Monday, June 2, 2008

Canberra: Capital city in a bush surrounding

24/06/01 - Canberra City Backpackers, 1853

Watching TV, warm in my hostel bed; there's crap on at the moment but The Simpsons was just on.

Got a decent sleep last night (finally) - well, decent by hostel standards. It was 80's night at the hostel though, and I could hear drunken singing downstairs to the likes of Men at Work, Culture Club and Dexy's Midnight Runners.

The bus ride down here was fairly boring. As I was waiting to board at Sydney bus station I was "latched" on to by another passenger. I'd seen her before and thought she was a bit unusual. Out of the blue she came over and sat next to me, trying to make conversation. When she asked me if I'd ever had the "call of the open road" I started to get a bit concerned (people who talk like this are always painful). When I told her I was from Perth, she tried to guess which hospital I was born in - as she was also from Perth (she showed me her birth certificate to prove it). Thankfully my bus was about to board, so I managed to escape.

Canberra is a lot simpler to get around in than Sydney, and not just because of the size - the layout of the city is very easy to navigate around. The surrounding mountains are very impressive. The only sight I managed to get in today was the Australia War Memorial. It's on par with the Imperial War Memorial in London, although a bit smaller, but it was very impressive exhibition wise - the detail, aesthetics and historical objects were all excellent. The poppies stuck to the walls of the Roll of Honour and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier gave it a greater impact than any normal museum - for Australians, anyway.

The amount of Japanese tourists walking around in the museum (more specifically, the section on the war with Japan) created a very odd atmosphere; now both nations are good friends, but around us all were many examples of atrocities committed against Australians and Allies by the Japanese, serving as a reminder that it wasn't always that way.

At closing time, the sunset and last post was quite moving. It was a bit of a shame the bugle was pre-recorded - with all the defence forces based in Canberra you'd think it wouldn't be that hard to organize a live one every day. Shortly after the gates to the Memorial closed, a massive flock of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos landed outside. The noise they created was nearly deafening.

When I arrived at the hostel, I opened my door to an ugly odour, several half-filled pint glasses and lots of dirty clothing strewn over the ground. After I got back from the Australian War Memorial, I decided it might be a good option to change dorms as I really didn't want to meet the inhabitants of that dorm, never mind sleep with them (um, that kind of came out wrong). Anyway, now I'm with a nice English guy who's doing work experience at Parliament House - much better (and no mess either).

25/06/01 - Canberra City Backpackers, 1710

Didn't get a lot of sleep last night, due to a combination of last night's curry (which was extraordinarily garlicky - it went down fine but I had a foul taste in my mouth throughout the night), an encroaching cold, a wobbly bunk and guys playing on a laptop right outside in the hall. Overall though it wasn't that bad - irritating, but certainly not night-from-hell stuff.

Spent most of the day at Parliament House. It's a beautiful building, and its location is amazing - you can see for miles around from the entrance. There were Indonesian flags flying everywhere, part of preparations for Indonesian President Wahid's visit tomorrow.

All entrances to Parliament House have X-Ray checks, and as I was walking through security picked up my miniscule Swiss Army knife, which I had to hand over. To be honest a spoon from the Cafe would have been a more dangerous weapon. I didn't need my Swiss Army knife inside anyway, so I wasn't particularly concerned.

Seeing Question Time was very interesting. The politician's behaviour is on par with the primary school kids who kept going in and out of the sound proof viewing gallery (purpose built for annoying school children, apparently). I, however, got to sit in the open air gallery and see all the antics close up.

I had a quick glimpse at the old Parliament House and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy as well; I planned to see the National Gallery but I'll do that tomorrow.

It's really weird being a tourist in your own country; I feel compelled to buy little furry marsupial mascots and photograph lots of natural flora. In New Zealand that compulsion won't be so unusual - I think I'll definitely be brining home some fluffy Kiwis.

26/06/01 - Canberra City Backpackers, 1606

Not a particularly exciting day today. Got my first decent night's sleep since leaving Perth though. This morning I went to the National Museum. The exhibitions looked great, but it wasn't much of a history lesson. The design of the exterior was pretty tacky as well, I think it will probably date really badly.

Trying to get to the National Gallery I took an unexpected excursion to the Canberra Suburbs. I did get there in the end though, and it was a very good gallery. Unfortunately I was a few weeks early for a Frida Kahlo exhibition, which was a shame.

I spent the afternoon at the hostel, trying to rest so my cold would hopefully go away. There are a few more things I wanted to see but they just aren't accessible by public transport - such as the Tidbinbilla Tracking Station and the National Aquarium.

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