ACTually, I think I’ve been here before as well…

An early morning after a good night out with the mad French and Belgian brigade. We also met up – very briefly – with Leon the Welshman who has appeared at the same hostel. I’ll see him again on Sunday with any luck.

The fully-laden walk down to the bus depot took less than fifteen minutes and I arrived in good time to get my bargain ($15) coach to Canberra. As seems traditional now, I slept for the duration of the trip and woke as we pulled into the station.

I realised on the way there that another cap had bitten the dust, though this time hopefully only temporarily. It seems I left it in Delphine and Sophie’s room, and Delphine’s promised to keep care of it until we cross paths again. I bought another one from a closing-down souvenir store as I got off the coach. A whole $2.50. Whoop.

In fairness, the cap I left in Sydney had really seen better – and much less smelly – days. Still, it’s served me well for almost six months so it’d be a shame to lose it!

Back in Canberra, I met Kat for a chat over lunchtime before strolling down to Parliament House. This is well worth the visit and if you come to Canberra, then make sure you don’t miss it.

There are free 45-minute tours starting every thirty minutes. The guide I had was great fun, knew her stuff and chucked plenty of trivia our way. The building itself is fascinating, even though it’s less than 20 years old. Essentially, the hill on which it was built was levelled, the building placed there, and the hill built back up on top of it. Weird.

Most of the parts of the building symbolise something. The water feature outside (currently waterless due to water restrictions) symbolises Australia in the middle of the sea. The pillars in the entry hall symbolise the European forebears – all the marble used in the hall is from various places in Europe. The red mosaic outside symbolises the Aboriginal beginnings of the area.

Heck, even the name of Australia’s capital – Canberra – is an Aboriginal word meaning “meeting place”. Much better than some of the other suggestions from which it was picked: “Kangaroo”, “Shakespeare” and “Federalium” (or something similar).

The building is made up of five different areas. The major ones are the central building, the senate wing and the representative wing. As a very rough equivalent, these are like the House of Lords and House of Commons in Westminster.

The House of Representatives is all done out in shades of green – Eucalyptus leaves being the inspiration. Many of the acts of ceremony here are similar to the uK parliament, such as the mace being carried in before the Speaker (it’s modelled on the UK one) and government and opposition being sat opposite one another.

Before voting begins on major decisions, MPs are given a “4-minute warning” to get from their offices into the House. In the old Parliament building, this was two minutes. To come up with the 4-minute limit, the oldest MP was placed in the furthest office and timed in his walk from there to his place in the House. He took three minutes, so the time allowed was set at slightly more than this.

A huge tapestry in the Great Hall is the second largest in the world. It’s based on a painting and the only recogniseable items in it are trees and a white cockatiel. And Halley’s Comet. This wasn’t in the original painting, but it was visible in the sky when the tapestry was being worked on so, with the permission of the artist, was included in the final work.

In the House of Senates, the colour scheme is red – this symbolises the Eucalyptus flower and also the Red Centre of the country. It also has the only red “emergency exit” signs in Australia. Even the ones in the viewing gallery above it are green. A special piece of legislation had to be issues to allow the ones on the Senate floor to be red!

Yeah, I got overloaded on trivia today. Loved it! The Parliament House needs more time than I had – it closes at 5pm so I didn’t have time to have a “free” wander around so I may head back tomorrow if I can fit it in around the museum.

I walked back into the CBD (quite quickly) to meet Kat for dinner and chats. A good evening ran on into the night! Yet another overly-friendly Aussie!

Blisters and Balboa

My feet were aching this morning. After all that trudging around Tasmania with neither a blister nor a whinge, my feet were punished by the wet weather and destroyed footware yesterday. In fairness, I spent an hour walking around the town centre looking for an open shoeshop, but due to the storm damage there wasn’t a single one open. OK, that’s a partial truth. I found one, but much as I have the legs for them, a pair of high heels just wasn’t what I needed.

Fortunately, most stores had reopened today so I first located a McD’s for breakfast and then a Big W in the mall for a pair of shoes. I changed footwear in the mallway and dropped my knacky old SIN$18 trainers into the trash. Much better!

After checking out of the hostel and storing my bags in a secure locker ($6) I plotted out my day. Some information was gathered from local bus companies and I decided to walk around the Canberra Museum and Gallery. Unfortunately the main permanent gallery was closed due to flooding, but I saw an art exhibition (yawn) and an interesting display detailing the recovery of artifacts from a fire in a university building 20 years ago. Archaeological techniques applied to a modern-day setting to try and figure out what was left in the rubble after bush fires destroyed a storage warehouse.

One thing I’d like to point out about the museum is the loo. Each cubicle had a sign on the door relating to the artwork painted on the inside. Very novel.

I managed to get a sew-on patch for Canberra (I wanted an ACT one, but they’re nigh on impossible to find) and sent some postcards. I have one state to visit – South Australia – and I’ll have been round the whole country.

Next up was lunch with Rach and her husband, more of my online friends, in Mooseheads. Less than ten bucks for a huge chicken burger and chips. Thank you for the beer, folks! As ever, they were the shining example of Aussie hospitality. I’ll be returning to Canberra next week and now have both a room for the night and a lift up to Newcastle! Seriously, folks – thank you so much!

I had a couple of hours left before my bus, which was nowhere near long enough for the Parliament Buildings, Botanical Gardens or Museum so I went to see a film instead. There’s an $8 cinema in the town centre and it was showing Rocky Balboa at just the right time so I popped in. Hard to believe I’ve been alive for all six Rocky films and this is the first one I’ve ever actually seen all the way through. It was OK, though. Not a classic, but enjoyable enough. I think I’d have appreciated it more if I’d seen the older ones.

Then just collecting my bags, back to the bus station and onto the coach for the 3-ish hour jaunt to Sydney during which I snoozed like a baby.

Being a cheapskate I opted to walk from Central to Kings Cross where my hostel was located. What an eye-opener. With the Mardi Gras on Saturday, Sydney is buzzing with people. All the clubs I walked past were heaving, and the sex shows and shops all had staff on the door trying to convince people to go in. Thankfully with two rucksacks, they didn’t seem to want to target me!

It took almost an hour to check in at the hostel – it seemed someone had failed to put any details of any of the bookings onto the system. The couple in front of me had a booking, but no room alloted to them so they ended up in a dorm rather than a private room. I got my chosen 10-share and met four very nice German people. The one in the room when I arrived was a girl (Anita, I think – again I apologise for being rubbish with names) who had just arrived, flat broke, from seeing her boyfriend back off to Germany from Bangkok. She was hungry, penniless and I’m a soft touch. So against her protests I dragged her to McD’s. If she hadn’t come with me I’d have brought something back for her!

While we were there we were nattering about our travels and those of friends, and a guy at the table overheard us talking and joined in the conversation. He was African – from Sierra Leon – and wondered if we’d been there. I think Hans may have, but don’t quote me. It made for great chatting, so thank you Moses! It’s always good to talk to new people from new places with new viewpoints.

The rest of the evening – till 2:30am – was spent on the roof and in the lounge at the hostel just gassing about where we’d all been and were all going. A very pleasant evening after a lot of plodding and footache.

Welcome to Canberra

I hate early mornings. I was up till after 1am sorting this blog out and copying pictures to Taketo’s laptop as his camera had died earlier in the day. My flight was at 6am, so I had to catch the 4:45am shuttle bus. Argh.

Just to add to the fun, I couldn’t get to sleep as I was too wound up about maybe missing the bus. When I did nod off, the guy opposite not only snored but shouted in his sleep! Something about “kill all the English ones” (I swear). This didn’t help me get back to sleep…

I was out of bed before my alarm went off, grabbed all my stuff and ate two oranges for breakfast. I then hitched all my bags, spotted another tear on one of my rucksacks (I need a bag repair shop toot sweet) and waddled to the cathedral, arriving at the same time as the coach.

The journey to Canberra may have been uneventful or we may have been held up. I don’t know. I slept through both short flights and staggered off the second at 8:45am feeling like someone had been using my eyeballs to mix cement. One thing I do remember is that I’ve now had three Virgin Blue flights in a row with no jokes fromthe flight crew. Not good enough!

Unbeknownst to me, Canberra underwent the most severe storms in ten years last night. Hailstones the size of marbles still lay on the streets when I arrived, despite the temperatures pushing thirty degrees by lunchtime. Many shops in the town centre were closed due to flood damage, as are several rooms in the YHA Central which meant they couldn’t check me in when I arrived. Not their fault!

I whiled away the day between the War Museum and wandering around the Parliamentary area. The War Museum is superb – right up there with the Imperial War Museum in London. Anzac Parade, the road which leads to the museum, has numerous memorials along it dedicated to various conflicts and forces. The Vietnam memorial in particular is a stunning piece of work. Water flows, a large blown-up black and white image dominates and phrases from radio conversations are imprinted on one wall like fragments of history. You can almost hear them being shouted in your ear.

The Lonely Planet I have describes the State Library as “massively symmetrical” which is simply just bad English. However, it’s both massive and symmetrical. That is, it’s like a huge, boring 1970’s concrete block. A shame as so many other buildings in Canberra are really nice.

The oddest one has to be the museum which looks like it was put together from plastic Meccanno and then melted.

I grabbed a decent lunch from an Irish pub a few blocks from work – $9.90 for a pint of Coke and a large chicken schnitzel and chips. Just what I needed.

The YHA checked me in fine when I returned, and I’m sharing a dorm with six people so far (more keep arriving). I’ll pop my earplugs in tonight, just in case!

I’m off for dinner now – beans on toast sounds good – and then hopefully meeting Kat (yet another online friend) for a beer or three.