In keeping with our short breaks to areas having an event theme we headed off to The Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers this week and let me say it was fabulous, well done Toowoomba what a great place to be for a few days of pure beauty, color, food, wine,music,art and generally appreciating a thriving country town center that hasn't lost its country feel.
It has to be a must do town at this time of year - so put it in your calendars - but pre-plan as well, as there are a lot of great events and things to do outside of viewing all the lovely gardens (some free and some for a fee). They have a great website - www.tcof.com.au so you can pick and choose bus trips, food trips, music events, beer festivals (commonly call brewoomba), street festivals etc - don't wait until you hit town the website is easy to use and shows you a good calendar of events, prices etc. The tourist center is packed and not sure if you would get the best out of the offerings. Also by pre-planning and booking you can ensure you don't miss something that you might have wanted to see, do or hear as this event is over 2 whole weeks. Also by pre-booking we where able to choose our accommodation close to where buses would pick up from so we didn't need to take the car and park.
We found enough here to do and keep us busy for a 3 night stay. Usually Toowoomba would just be a day trip for us and over the years yes we have been up for the festival, but generally came and went the same day, probably spent little money but these days they have full festival events and calendar to just about please everyone. After all Brisbane and Gold Coast dwellers are only a short 1 to 1 1/2 hour trip away, but again get online and book some accommodation for a few days and also book for some of the great tours available.
We stayed at The Bourke & Wills - it's a bit tired to be honest and really they could have taken the time I feel to have planted a few punnets of flowers 6 weeks ago to pretty it up for the carnival, but the service was good even offering a free drink at the bistro which was attached to it, offered room service and served up a lovely brekky in their conservatory room which was nice and it was right in the middle of the town center making it easy to walk to a lot of places and while they didn't take the time to plant a few pretty plants in what could only be called the worst garden in Toowoomba at this time of year the street it self had flowers a plenty. For us it was pure luxury given we did choose the spa suite which offered great space, comfy bed and a room service each day (remember we have been caravaning, camping, and cabining for the last 2 years so this seemed like a major luxury).
I had booked into 2 events prior to even booking our accommodation being "Talking Pubs Tour" and "Progessive Food & Wine Tour" through the www.tcof.com.au website about 6 weeks prior to leaving. As I said earlier there where heaps of great offerings especially if you are a music buff, but these where the ones I really wanted to try. Both where really great nights out, but I must say I did prefer the Talking Pubs Tour most. Booking was easy and everything ran smoothly throughout the night all organised by Evenbright so well done!
It was raining when we arrived - too much to go out looking at flowers so we headed for the bistro in the B&W - cashed in our free drink and had a nice warm soup for me and chicken & vegie pie for Derek - it was nice in the cold misty weather and preceded to go and have a snooze - so we would be full of beans for the Pub Tour.
The bus was picking us up at the railway station at 5:30 (a few blocks away) and with the weather cleared we headed off for a lovely walk around the city, looking through the shops on the way, all of which where lovely and it is just so nice to see independent shops - no one wants to go and walk through a mall full of the same old same old - however I think this may well soon disappear now they are building their new large, undercover shopping mall, sad really because we have been to towns like Rocky where the building of these types of shopping areas creates a main street devoid of personality, shops and unique shopping experiences, but for now it is still thriving and looking great.
We finally arrived at the Railway Station which has been so beautifully restored after the 2011 floods and waited for our bus. I must say it would have been nice for Eventbright to have had some sort of signage to say bus tour meets here or something - there was no one around in the station at the time and we were the first there so hoped we were in the right place.
The Talking Pubs Tour was much more than we had anticipated as we all got out at Fitzy's a beautifully restored pub, which is very upmarket while keeping the charm and character of the building. We were taken on a tour and told all the stories of the building that is in the 100 year old bracket, this was the really nice thing about this tour - the stories, the interaction with the staff as they gave you the history of the building, of the business, of the people. If you are in Toowoomba would highly recommend a meal, or even just a drink in this historical pub. If you are into craft beer this would also be a must visit place, we had a lovely platter of Mini Angus Beef Mignons, Pork & Veg Spring Rolls (which were absolutely delish probably the nicest I have ever had) and Crumbed Prawns - along of course with your choice of beer, wine or bubbles - very nice start. So good food, drink, ghost stories the night was off to a great start.
Next stop was the equally impressive Mort Estate - another historical building, with a great story and beautifully restored and as I watch the platters of food coming out to the other guests my mouth was salivating - impressive presentation. Again we had a great presentation about the history of the pub, area, people whilst being served cheese, breads, prawn aranchini balls and bruschetta and yes you guessed it our choice of drink. I probably enjoyed Mort more than Fitzy's but both where great and maybe Mort felt better because we had all loosened up a little and had started to enjoy the company of our bus friends.
Now onto the Spotted Cow - another boutique brewery but a bit more of a standard pub arrangement, the owner again gave us a great run down of the pub and its past as we ordered our main meal. This was more pubgrub, but yum nevertheless and as you can see we were all feeling happy and having a great time.
Last stop was desert of course and let me tell you, if you like a Sticky Date Pudding, then you will not be disappointed with the offering at the Irish Club, which once was a hospital - again the stories of its past and choice of drink, we were served up what could only be described as the biggest bowl of SDP I have ever had and it really was to die for. The 4 hour pub crawl went all too fast, but we left full, happy and had a terrific time - Hammond our bus driver was terrific and gave us a good understanding of Toowoomba, its history etc while we drove from one place to the next - Thank You Hammond you did a great job. This tour had it all, great personalities who where passionate about their establishments, their foods, their grogs and the buildings they where in, the 4 hours just flew by, it was so much fun - Thank you Toowoomba and thank you Eventbright for a fabulous night and thank you to our hosts.
Next day the rain had cleared, but the winds had set in, so it was freezing, of course the one time I decided not to pack everything we own, let me tell you it was cold so don't forget to pack your winter woollies, but it didn't stop us from going and seeing the gardens. Now we didn't go to any of the gardens where you had to pay to get in, and we didn't do a bus tour. Toowoomba isn't the largest city in the world, it's not hard to find your way around and parking is pretty good. I won't bore you with all the details, but between Picnic Point, Spring Bluff (not only a lovely country drive away, but a beautiful destination - some choose to take the train), Queens Park and Laurel Banks you really don't need to spend a cent on touring beautiful gardens. The rain and wind had taken their toll a little, but generally the stood up really well. This along with more street walks, galleries etc and general sight seeing took up 2 days. All of the gardens where beautiful, colorful, had some great themes and had everyone happy, smiling and of course taking photos (flowers seem to be a great equaliser people from every race and religion had the same smile on their face - maybe flowers should be introduced into the UN), because there was always just another more beautiful bed of flowers awaiting. Click here to see my entire album of beauty be warned over 300 photos!
We finished off our great 3 day adventure with the Progressive Food and Wine Tour - there where a lot more on this tour than the Pub Tour, but that was probably because it was a Friday night. We started off at The Cobb & Co Museum - this was probably the best part of the night - seeing the museum under lantern light - yes we walked through all the exhibits with our little lanterns and where told the stories of bush rangers, ghosts and life in the 1800's. It was such a unique experience - I suppose we have been to so many of these types of museums over the last few years travelling around Australia, that it wasn't really a place I would have gone to, but this unique way of seeing it was lovely. The curator was again passionate about the place and told the stories with such gusto, that you just couldn't help get involved and feel the history. We walked through the museum and finally we where treated to drinks and canapes and of course a few more stories. Lovely! I suppose my only criticism if I had one, is it probably would have been nice to have been able to sit down to listen to the stories and eat rather than stand, but the food was lovely and generally it was the highlight of the night.
I suppose we had become accustomed to from the 5 places we had been to on the 2 tours so far of not only food and wine, but learning about the establishments we were visiting, hearing about their passion to restore the buildings etc and for food - this was a great part of these tours so we where a little disappointed when we got to Gip's Restaurant our next stop for dinner that this didn't form part of the event and while the food here was probably the best of all the food on the 2 tours, and the ambiance here was fantastic, it all felt a little cold - sit, drink, slap a plate of food in front of you and we felt a little disappointed - it also meant the time spent here didn't go as fast and we where left to our own devices to converse with the others rather than be entertained - as I said the food was superb, but there was no personality here unfortunately even though since writing this blog I have found out it is set in a 1800's mansion and hearing about what they want to achieve from their food style etc would have been fantastic, and also made the time we had there go a little faster.
In saying that it was still a better experience than our desert stop, which was at The Rex Theatre, where we were originally picked up from, I was really looking forward to perhaps a tour of the Theatre, or being told about its history, who had acted here etc but this was even colder than Gip's, at least it had great food and great ambiance (and I suppose that in itself should be enough), at the Rex, we were lead up to what looked like a standard conference room with 3 large round tables - nothing in the room to represent you where in a historic theatre, and plates being shoveled at you - also while the menu had said desert wine will be served it would have been nice to have had a choice, but the wait staff came and went and that was the end of it. My other issue with this stop was - if you are in Toowoomba on a cold night who wants a fresh fruit mile feuille over a pecan and maple syrup pudding - at our table no one so there wasn't a choice (Gip's was the same and yet at The Spotted Cow the night before we got a choice of which main we wanted but at least at Gip's both where beautiful and appropriate to the weather etc), so that also was a bit disappointing. While none of the 7 establishments we visited put on the worlds best wines let me tell you cheap desert wine is hard to shallow and in fact at our table everyone took 1 sip and sort of went grrrr, there were a lot left half full. Our bus picked us up 1/4 of an hour late to start with, and the tour was meant to finish at 9pm, we arrived at The Rex about 8pm and we were back at our room by 8:30, whereas the Pub Tour was 41/2 hours in total so half an hour longer but the night just seemed to roll along better. The food generally on this tour wasn't any better, the wine definitely wasn't better and the night didn't roll quite as well, but still a lovely night.
Overall Toowoomba was a fantastic getaway and the tours a great experience - talking to others who had done other tours it seems like they where all good and where providing everyone with a lot of different experiences. The town walks are nice - street art, trendy shops, nice cafes etc. The free city gardens where blooming beautiful and Toowoomba itself seems to have recovered well since the 2011 floods which is great. With hop on hop off buses as well you don't have to drive or walk to see the beauty. So don't forget to put September into your diary for next year and take a trip to The Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers you won't regret it. For those who do not want to scroll through my 300 odd photos in the link above, here is a small example of the beautiful color you will see if you go to Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers