BRISBANE never fails to surprise me and when loud booming overhead woke me up, at first I thought I was dreaming.
Confirmation of what was happening became very apparent when I looked out from my Ibis Hotel room, overlooking the Brisbane River. Summer had arrived all right.
South Bank had disappeared behind sheets of rain and lightning strikes every 30 seconds or so was its only illumination.
Our media group had first planned to go to the wickets at the Gabba and test our skills against the thunder and lightning served up by the Queensland Bulls players as they prepared for a hot summer of cricket fixtures.
Then we'd head to Kingston for some go-kart racing. Scratched!
And have an afternoon paddle along the Brisbane River. Scratched!
But surprise, surprise. Here we were at Woolloongabba and if this was another dream, it was a beauty.
The Gabba is a really cool place.
Now everyone knows Woolloongabba for the famous Gabba Cricket Ground, but these days it's the antique lovers, fine diners and retro enthusiasts who have given this famous suburb a dash of sophistication.
Heritage-listed buildings in the Gabba village area have come alive with creative spaces, art galleries, retro shops, boutiques and great restaurants and bars. There is even an original violin maker whose studio sits between Canvas Cocktail and Wine Bar, which was just named Best Australian Bar at the Australian Bar Awards, and the Pearl Café, known throughout Brisbane for its delicious meals and fresh produce.
Lunch at the stylish Crosstown Eating House gave us the energy to browse through the Woolloongabba Antique Centre. I could have stayed there all day. They had everything!
This is Brisbane's largest antique centre and features dealers who trade in Art Deco, L'Art Nouveau, fine French antique furniture, Hollywood glamour fashion, rockabilly styles of the '50s and '60s, kitchen-alia, rural antiques and quirky collectables and jewellery.
Seriously, give yourself at least a few hours here as it's one of Brisbane's best-kept secrets.
Another great go-to spot in fair weather or otherwise is South Bank which is Brisbane's arts precinct including the art gallery, museums and the Gallery of Modern Art. For a big dose of culture, head there from December 3 to see Matisse: Drawing Life - an exclusive exhibition of more than 300 drawings, prints, paper cut-outs and artist books by Henri Matisse, one of the 20th century's greatest artists.
If a more modern dose of culture is your thing, then do not miss Rock of Ages at the Lyric Theatre, opening tomorrow. The cast delivers an infusion of comedy and high-octane rock songs telling a romantic love story set in the '80s. The spandex, big hair and serious neon combine to ensure a night of hilarious, fantastically slick fun.
Before or after the show, check out one of the latest and tastiest restaurants to hit Brisbane which has rediscovered its appetite with more than 20 restaurant openings filling up calendars across the city in recent months. Try Tartufo which sits within the much-hailed Emporium precinct in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley.
The menu is classically Italian and a definite lick-your-plate yum.
Rain, hail or shine, Brisbane is full of surprises so don't just dream about it this summer.
Go cheer your favourite team, cast glances over century-old masterpieces, climb the Story Bridge, taste some beer or schnapps at German bars, and laugh your pants off at the Rock of Ages show.
For accommodation packages and a comprehensive guide on where to play, stay, shop, eat and drink, go to website Visit Brisbane.
IBIS HOTEL BRISBANE
The Ibis Hotel Brisbane is in Turbot Street in the city centre.
The hotel is just a short walk from the Performing Arts complex, South Bank Parklands, Suncorp Stadium, the Brisbane Convention Centre, Queen Street Mall and the Treasury Casino, the hotel is perfectly placed for guests looking to enjoy a weekend or mid-week getaway.
Affordable and spacious rooms.
Individually controlled air conditioning-remote colour television-in-house movies-and tea and coffee making facilities are standard features in all rooms which are larger than most modern city hotel rooms.
Ibis has pioneered 'cheap chic' accommodation, revolutionizing the economy hotel sector with stylish design and full service touches at highly competitive prices.
Other features of the property include a restaurant and bar, 24 hour reception, internet and business services and on-site conference facilities. Guests also have access to food and beverage outlets and conference facilities at the neighbouring Mercure Hotel.
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