Australia 2014: Part 4

<Ferny Grove, Queensland>

I failed to mention dinner last night. This was the perfect end to a perfect day! I can now officially say I’ve had an Australian meat pie! When I ate at Pie Face the other day, that was technically official, but that’s something that I could find at my local grocery store, in the states. No offense to Pie Face, but it wasn’t anything special- in fact, it wasn’t the best tasting meat pie I’ve had.

Arron, Brendan and I walked to a nearby tavern to order some dinner. My dinner was extremely delicious! Not only did this one taste much better than my last experience, but it was topped with mushy peas! I’m pretty sure this came from the United Kingdom because I remember eating mushy peas there. All I can say is that it was a great dinner!

The next morning (4.5) we went to some sort of nature preserve called Walkabout Creek. This was a nice spot that had a little bird enclosure, a couple kangaroos and pademelons, which is like a mini-kangaroo of sorts. I would have loved to pick one of them up, but they weren’t accessible. I don’t think they would have appreciated my jumping into their pen to grab one.

After this, we headed up the mountain to take a look at the D’Aguilar National Park. I took a short video of the singing Bell Birds. At first I thought something was squeaking in the trees, but Brendan told me about these birds. The birds down here are so different. Even the birds at the house have the most interesting calls.

We drove to the nearby Mt. Glorious (I think that’s what it is called) and walked down this long trail that led us to a scenic (but small) waterfall. This was one of my favorite hikes that I’ve been on in a long time! I don’t think Arron or Brendan could even comprehend how much I love being outside and how much I love hiking! There’s a lot of hiking I’d like to do in the future, and this was just what I needed!

We were hiking and all-of-a-sudden, Brendan stops and looks into the thick growth near the boardwalk. He said he caught it moving out of the corner of his eye. Brendan is a regular Man vs. Wild type.

Later that evening we made it back to the house and it started pouring down rain. It didn’t rain for very long, and thank goodness we weren’t still hiking. They had some friends over for dinner. A great group of guys! This was the first time (or at least the first time I can remember) that I’d ever eaten a kangaroo. It tasted like beef, but gamier. Not too gamey, mind you- just a tad. It was very good! One of their friends made a delicious dessert from scratch. I need to learn to cook… or bake… or whatever it was.

The next morning I went for a walk by myself. The guys had to work, even though I asked several times if they’d just quit their jobs- they wouldn’t. On my walk, I decided that I would go see a matinee at the cinema but first needed to find some grub. I found a diner called Denim Co. and ordered waffles. First off- they were so small that there was hardly any waffle to eat- I’m so trained to eat like an American (i.e. gluttony)… secondly, they were served with ice cream! I guess that makes up for the small size. Small but worth it!

While I dined, the birds finished up the food that was left on the table next to me. It was cute, but it dawned on me that they may be about as clean as a rodent. It was gross but cool.

I later grabbed lunch at Vapiano again. This is the Italian restaurant where Arron had brought me on my first day. I ordered the exact same thing as before. It was a great pasta dish called chicken spinaci and I was craving. Arron gave me a hard time for not venturing out and trying something new. 

I met Arron in front of the city hall and we walked back to the plaza so I could try one of the brownies at Pie Face. He told me that most “American” brownies here are more “cakie” and less like an actual brownie. After knocking the Pie Face meat pie, I feel that I need to let you know that they totally redeemed themselves on the brownie side of things. Not as good as my mom’s recipe, but a good treat still.

We went to see historical Ft. Lytton, which is a fort that is near where the Brisbane River empties into the Moreton Bay. We walked around but I have to admit that Arron and I weren’t as into it as my dad would have been if he were visiting. My dad is a history buff and would have no doubt imparted tons of random facts about Ft. Lytton, I’m sure.

We met Brendan and one of their friends for some laser tag and I kinda suck at it. It was a fun game, however, and we all got a great workout. This is funny because one of the activities that Arron and I did on one of our “Dav Night’s” in Baltimore was laser tag. This is how I’ve managed to not work out over the last week or so- how I justify or rationalize or whichever of those words I’m talking about.

Brendan and one of their friends joined us for dinner and we went to Bird’s Nest Yakitori and Bar. This is a Japanese restaurant where we all ordered 6 rounds of skewered,  charcoal-cooked chicken. I didn’t know you could have chicken so many different ways. But the meal was good and the company was great!

The next morning, Arron took me out to a late breakfast at a great restaurant atop a cliff that overlooked downtown. I had some french toast and Arron had some kind of pea-fritter with sausage… if that’s what it was. It looked disgusting, but I’m guessing that it was good. We had a good walk along the cliff top afterward and a really great chat. Even though I would have liked to stay longer, I knew that he had to get to work and I had to go catch a plane to Sydney.

Trust me, I don’t want to.

Australia 2014: Part 3

<Ferny Grove, Australia | 06:04>

I started my day with Vegemite on toast. I’m not quite sure why Aussies love this stuff so much. It wasn’t bad- but definitely an acquired taste. I’ve learned that I’ll willingly try most things once. It mostly tasted like salt. Perhaps I need to give it another go. Arron made some eggs with cheese and some fresh green herbs… not sure what the herbs were, but it was a delicious breakfast!

We knew we’d be spending quite a bit of time outdoors so next came the all-important decision of what hat I was going to wear. Since Australia is so far south, and there’s still a hole in the ozone layer, it’s very important to cover up when you’re out and about. I had gotten a little bit of sun the previous day and didn’t want to start worrying about a bad sunburn. Arron told me that Brendan is a skin cancer survivor. I can only imagine that this came from the strong down-under sun. Here were the options available to me, and I chose #3.

The Winner

The first one looks too much like “Driving Miss Daisy” and I’m not a fan of the brand name on the front of the second one. The third one was just right! Now I was wearing the perfect outfit for a day spent at The Australia Zoo!

Aussies are obsessed with big things. Arron made sure we made one stop so that I could get my picture in front of a big mower. I was moderately impressed. A few minutes later we would come across a big chainsaw and later I was able to get a picture with a very big pineapple, but you’ll have to wait for that exciting picture.

The Australian Zoo was operated, for the most part by the late Steve Irwin. I learned that his fame and popularity was so much bigger in the states, thanks to his show, The Crocodile Hunter. He was known in Australia but seems like he hadn’t really been upped to a celebrity status until after his death, a few years back. Brendan told me that when he was young and they’d drive to the beach, there was a smaller roadside attraction that had crocodiles that later would become the location for the Australia Zoo. It wasn’t all the impressive but was more to draw in money from tourists.  

April the Koala
Holding April
“A Dingo Ate My Baby!”

After spending a few hours at the zoo, Arron and Brendan took me to a very beautiful and old forest called Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve, on our way home. This forest here has never been cut down and so it was very, very dense. This looked as though you could easily hide a body and totally get away with it! Note: I’m really not looking for places to hide bodies.

This is a picture of Brendan leaving the trail and climbing on a tree after he decided to ignore the carefully placed sign that asked him not to leave the trail. I thought I’d keep it in case I am ever asked to testify against him in an Australian court of law.
Behold, the Pineapple

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.