Saturday, January 11, 2014

Brisbane in a Day - A Trail of Discovery

Brisbane is Queensland's "big city", boasting a healthy population of 2 million. It is Australia's 3rd largest too - and this fact inspires a certain degree of trepidation. I read my Lonely Planet and National Geographic Traveller several times, but I couldn't seem to get an adequate picture of this metropolis; not one I was comfortable with. Brisbane, a relatively young city, has benefited from several events that helped push it to the world stage - the 1982 Commonwealth Games, the 1988 World Expo and the 2001 Goodwill Games. Prior to all these, it somnolently crawled from its colorful historical past.

In the 1800's, Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane sent out his surveyor north to scout for a new penal colony outside Sydney. But life back then wasn't a walk in the park. Potable water was scarce and the resident aborigines proved to be a challenging and hostile force. The Governor's troop and his school of Sydney convicts eventually set camp along the river where trade of gold, wool, sugar and beef eventually flourished, but not for long. The settlement slumbered way past the ravages of a warring world and only woke up to play host to Gen. Douglas MacArthur upon his departure from the Philippines when the American forces were driven away by the maleficent forces of the Japanese Imperial Army. Not a lot happened here until the 80's.

My Translink train from Coomera to Brisbane Central.
My day started at an almost deserted train station in Gold Coast's suburb of Coomera. Girlie handed me her stored value card with a $7 credit. I loaded $10 more because the ticket man suggested I do so for my return later in the day. I sat by the window composing myself for this lone adventure. Destination was Brisbane Central. I'd be on my own and wouldn't that be a thrill?

I bristled and took mental note of the interesting stops like Loganlea, Coopers Plains, Beenleigh hoping there'd be enough space in my memory to capture these stops in my mind. I could also sense a buzz of electricity running down my spine. After 10 stops and 1 hour later, I was in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland.

I tried to memorize a hiking trail suggested by my guide book. I have in fact decided to walk this through. After all, the best way to orient myself to a strange new place was by a walking tour when possible. Brisbane's temperament and atmosphere was a far cry from most of Gold Coast - the most obvious of which was its adequate volume and flow of human traffic. I alighted from my train, walked through a tunnel out, then came into a gorgeous plaza - ANZAC Square, punctuated by statues, gorgeously grown trees and the glorious Shrine of Remembrance in honor of those who fought during the two World Wars..

I hopped to a pedestrian bridge and came into the heritage-listed General Post Office, constructed in 1871, with its deep verandas and high ceilings. Stepped inside and it looked like some modern shopping hall with white posts and a smattering of red on the walls. I got stopped after taking a photo and all I could do was say "sorry". What's the world coming to when taking a few photographs inside a post office was prohibited? These days, you couldn't get a photograph of Kolkata's Howrah Bridge without reprimands. How about those bus rides in New York and elsewhere? We have become a people gripped with malice, paranoia, fear and all else.

St. Stephen's Cathedral felt too small, albeit intimate, for a cathedral - and seat of the the Roman Catholic Church in the region. Built between 1864 and 1922, this religious landmark had been downsized several times over allegedly due to financial reasons. But irony isn't lost on me when a rich nation like Australia has some of the smallest churches in the world. If St. Stephen's was in Manila, it wouldn't even make it as a "church" but a mere "chapel". I have learned that in the last several decades, most Australians thought less of religion or God - or, at least, the essence of spiritual growth. But times are a-changing. There seems to be a resurgence of this and Catholicism seems to be gradually flourishing. Listen to all the political debates in Ozland and you'd get that impression.

I trotted through Charlotte Street, Market Street and Eagle Street gazing at the conglomeration of beautifully preserved colonial structures standing alongside gleaming skyscrapers. In Brisbane, the old world meets modern living.

Before long, I reached Eagle Street Pier. Modern buildings and lazy cafes dot the riverside, eventually leading me to the wooden walkways of Mangrove Board Walk then the scenic City Botanic Gardens which shall be featured separately. From here, I braved the sun and crossed the Goodwill Bridge to the other side of the river. Brisbane - and most of Australian cities - seem to pattern a degree of lifestyle, city planning, and nomenclature after Great Britain, particularly London. Having said that, Brisbane has its own South Bank characterized by museums and theatres.

Shrine of Remembrance, ANZAC Square

Brisbane Central Station where you take your long distance trains to the Gold Coast and beyond. 

ANZAC Square in the heart of Brisbane's CBD.

Just outside the heritage-listed General Post Office

Interiors of the General Post Office. Ooops, no photography!

General Post Office

St. Stephen's Cathedral 

Edward Street. Just a few steps right and you're at the Riverside Walk beside Brisbane River.
Edward Street Pier beside Brisbane River has a delightful promenade littered with shops, cafes and restaurants.

Riverside Walk at the north shoulder of Brisbane River overlooking the more touristy South Bank.

Gardens Point Boat Harbour just adjacent to the City Botanic Gardens

Brisbane's Parliament House
QUT Art Museum
Friendship Bridge taken from the Botanic Gardens.

Friendship Bridge is one of the two most popular pedestrian crossings from Brisbane's CBD (QUT and Botanic Gardens) to the South Bank. The other one is Victoria Bridge at the northern side. This was taken from the South Bank.

Brisbane River Lighthouse is made of wood and corrugated iron. It has been shut down and is not open to the public.

South Bank's Parklands shouldn't be missed. It has endless rows of shops; a man-made "beach" and a public swimming pool that spawls; the cinemas of Grey Street precinct; a Nepalese Pagoda; a "rainforest walk"; the "Wheel of Brisbane" (Brissie's version of the "London Eye") and some of the most breath-taking vistas of the city skyline. In fact, if there was only one place to visit in this city, it should be the South Bank.

From the north end of the parklands, I crossed Victoria Bridge and found myself back at the central Buisness district (CBD). Walking past the Treasury Hotel on William Street, through George and Charlotte Streets, I ended up into Albert Street's row of shopping malls, walked further on until I found Brisbane City Hall and the spread of King George Square (formerly called Albert Square), once again analogous to London's Trafalgar.


I knew I've covered the important sites, but I was restless, so I walked back towards Central Station and traversed the length of Ann Street until I reached the suburb of Fortitude Valley, named after the ship that carried Scottish immigrants who arrived here in 1849The district is renowned for its decadent lifestyle and night clubs, bars, adult entertainment, including gay hubs and shops. More importantly, this was the site of the city's Chinatown which hosts a cacophony of oriental specialty stores from a variety of nations like India (spices, DVD's, garments), Thailand and even a Filipino shop.

By the time I felt fatigue on my feet (from a day's worth of walking), the sun had conveniently dipped into the horizon and Brisbane had acquired a different vibe. Like many cosmopolitan centers, Brisbane throbs to a pulsating beat as night cloaks her every corner. On a different day, I'd have stayed on, but it was time to head back to the Gold Coast.


An hour later, I was back in eerie Coomera station. It had been 10 minutes of solitary wait outside the almost-abandoned train station and if I shouted an invective and cursed or laughed like a mad man, no one would have heard. Instead, I stood motionless while I waited for Girlie to pick me up. Brisbane had been an unbelievably cheap excursion. Transport and a sumptuous fish and chips for lunch didn't cost me more than $25 and check out all these places posted here.

The parking space outside Coomera was dark and the wind had turned nippy. No taxis, no waiting vehicles, not a living soul, but me. If there's any consolation, it had been a full day of discovery - and I didn't even spend a lot. What other city can say the same? If it was indeed difficult to get "a feel" of Brisbane from a written text, it is simply because the city is better discovered on foot than through guide books.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Bougainvillea-lined Arbour Walk at the South Bank.
Bar none, the best vistas of Brisbane's skyline is from the South Bank right across Brisbane River.
A public swimming pools sprawls beside a "beach".
Rainforest Walk is a series of wooden planks rising on stilts.
Nepalese Pagoda at the South Bank

The Wheel of Brisbane stands 60 meters or 197 feet tall.

Treasury Casino and Hotel

Queens Street Mall

Albert Street Uniting Church

Brisbane City Hall

St. John's Cathedral

New Orleans? ;)

Waiting for Girlie at the erie Coomera Train Station just before 8 PM. 


Unknown said...

Awesome pictures yet again! Australia is on my must-visit list - someday!!

Would you say Brisbane is walk-friendly?

eye in the sky said...

Mom with a Dot:

Brisbane is absolutely walk-friendly. There's probably not a lot of major cities in the world that's as conducive to walking than Brisbane - unless of course you have kids on strollers. Many streets are for pedestrians-only and a lot of sites are children-friendly as well. The only ride I took was my one-hour train ride from the Gold Coast and back. The rest, I strolled around.

Happy New Year! :)

Ramakrishnan said...

Brisbane appears to be a charming city !

eye in the sky said...

@ Ram:

That's true. Brisbane has a special charm coupled with its ability to be intimate with its visitors (because of its size and/or city design). :)