A land where the trains always run on subjective time. Stories and reflections by Fred Warren.

Brisbane – Last Words — August 22, 2015

Brisbane – Last Words

A local on his way to work.

I need to wrap up some final observations from my trip to Brisbane this summer. When I travel to a new place, and I think most people do this, I notice the big things first. Landmarks, architecture, climate, natural beauty, ease of movement, and the “feel” of the culture. Next come little details, small things that stick out without being that important in and of themselves. Only later, if I’ve had the good fortune to hang around for a while (or visit repeatedly), do I start to process all the stuff in-between that truly defines a place.

I talked about the big things earlier. Here are some of the small ones:

Roof coverings were either corrugated steel or clay tile. I didn’t see any composite shingles in the neighborhoods we drove through in and around Brisbane. Perhaps shingles don’t hold up in the local climate. Not sure.

Like Kansas City, the little shops specializing in local sports team swag overflowed with customers on game days.

St. John’s

Lots of churches, even in the downtown precincts. Mostly Catholic and Anglican, quite a few Baptist and a smattering of non-denoms. Everything from massive cathedrals to little storefront churches. St. John’s, the breathtaking red sandstone Anglican cathedral in the center of town, was founded in the mid-1800’s and isn’t quite finished yet. The stained-glass windows and architectural trim have evolved along with the city.

There was a little red and white “Emirates” banner atop the high-rise-under-construction across from my hotel.

School uniforms in Australia often include hats for both guys and gals. I thought they looked pretty cool, a more refined take on the classic broad-brimmed Aussie bush hat, but the students might disagree.

Coffee. Yum.

Coffee in Brisbane is very good indeed. Smooth and full-flavored. My latte was served up in a tall glass tumbler with a head of foam that your average beer would envy.

Brisbane has one of those giant ferris wheels, similar to the London Eye, that are de rigeur for world cities these days. My hotel room offered a higher vantage point, so I didn’t take a spin. Besides, it’s not the sort of ride you take solo.

The old Treasury, now a casino.

Old historical buildings, the massive ones built from stone which probably would have been permanently enshrined as museums in the States, were re purposed in Brisbane, often into retail space.

Crosswalk signs feature a pair of disembodied feet that look like they’re in a hurry to get somewhere. A bit more whimsical than our angular stick-figure guy.

The riverwalk is a popular biking destination, for obvious reasons.

There’s a network of bicycle rental kiosks across the Central Business District, but I saw maybe two or three rental bikes in use over the couple of weeks I was there. Our shuttle driver said they were a failed “bright idea” from one of the city’s controversial politicians, and their upkeep cost eclipsed any revenue they generated. There were, however, plenty of folks out riding their own bikes.

statue_garden_brisbaneAny regrets about this trip? Very few. I wish I’d had the chance to venture over to the coast, or further inland. I’d also hoped to see more of Australia’s iconic wildlife. I didn’t catch a glimpse of any marsupials, though some of my colleagues saw some wallabies bouncing along near our worksite. I heard a rumor of a dingo prowling about the barracks late at night. A few folks who arrived earlier traveled to a nearby nature park and cuddled some koalas. One even extended his stay and did some scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef. Kookaburras I did see, and lorikeets in profusion. I even came upon a treeful of roosting cockatoos on one midnight stroll.

So for now, I’ll say farewell to Brisbane, the girl who squints and has freckles in the best of all possible ways. With any luck, I’ll come back again, sooner than later.

Brisbane – First Look — July 22, 2015

Brisbane – First Look

Entrance to Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and my first impression of Brisbane was very good indeed. It may have helped that I was a little punchy after 15 hours in the air, plus a 3-hour layover in Los Angeles enroute to Australia. It might have been that second cup of coffee right before landing. It might even have been the adrenaline rush of finding myself in a place absolutely new to me. Whatever the extenuating circumstances, I liked it immediately.

Traffic was light riding in from the airport at about 8 a.m. Brisbane time, temperature was about 72 degrees F, with a light breeze and sunny skies. My employer mercifully granted us our first day in-country to re-synch our internal clocks and settle in, so I had time for a little exploring before my body remembered it had been mostly awake for over 24 hours and crashed me.

BrisbaneHaving done a bit of what the Army calls “route recon” before the trip, I knew my hotel adjoined Brisbane’s Riverwalk, which provided a nice straight-line path to the Botanic Gardens, about a 15-minute walk. Seemed as good a destination as any to begin with, so I tossed my bags in the hotel room, pausing a moment to gasp at the magnificent view of the river and downtown (see the previous post), and set off.

As you can see from the map here, central Brisbane is dominated by the Brisbane River. The city is in some ways defined by it. The s-shaped curve of the waterway sets limits on how traffic can move about the city and where things can be built. It favors vertical rather than horizontal expansion. A network of public ferries, including a fleet of sleek, modern catamarans, zigzag up and down the river, connecting the north and south banks. The Riverwalk hugs the river on both sides and is a magnet for pedestrians, joggers, bikers, and skateboarders.  Does everybody in Brisbane enjoy a vigorous daily workout? Probably not, but the steady stream of well-toned athletes who passed me on the Riverwalk offered convincing evidence that this wasn’t a city of couch potatoes.

story_bridgeStory Bridge is a major point of interest on the river, an impressive sight by day and lit by an array of lights at night that seem to vary in color depending upon which local sports team has a game on. The adventuresome tourist can even book a guided expedition along the bridge’s maintenance catwalks to the top of the span, but that particular attraction was beyond the limits of my time and budget for this trip. Perhaps next time. Or not.

As for the Botanic Gardens, a fixture in this town since its early history, it was every bit as expansive and beautiful as I’d hoped. Even in the Australian mid-winter, it was lush and green, dotted with tropical flowers, palm trees, ponds, and fountains.


There were dark, thick, mysterious groves of bamboo and the occasional bit of sculpture hidden in a quiet refuge off the main pathways. Birds were abundant—rainbow-dipped lorikeets, ibises, ducks, ravens, and even the occasional brush turkey, a bit smaller and leaner than our American Thanksgiving fixture, but clearly part of the same family.


My energy lasted longer than I expected, and I completed a loop of the central district, crossing a footbridge over the river and passing through the water park and museum campus arrayed along the south bank. I spent more time there on the last day of my visit, so I’ll talk about that in a later post.

Brisbane Calling — July 19, 2015

Brisbane Calling

BrisbaneMy work has taken me to Australia, of all places, for the past couple of weeks. As usual with these trips, I try not to talk much about where I’m going and what I’m doing, except to close friends and family, because there’s a certain amount of sensitivity and necessary security involved. It’s simply prudent to not go about broadcasting the fact that you’re working on a multinational military exercise in Country XYZ these days, at least not until it’s all over. As it turned out, this one was trumpeted across Australian mass media almost from the outset. So much for security. Ah, well…it’s the Information Age, after all.

Anyhow, this was my very first journey to The Land Down Under, so even staring down the barrel of 15 hours flight time across the Pacific, in coach, I was pumped about this trip, and Australia did not disappoint.

We stayed in Brisbane, a less-than-familiar town to your average Ugly American, who probably knows something about Sydney, what with its iconic Opera House and the 2000 Summer Olympics, and  The Rescuers Down Under; might possibly recognize Melbourne, owing to another Olympic Games held there once upon a time; but Brisbane? Brisbane lands in the bucket with that other city whose name nobody can remember because they think Sydney is the capital. To the under-informed foreign tourist (and perhaps more than a few Australians, judging from the newspapers), Brisbane is Sydney’s country-bumpkin adopted sister, never quite able to escape the glare of her step-sibling’s incandescent glory.

My mind kept returning to that egregious exchange in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where King Caspian, chatting with Lucy Pevensie, tersely dismisses the Narnian market in royal consorts—and one candidate in particular:

“Squints, and has freckles.”

“Oh, poor girl,” Lucy replies in nonjudgmental empathy, rather than dealing Caspian a sharp rap to the nose for being a shallow twit.

Caspian eventually meets and weds Sydney the incandescent daughter of a living star. Go figure.

south_beach_brisbaneBut I found Brisbane instantly charming—a vibrant, bustling community that needs apologize for nothing. Even the downtown precincts are clean and sparkly. Citizens are friendly, courteous, optimistic, and unabashedly sports-crazy. Brisbane’s big enough to have all the attractions and conveniences of a world city but hasn’t lost the common touch.

If Brisbane squints, it’s because she’s embracing her history while steadfastly focusing her vision on the horizon. If she has freckles, it’s because her people spend so much time enjoying the southern sun’s toasty radiance. Brisbane is comfortable in her own skin, and that’s a quality surpassing any superficial measure of refinement or star-quality. I like focus and freckles.

As usual, my work schedule didn’t allow much time for touristing, but I managed to see quite a lot, I think, in what time I did have. It helped that Brisbane is very pedestrian-friendly and has an excellent public transportation network of buses, trains, and ferries. Brisbane is a river city, and the ability to travel both along and across the river, in particular, can turn a long, circuitous plod into a quick jaunt.

There’s much more to say about Brisbane, and I’ll be posting it in installments rather than one enormous bite. Most good things are best enjoyed that way.

Like this delicious blueberry scone.





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