A short visit to Canberra

Early this week I went to Canberra to help run a workshop at the Australian National University.  Flew in Monday evening, flew out Tuesday evening.  Bit of a whirlwind.

I flew into Canberra just as a storm was abating, and managed to snap this picture of a rainbow through the plane window. I can’t remember the last time I saw a rainbow, so that was pretty cool:

I was picked up from the airport by my friend, Brendan, who lives in Canberra with his lovely girlfriend Jackie.  They took me out to dinner at the local (and very popular!) noodle bar. The restaurant’s popularity is well earned, because the food was delicious. Over dinner I asked Jackie a million and one questions about her recent adventure in outback Western Australia. She was volunteering in Indigenous communities, helping out with arts and crafts school holiday programs for the kids. I think it’s a pretty amazing thing to have done, especially considering how truly remote some of those communities are. I think that I – a true city girl – would have felt quite overwhelmed if I’d been in Jackie’s place – sleeping in swags on the ground, learning how to cook bush tucker. Jackie has written more about it on her blog, I Love Tuesdays.

I was excited to go to Canberra, because I wanted to refresh my memory of it. A year and a half ago, when I decided to move to Washington D.C. for 12 months, a number of people said to me, “Washington is just like a bigger version of Canberra.”  I wanted to see if that was true. (I’d been to Canberra before, but I’d never really noticed it in the context of comparing it to another city). On Monday night before dinner, Brendan and Jackie took me for a drive around the city, and I was given the opportunity to compare it to D.C. in my head. And having now taken notice, I must respectfully disagree with those people who told me that Washington is “just like” Canberra, only bigger. There are the obvious similarities that come with both cities being political capitals – lots of government buildings, Parliament House (or Congress) up on the hill, lots of museums and galleries, well-planned road systems. But Canberra had a very different feel for me.  For starters, everywhere I looked I could see the distinctly Australian bush creeping in at the edges of the city.  Canberra felt like a very “green” city for this reason, but it is an entirely different kind of green to that in DC.  Secondly, the buildings felt old in a way that the buildings in D.C. didn’t – and I don’t mean “historically” old, I mean circa-1970s dark-brown-brick-and-now-looking-dated old. And finally and most importantly, Canberra just doesn’t seem to have the same restaurant/nightlife/public events culture that D.C. does.  Canberra is charming in its own way, and really wonderful for doing outdoors-type things like bike riding around Lake Burley Griffin. But it ain’t no D.C., at least not to me.


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