Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

September 2011

General and TravelSunday, September 18th, 2011, (1:51 pm)

On this road trip greetings and goodbyes are the punctuation. I’m constantly meeting new people and seeing new places, then after a few days I say my goodbyes and I leave them to continue north. If there are any moments of this ongoing adventure that I don’t like, I suppose it would be the string of goodbyes that fade in my wake. But then, just a few minutes later as the road stretches before me, I get that buzz that only the road ahead can give you.

There is a romance in a life spent on the road, a life that’s been simplified down to the essentials with little need or accommodation for the spoils and complications of a bricks and mortar day-to-day. Tomorrow could be anywhere and next week could easily be as far away in miles as it is in hours.

As I drive north on the Pacific Highway consuming distance and time like candy at the movies, I feel less like the driver and more like a passenger. I’m looking at the scenery passing me by with the kind of interest that routine gleefully smothers, but unlike the traffic around me, I’m in no rush. Instead I’m content to let the suits scurry by, jockeying for positions in their race to get home for dinner.

I’m on my way to Brisbane and I’ll get there soon enough. 6 o’clock, 9 o’clock, it doesn’t really matter. I’m just driving, listening to music and the hum of the road beneath me as the sun beats a familiar path to the horizon.

For the first time since Sydney I’m greeted by a somewhat familiar face, Vanessa, one of the people I met in Byron Bay. As a fellow couchsurfer she’s kindly offered to let me stay at her shared house for a few days. It’s a young house, full of students in their twenties, mismatched furniture, and washing up piled in the kitchen sink like a work of modern art.

Looking around takes me back to the myriad of such places I’ve called home in years gone by, back when my hair was longer and my most important possessions were records and CD’s. It’s hectic but welcoming, no airs or graces, just somewhere to come as you are, somewhere to be. When you’re home is a van and your address is the road, the offer of a couch, a warm shower, and a fews days to stop is always welcome.

The pair of us head out for something to eat then Vanessa takes me to Mount Coot-tha to see a spectacular panoramic view of Brisbane and it’s surroundings. The mass of lights spreads before us like a carpet of fairy lights under the fluorescent glow of a dazzling full moon.

It’s a warm evening, mellow like a warm bath or time lost in your favorite armchair. A group of japanese tourists are posing for pictures. They’re excited and chattering away amid a shower of camera flashes that freeze their smiles in time as they give the obligatory V sign with their fingers that all Japanese people seem to do.

The next day as Vanessa went to work I went exploring. Brisbane isn’t a huge city, it’s significant, but manageable. As Queensland’s capital a few tall buildings climb to the clouds, but they fall short as if conscious that no other buildings around them are being so ambitious or outlandish. It’s an unassuming city that doesn’t scream or shout about itself, happy not to fight for the limelight but quietly confident that people will find there way here and discover a city that is relaxed about it’s place in the world.

I wandered around the tree lined streets in Paddington and Latrobe Terrace with it’s eclectic mix of antique stores, cafe’s, bars and boutiques. The Paddington Antique centre was a fascinating bazar. Small stall holders occupy the old Plaza Theatre that was opened in the 1930’s. Today the ornate stage surroundings are still in place along with the deep blue painted ceiling. Traders sell furniture and trinkets from old telephones and televisions, to old books their pages musty and browned with the passing of time.

The city takes a big breath of fresh air with its botanical gardens that house some beautiful lush plants and trees. Vanessa laughed at me when we visited there because I was so excited about the awesome spreading Banyan trees, one of which was home to a family of possums that peered out at us as if they were the tourists and we were the attraction.

I’m not really one for diving into a city and consuming it’s poster tourist attractions. Museums and galleries are fine, cruises and tours are okay too, and I’ll do them if they take my fancy. But generally I just like to wander into a city and allow it to introduce itself to me without the aid of a glossy brochure or map.

I enjoy getting a little lost in order to see what I can find, and what finds me. I suppose this tactic means I miss some of the ‘essentials’ but I don’t mind that. I’m not trying to be alternative, I just like allowing a place to unfold before me without the pressure of a timetable of glossy expectations.

I like melting into a city, like slowly walking into a swimming pool allowing your skin to adjust to the temperature of the water. I find cafe’s here and there, order a cappuccino and watch the world go by while maybe catching up with work (or my blog) on my laptop. I actually find this activity very relaxing, and I was pleased to find that Brisbane is an easy city to melt into.

On Saturday I wandered around the West End market in Davies Park where farmers bring their fruit and vegetables to sell as they shout the prices to wandering shoppers. Locally made crafts were being poured over by tourists and locals alike, while massage therapists treated people in tents and musicians played on the grass by the river. Such markets are common and very popular in Australia. It’s still winter here, but sunny and warm, a perfect summers day by my British standards.

A couple of hipsters were selling coffee from a beautifully restored VW Kombi van. Called the Coffee Koffien the Kombi van had been lovingly converted into a travelling cafe that tours around the Brisbane area selling fine coffee at various events. I admired their Kombi for a while, took some pictures, then walked along the river sipping my cappuccino and watching jet skiers jumping small waves made by passing boats.

As with everywhere else I’ve travelled to on this road trip, I could have happily stayed in Brisbane. I would have liked to get to know the city like I know Melbourne, to spend a few weeks finding its soul and discovering its hideaways. But after nearly a week, again longer than I had planned to stay, I had to one again take to the road leaving another city, another friend, and another goodbye in my wake. Such is life on the road.

General and TravelMonday, September 5th, 2011, (1:41 am)

As I crossed the state line from New South Wales into Queensland I was welcomed to the ‘sunshine state’ by the Gold Coast. Sitting in traffic amid the towering hotels and apartment blocks all trying to catch a glimpse of the sea, I found myself feeling penned in by the concrete that seemed to be swallowing me like it had surely swallowed the very things that once earned this place such an alluring name.

People had told me that the Gold Coast was something of a soulless place. “It’s like a little bit of America got marooned on the southern beaches of Queensland,” said one Australian I met, and in some respects I can see why they came to that conclusion. With names like Palm Beach, and Miami strung together at the end of the Pacific Coast Highway, the place does indeed seem a little like America, or at least the scene of a collision between the two countries.

It’s not pretty. It feels fake, like the girls who adorn the billboards for local tattoo parlours. Like a film set upon which at any moment a tire screeching car chase might come careering around the next corner with bandits hanging out of car windows shooting back at police cars in hot pursuit, their sirens wailing.

The city of Surfers Paradise reaches into the sky and claws at the clouds like any American city you can think of. It’s a bland city, that stands undistinguished like a glass of water at a cocktail bar. If shopping at stores you can find anywhere is your kind of thing then I’m told Surfers Paradise is great.

Nobody outside Australia knows about this city. It lacks the international charisma a city needs to stand on the world stage and be noticed. Instead Surfers Paradise seems to be gorging on concrete and steel as if comfort eating to offset the pain of watching its siblings, like Sydney and Melbourne, get all the attention.

In theory the Gold Coast is wonderful. In reality though it seems to be a mess. A blend of ordinary beaches with buildings that stand like headstones in tribute to the dead dreams of commercially minded planners who thought they could find their way to the bottom of our pockets by giving an ugly place an attractive name.

I wish I could tell you something positive about the Gold Coast. I’m sure there is something, but perhaps unfairly, I didn’t hang around long enough to unearth it. As soon as I got to the Gold Coast I found myself looking for the exit. I stayed as long as I thought was polite, then I left.

It could be that my impressions were colored by the fact that I found these concrete caves as I emerged from the mellowed out haze of the tree houses and Byron Bay. Perhaps if I had descended into Surfers Paradise from a jet plane, transported from one mass of concrete to another, my first impressions would have been kinder. Maybe the Gold Coast is an acquired taste, but I can’t imagine that I’ll be going back anytime soon to find out.

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