The start of the journey
I have the annoying tendency to overthink everything. I mean everything. For instance, should I keep a blog? Will anyone read it? What is the best way to structure the blog? What should I title the blog? These types of thoughts constantly swirl around my brain. It’s exhausting really. Obviously, I bit the bullet and decided to write a blog. Well really, I decided to keep a daily journal but some of my entries were painfully boring so this is my best attempt at a summary of highlights and lowlights.
I guess the starting point is that just over a month ago, I committed to massively shaking-up my life and moving to the other side of the word. Entirely normal – right? The morning I left for Australia, I totally freaked out. Yes this was an opportunity for enormous personal growth and development but was equally terrifying. However, by that time my plane ticket was purchased, I had given notice at my job, my apartment was sublet, and all of my bags were packed. Like a shark – one must keep swimming forward.
What do you bring with you when are packing for a year? Well, problem 1 – is that packing light is not my forte by any means. Problem 2 – is an entire year encompasses seasons! Plural. While Australian winter is not like Canadian winter, depending on where I ended it up shorts and tank tops were by no means appropriate for a full year. In the end, I arrived at the airport with 1 large suitcase and a Gregory Amber 70L Pack. Taking a stab in the dark, I could guess that my suitcase was a bit too heavy, but I figured meh – I’ll just pay the overweight fees. Boy was I wrong. The agent at the desk informed me that for my 1 large suitcase, overweight luggage fees would be over $200 CDN. Cue jaw drop and scramble to move clothes between bags and into my carry-on here. A harrowing 15 minutes later. Success. Bags checked. No overweight fees.
Once my bags were checked, I had plenty of time spare given that I failed to clue into the fact that while I was technically flying internationally to Brisbane, I was first arriving in Vancouver, thereby making my flight a domestic flight! Not international. The flight from Toronto to Vancouver was pretty much without incident except for the loss of my Nana’s pearl earring. I found this very upsetting and a certain airline extremely unhelpful. Unfortunately, by the time I noticed there was virtually nothing I could do except to try not to focus and obsess (which I find very difficult). Learning opportunity?
Vancouver was the last Canadian port before embarking on the plane to Brisbane and all of the uncertainty and adventure of the next year. What am I going to do? Where am I going to live? How will I make friends? How will I build a life? Yikes!
Unlike the peaceful flight from Toronto to Vancouver, the 14.5-hour flight to Brisbane was hellish. Young screaming children surrounded me. While I sympathize with parents and the need to travel, when it personally keeps me awake for the duration of an international flight my sympathy starts running dry. As I write this now, I am on another flight (to Melbourne) and again there are 2 young screaming kids in front of me. I can only assume that I have done something in a past life to piss of the flight gods and that I will forever be punished on future flights.
In total, the trip from Toronto to Brisbane was about 21.5 hours. After landing in Brisbane, during the very short period between picking up my baggage and clearing customs, all of the concerns and worries I had before leaving Vancouver returned. The light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak was having V (a friendly face) waiting for me at the airport. It was so comforting having a familiar face in the crowd that I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Baby steps. I’ll sort the rest out later.
The first day in Brisbane
I walked out of the airport into 23 degrees winter weather. Glorious. It was impossible not to smile. I’ll give my first day a bit more detail then I will typically. To avoid jetlag I spent the first day walking around the City with V. I set up a cell phone, got a bus pass, walked to the Eagle Street Pier, walked to Story Bridge, walked to New Farm and walked to the Power Plant. After a short rest, we kept walking to Tenerife and ended the walking tour with live music at the Trifford. I think I stayed awake until about 8 pm that day. Not too bad given that I had maybe 6 hours of sleep over the last 2 days.
Brisbane – the highlights and lowlights
I spent 1 month in Brisbane. Brisbane (and I think Australian cities generally) have a downtown core or (CBD = Central Business District) and it seems that most people live in the suburbs which are not equivalent to how I would describe Canadian suburbs. It’s hard to put my finger on the difference, but I would say that there does not seem to be any housing “in the City” and the burbs or at least the inner suburbs– are really just neighbourhoods forming part of the City. I don’t think I quite hit the nail on the head but I will get there. Anywho! For suburbs I explored The Gap (where I was staying), Paddington, Westend (where I would want to live if I stayed in Brisbane), Newstead and Milton.
I also spent some time wandering around the CBD, I did a self-guided tour of classic buildings in the CBD, went to the Queensland Museum, and Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art. I also wandered around the Brisbane Botanical Gardens and cruised around the city ferry.
The Gallery of Modern Art had an exhibit about travelling which I thought was very apropos. Travelling can mean different things to different people. Those with resources and privilege (myself included) travel of their own volition and for leisure and fun. Refugees “travel” to escape and it is often not a choice. Immigrants may choose to travel for better life opportunities. Indigenous peoples were forced “to travel” or to leave their lands and many were put on reserves and communities.
My second favourite piece in the exhibit depicted the ripple effect of our actions across the planet. Acid rain originating in one place on the planet can travel and have diverse impacts somewhere else. We are all connected and the planet is small. In speaking about another one of the pieces, the curator described the intention of another piece to the effect of – by ignoring someone else’s humanity, we lose our own humanity.
Being in a new City without an established social network is pretty difficult. One of the obvious differences that I should have expected but had not given a lot of thought to is that when you travel (which I have done solo previously) is pretty easy to make friends. Most travellers staying at hostels are also looking to make friends. It is much harder to insert yourself into the daily every day lives of other people. While I would say that I was pretty successful at reaching out to my friends and asking them to introduce me to their friends (e.g., making friends through friends of friends) and catching up with old friends, I was entirely unsuccessful at making new independent friends.
One of the great things about Brisbane are the weekend markets. The Westend market is amazing. There are so many vendors selling different goods and goods. Not a typical weekend market, Northshore Eat Street Markets are also out of this world. There is something like 180 vendors, live music, appetizers, mains and desserts from around the world. There is a little something for everyone. I would highly recommend it and I am not ashamed to say that I went 2 days in a row.
One unusual feature of Brisbane City is the Ekka public holiday. It is a public holiday just for the City of Brisbane (weird right?). My first was amazing! I went to Burleigh Heads (discussed below) and then had a lunch birthday celebration with watermelon cake and cobb loaf! Later that day we went lawn bowling! I am not great at throwing the bowls but I loved the atmosphere.
While the Ekka is one day, the festival (the Royal Queensland Show) runs for about 2 weeks. I would describe the Ekka as a mix of the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition or Ex) and the Royal Winter Agricultural Fair. On a Friday evening, we went to the Ekka grounds and watched the fireworks display. I’ve got to give Brisbane props – this was the coolest fireworks display I have ever seen. It was unreal. The fireworks were timed to music, with flashes of fire torches and people dancing around in sparklers. Yes. That is correct. They had sparklers attached to their bodies. It was great.
In terms of exploring outside the City, I visited Burleigh Heads, which is just south of Surfers’ Paradise in the Gold Coast. During my walk around Burleigh I saw a wild koala. At that moment, I felt like I had the penultimate Australian experience. Note – koalas are not bears and should not be referred to as koala bears. In addition to a koala, I also saw a massive python just casually heading down the neighbour’s driveway. Oh man. The wildlife is to be feared (except for bush turkeys. There is no need to fear the bush turkey).
I also went to Shorncliffe Pier in Sandgate (an outer Brisbane Suburb). Shorncliffe is beautiful and peaceful. Sitting on the pier, listening to the waves and reading a book is just about a perfect afternoon. There is also Wellington Point and Kings Island. If you go at low tide, you can walk out to Kings Island. It is a very cool experience.
The girls (C and G) and I also did a trip to Stradbroke Island. We drove to Stradbroke taking the ferry (of course). Pro tip, once on Stradbroke, do not gps maps. We input Blue Lake and it took us onto “The Track.” Well, about 5 minutes down this dirt road to nowhere we decided to turn around and go to Brown Lake (which had clear signage). Brown Lake was awesome. It is tea coloured. While it was not quite as brown as I am told it sometimes is, the sand was so soft and as usual the weather was gorgeous. We then took a stab at gps maps again (fingers crossed for Blue Lake). Gps maps fail. While the gps did not take us to Blue Lake it did take us past the parking lot for Blue Lake (happy accident). The sandy bush track to Blue Lake is about an hour each way (the short trail). It is perfect, shady and has amazing views. From Blue Lake we headed to the Beach, the Lookout and Amity Point. We could have used another hour or so but all in all I would say that it was a fantastic day.
I was very physically active while in Brisbane. I typically ran 4 out of the 5 days of the week and by my last week I had achieved the goal of running 5k in sub-30! Given the many hills and my terrible tendency to make multiple stops I was and I am extremely proud of this personal achievement. I also joined Rock Climbing for 2 weeks (if I knew I was going to stay in Brisbane for longer, I would have become a member).
While I was in Brisbane I climbed to the Mount-Cootha and Mount Gravatt look out points. I use “climb” loosely – they are not very large and not steep. Mount Cootha was a unique challenge of my own creation as I made the “smart” decision to walk from the Gap to the base. The walk was way longer then expected and I only made it to the start of the trail late afternoon. Thinking I could bus down, I decided to persevere and make it to the top. Made it I did. Bus down there was not. The bus does not run past 4:30 pm or so. Let’s just say I had a hectic run back down before the sunset.
Living in a new place, you are also very dependent on your friends and family back home. I don’t know how many calls I made to friends and family during the first month but they get you through the low days. While it seems like “the life” – having no set schedule during the day was sometimes difficult. It is very easy to get very lonely. Also, finding something to do to fill your days is not as easy as snapping your fingers. Think you’ll work as barista and easily make friends? Australians take their coffee seriously. Training and experience is required before they will let you make coffee.
While I was in Brisbane (and Australia) there was also a lot happening around same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is currently against the law in Brisbane. Because (I think) there is insufficient support in Parliament or the bills to change the legislation are quite divisive and include a number of other polices, Australia is currently holding a non-binding/non-mandatory postal vote to take stock of public opinion. The purpose of a non-binding/non-mandatory vote is a bit lost on me. There was a challenge to the postal vote in the High Court (the equivalent of the Supreme Court of Canada). The challenge was unsuccessful and the court decided to allow the postal vote to proceed. The timing of this was quite striking given that I had recently watched a private screening of Gayby Baby which was filmed in or around 2015 and 2 years very little has changed for the rights of same-sex couples.