Cafe on Collins – Hobart: Earl Grey Tea, Chest X-Rays, Cherries…and the Antarctica Dream

This is a live blog post. I don’t do many, but a lot has happened recently and right now I am relaxing in a very nice cafe! So I have time! I have my laptop plugged in, my wireless internet on, and a cup of the Earl Grey tea by my side. It is “Cafe on Collins” on Collins Street in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. I have today off work, but haven’t had many recently. Least of all during April when I was working constantly on Broccoli farms.

So life is changing for me again, I had to drive 300 kilometres from Devonport to Hobart last night in order to do a full medical and a chest X-Ray. It’s for my New Zealand working holiday visa application, which hopefully I will get. That will mean I leave Australia in October 2010 (after completing exactly one year of my possible two years here). But the more surprising news is that I am finally booked on a two week trip to Antarctica, the world’s coldest continent.

It was always some kind of childhood dream or a fascination. To visit Antarctica would be quite something and now the realisation is that I am going there. I visited the Australian Antarctic Division back in February and have also researched all the trips to Antarctica. A one month trip taking in either Macquarie Island (if leaving from New Zealand/Hobart) or the Falkland Islands and South Georgia Island (if leaving from Ushuaia) would have been the ultimate trip. 

But with budget and desire intertwined, I’ve opted for the one that I can do – a two week trip to Antarctica from Ushuaia, in Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina. This is the best value and has a bonus of 2 extra nights if going on the November 5th Sailing. Which is exactly why I’ve booked it. I’m not rich, but I have been earning a lot of money recently on Tasmanian farms, and saving a fair bit, given that I’ve slept in my car, my tent and even in a farmer’s barn/shed recently. So a princely sum of $5,029 for a two week trip suddenly became within my budget!

So I’m booked – about a month ago actually, but it’s just sinking (unexcusable pun) in. Today in Hobart quite a lot has happened. I parked early morning on Liverpool Street and had a wee dander te find a nice cup of tea. I couldn’t eat for 12 hours before my medical you see, so just tea and water. I happened upon the lovely “Cafe on Collins” on Collins Street. I was greeted with a smile, and paid $3 for a pot of Early Grey tea. One of the nicest cups of the Earl in ages. It’s hardly dear when the customer service is excellent. The lady asked how I was and I told her I was from Northern Ireland. She comes from Fiji!

Then I moved my car (had to pay for parking!) to near the Hobart Private Hospital, where my Chest X-Ray was. A clean, friendly environment greeted me, where a lady from New Zealand did my X-Ray (the results of which I have to collect in around 45 minutes). Then I had time to have a wee walk round the city. The city of Hobart, which is the second largest city from the South Pole. The largest being Ushuaia, I think. Either way it’s the second closest city to the South Pole, by coincidence.

I visited Hobart back in February 2010, in my first few days on Tasmania and found myself uninspired and not liking it. I have changed my mind. I like it. It is groovy. It is trendy. It actually reminds me of Belfast. A fair bit warmer here than in Belfast mind you, but the appeal is similar. Buildings look familiar. The port is pretty. The people are friendly. The calm Autumn Breeze is the perfect distraction from hospital visits. I walked down to the harbour at Elizabeth Pier. Very nice. 

I went inside the famous Hobart Post Office – this building is much nicer on second appearance. It’s funny that back in February I thought about going to Antarctica from Hobart, but never once imagined I’d actually do it, or even have enough money to do it. Three and a half months later and I’ve managed to earn a lot. The main streets in Hobart looked much nicer on second inspection. I got help from people. I have been searching for the Lonely Planet’s “Antarctica” book. Nowhere I checked in Devonport had it. And it took a brave while to find it in Hobart…

I tried an Australian Souvenir Shop. I tried Angus and Robertson Book World. I tried Ellison Book Store. I tried Dymocks. None had it – but they seemed to have every other Lonely Planet book. I wanted to buy this book today in Hobart. In Dymocks, a nice shop assistant called Claire told me to turn onto Elizabeth Street and on the left past Banjo’s (a restaurant) there would be a map shop with travel guides. I past Banjo’s and saw a second hand bookshop.

There, waiting for me, in the same row as a book on “One Foot In Ulster” was the first edition of the Lonely Planet’s Antarctica book, for $15 or so. So I bought it! Of course! This was in Tolhurst’s Downunder Book Shop at 88 Elizabeth Street. I met the owner Gary and he was very friendly and wished me luck for Antarctica. It wasn’t even the Book Shop Claire had told me about! After this I had my full medical, which is mainly for New Zealand, but will also help with my Antarctica trip (and South America). Located further up the road was the Medibank Building (some kind of Australian equivalent to the British NHS). Once checked in for my appointment, I took a seat, opposite a map of Antarctica! The coincidences seemed to be rolling in today. I done the first part of the medical and then met the doctor, who surprisingly used to live in Bournemouth!

He had been to watch the Cherries a few times, though he was originally from Oxford and an Oxford United fan. He mentioned how he watched Bournemouth v Torquay one night and the Torquay fans sang “dirty northern bastards” at the Bournemouth fans. I found that funny, and remembered the match. I was there too. A Garreth O’Connor inspired 3-0 win over the Seagulls, the year we lost out on automatic promotion. Talk of the Cherries moved onto talk of Northern Ireland. The doctor, James was a well educated man and a football fan talked away to me about Paul Kee, Jimmy Magilton, Darren Patterson and even Billy Hamilton. I’ve met three of them! (Jimmy Magilton – August 1997 at Aldergrove Airport. Billy Hamilton – Cafe Ceol in Bangor in October 2000, plus served him numerous times in the butchery at Steensons. Nobody recognised him! Darren Patterson – met him at Oxford United FC in 2007 with the SOENISC).

I had to have 30 millilitres of blood removed from my arm. For the first time ever I almost fainted and went off world for a few seconds. I needed water to come back round. It was a weird experience. Even though I have four tattoos, I hate needles and injections. I always have and I always will. It was painful and confusing.

Once I came back round I walked back down Elizabeth Street and this time found the map shop Claire had mentioned. Tasmanian Map Centre. It is the best travel book and map shop I’ve ever been in. Pick a country or city and they have maps and books on it. They had 4 maps of Antarctica, I chose the cheapest and got a further $2 off because the lady there was talking away to me. I also decided to buy the more up to date Lonely Planet Guide. So I now have all my maps and literature for Antarctica – 6 months ahead of this once in a lifetime trip.

And so now I’m having a second cup of Earl Grey tea in Cafe on Collins – where they have let me plug in my laptop and work away on my wireless internet network from Telstra. The lady that owns it, Annora even said I could have a nap out the back if I liked! I am relaxed. I will leave to collect my X-Ray very soon, and hope that I get accepted into New Zealand for a 23 month Working Holiday Visa starting in October 2010. I’ll not find out for a few weeks. And I’m now in the very south of Tasmania, not sure if I’m working tomorrow. I wait on a call from Diane or Hayley from work, so I may be off until Monday, which is bad for the wallet and travel saving money, but could mean I get to see Port Arthur, Bruny Island and the south tip of Tasmania.

If I make it to the south tip of Tasmania, I’ll be sure to spy out to Antarctica thinking “see you in six months.” I hope to get my blog up to date in the next month or so, now I have wireless internet it should be easier. I have a lot to report on and I am now booked to leave Australia (for how long I don’t know) to head for New Zealand (to commence a Working Holiday Visa), later Argentina and eventually Antarctica.

At some point I will write a live blog from Antarctica. In the meantime the dream of going there has begun. If I don’t get my first dream in life (married and kids), I’ll get my second dream – to see the world.

PS – Kylie Minogue’s 2000 hit is on – Spinning Around. Great song. 



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