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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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: