Canberra

From my travel journal:

Saturday 17 November 2012, 7.30 am: In a cafe somewhere in Canberra (I don’t know, I went for a walk, so I could be anywhere…)

I really should have started writing this up last night, but sleep was more urgent.  It was a very long day yesterday.  Started at 3.30 am NZ Time (which someone last night reminded me meant I’d been up since 1.30 am Australian time – no wonder I was fading by 10 pm! (yes, I know, I just broke my cardinal travelling rule of never thinking about what time it is at home))  At the airport by 4.30 to check in for a 6.30 flight, and thankfully managed a bit of a nap on the plane (despite Jetstar having the most uncomfortable seats ever – obviously their cheap flights are because they save money on seat padding), and arrived in Sydney at 8 am local time.

I’d picked the early flight because past experience with Sydney airport has taught me it can be an hour or more to get through customs, so I didn’t want to be panicking to get to the train on time.  Of course, that meant that for a change immigration was a total breeze (yay for the new e-passport – stick it in the slot, get your photo taken and you’re through – no queueing behind someone who’s getting the full 20 questions treatment!), my bag appeared on the conveyor belt as I walked up to it (very unlike Sydney – I once waited half an hour before any bags emerged), and customs waved me through without even wanting to scan my bags.  The train to the city was even pulling in as I got to the bottom of the platform escalator.

So, end result, I was at Central Station before 9 am, and had three hours to fill in before the train.  It was raining, and I had a big heavy bag to lug around, so I’d resigned myself to spending it all sitting in the station’s rather uninspired cafe, but then I noticed the sign for bag check for Countrylink trains, so (after battling my way through a huge crowd of primary school kids obviously on their way home after a school trip), I dumped my bag and headed off for a walk.

First stop, of course, had to be the evil bookshop.  I was very restrained though, and only bought myself two books. Then I wandered a bit further, and was very quickly totally lost – that’s the trouble with Sydney – I know it well enough to feel confident about wandering off without a map, but not well enough to be able to figure out where I am if I turn off the streets I know.  But I managed to retrace my steps successfully, and found my way back to the station in plenty of time, and only slightly damp from the rain (it was much too warm to wear my jacket, so I was walking around in a t-shirt while all the locals were bundled up in coats and scarves).

On the train, an unpleasant surprise – I was sharing a carriage with another school group, so it was a very noisy trip.  The teachers were great and kept the kids under control, but there’s still a certain unavoidable noise level that comes with 30-odd over-excited 11 year olds.

And then the train was delayed (by track work, I think?  I couldn’t properly hear the announcement over the chatter), so it took us 5 hours to get to Canberra.  My head was seriously aching by the time we got there!

But I’m still glad I took the train – it was great to see a bit of the countryside (including some mountains, apparently – when they announced we’d be late getting to Canberra, the woman next to me tried to ring her daughter but couldn’t get a signal on her phone, and commented that it was probably because we were in the mountains.  Really?  The bumps in the landscape were so small I doubt we’d even count them as hills! (She also amused me by saying, when she discovered I was from Christchurch and had been there for the earthquakes, “Oh yes, I know what that’s like, I was in Newcastle for ’89.”  I didn’t have the heart to tell her she had no idea what it’s like!)), and even saw a few kangaroos – the first time I’ve seen them outside of a zoo.

Skyring and Mrs Skyring picked me up at the station, and Skyring showed off his knowledge of the secret taxi-driver routes to drop me at the YHA.  I checked in, and as I stepped into the lift to go up to my room, the woman getting in behind me looked at my bookcrossing t-shirt and said “I should probably know you” – it was JennyG!  And when I found my dorm room, she turned out to be heading for the same room – by total coincidence we’d been given the same room (and last night, at least, had the room to ourselves, so there are now books everywhere :-) )

A short nap revived me enough to head out to dinner at a Thai restaurant.  Two long tables full of bookcrossers, books being passed back and forth along the tables, goody bags (!!! at an uncon!  Canberra have just totally raised the bar for the next NZ one…) and good food.  Sorting out the bill was chaotic, but we all put in what we thought we owed, and I think it somehow worked out in the end.

Then we retired to the snug of a nearby bar, where Edwardstreet somehow talked me into agreeing to help her organise an uncon in Queenstown next year (why let a little thing like no local bookcrossers stop us?), which was announced to great excitement. (I am so going to regret this when I’m up to my eyes in study again next year, but she promised my assistance can be minimal.  Yeah, me doing something minimally, that’ll be an interesting challenge…)

I was fading fast, so left the bar at 10 and headed back to the hostel, where I slept like a dead thing until about 3 am, when there was a huge crash outside – it sounded like someone dropping a skip from the top of a building, but apparently it was just the rubbish truck doing its rounds.  I drifted back to sleep a bit after that, but was wide awake by 5.30, so got up and headed out for a walk.

So, having released a few books (there are so many cool statues and sculptures dotted over the city centre, all just begging for themed releases!) and explored a bit, being amazed as I always am in Australia by the “exotic” birds that are the local equivalents of sparrows and seagulls (those pink cockatoo things, proper parroty-looking birds, some sort of miniature magpie, and assorted others I couldn’t even begin to identify), I found a cafe that opened early for breakfast, and now I’m all refreshed and ready to head out again (or maybe back to the hostel to prepare for this morning’s release walk).

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Funny-looking sparrows

Lots of cool places to release:
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I loved this sign!

Monday 19 November, 7.25 am, back in the same cafe for breakfast

This weekend has gone so fast!  And as usual I was much too busy enjoying myself to write my journal, but I think I remember most of it :-)

Saturday morning was the release walk, starting at Parliament House.  JennyG and I decided to walk over the bridge rather than catch a bus, and had a lovely stroll over there and through the rose gardens.  Except JennyG thought we were supposed to be meeting at Old Parliament House, and I didn’t bother to check the programme… so when we got there, proud of ourselves for arriving with 10 minutes to spare, there were no bookcrossers in sight.  And that was when I did check and discovered our error, which left us only 10 minutes to run up the hill to the new Parliament House.  JennyG opted to stay behind and catch up with us when the walk stopped for morning tea, but I set off up the hill at high speed, and after a bit of confusion finding the right path (Canberra is not great at signposts for pedestrians, and the roads tend to wind around a lot, so following road signs often leads you in the wrong direction) I made it up to the correct meeting place only 5 minutes late.

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View from the bridge

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I see bookcrossers in the distance – I’m not too late!

I hardly had time to catch my breath before we were heading off down the hill again, at a much slower pace this time, leaving a stream of books in our wake.

The view down the “Mall” (there were many jokes about the lack of a McDonalds) was spectacular, looking past the old Parliament and across the lake, and then up the avenue of ANZAC Parade to the war memorial – there are definitely advantages to a planned city.

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A very long straight view

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This was cool – where the road had been cut through the hill, the underlying strata of the rocks had been revealed.

We stopped for refreshments at the Old Parliament House, and watched (from a respectful distance) a ceremony going on at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, where a funeral for an elder was in progress.  Then we headed down to the lakefront, where Skyring had snuck on ahead to prepare a surprise – the row of plinths commemorating Australians of the Year had been converted into Bookcrossers of the Year – 33 of us :-)  I think just about everyone ended up releasing a book on “their” plinth.

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We discover Skyring’s secret mission (yes, that is Flat Jay peeking out from behind the wall)

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I won! (Oh yeah, so did everybody else…) ;-)

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Next we visited a Peace Garden, a Reconciliation Park, and the High Court (which, as Edwardstreet noted, didn’t make us particularly peaceful, reconciliated, or high), and finished the walk with a leisurely lunch at the National Library.

After lunch, we drifted off to various activities for the afternoon.  I decided, as I had a couple of war-themed books to release, to walk back across the bridge and then round the lakefront to ANZAC Parade, which is lined on both sides with war memorials, as well as the big memorial museum at the top.

After a long hot walk round the waterfront, I finally reached the point opposite the line of the Mall, so headed up towards where ANZAC Parade should be, only to be blocked by a big busy road with nowhere to cross (see above re. Canberra not being designed for pedestrians).  In the end I had to backtrack for quite a distance before I finally found an underpass.

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What do you get if you cross a globe with the Ferrier Fountains? This sculpture on the waterfront, apparently.

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Edwardstreet, having visited the memorials the day before, had suggested that I walk up one side of the Parade and back down the other, to best see all of them.  So I set off up the sunny side, realising about half way up that I really really should have put on a hat and sunscreen first – two things I hadn’t thought to bring (everyone always describes Canberra as cold and wet.  They lied.)  By the time I reached the top of the hill I could feel the sunburn setting in, and was tired enough that I decided to skip the museum and just continue back down the (slightly) shadier side of the avenue.  I was very glad to get back to City Walk and a reviving gelatto in the shade of a plane tree!

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I remember seeing these kete handles on the news when NZ gifted them to Canberra.

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I think this was my favourite memorial – it was dedicated to nurses, and was made up of pathways of glass panels. The light inside it was amazing.

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I liked this one devoted to Greece as well. It hasn’t come out well in the photo, but the ground was covered in blue mosaic, representing the sea.

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Did I mention the confusing signs? This one was best of all – I never did work out which way I was supposed to detour, so I just walked straight ahead :-)

Back at the hostel, I sat down to read for a while and ended up sleeping for an hour, waking up with very stiff legs – a reminder of just how many km I’d covered over the course of the day.  I found the Street Sisters sitting out on the balcony, so joined them and we were entertained by a couple of rather drunk young Germans who were showing off their juggling skills with wine bottles.  They suggested we join them going out clubbing, but we demurred, opting for the convention dinner instead, back at King O’Malley’s.

We had a private room at the pub, and were entertained after dinner by a local bookcrosser who is a cryptic crossword compiler and writes …for Dummies books on puzzles and codes.  It was a really interesting talk, especially the parts about exactly how a cryptic crossword is put together.  There were door prizes too (all this despite there being no convention fee – no way we’ll be able to compete with Canberra’s efforts when it’s NZ’s turn next year!) and I won a booklight.

Despite quite a late night (for me, anyway), I woke up at 6 on Sunday morning, so rather than disturb my roommates (we’d acquired a couple of pole-dancers, in town for a competition (we joked about whether we could combine our two hobbies in some way – maybe flinging books into the audience while spinning round a pole?)), I went out to the book exchange shelf (conveniently located right next to our room – it’s like the YHA people knew we were bookcrossers :-)) and spent a happy and productive couple of hours registering all the books.  There were already quite a few bookcrossing books on the shelf, deposited by the others BCers staying at the hostel, so it’s become quite a proto-OBCZ now.

Brunch was at Pancake Parlour, and all too soon the convention proper was over.  Hugs all round, and those few of us staying on for another day made plans to meet for dinner.  Littlemave was talking about visiting a market in Kingston for the afternoon, so I joined her.  We never made it to the market, though – after waiting half an hour for a bus, we were told by another waiting passenger that she’d had a text from the bus company and the bus was cancelled – it’s broken down, and rather than send a replacement bus they’d just cancelled it.  So we decided to go to the National Museum instead, a short (ish – we took a short cut that turned out not to be) walk round the lakefront.

The museum was a bit disappointing (I can see now why Skyring always raves about Te Papa), but there were a few interesting bits, and it was pleasant to wander around in its airconditioned cool.  We decided to try our luck with the bus system again to get back into the city, and this time the bus turned up, and even better, the driver gave us our rides for free because we were only going one stop.

Littlemave headed to the station to catch her bus back to Sydney, and I went back to the hostel, where I met the others and firmed up our plans for dinner.  After a multi-media attempt to contact everyone (texts, facebook messages, and a note on the hostel bulletin board) and a quick bit of internet time (where I discovered I’d already had two catches from the release walk!) we headed out for dinner at a taqueria, then drinks at the casino, where we were entertained watching the very serious Chinese gamblers playing Pai Gow.  And then, all too tired for another late night, retired to our respective hostel and hotels.

3 pm, Canberra Airport

I should have been in Sydney by now, but the best laid plans and all that…  My flight was first delayed with mechanical trouble, and then cancelled, and I’ve been rebooked on a later flight.  Luckily I was going to have several hours to fill in Sydney before my onward flight, otherwise I’d have a bit of a problem.  My new flight should get me to Sydney with just enough time to make check-in.  It means I miss out on the Koru Club though – Edwardstreet (who caught a flight with a different airline just before they announced the delay on mine) and I had arranged to meet at Sydney and she’d get me into the Koru Club as her guest – hope she’s worked out by now that I’m not arriving and not to wait for me (she hasn’t got a mobile with her, so I can’t let her know about the change of plans).  So no free dinner for me :-(

So here I am stuck at Canberra airport for another hour, which is not the most exciting airport in the world to be stuck in – only one shop and a couple of cafes.  Good thing I’ve got a book (or several) with me…


PS. For those who wondered, yes, I did end up with a vaguely ballycumber-shaped tan line (if you squint and use your imagination a bit).  There’s definitely a pale patch where the tattoo was, anyway:

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The good, the bad, and the… also good

One of the nicer side-effects of the earthquakes is that because we lost almost all of the city’s arthouse cinemas, the mainstream cinemas have started showing a broader range of films to cater to some of that market.  As a result, the local Hoyts is celebrating Diwali with a selection of Bollywood films, one of which we went to see last night: Son of Sardaar.  A totally mad mix of action movie, slapstick comedy and musical that could only be produced in Bollywood, it was great fun – we both giggled our way through it (even if we were often laughing at different times to the rest of the (mostly Indian) audience).  Of course, now I’ve got the theme tune stuck in my head…


On the less pleasant side of the earthquake balance is the fact that it’s our suburb’s turn to have its sewers checked for earthquake damage (the council are slowly working their way round the entire city – a four-year job, apparently).  We got a letter the other day warning us that they’d be working at night (because apparently not disrupting traffic is more important than not disrupting our sleep) and that there might be some disturbance from noise and lights.  What they didn’t warn us about though was the smell – they must have been forcing air or water through the pipes to test them or something, because there was much bubbling and blowback from the toilet (luckily it seemed to only be water splashing out, but we put the lid down anyway), and a wonderful reek of sewer gasses through the house.  Plus I reckon they must have had the truck parked right outside our house, and it was just noisy enough that whenever I’d start to drift off I’d be woken up again.

So not a pleasant awakening this morning, to not enough sleep and a lingering horrible smell.  Luckily it’s a nice day today, so MrPloppy will be able to open all the windows and air it out a bit, so hopefully by the time I get home tonight the smell will be gone.

I really hope though that that’s our bit of pipe done and they’ll move further along the street tonight, because the notice said they’ll be working on the pipes until the 30th, and I really couldn’t cope with that every night!


In other good news, I got my marks back from my assignment, and I got an A+!  It’s only a provisional grade at the moment, because postgrad work has to be checkmarked by an external assessor, but I’m still grinning like a mad thing.

Now all I have to do is keep that up for the next three years, and I’ll have a high enough GPA to get a chance of a scholarship…


And talking of good things, I got a parcel yesterday from Lytteltonwitch.  She definitely knows me well:

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And the perfect size for carting books, too.  Thanks, LW!


And even more good news, the electrician has almost (after many stop start visits when he had to drop our work to go and attend to earthquake rebuilds (which we’d said we were ok with him giving priority to – people who’ve been living in broken houses for two years definitely have a greater need than us!)) finished our re-wiring.  Thanks to Stepfather’s generosity in his will, we’ve not only got a much safer house, we’ve now got power points everywhere we need them (instead of trying to run everything off one power point per room plus a spaghetti of extension cords and multi-boards), and better lights, and can even do exciting things like run the washing machine and the dryer at the same time without blowing all the fuses (trust me, that’s exciting when you’ve been living with 1950s wiring for 10 years!).  He’s just got to finish disconnecting the old underfloor heating system (which we’ve never used, because it cost a fortune to run and generated more smell than heat anyway) and installing a nightstore heater in the hallway, and we’ll be done.

Next project: carpet.


In Bookcrossing news, only a few days until the Australian UnCon.  Which means I’ll be getting up ridiculously early on Friday morning (my flight’s at 6.30 am, so that means check-in at 4.30, which means…. arrgh, I don’t want to think about what that means about when I have to set the alarm for!) to fly to Sydney and then catch a train to Canberra.  Canberra’s not supposed to be a particularly exciting city to visit, but when it’s full of bookcrossers it’s sure to be a fantastically fun weekend.

And a few recent (and not so recent – I must remember to post more often) catches:

Mr. Corbett’s Ghost  by Leon Garfield was an early Halloween release (ok, so I meant to release it on Halloween but got the date wrong) that must have been caught almost immediately, because I released it in Deans Bush about an hour before they close the gates for the night, and it was caught that same night.

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett is a second-generation catch on a book I released in Washington DC.  After being caught and taken to Seattle, it languished in a lost and found box for months before being rescued and enjoyed.

The Tower on the Rift by Ian Irvine – a catch from Ireland, from our visit to Clonmacnoise.

Random Acts of Heroic Love by Danny Scheinmann and Consequences by Anna Dillon – more Ireland catches, this time from the hostel in Cashel.

Working Wonders by Jenny Colgan – and another one from the hostel in Killarney.

Beside Myself by Russell Haley – nearly two years between release and catch, a couple of blocks apart from each other.

Man and Boy by Tony Parsons – caught and re-released.

Demon Rumm by Sandra Brown – and a quick catch for a themed release.