Friday, November 25, 2011

Americans in Australia

The past two weeks have been very busy for us.  Just when I was starting to feel a little bit homesick, we had a slew of American visitors.  It was so nice to hear American accents and it was interesting to rediscover Canberra through their eyes.  There are so many little cultural differences that we don't notice anymore...which is a good thing - it means we're settling in to life here.

Our first guests
Last week we had our very first guests and we had so much fun with them! My college roommate Catherine and her husband stayed with us for three nights.  Highlights of the visit included petting a koala and seeing a platypus (very rare—even most Australians haven't seen one!). 

Australia's first visit from President Obama
The capital city was all abuzz last week when President Obama visited Canberra.  It was his first visit to the country and everyone was excited. Australians are very politically active, probably because voting is mandatory.  However, they are also very knowledgeable about world politics.  Most of the people we socialize with are even following the primaries in the States!  President Obama stayed in Canberra for a day and a half, speaking to Parliament and visiting the Australian War Memorial. Our guests, Cath and Ben, were touring around Canberra the same day and saw the president's motorcade as it drove away from the Australian War Memorial. We all had a good laugh that the closest any of us had been to our own president was in a foreign country!
President Obama visits Canberra
(photo from
CU grad students visit for research
Andrew spent two weeks camping and collecting data at his research area in early November.  Sadly, I couldn't go with him, but he did have company.  Two grad students from the University of Colorado were also collecting data for their own research projects.  After the data collection, Kika and Jeff stayed in Canberra for another two weeks, processing their samples.  We had so much fun while they were in town, trying new restaurants and even going to the ballet one night.

* * *
All of our American friends have gone home now and we're looking forward to welcoming our next guests.  Hint Hint. :)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Preparing for our first guests

Tomorrow we will be welcoming our first guests to Australia.  My college roommate Cath and her husband Ben are taking a three week vacation to Australia and stopping by Canberra for a few days. They are flying into Sydney, renting a car, and taking a leisurely drive down the coast to Melbourne (stopping by our place along the way).  From Melbourne, they are flying to Tasmania.  I'm so jealous of their trip!  Originally, I was planning to go with them to Melbourne and Tasmania, but I just had to go and get a job...

In order to prepare our apartment for guests, we had to buy a few remaining items such as a guest bed and another couch.  For that, we had to drive 30 minutes south to Fyshwick. And that's really what this post is about...the odd zoning that is Canberra.
The very industrial looking streets of Fyshwick
Canberra is one of the few entirely planned cities in the world and so each suburb was zoned for a specific purpose.  For example, Barton contains most of the government buildings and the City Centre, also referred to as Civic, was originally the primary business center. Fyshwick became the industrial suburb, specializing in wholesale goods.

[On a side note, at first I pronounced it Fish-wick, but I soon learned that the locals pronounce it Feesh-wick.]

Some suburbs have melded as the times have changes, but Fyshwick remains (somewhat annoyingly) the place to buy furniture, large household items and cars.  It is frustrating because it's almost impossible to buy a bed or a couch or a washing machine anywhere else in the city.  On the other hand, if you have the time to spend a day walking around, it's very convenient to comparison shop for couches when all the furniture shops are within walking distance of one another.

[On a second side note, due to odd zoning, Fyshwick is also one of only two places in Canberra where prostitution is legal.  This results in a rather disturbing mix of family-centered household item stores and household item stores of the x-rated variety.]

I don't want to give you the image that Fyshwick is all bad though.  It does happen to contain one of our very favorite bookstores that we've discovered so far.  Canty's Bookshop is full of used books, which is super fabulous in a country where mass market paperbacks regularly sell for over $20.

Canty's Bookshop is how I imagine a proper used bookstore should be—ceiling to floor with books, the shelves so packed that precariously balanced stacks of books rest near every aisle.  In other words, paradise for booklover's such as Drew and myself.  It's a store full of kindred spirits, people who love and understand books and will happily spend half an hour discussing the merits of the latest science fiction bestseller.

At the end of our Fyshwick day, Drew and I walked away with a new guest bed, a used couch that is in like-new condition, and an armful of books.  We're glad that our guests will have something to sit on and sleep in, but we also know that the books are what really makes our apartment a home. 

Guest comment from Drew:  The best jelly doughnuts ever can be found around the corner from the bookstore!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembrance Day

Today marked the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice, the official end to World War I.  Countries all over the world celebrate the day.  In the United States it is known as Veteran's Day.  In Australia, it is called Remembrance Day.

My bus route to work takes me by Parliament and the War Memorial and I saw several service men today, gathering for the Remembrance Day service.  Many people were wearing poppies on their lapel, a tradition that owes its existence to Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Fields."

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

"We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

"Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields."

I think that this is one of those days, that no matter where you are, there is a underlying unifying element of humanity.  At work, we watched the Remembrance Day service on TV and observed the moment of silence at 11am.  The day made me think of one of our first days in Australia when we visited the Australian War Memorial Museum.  It's an amazing place—think of it as a mix between the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum and the History Museum—a vast place dedicated to the entire history of Australia's world war contributions.

 The museum is host to all sorts of war memorabilia, including fighter planes, old uniforms, bravery medals, and intricate dioramas of battle scenes.  The archives of the museum have an entire database of every Australian who has fought in a war.  On the day that we visited, many people were in the archive room, searching their family history.

 Australia is very proud of it's war history.  Shortly after it established itself as a sovereign country, World War I broke out.  Historians believe that the war efforts played a huge part in bringing the young country together and establishing a patriotic ethos in its people. That patriotic pride is evident in every room and every display at the museum. The Australian War Museum is a powerful place and a great place to spend an afternoon, even if you're not a history buff like me.
Memorial for Armed Forces Nurses who died in war

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bouldering at Black Mountain + an Echidna Surprise

Last fall when we found out that moving to Australia was a real possibility, one of the first things we researched was rock climbing near Canberra.We knew that it would be nothing like Boulder, which is a climbing mecca in the States. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find lots of quality climbing within a day's drive of Canberra.

There aren't any tall cliffs in the city itself, so we've been doing a lot of bouldering instead. Bouldering is climbing at low heights and so it doesn't require ropes; instead, a climber usually traverses the bottom of a rock face. A second person sometimes acts as a "spotter," standing below the climber and providing a safety catch in the event of an unexpected fall.

The first bouldering area that we discovered is on Black Mountain and it's only a 2 minute drive from Andrew's work. It's a great place to go on weekends or in the evenings after work. There's evidence of other climbers—chalk on the holds and established foot paths between the various rocky outcrops—but so far, we've had the place to ourselves.

Our best trip to Black Mountain was a couple of weeks ago when we ran into a surprise on the hike out after climbing.  Drew and I were walking along the trail when I heard a rustling in the bushes a bit ahead of us.  I immediately froze, thinking it was probably a poisonous snake (most of the snakes in Australia are deadly poisonous). We took a few cautious steps forward and peeked towards the noise.  Imagine our surprise when we saw this...

I had no idea what it was! Luckily, Drew knew exactly what it was.  An echidna.  It's similar to a porcupine in that it has quills. However, it can't release it's quills on contact like a porcupine can.  Echidnas are one of only two egg-laying mammals in the world (the other being the platypus which is also indigenous to Australia). For more interesting facts and better pictures, check out the Wikipedia page on echidnas.

Besides the fascinating wildlife and easily accessible rocks, Black Mountain also boasts a beautiful view of downtown Canberra and Lake Burley Griffin. Come visit and we'll show you!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Melbourne Cup

Today was the Melbourne Cup, a large horse race that is similar to The Kentucky Derby...only much more popular.  It's called the race that "stops the nation" and I can now wholeheartedly agree with that statement.  Earlier this week, my boss announced that we could leave work early today in order to celebrate. (Yes, I have a job...more on that in another post.)  I thought this was odd, but rather nice of her.  Who doesn't like an afternoon off?
Who won?  The jockey wearing yellow with blue stars.
photo from
Then, today when I got to work, all anyone could talk about was the race.  People were ducking out of the office intermittently to place bets and change their bets and place more bets.  Several offices were participating in an office "sweep" where everyone chips in a couple of dollars, betting tickets are purchased for each horse, and then distributed randomly so as to give everyone a fun, fair chance to win a little bit of money.

At about 1pm, we turned on the TV in our office and pretended to do work while actually listening to the pre-race coverage.  About that time, I went to the cafe around the corner and saw mobs of people dressed to the nines.  Men in suits and ladies in fancy dresses with fascinators in their hair.  They were all headed to the hotel near my office so I'm guessing there was some sort of party there.  I really wish I had my camera so that I could have taken some pictures.
Fascinators worn at today's Melbourne Cup
photo from

The race started at 3pm and rather than heading to the pub (and since we couldn't leave work until 4:30), everyone stayed in the office to watch.  I didn't place any bets so I wasn't as caught up in the race as my co-workers were.  However, I enjoyed experiencing this part of Australian culture.  And who knows, maybe next year I will place a bet.  :)

I know some of you may be wondering the outcome.  A horse named Dunaden and his French jockey Christophe Lemaire won the race.  One girl in my office actually bet on him to win - she placed a $25 bet and walked away with around $140.  Last year, she won $250.  Apparently, one of her friends is an avid racing fan and gives her tips every year.  If I do place that bet next year, I'll be sure to ask her advice first.
Wow, that was a close finish!
photo from
The first that I heard of this race was a couple of months ago when I was researching public holidays in Australia.  It's not a national public holiday, but it is a public holiday for the state of Victoria which is where the city of Melbourne is located. Can you imagine getting the day off for The Kentucky Derby?  Perhaps in Kentucky...

I was also struck by the track, which is not dirt but rather grass.  Tennis is also played on grass here.  I doubt that the two are connected, but interesting nonetheless.