12.08.2014

Pillow to Pillow

My family has reached the final destination of our fortnight plus long fantastic vacation in Australia.

Brisbane.

It's the capitol city of Queensland and lies at the southeast corner of this northeast state of the island continent in the Indo-Pacific. Brisbane is not really a tourist destination, just another fully functional Australian city, replete with strong socio-economic 21st century infrastructure.

We are only here for a day and a half and I am not sure we'll do much other than rest up in preparation for the ungodly long trip home that begins when I get up at 8 AM Wednesday Brisbane time (= 3 PM Tuesday Madison WI time) and ends at 7 PM Wednesday Madison time (= noon Thursday Brisbane time). Essentially 30 hours pillow to pillow, because when I arrive home, I am taking my awesome friend Sherry Misener out to dinner for picking me up at the airport and dogsitting for me the past fortnight plus, then going right to sleep. I'll be in her debt for a long time and hopefully pay it off with favors in kind when she goes on a long trip some time.

My travel strategy is to mostly power through the 13 hour international flight from Brisbane to LA, with at least one solid power nap on the plane if I can do it during the very short night (we fly toward the rising sun so night zips by ridiculously fast and we get two Wednesdays because of the International Date Line...IDL). I will do some writing, catch up on some current movies, eat, and take a Benadryl before reading a book to inspire the aforementioned power nap, but not until the last half of the flight, so I don't oversleep. We (my sister, Carl, the twins, and I) get to LA at 6 AM on Wednesday morning, which tickles me pink that we arrive before we left, then, after suffering the ridiculous American customs and security charade, I still have another approximately 10 hours of domestic travel from LA to Madison via Chicago. I pray to God (which I realize is no more effective than chance) for no bad weather across the central USA. I am going to drop my American comrades a query on the imminent forecast...

I have about 45 minutes to chill before we congregate to find dinner. In that time, I plan to drop a deuce and then I will return to this post and recap some highlights of what has been an amazingly awesome vacation for me, if not for the rest of my family (it's all relative...pun, I guess, intended).

Ah. Nothing beats a fully voided colon.

So, a recap...

We flew into Melbourne on Monday November 24, although we left on Saturday November 22 and Sunday the 23rd was effectively eradicated by the IDL. Who needs a day of rest anyway?

We spent a couple full days in Melbourne, specifically Sandringham, a southest suburb of Melbourne, where my dad spent his teen years. We also visited some northeast suburbs near Box Hill, where I was born (my parents lived there for a while after they got married and I almost grew up an Aussie...I kind of wish I had). Then we drove into the outback and visited some other places my dad was familiar with from his childhood. We saw Eildon Were, the location of a yarn my dad spins about almost going over a spillway in a small boat with his dad and the family dog. We had lunch at the Black Spur Hotel, where some scenes from the original 1960s film "On the Beach," based on the book of the same name, were filmed, although the place had no memorabilia of said film...curious. We also visited the Australian native wildlife preserve at Healesville, where my sister and I went during our past brief stints in Australia, for the benefit of my niece and nephew. It wasn't quite as touchy feely up close and personal with the animals as I remember from my childhood. It has expanded and modernized and to some extent sold out to the tourist trade. That is to be expected, I suppose. Progress!

Next we navigated our way to Phillip Island on the Bass Strait of the Southern or Indian Ocean. I am not fully clear where these two bodies of water border each other but it's inconsequential. What is consequential is that it's a big raging powerful sea and very cool, both literally and figuratively (lit and fig). The scenery was fantastic and I would have been content with that alone, but we did the touristy March of the Penguins thing for my niece and nephew (fraternal twins aged 9). These are Little (aka Faerie) Penguins native to that island (Maybe endemic too? Not sure...). That was OK though and I was still able to chill (lit and fig) by the edge of the wild windy sea for that.

We drove around the coast then to Sorrento and took the car ferry across to Queenscliff and stayed in nearby Point Lonsdale where my (now deceased) Australian grampa and gramma had had a vacation property, the sale of which by my dad about a decade ago resulted in the windfall that now underwrites this vacation (and, by the sound of it, many vacations to come...the area has developed into a high class resort of sorts). My dad had childhood memories from there as did my sister and I. Kate and I lived in Melbourne for a year and a half in the mid-80s and spent some time at the Pt Lonsdale vacation house. It was during those formative years that I developed my taste for punk rock and metal thanks to a mate named Paul in Melbourne who I reconnected with not too long ago thanks to social media. We weren't able to meet in person this trip...so I guess that means another trip in the not too distant future, eh? So you have that period in my life to thank for my continued rocking into middle age. Paul now hosts a metal podcast that is quite funny, good, and rocking, and you should check it out. It is called Wasted Dreams.

The surf around Pt Lonsdale was also magnificent. We actually decided to stay there an extra day and cancel an overnight in Ballarat, in part because of the land- and seascapes, but also because my dad needed a break from driving on the "wrong" (left) side of the road. Even though he is a native Aussie, he has been in the USA too long and developed bad driving habits (right lane driving). We did take the scenic route through Ballarat, where the kids "panned for [fake] gold," en route to the airport hotel in Melbourne where we stayed over before flying to Gladstone via Brisbane the middle of last week. From Gladstone we ferried to Heron Island on the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef and spent three glorious days there snorkeling the reef and soaking up tropical island sun. The human face of Heron Island was a bit discouraging because everyone was kind of bitchy, except for the naturalists. But that makes sense. The naturalists get to work with nature and see reefs and sea birds and colorful fish and sea turtles. The rest of the staff just have to deal with human filth. A lot of the other patrons at the resort were rather churlish as well. I will confess something to you...if I say, "Good morning," to someone and they neither reply nor smile, when they are on an awesome tropical island paradise, I totally disenfranchise them...zero tolerance. They are tagged as "undesirables," and it is not easy to win back my good graces. Losers. I would say about half the guests I ran into were like this and it seemed to be more women than men but I can't be sure. It stormed on the third day we were there and the water wasn't as crystal clear for snorkeling, though we still went. The day we had to leave would have been fantastic for snorkeling but we had to return our snorkeling gear that morning which bummed me out a bit. Still, we accomplished a lot and beggars can't be choosers. I lost my prized water bottle on Heron Island.

We ferried back to Gladstone and stayed over one more night there. My family could not, by this point, agree on much of anything. Everyone was either over tired, sick, grumpy, or stressed out, except me. So it was a huge fiasco finding a place to eat we could all agree on, but we settled on the Grand Hotel's associated pub and eatery (Rumps and Ribs?) that was a block or so from our hotel (Rydges). This may actually be the "Bud's of Gladstone," a title that requires a brief background.

Years ago, my family took a holiday trip to Sanibel Island in Florida and were were pissed off at the high cost and low portion sizes of the fancy touristy eateries everywhere, and we couldn't seem to find anything modest for our middle class cash flow situations. One day, I am not sure how, we ended up off the beaten track and found a seafood place called Bud's. They had great food, big portions, and reasonable prices. We ate there every night thereafter and every time we came back to Sanibel. Now, whenever my family travels together, we look for the most inexpensive places that feed you right, and when we find one, we crown it the "Bud's of [Insert place]."

So the Grand Hotel was (borderline) the Bud's of Gladstone, serving a more modest blue collar clientele (Gladstone is a big shipping port, with lots of dock workers and a pretty gritty (kitty) place). It was the closest thing to it anyway. Gladstone was not a big hit for us on this trip. It was probably our location in the overpriced touristy part of town but my family didn't have the means, time, or energy to go farther afield to where the locals eat (Grand Hotel was the closest we found), though I did research a couple of fish n chips shops that had potential (a little too far away).

I am going to write a travel book, or a series of travel essays, called "The Bud's of the World." Rather than being a travel book for rich jet setting tourists looking for extravagant pricey cuisine, this will be for the working class masses lucky enough to be able to travel somewhere cool, to help them eat well, yet local, and at a low cost, so they can save money or spend it on trinkets and souvenirs and appreciate the real value of exploring a place. A case in point (and I realize I am jumping ahead), we are currently in Brisbane on the eve of our last full day in Australia and the Rydges South Bank Hotel we are at has an all you can eat breakfast buffet. It is $39 AUS, which is steep even by Australia's high cost of living standards (basically, we figured out that you have to pretty much divide Aussie prices in half to get a rough American equivalent price, setting aside the exchange rate of $1.35 AUS for every $1 U.S.). However, hotel guests are only charged $20 for the all you can eat breakfast if they pre-pay in advance. Actuarially, this probably benefits the hotel (of course it does...they are a business), because some prepaid guests may bail for unexpected reasons. The higher cost is for non-resident visitors who come there to eat only. The Bacchus Restaurant at this hotel is swank, but who comes to a hotel to eat a nice meal except for rich business charlatans, politicians, and seedy underworld characters (none of which are mutually exclusive, I might add)? This is a rather poor example of what I am talking about, but the idea of the book would be to give people the knowledge to make cost effective gustatory decisions while traveling in new places. Another quick example could be take out food that is still local. A great example is the dedicated fish and chips shops in coastal areas of Australia. They get their fish from the same local sources as the fancy restaurants, if good seafood is your thing, but their small low rent shops and minimal staff cut overhead dramatically. You get a wider selection of fish types, bigger portions, and if you are health conscious you can usually forego the chips (= French fries in the USA) and request the fish to be grilled rather than beer battered and deep fried (traditional). This is solid info I have verified in the field myself.

But I have digressed very badly.

We took the Tilt Train back to Brisbane from Gladstone. I love trains, trams, ferries, and even planes when they are in a country like Australia, whose airlines really care about customer service, and whose airports reject wasteful and ineffective security measures. I have spoken highly of the awesome Australian transportation infrastructure and I continue to do so now. I don't know if it's the political system here, but Australians don't take much weak sauce on important matters and seem to hold their politicians and policy makers more accountable, unlike Americans. The economic return on investing in transportation is quite evident in most of the countries who have done so (even third world ones). It would seem like common sense that moving merchants and merchandise more effectively has a commercial payoff, but America hasn't gotten the memo, apparently.

The Tilt Train, as its name suggests, tilts up to 9% off vertical when it goes around corners. We were in Business Class and this made the five hour trip effortless. I read my book and watched a couple of movies on the overhead monitors (complimentary headphones). A food cart was rolled through by a couple of pleasant women and because we were in Biz Class, we were allowed to put in orders for hot meals prepared in the Galley Car at the rear of the train (we were in the front, RE: Snowpiercer). The costs were low and the grub was delish (Bud's of the Australian rail system?).

So now we are in Brisbane and we'll have a relaxing last day of botanical gardens and art museums tomorrow, I am sure. My folks want to visit some old (lit and fig) friends but I am not sure I can bear the predicted sloooow pace of that, so I will probably team up with my sis, Carl, and the twins for whatever (potentially faster paced) things they want to do. You know your family is pretty low key when an art museum is considered fast paced...

Brisbane has very good food prices, the cheapest yet, and we found a Bud's of Brisbane quite expediently near our hotel - a place called Grill, I think. Nice burgers and lamb and salads. Part of it is that there is a big state university in downtown Brisbane, near us, and they have to keep prices down for poor college kids, notwithstanding the fact that a college education is free and government funded for Australian citizens (another tip for my book...find the nearest public college or university and you'll likely find a Bud's).

I am not thrilled to be returning to the USA this week. The country is self destructing and I want less and less to do with it. Only my dedication to my extant rock-n-roll projects, principally punk rock operation EDDIE ATE DYNAMITE, tether me to Wisconsin. I have every faith in the artistic success of this band, replete as it is with the funnest and best hard rock musicians in Madison who are also music scene savvy. I would not be surprised if we are touring Australia within a year to be honest with you. That'd be my goal. But if EAD were to tragically falter and die for reasons beyond my control, I very well might divert all my mental and fiscal resources to a move to the land of my birth, Australia (specifically, Melbourne).

Well, I got an all you can eat breakfast buffet coming to me pretty early in the morning, so goodnight all, and I will see my Wisco comrades quite soon.

Ciao.

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