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.
We had a wonderfully leisurely meal, and finally, it was time to really take in the sights.
And so, we did.
By sundown, Maile and I were fading as well -- the jetlag was starting to get to us. So we headed back to the hotel, and made it an early night.
After all, our Australian adventure was just beginning -- and the next morning, we had an early-morning flight out to Hamilton island.
But that's a story for tomorrow's post.
* Permit me a moment to gush about Air New Zealand: my heavens, what a lovely airline. We flew Economy, with the exception of the long leg from Los Angeles, California to Auckland, New Zealand, where we flew "Premium Economy" -- and let me tell you, to those of you who have only flown on U.S. carriers, this is not your momma's "premium economy." All I can think is that in business class and first class on Air New Zealand they must also hand out free cigars and dancing ladies, because I can't imagine what more they could offer above the Premium Economy seats. They were, hands-down, the most comfortable long-haul seats I've ever been on in my life. But honestly? Those seats are the least of what I loved about the airline. I mostly loved the little things: like the fact that they have a phone and iPad charging dock at every seat (even on our shorter flights between New Zealand and Australia, where we flew straight-up economy class!), so that my mobile devices were always fully charged when we landed. But best of all, this was the first time in years that I flew an airline where, without exception, the flight attendants really appeared to love their jobs (remember when that used to be the case?). Their warmth and friendliness was without peer.
All this to say that when I make plans to return with my family to Australia (and oh, my friends, I certainly will), I'm going to plan on flying Air New Zealand, and include the cost of those Premium Economy seat tickets in my budget. They are worth every penny, I assure you. (And to be abundantly clear, while Air New Zealand was a sponsor for this trip, I was not required in any way to say anything about their service -- all of this embarrassing gushing is all on my own initiative.)
one more thing -- how about a giveaway?
Since this is the first of several Australia posts, it seems only fitting that we launch this series off right:
Before our time with Hailey & Andrew was over, they gave both Maile and me copies of their book, 365 Gratefuls. I read my copy of the book on the flights back home from Australia, and it's such a lovely little reminder about the little things that happen all the time, that help add beauty to each of our days:
(click here or the image below to learn more about the 365 Grateful project)
You know how I love that.
I enjoyed the book so much that once I returned to Houston, I ordered a second copy, and I'd love to give it away now. So leave a comment saying anything, no matter where in the world you are, and on Friday, October 25th I'll pick a commenter at random to win a copy of 365 Gratefuls, as well as a signed copy of The Beauty of Different, of course, inscribed to whomever you'd like. Just one comment per person, please!
Good luck. I promise you, you're going to love this book.
update, october 25, 2013:
Thanks so much for all your comments! According to Random.org, the winner of the two books is Heide, who said, "Your post about Brisbane made me tear up a bit. It's where my husband is from and we don't get there often enough. From my first visit there, I considered Brisbane home. Now we live in Houston but someday we may move back to Brisbane." Congratulations, Heide! Please check your email for a note from me, requesting your snail-mail address.
Thanks again, friends. I hope you're enjoying all the Australia posts. It was a truly life-shifting experience.
Huge thanks to Tourism Australia, Air New Zealand and Go Mighty for making this adventure possible. If a trip Down Under is a dream you've had, please be sure to check out the Tourism Australia site for all sorts of juicy information about Australia; in addition, Tourism Australia, Air New Zealand and Go Mighty are running two additional campaigns to help make your dream come true in 2014: the first, Fill-A-Plane, where you can sign up to be one of 322 people to get a special discount on air travel for folks who take the pledge to travel to Australia next year; the second, "Win a Wild Card ticket to Australia," for a chance to win a trip to Australia, by simply becoming a member of Go Mighty and adding your wildest Australia-based dreams. You can check out all the details here. And to see my iPad images and listen to more in-the-moment impressions I had while in Australia, be sure to check out my Go Mighty posts of this adventure.