Big Question Marks

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Culture Sponges

To kick off Adrian's mid-semester break, we figured it was about time to get a little culture. The Gold Coast is beautiful and all, but we're realizing more and more that we're truly city people. And although many people call the Gold Coast a "city", we'll argue that a place without museums, an art scene, live concerts, intriguing bars and cafes (in our opinion at least), a Chinatown, or any old buildings just isn't really a city. Lucky for us, Brisbane, Queensland's capital city, is only about an hour and a half away by train. So we hopped on the train early Easter Saturday, and made a beeline for Brissie's museums and skyscrapers.

Actually, Brisbane isn't entirely new to us — we visited Brisbane 3 or 4 times on our last Australia trip, but only to visit people, dash to the airport, or run exciting errands like filing tax returns. And just the week before Easter (this year), we actually ended up in Brissie by accident, when we took a wrong turn on the highway on the way to a farmers' market with our friend Tim, and ended up downtown. But this day was our first of our real exploring — grabbing a map and soaking it all up, just like sponges.

Brisbane's CBD was totally what we were craving: oooold ornate buildings (OK, not Europe-old, but Australia-old!), stately downtown shopping malls, stores selling cufflinks and high-end men's business clothes, pedestrian streets, and people everywhere! In a flash, we'd found a camera shop selling a Canon battery charger I was having one hell of a time sourcing in Oz, Starbucks frappuccinos, and signed a petition against animal testing. We soon reached the Brisbane River, a wide ribbon of water that loops through the city centre (and can be credited with some of the flood footage you would have seen back in January). Crossing over the bridge to Southbank, the views were pretty awesome, and we tried to imagine what it was like when the river was carrying boats and pontoons swiftly out to sea...

We'd heard great things about the "21st Century: Art in the First Decade" exhibition, which was about to close at the Gallery of Modern Art (aka the GoMA). It was a totally unique exhibit, and so cool to see some work by great present-day artists, as we're usually looking back at artists from previous decades and centuries, even. We only wished we had two days to spend wandering the exhibition, which was a collection of works by present-day artists from all around the world. Highlights included a massive 'cloud' of plastic shopping bags (Pascale Marthine Tayou, Cameroon), a cardboard-box installation, a piece by exiled Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, and a performance by an "iPhone Orchestra" (seriously!). A lot of it was really interactive, like a huge table of skyscrapers made of white Lego being constantly rebuilt into new forms; Rivane Neuenschwander’s (of Brazil) I wish your wish had visitors making wishes on paper and swapping their wish for someone else's wish, which was printed on ribbon and hung on a huge wall (somehow we both ended up choosing "I wish to travel through time and space"); a postcard sending project, and all kinds of other cool concepts and ideas. And it was all free! [Sadly, I don't think we would never find an exhibit this good — and free — at the AGO in Toronto!]

We still had a few big things on the to-do list, and kept wandering. Turns out Southbank is a pretty great place to hang out — there were tons of people out at the huge park along the river, which was almost finished from the post-floods fix-up. The Southbank Markets were really cool — full of way better arts/crafts/fashion than you'd see at the Surfers Paradise night markets each week, for sure. And there were so many great spots to stop and have a snack or a beer! We were introduced to Fat Yak ale and we're big fans since...

As it got dark, we found ourselves crossing the river again, this time ending up in the Botanical Gardens, where we met an interesting fellow that gave us a good rundown of what those flood days were like, pointing out scraps of plastic bags and debris still in trees. As we started to get really hungry for dinner, we found ourselves totally lost in a part of the map that looked fairly ordinary — reminding us of our least favourite part about Australian cities: street names often change by the block and there's absolutely no grid or logic to the majority of the urban planning. We ran into a Kiwi couple in the same boat as us, and somehow found our way to Fortitude Valley, where the plan was to have a nice-ish dinner (too hungry- went for Grill'd burgers!) and check out the nightlife (Adrian was promptly turned away from a bar because he was wearing shorts!). But anyway, it was a long and eventful day where we got a good taste of Brisvegas. And little did we know, we'd be back two days later to have some Anzac Day beers — with a lot of sailors! — under the massive Storey Bridge, at the Storey Bridge Hotel. It's certainly no New York, but it'll definitely do for an urban fix while we're living down in Gold Coast!

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