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Brisbane, June 19-21
Our flight followed the east coast of Australia, over miles and miles of inviting beaches fronting the boundless Pacific.
We checked into the Marriott, right down on the Brisbane River. The river winds through this very large city; the hotel stands on a kink known as the Petrie Bight. Andrew (the groom-to-be) picked us up at the airport and delivered us to the hotel, then left us to get settled as he prepared for his bachelor party. Rita was due to hook up with the bride, Lara, and her mother, Donna -- Rita's best friend from childhood. Tonight, Saturday, was the "hen party," a week before the wedding. I was planning to stay in the room and get caught up on my journal, and maybe play the guitar that Andrew's mother was kind enough to lend me for the duration of my stay in Brisbane.
We got into our swimsuits and headed for the fourth floor, where we found an outdoor pool with a Jacuzzi attached. (Sign on the deck: "PERSONS SUFFERING FROM MEDICAL CONDITIONS OR PREGNANCY ARE ADVISED NOT TO USE THE SPA.") As with the one at Echoes, we found the water woefully tepid. We swam laps for a while, and then sat in the whirlpool for a while. There were two tiny saunas side by side -- his and hers -- and after a few minutes, Rita got out of the water to give the sauna a try. Wen she turned around to hang up her towel in this very small space, she backed into the metal heating unit, causing second-degree burns on the backs of both thighs.
The hotel was a little bit slow to respond, but they finally started sending people up to assist. First came the "loss control" guy with some ice in a bag then a female hotel employee came up with scissors, tape, gauze pads and burn ointment.
With the wounds protected, Rita went on about her social agenda, but the discomfort persisted.
On Sunday the Strassburger gang convened at our hotel: Lara, Donna, Andrew, Donna's 19-year-old daughter (and Lara's half-sister) Amy, and Lara's childhood pal Sarah, who flew in from Philadelphia for the wedding and related festivities. We walked along the riverside through a weekend bazaar, looking at handmade jewelry, puppets, toys, aboriginal art, hats, clothing, novelties of various kinds, kitschy souvenir items, excellent photographs, paintings, etc. Then we hopped in a couple of taxicabs and rode over to Chinatown for some Yum Cha (what we call Dim Sum in the States). The food was excellent, and the bill was surprisingly small. "Yum Cha is very inexpensive here," Lara explained.
Poor Amy was not at all happy with all the weird food, so after we finished stuffing our faces there, she headed for McDonald's. Lara says things are slightly different here in Australia, but Amy found it comfortingly identical to the McDonald's fare at home.
From Chinatown, we walked back to the Marriott, enjoying a warm sunny Brisbane afternoon. The day before the winter solstice, and everyone was in shirtsleeves.
The plan was for us to gather up our dirty laundry and head out to a coin laundry in Lara and Andrew's neighborhood. Lara and Donna and Sarah and Amy drove of in Lara's car, and Andrew stayed with us to navigate. We took a taxi to their house, and then Andrew drove me over to the coin laundry where I took care of the washing while reading the Sunday paper.
Rita and Andrew came to get me when the washing was done, and when we got back to the house Sarah was dead to the world in one of the bedrooms and Donna was half-conscious on the living room couch. The rest of us drove off to Dos Amigos, a well-regarded Mexican restaurant, stopping en route at the Mount Coot-tha lookout for a 360-degree view of the Brisbane area and the deep, crystal-clear southern starscape. There were a lot of people up here -- upwards of a hundred, I'd say -- not counting the couples making out in parked cars on the road leading to the top.
Rita's discomfort had not abated throughout the weekend. We visited a chemist on Sunday to buy more gauze pads and tape, and the pharmacist had recommended normal saline rather than burn ointment so the doctor would see the wounds in their natural state on Monday.
After breakfast on Monday morning we walked a few blocks to the Anzac Square Medical Center to see a doctor the Hotel had contacted on our behalf. "HMOs have got to go!" said Rita after seeing the doctor, who took the time to listen to her explanation of what happened and to discuss his treatment, and to explain how she will have to protect the wounds from infection when we get to Heron Island. The doctor applied a strong topical antibiotic and sealed the area with an watertight patch which will come off in a few days. Swimming in a hotel pool or whatever will be no problem, but there are many microbes in the ocean. The charge was $80, which the hotel reimbursed.
After leaving the doctor's office we walked to the post ofice to buy stamps, and then we headed over to Hertz to pick up our rental car for the drive to Binna Burra. We passed by the Festival Hall, whose marquee advertised a performance next Saturday by the Beatels (formerly the Beatniks), re-creating the one and only Brisbane performance by the original Fab Four in 1964. I had read about this in the paper and given some thought to getting tickets, but here we were at the box office. So we bought tickets! The woman at the counter showed us a paper seating chart with sold or held seats marked off, and asked us where we'd like to sit. There were plenty of good seats available, so we chose a pair on the aisle about ten rows back and paid about $27 each for them.
We picked up our rental car, went back to the Marriott to check out, and hit the road. Our destination: Binna Burra Mountain Lodge, at Lamington National Park in the Gold Coast Hinterland.