Saturday, February 28, 2009

QLD - Day 8 - Gold Coast to Home

Well I have been a bad blogger. I'm just wasting time in my appartment before checking out and heading to the airport this afternoon. I've been in Broadbeach on the Gold Coast since Tuesday in a nearly brand new apartment on the 18th floor. Although I am a block back from the beach, I still have a fantastic view. I have the door to the balcony open, and it would be quite nice if it weren't for all the noise from nearby construction sites (can't beat double time on a Saturday morning I guess), oh well.

I will try and write about everything that has happened between last Saturday and today in the next week or so.

Why is it that you are just getting into holiday mode when you need to go home again?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

QLD Day 5 - Broadbeach

This was going to by my rest day. After a fantastic sleep in my king size bed, I went down to the shops to get some of the things I had forgotten to get the night before. After returning to the apartment I made breakfast and sat down to watch TV. I had the door open with the stiff sea breeze rushing in and the faint sound of the waves crashing on the beach, all this amid a cacophony of sounds from nearby construction sites. It actaully wasn't that bad, and I stayed there until late morning when I wandered down to the beach to get my feet wet. It was too rough for swimming, and even appeared too rough for the surfers who were no where to be seen, only walls of white water.

Earlier this summer I decided that I needed a new pair of board shorts, and so I conveniently had forgotten to bring my old ones. I found myself in a surf shop and outfitted with new board shorts and a rash vest. For lunch I ended up in the Coffee Club, a chain of coffee shops that make meals as well. They are slowly popping up in Victoria these days. After lunch I went back to the apartment and tried out my new board shorts in the pool.

Quickly getting board of the pool I decided to have a proper look at Pacific Fair shopping centre just for something to do. Really the only thing of note about it is that a large part is situated in the open air with no roof over the walkway areas.

Ahead was another relaxing evening with the door open, and another sound sleep in the king size bed.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

QLD Day 4 - Brisbane to Gold Coast

I retrieved my luggage from the locker and rolled onward to the platform to wait for the Gold Coast train. They run every half hour. I was lucky to get one of the brand new trains that are based on the new Perth train sets for this journey (see photo in Day 3 post). The train ran express until Beenleigh, then stopped at all stations from there to Robina. The only problem was that it was a suburban train and lacked certain necessities for the longer journey (especially luggage racks). The quality of the track was outstanding and it was obvious that big money had been spent on providing substantial stations along the route.

On arrival I dragged my case up the stairs at Robina as the line at the lift was too long. Eventually I worked out which bus stop I needed to wait at to get to Pacific Fair, it was not all that obvious though. I would be staying at Broadbeach, and Pacific Fair shopping centre was around the corner, only 700 metres according to the trip planner. The bus I got seemed to take the scenic route and even got stuck in a traffic jam outside a school. It was timetabled to take 20 minutes but seemed to take much longer. It was an interesting ride none the less.

By the time I got off the bus I was quite hot and frustrated and had a rather angry 700 meter walk to my accommodation. The good thing about high rise accommodation is that it's easy to spot from a distance when you don't know where you are going. Eventually after what felt like a marathon distance I trundled into the lobby and checked in.

After getting into my apartment and opening the doors and seeing the view all my frustrations washed away momentarily. This was the life.

Seeing this made me feel good
(click to see larger size)

In need of supplies I made the journey back to Pacific Fair to find a supermarket. The walk back didn't seem nearly as far. Latter on when I had the basics, but realised I needed some alcoholic beverages, I discovered that the Broadbeach shopping centre was even closer.

Frustrations returned when the hotplates didn't work. I tried all switches and dials I could find but nothing would work. I even found the fuse box and flicked the circuit breakers off and on. After a call to reception I was pointed to a switch that was hiding behind the kettle. The only place I didn't look! While the food was cooking I took a quick shower, changed into some fresh clothes and opened a beer. I was finally able to relax.

QLD Day 4 - Brisbane/Mt Coot-tha

Being my last day in Brisbane I decided to get up early and do a few things before checking out of the hostel. After battling with the crappy WiFi in the hostel and having seen an Officeworks store the night before on my wanderings, I thought I'd go down and investigate the prepaid WiFi that I thought they might sell there. The opening time of Officeworks was 8 AM so I timed it to get to the McDonald's next door for breakfast (I don't know why, but I like McDonald's breakfasts) just before then. As it turned out Officeworks didn't have any prepaid WiFi so I walked back empty handed. On the way I stopped at a supermarket to buy a bottle of water and a nectarine, which I consumed on the spot outside.

After packing up and checking out of the hostel I trundled down to Roma Street station and left my luggage in a locker for a few hours. Still on the hunt for prepaid broadband I ended up buying a Telstra prepaid kit from Target in the city. After buying a few more supplies I decided it would be a good idea to fit in a bit of sight seeing before moving on to the Gold Coast.

On the bus to Mt Coot-tha

I had seen a bus heading to Mt coot-Tha earlier and decided to go. I happened across an electronic public transport information booth and obtained a timetable for the route, the only problem was I didn't know exactly where to catch it. I went back to near where I saw the bus the first time and ended up on a free city circle bus (is there a city in Australia which doesn't have one of these?). Keeping my eyes peeled I worked out where I needed to get the Mt Coot-tha bus from and waited.

The view from the summit. Not sure what
the TNT courier truck was doing up there...

It was an interesting ride, as the bus went past the back of the hostel and through a whole area that I had been only a few hundred metres from the night before and that morning. After a windy trip up the hill, and the bus backtracking at least once we reached the summit. On reading the timetable I assumed the bus stayed at the top for a few minutes before heading back down. The plan was to jump off take a few photos and get back on. Upon asking the driver about this I was informed that he was going off duty, and the we had just passed the return bus (I remember seeing it too, but it didn't twig at the time). Looking at the timetable, it would be an hour until the next bus. So to make the most of it I decided to have lunch at the cafe at the top. This is one of the few places I remember visiting in Brisbane when I was 12, so it was a bit nostalgic I guess. I took some of photos of the view, and I reckon that I could almost see the hostel where I stayed. I sat down and had a nice lunch, Malaysian stir fry noodles. It was all very pleasant really.

The view again, this time my hosetel is right at
the centre of the photo

The view inland to the Great Dividing Range
west of Brisbane

Back on the bus down the hill and into the city. I alighted and decided to catch one of the underground buses to Roma Street station. Yes Brisbane has underground busways in the CBD, it's all pretty cool actually. These connect to above ground busways the go out into the suburbs. Something inside me wishes these were at least light rail if not a heavy rail metro system.

Monday, February 23, 2009

QLD Day 3 - Ipswich Workshops

Citytrain set 262, These trains almost identical to Perth's
new trains. They were built by the same factory, EDI
Walker in Maryborough QLD

One of the Electric Tilt Train sets before departure to
Rockhampton at Roma Street station.

Today I ventured all the way out to Ipswich to go to the Workshops Railway Museum. It was about and hour train ride from the city and it was interesting to see the landscape change from lush to more scrubby type vegetation on the way. I thought Ipswich was an outer suburb of Brisbane, but it is really it's own city, as there is actually quite a gap between the two. From Ipswich station it was a short 5 minute bus ride to the museum, and the bus connected with the train perfectly (harmonised headways). Overall I spent about 4 hours at the workshops, partly due to the Bus Schedule and partly due to the timing of the various tours you can take.

Loco 1262, to the left can by seen loco 1710 which
now contains a train driving simulator

Inside the cab of 1710

The museum itself is rather small with a few examples of locomotives and rolling stock, plus many interactive displays including a train cab simulator.

Lego Coal train

Model coal train

Queensland loco 1281 in it's golden splendour

Diesel shunter DL1

Loco no.6

The Ipswich workshops are still active and is where the Queensland Rail heritage fleet is maintained and stored. In the sheds there are many steam locomotives and items of rolling stock in various states of repair.

A locomotive under repair at the workshops

Garratt 1009

Beyer-Garratt builders plate on 1009

The workshops are also home to a blacksmith's workshops which makes all kinds of objects for both the heritage arm of the railways, the day to day needs of QR as well as outside contracts. What seems amazing to a Victorian is that all of this is state funded, is based on full time employees, and some parts such as the blacksmith workshop make a profit.

Sparks fly in the blacksmith's workshop.

On both the workshops and blacksmiths tours we got to ride on the traverser which is used for moving rolling stock around the workshops.

The traverser

Due to timing and bus schedules I didn't leave the workshops until will after 3 pm. As such the bus was packed with school kids, I managed to find a seat at the back, but some of the kids at the front wouldn't stand for an old lady, and they were giving the bus driver a hard time by always pressing the stop request button whether or not anyone wanted to get off. Coincidentally a few days I heard a news story about a bus driver in Ipswich who ended up driving to the police station after a school kid threw something at his head while driving. I thought of my bus ride.

Once again it was a smooth train ride back into Brisbane.

That evening I went to the cinema near my hostel to see Gran Torino. When I was in the ticket line still wearing the grotty clothes I'd been in all day I realised everyone else was rather well dressed. Feeling a bit embarrassed I decided to dash back have a shower and get changed before the movie. Not having time for dinner I thought I'd get by on some popcorn and a drink, but somehow I ended up with the combo that also included a choc-top. The weird thing was that it was cheaper than just the drink and popcorn.

As it turns out, after the movie I was a bit peckish, and so went to a nearby take away and had the worst kebab of my life. It was really dry and didn't taste very good at all. The night still being relatively early I ended up going for a walk down to the XXXX brewery and back again, which was just down the road.

XXXX Milton Brewery - the view across the road
from my hostel.

QLD Day 2 - Brisbane/Southbank

Slept in late. After getting ready I walked into town via Roma Street train station to buy a Go Card and grab some breakfast. After breakfast at McDonald's (yeah I know, but it was there) I couldn't find anywhere to buy a Go Card and ended up catching a train to Central to see if I could get one there instead. I found a small newsagent and bought my Go Card there, and I was off through the city in the direction of the river.

Brisbane buildings from the river

I ended up at the Eagle Street wharf where I got a ferry down the river and back up stream to Southbank. From my seat on the top deck I got a view of the city and surrounding suburbs, plus a really good view of the Story Bridge.

Going under the Story Bridge, the Sydney Harbour Bridge's little brother

Luxury apartments at Kangaroo Point

Yachts moored on the river

My ferry "Mermaid" continuing on her way to North Quay

Once at Southbank I wondered along eventually passing the rather large artificial beach there. Probably one of the best things I've ever seen in a city. It has real sand, and a large pool of water that has both shallow and deep parts. It is patrolled by life guards and is surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. Being a Sunday it was quite busy too.

A bit further on I came across an auditorium where they were screening the national day of mourning ceremony from Melbourne, so stopped I and sat down in the shade and watched this until it finished. After donating some coins and putting a flower in the tribute wall I continued on through the parklands.

The only remnant of World Expo '88 is a pagoda from the Nepalese exhibit that was saved from demolition by the people of Brisbane.

Nepalese multifaith pagoda

Southbank is also home to Brisbanes wheel, a less ambitious, but more successful attempt at a Ferris Wheel than we have in Melbourne.

The big wheel

After wandering around a bit more I wandered back over the river and into the city where I bought some lunch and looked around the shops a bit. Later in the afternoon I ventured to Fortitude Valley. I thought this was the place to be in Brisbane, but the place seemed deserted, seems I was there at the wrong time of day.


That night I hung around the hostel and watched some TV, before surfing the net to see what my transport options were for the next days activities.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

QLD Day 1 - Brisbane

This edition of Ben's Adventures is coming to you live from down town Brisvegas.

The flight up was pretty uneventful, except for the fact we flew straight past the fire affected areas. I managed to make out Wandong and Kilmore East townships. The extent of the area affected was mind blowing. The whole Mount Disappointment/Kinglake/ Flowerdale area looked a sort of grey colour, quite depressing. Most of the smoke was coming from the Yea/Alexandra area.

We reached cruising altitude over Corowa, after that the only towns I managed to make out when I happened to glance out the window were Cootamundra and Tamworth. As you travel north the landscape gradually changes from browny-yellow in Victoria and Southern NSW to bright green near the Queensland border. The green may be just on the surface, because I happened to read on the weather page in a newspaper (last Wednesdays Courier Mail) I was reading while eating dinner tonight that the SE QLD water storages are only 50% full. The most shocking thing is that the average water usage figures accompanying this are that the average daily usage is 150 litres per day. i'm too tierd to work out how it can be acheived in QLD, but not in Melbourne, something to do with not needing to water gardens

From Brisbane airport I took the skytrain to Roma Street station. The trains run at 30 minute intervals, and having just missed one had to wait about 25 minutes. Luckily my train arrived just after the one I missed left so I was able to sit in the cool air conditioning. Once it got going the journey was relatively quick, although we seemed to wait a long time at one station where the drivers changed over, and then agian we sat in the platform for a few minutes at Central station.The one way trip was $14. Overall the service seems a bit half baked, with such large gaps between trains and the leisurely pace. I would rather pay about the same fare for the more frequent and faster Skybus service in Melbourne.

I'm staying in a backpacker hostel in Roma Street, of a well known international chain. I booked a private room, which is basic but all you really need. I'm currently using the wifi provided by the hostel which is not cheap, very slow, and occasionally drops out. I'm seriously considering going out and buying a prepaid wireless internet thingy.

Late this afternoon I took a walk down through the Brisbane CBD and found myself in Queen Street Mall. I don't know why I'm always impressed with other cities main shopping strips, in comparison this makes Bourke Street look rather sad. I think what impressed me the most was that instead of putting tram tracks down the middle, every 50 meters or so they have a small outdoor bar/cafe serving beer on the tap (not just XXXX), and what looked like good reasonably priced meals. Each one seemed to have a different theme, there was an irish one and one that served prawns.

The thing that doesn't impress me is that the place seems to die at exactly 5:00 pm, that's it everything closes. Near the hostel there is a Coles where I thought I would buy some supplies. No such luck, they closed at 6, and it was already 6:05. That is just ridiculous.

As I will be relying on public transport to get around, in the morning I intend on going and getting a Go card, which is the SE QLD public transport smart card. They are everywhere. I'm keen to use one to see what it may be like in Melbourne if they ever get Myki up and running. In the time it has taken Victoria to dither around with Myki, two Australian states have implimented whole systems.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

February Updates

This year is going really quick, hardly had a chance to blog at all.

Personally not a lot is happening, I'm stuck in the daily grind of the endless treadmill. That's OK because in a few weeks I'm getting off and going to Queensland for a week of doing as little or as much as I choose. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I'm not so sure with all the rain they had today. I guess I'll have learn to love the humidity (as much as I hate it)...

Last Saturday, on the horrible 46 degree bushfire day, I went to see Alfred Hitchcock's 'The 39 Steps'. Having seen the original 1930's film, I was dubious about how it could become a comedy, but by gosh, you know, it actually works, what with all that, naff, early 20th century English dialogue and things like that. What makes it really funny is that it has only a 4 person cast playing about 30 or so roles between them. The lead stays as the same character but the others, 2 men and a woman play the rest. Often playing multiple characters at the same time. I think it is finishing up at the Playhouse (@ The Arts Centre in St Kilda Road) this weekend, but it is touring around a few smaller theatres in the coming weeks. I think it is on at Frankston next. It is seriously funny, I recomend that people go and see it.