Hello from Australia's capital city Canberra. I seem to have joined an elite and rare group of people by visiting the Capital Territory as it seems barely any Australians and ever fewer travellers make it here, despite the fact the city is just 3 hours south west of Sydney. Whenever I told an Aussie I had Canberra on my itinerary I got a very strange look, and it seems that the city is much maligned. Canberra, now with a population of 345,000, was purpose built in the 1920s to house the Australian Government, therby settling an age old dispute between old rivals Melbourne and Sydney. Most of the workers here remain white collar, and the city has a large student population.
I arrived here in the early evening yesterday following a lengthy bus/train/bus journey from Melbourne. I have to admit I was sad to leave Melbourne as it was a city that really grabbed me, and it was also sad saying goodbye to Melbourne resident Julia who I'd met the previous afternoon. It was nice to catch up with her having not seen her since my Peru trip in September and she showed me round a few city centre bars before we went to watch Avatar in 3D at the cinema. Despite generally not enjoying sci-fi films I thought Avatar was really good, and it felt especially poignant watching a film about the destruction of a local culture having learned so much about the Aboriginies in the last month. The 3D effects were really good too, and I liked the fact they were in place to make the picture clearer and not make you jump like those in theme park cinemas.
My rail replacement bus left early on Tuesday morning from Southern Cross Station and took just over 3 hours to reach the town of Albury, where we had an hour wait before our train set off. It was a further 4 or so hours on the train to Yass Junction, where I had a short wait to board the 1.25 hour bus to Canberra. Quite a journey. The scenery did not change much throughout, apart from maybe getting a bit hillier as we entered New South Wales. It was pretty much extermely dry fields and bush for as far as you could see, and it was easy to see why bush fires spread so easily in the hot Australian summer.
Last night I rewarded myself after the long journey by going to a semi decent restaurant next to the hostel to try another turkey dinner. The turkey was excellent but I was very disappointed to find it came with a shedload of salad rather than roast vegetables as it said on the menu. It seems Australian restaurants can't make a proper Christmas roast!
This morning I headed out on foot to explore the spacious and green city of Canberra. The place had a very sleepy and slow paced atmosphere, and I actually found the city as a whole to be quite pleasant. It had been designed quite well and there were lots of green spaces, and even a man made lake which had tonnes of cyclists going round. I walked past the old parliament building up to the current parliament, which is probably one of the strangest looking parliament buildings anywhere in the world. It is built very low down, almost into the grass, in order to symbolise that politicians are not above the people. You could enter the place and explore for free, which I thought was particularly good. At the very least most parliaments would make you go on a guided tour. You could wander into the main hall, the house of representatives and the senate chamber, as well as take a lift up to the roof for views of the city. The parliament has been constructed in line with ANZAC Parade and the Australian War Memorial on the opposite side of the lake, which was a nice feature.
After seeing the parliament building I walked back around the lake to reach ANZAC Parade, which sadly was a bit of a building site. The wide street is lined with war memorials, and the national memorial is at the top end. Again, you could enter this for free and it was definitely the busiest attraction in Canberra. As well as being a memorial it was also a museum about the two world wars, and there were plenty of exhibits to look through. I didn't hang about too long as I was eager to ascend Mount Ainslie, a small mountain set behind the memorial and almost in line with it. The climb through the dry bushland was pretty moderate, and the hot sun didn't affect me too badly. From the top you got 270 degree views right across Canberra and it was well worth the effort. My walk will probably be my last glimpse of the Australian bush, which is a sad thought. It seems a long time ago when I first entered it in the Blue Mountains, and I shall miss the loud cicadas, gum trees and dry ground which is so unique to Australia - the world's driest continent.
This afternoon I have used to my spare time to do some shopping and preperation ahead of flying out to South East Asia on January 2nd. Canberra had quite a nice indoor shopping centre, though it took me an eternity to find a stationary shop to get the things I needed. I had tried to find one in Melbourne without success. Australian shopping areas seem to be 90% women's fashion shops and the country desperately needs a WH Smith equivalent! Men's barbers are also scarce, so I ended up yet again at a fairly expensive unisex salon in the shopping centre. As in Sydney an Asian lady cut my hair, but she did do it quite well unlike the woman in Sydney. It did cost me over 20 pounds though, but there was really nowhere else to go and I didn't want to wait until Bangkok!
I have a couple more hours spare before catching my evening bus to Sydney, where I'll be spending new year. I'm unsure if I'll be meeting up with anybody yet for the celebrations but I hope I can arrange something. The weather forecast looks slightly dodgy so I hope the rain holds off for the harbour fireworks display. I shall hopefully update again about new year before I leave Australia. Happy new year to everyone at home, and bear in mind that when I'll be celebrating at midnight it will only be 1pm in the afternoon in England! I'll beat you into 2010 by 11 hours, which is a strange thought!