A Day of Sightseeing in Canberra

Nathan was going to go around Canberra to shoot some local scenery, so I took advantage of the unofficial hop-on-hop-off van. Its was a serendipitous way to see the city!

Nathan and I were accompanied by Mark, who acted as our guide. We first went to the Australian War Museum (I told you it was THE thing to see in Canberra!). After a few quick shots of the Commemorative Courtyard, we sped off to the next site, the Limestone Plains. Here, I saw a map that showed the planned layout of Canberra. Canberra was a designed city from the beginning, and the architect envisioned the whole city laid out in geometric simplicity.

Here we had a beautiful panoramic view of Canberra, which was a nice way to see the city. I saw that Canberra was mostly flat. The usual skyscrapers were noticeably absent.

Mark said that there were also several trails starting from this point. If I had more time, I would have gone on a little trek, as the day was just gorgeous for walking.

Mark said that Canberra is a totally man-made place. Even the lake is artificial. The Aussies chose Canberra as their national capital (as per Mark) because at that time, Sydney and Melbourne were both lobbying for this honor. In order to show no favoritism, Canberra was chosen.

Our next stop was Lake Burley Griffin (the artificial lake I mentioned), to see the Captain James Cook Memorial Water Jet. Lake Griffin is in the center of Canberra, and is surrounded by important landmarks, such as Parliament, the National Museum, and the National Library. It is named after the American architect that won the honor of designing Canberra back in 1912.

The lake even had graceful black swans on it, and they were quite fearless in front of people.

The James Cook Memorial Jet is a show stopper. This powerful man-made geyser blasts water sometimes to the height of 150 meters. Its very impressive, particularly because the lake is so serene and calm, and then all of a sudden you hear this tremendous “whooooosh!”, and a small “explosion”.

Tourists should know that it is only on during certain hours of the day (one website says 10am-12noon, and 2-4pm), so make sure you schedule your day around it. It looked especially gorgeous with clear, blue skies.

After the lake, we set off for Parliament. Don’t be deceived by its seemingly low rise appearance: there are several floors underneath the ground. If you look carefully, you’ll also notice that the top of the building is actually grass, and I was told that people walk on top and actually picnic sometimes. Mark told me that the reason why people are encouraged to stroll on top of Parliament is so that Parliament will never forget that they are “under” the people…literally and figuratively.

Next stop (for me…Nathan had to go back to official business) was the Manuka mall. It was nice to see what downtown Canberra looked like, after all the tourist spots. Manuka looked like an upscale neighborhood mall, with a large grocery and nice dining spots. They even had a small artisan bakery/cheese place which was a welcome stop for coffee. This was around 4pm, and there were hardly any people around.

I decided to end the day with a stroll along Lake Griffin, since our hotel was right at its side. Lake Griffin had a nice asphalt lane that seemed built for walking/jogging.

It was dusk already. The temperature was dropping, the wind was picking up, and the sun was setting, so it wasn’t a very long stoll. Just long enough to snap some pics.

Sunset at Lake Griffin

The Australian War Memorial Part 2: War Is A Terrible Thing

The Australian War Memorial is a museum showcasing the wars that Australians have fought in. Going through the museum, you are taken through a timeline of the many wars, from Gallipolli…..

…..to World War 1…..

A lifesized diorama, showing a WW1 soldier in anguish after a battle

The museum had many dioramas depicting specific events of WW1. It reminded me of our own Ayala Museum.

….to World War 2…..

The dreaded German swastika, which represented all the evil of WW2

Christmas was especially emotional as the soldiers prayed for the war to end so that they could be home for Christmas.

This jubilant banner celebrated the liberation of the Philippines

…to the Korean War….

….to the Vietnam War….

The Vietnam War was represented by a dramatic "reenactment" of a chopper landing in war-torn Vietnam. Deafening noise, a strong wind machine, and flashing lights made this war come alive in the museum.

…to the war in Iraq.

The uniform in the Iraq war.

They say that the current role of Australians is as of  “Peacekeepers”.

Another impressive exhibit was the one of war planes. The museum had several planes in a huge hall. On the walls they would show films of dog fights and documentaries regarding these planes.

I couldn’t help but leave the museum in a somber mood. Seeing the suffering of the people and the soldiers in every war just brought home the message that all wars are essentially the same: full of pain and suffering for all sides.

The Australian War Memorial Part 1: Red Poppies For The Brave

I was told that THE thing to see in Canberra was the Australian War Museum. Even more so than Parliament, which some Aussies told me was kind of boring. So I hopped in a cab the first thing after breakfast.

The cabbie was surprised that I only planned to stay there an hour. “You can spend the whole day there!” he says enthusiastically. Now I’m beginning to wonder about the fate of my afternoon.

The War Memorial is a museum documenting every war Australia fought in. It is aligned with Parliament, along the same main road.

View from the War Memorial

The museum has an outdoor courtyard (called the Commemorative Courtyard) with the Pool of Reflection and an Eternal Flame.

Along the walls are the names of the battles where Australians fought. I spotted the Philippines…..

Along the side of the courtyard, on the second floor, is the Roll of Honour, where the names of Australian service men who died in any war are engraved in stone.

People can place red poppies beside names.

I was wondering how they documented names from the earliest war….

Here’s the latest war. As you can see, sadly, there is no end year engraved.

At the Hall of Memory (which is on one end of the Commemorative Courtyard) is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during World War I.

Next post: more on the Australian War Memorial

The Hyatt Hotel Canberra

The Hyatt Hotel Canberra is a Park Hyatt Hotel. Apparently, Park Hyatt is the luxury brand of hotel of the Hyatt chain. So instead of the usual high-rise hotel I was expecting, I was pleasantly surprised by the Hyatt’s country club look.

The hotel felt like a throwback to the 1920s. Wood, natural light, and neutral colors all contributed to the elegant and subdued feeling.

The doormen were dressed in 1920’s attire: knee-high socks, black knickers, floppy hat, bow tie, and even a pocket-watch (chain)! This just gave the hotel so much more character and personality.

Tim gamely poses

I especially loved the presence of so much natural light, coming from these windows in the ceiling. It made the whole lobby and our entrance so much warmer and more welcoming.

Even the signs around the hotel kept in character. Wooden signs, with wrought iron detailing, for the “ye olde” look.

We arrived around 5pm, so high tea was in full swing in the tea room. What a spread!

C couldn’t wait to check-in and get to work……

……..while I got to enjoy the bed. Believe me, a goose-down comforter is so difficult to get out of when its cold!

Of course I check out the bathroom.

Breakfast the next morning was the usual hotel buffet, with an egg and pancake station, hot dishes, cheese plate, fresh fruits and cereals. C enjoyed his usual “breakfast of champions”: eggs and bacon.

It looked like gorgeous weather, so I was eager to get out and explore Canberra.

Welcome to Canberra!

C was sent to Canberra on assignment, so of course I insisted on accompanying him! I’ve never been to Canberra (not exactly on my radar), but I’m never one to turn down 1) travel 2) travel with C 3) travel to a new, interesting place.

We flew to Canberra from Sydney, so we got to see Sydney’s Domestic Airport. As expected, its a Qantas airport. And very beautiful and light-filled.

The first thing thing that struck me is that Sydney installed “self-check-in” terminals.

Passengers can check-in just by inputting their reference number. They can also check-in with their companions, print boarding passes AND baggage tags, so the whole process is very efficient!

After you check-in, print your boarding passes, and tag your bags, you bring your bags to the bag drop-off!

For us, we had to go to the Oversized Bags because of the cameras of Nathan.

Only the Business Class gets the serviced check-in line.

At the gates, there was a nice selection of retail stores, from clothes, food, to travel essentials. C even found his favorite Krispy Kreme!

The plane to Canberra was a 2 propeller plane. This picture was taken as we were descending, so you can get some idea of what Canberra looks like in June (their winter) from above: very bare and brown.

Welcome to Canberra! It wasn’t as cold as we expected (though we expected sub-zero weather. My guess was that it was a balmy 10 degrees).

The Jersey Boys in Sydney, and an Aussie Pie!

Poster from jerseyboysblog.com

My brother T watched this last year on Broadway, and loved it. Now, T is not really a big musical fan, and for him to rave about one (with retro music as well!) just meant that Jersey Boys was a production that had wide appeal. And what appeal! In 2006 it won 4 Tonys, including Best Musical.

Of course, with the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, how could it miss? My brother didn’t realize it, but he already knew a lot of the music, just because the songs of Frankie Valli are considered to great “oldies” standards today. Who wouldn’t know “Walk Like A Man”, or “Sherry”? A lot of their songs are used now in movies as part of the soundtrack. Their songs are always chosen in karaoke bars, and everybody knows the words to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”.

For me, I love musicals and oldies music, so T immediately told me that I HAD to watch this. No need to convince me (there was even one summer where I listened to “The Best of Frankie Valli” incessantly, so I was already a fan of his), but I didn’t see a trip to New York in the near future.

Since C had a dinner scheduled on our one night in Sydney, I was left to find my own entertainment. Imagine my joy when I found out that Jersey Boys was showing in Sydney! Just around 5 blocks from my hotel in fact!

(Note: I found out it was showing by going to the Sydney Visitor Centre. All tourists should make this their first stop, as the Centre will tell them where to go, what’s currently showing, and even make arrangements. Such convenience! Visit them at  http://www.shfa.nsw.gov.au/sydney-For_visitors-Sydney_Visitor_Centres.htm)

I was able to get a ticket at the Ticketmaster booth (again, near my hotel), so I was all set. Even though the play was popular, it was easy to get a ticket for 1 person.

Splurge for an orchestra center seat!!

Curtain up at 7pm so that meant a quick, unfussy dinner.

Since I was in Australia, I just HAD to eat an Aussie Meat Pie! I got one from a kiosk called “Pie-Face”, a very cute kiosk selling all sorts of sweet and savory pies. Check them out here: http://www.pieface.com.au/.

I chose the classic Steak Pie. It was served piping hot, with an appealing puff pastry crust.

Why the sad face? You're delicious!

One cut and the savory gravy oozed out, and the aroma of slowly-stewed beef wafted up. Mmmmmm…..!

The steak pie was delicious! Nothing fancy. Just a good flakey crust, tender, bite-sized steak (and they didn’t skimp on this!), and lashings of gravy.

After devouring my pie (in a flash!), I walked over to Theater Royal, where Jersey Boys was playing. See what a great seat I got at the last minute.

Before the "no picture taking please" announcement

Again, this seat was only possible because I was only one. The play was pretty much sold out.

Jersey Boys didn’t disappoint. It about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons from the points of view of the 4 main characters, each representing a “season”. “Spring” (or the beginning) was told by the group’s original leader, Tommy DeVito. “Summer” (when the group started getting popular) was told by the member who wrote all the songs, Bob Gaudio. “Fall” was when the group started having problems, and was told by member with the lowest profile, Nick Massi. And finishing off with “Winter” was Frankie Valli, when all the original members of “The Four Seasons” leave, and Frankie becomes a single-name act.

The music is the draw of the play, as the engaging tunes have everyone clapping along and bobbing their heads. It was also very interesting (for a fan like me) to know the trivia behind some of the songs (for example, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” was almost never released).

I thought they did an amazing job in casting, as finding someone who could hit Frankie Valli’s high notes AND look like him couldn’t have been easy. And the cast, with their Jersey/Italian accents, sounded so mafioso that you almost expected Tony Soprano and Sonny Corleone to come out and belt out a tune.

The audience left the play in high spirits, dancing to the music and probably buying the soundtrack. Who could resist?

Boppin' to the beat

Paddy’s Market in Sydney

My friend asked me to get her a bracelet (thin, leather kind) from Sydney, and I wanted to get her something that was characteristic of Australia. I was thinking of some kind of Aboriginal bracelet, so I looked at the guidebooks to see where I can get Aussie handicrafts.

The guidebook pointed me out to Paddy’s Market, which fortunately was walking distance from our hotel. It was located in a big complex called Market City, right next to a Light Rail Network station.

See Paddy's Market's green sign?

Paddy’s Market, staying true to its name, even had a fresh produce section, where boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables were being crated in (I apparently got there quite early, and products were just being delivered).

Gorgeous fruits and vegetables!

Paddy’s Market reminded me of our divisoria, where you had a lot of stalls that sold a lot of made in China stuff. I saw a lot of cheap shades, jewelry, clothes, hats, and Aussie souvenir items (like Aboriginal crafts and boomerangs!). I even saw Uggs!

I finally saw a stall that sold the kind of bracelets I was looking for. Leather braided strips, but for that Aussie touch……..

….a baby shark’s tooth!

The owner of the stall was a charming man who eagerly agreed to my request for a picture. In fact, he insisted of having a picture with me!

Holding my hand was his idea!

The Sydney Fish Market Part 3: Oysters Oysters Oysters!!

When I think of Sydney, fresh oysters come to mind. Heaps of fresh oysters in the half-shell, chilled, slightly briny, slightly sweet, swimming in their juice. Since they were so fresh in the market, there was no need for any elaborate sauces. Just a simple squeeze of lemon and they were ready to eat!

The first counter that greeted me as I entered the Fish Market was Christie’s. As you can see, they freshly shuck the oysters right in front of you, and lay out the different kinds in a showcase window.

There were several kinds to choose from, and when I asked for help, the servers would ask me whether I liked them sweet or salty.

If I wanted sweet, this is what they would recommend:

If I wanted salty, they’d recommend these 2. These ones were farmed….

…..while these ones were wild.

I asked what the difference was, and the server just said, “Actually to me, they all taste the same.” How disappointing! But I suppose if you’re surrounded by oysters everyday, you do get a little blase!

So, like a true, indecisive gourmand, I ordered all (total: 2 dozen!). Don’t get shocked. They’re non-fat anyway :).

For me, I liked the wild ones best. I couldn’t really tell if the sweet ones were really sweet, or the briny ones really salty, but the wild ones had the best texture, and were the meatiest.

Aside from oysters, there was also lobster! I did eat one (or one-half of one) but would have preferred a simple steamed one, rather than one covered in cheese. That seemed almost criminal to me.

For those who aren’t oyster fans, never fear. There is also, believe it or not, fresh fish (see the sashimi counter in Christie’s) which you can ask to grill. Prawns and shrimps abound as well.

And fresh fruits! I just had to take a picture of the “topless pineapples”.

The Sydney Fish Market was such a clean place as well. No “fishy” smell! They open 7am until 4pm, so if you can start the day right with the freshest catch of the day!

The Sydney Fish Market Part 2: Doyle’s

Doyle’s is a pretty popular restaurant in Sydney. They started with a branch in Watson’s Bay in 1885, and have since then opened more branches. Here’s their link http://www.doyles.com.au/.

This branch is in the Sydney Fish Market, which is logical, since Doyle’s is famous for its seafood.

I was craving for steamed mussels, and I saw it on their menu! Unfortunately, it was only 10:15am, and the sign said Doyle’s opened at 11am, and that was the time I had to leave to go back to the hotel! Curses!

However, as luck would have it, the friendly waitress (Mimi was her name) saw my disappointed face, and asked the chefs if they could just whip up the steamed mussels just for me.

Mimi is Doyle's secret weapon

Lo and behold!

Steamed mussels in white wine sauce, garlic bread, and a glass of sauv blanc!

Let me tell you, Aussies are really such nice people!

One more picture with Mimi and the Mussels. Doesn’t that sound somewhat like an ’80s band?

Mimi and the Mussels

And here’s the aftermath!

A clean sweep. Even the garlic bread was demolished.

I must admit, I would have preferred mussels without the white sauce, but hey, they opened up the restaurant for me, so I can’t complain! The mussels (Tasmanian, of course!) were tender. Not rubbery or tough. So I was more than happy.

After my mussels, I just had to go over to the kitchen and thank the chefs!

I really do appreciate it when the service staff go the extra mile for a customer, and I always make sure to thank them, so that they know their extra service was appreciated. Of course, I tipped them well, as well!

The Sydney Fish Market Part 1: Getting There

One of my best discoveries this trip was the Sydney Fish Market. If you like fresh seafood, and want to get it cheaper than most restaurants in Sydney, then the Fish Market is the way to go.

Getting there was a breeze, since the Fish Market is considered to be one of more popular spots in Sydney. I took the Light Rail Network (LRN), which is basically the tram system of Sydney.

The Fish Market is one of the stops of the LRN, so it was very convenient. You get your ticket from the conductor on the tram, so you don’t have the dilemma of having exact change. The tram is also very clean and comfortable, with wheelchair access and handicapped seating. What can you expect from a first-world country!

Silent and sleek. The Light Rail Network is a great way to see part of Sydney!

The conductor was nice enough to chat with me regarding what else to see in Sydney, where my stop was, and his recommendations for Canberra (my next destination). I guess it was a pretty slow afternoon for him to be this chatty.

Clear signs to the Fish Market were posted all over, so its hard to lose your way. As I said, its a pretty popular destination, for both locals and tourists.

As I said, you can’t get lost!

Next entry: Doyle’s of the Sydney Fish Market