Monday, January 26, 2009

Day 10: Brisbane to Singapore


Initially we were considering to extend our trip for another few days but we were both feeling kinda exhausted so we decided to return to Singapore.

Our flight was in the early afternoon and we headed for the airport after checking out from our hotel.

As the hotel was in South Brisbane, we had to find our way onto the South East Fwy so as to head towards the city. All we had with us was some scanty driving instructions to the airport and no maps or whatsoever. We figured there should be sufficient signs pointing us towards the airport.

Unfortunately we failed to exit in time from the Hwy to connect to the road leading to the Inner City Bypass and we ended up going back to South Brisbane and then having to go back up north again.

Finally, we managed to find the right exit and got onto the Inner City Bypass and onwards to Kingsford Smith Dr. We realised that there weren't sufficient directional signs for the airport. Most big cities that we had driven in have many prominent signs leading to the airport. So we spent a great amount of time wondering if we were headed in the right direction. It wasn't so bad 'cos we weren't in a rush to catch our flight out.

Eventually we arrived at the airport and luckily, we didn't have much difficulties finding the carpark where we were to return the rental car as there were clear directional signs. We were prepared to be slapped with a hefty charge for denting the car when we were returning the car key. The rental personnel told us that they'd send someone to check on the car to assess the damage and it was likely that they might have to charge us the entire excess amount of A$3,300 if the car had to be sent for repairs! Anyway, she told us to go check in first before returning to the rental desk for the final verdict on the outcome after their checks on the car.

With heavy hearts, we returned to the rental desk after checking in our luggages. The lady then told us that the car was already dented by the previous driver who had bought excess insurance and they were already planning to make a claim for the repairs from the previous driver's insurance. And as the dent that we made was at the same spot (back bumper), we need not pay for the damage at all. We simply couldn't believe our luck!! We were so happy that we would have given the lady a big hug if not for the fact that she was seated behind the tall counter.

We then ate and shop a little at the Brisbane Airport before boarding our flight back home to Singapore.

Well, this concludes our East Coast Australia trip!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Day 9: Byron Bay to Brisbane


We dragged our tired bodies up at 4.30am so as to catch the sunrise. It was pitch black outside and there were hardly any street lighting. We got lost trying to find out way to Cape Byron Lighthouse....luckily, we met a helpful jogger (still can't believe she was jogging before 5am in the morning) who pointed us in the right direction.

The lighthouse was perched on top of the Cape Byron Headland...and with an elevation of more than 100m, the roads leading up the lighthouse were pretty steep. Hence instead of walking, we decided to drive. And because we knew that free parking was very limited, we wanted to get there as early as we could. What do you know - we were the earliest birds and we got our worm - the best parking lot! We had to walk up the last steep stretch to reach the lighthouse but we were too engrossed in the stunning views of the ocean, beaches and plunging cliffs to whine.

It was very cold 'cos the winds were really strong....some of my fellow early-birds came with fleece blankets tightly wrapped around their bodies. And all I had on was my thin holey cardigan which didn't serve much of a function. Thank goodness it wasn't too long before we saw the sun peeking through the clouds...sending streaks of golden rays everywhere and casting an orangey glow on everything that the ray touched. A crowd had gathered at this most easterly point of the mainland to witness this magical moment. It was silence all round as everyone seemed to be holding their breath. We just stood rooted and watched.

And as the sun rose higher into the sky, the lighthouse was like a chameleon..changing colors. It was interesting to see how it looked under different lighting conditions. RG and I are huge lighthouse fans. It's hard to verbalise why I'm so intrigue by lighthouses but a few words do come to mind - strength, guidance, romantic, loneliness, contemplation and connectedness. Looking at the lighthouses, you can just imagine the loneliness of a lighthouse keeper, yearning human contacts. He'd spend most of his time in self-contemplation. He'd watch the changing ocean and sky all day from the lighthouse and as such, grow to become deeply connected with nature. It's a difficult and lonely job but he chooses to do it because he knows that ships need that guiding light to steer clear of danger and to continue on the right path of their voyage.

Besides the beautiful lighthouse and sunrise, the views from above the Cape Byron Headland were just as breathtaking. Looking north, we could see right up to Gold Coast and looking south, we could see Broken Head and beyond. See how this fella was risking his life of falling down 100m of the rocky cliff just to capture a great shot! Perhaps being up there made us feel almost invincible.

The below is a photo of the Cape Byron Lighthouse seen from the main beach.

The beaches at Byron Bay are as pretty as those in Gold Coast (if not prettier). The fine-grained sand was white and gleaming in the sun and the water a clear turquoise-blue. If there's indeed paradise on earth....this could be it!

The walls of the public shower areas were covered in cheeky paintings. We knew that several of Byron's beaches were nude beaches....but unfortunately, we weren't lucky enough to see any nudist that morning! =P

From the main beach, we headed towards the town centre where we found many shops and eateries It seemed that Byron Bay attracts an interesting mix of people from all over the world with its friendly, relaxed and very laidback atmosphere. After our early morning walk, our stomachs started to growl. Breakfast was some fresh-out-of-oven sandwiches and rolls bought from a little hole-in-wall store along the road. On our way back to the car with our breakfast, we caught sight of the below poster advertising for "The Res-erection Tour" of Puppetry of the Penis Remember I mentioned earlier in my Sydney post that we had watched the performance in year 2000? Well, after so many years of touring around the world and gaining much fame, these guys had finally returned to Australia where it all bagan. If not for the fact that we were leaving Australia the next day, I would have really liked to watch the show again....for old time sake.

After breakfast, we packed up and left for Brisbane which was only a 2hr drive away. We thought we could just drive all the way to Brisbane without stopping but we were wrong. Because we had woken up so early this morning, we were dozing off at the wheel. We realised it was too risky for just a split second of close-eye on the wheel might result in a serious accident. So we stopped at a rest area along the way to refresh ourselves before continuing on our journey.

As in the case of Sydney, we didn't want to have to drive into the Brisbane we had booked an accommodation in South Brisbane just across the river. Our accommodation was at the Central Hillcrest The cost was A$109 for a deluxe room which was very affordable. The room was spacious with a balcony, huge bathroom and coffee making facilities. From our balcony, we could see the Brisbane CBD. Although not within the CBD, the Central Hillcrest is just a short walk to South Bank and the CBD and there are several subway stations in the nearby vicinity. We were so sleepy that we decided to take a nap immediately after checking into our room.

So we woke up at about 2pm (QLD time) and got ready to explore Brisbane city. From Central Hillcrest, it was just a 5min walk to the southern end of the South Bank Parklands where the Queensland Maritime Museum is located

From there, we crossed the vehicle-free Goodwill Bridge which was just one of the links between South Bank and the city. The bridge was just less than 500m long but we were able to enjoy nice views of the South Bank, river and the city when we were on the bridge. And at the end of the bridge, we had reached Queensland University of Technology and the Botanic Gardens.

After a nice walk in the Botanic Gardens, we walked down Albert Street and found ourselves a nice little chinese eatery for some zi-char. Lunch was 2 rice sets with stir-fried chicken, claypot tofu and soup. For once, the chinese food actually tasted like chinese food!
Having satisfied our hunger for some Chinese food, we headed towards Queen Street Mall where the main action was. There were many major shopping malls on Elizabeth St one of which was the QLD's largest Myer department store - an eight storey tall shopping complex. We also took a leisure walk around Adelaide and Ann Street. At the southern end of the Queen Street Mall was a gigantic X'mas tree which brought much x'mas joy to this pleasant city. Below are some photos of the street scenes.

The girl in the middle has a wind-up key stuck to her back!

At the end of Queen Street, we crossed the Victoria Bridge to go back to South Bank. Below is a shot of the Riverside Expressway from the bridge.
Then we started walking from the northern end of the South Bank parklands towards the other end. Although I think it's kinda weird to have a beach (man-made) right in the middle of the city, the parkland development is nevertheless a nice thought by the government to provide a relaxing and beautiful public area for people to gather for a swim, walk, jog, play, BBQ, eat, watch a performance, ride the ferris wheel and exercise. It is no wonder that the parklands development has won numerous awards such as the best public sector development in the world by the International Real Estate Federation and the world’s best downtown public space by the International Downtown Association. If you are visiting Brisbane anytime soon, I'd definitely recommend a trip to South Bank for a romantic evening stroll and enjoy a sumptous dinner at one of the many riverside restaurants and cafes.

Street art in Brisbane city.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Civil servant rapped over cooking holiday

My Thoughts:
I'm one of those who sympathises with him. I mean, we don't even know the context of his story. The fact being, whatever one does, one's action will always be subject to various interpretations.

And we know that there'll always be the sour grapes or opportunists who'd take the opportunity to shed a bad light on others.

I can also imagine how it'd seem easy for the associated party to criticise the action (in an attempt to pacify the masses) and to isolate the blame.

The poor fella had probably wanted his family to have an experience that they'd never forget (hence didn't mind spending all that $)....well, they probably still do but in a very bad way.

Does it then mean that in bad times like this....we all have to pretend to live like paupers just 'cos we don't want our families and friends to think that we are insensitive?

I agree that flaunting of one's wealth is never the right thing to do (regardless of good or bad times) but there's no way you can control what goes on in the minds of others. People can think bad of you whether or not you are actually guilty of why give a fark what others think?

In recent times, I've been made to feel bad about my trips. I do not usually volunteer information of my travels unless people ask for them...and I'm even more reluctant to share these days. But when people do ask and I tell them what I have been up to, their responses often make me feel kinda embarrassed and guilty....which I realised after awhile that it is totally ridiculous. Why should I feel bad about it at all??!! It sucks that my friends can't travel as much as I do but it's no fault of mine!!!

Sure travelling usually cost quite some $$ but to put it in better perspective, travelling is my ONLY luxury as I do not spend on clothes, makeup, spas, jewellery, gadgets, expensive bags, shoes and eating out at expensive places like others do. So if some people choose to spend their limited financial resources in other things apart from travel, that's their choice to make. If I do not judge them for their choices, why should they judge me?

Moreover, I always make it a point to travel on a budget by researching on the cheapest airfares, accommodations and it also helps that I'm not a big shopper on my overseas trips (why am I even justifying myself here?!!).

So what the heck...people can think/say whatever they want and live their sad miserable lives for all I care. I only live once and I choose to do whatever that pleases me.

This blog aims to help those who are planning their trips but if you think that I'm flaunting my travel experiences...please fark off!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Day 8: Port Macquarie to Byron Bay

8 DEC 2008, MONDAY

Today's weather was sucky. It started drizzling very early in the morning. We had to borrow an umbrella from the hotel just so to get to our car which was parked in the open public carpark. In case you don't know...I'm a fair-weather gal...and I totally hate rainy days! I know I was definitely in need of a good strong cup of coffee and a hearty breakfast to get me out of my pissy mood. As all the nearby eateries weren't opened, we decided to drive around to look for some hot food.

As we headed north, we saw numerous new property developments along the way. The houses all looked gleamingly fresh as if right out of the pages of some beautiful home magazines. Then I recalled seeing many real estate advertisements pasted on the walls along the sidewalks when we were out for dinner last night. It's indeed a very charming town so it ain't surprising that there's a good demand for residential properties in Port Macquarie...hell, even I am tempted to check out the properties there if I can afford it.

Unfortunately for us, the only breakfast that we could find was from MacDonalds. We decided on takeaway as the sky was getting darker by the minute. By the time we got back to the hotel, the drizzle had turned into a downpour. Can't say we weren't disappointed as we had hoped to explore Port Macquarie a little more since we didn't have much time to do so last night.

Despite the downpour, we had to continue on our journey to Byron Bay. The rain kept coming and going when we were on the road. One minute it seemed like the sky was finally clearing up...but the next minute further up along the highway, the raindrops came beating down again on the car.

After passing Kempsey, we saw some signs for Fredo Pies...claiming that the cafe sells over 50 different types of pies. We decided to check out the pie shop that was located in Frederickton as RG is a pie fan. There were 2 Marilyn Monroe statues being displayed at the front of the shop. And as we entered the pie shop, we saw several huge glass shelves spanning across the entire shop...proudly displaying the entire range of pies. We were totally in awe! It took us awhile to decide what pies to go for as we were totally spoilt for choice. And we picked the sausage mini rolls and crocodile pies. Well, the sausage rolls were more like minced meat rolls whereas the crocodile meat tasted kind of like chicken really.

Poor Marilyn Monroe getting wet in the heavy downpour.

The top right hand corner one is the crocodile pie. To tell the truth, I felt funny eating it 'cos I've a phobia of crocodiles and reptiles.

We were stuck at the cafe for awhile 'cos the rain was too heavy for us to get to the car which was parked a distance away. Seeing that we were stranded, the pie shop owner told his staff to find an umbrella for us. He returned with a sun umbrella so huge that he could shelter all 3 of us to the car. It was such a nice gesture and we were most grateful.

As we were nearing Urunga, the rain suddenly stopped and the sun came out. We were overjoyed and took that as a sign that we should drop by Belligen and Dorrigo as we had skipped them on our way to Sydney due to the lack of time. We were running low on fuel, so we pulled up at a strange looking gas station which looked more like a fruit market. We ended up buying both gas and some lychees.

As we pulled away from the gas station, it started to rain again to our great disappointment. We weren't sure whether or not to proceed to Dorrigo National Park as the rain was quite we decided to stop over at the Dorrigo Information Centre to request for information. The friendly staff at the info centre told us that it might still be worth a visit as the skies might clear up in the late afternoon. Just outside the info centre, we saw a big wall mosaic which looked absolutely colorful and captivating!

The skies hadn't cleared up by the time we reached Dorrigo Rainforest Centre. So we decided to grab some lunch at the Canopy Cafe which overlooked the rainforest. We ordered some hot broth and coffees 'cos we were both feeling cold and miserable having being caught in the rain earlier. The broth was just what we needed 'cos the spices and the hot comforting soup warmed us up immediately. We took our time to eat our lunch and by the time we were done, the heavy downpour had trickled down to a slight drizzle. What perfect timing!

The entire rainforest was still misty after the rain but it smelt so nice as if fresh out of a good shower. The birds that were in hidding earlier were starting to fly around from tree to tree, chirping their happy tunes.

Below was the boardwalk engulfed in mist...making it looked quite enchanting.

The plants were looking incredibly fresh after the rain.

There was this big field right outside Dorrigo Rainforest Centre and there were many black cows grazing there. I had wanted a closer snapshot of the cows so I approached the fence gently. But the minute the cows saw me approaching...they all stood up and started to snarl at me. Even though there was a fence between me and the cows, I was still scared that they were going to charge at me. I wondered if it was because I was wearing a bright red cardigan? Damn the cows sure looked I quickly snapped and left.

As we headed back to Belligen from the rainforest centre, we caught sight of the pretty roadside waterfall called Newell Falls.

Bellingen is a very small quaint town. I was told that the residents were mostly in the creative fields i.e. artists, writers, musicians. The main shopping streets were an eclectic mix of craft shops, galleries, homewares and clothings. I especially like the Hammond & Wheatley Emporium which was housed in a century old building. The things in the emporium were more high-end clothings, housewares and jewellery. Even though I couldn't afford to buy anything, I still had a great time browsing through all the products.

The below photo was taken from the second floor of the emporium.

And situated on the outskirt of Belligen, we found this place called The Old Butter Factory. Well no, you can't buy butter from there....the 100yr old factory has since been converted to an art gallery that sells all kinds of original crafts like paintings, photography, pottery, ceramics, furniture, jewellery etc.

It was getting late when we left Belligen and we had another 4+hr drive ahead of us. We aimed to get to Byron Bay before sunset so we drove non-stop for the rest of the journey.

By the time we reached our hotel - Wollongbar at Byron Bay, it was already 7pm and the reception was closed. We panicked cause we didn't want to end up having to sleep in the car as we were aware that most of the accommodations were fully booked on that day. Luckily, there was an after-office hour telephone that we could call...and we were told over the phone that a room had already been reserved for us and the key could be found under the door mat. The room was pretty decent at a price of A$145 inclusive of breakfast. It definitely wasn't fancy but it had a certain laidback hippie feel to it. My only grouse was that there were a couple of mossies which got into the room through the door gaps.