We’ve experienced some long flights on our travels, but Los Angeles to Brisbane is a whopper. It’s a good thing that Angela packs a plethora of snacks in her carry-on bag. Just one of her many travel tricks.
The length of the flight is exacerbated by moving east to west across the International Date Line, so we decided to spend several nights in Brisbane to recover from jet lag and adjust our internal calendars. As it turns out, we couldn’t have picked a better city for our introduction to Australia.
Brisbane, called “Brizzie” by the locals, has a population of just over 2 million. It’s big enough to be interesting, eclectic, and vibrant, yet small enough to feel cozy, welcoming, and safe. Through a mixture of natural geography, progressive urban design, and inherent Aussie hospitality, Brisbane quickly jumped onto our list of possible future homes. Then, over the course of the next few days, it became one of the frontrunners.
The sun rises alarmingly early in the Southern Hemisphere during the spring months, and we began every morning in Brisbane at 5 a.m. Not traditionally early risers, we applauded ourselves for leaving our chic Airbnb at The Story Apartments before 7 a.m. each day and found The Medley Cafe to be the perfect place for breakfast along the river walk.
Medley’s international menu included Shakshuka (Angela’s favorite: free range baked eggs, North African spiced piperade, lamb kofta, and mint yogurt) and The Stockman (my favorite: eggs, free-range chorizo, roasted potatoes with feta, charred pineapple, and tomato relish served with toasted sourdough), which we enjoyed with giant cups of strong tea (because 5 a.m.).
Brizzie is built along the banks of the Brisbane River that twists and turns its way through the city, effectively creating a network of boroughs and suburbs, each boasting its own distinct personality. That network stays connected in the most ingenious way: through a free ferry service that hops from bank to bank all along the length of the city and, for a very small fee, to points in the outer suburbs. Angela and I were able to see the entire city for zero dollars simply by using the ferry system and then walking to our destination.
Brisbane’s walkability means you get to experience it at a slow pace, often coming upon wonderful surprises that seldom make the regular travel guides. We set out to see the cultural wealth of the city in its many museums and art exhibits and, along the way, stumbled upon such treasures as Streets Beach, a public swimming pool complete with real sand beaches and Picnic Island, accessible only by a shallow wade through the crystal clear water.
Close by, we found The Arbour, an arched greenway that winds through the Griffith University campus and past a stunning open-air theatre, eventually spilling into the South Brisbane War Memorial Park, a lush destination in its own right.
At the same ferry stop we found the Epicurious Garden, a community picking garden that is as beautiful as it is delicious. A variety of herbs, greens, and fruits are available for free through this city-sponsored program. And, true to the international spirit of Brisbane, there is a massive statue of Confucius overlooking the agricultural bounty.
The Epicurious Garden sealed the deal for Angela, who inherited her green thumb from her mother. Food is love, and we saw the community garden as an expression of the social contract between the city and its citizens. Any city that provides community gardens, ample cultural and art opportunities, and an overt respect for its residents through nutrition and education programs is a city we can appreciate.
Across the river, the Brisbane Botanic Gardens were another of the city’s jewels. This 130-acre oasis in the middle of downtown featured a bamboo grove, Japanese garden and bonsai house, an herb garden, and loads of native Australian plants and palms.
After touring the botanic gardens, we had a snack at Mr Edward’s Alehouse and Kitchen. We had a delectable cheese plate from their extensive charcuterie menu and several good Australian beers from their rotating tap list. With free wifi and a lovely outdoor seating area, it’s a good place to plan an afternoon stop when you’re touring the city.
Another of our favorite Brisbane eateries was Brew Cafe & Wine Bar. Located down a slightly sketchy-looking alley in the central business district, it was a welcome respite from the throngs of people shopping and sightseeing and generally being chaotic in that part of town. Angela enjoyed smashed avocado toast with pumpkin hummus, while I went for the Signature Brew Burger. Table numbers at Brew were eschewed in favor of classic album jackets, which was a nice touch.
There was so much more we wanted to explore, and given enough time, Brisbane is a city we could call home. However, for this adventure, the ocean was calling! It was time to head to Cairns, where we would set sail on a liveaboard to dive the Great Barrier Reef.
Today’s expat evaluation: +1 for free public transportation, +1 for clean sidewalks in a walkable city, +1 for public gardens, +1 for public museums and libraries, +1 for well-maintained public recreation areas, +1 for great dining and pubs, +1 for coastal access