Canberra – day 284

Getting off the bus at 6.00am was actually a blessing – not sure what happened but Jayne was surprisingly warm whilst my feet had effectively turned into blocks of ice!! We quickly navigated our way through the dark and deserted streets (apart from a couple of hard core drinkers still partying from the night before) towards the YHA. Too early to check in, we made ourselves a coffee and sat in the communal kitchen waiting for the spa and pool to open! Might as well warm up in a civilised manner!!! Sat in the sauna for a while, still trying to get feeling to my extremities although we both ended up bypassing the pool and spa as neither of them were heated… A warm shower and we were good to go! Had some (free) fruit toast for breakfast as we waited for Julie to pick us up. Decided to head to the Parliament House first to do one of their free guided tours. The roads were still surrounded in fog, we made our way to Capital Hill, through airport-like security to enter the building which is dug into the hill. The tour was actually really informative and the guide, Shaun, was clearly passionate about his job and the 45 minute tour passed really quickly as we visit the Great Hall, the House of Representatives, the Senate and past seemingly endless corridors. The House of Representatives and the Senate reflect the same colours used in the British Houses of Parliament, although using the hues from the Australian flora and fauna (apparently!). We also learnt why the kangaroo and emu are used so much to represent the Australian government (cause they can only move forwards, not backwards) and that when the lights and bells ring in the house, the delegates have only four minutes to get to the correct chamber before the doors are locked, preventing anyone from entering or leaving, which can have a great impact on the passing or blocking of new laws. 
We then took a lift to the grass topped roof which is topped by an 81 metre Hugh flagpole. The rooftop lawns encompass 23 hectares of gardens and provided superb 360-degree view, especially now the fog had lifted. 
Next stop was a drive by the old Parliament House and, located on the front lawn, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, which is an impertinent site in the struggle for equality and representation for indigenous Australians. We then drove to the Australian War Memorial. Considered Canberra’s most rewarding museum experience, it wins ‘Australia’s best tourist attraction’ regularly and features halls dedicated to WWI, WWII and conflicts from 1945 to the present day. A spectacular aircraft hall located below the memorial was also really interesting, showcasing original fighter jets and other equipment used whilst a sound and light show blares out in the Anzac hall.  The entrance to the museum is via a commemorative courtyard with a roll of honour of the Australians war dead. Family members have attached bright-red paper poppies to the names of the relative. These poppies of remembrance reflect those that flowered on the battlegrounds of Belgium, France and Gallipoli in the spring of 1915. Spent time looking at the seemingly never ending list of names, fully aware that some of them represented entire families that had been wiped out. Managed to find a few ‘Stockdale’ names in the plaques but no ‘Langford’. Behind the courtyard is the mosaic encrusted Hall of Memory. This is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, representing all Australians who have given their lives during wartime. The mosaic images of the four representatives of the Australian Military Corp (army, navy, airforce and nursing) was absolutely stunning as was the four plain sculptures in the back of the hall all made in different material to represent the different corps. Walked down the Anzac parade, enjoying the glorious sunshine and visiting the different sculptures as we chatted about past and upcoming holiday destinations. All feeling hungry, we headed to Julie’s favourite noodle restaurant and had the most incredible Laksa soup – a combination of Chinese and Malaysian cuisine, the coconut and chilli, meat and vegetable noodle soup was perfect and just what we needed to keep us going on our tour of the city.
After lunch, we went to the National Arboretum. Located on land previously impacted by bushfires, the arboretum is a ever-developing showcase of trees from around the world. It has excellent views over the city as many of the plantings are still small as they are in their early years. There was a sculpture at the top of one of the viewpoints that shows the words ‘wide brown land’, three words from the famous poem ‘My Country’, written by poet Dorothea Mackellar when she was living in England and missing her home country, Australia.Drove through the streets, looking at the university in our way to Black Mountain which is located northwest of the city. At the summit of the mountain is the 195 metre high Telstra Tower. Allowed to visit the viewing platform at 66 metres up the shaft we had panoramic views of the city, including Lake Burley Griffin which was filled by damming the Molonglo River in 1963 with the 33m-high Scrivener Dam. Dropping us back at the YHA, we said goodbye to Julie – grateful that she was happy to be our personal chauffeur and tour guide for the day. There was no way we would have seen so much of Canberra under our own steam and on public transport! Were picked up again from the hostel soon afterwards by Connor who took us out to a nearby bar for a few drinks and a catch up. Fortunately, not as messy as the last time we went out for ‘a drink’, all three of us were giggling about various stories and the evening passed really quickly. Connor dropped us off at the supermarket so we could get some stuff for our coach to Sydney tomorrow before we walked back to the hostel, climbed into our bunk beds and passed out, exhausted from the night bus followed by a brilliantly busy day. 

Sunday 17th July 2016

Melbourne – day 276

I drew the short straw in having to write about today. But, that would be the only complaint, for the day was full of activities and memories and there is so much to blog about. 
The remaining slice of pizza from last nights feast was left out on the counter. While myself and Katherine considered this to be a normal thing to do with a bit of good pizza, Tracey was horrified at the idea that we would actually eat it. It had chicken on it, thus was contaminated and riddled with salmonella. So, after halving the pizza and feigning dysentery, abdominal pains and fever we got the 96 tram outside Tolarno Hotel to take us in to the city where we could grab an 86 tram. A quick switch-a-roo (be prepared for many Aussie puns in the blogs to come) and we were heading out of the city to Northcote. We planned well for the journey and had plenty of time to grab a coffee and a bite to eat. Tracey was now full of energy (and caffeine) and was all excited about the prospect of learning magic and pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The magic workshop was brilliant. Not only was being taught magic cool, interesting and fun, but the three of us (mostly the other two) raised the atmosphere of the room. They were hilarious and Simon enjoyed his routine more as a result. It became ridiculously funny when Tracey became the magician for a routine: picked a kid in the front row to be the ‘willing’ volunteer, and the ensuing spectacle had me in tears and many others in fits and roars of laughter, except the kid and his mother (although she wanted to laugh too). With new found magic skills and a sense of grandeur, Katherine was going to practice her levitation skills on one of the staff after the workshop. Too old to enrol in Hogwarts, Kat has nevertheless mastered the ‘I’ll show you a magic trick if you buy me a drink’, in a transfiguration showcase where a shoddy routine transforms into wine. Needless to say it was hilarious and Tracey recorded most of it on her phone. Comedy genius, we would use it for more laughs later in the day. 

Back on the 86, we were soon jumping off in front of the Royal Exhibition Building. Built for the international exhibition in 1880, this beautiful Victorian edifice symbolises the glory days of the industrial revolution, the British empire and 19th-century Melbourne’s economic supremacy. It was the first building to fly the Australian flag and Australia’s first parliament sat here in 1901. It now hosts everything from trade fairs to car shows and was our first UNESCO site in Australia. We considered going in to the museum, but decided that we’d prefer to save the money, enjoy the nice weather and walk the city. So, passing Parliament House Building and the Treasury we started getting back in to the heart of the city and visited ‘The Lanes’. 

A spectacle of graffiti, ranging in small detailed pieces to large stretches of wall and buildings, all were colourful and a hell of a lot better than I was expecting. The usual tags and slogans that one sees in London, were nowhere in sight. The lanes were crammed with people taking photos, standing back to admire artwork in an unusual setting and strolling the alleys like they were a museum. It was truly incredible and we even stopped to watch some new art being created, the distinctive smell of spray paint finally deterring us down the hill, past the queues of people visiting Magcon (???) and out in to the sunshine again. 

The hip and happening Fed Square was opposite St. Paul’s Church. So, after a wander through it’s beautiful architecture, mixed coloured brickwork, mosaic floors, stain-glassed windows and memorials, we headed across the road to use the loo, grab a drink and plan ahead for the rest of the day. 
With the weather holding and forecasts for tomorrow not looking as good, we walked. A stroll across the Yarra river, past some cute little ponds, grand statues and memorials, we powered up a hill to look down into the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. There was nothing playing and the place was deserted. It granted us a glimpse of the city skyline and what it would be like to be here with a picnic in the summer watching a concert. The Royal Botanical Gardens were brilliant. I realise that everything today is brilliant, amazing, fantastic, etc but that’s how the day was and the gardens are a must see for anyone. The variety of flora was incredible and the layout meant you could walk around happily for hours seeing different things and not get bored. We however didn’t have the luxury of wandering aimlessly for such a period of time, hand-picking what we wanted to see at each junction and sign post. We spent a nice bit of time in the herb garden smelling all the different leaves and a chunk of time in the greenhouse that had three Titan Arums, two of them mature and having flowered in recent years. The Shrine of Remembrance was adjacent to the gardens and while I skipped the crypt for a sit down (must be salmonella poisoning), the dastardly duo said it was very nice and then dragged me up to the top. Beautiful views of the city, slightly higher and less obstructed than the music bowl, we could see planes zooming around, helicopters descending in to the mix of skyscrapers and the sun shine off the millions of glass windows. Walking back into the city we all stuck our hands in the decorative water feature wall of the National Gallery of Victoria, an otherwise plain and nondescript building. We saw that The Arts Centres Theatre – the one with the Eiffel Tower looking structure above it – was about to do a short run of ‘Funny Girl’. It won’t compare with the one I just saw, so I bragged a little. 

Something on Tracey’s bucket list for a while has been to have a drink at Ponyfish Island. An extended bit of concrete on the bottom of a bridge support over the river has been turned into a quirky little pub. After ordering a round of drinks, I went back over the bridge to the bank where some wedding photos were being shot, to take my own stunning shots of the gruesome twosome. Afternoon turned to evening and vision went from clear to fuzzy, as drink after drink we replenished Tracey’s wine glass and drank most of the cauldron of mulled wine that was on sale. We sent Simon the video of Katherine’s magic performance and photos to Tracey’s friends to make them jealous. The hours melted away with the occasional banter between Simon and Tracey on FB Messenger sending us in to tears. 

The black swans had swum upriver for the night, the canoeists were up and down with the little lights on their boats pinpointing them until passing around the bend and we finally hustled down the Southbank to find chips and our next adventure. We were about to slide down some ice, in a big tube and while it now seems simple and childish, it was great fun and the bumps, bruises and pains have been worth it. 

Plus, Elmo playing the bagpipes helped Tracey forget her pains with a cheeky squeeze of the bum. 

Passing some more graffiti along the Southbank, we hopped on a tram back to St. Kilda. A quick trip into the hotel to dump the bags, we went for another drink. The Prince of Wales pub is apparently the oldest gay friendly pub in the area. While the style of the pub has changed over the years, it was a laid back, relaxed place with live music blaring and Aussie footie on the tellie. We had one drink before leaving and picked up dinner down the road. Burgers for those two, I went for a souvlaki (a variety of the kebab kind). A few coconut M&M’s thrown around the place and we all passed out after the day. 

Saturday 9th July 2016