After disembarking from our Air New Zealand flight*, grabbing our bags and dealing with immigration and customs, Maile and I stepped into the arrivals hall, where we met our driver. "Welcome!" he said with a smile, helping us with our luggage. "First time to Brisbane?" He said BRIZ-bun, as I'd learned only a few years ago that the name of the city is properly pronounced.
"First time to Australia, actually," we responded, blinking in the bright morning sun, as we followed him out to the waiting car.
"Well, welcome to Australia!" He loaded the car, and we climbed in. "Would you like to take the scenic route to your hotel, to see a bit of the place?"
"Absolutely," Maile and I said in unison. We learned that he was a native of Brisbane, and had never left the city. "Born and raised," he said, proudly.
"So," I asked, "help us out: what's something that people outside of Brisbane would never know about Brisbane?"
"Hmm." He mused quietly for a second.
"Well," he began slowly, "I guess that Brisbane is really considered by outsiders to be a small, country town. Sort of a backwater, really."
Poor Brisbane. This sentiment was repeated over and over again throughout the rest of our stay in Australia. "Why did you bother even going?" asked one person. "Oh, you went to BrisVegas?" asked another, with amusement. "Well, at least you didn't spend a lot of time there," said a third.
But honestly, I couldn't disagree more. First of all, I think calling it a "country, backwater town" is highly misleading: as you see in the image above, Brisbane has its fair share of skyscrapers, and is home to over 2 million people -- a respectable number, enough to qualify itself as a full-on city, in my opinion. Secondly, I was astonished to discover that it deeply reminded me of the capital city of my homeland. I know that sounds weird, considering the two cities are on opposite sides of the Earth, but bear with me: just like in Port-of-Spain, there are lots of rolling hills in its outlying areas, with modest homes built on stilts, their sharply angled eaves decorated with intricate wood detailing (remnants of being a former British colony, no doubt). The Victorian architecture of both cities is strikingly similar (for example, compare this historic Brisbane building with this historic Trinidadian one). Open-air restaurants and bars spill onto the sidewalks, with crazy signs advertising local beers and wines above them. There were flowering jacaranda trees in the public spaces that reminded me of the poui trees in the Queen's Park Savannah. There are oval pitches everywhere, and schoolgirls in school uniforms chatting on sidewalks and in parks.
In short, Brisbane felt like home. I very quickly became quite fond of the place.
We checked into our hotel, showered, and hurried downstairs to meet Andrew and Hailey Bartholomew, a local husband-and-wife photography and filmmaking team who had kindly agreed to show us around their city. I've been a fan of their beautiful work for several years now (and I'm sure have shared Hailey's project, 365 Grateful, with you before), so I was really excited to meet them both. I'm thrilled to report that as much as I love their art, they're even lovelier in person.
First up: lunch.
"So," I asked, looking at the menu, "what's something that's typically Australian?"
"Well," Hailey scanned the items. "Barramundi is very Australian ..."
"Done," I said. It turns out that the exotic meal I thought I was getting was actually just very-English-seeming fish-and-chips, but it was delicious, and with the glass of Australian wine I ordered it totally hit the spot for my first meal Down Under.