World weather.

Wednesday 28th December, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

This birthday greeting is what faced us as we drove down my brother's street this morning! Yep, Maria is one year older today... and my brother Terry is too! We had been planning for some time a way to celebrate their combined birthday (which, by the way, is fools' day in Spain!) but I'll get to that in a moment. First, a flashback to yesterday when Maria's birthday celebrations started a day early...

Eddie and Julie knew that Maria and I would be away at the Gold Coast for Maria's birthday, so they arranged for a special birthday lunch yesterday. I went shopping with Eddie to pick up the essentials... a carton of Tooheys Extra Dry, a cooked chicken, a selection of cheeses, chips and dips, a kilo of prawns, three Moreton Bay bugs and one big fat ugly slipper oyster! I'm not a seafood fan, but Maria sure is, and apart from the delicious prawns that made up part of our Taste of Australia banquet at Red Ochre Grill in Cairns, she hasn't had the opportunity to sample the fresh seafood that Australia is famous for.

Click on the small pics above to view full sized photographs

I don't need to tell you how hot it was; even you Northern Hemispherians should have realized by now, if you've been following my journal, that it's safe to assume temperatures in the mid to high 30's, and humidity of seventy-five percent plus. So as soon as my mate Matt turned up after lunch, we all hit the swimming pool. And in case you think Matt looks familiar, he was in my journal just seven months ago when I caught up with him and his new bride Isobel on their honeymoon in France. He's popped up a few times in my website. We first met in 1994, working together in a hotel in London's posh suburb of Kensington. Neither of us were posh. Then, you'll see a pic of Matt in my little collection of Australia photos. Both of these photo galleries, and many, many more are archived on the ABOUT ME page of this website. All you need to do is click on any photo on that page, and it will expand into an entire photo essay from West Africa, South East Asia, the Middle East, New Zealand, North America or who knows where....

Anyway, that was Maria's faux birthday. Her real birthday was today, and we had plans with my brother Terry, the birthday boy who I'm sure won't mind me telling you is exactly two decades older than my lovely Maria. Terry had bought four tickets to the show at Jupiters Casino on the Gold Coast, and we were going to make a day of it. First stop to Terry's friend Maureen's, for a lovely salad lunch and a dip in Maureen's pool (does it seem like all we do is swim? pools, rivers, oceans, gorges, lagoons....).

From there, Maria and I set off first in Terry's car to the Gold Coast, just an hour south of Brisbane. We had booked a room at a backpackers hostel, but Terry and Maureen would be returning to Brisbane after the show. They followed about twenty minutes behind us, so that Maria and I would have time to check into our room and quickly get changed before they arrived to pick us up. First stop on our birthday afternoon itinerary? Palazzo Versace, of course, Australia's first and only (and correct me if I'm wrong, but the world's only?) six star hotel. Palazzo Versace was built about seven years ago on the Southport Spit, a long thin finger of land that runs parallel with the beach on the northern end of the Gold Coast. Everything about the hotel is the ultimate in decadence and perfection, and this is naturally reflected in their prices, as you'll see on their website. This is a land of millionaires and superstars, but there's nothing to say that mere mortals like the four of us can't go there to enjoy a cocktail in the Versace decorated lounge bar.

The cocktail menu was almost as dazzling as the decore. Maureen opted for a non-alcoholic fruit cocktail, Terry couldn't go past the Mango Colada, Maria liked the sound of the Cherry Angel, and being less adventurous I chose the safe bet and ordered a frozen Margarita. At Versace prices, you don't knock your drinks down and shout for another. You make them last and soak up the atmosphere, and wonder what it must be like....

From the Versace hotel, we travelled straight to Jupiters Casino, where we were all ready for dinner. There are a number of restaurants to choose from at Jupiters, but we were all happy with the English Pub-style restaurant that we came across first. By the time we'd chewed our way through big fat rump steaks and the rest, it was time to get to Jupiters Theatre and get seated for our show, Tempo Rouge. Maria has written about the show below, which is a relief for me, cause I'm not sure I'd know where to start!

Terry and Maureen dropped Maria and I in the middle of Surfers Paradise on their way back to Brisbane. We had noticed the odd flicker of lightning in the dark, cloudy sky, but nobody could have predicted what would happen next. Maria and I had barely taken half a dozen steps when the heavens opened. Within a second, we were drenched as if someone had thrown a bucket of water at us. We raced across the road to a tiny bus shelter, where other passersby were huddling as the torrential rain whipped in around our feet. There was no sign of a break in the rain, and we didn't exactly have the most sheltered positions, so I convinced Maria that we should make a run for the nearest building and the shelter of its large awning. Just ten metres away we found dry space, but we were both resoaked on the way. We sheltered there, just around the corner from the popular bars and nightclubs of Cavill Avenue and Orchid Avenue, but we had to wait until the storm eased.

Swimming pools, drinks at Versace, a musical spectacular and a tropical rainstorm... a bit different to Maria's birthday in Russia last year!


*There were a few leftover photos from Stanthorpe that I wanted to share with you...*

A fruitless search for a swimming hole. It was an interesting walk, but the waterhole was still and stagnant.

Maria sampling some of Stanthorpe's locally produced wines.

Hail netting, erected to protect the precious fruit crops from devastating hail storms. The red hail netting apparently changes the light and helps to speed up the ripening of the fruit.

MARIA'S ADDENDUM... I cannot believe I'm already 33, though everybody says I look sooooooooooooooooo much younger than Steve that he could be my father. Funny to celebrate my birthday without a coat, very different from last year in Berlin.

The show at the Jupiters Casino was amazing. From beginning to end I didn't stop clapping hands, moving my feet at the rhythm of the music, just as everyone else, except Steve, who has no rhythm at all. The show was composed of different musics from all around the world, starting with carnival Brazilian music, followed by an Indian wedding and finishing with African drum music. Although I enjoyed all of it, the highlight for me was the Spanish music played by three guitarists. They performed the funny part of the show, playing flamenco at the same time as they swapped guitars and told jokes.

But besides dancing and singing, there was a contortionist who came to stage inside a tiny glass box, a woman who made lots of hula hops rotate around her body at the same time and a juggler who juggled with knives, balls and pins set on fire, but his best performance was playing a set of drums using plastic balls. It was one of the best presents any body has ever given me, thanks a lot to Terry and HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MATE!