This is our first full day in an Australian city. Does Cairns count? For the purposes of the blog, let's assume it doesn't, even though it sprawls over a huge chunk of Northern Queensland. It's funny how many resonances there are when you wander around an Australian city. Let me generalise from a sample of one. I'm not just talking about the architecture or the street names, which often have Engish and Scottish equivalents - Welsh, sadly, not so much. Brisbane's central river area is strongly reminiscent of London: both cities have arts complexes on their South Bank; similarly, both were revitalised by city exhibitions - the Festival of Britain and Brisbane's Expo 88, respectively. On Brisbane's South Bank there is a giant Ferris wheel - deemed temporary, just like the London Eye. Like Cardiff, a pedestrianised Queen Street is the main shopping thoroughfare. Like Cardiff, Brisbane retains its Victorian arcades. I could come up with a few more convoluted examples but I think I've made my point. Brisbane is the love child of London and Cardiff, but much sunnier.
The plan for the day is simple: explore the riverside; take a tour of the historic buildings; and finally, stroll through the Botanical Gardens. It's a hot day, and there's going to be a lot of walking. At breakfast, the owner of our B&B tells us that there is a Market on the South Bank. There always is on a Sunday, he says. We never find it: not that it matters. This is not a day for haggling over boomerangs or ethnic jewellery. We're here to see and record the sights of Brisbane on Monica's Box Brownie. It's too hot for anything else - including wandering around a large city centre. Even to buy hats.
The South Bank Parklands is described as "42 acres of culture, entertainment, and recreation". It includes the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, State Library and Museum and two major art galleries. It also provides an excellent vantage point for viewing the skyscrapers of the commercial heart of Brisbane. Along the river, as we head North, we find uniquely, a mini-rainforest and close by, a carved,wooden Nepalese temple dedicated to Peace, left over from the Expo. Naturally, there is also a man-made lagoon, complete with a sandy beach, highly popular on a Sunday morning.
We leave the South Bank by a "City Hopper". This is a free ferry service. These small red boats sail up and down the Brisbane River, crossing alternatively from bank to bank. We travel on the boat beyond the steel cantilever Story Bridge constructed as a public works programme during the Great Depression. The bridge is lit at night.
On our return journey, we disembark at the Riverside Centre, a collection of modern restaurants on the north bank. Here there are modern riverside restaurants that were flooded to the roof in 2011 - Brisbane sits in a flood plain. There is no residual evidence of this disaster. Everything looks gleaming and new. There a a couple of paddle steamers parked here. We take the river path though the Botanical Gardens before ending up in Queen Street for lunch.
There is an outdoor concert, so we rest for a while and listen to "Adam and Dusty" play Country Rock to a receptive audience of Sunday shoppers. The lead singer, a red haired girl, has a voice well suited to the genre. The lead guitarist, also red haired, looks like a refrugee from ZZ Top. Periodically, they plug their latest CD, which is on sale at a table to the side of the stage. Of course, we buy the album (in a hand-made, cloth sleeve): it's a souvenir and it'll probably get more plays than the record of Gregorian Chants we bought off a monk in St Petersburg. Monica engages one of the band in conversation. Which one is Adam and which Dusty, she asks? Disappointingly, none of them is. They just thought it would be a cool name for a band.
Time for a bit of culture. We take a version of the Heritage Trail recommended by our guidebook. This takes us past a selection of Gothic churches and Government buildings, mostly put up in the 1880s and 90s. As true tourists, we photograph every one and instantly forget its significance. We end up with a photographic collection of anonymous Nineteenth Century buildings that we would probably ignore if we saw them in Manchester or Birmingham.
Our route takes us back to the Botanical Gardens, cooler and more restful than the city tour. With its trees and ponds, this is a haven for an exotic collection of wild birds. It's also the site of the old Government House, a beautiful building donated to the University of Brisbane in 1909.
We eat at a Thai restaurant in an empty China Town - the weekend revellers have departed.