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Published: December 13th 2017
Geo: -35.3284, 149.084
Canberra 3-6th Oct 08
The only outstanding state or territory we had not been to since we first set foot on this continent 10 years ago is Australian Capital Territory or ACT, which is between Melbourne and Sydney cause presumably like bold children they couldn't agree who was the capital (a bit like the battle for the capital of Mayo between Castlebar & Ballina then), so they made a planned town called Canberra about 300km from Sydney and 650km from Melbourne (see the Mayo connection again? Westport is also a planned town, so it should be the capital). So it is nearer Sydney and so in NSW perhaps? No to stop any such arguments they also made a new territory and called it ACT (don't know why it and Northern territory are not called states, well you can kinda see with this one as it is teeny and it was made to stop arguments but NT is massive). But really I think it is in NSW.
So anyway Canberra has the name of being a bit boring, but if it was good enough for Bill Bryson it's good enough for us! So it was conceived at the start of the last century but took a while to build, amazingly Canberra means meeting place in Aboriginal, amazing that they called anything an 'Abo' word back then I mean. So I read up on it and it sounded ok and has loads of museums and eateries, so if you are into pontificating and beard stroking and stuffing your face, what's not to like?
I got various reactions from the other aussies when I said I was going there varying from "Why?" To "I like Canberra". Apparently it's colder in winter & hotter in summer than Sydney, so as it is spring now I packed for all 4 seasons. It was 33 degrees in Sydney on the Friday we left and forecast to be 11 degrees by the Monday in Canberra. In reality it was not as hot as Sydney in spring but like Irish summer, so all good. (It's back to 22 degrees in Sydney now Tues 7th Oct.)
So we decided to go by train (cause we are train geeks and we did enough flying this year) which amazingly is more expensive ($113 pp rtn) than flying and took between 4.25 and 4.5 hrs each way. (Just for comparison Dublin to Galway is 85km less, costs 18euro less, and takes 110mins less, so Iarnrod Eireann doesn't seem so bad now). Although I did know this in advance and am not complaining per se just comparing cause all my countrymen love complaining about our transportation options, am not sure what could take nearly 2 hours to go another 85km, there was a camber on the line but they must have had to build it around rock and to make such a meal of it. Here's a word to the wise there is no point trying to buy a ticket at Sydney central station 15 minutes before the train leaves as it is pre reservation only, luckily I knew this and as it only had 3 carriages it was booked out.
So we were thinking it would be a dinnerless evening as our Eta was 22:31 and all Aussie restaurants (not just sleepy Canberra) are well closed by then but no I was wrong not only did they serve a hot meaty dinner but also vege chick pea curry and it was nice enough, well as good as 'decent' airline food anyway depending on your perspective. So hurray for CountryLink trains. Naturally being Australia there was announcements about ordering dinner, collecting dinner and announcements about announcements which were very entertaining really and the train staff were lovely. The bar in central station Sydney though is a interior design crime! Like central station itself is a lovely old building and the bar could be lovely.
About an hour before I left I was told in work 'Oh you don't want to be in Canberra without a car, it's a car city' and also 'you won't see all of Canberra on foot' and I was thinking A. crap as we could've easily rented a car but it was too late now having parted with $226 for the train journeys, so taxi here we come and B. it's not like I want to see suburbs, the city centre & the national art gallery will do nicely. Then on the commuter train from work to central station I was told taxi's in Canberra are really dear, double crap. So after a 15min wait at Canberra station which is bit like a pre-fab (the other stations are lovely old time ones) we got one and it was $12 for 3km so not the end of the world.
Stayed in "the historic" hyatt 'supposedly 5 star' hotel. Why its historic I am not quite sure other than it's been around since at least 1935 and started life as 'Hotel Canberra'. It's very low level building which looks weird, the entrance seems much more imposing on the web site but inside the décor was beautiful and was as you'd expect a 5 star to be really, and it was $8/9 for a beer also as you'd expect, but the reason I say 'supposedly 5 star' is basically the staff were off their game. Interestingly a lot of the staff were white which is unusual these days and the door men who didn't carry luggage, well any of ours anyway, wore poncy pantaloons tucked into their knee socks and Scottish style hats, eh why? But it was quaint & cutesy.
Admittedly it was not that big a deal queuing for breakfast the morning after daylight savings came in which is one thing but being so disorganized as to have a massive 30 minute queue going the next morning as well is another entirely. I don't care about the logistics of how they run the breakfast room but as I am paying through the nose I don't want to queue (I hate queuing at the best of times), why not just open up another section? They had the room, also maybe employ a few more staff or get the ones you have to actually clear tables promptly, or extend breakfast to 11am on public holiday weekends or don't have bloody check out at 10am. I might add they extended breakfast the other way to start at 5:30 am during school holidays (it's school holidays these 2 weeks) now call me a child hater but, hello, expensive five star hotel how many kids were they expecting?? And those of without kids don't go to these expensive places to have them pander to kids! Pander to me instead!!! And the bit that kills me is the breakfast was $50 extra than if you just booked room only on the hyatt's own website (needless to say I got a better deal elsewhere) so I was expecting something 5 starry and amazing but unsurprisingly it was like any buffet breakfast anywhere in any star hotel in the world, and they had a special corner where the chef would make you eggs benedict, omelettes, french toast etc. so I gave that whirl, but they didn't know Eggs Benedict is called Eggs Florentine when it has no meat, not only had they no spinach but no effing hollandaise sauce! Honestly 5 star me arse.
There are many lovely brunch places in town (CBD) but you guessed it that's a $15 taxi ride away. So operation breakfast is a bit of a factor in the "would I stay there again" question, I probably would have said yes even so, until we checked out and they tried to charge us for some mystery $17 mini bar charge we never had, plus there was nothing on the menu that could have cost that, even with Gst (vat). Then I see they took $300 off the credit card as "security", who the hell does that, in the other 250 odd hotels I have stayed in they swipe card for security alright but don't actually charge the card, cheeky buggers.
So as that is the only thing that was an issue for 72 hours it's hardly a deal breaker, I am only saying cause I am blogging, it's not like I'd write it if I sent any post cards. This is what I would say Canberra is a lovely city, the Hyatt hotel is in fact in a good spot to walk to Lake Burley Griffin (man made and named after the American architect who planned the town), see the huge Capt. Cook Water Jet (Memorial fountain that propels 6tonnes of water up), walk to the Sculpture garden of the National Art Gallery (NGA) which is free in and is very impressive, the gallery itself is also really good (also free in & it was an overcast day so perfect gallery day) and with a little bit of everything from Europe, Asia, America and Oz, from Monet to Warhol. Good to see some Aussie artists actually as they are not exactly huge elsewhere like Nolan, Streeton, Preston, Boyd, Brack, Cossington Smith and had some good Abo stuff especially Vernon Ah Kee's piece on racism, it was a load of statements you hear a lot here like:
"I am not racist but....why they can't everyone just speak English... I am not racist but.... they are so lazy ..... I am not racist but....but my taxes support them .... I am not racist but....why they can't hold down a proper job" etc. But the classic line for us was:
I am not racist but.... biscuits don't come free
Priceless, I love that.
From there it's an easy walk to the old parliament house, where the Abo's have set up "embassy" outside in a hut, they are good craic. Beside it is a nice rose garden (designed by Broinowksi) which was not in bloom yet but from where we could hear classical music being played from the Carillon across the lake. Then directly behind the old parliament (which is now a portrait gallery) is a another walk up to the new parliament which cost the Aussie tax payer au$1.1billion and has a cool grass roof which you can walk up and look over to Mt. Ainslie and see the war memorial about 5km away. Very nice, planned cities good.
After operation breakfast I would rather starve than eat at the hotel, mind you something tells me they wouldn't exactly cater for the likes of weirdeo veggie me, so we taxied into the CBD to an Italian Tosolini's, then ended up getting rat-arsed in a micro brewery 'The wig and pen' where they served pints, am out of the habit! And of course we had to finish off in 'King O'Malleys' Irish bar named after a 1913 politician which I think was open til 5am and was full of alco-poped teenagers dancing, but am not that sure.
Moving swiftly on the next day's task was the 5km walk to the war memorial (and 5km back) via the other side of Lake Burley Griffin which also has globe sculpture in memory of Capt. Cook too. Further up from that after a 'danger shallow water sign' ???? its easy to enter Commonwealth park and the see the annual flower show 'Floriade' (mid sept-oct) which is all very nice but there's only about 10 varieties of flowers and they all grow in Ireland too like Tulips, primroses, daisies etc. There was a naff CW band playing and they had face painting & clowns & what have you and a mini photography exhibition and best of all a garden knome painting competition, I particularly liked the 'over 22 yrs of age category' and the theme of the show was Australian movies so each flower patch was named after a movie but really there was no connection at all! But it was very pleasant to walk around for an hour or so and the sun was splitting the rocks. Then we continued on til we could branch up Anzac parade to the war memorial, naturally we were the only ones walking but we did pass 'Blamey Cr.', Anzac parade is what you'd call a vast road with modern memorials to all the wars each side, the Navy one had a particularly good sculpture on the right hand side going up and on the way down on the other side the Vietnam one was good too.
The Aussies are really proud of their Anzac soldiers and the memorial itself is something else, I was expecting a statue like we have in our local park in Kilmainham but then again as we had our own troubles we are not really a world war memorial kinda country. But bearing in mind we were only in Russia and Germany and Poland and the Baltics last year so other war memorials are fresh in my mind, and this one is the best, like a cross between the pantheon in Rome and the Roman Baths in errr Bath, with lovely mosaics and all the war dead listed in alpha order in battalion and war (7 conflicts) and loads of red poppies everywhere. There's an unknown soldier grave surrounded by stained glass windows of 15 hero categories, navy, nurses, army etc., there's an eternal flame, a pound, aqueduct looking arches, domes, interpretive centre, good statues, gift shop & café. And they play the 'last post' at 5pm each day, very stirring stuff (and I have NO interest in any of the wars). Very very impressive and I would say the must do for Canberra.
Dinner the last night was in shopping burb called Manuka in 'Jewel of India' which was exquisite in the food dept. (but not the décor.) The shops there looked gorgeous so it's probably as well we didn't go in daylight. And we watched the weirdest late night film on tv called 'Secretary' with Maggie Gyllenhall and James Spader, is James Spader only in weird sex films?
Public holiday (as opposed to Bank, Bank holidays here only the Banks are closed stupid eegits) Monday the train back to Sydders was at 12:05pm, there was no evening train (unlike helpful Iarnrod Eireann they do not move Sundays timetable to Monday on a 'public' holiday), so following operation breakfast & trying to check out without being ripped off all we had time for was a relax with papers in the tea room of the hyatt & lovely gardens & then we were back in an expensive taxi to the station, which is just as well as that's when it started pissing rain, so perfect timing.
10th Oct - To add insult to injury the Hyatt posted me a receipt to say they took the bogus mini bar charge off my credit card anyway! Called them, no duty manager available (surprising?) and spoke with someone who even agreed there was no item at exactly that rate available in the mini bar and that they'd reverse it pronto.
14th Still not reversed, so have sent a stinker of a letter now, the gist being "for the third time we did not use the mini-bar", so we'll see does that work...
16th got money back but no reply to letter of complaint, again I say '5 STAR MY ARSE'!
I put review on tripadvisor and yet another nut emails telling me the 'rat bag' (I quote) unions make the hotels pay extra on public hols, eeehhh the hotels also charge the patrons extra on those days too, dick wad. Could it actually be, and I know this is radical, the staff are just crap and the hotel doesn't deserve 5 stars, mon dieu. He also started the email by saying he was of Irish catholic origin so he wouldn't hold my review against me (fool), who does he think he is the chief religious presumptuous nut shareholder in Hyatt. Trip advisor really attracts some weirdoes (yes I see the irony).
7th Nov - they send an apology letter with ...wait for it.... a voucher for 2 for breakfast at their awful promenade cafe! (valid for a year but very definately in my name so non transferrable).
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