The trip from Hell hath endeth and I have found myself in Heaven

I arrived into Brisbane International Airport on what was officially the chilliest November day on record, with temperatures only managing to reach a “chilly” 21°C. The sky was overcast and it started to rain as I made my way to my base for the next while, The Sunshine Coast.

Initial impressions of Australia are that it is similar to the USA. The cars, the highways, the multitude of shops and fast food joints, all remind me of my few months spent on the East Coast of the US, although I don’t expect to encounter too many snow storms during my stay.

Upon my arrival in the wonderfully named town of Mooloolaba, I settled into my base for the next few days - a holiday apartment (or ‘unit’ as it is known down these parts). It’s a splendid wee place, just a stone’s throw away from the sea and as I sleep at night, I can hear the waves crashing against the beach.

Although I hadn’t had much sleep in the previous 48 hours, I was keen to get “in amongst” – as they say round these parts. The town is gorgeous, with generous views of the fantastic, sandy beaches offered as you walk along the esplanade.

As the town is a holiday resort, there are many shops, bars and restaurants along the sea front.

First things first, I had to do a bit of shopping, needing to kit myself with a pair of “boardies” (surfing shorts) and a casual pair of shorts for when I’m not at the beach. Both are made by the company Billabong. I’m sure I still stick out like a sore thumb but at least I feel a wee bit more comfortable.

That evening, I crashed and burned, falling asleep around 20:00 but the following days have been spent at the beach, shopping, watching the Ashes in the same time zone and sampling the Oz night life.

The night life is, erm interesting. There is an Irish pub (of course) rather strangely located within a shopping centre. It boasts a live band performing every night (not the same one) but I have yet to drink in the place, the queue on Saturday to get in proving too much.

Smoking is not permitted inside in any pub, so I would have to leave the pub, walk out of the shopping centre and then have a smoke. Bizarre.

It is one of only 2 late licenses in the place, closing at 03:00. It seems quite a young crowd and a very, very drunk crowd. The bouncers can be a bit of a pain in the arse as well. It’s a lot different from drinking in Belgium, that’s for sure.

The main place to drink it seems is a place called The Wharf Tavern and I have been there on both Friday and Saturday night. It’s a large, sprawling place with live music played both nights in the bar downstairs and a “nite club” upstairs. Outside there is a huge terrace for the smokers, and beside that there are three pool tables with a few televisions showing various sports, dominated mainly by the Ashes cricket series, something that I am enjoying very much.

To say the Aussies are taking the Ashes seriously would be a hell of an understatement.

As an interesting side story to this years’ series, there has been a little bit of controversy in the build up.

A local brewing company, Tooheys, ran an advert campaign which depicts a ‘typical’ English cricket supporter. Fat, white and wearing shorts, socks and sandals, he is offered a cold Tooheys and is frightened about the prospect of indulging in beer that is actually served cold.

The punch line of the ad makes a reference to “Whinging Poms”

Apparently some leftfield organisation that calls themselves “British Against Racism Australia” have been up in arms about the ad campaign, saying that “Poms” is a racist term and that there is no need in today’s modern Australian society for this kind of terminology.

All 14 (!) members of them have their knickers in a twist (or should that be knotted hanky?) and want the ad to be removed. Hilarious indeed and only further living up to the Whinging Pom label.

There is an English bar in town called The Pig ‘n’ Whistle but I keep referring to it as The Pig ‘n’ Chicken, a reference to a bar/restaurant that used to be outside my home town. The name has stuck and as far as I’m concerned that shall be its name.

Not expecting to bump into many people from back home (this area is more of a holiday resort for the Australians rather than foreigners), I have met people from Wales, England, and a fella from Rostrevor called Kieran. Apparently there are a few of his mates in town as well, having decided to leave Northern Ireland eight weeks ago. The bloody Irish are everywhere.

Most people I have met are very nice, the locals seem genuinely interested in the Northern Ireland situation and most of them can speak quite knowledgably on the topic, which is particularly amazing considering how far away we are.

The guys, as expected, can be a wee bit macho but there is no denying their passion for sport, something that I am relishing, although it’s not too easy to find people that know much about football. Football of the English variety that is. Discussions are interesting, lively and enjoyable – provided you know a wee bit of rugby (both codes) and cricket.

The Irish and English bars will show the English Premier games if they’re open at the time, so I’ll be able to see lunchtime and afternoon kick offs but Champions League games are a no no. I can’t find anywhere that will be showing tonight’s Galatasary v Liverpool match. Hardly surprising, considering that the game will be kicking off at Wednesday, 06:45 Mooloolaba time.

I haven’t stretched my wings too far in the past few days, opting instead to hang around here. Which is fine by me – it’s all new to me and the place is gorgeous.

This week however, I’ll be going to look at the nearby Underwater World, Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo, checking out Noosa a bit further up the coast, and then heading off to Brisbane, which is about an hour away, for the weekend.

The plan after that, if possible, is to embark on a two-week round trip up to Cairns and The Great Barrier Reef and then come back here for Christmas.

I’ll have to get myself a camera soon. The scenery is fantastic and I’d love to share some of the views with you all. Not to mention my blossoming suntan!