, we played a game of barefoot lawn bowling- which was a blast even though I now know of yet another sport I suck at. We went on a short bush walk, visited a fish store, had some overpriced ice cream, went to browse through a swap meet, and just had a great weekend hanging out together.

Fun fact: Did you know that some people (two I know in particular) actually go to bed by 20:00? I know what you’re thinking, but the two people I’m referring to are neither small infants nor are they old/decrepit yet. Does this mean that they’re just giving up? I think so. I gave them a hard time already.

I’m on Qantas flight 15, headed back to the states. I’m sad that this vacation is coming to an end. I guess it’s time to get back to reality. This isn’t so bad, however, because I’ve created a pretty awesome reality for myself. It’s time to get home so I can start preparations for my next adventure.

The End.

Australia 2014: Part 10

<Melbourne, Victoria | 22:00>

Arron gave me an assignment before I’d left Brisbane. He told me that while I was in Melbourne I needed to go find the brightly colored bathing boxes at Brighton Beach. These are quite the tourist attraction and he told me that they sell for about AU$200,000.

I think they’re fun, but they’re definitely not worth that much money. Maybe there’s a supply and demand thing going on? Don’t get me wrong, they are lovely… I guess I could set up a lemonade stand  or some such nonsense. For more info, check out http://www.brightonbathingbox.org.au.

Australia 2014: Part 5

<Sydney, New South Wales|16:09>

Sydney has been a blast! Yes, I do miss Arron and Brendan. I wish they were here. How dare they continue to live their lives without me! Arron dropped me off at the airport early enough that they were able to put me on an earlier flight. I didn’t know they’d do this free of charge- one point for Virgin Australia! This was my first experience flying with them. I’ll be sticking with them for the rest of my domestic flights, while I’m here.

Sydney seems to be a lot more spread out than Brisbane was. It seems to have more foreigners than locals- at least downtown. This didn’t seem like the case in Brisbane, however. I’ve met some nice locals outside of downtown however. I spent my first afternoon here just getting familiar with the city. If I had a dollar for every Thai restaurant in this city- I could die a very wealthy man. There are so many! I’ve eaten at a few and I think I’m over Thai… at least I am over it until I get hungry again. That curry seems to just drag me in. 

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to see the Sydney opera house- in fact, the only thing that would be better than seeing it would be to sing in it… one dream at a time. I’ll focus on the easy goals first. On my second day here, I grabbed a street map from the front desk and they pointed out where there was a great place to see it and take some pictures.

After dark, I went to a pub to sing karaoke but there weren’t very many good songs to choose from. Still, it was fun to watch people pretend to be singers. Nothing is better than karaoke!

Australia 2014: Part 2

This morning I woke up at precisely 04:08 and laid in bed for about half an hour, waiting to see if I was actually going to sleep some more. Thankfully, I fell asleep and didn’t wake up again until just before 07:00. Does this mean my body is adjusting to the new time zone? Not sure, but I’ll keep setting my alarm in case.

This morning I woke up at precisely 04:08 and laid in bed for about half an hour, waiting to see if I was actually going to sleep some more. Thankfully, I fell asleep and didn’t wake up again until just before 07:00. Does this mean my body is adjusting to the new time zone? Not sure, but I’ll keep setting my alarm in case.

Yesterday was an incredible day. Arron had to go to work for another half-day, and Brendan felt that he needed to catch up on some rest. After a late start, I ventured out on my own, back into the city, as I had the previous day. The rail system here, like most cities, is straightforward to understand and use.

I went back to Brisbane central and stopped at the Apple store once again. I wanted to price some things to see how much more expensive they’d be to purchase here than they are in the states. I looked at some excellent Bose QC15 headphones and discovered that it would cost me considerably less to buy them in the states. If I lived in or frequently visited Australia, I could start a side business of flying back to the United States, buying tons of electronics, shipping them back, and selling them. This is probably not legal, but I remember that the customs officials in the Brisbane airport didn’t ask about electronics. Just food and drugs. I didn’t end up buying anything but did convince myself to look into getting an Apple T.V. someday.

I explored some of the city by walking in a massive circle around the train station. By doing this, I figured I couldn’t get too lost. The problem with Brisbane is that the streets are at a diagonal. I’ve grown so used to using north, south, east, and west to understand directions, and Arron told me that I needed to totally change that way of thinking. They rarely give or even understand given directions in that manner. Instead, Australians will say something like, “Go toward (insert the name of a nearby town or landmark) or walk toward (some kind of known landmark).” As a tourist, however, I don’t really know where these towns and places are located.

After walking around the city for a few minutes (I may have been lost most of this time), I saw a small restaurant called Pie Face. I remembered that Wes, one of my crashpad roommates from Australia, told me that I needed to make sure I ate a meat pie before I came back to the states.

They are very delicious, and it was one of the things he missed about his home country. I remembered that Arron had told me that Pie Face had the best brownies, and I figured I’d try them out. My eyes were bigger than my stomach, and I shouldn’t have ordered two. They were pretty good, however- only slightly larger than a Marie Calender’s pot pie back in the states.

I wanted to get out of the city and see a bit of nature. Arron mentioned going to some kind of park later in the day, so I thought I’d stick with a nature theme from here on out. There are a lovely botanical garden and a walking area near Brendan’s work on the Brisbane River. I notice that all the active runners were very, very good looking. I wondered if there was some sort of audition that you had to look so good to work out there. I’m sure I fit right in, what with my high levels of sexiness and all.

Arron and I had arranged to meet for a late lunch at 13:30. I ventured back into the city to see if I could find our chosen rendezvous point. I soon found the city hall clock tower and camped out for about an hour, just watching people come ago across the square. I’ve always loved people-watching, and the fact that I was in Australia made it all that much more intriguing. I love to size people up and try to figure out what their personal stories are. Who are they? What is their relationship to the person who is with them? Where are they going? Fascinating stuff!

Arron soon showed up, and we walked to a nearby restaurant called the Melange Cafe. The setting was absolutely beautiful! It was on the edge of a huge garden/ park called Roma Street Parkland. The cafe was more like a vast open space with a permanent roof… an outdoor/indoor thingy (sorry, I don’t really know the words to describe it) with massive chandeliers overhead. Arron ordered a very posh-looking salmon dish, and I opted for a Thai salad. The food was very delicious!

After lunch (I only made it through about half of my salad), we walked around the park and gardens. The land was teeming with dozens of giant, wild lizards called water dragons. They were cold but scary. They tended to scurry away when we got closer, but one of them stood his ground long enough for me to get a cool shot. They ranged in size from my middle finger’s length to ones that were longer and thicker than my arm. I want one. I would name it Jubjub.

The gardens were beautiful, and part of the park was dedicated to some guy from New Zealand who had been a very popular gardener on Australian television. I don’t remember his name, but he died in 2012. It was a garden of Eden.

When I saw this kangaroo statue, the first thing I thought was that Arron needed to spoon it. This is one of my favorite qualities about Arron- he’s very suggestible to random madness! He’s a great travel buddy! It reminds me of our “Dav Nights” we would have back in Baltimore. Any excuse to head out a play in Baltimore, really.

We next met up with Brendan and went for a drive up to Mt Coot-tha, and I ate an Australian desert called lamington. It was chocolate on the outside and had a lighter inside (maybe it was vanilla, but I don’t really know), and it had coconut on the chocolate. I do remember that it was very delicious!

In a way, I feel kinda bad that Arron and Brendan have been so kind to me. I didn’t want them to have to change their days around, and since I’ve arrived, they indeed have. I thought they’d just give me suggestions of things I should see and do during the day, and then I’d possibly meet up with them for dinner or something like that. Arron has been paying for most of my meals, and whenever I object, his response has been that I’ll have plenty of time to spend money when I travel beyond Brisbane.

Later in the evening, Brendan went to a birthday dinner for his sister. I again felt terrible that Arron was obviously changing his plans for my benefit, but instead of the birthday dinner, he took me on the City Cat, which is a Brisbane River cruise. It was a perfect night, not too cold, with a slight wind, but not enough to make you miserable. The boat took us downstream, and it was fantastic to watch the sunset.

We ended up at what I can only describe as the swap meet version of a food court. The place is called Eat Street Markets (www.eatstreetmarkets.com), and it was much like the atmosphere of a carnival or a county fair. There were food tents and booths everywhere! There was also live music, and instead of tables and chairs, they set out a bunch of crates in the middle of the walkways, and we just planted ourselves there and ate. Even with all of the different kinds of food, I opted for a spicy sausage with mustard and sour kraut. For dessert, Arron made me try my first gluten-free donut. It was pretty good- definitely not bad like I was expecting.

Later, Brendan rejoined us for bingo and karaoke. We had a fabulous time, and I would go every night if I only had the strength. I sang Evergreen by Will Young. Great song that reaches my upper range, and the locals told me I did a good job.

Australia 2014: Part 1

<Ferny Grove, Australia | 04:57>

It took me about an hour to get through the international customs line. I was approached twice by a drug-sniffing dog and had to fight the urge to pet the thing. I had to nothing to declare, but several people asked in that hour. Truth: I wasn’t bringing any firearms, drugs, fruits or vegetables into Australia. Each time I answered these questions, I thought about the Hostess fruit pies in my checked luggage. I don’t think the fruit in those little pies count as actual fruit because of all the sugar that they’ve added- I’m going by nutritional value here.  

When I finally rounded the corner,  Arron was sitting in the lobby, and he immediately snapped my picture. Pretty sure I looked like I’d just been on a plane for 14 hours. It was so good to see him and give him a hug. As we approached his car in the parking garage, I automatically crossed over to the left side. He stopped to ask me if I was planning on driving. I told him no and then realized what I had done. We both got a chuckle. Yes, I know that they drive on the left side of the street here, but in my defense- I had just flown a very long flight with minimal sleep and at this point, I was mostly operating in zombie-mode.

It’s so good to see my friend!

We drove to his house in Ferny Grove, which isn’t very far from downtown Brisbane. On the way, we stopped by the side of the road so that I could get a picture of the city. I’ve decided that Ferny Grove reminds me of a cross between rural Maryland and San Diego. It was a perfect day!

We got to the house and I met Brendan. Brendan has been my friend for a few years now, but he didn’t really know this because we actually hadn’t met yet… or talked… or interacted in any way, shape or form. Arron brought him to the states a few years ago, and I saw a few pictures that our friend Monica posted on Facebook. It’s true that I assume everybody is my friend until they prove to me that they don’t want to be. This makes for some amusing stories, for sure.

Arron and Brendan both had to go to work for awhile, and knew that I wanted to rest. They gave me directions to the local lightrail station and Arron and I planned to meet for lunch downtown. I tried to get a nap, but just couldn’t nod off. This was my first day in Australia and I really wanted to look around. I had envisioned riding a kangaroo, wrestling a wild dingo and making out with a koala and none of these things were going to happen if I was at the house taking a nap.

I hit the internet for few minutes, then I headed to the lightrail. On the train, I sat near the only other person in the car. I told her I was heading into the city, and asked her if I was on the right train. She told me I was, and asked me where I was from. We talked and talked and talked. She told me her name is Mariea (not ‘Maria’, but pronounced the same). She has lived in the Brisbane area for more than 40 years and one of her granddaughters has recently been hired as a flight attendant for Emirates. She was incredibly sweet!  

For lunch, Arron took me to a little Italian restaurant and taught me an important lesson-  even fast food is quite different than fast food in the states, in that it’s not really fast at all. We stood in line for almost a half an hour, just waiting for our turn to order.  When it was finally our turn, the meal was prepared right in front of us like a less-flashy Benihana style. The cook prepared the entire meal from scratch, other than having to kill the chicken or make the pasta by hand. It still took us about fifteen more minutes to get our plates. Fresh-made pesto is one of my new favorites!  

After lunch, we walked off our meals by going to three different museums. The first was a Douglas MacArthur museum. The timeline was post WWI, through WWII and in MacArthur’s office they still had his original desk and some of his original furniture.  

Next was the museum of Brisbane, which was (or maybe is) the city hall. This is a beautiful building that had a clock tower and was, from 1930 to 1964, the tallest building in Brisbane. We rode up in a very old elevator, that happens to be the only manually operated cage lift that is still working in all of Australia! The tour of the clock tower was free, and provided some remarkable views of the city! I learned that the tower was build in the 1920s, and the bells are still operated by the same electric motors that were installed when it was first erected.

We crossed the Brisbane river and headed over to the place of Brendan’s work. It is my understanding that Brendan is one of the guys who’s in charge of a huge drama festival for children that will be happening this summer. So far, I don’t quite understand what it is, but Brendan does and that’s what’s important. I had to snap a picture of the banner that was hanging on the performing arts center since Brendan is now “my people” and I’m always hoping for the best for my people.

We decided to go to one more museum while we were waiting for Brendan to be finished with work. This museum had three exhibits. The first was a bunch of animals that were all standing in white sand that surrounded some water. It was pretty cool. The second exhibit was a huge tree on its side. We figure they would have had to take out one of the nearby windows in order to get this massive tree into the room. It was huge and it’s branches touched both opposing walls.  

The third exhibit was my favorite. It was basically a bunch of wolves (or maybe they were coyotes?) that were jumping, flying and smashing into a clear wall. Art to me is either really, really stupid, or really, really cool. I’ll admit that I don’t understand a lot of art, but this was cool! The time it most likely took the artist to pose and suspend all these wolves in the air must have been months, at least.

Arron and I headed back over to the performing arts center and took a seat in an outdoor bistro and had a good chat. The best way I can describe this conversation is that we talked a lot about being happy. That’s really what I want in this life is to be truly happy. I’ve never had a tough time making the best of whatever my situation or circumstance has been, but I am a happy and positive person, for the most part. It was a good heart-to-heart. Arron has become a great friend! 

When Brendan finally finished up, we headed back to the house and ordered some Thai food for dinner. It was only about 19:00 and I felt that I really needed to get some sleep.