brisbane - Where's Byrne?


16.05.2012 – 19.05.2012 Sunny 19°C

We arrived in Brisbane after a three-hour Greyhound ride that included a stop at the Matilda Roadhouse. We exited the Transit Centre and set off to find a hostel. On a map we picked up there were a cluster on Upper Roma Street, we found Cloud 9 backpackers, but I wish we hadn’t.

We saw Cloud 9 had dorm beds for $17 a night on a blackboard outside although the cheapest they had for us was $21. Unfortunately, we paid before seeing the room. Judging by the kitchen, I didn’t expect it to be a palace but wasn’t ready for what I found, it was shocking. The two beds in the sixteen bed dorm room allocated to us were disgusting.

Brisbane Roar vs Beijing Guaon. Looking on Brisbane’s tourist website, I noticed Brisbane Roar were playing in the Asian Champions League and with tickets at just $22 on general sale, I thought I’d have some of that.

Coincidently, the Suncorp Stadium was just up the road from our hostel, which was convenient. It’s a nice stadium too, holding around 50,000 fans. You could tell by the attendance of just over 5,000 though that football, or soccer, as they call it, is not their main sport.

The game was pretty dire. Brisbane had a host of chances in the first half but their forward was unable to put them away. They did score though and being 1-0 up, they took their foot off the gas and invited Beijing Guaon on to them. Mistake, as their right-winger stuck a thunderbolt into the top corner. 1-1. That was as good as it got and it finished a score draw. Verdict: Brisbane Roar are a poor team, I didn’t realise how low the standard of football was in Australia until this game, they looked a League 2 team, at best. Beijing Guaon were like a pub team but I don’t regret going.

After the game we went back to our lovely hostel for a nights sleep but it was disrupted by a guy snoring his head off and the temperature in the room being arctic.

Next day we went to the Transit Centre to book the XXXX Brewery Tour, as I’d noticed on the way out the day before, the price was cheaper than booking direct on their website.

XXXX Brewery Tour. The XXXX brewery tour was something I had wanted to do last time I was in Brisbane but didn’t have the time, I wasn’t going to miss it twice. $25 per person on the website but $21 each in the transit centre, booking through a travel agent. With $42 handed over we walked up the hill on Roma Street and back down to the XXXX plant. Signed in, bag in locker, vizvest on and protective glasses in hand, the tour began.

The guy leading, Michael, was excellent. He’d only been working there for a year or so but was very knowledgeable and put himself across well, although his jokes were lost on the three Germans and two Americans accompanying us.

It began with a video which explained the history of beer, including how it was found by accident, the development and growth and even the origins of some well-known sayings like ‘getting off Scott free’. Back in days of old in England, there was a tax on beer, called ‘the Scott’ and Londoners used to go out to the home counties to drink and buy their beer to avoid the tax, hence, ‘getting off Scott free’. Another modern-day term derived from beer is probably booze, the Egyptians called beer ‘booza’. Folks from past centuries also used beer as currency and used to pay their workers with beer, but back then beer was known as ‘cash’, which is probably where the term for money comes from. Informative ah?!

The tour itself began walking around the huge gas bottles they use to power the plant. They used to use coal but being energy efficient and all that, scrapped it years ago, they had to keep the coal part of the building though as it’s listed and XXXX can’t make any significant changes to it.

Next was a walk through various rooms explaining the process and what they do to and when they add the Wheat, Barley, Hops, Yeast, Sugar and Water (not in that order) which was well done.

After that is was a visit to the actual factory where the huge vats lived that made the beer, all well explained. Next to this was the lab where lucky employees get to test and taste the beer for quality control.

Following this was a walk through the packaging part, which was most impressive, watching bottles being labelled, shrink wrapped and then boxed, all by automation.

The last part was a museum and another video displaying XXXX’s rich heritage. XXXX got its name from the grading by monks. Apparently, one X beer was crap, two XX beer was decent and three XXX beer was good stuff. Castlemaine then brought out four XXXX to show its superiority and how good it was.

After the tour there is a bar where you can try four beers each, which was more than enough. If you chose carefully, the beer would be the price of your ticket so the tour is free. By this point I was hungry so I ordered a Kangaroo Kebab and B had Damper and Dips. The kebab was amazing, I’ve never had Kangaroo before and it is very good. The Damper was basically Stottie Bread with three rough-looking slaw dips.

Verdict: This was a great few hours which I enjoyed. XXXX Xecuted the tour perfectly.

After the brewery tour we went on the…

Brisbane Ghost Tour. We saw a ghost tour advertised on Brisbane’s tourist website and after I missed one in Sydney five years ago and with B being interested, thought we’d check it out. It wasn’t easy to book. We couldn’t find a tour agency that handled their bookings and found no information on whether you could just turn up so reluctantly booked through their website, as they recommend. This was a pain in the arse, not only is the website crap, opening countless pages as you navigate, it insists on details I didn’t have, like an Aus address. To put the icing on the cake they charge a $3.50 booking fee too. Not a good start.

We arrived at 7:15 outside the Visitors Information Centre in Queen Street, just as instructed by the confirmation email and made ourselves known to the creepy guide who was hosting the tour. He was odd, I didn’t expect him to stay in character from the first word I said but he did and was good at it, rolling his head and eyes in a mad sort of way and pronouncing his words with long after tones. He was dressed in a waistcoat, blazer with long fingernails, silver rings and bowler hat and a pony tail that was plaited down to his arse. I’m sure it was real too. His handlebar moustache, long goatee beard and the oil lamp he was carrying completed the look.

The tour was busy, there were at least twenty of us so it was lucky he had an assistant to help him, or not. A large woman in a black dress covered in black make-up aided him but not to great success. It started with a walk to the Brisbane Arcade which the woman took control of. It wasn’t great. I was struggling to hear her, she wasn’t as convincing as the guy and Adele playing in the background took any scary ambience away from what she did try to create.

On to site number two, City Hall, the guy handled this and did a good job explaining his stories and tales in a scary way, although I was disappointed we were on site two of seven and we hadn’t been inside anywhere creepy yet.

Site three was outside a casino in Queen Street which the woman droned on about, this was probably the worse story, saying she was ‘surprised’ that a bloke on the tour didn’t see the ghostly couple that haunt a roulette table in the casino as the croupiers see them on a regular basis. Quite. Back on route she said ‘if you’re a single man, don’t stay in room 323′  (of the casino’s hotel) but didn’t elaborate.

Site four was the plot of land the old court is built on, again the guy did a good job getting his stories across but it was getting a little repetitive, and we still hadn’t been inside anywhere scary yet.

Five was Pancake House, a pancake shop in an old church. The woman took care of this and again it was poor. She told of a little boy who used to ring the bells for the old clergyman every Sunday but who died falling down the stairs only being found the following Thursday. She went on to explain about the legend of knocking three times on the front door, to which you would hear the boy running down the stairs. She asked if anyone would like to try and a backward bloke/stooge piped up, knocked, and said he DID hear him. A normal girl had a go and unsurprisingly she didn’t hear anything. As we left the woman said if you return and try to knock yourself, beware the boy arriving at the door.

Number six was the Brisbane Registry Office, and a story told by the bloke of a printing press about the Devil in Brisbane. Above the doors to the building is a stone Devils face, legend tells that you, you must remove your wedding ring upon entering the building as those within the printers gild were said to be married to the Devil, and he got jealous. The story told of an apprentice who decided to climb inside the printing machine to investigate the weird noises, when suddenly, despite the machine not being connected to the steam that generated the power, it roared into action. All they found was his skull, and his hand with his wedding ring intact…

The last was Parliament House and how a ghost walks the hallways, ripping down modern art as it’s not to his taste. I was bored by this point and wasn’t listening properly.

The tour was $30 each (£20), which is over-priced for what it is. It’s well organised, factual and informative, sprinkled with dates and stats and they do go to good lengths but I couldn’t help feeling a little ripped off. I’d suggest either reducing the ticket price, reducing the amount of people on the tour so it becomes more intimate and interactive and/or getting rid of the woman. It’s not her fault her voice doesn’t carry as well as the blokes but she was nowhere near as good as him anyway. Verdict: For a couple of hours fun and entertainment it’s OK, but don’t expect anything spook-tacular.

The second nights sleep in Cloud 9 was even worse than the first, I had only been in bed for an hour when B got down from her top bunk and asked me to look at her back because she was itching… She was covered in bedbug bites, and I mean covered. We were moved to a four bed dorm for the eight hours we had left before we were due to checkout and in the morning were given a free cycle on the tumble dryer to kill any bugs that potentially were in them.

I thought I would give them the benefit of the doubt and asked to stay in the four bed dorm for one more night before we were due to travel to Surfers Paradise, paying the $21 rate of the sixteen bed room rather than the $23 rate of the four bed room. I was made to wait two hours until the ‘manager’ appeared, who couldn’t manage her way out of a paper-bag and was then asked to leave after I questioned why she had to ‘conduct an investigation’ because ‘there are many things in Australia that bite’.

We checked out and into a ten bed dorm next-door at Chill for $30 each, (but were upgraded to a five bed room because they had sold our beds twice), forgot about that hell hole, and planned our last day in Brisbane.

Brisbane City Tour. B and I noticed the Brisbane Information Centre offered a free city tour, and not wanting to miss anything, we went along for one. 12pm daily was the departure time and we were in a group of six, with a German couple, a French woman and a Chinese woman. The Aussie woman giving the tour certainly knew her stuff and although a little eccentric at times, made the tour. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as good with anyone else.

She took us through most of the sites we saw the night before on the ghost tour and told us stories that intertwined proving the legends our creepy ghost host told us, were real legends and not some old shit he and his mates knocked up at ghost tours HQ. She also told us a stack load of other interesting facts and stories and both myself and B were very impressed, especially as it was free. Again, most of her jokes and puns were lost on the rest of the group which endeared us to her more I think.

We covered (not in this order) Brisbane Arcade, Queen Street, the Treasury Casino, the City Library, the Brisbane Registry Office (formerly the Brisbane Printing Press), Old Government House, Parliament House, Queensland University of Technology, the Botanic Gardens, Millers Park, City Hall, King George Square, Brisbane Square, and many more. Verdict: For free, this was brilliant. They could charge and make a success of it. The tour only lasted just over an hour, walking at a fair pace, but that was enough really. I learnt loads and was generally interested. Being British, every piece of history had something to do with us which made it all the more fascinating. If you’re in Brisbane, if you’re British, do not miss this!

After the city tour we walked across the bridge to the South Bank, which was very impressive. Walking along the river from the State Library, past the Museum and Performing Arts Centre, past Bribane’s ‘London Eye’, and on to the big green open spaces. There’s loads of cafes and restaurants, barbecues, parks, a lagoon and walking trails. It’s a real family atmosphere, joggers, mums and prams, dog walkers, tourists and vendors all do their stuff around there and it makes for a great place for coffee and people watching. We had a great afternoon.

The sun was setting so we headed back to Chill’s and had vegetable kebabs (with a Chorizo) and nachos, bought from Cole’s and watched films.

I’ve been so impressed with Brisbane I could live there, it’s my favourite place of Australia so far. Last time I was there I was too pissed up to realise what a nice place it is. I don’t agree with many other travellers that there is nothing to do either. There’s everything what B and I did plus the Botanic Gardens (feeding the Possums at dusk), Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, The Valley for drinks, partying and restaurants, Chinatown, the Seacat river taxi, bowling, the Cinema, Theatre performances, three museums, high tea at one of Brisbane’s five-star hotels, shopping, the mountain lookout and loads more. Go to the Tourist Information Centre on Queens Street to have a nose. Next up, Surfers Paradise.

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