Sunday, February 11, 2007

50 Hours in Canberra

Canberra is the capital city of Australia. It is not flashy like Sydney or refined like Melbourne. It is not a place with spectacular natural beauty or unique architecture. But in the two days I’ve spent here I’ve found Canberra to be an easy-going, friendly destination. There are museums galore, a tranquil lake and an interesting history. All in all, enough to keep me occupied and happy.

In the early part of the 20th century, there was a debate over whether Sydney or Melbourne should be the country’s capital. I guess no one could settle the dispute, so Canberra was chosen as the capital. As such, it is a planned city, much like Washington D.C. There are long stately avenues and roundabouts for traffic. All this means everything is rather spread out and not very pedestrian friendly.

But I’m a walker and after New York and Sydney I was happy to strap on my walking shoes (ok, a pair of black Crocs, my new favorite footwear) and set out to explore. An afternoon at the Parliament House led to Friday afternoon happy hour in the courtyard of the Old Parliament House, an event I was told my a local bloke is the highlight of the week around here. I think he needs to get out more. After a drink (a Blue Tongue Ale, a local brew with little to distinguish itself), I headed back to the centrally located hostel where I was staying in a shared room.

The Parliament House gets Funkadelic with that spire thingy:

Lucky for me, this weekend featured a festival in Canberra, the annual Multicultural Festival, an event that brings groups in from around the world for two days of food, music and culture. A festival can be a traveler’s best friend: free entertainment, cheap and tasty food and a ton of great people watching. So I started my Saturday with a stroll through the festival and a lunch of South Indian food. A short bus ride took me to the National Gallery for a rewarding hour of Australian art, then another short ride to the National Museum of Australia.

Pears outside the National Gallery:

The National Museum is basically a multimedia tour of Australian history and culture. I found the exhibits on local foods (macadamia nuts, Vegemite) and the peculiarities of language the most entertaining. There is enough in the museum for a solid day, but a boy like me can only take so much culture.

A tacky exterior hides an exceptional interior at the National Museum:

Saturday night was spent like many Saturday nights: drinking. The boys from Room 304 at the Canberra hostel headed out for a night on the town. A few good micro-brewed pints at the Wig & Ale were the highlight. Otherwise, Canberra struck me as similar to many other small cities – too much bad music and too many trashy outfits. I know there’s a cool scene somewhere here, but I certainly didn’t find it this weekend.

This morning (Sunday) I walked out to the Australian War Memorial, and what I thought was just a massive stone structure on a hill turned out to be another outstanding museum experience. Australia’s involvement in war over the years is thoughtfully and tastefully presented, with battles like Gallipoli getting special attention. There’s a moving gallery featuring the names of every Australian soldier killed in action, including two names in the current Iraq conflict.

There was also a special exhibition of Australian war photographers from World War II and Vietnam to conflicts in Somalia, East Timor and Afghanistan. Very good for fans of journalism.

I head out tonight to Melbourne on an overnight Greyhound bus, leaving Canberra behind. I will probably never return, but am very happy I made the trip.



Blogger Daddy-O said...

Hey Matt

Good to see you made it safe!

However, I for one, would like to know what music is filling your ears as you commence your journey.

Looking forward to further tales of world traveling, as I will enjoy your trip vicariously...

James (Cinema-Source)

2:39 PM  

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