Monday, June 26, 2006

Busy in Brizzie

We have finally made the trip across the Tasman to Australia. The main reason for the trip was to see Coldplay in concert, but we fully intended to "do" Brisbane too and to thaw out after the previous weeks freezing temps.

Arriving at around 5pm it was pleasantly warm (more so because I was still wearing a scarf and a merino jumper seeing as it had been 5 degrees in Christchurch). The skyline prepared us for what Brisbane was... a big city. The third largest in Australia. Our pre-booked coach took us straight to our hotel - the Hotel Ibis right across the river from South Bank. We've stayed in Ibis hotels throughout Europe as they are cheap, have great locations and have all you need when you're on a city break, and this one was no exception.

We were the only people on our transfer coach, except for an older couple who had come in from up the coast a little to attend a 21st birthday party. They told us about their garden.. okay, their 100 acre "yard" and ohhh how they laughed as they told us of how they "lost" their cute resident possum and couldn't find it anywhere until they found a 2 metre snake under their shed with a possum-shaped lump in its "throat". Welcome to Oz! *gulp*

We dumped our bags and headed straight for Tukka in the West End where we had a booking for dinner. We had chosen this restaurant as it offered us a chance to savour lots of Australian wildlife (in Oz it's eat or be eaten!). We had the "Discovery Menu" with accompanying wines - it was a fantastic experience - the meal took 3 hours and we had to get a cab back as we were so full (and drunk!). I've copied out the feast we had below - it's not your average fayre.... and good that they give you an accomanying wine because it's really hard to know what goes well with possum!! Warren is now totally in love with a 2004 Shottesbrooke Merlot but we couldn't find it for sale in any wine stores - if anyone spots some for sale please let him know!

appetizer - smoked kangaroo and lilly pilly berries

selection of native berries and smoked meats, home-made damper, macadamia oil & bush dukkah

2000 Logan “M” Cuvee Sparkling – Orange (NSW)

seared north queensland crocodile, avocado and grapefruit salad, vanilla and grapefruit butter

2006 Fermoy Estate Sauvignon Blanc– Margaret River (WA)

rare emu fillet, watermelon glaze, slow roasted baby turnips

2004 Shottesbrooke Merlot – McLaren Vale (SA)

mandarin and rosella sorbet

seared wallaby, celeriac purée, ginger and lemon aspen jus

2000 Campbells Bobbie Burns Shiraz - Rutherglen (VIC)

possum rillettes, grenadine and onion jam, mountain pepper brioche

tukka’s chocolate assiette

2002 Sirromet Finito Rosso – Granite Belt (QLD)

The next day, Friday 23rd, we headed straight for a dreaded mall to get some essential shopping - t-shirts! Thankfully it was the first and last mall we visited. Not our thing. The day was muggy and warm-ish (23 degs). Cities just aren't the place to be when it's warm and muggy. We did what we had to in the mall and quickly escaped down to the river and across to the South Bank area. This area of Brisbane is lovely, it's well set out with the culture centre, art gallery, museums, science centres, lovely walkways through tropical gardens, an inner city man-made beach and bars and restaurants along the banks of the Brisbane. We caught the City Cat and watched the city roll by as we cruised up the river as far as we could to Brett's Wharf. On the way back we stopped off at Eagle Street Pier, a very corporate area, and enjoyed lunch on the river at the Jade Buddha

That night we made our way to the Brisbane Entertainment Centre for the Coldplay concert, we got there by train and got talking to many others who were also heading out that way. What an amazing gig in a fantastic venue. We danced our socks off, screamed the lyrics to just about every song, embarrassed ourselves by knowing the words to Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and generally sweated away a few pints of Tooheys.... a fab evening. Although the huge cockroach squidged on the floor nearby didn't seem have enjoyed the concert quite as much as us. The upside being it was the only wildlife I saw in Oz that I didn't eat or view through 2 inch thick safety glass at the museum.

After the show we found ourselves queuing for a cab with a Scottish couple who now live in Perth - seems that those things that irk some Brits in New Zealand also apply to those in Oz - I mean, what sort of conversation starts with "can you get Hellmans over in NZ?" !! We chatted for ages about the differences in life in NZ/Oz/UK and generally whinged about whinging Poms (to the delight of the group behind us!). We shared a cab back into town and they were last seen heading for the Pig and Whistle - great couple! I think he'll be the first to post Coldplay's "f**k the Dutch" comment (in relation to their having invented Big Brother)... you'll have to Google and see if he has!

Saturday was spenting brunching, lunching and reading on the banks of the river with cappo's and salads (yes, salads in winter, it was warm!!). We went to the museum which was pretty much like any other museum except for the Aboriginal displays which were interactive and, quite frankly, hilarious. Being told to "rub it harder, rub it harder" and getting blisters whilst doing it, in front of fellow museum go-ers, is bound to give anyone the giggles (and me having the giggles in a shhhhhh'd museum just made it worse....). You know what, I'm not even going to tell you what I was rubbing, but it was fun and very hard work and eventually I had to get Woz to finish it off....

Early evening we made our way to Chinatown. Well, two streets that had lots of Chinese restaurants and supermarkets. We had a HUGE chinese meal for a piffling amount of $$ and very nice it was too - but portions were stupidly huge. I had the remains boxed up and took it with me in case I spotted any more homeless en route to the casino but we ended up in a cab and I binned it.

The casino was pretty crap. Sorry, but it was. Nice decor, lovely old building but awash with pokies and only a few select poker tables going so we decided to shove some dollars in the pokies, have a drink, and leave. Except we ended up on a winning spree on the 1cent machines (yes, the ONE CENT machines) and came away having doubled our initial $100 outlay! Woohoooo!

Sunday was the day we flew home. We spent all day in the Botanical Gardens, it's lovely and the cafe there has wonderful food. We sat and read by the river and the weather was lovely (in the shade!). We watched the Ibis birds - strange creatures and native to Oz. They were found near the riverside cafes and were a bit of a pest - a bit like seagulls except a lot bigger and with a beak that made Barry Manilow look button-nosed. Apart from some rather large ants, that's about all insects we saw (and yes, we were looking quite hard to find the ants!!).

Our flight home should have been a nightmare, but it was hilarious. We arrived at the airport to find almost an entire school lining up to check in... ON OUR FLIGHT! Oh joy. We decided we'd be very un-British and not queue - we went to the front and sneaked in saving us at least 2 hours queuing time. All the while dreading which one of us would have a spotty teen fidgeting next to us all the way home. But, all's well that ends well as, seeing as they were all 15-ish, it meant that we had the emergency exit seats with the legroom as they aren't allowed to seat anyone under 16 in them - hooray! And to top it all we sat next to an hilarious Aussie who we laughed with all the way back - I think the 4 bottles of wine I drank helped me on the way too as I don't actually remember anything after disembarking at Christchurch!

The house was as warm as a morgue when we arrived back and Woz couldn't go to work the next day as his fuel tank had frozen (or something technical like that). We think the Mini might be going to the big scrapheap in the sky soon. We collected Summer later that evening, she looked like she had enjoyed her stay at Bunny Lodge, it's a great place to put your pets.

So, would we go back to Brisbane? No. Why? Because we've "done it". There's really not very much to do there that you can't do in any other city. And we don't really like cities, within an hour or so we were fed up with the crowds, the traffic, the noise, the heat, the mugginess, the intermittent showers (yes, I know, it's tropical), the endless roads of shops, cafes and restaurants and tripping over homeless and drunks. It's also the first time we've seen a Big Issue seller since we left the UK.

Would we go back to Australia? Of course. Brisbane is but a speck on the continent and there's so much we want to explore. But the big cities aren't what we'll be returning to, unless Coldplay play there again - now THAT'S something worth putting up with a city break for...

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Winter Wonderland...

A few more piccies taken on Monday and Tuesday. It's now Saturday and we're finally beginning to see the ground through the snow. Thankfully many plants are beginning to straighten out and the chooks have more space to scratch about. Discovered they love avocado!!

All piccies taken in Waddington.

We literally put the kettle on...

Summer was totally confused by the snow and would dig holes and roll in them - weird animal!

We're waiting to see what the next cold weather system due on Sunday night/Monday morning will bring - we've been told to expect more snow and that it could hang around until Thursday. I'd prefer it if it would go away on Wednesday as we fly out to Brisbane on Thursday!! And yes, Mike, ironically we'll be thawing out there before heading off to see Coldplay!! hehe

Here's hoping all our friends in Canterbury who are still stuck or without power are managing to keep warm and safe.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

The big freeze

Wow, there is nothing like 36+ hours without power during one of the biggest storms in decades to shake up the routine a little. The sort of storm that can cover the South Island in a blanket of snow. The sort of day the Weather people should warn you about but somehow fail to see coming. Let me rewind a little to Monday morning.

I get out of bed and walk to the light switch in the dark. click... click... b^&&@r it, bulb's blown. Stumble... Stumble... click... b^&&@r it, power's gone. I stumble my way to the kitchen to re-load the stove with coal, its a cold morning. Summer is on my heels already demanding her morning walk. I open the kitchen door to let her outside, thud... I hit something solid?

After more stumbling in the dark I find the torch. What is going on... Snow? A lot of snow, 30cm already and coming down thick and fast. I wake Helen. We stand and watch the storm outside. There is a beauty to extreme weather, it has the power to mesmerise.

Reality hits. Its a huge storm, we are snowed in without power. To make matters worse the wood pile is covered in snow. To top it off a short trip outside to the coal bunker reminds me we really really need more coal.

We get the basics done. Get the chooks some food and lock them in. Get a big pile of wood indoors so it can start to dry. Fill the coal stove and refill the coal scuttle.

We have no internet because the router needs power but at least we have a phone line, an outside link. The Electricity company's phone system lets me know I have called during a busy period and should call back later. When I finally get through to a human they let me know we will have power up at 8.30. I really should have thought 12.5 hours and not 30 minutes when I heard this and with hindsight, even 12 hours was optimistic.

I call work to let them know I won't be in. We now know there is snow on the coast in Christchurch, a good 50Km away.

All that is left to do now is get the fire going, settle down and wait out the storm. In the end the storm kept going most of the day and dumped about 60cm of snow on us.

Spot the Mini

We ventured out at times bashing snow off trees and plants trying to minimise loss but the damage to the garden will be huge. We won't know the full extent until the thaw but many trees and plants are crushed and broken. At least the house has held up well.

The only thing that matters during situations like this are heat, food and shelter. We lived in front of the fire the first 24 hours. When you have no idea when you will get power back you just have to get on with the basics.

Tuesday was clear blue skys so we could get out. Do a stock take, clear snow and dig out the cars. Once the road outside had been cleared we could venture out and get some coal and more food. We then got the fire going and started to settle down for another night without power. We got power back about 7pm that night.

This was a massive storm. Some still don't have power and might not be connected until next week. There will be damage to property and lots of dead live stock but the Kiwi's are a hardy bunch.

Was it really that bad... Not really.

Once your mind accepts the situation you just get on with it. Time changes and loses meaning, similar to being on a long flight. We were mentally set for the second night without power so when it came back on it was a little while before we put on the TV to get the news.

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