The train is eerily quiet. The only noise is the high pitch squeal of the train wheels against the tracks, yet the carriage is packed with suburban types. It’s a sign that I’m in a city. It’s a bizarre concept that the more people you put in one place, the less they talk to each other. It’s a very un-Australian feeling, in fact it feels more like the UK as the clouds hang low and gray, threatening to open up at any moment. A few stops after I get on the train, a man in his mid-50s hops aboard and parks himself opposite me. I try not to stare, but it’s difficult. He’s wearing a tweed bonnet, a saggy yellowing vest with a pen clipped on, super short red shorts, high white socks and black, velcro-strap trainers. He looks very confused but, at this point, still in control of himself. I start to wonder how long it will be before he begins his unsuccessful train hijack attempt using the broken umbrella that he’s carrying.
The train pulls into Brunswick St Station and I get up to leave, hobo hijacker follows. He’s standing directly behind me and I’m convinced it’s only a matter of time before the back of my head feels the full brunt of a flying umbrella. I’m pleasantly surprised when the doors open and I step down onto the platform unhindered. I turn around and see him disappear into the crowd, which is quite an achievement considering his attire. I head up a set of stairs from the platform and come out into a large shopping mall where I proceed to spend the next 10 minutes lost, trying to figure out where the exit to the outside world is. I walk past a woman wearing a blue t-shirt with a large tourist information logo on it and “airport assistance” written across the back. I panic. Is Brisbane just one huge indoor shopping mall connected all the way out to the airport? I start following random people, hoping they know the way out. It dawns on me that I might be following people heading for the toilets and that I’ll subsequently look like a pervert as I stand looking confused and shifty outside a toilet cubicle. I decide to keep following anyhow and the decision eventually pays off as I stumble out onto Brunswick St mall.
Pleased to be in the outside world, I make my way up the mall toward Ann St and the city. As I’m nearing the opposite end of the street, hobo hijacker comes darting out of a shopping arcade, minus his umbrella and looking shiftier than ever. I’m curious to know what he might be up to but decide not to follow him incase he’s toilet-bound. I make my way along Ann St and can’t help but admire the surroundings as the road gets closer to the city. The architectural juxtaposition of old cathedrals and Victorian public buildings surrounded by shiny new skyscrapers is a novelty for those from the old world. I get to Queen St mall and am slightly taken aback by the number of people out and about on a Tuesday afternoon. Is anyone actually at work in Brisbane other than shop assistants? The electronic, merry Christmas tunes from a million Santa toys in a discount store remind me that it’s the festive shopping period and so I make a beeline for a coffee break at Southbank instead of fighting the yuletide crowds. By this stage I feel like I’m acting out a Lonely Planet mini-itinerary for Brisbane as I’ve briefly covered Fortitude Valley, the CBD and now Southbank in a mornings meandering.
Caffeine fuelled, I make my way over to the botanic gardens and then into the Queensland Parliament. I find myself in a tour group consisting of me and a very enthusiastic chap from Hong Kong who satisfies every possible cliché about Asian tourists, including the standard Hubble telescope-esque camera lens. We make our way around a few grand and ornate rooms before getting to the main chamber. The guide explains a little about the proceedings then goes on to tell us how there are 59 MPs in the Queensland parliament and that getting them all together at one time is a logistical nightmare. Granted Queensland is a larger than Britain but I’m left wondering what he’d think about trying to get 650-odd MPs down to London from every corner of the UK. I try and ask him but he’s in full-swing with his own spiel and by the time he stops the moment has passed.
Upon emerging from the Parliament, I realise that in a lot of Lonely Planet suggested itineraries there is something about going to a trendy spot for a drink. I decide that trendy isn’t necessary but refreshment of the beer kind is. I find an Irish bar on Queen St mall and head in for a healthy dose of European culture. As I settle down with my Guinness and big screen TV showing Bordeaux v Marseille I instantly regret my choice of pub. Directly behind me is a group consisting of one girl and two guys. The girl is English and set to “constant smelly chat” mode. Her voice fills the bar and her stories of travelling Australia are never-ending. The two guys she’s with have glazed looks that suggest they haven’t spoken in hours. I do my best to block her voice out but sentences like, “yeah, the outback’s really difficult but like, the tour bus was good and so everyone should go…” go straight to the “judge on first impression” section of my brain.
I quickly finish my pint and make a swift exit before the two guys drop-dead and she directs her chat toward someone else. Once out on the street, I realise I need to find some yin to balance the yang of the smelly pub chat. I make my way to the supermarket, stock up on supplies and head back to the suburbs for a healthy dose of Australian barbeque culture. The perfect remedy…