From Byron to Brühl

IMG_3622-1First off, if I’m going to keep writing about German things, I’m going to need a keyboard with some of those umlauty things, as having to copy the dotty U is getting a bit vexing. I have tried using a German keyboard, but the letters are in the wrong places.

Next up, I’m not actually in Brühl, I’m in Walberberg, which is where we live, but I am having lunch in Brühl. Plus it worked better with the title. Brühl is a pretty little town with a castle, where we had an ice cream at some point last week. Vera is meeting with one of her friends, who doesn’t speak much English, so I expect I’ll be taking a book along with me.

Enough about Brühl for now. Lets talk Byron. Byron Bay is one of those places that you are definitely supposed to visit when you are travelling in Australia, if you fall into the category of traveller / backpacker / surfer. I’m not sure which of those categories I did fall into, certainly not the last one, possibly the first one. The lines are blurry. The Lonely Planet waxes lyrical about Byron. In fact, it raves somewhat ecstatically about the place. So much so that you know it is going to be a disappointment. And on first impressions, yes, I was disappointed.

Named after Lord Byron, crazed poet and romantic, and located on the backpacker trail up the East coast of Australia, Byron is essentially a surfer town that has grown into a Mecca for backpackers searching for well, something. Spiritual enlightenment perhaps. Maybe just sex with other backpackers. Who knows. The beach is admittedly spectacular. A lighthouse towers above the bay, and the beach stretches for over ten kilometres. The waves, when they are rolling in, are first class, apparently some of the best in the world, if you happen to be into surfing. Which a lot of people are.

So, first impressions. Well, the first time we went to Byron, it was raining. Sea side type towns never look particularly wonderful in the rain. We had just stumbled in from somewhere in the New South Wales wilderness, and we were grubby. Imagine spending days camping somewhere like the Lake District, or the Rocky Mountains, and then wandering into Blackpool, in the rain. It’s not going to be the greatest experience of your life, however wonderful the beach looks.

We left as quickly as possible the first time, concluding that it had probably once been a funky little town, but it had become a victim of it’s own success. Having decided that I didn’t like it, I then ended up spending five weeks there and slowly came to the realisation that under the covers, if you look past the gaudy touristic exterior, there lurks something pretty cool, some kind of vibe that hasn’t been lost despite the best efforts of the travelling crowd and dodgy beyond belief nightclubs.

The second time I visited Byron was because I needed somewhere to meet Vera, and Byron was fairly handy at the time. At this point my transport drove off without me, and so we ended up staying. The plan was never to stay in Byron, but we consistently failed to leave. We stayed the first couple of nights in a hostel, but the cleaner chap wasn’t entirely all there, and had a distressing habit of wandering into the ladies shower room, under the pretence of needing to clean it. So we left as quickly as possible.

We moved to a double room in a house, a couple of kilometres walk from the centre of Byron itself. It was handy for the local supermarket, and not that far from the beach. The landlord was from the UK, and had some interesting life stories to share. The other folks living there were an eclectic mix, mostly travellers from around the world looking for longer term living that was cheaper than a hostel. Some had been there for a few months. Others came and went in a transient manner. The vibe was relaxed. Some folks were into the partying. Others were trying to learn to surf. It worked, for five weeks we fell into the Byron life, which was relaxed. Everyone seemed happy. If you walked along the street, people smiled at you. There was art. The beach was just spectacular. The  walk up to the lighthouse and subsequent views, despite the lack of dolphins and whales that had been promised, were stunning. There was plenty to do, or plenty not to do. We loved it.

So, if you happen to be in Australia, I’d advise making time for Byron. It’s almost inevitable if you are going up the East coast. Try not to be turned off by your first impressions if they are negative. Take a walk along the beach, head up to the lighthouse. Hang out in the parks. Go listen to free music at the beach hotel, or dance on the tables at Cheeky Monkeys. Take a day trip to Nimbin. Do lots of things, or do nothing. Make that decision to not go to New Zealand and end up lunching in Brühl. It might turn out ok ;)




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