Tuesday 20th December, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Ahhh... Brisbane. What a beautiful city!
Maria and I were sad to leave tropical North Queensland. After a slow drive back from Cape Tribulation to Cairns, we dropped off our rental car at Cairns Cruising Car Rental and flagged down a passing taxi to take us to the airport. We arrived back in Brisbane on Sunday night at 10:00pm and were met at the airport by my friends Eddie and Julie. It was in Eddie and Julie's comfortable Hamilton apartment that I spent four months in early 2003, while I was putting together The Savage Files Project and waiting for my car to sell so I could start my big adventure. I guess they reckoned if they could put up with me for four months then, they could survive having me stay for a few days on this visit.
The last couple of days in Brisbane are a bit of a jumble in my short term memory. My brother Terry kindly lent us his car again, in spite of what happened last time, and Maria and I have been exploring Brisbane, wining and dining and catching up with old friends of mine; sorting out a few official bits and pieces like renewing my International Drivers Permit, and organizing the distribution of the (finally completed!) Spanish Cookbook, "Running With The Bulls". To those of you who have placed orders, your books are right now on their way. I'm sorry you won't receive them by Christmas. Really, I did everything I could.
Even without the humidity of Cairns and North Queensland, the weather in Brisbane has still been scorching. In fact, this Christmas season is predicted to be the hottest on record for at least eighty years. The middle of the day is too hot, and the sun's harmful UV rays are too strong (Australia has far less Ozone protection than you'd find in the Northern Hemisphere) for much outdoor activity. After recently having a fourth mole removed from my back, I try to follow the advice of my specialist, and protect myself from the sun wherever possible. That's why you'll often see me in this very stylish straw hat that I picked up in Morocco. Sometimes, such as when Maria and I went snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, it ain't easy to stay covered up, but I do try. So we got up early this morning and caught the Citycat ferry, winding our way past the sparkling skyline of the CBD and under the landmark Story Bridge to Southbank Parklands for a swim in their lagoon.
Southbank has been built on the huge tract of land that was used for the World Expo in 1988. Locals and visitors alike jog, cycle, rollerblade and stroll through these parklands all day, lured by the greenery, the cafes, the shopping... and the two thousand square metre lagoon! Nearly half of the lagoon area sits on reclaimed land that was once the Brisbane River.The four thousand cubic metres of sand surrounding the beach is sourced from Rous Channel in Moreton Bay. Every year the beach is topped up with an additional 70 tonnes of sand to ensure that it is kept in pristine condition, and to replace the sand that the five million visitors inadvertently talke home in their swimming shorts. The beach area comprises a lagoon with enough water to fill five Olympic swimming pools, with sand beaches, palm trees, rocky creeks and subtropical trees and exotic plantings, and the beach is patrolled seven days a week by lifeguards.
Click on the smaller pics above for full size photos.
Southbank has always had its critics, and I've even met some tourists who laugh at our attempt to build an artificial sandy beach in the middle of our city. But I've always been fond of the place. How many cities around the world have a huge, immaculately maintained free swimming pool in the middle of the city, with lush landscaped gardens and even free barbecues for you to use? Okay, Cairns is one.... but you name a third one. There's not many, I can tell you.
The restaurants and cafes in Southbank have always been overpriced, a result of the presumably exhorbitant rents they pay for such a prestigious position. So Maria and I walked across the bridge into the city centre, where we found a restaurant that served a full cooked breakfast for six or seven bucks. That's Australian dollars, multiply by 75% for US dollars, 60% for Euros, or 40% for British pounds. Or else just take my word for it that the breakfast was great value.
But that wasn't our most memorable dining experience in Brisbane over the last few days. This evening, Maria and I took Eddie and Julie to Brisbane's only authentic Spanish Tapas Bar to learn a little about Spanish food. And no, don't ask... there will be no tacos!
Click on any of the small pics below to view the full size photographs.
The Spanish Tapas Bar on Brunswick Street in Fortitude Valley opened three years ago, just before I left Australia. The owner, Manolo, is from Santander in the north of Spain. To me, that always means something. I think I'd be a little hesitant about a Spanish restaurant run by non-Spanish. We four chose an outside table and browsed the menu while sipping a nice smooth Spanish red, in fact one of the very same wines that Maria and I often order in Madrid. On offer there was of course the ubiquitous paella, and a choice of different combination platters, but in the end we decided to just order a large variety of the different tapas. That was the best and most economical way for Eddie and Julie to sample a range of our Spanish favourites, and the menu was representative of just about the full range of Spanish tapas.
Eddie and Julie were quite comfortable handing the ordering duties over to me, except for the proviso that they at least wanted to try one prawn dish. Maria added a couple of suggestions, and with my best Spanish accent, I ordered:
* Gambas con salsa y jerez- prawns in a tomato and garlic sauce with sherry
* Jamon Serrano- pronounced 'hamon'- cured Spanish leg ham served on a piece of chewy ciabata bread
* Empanadillas de chorizo- small pastry pockets filled with chorizo, which is a spicy Spanish pork sausage
* Chorizo frito con vino- fried chorizo in red wine, because too much chorizo is never enough
* Croquettas de pollo- chicken croquettes
* Pimientos Rellenos- small peppers stuffed with mmm.. what was it, bechamel?
* Patatas Bravas- one of the most common tapas in Spain, simple fried potato chunks, but with a special Brava sauce
* Tortilla, of course, but this one with tasty Manchego cheese, and I suspected a hint of dill
* Stuffed eggs with salmon (I can't remember the name in Spanish)
* Aceitunas- green olives
The olives were a great way to start. They were huge; fat and juicy and full of flavour. The stuffed eggs were also delicious, although I was only left a morsel after my three companions took a share. The prawns went down a treat with all but myself, not an avid seafood eater. Surprisingly, the jamon was probably my favourite, sliced wafer thin as is the Spanish tradition. It was tasty but not too greasy or gamey tasting as Spanish ham can sometimes be. I love chorizo, so of course I enjoyed the empanadillas and defintiely made sure I got my share of the tasty fried chorizo pieces.
And I'm a sucker for a good croquetta. They can be made with fillings of fish, chicken, pork, cheese, or just a doughy white bechamel. The chicken croquettas were my other favourite for the night!
Afterwards we were offered a range of Spanish turrones for dessert, but Maria and I had brough twenty-five turrones from Spain as Christmas gifts for friends and family, and made sure we had a few spare for ourselves. So instead, we ordered a couple of serves of leche frito (literally fried milk) for dessert. The leche frita came as two slices of slightly chewy, almost gooey dairy dessert. It was flavoured with a touch of cinnamon and drizzled with a sweet syrup and some chocolate sauce. Initially I said I would just have a taste of Maria's serving, but in the end I reckon I ate more than half. A perfect accompaniment to a strong coffee, it was delicious!
Before I sign off, I want to let any Brisbane readers know about a promotion that the Spanish Tapas Bar has every Monday night. In true Spanish tradition, they provide free tapas for patrons at the bar. What a great way to try some authentic Spanish dishes just for the price of a couple of beers. But don't ask Manolo why they don't serve buritos, cause that's a whole 'nother country!
It was nice to have some Spanish food in Australia, but I have been enjoying Australian food so much that I hadn't really missed Spanish at all. If I had to choose any food it would definetely be pies, cakes, cookies and crisps. Haha, did I forget any? I reckon I have a sweet tooth. But actually I'm lucky I'm not fussy at all so I can eat nearly anything. It is funny to see Steve's disgusted face when I eat seafood or snails or any other delicacy he finds revolting. He is threatening me with hiding all the packets of biscuits if I don't mention that I also eat lobsters head. So you all know by now and I must say they are delicious.
My latest discovery has been ginger beer and I have actually found the diet version. Although I don't know why I bother drinking diet soft drinks after eating a whole packet of crisps and a packet of Tim Tam (another discovery). But I guess calories compensate, don't they? And what can I say about Vegemite? I must be the only non-Australian who can eat, or so I've been told.