(Well folks, it’s been more than two months since I arrived in Australia and I still haven’t actually posted something about it. My bad. Sorry for keeping you waiting—here we go!)
Australia. The Land Down Under. Oz. Heaven.
It was love at first sight.
Brisbane is by far one of the most incredible cities I have ever been to. It is located in the state of Queensland almost right in between Cairns/the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney on the east coast. Just an hour away from the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, Brisbane has the best location and best climate in Australia. Not too hot, not too cold, not too far from everything. Perfection.
The Brisbane River is one of the neatest features of the city. Home to many bull sharks—yep, you read that right—and filled with sailboats and bustling CityCat ferries (Brisbane has absolutely awesome transportation services), the river divides the city into many distinct suburbs. On the north end of the city, you will find Fortitude Valley (or simply “the Valley”), a suburb that is just bursting with fancy nightclubs and music venues. Then there’s the CBD, the heart of Brisbane that is home to many businesses and shopping centres like Queen Street Mall that’s filled with great stores, great people-watching, barista competitions, Aboriginal dance performances and the occasional opera singer.
Across the winding river is South Bank, where botanical gardens, a ferris wheel and a manmade lagoon are located down the cobblestone street from many high-end restaurants and bars.
If you wander south a few blocks, you’ll come across the West End (where our hostel was located), which is a fairly residential area that’s scattered with really cool boutiques, cafes and bars. There’s a street in West End called Boundary Street, which I fell in love with as soon as we stumbled across it on our first night because it reminds me of State Street back in Madison. A lot of locals hang out on Boundary Street, and it has a vibe like no other suburb because it’s chock full of different ethnic groups. It’s much calmer than places like the Valley and the CBD too, so from the very beginning I hoped to find a place to live in West End.
To the left of West End across the river is Toowong, which contains an amazing shopping centre and the infamous Royal Exchange Hotel, the most college-y bar in Brisbane. To the south of West End is St Lucia, a quiet residential area where the University of Queensland (UQ) is located.
The first thing that really got my attention, after a walk around the Central Business District (CBD) for a few hours one day, was that Brisbane is SUCH a clean city. The most you’ll find on the ground is a cigarette butt or two. The second thing I noticed was the amazing architecture throughout the CBD—it’s kind of a hodge-podge of classical stone buildings and very modern glass skyscrapers. Brisbane has a reputation of being a very ethnically diverse city, and it seemed as though this was reflected in its architecture as well. The third thing that stuck out to me about the city was the weather—rain, rain, rain and more rain. After talking to some locals, apparently it was the most precipitation they’d received record-setting rainfall during late February/early March. Wonderful. At least it’s not cold and snowy…? (after March, however, this rainfall passed and it’s been sunny for weeks. Knock on wood) The fourth thing I noticed was the people. They are incredibly friendly, like “Minnesota nice” on steroids with better accents and added “g’day”; bus drivers will assist you when you’re lost, and random strangers will offer to help carry your groceries. They are awesome. Not only that, but they look AMAZING. ALL. THE. TIME. Whether they’re going to work or are just out for a stroll, it’s nails done, hair done, everything did. Everyone looks fantastic, like the sidewalk is their catwalk. Even those at the fitness centre on campus look good in their flattering, brightly coloured workout gear. You can always tell who’s foreign because they’ll be the ones dressed in athletic shorts and a T-shirt with a backpack instead of a nice large purse/shoulder bag. It’s just not fair.
The first task we had after being in Brisbane for a few days was to find a more permanent place to stay. In Australia there’s a great website called Gumtree, which is basically like a MUCH less sketchy version of Craigslist, often used to sell goods or post rentals. It was a bit of a freak-out to be looking for a place to live with strangers in a foreign country that I’d been in for only a few days, especially since I’d never lived in an apartment in Madison by myself yet (just dorms, since I’m only a sophomore). Panic started to settle in a bit as a few of my Badger friends found places before I did, and rentals were being claimed quickly on Gumtree and on UQ Rentals, a site for students to post available housing. My poor mother was probably worried sick as I emailed her, using Internet purchased through the hostel at a ridiculous price, with feelings of immense frustration as time ticked by.
I toured a house of UQ students in St. Lucia on my fourth day in Brisbane, but eventually decided against living there because the Valley, the CBD and West End were all a ferry or bus ride away. Ain’t nobody got time for that. It was a good thing, too (or so it seemed…), because an older Australian lady in West End had contacted me about touring her place! After a quick look around her house near the river, I told her that I’d be happy to move in. Later, she said a German exchange student, Patrick, would be moving into the other room in the house. I was so excited to have finally found a place to live!
…Until I was actually moved in. From the very first night, I felt very alone. I was away from my friends, away from my best friends/bros, my parents, my three sisters and my fellow editors at the Daily Cardinal. The lady I lived with also did not seem to like me as much as she did Patrick, for whatever reason, and I felt like she was always judging my every move and made an effort to exclude me from conversations—she was the one exception to my “Australia nice” theory. I did my best to be as friendly as possible toward her, but a house with other students or people my age seemed like a much better fit. I can assure you that this does not (read: DOES. NOT.) happen to most exchange students; it just happened to not be a good fit for me and the lady I lived with.
Silly me, I thought my housing search was done. After just three nights at the West End place, I began looking on Gumtree again for new listings. Back to the ol’ drawing board.