|27 June to 2 July 2006
I actually just got back to Arizona as I write this. Still recovering from jet lag, but awake enough to get through my email and write the blog entry to complete our Australia 2006 trip.
It is only about a two hour flight from Cairns to Brisbane – the shortest of our trip. However, those two hours resulted in a noticeable several degrees cooler temperatures. Winter in Brisbane is one of those places where some people wear shorts and t-shirts, while others are bundled in jackets. Our coats all went back on in Brisbane, although the days were considerably warmer as the mornings transitioned to afternoon, and they became warming in the last couple of days that we were there.
This trip had been going very smoothly through Melbourne, Uluru and Cairns. Except for the low gas tanks on the Cairns car rental (which was not a problem when I returned the car), there have not been any major unexpected disasters to color our experiences – at least none that were sticking in my mind and interfering with the experiences of new places. Well, that situation changed in Brisbane.
When we got to our hotel (actually a service apartment complex called “212 on Margaret Street”), I was told that our reservation had been cancelled on 22 June 2006, five days prior to our arrival! I was initially clueless as to why it was cancelled. The hotel called the online agency that I had booked through, and was told that I had not paid the balance on my deposit, as was required, so they cancelled the reservation and I lost my AUD$200 deposit. Yikes! And they said that they had been trying to email and call me about this the past couple of weeks.
Now, I do take responsibility for not having paid the balance on the room. In general, the cheapest room rates out there, especially internationally, require full payment prior to arrival. After paying the deposit, I somehow either missed the notice or forgot to write a reminder to myself to pay the balance by the due date (28 May). I did pay the balance on the Ayers Rock Resort, in part because the agent emailed an invoice to me to do so. TravelOnline.com apparently did email an invoice for the balance, but it went to an email address that I seldom look at. Not sure how that happened, but it was apparently all my fault. :(
Anyway, there was large dentist convention in town, plus it was the start of the 2-week Australian Winter school holiday, and it was the start of the US Summer Vacation invasion of Australia. As a result, most everything was booked. (I had trouble finding a room three months ago.) The hotel did have a one-bedroom unit available, and had a two-bedroom long-term rental available that we could use at the regular hotel rate.
We decided to go with the two-bedroom unit – mostly for comfort. For the two-bedroom unit, my TravelOnline.com rate was AUD$240/night; the full rate was AUD$280/night; and the hotel had a AUD$250/night corporate rate.
We were initially told that the $250 rate would not apply to us because Brisbane was all booked out. However, there were a lot of problems with the room – the dryer did not work, the exhaust fan over the oven did not work, the air-conditioner was stuck on cold for the first two days we were there (no heat), and two of the ceiling lights were out! All of these were fixed in due course. The maintenance guy said that the prior long-term renters were Chinese students who were probably afraid to say anything about the needed repairs because they erroneously thought that they might be charged for the repairs.
After a couple of days of asking, we were given the lower AUD$250/night rate for the last three nights. When I was younger, and making a lot less money than I do now, something like this would have really upset me a lot! (Though I also would not have stayed in that price category of a place.) The lack of communication from TravelOnline.com was still very upsetting. The hotel was less so, though they still could have given us the AUD$250/night for all five nights given all the problems that the room had!
The hotel itself was the nicest place of the entire trip, once everything worked. It is located within easy walking distance of the major attractions of downtown Brisbane: the Brisbane River, the Queen Street Mall (pedestrian street) and the rest of downtown; and the Botanical Garden (large city park). It is also within walking distance of the South Bank, which was the former site of the 1988 Brisbane World Expo, and is now a tree covered promenade with restaurants, some shops, park areas, and a man-made sandy beach swimming pool (free to anyone to use).
[For more on the 1988 Brisbane World Expo, go to: http://www.geocities.com/grahamjohn/Expo88.html?949548081440]
It was good to have high speed internet access in my hotel room, though at 212 Margaret Street this was via an ethernet cable and paid at AUD$15 per 24-hour increment. (This was less flexible than in the Flagstaff City Motel in Melbourne where you were only charged for the time you were connected, but better than Ayers Rock and Cairns which did not have Internet access at all.) On our second day in Brisbane I spent the morning doing email and such. For lunch we went to the Gold Coast.
The Gold Coast
The population of Brisbane is between 1.5 to 2 million people, making it the third largest city in Australia. The Gold Coast, located about 1 hour away, has over 500,000 people and is the second largest urban area in Queensland. We went to the Surfers Paradise section of the Gold Coast first, which is the core of area, having the tallest and most concentrated collection of hotels and condominium towers. There is one tower that dominates the others at about 60 stories. However, there are plans to build the tallest residential building in the world there at 80 stories, and in which you can now buy your second home property.
The core of Surfers Paradise is a pedestrian mall (Cavill Street Mall), with every form of food, coffee shop, and souvenir that you can imagine. You can also sign up for surfing lessons there, which a lot of people do. When you sign up you get a wetsuit (short sleeves and pants), which is the only way that I would go into that relatively cool ocean water. It did get warmer as the afternoon wore on, but was still cool.
After walking on the beach until our parking meter time was up, we drove up to the northern tip of the spit that we were on, driving past Sea World, one of the many amusement parks that the Gold Coast is known for. Chynna and I walked out to the end of a rock jetty that gave us a view of the entire Gold Coast.
Best Fish and Chips!
After that, drove down to Palm Beach, toward the southern end of the Gold Coast where we spend time on the beach until sunset and then found one the best fish and ships shop ever! As I recall, it is in a small shopping center at the SW corner of the Gold Coast Highway and 7th Ave. This fish and chips shop is also a small fresh fish shop. When you order fish and chips, one of the women who works there grabs a fresh fish fillet from the ice in the store window. It is hard to get more fresh than that! Not only that, but Skylan, who does not like seafood, ordered a hamburger. He said that it was the best hamburger he has ever eaten in his life. I had a bite and I agree! It was phenomenal. I guessed that maybe it was the shredded beets that gave it that special taste. Whatever it was, those fish and that hamburger are a pretty good reason for me to want to return to the Gold Coast some day!
Our third day was devoted to checking out downtown Brisbane. Again, I spent a lot of time on the Internet in the morning, and we were all feeling a bit lazy, so we did not get out until the afternoon. By then, it had actually clouded over and light sprinkles were coming down on drought-ridden Brisbane. In addition, we misjudged sunset (we are closer to the South Pole here, and it is Winter), and it got dark sooner (with the clouds) than we expected. Well, as a result, we did not make the best use of this day. We did walk around the Queen Street (pedestrian) Mall, stopped in a few shops, walked a bit along the river, and then headed back to the hotel in a light rain.
The Conference, Briefly
My conference started the next morning. I walked to the river and took the Eagle Street Ferry across to Kangaroo Point where the conference hotel was. From our side of the river, it looked like the hotel was just above the banks of the river. Since I was early, I went for a walk along the river, and climbed up a steep staircase to the top of a bluff. However, I soon found that the hotel was actually on the opposite side of a major thoroughfare, and it took quite a trek to get there. I was sopping wet with sweat (due to the humidity) by the time I arrived, and it took me quite a while through the start of the sessions before the sweating completely stopped.
It was a good conference, though not as well attended as our last meeting in Loch Lomond, Scotland, when all the British geographers showed up. I was wired for recording the sessions. I had my binaural (stereo), in-ear microphone, but I did not put the mics in my ears, as the right one always falls out and it looks like I am wearing hearing aids. Instead I buttoned my collar and hooked one on each collar button. That worked great for recording my own presentation, which you can hear at http://TravelGeography.info. Recordings of other talks was mixed, though I have not yet seen what I can do to clean them up. If there is a good recording, and if I have the presenter’s permission, I will put these up on my podcast, as well, later this summer.
BTW – The conference was a two-day meeting of the Tourism Commission of the International Geographical Union, which held its conference starting the day after we left to return to the US. I like out commission meetings. I do not like the main congress meetings.
The Brisbane Airport almost looked like LAX with the huge line for Qantas. By the time we finally got to the checkin, the agent was guessing that this was due to the summer vacation period in the US, coupled with the two-week Winter school holiday in Australia.
The flight was delayed and we barely made our connection to America West/US Airways to Phoenix. We though that our luggage probably did not make it and I was in the process of filing a claim when our bags finally appeared.
Our parking garage driver told us that they had closed the lot (a private lot run by Parking Company of America) for the first time in his several years of working there. He said that all the lots are jammed full these days. Our car was hemmed in my double parked cars, which the drive moved. It appears that record numbers of people are traveling by air in this northern hemisphere summer!
Since getting back, I have so far turned on the windshield wiper five times when I meant to hit the turn signal. These are on opposite sides of the left-driving cars in Australia, and are really the only thing that is switched, other than the driver. At least I have not driven on the left side of a two way road. It is 105 deg F in Phoenix today – not as hot as it can get, but still like an oven as the monsoon humidity is rising. Good reason to try and get away from here. Flagstaff should be nice now, though probably with a lot of Phoenix traffic. It will be good to be home again…