Our marathon flight from Tel Aviv to Brisbane/Australia hit the record books and goes down as the longest flight on our journey. Three legs for us Flashpackers: Tel Aviv to Frankfurt (4 hrs.), Frankfurt to Singapore (14 hrs.), Singapore to Brisbane, Australia (8 hrs).
We opted to arrive in Brisbane because we wanted to explore the state of Queensland first as the climate is tropical all year round. This enabled us to bide our time and reach the other Australian states (New South Wales, Western Australia & Victoria) during their warmest and most optimal summer months. Most countries on our Southeast Asian leg of last years journey only provided us with 30 day visas. Australia granted us a one year re-entry visa which is allowing us to stay for 3 months on our initial visit. If we wanted to stay more than 3 months, we would have to leave the country and re-enter to get another 3 months. (As long as the re-entry is within the one year allotted timeframe). Australia is such a large country and in order to cover the numerous highlights at a relaxed pace, the initial three months will really not be sufficient.
As much as we absolutely loved Israel, it was not until we arrived in Australia that I first began to realize the true level of stress in Israel and amongst its people. Stress is in the air, its thick and you can cut it with a knife. It is unfortunate, but when you are surrounded by hostile bordering countries whose sole mission is the annihilation of the Jewish state, you too would be rightfully on edge. It’s just how Israeli’s have learned to live and they probably don’t even recognize the underlying tension as it seems as though it’s their way of life and appears second nature to them. Stress radiates off many. More so in places like Jerusalem and in the Old City than in Tel Aviv. In these areas, you got the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), The Israeli Police, The Border Police, The Yamam, right next to the Van Cortlandt Rangers, The Yasam and The Civil Guard all packing heat and ready to kick ass if you get just slightly out of line.
Heading into Israel, the airline security personnel worked us into a nervous sweat by putting us thru a barrage of questioning prior to our departure. We also experienced the same sort of questioning on our departure from Israel. After surviving the four (4) questions by the Israeli departure agents, and one of them was not, “Why is this night different from all other nights”, we were herded thru the intense security screening process. We then had to do battle to board the plane. The gate agent announced the boarding and it turned into a cavalry charge with everyone pushing and shoving to board. I could not understand why proper lines to facilitate an orderly boarding process did not exist. I have come to learn, there is no such thing as orderly lines anywhere in Israel. Just make sure that you sharpen your elbows and be prepared for self-preservation…..a city law.
I really did not realize the magnitude of the general feeling of always being on guard while traveling around Israel until I actually landed in Oz…..The land of ‘No Worries, Mate’. The moment that we arrived in Australia, we realized the stark culture/lifestyle difference. We were immediately at ease. Arrival in Australia was like one big natural Valium. A feeling of calmness came over my body. While walking the streets on our first sunny, steamy day in Brisbane, it felt like we just entered Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Everything was perfect. It was like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz walking out of Black and White and into Technicolor. It’s really going to be a piece of cake to travel around this country. Probably the easiest of our 14 months on the road, so far. I can now officially turn my brain off again as there appears to be no major dealing in Australia. If you are frightened about going overseas, Australia is the perfect place to get your feet wet. It is truly a pleasure to travel around. Just make sure you save up some frequent flier miles and secure your business class seats because Australia is not only Down Under but also on the other side of the world.
During our first leg in Australia, we are making our way up the entire coast of Queensland which is saturated with some of the finest beach towns. In order to get to the numerous happening spots along the coast on our own schedule, we had to rent a car and you know what that means in Australia? They drive on the wrong side of the road and it ain’t no joke getting adjusted to this. You gotta really pay attention staying in the proper lane or it’s game over for you, Mate. To make matters worse, many intersections have traffic circles jetting off in every direction, adding to the confusion of driving. Thankfully, I have Barbie in the passenger seat comforting me, barking orders and wrong directions on every turn. It’s not just other cars (and fellow passengers) you need to worry about on the roads. You also have to deal with the random kangaroo, koala, wild turkey and assorted other unidentifiable creatures sharing the roads with us. Let’s just see if my credit card company insurance really has our backs when I return the vehicle with a kangaroo splattered on the front grill. After all, they told us, ‘no worries’ and to simply decline the optional CDW. I smell an impending mal-technicality.
BYRON BAY –
Byron Bay is one of many beach areas south of Brisbane which make up the Gold Coast. Byron Bay possesses an incredible energy and absolutely rocks. Love at first sight arriving at this happy place. Have you ever had that relaxed comfortable feeling when you arrived to a place where it felt like home? Where you are among people with the same outlook and lifestyle as yourself? That’s the feeling I got immediately upon arrival in Byron Bay. As soon as we drove into town and saw every single person dressed like me, I knew I was in my element and comfort zone. It was just perfect. You may know the song and music video from back in the 80’s by the group Blind Melon titled, No Rain. If not, when you see it, you will understand.
If you are a beach guy and live by the life of ‘no worries’, this is the place for you. What is great, regardless of your age, you will feel comfortable in Byron Bay. It’s the land of flip flops and board shorts. They even have flip flog vending machines. It’s a super laid back, unpretentious beach hangout with a classic Aussie surf feel to it. What made Byron Bay visually appealing is there are no high rises which is a rarity at popular beach towns nowadays. The wide sweeping beaches with crystal clear waters in Byron are fantastic. The best one being Wategos Beach, slightly outside the town centre and along the scenic coastal walking trail. This is where we hung out everyday. I hate to compare places but if you ever have been to the surf town of Paia in Maui, then Byron Bay is Paia, but on steroids. If you are tired of the daily grind, looking to drop out of society and just escape to a land of supreme contentment in a beach utopia….Byron Bay is your place to begin this journey. Once you arrive, you may never leave.
It was here in a Byron Bay local pub that I, along with a collection of foreigners spanning the globe witnessed America being flushed down the toilet. The US election coverage was on every single tv in the pub and the eyeballs of every foreigner were fixated on the tv’s with their mouths wide open. Probably left open as they all prepared to vomit. I cannot begin to tell you how glad I am being as far away from America as humanly possible. Out of sight, out of mind. One of things that has come to light navigating around all of these countries on our journey is how ass backward America’s infrastructure happens to be. Just about every single country I have visited inexplicably appears so far ahead of America. During my travels, I am constantly seeing new high tech airports, new highways, new bridges, new parks, new public transportation systems, beautifully landscaped public areas and the list can go on and on. Basically, just a far superior quality of life. For such a rich country like the United States, it is really a disgrace. I guess this is the only single thing I can agree with the Orange one about. I find myself constantly turning to Barbie and asking her two questions, “why isn’t our country like this?” and, “where should we buy today’s meat pie?”
While in Byron Bay, we got in our very classy rental car and set off for the 1 hr drive inland from Byron Bay thru spectacular green rolling hills, mountains/farmland and landed in the very strange tiny village of Nimbin. During our RTW journey, we are constantly uncovering small populations of Deadheads. Following the death of Jerry Garcia, they have apparently scattered and migrated to various locations around the world. In Southeast Asia, they set up shop and are cooling out in Pai, Thailand. And, I just uncovered another group which have crawled their way Down Under in Australia to seek refuge and form their own community in the single road village of Nimbin. Nimbin was a real trip. We came, we saw, we bought and we left. (check out our homemade video of our daytrip to Nimbin)
We were real sad to depart Byron Bay. The week we had in Byron just flew on by. From all the places we have been on our travels, I can see myself easily living here for an extended period of time. We really enjoyed this beach town. In order to experience more of the Gold Coast of Queensland, we drove slightly north up the coast for a stay in Burleigh Heads. A different vibe than Byron Bay but still another awesome low key beach town. After a few days in Burleigh, we headed a bit further north and elected to stay a few days in the busiest and most commercialized beach area called Surfers Paradise. I was last in Surfers Paradise about 20 years ago and I was astonished to see how it developed over the years. I attempted to get my bearings as I did not recognize the place at all from when I last visited. It was known for its spring break type party atmosphere but it now appears to be more developed and consequently, the backpackers have been flushed outside the centre. If your mission is to wake up, go to the beach, eat and shop all day and party all night then Surfer’s is definitely your place. This wide sweeping beach is first rate and the waves can be bone crushers. The town is oozing with fun, nonstop action and lotsa eye candy. We now leave the Gold Coast behind and are making our way further north up the Eastern Sunshine Coast to Peregian Beach/Noosa Heads, Hervey Bay and Fraser Island. It’s then as far north into Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforests where Barbie is really looking forward to be surrounded by wildlife but dreading the wildlife with anything more than 4 legs.
THRU THE BINOCS –
If you have been reading this blog, you know that every country has their own signature national dish or ‘go to’ takeaway food item. In Israel, we stuffed our bellies with Shawarma and Hummus. In Australia, in addition to the ubiquitous Fish and Chips, the other iconic food item is their Meat Pies. The meat pie is heavily associated with Australian rules football and Rugby League as one of the most popular consumed food items while watching a game. A seven course meal in Australia is a Meat Pie and a six pack of bear. So what is a Meat Pie?
They are hand sized pies stuffed with minced meat (usually steak and chicken) and gravy. You can step it up another notch and have some onions, bacon, mushrooms or cheese also stuffed into the meat pie. The best place to purchase these succulent pies is finding a mom & pop bakery that bakes them in-house and utilizes the best ingredients. The key is mastering the flaky pastry crust and only using top quality beef or chicken. This is the ‘make or break’ factor. You do not want to be tricked into ordering the mass factory produced, generic pies that you would find in convenient stores. These sort of pies cater to the peeps too lazy to make the effort to source out the high quality pies. You want to avoid these ‘shit’ meat pies which are not even in the same ballpark as the quality stuff. It is critical, to either do your homework or ask the right locals and they can always direct you to the quality shit. One of my primary goals in Australia is to average one meat pie per day plus mix in a heavy dose of Fish n Chips.