Getaway with Soleil: Brisbane Part 1

               For a good chunk of my relationship with Soleil, I’ve been psyching myself up for a trip to Australia. That seems to come with the territory of dating someone from the country. However, for many Americans, Australia seems to have a unique reputation. Dangerous animals and attacks such as sharks, crocodiles, jellyfish, and snakes. Steve Irwin and his enduring legacy of conservation and love for all sorts of creatures. Mysterious loners from the outback who kidnap backpackers. A kidnapped clownfish in a dentist’s fish tank. Barbecues and accents and a general casualness mixed with the occasional bathroom spider. Australia, as a place, was one I felt both excitement and anxiety for.

               Soleil and I landed in Brisbane after a brief trip through more time zones. For most of the flight, he read Station Eleven, and I listened to a handful of albums and watched Everything Everywhere All at Once over someone’s shoulder again. I am confident in saying it’s a great movie—with or without sound. We went through customs, briefly encountering a tipsy woman who’d lost her way, and breezed through baggage claim and the security checks. Of all of the countries I’ve traveled to so far, Australia has been the most straight forward and, perhaps, easiest. Canada was more thorough in questioning me about my travel, and New Zealand takes their biosecurity very seriously. Australia, already on first impression, was laid back.

               We were picked up by Soleil’s brother (who we’ll call Lune for the sake of brevity) and taken back to his home in the suburbs of Brisbane. Compared to the traffic of Auckland, the motorway around 6pm was a breeze and all I really had to do was sit back and enjoy the banter between the brothers. I have an age gap with my siblings, and this trip has made me realize I didn’t grow up with all that familiar nipping and teasing. It’s almost like a foreign dialect to me, and it’s one I’m still learning to navigate. Especially between these two brothers, the jokes and tones indicate an intimacy beyond anything I can really compare. But that makes sense.

               I had my first Australian barbeque of lamb kebabs, which were tasty and felt like a wholesome meal after all the heavy restaurant food and alcohol. There was a bit of catching up and telling stories. Eventually, Lune’s fiancée (who we’ll call Aster) came home, and I met another new person. In the last couple years, I haven’t had many opportunities to spend extended time with people around my own age so that’s been another experience I’ve been pondering on. It’s interesting to see how, at similar stages in life, people can be doing so many different things: getting married, starting families, traveling, advancing their careers.

               On Thursday, Soleil and I had a relaxing morning. I made breakfast bowls; my time spent cooking has gone down significantly since traveling so any opportunity to enjoy this hobby is special. We went for a walk in the neighborhood on a task for Aster, and I got to see some of the local bits of Brisbane. The wildest part was this huge bush turkey chilling near a market. I’ve only seen them in the more rural parts of Colorado, but here they exist in the everyday! We checked out a toy store with a huge (and affordable) selection of Squishmallows. I didn’t pick one out (yet), but it was fun to see what Australia has in stock and what other goodies they have in stock. Since Toys R Us closed, we haven’t had many stores to fill that void in the States.

               We took the bus into “the city” and explored the Queen Street Mall. I went into my second Peter Alexander of the trip, which had some of the newer lines of pajamas, and brought a set for Soleil and a set of Vegemite sleep shorts for myself. Pending any future discoveries or an outlet, that may be the last of my pajama budget, but I’m quite pleased with the outcome. I exchanged some of my American dollars for Australian currency, amazed at the colorful plastic. Then, we peeked into a Lush so I could smell all the aromas and see what seasonal soaps they’re selling. Essentially, the mall had so many distractions and much fun to be had.

               Eventually, we ended at Embassy Bar and took advantage of a deal they had of two beers and a kilo of wings for $25. The wings were perhaps some of the best I’ve had because the sauce was good but not overly saucy, and the meat was tender and sweet. The lager I tried was pretty good, and although I’m sure I won’t have much luck getting a Bloody Mary or Michelada on this leg of the trip I’ll make do. After eating, we wandered to meet Lune and then toward South Bank to see some of the current displays for BrisFest.

               Compared to the wide span of the Brisbane River, the Truckee is more of a trickle. Tall skyscrapers jut along the banks, higher than almost anything other than casinos. The weird thing is it’s easy to forget I’m in Australia because Brisbane doesn’t look like what so many imaginations conjured, but it’s still distinct. Although I spent the first couple days eyeing corners for spiders or wary of wandering snakes, I’ve yet to see any. This place is all at once nothing and everything I imagined.

               We had drinks at The Plough Inn. Along the stairs, markers display how high floodwaters have come in and how long this building has survived. After, I darted into Happy Pops for a small treat which I devoured on the way to the bus station. By then, fairy lights had come on and the bougainvillea plants arched high along the walkway. I’m hoping I’ll have a little more time to explore these areas on future Brisbane adventures, but, for now, it was a lovely introduction.

               Aster made a delicious bolognaise for dinner and, not long after, I met another new person in one of Aster’s friends. Again, it’s an interesting time and point in my life where I can consciously think about how weird it is to have these meetings and connections (for me) after so much time in relative isolation. Perhaps this trip is the first step in many toward a newer social normal. I’ve found that having time to chat and be with other people who aren’t only my relatives is pretty great.

               On Friday, for the first time in what seems like ages, I had most of a day to myself. Soleil and Lune were off for a bachelor party, Aster was at work, and I got to exist any which way I wanted. No pressure to leave the house. No need to gear up for an adventure. No determination to fill the time with a restaurant, pretty view, or anything other than what I wanted. It turns out what I wanted was to crash on the couch with a big comforter, Rachel Hawkin’s The Wife Upstairs loaded on my Kindle, and have the occasional snack. Cuddling with two adorable kitties also probably helped. For a time, it rained heavily and this desert rat soaked up the noise. The day was cathartic in a way I can’t describe and definitely recharged my batteries in a way that was much needed.

               That night, I hung out with Aster and her friend. She made stir fry with some tasty noodles, we chatted and gossiped on a fold-out Ikea couch, and I discovered reality shows about pottery actually exist. Perhaps I was worried I wouldn’t fit in or would be weird in this new place with people I don’t really know, but they didn’t make me feel that way and I appreciate that. It was comfortable in the same way those late night whispers at sleepovers or hazy drunken confessions and compliments always are. A sense of getting to know one another, an innate understanding, and—perhaps—friendship.

               On Saturday, after a delicious breakfast sandwich, I hung out with Soleil and Lune while the other girls went out for a bachelorette party. We played board games since both brothers are big on that. As I’ve dated Soleil, I’ve become more familiar with tabletop games and it was nice to have three players for rounds of Celestia, Azul, Everdell, and Cosmic Encounters. And, hey, I could be humble but I won’t be when I say I won three out of the four games we played. Perhaps this is a hobby I can get behind.

               We listened to music, had Soleil’s spicy tacos and some cilantro lime rice for dinner, and drank a few beers and wine to go along with the comradery. The difference between hanging out with the girls versus the boys was a bit stark but, either way, I had a good time and felt included. The bonus, too, is I’m learning more about Soleil, not just backstories from his past but also how he interacts with family, how he reacts to things in person, what annoys him or makes him happy.

               Today we’ll be leaving Brisbane for a brief jaunt to the Gold Coast. While I may have only seen a sliver of Brisbane and only a bit of Australia so far, I’ll cover more ground over the next few weeks. Perhaps, then, I’ll be able to make up my mind about this country. Is it as scary as I’ve been led to believe? Or is it a place I could grow to love? We’ll have to wait and see.

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               If you would like to follow my daily adventures, please follow me on Instagram: @karleypardue (writing updates, bookstores, and more) or @karleycooks (for adventurous palates).

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