Friday, July 12, 2013

Dancing with Koalas

I am an active traveller. What I mean by this is that I don't like to just lie on the beach for a week and do nothing. For me traveling is all about new experiences. My last few vacations have however been very busy. Two years ago I was traveling by train through central and eastern Europe with my best friend. We explored ten countries in 30 days. It goes without saying, that we stayed at one location for a maximum of three nights. Last summer I traveled for three weeks in Sicily, Milan, Hungary and Stockholm. I stayed for a bit longer in Eger, Hungary, but basically I was on the move all the time. So now in Australia, I've really been enjoying having a home base. I am staying with my best friend, Evannette, who is spending six months as an exchange student here, and has a lovely town house in a suburb in Brisbane called Greenslopes. It is a very nice location, about 15-20 minutes with the bus to the centre and a supermarket just a 5-minute-walk away.

Now, I am loving the fact that I have a home base, and don't have to move around all the time. The bedroom looks as such though. All my things are spread around my half of the room... I am doing everything what vacation is about. Sleeping in, long breakfasts and not worrying about time. This doesn't mean that I'm staying put though. No sir! A lot of people back home and here have asked me whether I will travel around Australia. I thought about it for a while, but then I came to the conclusion, that I will just spend the entire month discovering Brisbane and its surroundings. That was a good decision! Brisbane is a lovely city with loads to do, if not directly in the city, but around it.

Brisbane Story Bridge.

I spent my first week discovering Brisbane itself. I went to a few museums and did some shopping. Naturally since my best friend is a dancer, I got to enjoy some great dance parties and lessons as well. Back in Finland I've attended a few west coast swing dance parties, but I've never taken any lessons. The dancing scene in Brisbane is just fantastic! On Tuesday and Thurday evenings we've been taking west coast swing lessons with Raw Connection right here in Greenslopes. The teachers are great and I've been learning heaps. There are two lessons every evening: first a beginner class and then you can choose from an intermediate class or a beginner's intensive class. In between the lessons there is some time to practise your new moves at social dancing. I love it! Now I just have to check up on where I can dance WCS back in Tampere... On Sundays there is a dance party at a bar called Casablanca, where they have salsa and other latin dances downstairs and zouk and kizomba upstairs. They also have karaoke in the next room... At my first Casas party I was happy just looking at people dancing, since latin dances really aren't my thing, zouk even less. Last Sunday however the evening turned out a bit different. Since I had met a few of Evannette's friend during my stay, they naturally knew me and asked me to dance. It didn't help that I claimed not knowing how, I was just told "it's easy, you'll learn". And so I spent a big part of the evening on the dance floor trying out my kizomba moves. And I liked it! I think I'll finally have to start going to the bachata and kizomba parties in
Tampere on Mondays...

The Brisbane Lions against the Gold Coast Suns, AFL.

I have been doing a lot more than just dancing. There is an amazing roller skating track around the Brisbane river and I've also checked out the city from another point of view while kayaking on the river. A few days ago we headed to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, which is the world's first and largest koala sanctuary. It was established already in 1927 and it houses around 130 koalas. In addition to koalas the animal park houses a variety of Australian wild life, including kangaroos, kookaburras, platypus, emus, wombats, tasmanian devils and much more. I got to cuddle a koala, and it was so soft and sweet as it clinged onto my shirt. We also fed kangaroos and they were so cute! Lone Pine is however not just a park with animals for people to see. It is taking in hurt animals and caring for them so they can be let back in the wild. Also it is an imporant sanctuary for the tasmanian devil. The devil is an endangered species because of something called devil facial tumor disease, which was first discovered in 1995, and it has taken down the devil population to 20 per cent. Lone Pina is housing a few devils in case the population keeps dropping, so that the animal won't turn out being exctinct. I liked Lone Pine because it is not a typical zoo. It only features Australian wild life and has a lot of information about the animals. Also the staff is very friendly and informed.

Kayaking on Brisbane River, divine!

Squeezed in between the branches.

Ready, set, go!

The other day we also drove down to Gold Coast. The weather was quite cloudy and a bit cold, but I still loved walking on the enormous beach with amazingly soft sand. I'm hoping to go back to Gold Coast or to Sunshine Coast on a sunny day before going back to Finland. Yesterday we drove down to Springbrook National Park to do some hiking. It is situated in the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area and it is absolutely beautiful. It was the third time for me hiking in a rainforest, but it was still as amazing as the first time. Surrounded by gigantic trees and lush bushes the mind rests. There were a lot of enormous, white eucalyptus trees, but unfortunately we didn't spot any koalas. We did see some cat-like creatures though, both in the forest as well as crossing the road into the bushes.

Surfer's Paradise at Gold Coast.

Behind a waterfall at Twin Falls Circuit in Springbrook National Park.

View above the rainforest.

Gigantic roots. The researches still don't know why the trees grow these kind of roots.

Lush and fresh rainforest.

Big roots, eh?

One of the many beautiful waterfalls in Springbrook National Park.

Intestine roots. At least it looks like it. Or worms.

I my last post, I was writing about how relieved I am not having to drive here. Well, now I have been driving. I was the one sitting behind the wheel both going down to Gold Coast and to Springbrook National Park. At first it was confusing, but I got over it relatively quickly, and now I am actually enjoying it. I'm not sure how it would go though, if I had to drive to the centre of Brisbane. Maybe I'll find out...

Enjoy the photos!

Friday, July 5, 2013

First Impressions

After nearly a full week here on the other side of the world, I kinda feel that I might not be qualified to talk about first impressions anymore. The first impressions have slightly faded, but I am going to make an attempt to revive them nevertheless. My first week has been quite full of activities and by keeping awake for the whole first day after landing early in the morning, I managed to escape the jet lag. I've done some sightseeing, visited museums and exhibitions, gone dancing, done sports and naturally met new people, which is my favourite thing about traveling.



In Finland we call this the Christmas Star.
When you go to a foreign country, the first things you notice - naturally - are the differences. Actually this really applies to wherever you go, even if you travel within your own country. Even though Australia is on the other side of the world in comparison to Finland, it is surprisingly similar. It is a western country after all. But because of it's immense size, there are naturally differences. I won't go into Australias inner differences - being solely in Brisbane doesn't really qualify me for that. In Brisbane, however, the weather is one thing that really stands out. The climate in the state of Queensland is subtropical, which means that it never really gets cold here. At least from a Finnish point of view. As my plane landed on Saturday morning at about 5, it was already 15 degrees. Before I came, my friend told me to bring thick sweaters and a jacket, and the first few days were actually quite rainy, so they did come in handy. It wasn't really cold, maybe around 18 degrees, but it's always quite windy, since it's quite close to the coast. These last couple of days have been great though, about 24 degrees, sunny and warm.

Thanks to the subtropical climate, flowers are always in bloom in Brisbane, even in the winter!

Public transport

Then there's the traffic. In Australia they drive on the wrong side of the road. Sure some might argue that there are no wrong sides, only right ones. Not here. Thank God I don't need to drive here, because it would be seriously confusing. Even walking across the road is difficult, because I need to remember to look right first and then left, not the other way around, like I'm used to. Another thing about traffic is public transportation. I haven't really noticed this yet myself, but I've been told that schedules are never correct. There are different times online, and even at the bus stop. There they have a display and a printed timetable, but there are different times on them. And the ones on the display do not seem to be actual gps times. Well, luckily where we live, in Greenslopes, the buses come quite often, so it's not too bad.

Look out, trees might attack your car. Wait, what?
Brisbane is quite a large city, a bit over 2 million people live here, so there are several price zones when you travel with public transport. This is quite common in bigger cities, but usually you also have to know which zones you travel in, so that you know which ticket to buy, or which zones to click if you have a travel card. Here the system has been made very easy. You just touch the card to the machine when you step in and out of the bus, and it calculates the price automatically. Very simple! Also I think it's nice that most people shout 'thank you' to the bus drives as they step out of the bus. Something which is not so good however, is that a lot of people go out in the front door, blocking the way of people coming in. The bus driver also always waits for people to sit down before they drive along. Maybe these are some reasons why the buses aren't operating on time. I've also been told that public transport is not very good when it comes to getting somewhere outside of the city. We've been talking about visiting some places outside of Brisbane, but it's hard to get anywhere without having a car. Which everyone here seems to have.

If you don't want to get into all that hectic traffic and just wish to enjoy the river breeze, it is also possible to hop on the city cat. Established in 1975, the city cat basically is a public transportation boat that operates on the Brisbane River. Ir's great! The price is the same as for the bus and you get to enjoy the city from a completely different point of view. It is also quite quick, at least in comparison to those in Venice and Budapest.

People and food

My two favourite parts about traveling - as you know - are meeting new people and eating good food. In addition to the whole bunch of people that I got to know during my flights, I've been lucky enough to meet quite a lot of Australians, thanks to Evannette's big group of dancing friends. The social being that I am, I have naturally also talked to people basically everywhere. Ethnically Australia is very mixed. In addition to travelers from all over the world, there are a lot of foreign people living here, as well as Australians with roots from other countries. There are a lot of Asians, which is not very surprising, since Asia is the closest continent. Anyway, everyone here is really friendly and helpful. People seem genuinely interested in who you are, where you are from and what you do. People can just start speaking to you randomly, which is great, but feels a bit unusual being a Finn. I do love it though! My second evening here was my Evannettes' dance partners' last one before going back to Finland, so a group of dancing friends threw him a farewell dinner, which at the same time turned into a welcome dinner for me. I was overwhelmed! It was amazing to come to a group of people I didn't know and still feel so welcomed. It was just fantastic! 

Good food and amazing people!

And naturally the food was delicious! We went to a thai restaurant where everyone ordered their own meals and then we shared, so you could try different things. Here in Brisbane it is quite common to go out for dinner with a big group of friends, which I think is great! The cost for eating out in a restaurant differs quite a bit, but in general you can say that it is a tad cheaper than in Finland, but not a lot. Just like back home, the prices naturally depend on where you eat. The big city that it is, Brisbane naturally has a lot more variety than any Finnish city. There is a restaurant at every corner, and most of them have terraces, because people love to eat outside. Just like any city, some parts of Brisbane are cheaper and some more expensive, but I haven't quite figured out yet as to where you can get the best food for the best price. West End seems to be quite nice and there are many cozy restaurants and cafés there. Cafés are everywhere though. Lots and lots of small, charming places, with wonderful personal flair, but so far only one place where you can smoke shisha. Coffee (read espresso) is better than in Finland (except for Signora Delizia), but not as good as in Italy. The food scene is very mixed. You can find almost any kind of food, from Japanese to Argentinian and everything in between, just have your pick. Oh, and kangaroo steaks are delicious!

The cutest café in West End!

The Farmer's market is held in the City every Wednesday.

Wild life

The Australasian Darter.
Australia is proud of its' wild animals. I am still looking forward to seeing kangaroos, whales, dolphins and much more, but I have already been lucky enough to spot quite a few wild animals. The other day we went rollerblading and we spotted an opossum. It was sitting in a tree eating leaves, and it froze as it saw us looking straight at it. It is quite unusual to see opossums during the day, so I was naturally very happy! There are also quite a few lizards here. I've mostly seen small ones, but I also managed to spot a huge one by the river yesterday. Then there are birds. Lots and lots of birds. On my first day I saw an Australasian Darter as it was sitting on a tree in the river and drying its' wings. My favourite is a huge white bird called the Australian White with a black tail and a black head. The funny thing about the birds here is that they don't seem to sing. They screech and squall! Another night-being in addition to the opossum are the bats. They are quite unpleasant. They fly around as soon as the sun goes down (at around 6 pm) and they can come quite close, since they fly downwards as they leave the tree, because naturally they hang there up and down. It takes a while to get used to the bats, but luckily the ones here in Queensland are not blood sucking vampire bats...

The Australian White is hanging out at the Bogoda.

More wildlife at the Museum of Brisbane.

All in all my first week here has been quite amazing. My first impressions of Brisbane are very positive and I have had the chance to explore quite a bit, but at the same time not packing my time with activities, so I have also been able to relax and take it easy, what vacation should be all about. I have about two and a half weeks to go, and I will surely keep myself busy. I'm hoping to catch some waves at Surfer's paradise and Byrone Bay, see some whales and dolphins at Fraser Island, go for a hike a bit inland and much more, so stay tuned!

The Queenslander, the typical house in the Queensland area. Why? Stay tuned to find out!

The beautiful Story Bridge connects Kangaroo Point and Fortitude Valley.

South Bank.

Streets Beach at South Bank.

The beautiful auditorium at Brisbane City Hall.