Halloween approaches

Just after I moved to my current address, I noted that some of the local kids went Trick Or Treating for Halloween. It’s been the same in subsequent years, and I fully expect the same next week.

I’ve decided that while I’m not into cultural imperialism and the adaption of American traditions to Australia, this is something I’m happy enough to support on the basis that it’s a good way to meet some of the neighbours.

In fact I’m seriously considering getting some fake pumpkins from the $2 shop and putting them up in the doorway to flag that we’re joining in. And I’m wondering if my kids want to have a go… perhaps the Dalek costume Jeremy built for my sister’s 40th birthday (theme: Best of British) might get another outing.

What’s the situation in other neighbourhoods?

  • About 24 per cent of Australians plan to celebrate Halloween this year, according to McCrindle Research. Social analysts suggest the commercialisation of the event is behind its growing popularity.The Age today

What to see in Perth?

Off to Perth for a brief holiday next month. (As usual I won’t be too specific about dates; this slightly hysterical article in Sunday’s Age, and its accompanying graphics, was a reminder that it’s not advisable to advertise when you’re going to be away from home.)

What should we see around Perth and southwest WA?

Suggestions so far, from my aunt (who lives there) and others:

If one wishes to gunzel, I see there’s both a rail and a tram museum.

Naturally I’ll want to look at the PT system and try out their Smartrider card… though it won’t be cheap: $10 for the card, and the topups are a minimum of $10 each (and not as widely available as Melbourne’s Myki), which has the potential to make it pretty expensive if miscalculating how much PT travel we do.

Suggestions? Comments?

Brisbane day 5 – Surfers Paradise

Wednesday 5th October

Brisbane: Keep right!The first job was to return the hire car. Similar to the circuitous route filling it up the night before, due to the one way streets, this involved a 750 metre drive (Google Maps estimated time: 4 minutes), and then a 170 metre walk back (estimated: 2 minutes). Turning out of Raff Street I also needed to remember the counter-intuitive instruction to Keep Right.

The plan for Wednesday was to head down to the Gold Coast — Surfers Paradise to be precise — to visit the beach and see where my sister and her family and another brood of cousins were staying.

Am I on the right train?

Trains run on the “Gold Coast line”, but not to the actual coast. However the good people at Translink have got things organised so that — and I know this will come as a shock to Melburnians, who are not used to such concepts — the buses are actually timed to connect with the trains.

Wow.

So in our case, the Translink Journey Planner reckoned we could simply hop on a Gold Coast line train (every half-hour from Central), hop off at Nerang, and 7 minutes later the 745 bus would depart for Surfers Paradise.

Along with the integrated (Go Card) ticketing, it can’t be emphasised enough how important good connections are to make a wider variety of journeys (eg the many, many not possible using a single service) easier by public transport.

(It’s not perfect. Late on weekends, some of the connections from the bus onto the train are longer; in some cases around half-an-hour. But for the majority of trips, there are good connections.)

Nerang station

Even on holiday, I apparently gave the impression that I knew where I was going (or perhaps it was that my snapping pictures screamed “Transit nerd”), as a couple of guys at the bus interchange showed me their (paper) train tickets and asked if they’d work on the bus. I said I thought so, and evidently I was right, as the bus driver waved them aboard. Checking now, Brisbane/Central to Nerang is zones 1 to 14, and the bus is zones 14 to 13.

Come to think of it, I’d also been asked for directions in Brisbane, to the nearest supermarket, and was able to point the people in precisely the right direction.

Anyway, the bus journey allowed us to check out some of the Gold Coast architecture. It’s not exactly the Las Vegas scale of garish, but it certainly has the holiday vibe, with a diverse range of building styles (within the high-rise genre, I mean), and many buildings being hotels and thus having their names printed in big letters on the top — no doubt an aid to tourists trying to find their way back to their accommodation.

Adrian at Surfers Paradise

The bus pulled in at Surfers Paradise and we found our way to the Beachcomber building, a slightly disshevelled hotel/apartment block near the beach where the family was staying.

After checking out the view, which was excellent, we headed down to the beach. It was a bit cold for swimming, but we enjoyed some paddling, sand castle-building, burying peoples’ feet in the sand, all that kind of thing, for a while, before heading back upstairs and having some sandwiches for lunch.

Surfers Paradise

My sister, being the wise Auntie that she is, let us know of a big arcade (in the “arcade games” sense of the word) nearby, and myself and Isaac and Jeremy headed up to look at it with bro-in-law Adrian and his kids.

It turned out to be another Timezone — and according to the signs, the biggest Timezone in the world, no less.

Surfers Paradise Timezone: Multi-player Pacman

I’d believe that. It was vast. It took perhaps a good ten minutes just to walk around it initially to size up what it had, which included many many games (just about all newer stuff; little in the retro genre alas, though there were several pinball machines), dodgem cars, virtual reality thingies, shooting ranges, laser tag, a mini bowling alley, mini golf, and heaps more.

We scattered into various corners for a while to enjoy our preferred amusements — for me it was mostly pinball to be honest. True to form, my first game was the best, and I got steadily worse after that.

Surfers Paradise Timezone: Tron Pinball

After a couple of hours the money loaded onto our cards started to run out, and the noises and flashing lights were beginning to be a bit much, so after retreating back to the apartment for afternoon tea and a rest, we headed out for dinner nearby — on a recommendation, a Turkish/Italian place around the corner, which served up some most delicious food.

Before too long we were back on the bus to Nerang, and then the train ride back into Brisbane. Just as in Melbourne, being an evening train there were copies of MX to be found to read along the way, and although the sign at the back said the toilet was out of order, it seemed to work just fine.

We rolled into Central about half-past eight, and headed back to our hotel for one last good night’s sleep.

Brisbane day 4 – can you identify the animal?

Tuesday 4th October

It was time to go bush. We picked up a booked car at Europcar (around the corner from the hotel, though it turned out Thrifty was also close-by) and after some negotiating of central Brisbane’s one way streets, found the Pacific Motorway.

One way streets don’t affect one as a pedestrian, but certainly make themselves obvious in a car. It’s not something I think about in Melbourne, where thanks to Robert Hoddle all the main streets run in both directions, but from my observations, Hobart, Sydney and Brisbane all have narrower main streets, many of which over the years have been switched to one way.

We stopped off at Westfield Garden City (though finding it was not without its challenges — I had assumed it would be an easy detour off the motorway) to buy Isaac a hat, and also to see if we could locate the local Gametraders store, which I knew Jeremy would be keen to check out.

The hat was easily found, but the Gametraders had disappeared, despite being listed on Google Maps and in the directories inside the centre. (The authoritative source, the Gametraders web site is a Flash-dominated monstrosity that does not display properly on my phone.) The lady at the ABC shop, opposite where it should have been, said it had only recently gone.

Lost in Brisbane

On we journeyed, managing to go in a complete and lengthy circle around the lovely parkside suburb of Macgregor, and then back into the shopping centre before we found the entrance onto the motorway again.

No such geographically-challenged navigation on the rest of the trip to Mount Tamborine and the Rainforest Skywalk, though we did observe a bloke in a 4WD reversing out of a car park space bowl-over a sign, despite having being guided out of the spot by an attendant.

The Skywalk was quite enjoyable… initially along walkways high off the ground, among the treetops, and then heading back to the visitors centre along paths in the undergrowth. We had lunch there, and then headed onwards.

Rainforest Skywalk

The lady at Europcar had recommended the cheese factory, which is co-located with the brewery. That looked interesting, and would have been a good spot for lunch if we hadn’t already eaten, so we headed for the next stop, the Witches Falls circuit walk.

This 3.1 kilometre walk took us all the day down from the top of a ridge to an area perhaps halfway up the mountain, in a zig-zag (like a giant, real-life Donkey Kong). There was some spectacular scenery, including those weird trees that grow around other trees — like a super-powered version of the creeper in my garden.

Mount Tamborine

Along the way we saw a relative of the kangaroo… not sure what it is — don’t think it’s a wallaby, and it’s too big to be a potaroo. Can anybody identify it?

There were also several bush turkeys, and eventually we got to the very impressive waterfall lookout, before heading back up to the top.

We explored a few other spots around the mountain, stopping for ice-creams and then at a fudge shop, where a procession of kids who seemed to be constantly asking for samples of various flavours amazed me by actually buying some fudge. Sometimes I’m too cynical. Anyway, we bought some and then hit the road.

I had wondered if we could make it back up the highway to Logan Hyperdome, where during the day I had verified that there was still a Gametraders. I verified it by ringing them up and asking what time they closed. 5:30.

This would have worked, too, if we hadn’t encountered roadworks heading back to the highway, and then a dreaded portent: a sign warning of major delays near exit 41. Sure enough, it was major delays, and we probably spent the best part of an hour in stop-start traffic. The radio said rocks were on the road (presumably fallen from a truck) and they’d even called in a bobcat to clear it up.

Pacific Motorway

Eventually we got past it, but it was right on 5:30, with no hope of getting to Logan on time. Oh well, we tried. Instead we pulled off the road, stretched our legs and ate some fudge as compensation.

The rest of the journey back to Brisbane was fairly uneventful, apart from some more (minor) delays on the Riverside Expressway, and more battling of the one-way streets to firstly fill up the car, and then get back to the hotel carpark — while the petrol station was only a stone’s throw from the hotel, in the car it was about ten times that far. In fact Google Maps reckons it’s 200 metres vs 1200 metres.

We spent the rest of the evening ordering and munching on pizza, watching TV and admiring the view.

View from hotel window

Brisbane day 2

Sunday 2nd October

We started off with a walk around Brisbane’s CBD, heading down and around Queen Street Mall to look around the shops (nothing staggeringly surprising). Being the PT geek that I am, I guided us down into one of the underground bus stops I’d encountered on my only previous visit to Brisbane in 1988, when they must have been relatively new. Back then I seem to recall the routes were named after native animals — these days they seem to prefer the more conventional (and arguably more memorable) numbers.

Reddacliff Place, Brisbane

At the end of Queen Street we found Reddacliff Place, which in some ways resembled Federation Square — complete with neighbouring garish-looking building. A lot of people appeared to be queuing up with suitcases, which I thought was slightly bizarre. Some kind of flashmob or cooperative art performance perhaps?

We also encountered some pretty cool street art, including some metal kangaroos. A block from Queen Street we found a Timezone arcade — remember when there were heaps of these? Towards the river we found a market, including a farmer’s stall with $5 for two enormous punnets of strawberries. Yum.

Brisbane metal kangaroo

By this point my sister and her family had arrived in town, and we met up and headed to our apartment and made and ate sandwiches for lunch, then headed out for the afternoon.

Our destination: the Brisbane tramway museum. It’s only open on Sunday, so it was now or never. Back to Central station, where my sister bought train tickets (discovering that you can only buy single tickets, not daily/returns), while my brood used our Go Cards for the first time.

We boarded the train for Ferny Grove, and found it wasn’t packed like Melbourne’s weekend trains increasingly are, but it certainly wasn’t empty either. During the course of the trip, we never got to take a peak-hour ride, but Robert Dow tells me crowding is a problem at those times, and it’s not helped by services only being every half-hour outside the peaks, preventing the kind of load spread into shoulder-peak and off-peak that we see in Melbourne.

Arriving at Ferny Grove, we found the station in the midst of an upgrade, and had to walk the long way round to head to the tramway museum. All up it was about a 10ish minute walk, and when we eventually arrived, we got to ride a variety of trams, though unlike Bendigo and Sydney, they didn’t have a workshop you can look around inside.

Brisbane tram musem

Tram 554, Brisbane Phoenix classThe staff were in the legionaire-like uniforms, and they told us the story of the different classes of tram, including the Phoenix class, famous for having risen out of the ashes of the great depot fire of 1962, and only being run for a few years before the entire tram system was shut down in 1969.

I didn’t hear them refer to him, but the closure of Brisbane’s trams was (apparently) largely the work of Clem Jones, then Lord Mayor of Brisbane, who strongly believed working families should be able to all own and drive their cars, unimpeded by trams, and dismantled the network, replacing them with buses. To this day there are no trams in Brisbane apart from in the museum, though the Gold Coast is building a light rail line.

I assume he was behind the Riverside Expressway alongside one side of the Brisbane River — a stark contrast to the pedestrianised and much more friendly Southbank. The Clem Jones tunnel aka the Clem7 is named after him, and it’s with some glee that tram lovers point out that the tunnel is in dire financial straits.

Brisbane1 172a

After the museum we headed back to the station, via a servo to buy some icecreams. My sister once again struggled with the station ticket machines, with me convincing her at that point that she should obtain Go Cards for the rest of their holiday (which would involve some bus rides around Brisbane and heading to Surfers Paradise the next day, as well as a further buses around the Gold Coast), given paper ticket costs of $5.40 each way versus Go Card fares of $3.68 meant the $5 (refundable) cost of the card would have almost paid for itself on the trip to Ferny Grove alone.

Back at their serviced apartment (which was a block from hours ours — they’d tried to book in the same building, but couldn’t) and we ordered pizza from the very fine Pizza Capers for dinner.

Then we headed back to our own apartment, with a quick detour up to the nearby Fortitude Valley to have a look around and check out possible restaurants for another night. Naturally the spotting of a restaurant called Bow Thai resulted in cries of “Bow Thais are cool!”

Brisbane day 1

Saturday 1st October

It’s probably almost inevitable that when leaving on an interstate holiday, you will head for the airport and reach the point of no return before remembering some vital thing you’ve left behind. In my case, it was medication — sitting on the bedside table at home — which is prescription-only and for which I didn’t have the paperwork. Happily I was able to convince my sister to bring it for me, as she and her family were heading up to Queensland a day after us.

Other than that the trip to the airport was uneventful — train to Southern Cross and Skybus as usual. It may not be as cheap as the train/Smartbus combo via Broadmeadows, but it’s frequent, quick from the city and doesn’t drop you in the boondocks at the airport. In fact the Skybus was as popular as ever, with virtually all seats taken.

We met Marita at the airport, and checked-in at the automatic kiosk thingy, failing to comprehend the full meaning of the warning about emergency rows. I assumed it meant just two of us would be in the emergency row, but in fact it meant it wanted to put all four of us in the emergency rows, and this is a No No according to CASA, who want all occupants of emergency rows to be over fifteen. Fair enough, but I suspect Qantas need to make the booking kiosk text clearer on this point.

This caused some disruption as we boarded, with the gate staff swapping us to different seats, but we still departed the gate more-or-less on time… which was where the punctuality ended, as the poor weather and a terminal security breach earlier in the morning had caused a queue of planes for take-off. I could see them all in a row in front of us, and it took about an hour to actually get airborne.

On the flight, which had personalised screens for every seat, I watched the movie Source Code, which was quite good (though rather far-fetched), and a couple of episodes of Parks And Recreation, which was very funny. (Though I was slightly miffed by a character claiming a loud noise was setting off her cluster headachethat’s not how they happen.)

Despite being a scheduled 11am-1pm flight, there was no lunch served — thanks Mr Qantas — just a fruit cake and an optional apple — which I took, thanks very much.

Brisbane AirTrain at the Domestic Terminal

We flew into Brisbane about an hour late. Fortunately the checked bags turned up pretty quickly, and we collected our pre-booked Airtrain tickets and made it to the platform with five minutes to spare — unlike Skybus, it only runs every half-hour. (More about Airtrain vs Skybus in another post in the near future.)

Twenty-five-ish minutes later we were stepping off the train at Central, and despite taking the wrong exit out of the station, found the hotel without any trouble.

I say hotel, but I mean serviced apartments: The Republic Apartments in Turbot Street. I assumed the street name was some sort of sophisticated silent-trailing-T name, pronounced Turbo, but my uncle reckoned it was the rather more conventional-sounding Turr-butt.

The check-in desk had a pleasant surprise for us: we’d been upgraded from a two-bedroom apartment to a three-bedroom, complete with en suite for the adults, and on the very top floor of the building, providing rather splendid views.

View from our hotel window

By this point it was almost 4pm, and we were pretty hungry, and went out to find some lunch. A noodle place was open across the road, and we devoured some food, then bought some supplies from the Woolworths in the Spring Hill shopping centre, next to the apartments.

I made a mental note of the Woolworths’ curious and slightly restrictive hours: until 5:30pm Saturdays, 6pm Sundays, and 9pm weekdays — a far cry from the usual midnight closing times back in Melbourne, but not impossible to work with.

After a little TV (including the penultimate Doctor Who of this season) and a quick dinner (roast chicken, potato and salad from the supermarket) we had a walk down to the riverfront, snapping pictures of passing ferries and the very impressive Story Bridge… though actually I think it looks more impressive in the daytime:

Brisbane Story Bridge

Then we headed back to the hotel to watch Big Bang Theory and/or The Simpsons… I can’t actually remember which, but found during our stay that the two are almost interchangeable — when you have Fox8 and the Comedy Channel as well as Channel 9 and Go in a hotel room, one or the other is almost always on… before heading for bed and a well-earned sleep.

A short break in Inverloch

Got back yesterday from a few days in Inverloch. We rented a house near the beach with my sister and her family.

Sunday

Drove down as sorry, but even V/Line’s new improved services only provide 3-4 services a day. Anyway we had lots of stuff to carry. Stopped at Korumburra for lunch at the Kelly bakery (not sure what Ned Kelly’s link to Korumburra is), and checked out the tourist railway but didn’t ride on it.

Then onward to Inverloch. Drove around the town looking for the supermarket, which we found eventually. Very crowded with fellow holidaymakers. We stocked up on stuff and then headed for the house.

Quite nice and comfortable, if a little basic. One toilet was a stretch for so many people. Isaac ended up on a mattress on the floor, but seemed to get used to it. No actual dinner table — just an island kitchen bench with not enough stools, so the adults got used to having meals standing. And a TV which was tiny and had no proper antenna, and was therefore unwatchable. I was glad I’d brought a radio to be able to listen to the news and the cricket.

But these minor issues were forgotten when we found the slot car set in the cupboard.

After settling-in we strolled down to the beach (about 10 minutes walk). It was a little cold, but very nice. The kids kept themselves entertained by wading in the water and scrawling pictures and words into the sand.

Inverloch beach Inverloch beach

Strolled back and Adrian (genuine Italian) cooked us all pasta. Yum. Then we had a go of RoboRally, which took some study of the manual. I won, perhaps reflecting that I was the only participant who had played previously, as veteran rallier Marita decided she wanted to just watch.

Spotted a huge huntsman spider in the bathroom just before going to bed, but happily didn’t see it again all week.

Monday

Went for a nice long triangular walk down to the beach, along the coast into the town then back to the house. Seemed to be plenty of people about, and (for whatever reason) I snapped a few moderately entertaining signs with unfortunate pictogram men falling off cliffs and being carried away by strong currents.

Inverloch sign Inverloch sign

After some lunch we did the slightly amusingly named Screw Creek scenic walk up to Townsend bluff, taking a few wrong turns along the way. It’s one of those scenic walks where it turns out the best view isn’t at the proper End Of The Walk, but about 200 metres back down the hill. But oh well, there was some interesting stuff to see along the way.

Adrian fired-up the wood-fired barbecue in the evening and we feasted like kings yet again, before a game of Cluedo.

Tuesday

Into the car (we must have made an amusing little convoy, my sister’s Golf and my Astra, carrying four people each and both with matching orange “More trains = Less traffic” PTUA stickers on the back), we went for a spin down the Cape Paterson Road. Lots of glorious views of the sea, and after a stop at some place called Eagle’s Nest (great view of the cliffs) we took a look around the State Coal Mine in Wonthaggi.

Some really interesting stuff around the mine — it’s free entry to the surface exhibits. Time and the presence small children prevented us doing the hour-long mine tour (for which there is a charge); maybe another time — if it’s half as good as the one in Bendigo, it’d be well worth while.

The lady behind the counter recommended lunch at the Caledonian hotel in Wonthaggi, and sure enough their BLT burger went down a treat. Then we headed back to the house for a rest before hitting the beach.

The promised beach weather never quite eventuated, but it was nice enough for some paddling, sand-castle building and beach cricket, before home made pizzas for dinner. Yum. Followed by another game of Cluedo, and a quick go of the telescope the kids got for Christmas, though not many stars were out.

Wednesday

Time to head home, but beforehand a ride on the South Gippsland Tourist Railway, from Korumburra to Nyora and back in a 1950s diesel railcar (apparently once used on the Adelaide suburban system). It’s a bumpy old track, but some great scenery along the way, and my nephew Leo was thrilled to be able to watch out the front window to see the track ahead.

South Gippsland Tourist Railway South Gippsland Tourist Railway

After lunch, back to the car and the drive home to the big smoke. A nice little relaxing break.