UK/Belgium holiday in planning

Very busy the last few weeks, which is why the blog has been so quiet.

Long-time readers would know that I like to write about my interstate and overseas holidays in almost excruciating detail. Well brace yourself for another one – I’ve got a European holiday in planning for later this year.

It’s looking like England, Wales, and Belgium, with catching up with various family scattered around the place being a key priority.

It’ll be the first big family holiday in many years, and my first time in Europe this century — previous trips were in 1999 and 1998.

Eurostar hadn’t even opened the last time I was there, so you can be sure we’ll be using it to get to Belgium! It’ll be my first journey on an actual High Speed Rail service (I used the Brussels to Amsterdam high speed “Thalys” in 1998, but it was at regular speed due to flooding) and my first time using Oyster card!

Daniel’s 1998 Europe trip highlights from Daniel Bowen on Vimeo.

Obviously the terrible events in Manchester this week (and previous incidents in London, Brussels and elsewhere) are a concern, but ultimately you can’t cower at home because something might happen.

On the list of touristy things already are various sights in London, Cardiff, Brussels, probably Bath and perhaps Stonehenge or Avebury since we’ll be visiting relatives in that part of the country.

Any must-see suggestions?

More notes as I ponder:

  • London transport accepts most overseas PayPass cards, which will save us buying Oyster cards for everyone.
  • I’m wary of Britrail passes – it sounds like roughly the same cost if you prebook flexible fares a few weeks in advance.
  • We’re looking at Air B’n’b for places we’ll be staying more than a day or two, as it’s useful being able to easily cook some meals and do laundry. Hotels for 1-2 day hops.

    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