Settling in Nicely

One week after arriving Down Under and things are going swimmingly well.

Swimming being the operative word, considering the amount of time that I’ve been spending at the beach.

The weather isn’t perhaps as gorgeous as I had expected – we’ve had rain on at least 3 days and a thunder storm on another occasion but the climate is very manageable for a pasty wee Irish fella like me. Most days have been mid to high 20’s and today touched 30. They are expecting a hot summer. Bring it on, I say.

Day two I got a wee bit burnt – it’s very easy to do, what with the cool breeze coming off the sea, you don’t even notice it happening – I can’t even have been out in it for more than an hour. However, opting to stay out of the sun for the next couple of days, I’ve managed to get it under control and the tan is coming on great. Oh yes, the beach bum look is coming on nicely. I’ve shaved the goatee beard off though.

Over the past few days, I have been to Sunshine Beach, Mooloolaba Beach, Maroochydore Beach and Noosa Headlands. Sunshine Beach in particular was quite spectacular – the waves crashing down within feet of the beach. Some real washing machine surf. Apparently.

Noosa is quite a la-de-da resort and was probably the busiest beach I have been to so far but there was still plenty of room to chill out. That’s the thing about this place, gorgeous beach follows gorgeous beach and most of them are so sparsely populated, you could be forgiven for thinking that it is your own private beach; having said that, we’re not quite at the summer season yet (schools finish at the end of the week), so I expect things to get busier in the very near future.

A few days ago, I went to Underwater World, a huge sprawling place with lots of attractions, including stingrays, sharks, many exotic species of fish and er more sharks. There are also several shows daily including seals and otters. The otters in particular were a lot of fun - very, very cute. I passed on the chance to kiss a seal, even though it was probably the best offer I’ve had in a while, thinking it inappropriate of me to fight my way ahead of the dozen or so kids that eagerly volunteered for the privilege in front of me.

I’ve also been enjoying such amazing concepts as late night shopping and Sunday shopping, something that Belgium really, REALLY needs to sort out. I’ve celebrated this fact by buying a couple of class retro T-shirts – a faded grey AC/DC one and a cool Rocky one. Bright yellow, thinking it time to brighten up the wardrobe.

Everything is more expensive than I thought it would be, although when you convert back into Euros or British Pounds, things aren’t too bad.

Drinking out can be quite expensive. Drinks at home before going out are definitely the way to go. To give you an idea, most bottles of beer are around AUD 6.00, with a pint of Guinness around AUD 7.00. A round of three tequilas, three shorts plus mixers, came in at a cool 37 dollars which seems pretty expensive but of course, if you are coming from the land of the British Pound, these quantities equate to something like 2.40, 2.80 and 14.80. Not too much at all. If you’re earning British pounds, that is.

I bought a bottle of red from an off-licence (or ‘bottle-o’ as they’re known around here) the other night for the princely sum of AUD 5.50 and it tastes great, so now that I’ve found a cheap weapon of choice, I’m all set for carry outs at home. My Belgian girlfriend, Stella Artois, is sold in most bars, as is Becks but to be honest, the Aussie beers are very nice as well.

Over the past few days I have indulged in Victoria Bitter, Tooheys, Tooheys Extra Dry, Tooheys New and a lovely beer called James Boags which is actually brewed in Tasmania. This blog entry is brought to you with a few bottles of cold premium lager called simply “Pure Blonde.” A refreshing, crisp beer, it is apparently low in carbohydrates.

Nice to see that the healthy life style is kicking in then.

I’ve tried a couple of Guinness as well, and I suppose they’re as good as to be expected. I know that Guinness say there is no truth to the rumour that Guinness tastes differently when consumed anywhere else other than Ireland. They can say that all they like. It does.

To further paint the picture for you: I am now typing these words sat on a balcony overlooking the beach at Alexandra Headland. The bay sweeps off to my left and the day has been another scorcher. Great beach weather, so that’s what I did.

In the bay, just a few hundred metres off the coast, there is a small island, a big rock basically, which I swear to God looks just like a whale, complete with the spout of water on it’s back, which is actually a large tree. I really should get a camera to share these views.

The surf is good today and several guys are out there riding the waves, however I’m not feeling quite so adventurous thanks to the excesses of the past weekend.

Saturday and Sunday have been spent in Brisbane, my first taste of Oz city nightlife and I have to say that I quite enjoyed the experience.

Seen from the wonderful vantage point of Mount Coot-Tha which overlooks the city, the city is bigger than I thought it would be and looks resplendent with plenty of greenery, several impressive skyscrapers and the sunlight twinkles off the Brisbane River which divides the city in two.

To the north of the river, the Suncorp stadium, home to the rugby league team, the Brisbane Broncos, is clearly visible as is the Brisbane cricket ground, scene of England’s recent embarrassing defeat in the first test in this year’s Ashes series, to the south of the river.

Rather randomly, I had arranged to meet a Dutch neighbour of mine from when I lived in Antwerp, who happened to be in Brisbane for business. It truly is a small planet. I met up with him in a place known as The Valley. Apparently the town has two distinct areas for a night out – the Valley and the City. From what I can gather, the Valley has been the more alternative neighbourhood to go out in, although the bars we ended up in were quite trendy.

At 02:30 in the morning, the bars undergo what’s known as a “lock-in.” Not to be confused with the Irish equivalent, this basically means that the bars will not let anyone else in after this time, until they close at 05:00. If you leave the bar after lock-in has started, you’ll not get in anywhere else. Even if you go outside for a cigarette, you will not be allowed re-entry. Thankfully, we found a bar that catered for the smokers, placing us in a Perspex cage in the terrace at the back of the bar - a sort of gold-fish bowl where the water was replaced with smoke and the fish with humans who where a bit green around the gills.

Sunday afternoon, and a little the worse for wear; I headed to a bar in the Brisbane suburb of Paddington, called the Paddington Tavern. It has to be one of the largest pubs I’ve ever been in.

There were a couple of guys performing with guitars singing a few songs and I enjoyed their choice of music, basically taken from my own CD collection, apart from the random Aussie songs that are thrown in for good measure, many of which seem to be very good, but I’ve got no idea who sings them.

After a wee Sunday Afternoon Session, I made my way back up to the Sunshine Coast, stopping off in a rather bizarre place, called Ettomogah Pub. It’s a huge, sprawling bar, made out of wood, overlooking the motorway, which rather amusingly is called The Bruce Highway (just who is this fella Bruce??).

Apparently it is designed to look like the bar of a popular Australian cartoon strip. It is like a large hunting lodge, and is complete with lots of quirky features, such as stuffed animals a huge wooden crocodile and a large tree that grows up through the middle.

It also seems to be quite a rough place, the girl behind the bar happily informing me that they weren’t serving beer in glasses, so I ended up with a popular tipple around these parts – a can of Australian dark rum known as Bundaberg mixed with coke. Not really my favourite drink I have to say but when in a True Blue place like the Ettomogah, it seemed the polite thing to do.

Standing on the terrace in the early evening sun, watching the cars speed by, the strangeness of the situation was not lost on me. A bar with its own exit from a highway is a concept which I don’t think would make it off the ground back in Ireland somehow. Come to think of it, we haven’t even managed the concept of service stations, so I’m sure it will be a while before we see bars.

In the evening I watched an Australian movie called Wolf Creek, which I would recommend, as long as you’re not of too nervous a disposition, based on the true story of English back packers who went missing in the outback.

Speaking of movies, I watched a movie called “Kenny” the other night. It’s a funny wee film, made as a documentary and follows Kenny, a port-a-loo technician. A lot of the jokes are rather predictably based around human waste but some of the expressions that the guy comes out with are hilarious. “I wouldn’t go in there mate, there’s a smell in there that would outlast religion” is one of the gems. If possible, I urge you to rent it out. It’s quite a lovely wee movie.

And that’s about it for this instalment. Tomorrow, I am hoping to get to Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. Crikey!