Friday, June 16, 2017

Canberra

Let's say you live abroad, outside of your home country.  Naturally once per decade you have to renew your passport.  Easy enough, right?

Wrong.  Not if you're from Norway.

Because the Kingdom of Norway has to make literally everything 100% more complicated than it needs to be, in order to complete a simple administrative task a Norwegian citizen must 1) take a day off work 2) fly themselves to Canberra and 3) renew their passport in person.

Did I mention there is a Norwegian consulate right here in Brisbane?  Except they don't do anything you need them to do!  Pardon my disillusionment, but I've been dealing with this unnecessary and incessant bullshit for over a decade and I. Am. Weary.  And I won't even go on a[nother] tirade about how I have Australian citizenship but Martin cannot, thanks to Norway.  Sigh.

But!  Being the eternal optimist that I am (heh) I saw this epic inconvenience as an opportunity.  An opportunity to reunite with the oldest friends we have in this country.

Shad & Janet are proper grown folks and literally the first people we knew when we moved to Australia.  Shad was Martin's first boss here, and no doubt played a hand in getting us here in the first place.  Two weeks after we first arrived we went camping on Straddie with them, their kids and a bunch of his colleagues.  This is one example of how they were so, so good to us when we were new and to this country.  We have so much to be grateful for with them!

The fact that they now live in Canberra is the sole reason I was able to contain my rage at Norway for this massive pain in the arse, because we were long overdue for a trip down south to visit them and this was the perfect excuse.

Plus, as a new Australian I feel bad that I haven't properly visited "the Washington DC of Australia".  So much to see!  Nay, so much to learn!

Parliament House

As Shad and Janet went off in two different directions with two different kids to play two different sports (uff da) we took a tour of Parliament House.


This is the equivalent of the US Capitol or Stortinget in Norway, both of which I have visited multiple times (because I am exceedingly important).

Here we visited the House of Representatives, which is green:


And the Senate, which is red:


The colors are the same used in the British Parliament, though the names are American, which I don't really understand.

We also visited the Great Hall, the largest room of all 4,500 rooms in Parliament House.  I had actually attended a swanky dinner here a few months ago for work (see above re: importance, my).


At the front of the room is the Great Hall Tapestry, which is 20 meters (65 feet) wide by 9 meters (29.5 feet) high, making it one of the largest tapestries in the world.  It took 14 full-time weavers two years to complete!  I don't know what's more impressive, the man hours required to make the thing or the fact that there are 14 people gainfully employed by the weaving industry.  This thing is truly a feat of art and the only thing that makes the Great Hall great.  A must see when in Canberra!

This being Saturday, Parliament wasn't in session so we didn't get to see any wild political action.  There were plenty of randoms just walking around looking at the place.  I'm not sure if people are allowed to roam so freely when politicians are in session, but I'd be surprised if they were.  But then again this is a country where you don't have to show your ID to one single person when flying domestic.  You know that happier, simpler time people always look back so fondly on?  We're living it down here, people!

The furniture is pretty fab down here, too.


I loved these chairs and wanted to take one home!  I think all Australians should be issued one for personal use, since we're required to vote.  These things were all over, featuring the Australian coat of arms:


Both kangaroos and emus can't move backwards, only forwards.  Progress, yo!

Next stop:

Old Parliament House


Parliament House didn't become Parliament House until 1988.  Prior to that, Old Parliament House was Parliament House.  Got that?

Just down the road from Parliament House is Old Parliament House which also has a green House of Representatives and red Senate, albeit just for show these days.



Both of which are a fraction of the size of the "new" one, so it's no surprise that 30 years ago they realized they needed a more spacious facility.

Old Parliament House now houses the Museum of Democracy, which has some interesting installations on topics I find interesting, like women's suffrage and the power of protests, along with the coolest doorknob in the history of doorknobs:


I've just now realized I have a slight obsession with the coat of arms.  It makes everything more awesome because it's just so...patriotic.

I wanted to get a picture of Martin playing with the nifty interactive world map, but he was being uncooperative about it so he gets to be immortalized on my blog looking like a douche forever and ever:


Serves him right for not cooperating.  But this thing was really cool!  You could look up all sorts of stats by country, like most versus least developed nations.

After a morning of learning stuff we got down to the business we were really in Canberra to attend to.  Not passport renewal, not visiting friends.  We were there to drink FreakShakes!



FreakShakes are the creation of Patissez, a cafe that brilliantly figured out how to get people to pay $14 for a milkshake.  Actually ours cost less because we got the BabyShake, a smaller size that is recommended if you're eating a meal or not sharing it.  I proclaim that this is utter bullshit; I could've easily had a big one on my own! #teamfatass

You no doubt saw these plastered all over social media when they first hit the scene two years ago.  There were hours long waits to get a table when they first started making them.  Lucky for us the novelty has worn off and we waltzed right in and got a table.  They were worth the hype!  However the real life menu was much, much smaller than the online menu which was disappointing.  But still, fantastic!

We ended our day about town on a more sombre note. 

Australian War Memorial



There is an attached museum, which is absolutely huge when you don't expect it to be.  Everybody who's been there is amazed at how big the museum is, so be aware that you can go straight to the exhibition of your choosing.  Here you can fulfill your lifelong dream of seeing a taxidermy'd camel!

   

I thought that was super nifty.  Unfortunately I only got a very brief browse through my preferred section of the museum (WWII, "my favorite war" Shad called it).  I could have spent all day there, but we were on a strict deadline.  For what you ask?


A flyover from an F18 fighter jet!

Normally I would be pissed at some random butting into my picture but this one I actually really dig.  Nothing says peace and love quite like a combat aircraft capable of traveling Mach 1.8 (almost 2,000 kilometers per hour).

The flyover was to commemorate something that I didn't quite catch, but I suspect it had something to do with bombing Nazis, an endeavor I wholeheartedly support.  After living with Martin for over a decade I've seen more than my fair share of fighter jet flyovers, but I never cease to be amazed at how fast and loud they are.  It's wild!

Thus ended our whirlwind day tour of the tourist sites of Canberra.  We headed back home to more domestic pursuits, like dining at the local pub and playing with dogs in sweaters.


How delightful is this!  God, we need a dog.  Desperately.

The next day we went full throttle domestic and joined the family to yet another weekend sporting activity.  I'm realizing that this what adulthood looks like 97% of the time with kids.


For the record it's totally cool to take pictures of a field full of pre-teen boys that you don't know.  "Our" kids team won, rugby, I believe it was.  Go sports!

We ended our stay at the National Arboretum, which is, um, a zoo for trees I guess you could say.  I'd never been to an arboretum before.

However it was much more interesting than you'd expect of a tree museum, because they had a collection of bonsai trees, and I'd never seen a real one in person before, much less a collection of them.


They listed the age of each tree and most were older than me.  Some were from the 1800's!  What a bizarrely fascinating hobby?  Art?  Whatever you'd classify it as.

We spent the first few days of winter (officially June 1) in what I, as a native North Dakotan, can classify as a legitimately cold place.  The nights in Canberra dip below freezing, and they often see frost.  This is not pretend cold like Queensland, where people whip out their scarves and gloves in 60 degree weather, this place is proper cold.  Literally freezing a lot of the time.

But alas, it was time to return to the tropical shores of the Sunshine State, where temperatures are much, much warmer and our attendance at pre-teen sports leagues is much, much less.

I'd really like to go back to visit Canberra again.  We left a lot of museums and historical buildings still undiscovered, there are many flavors of FreakShakes yet to be drank and time spent with our oldest (figuratively, not literally) Aussie friends is always time well spent.  But hopefully it won't take another passport renewal in ten years to make it happen!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

New Caledonia

Y'all ever heard of a country called New Caledonia before?  I sure hadn't, prior to moving to Australia.  Here it is:


Nouvelle-Caledonie (parlez-vous francais?) is a mere two hours from Brisbane, halfway between here and Fiji.  You can't get anywhere in Australia by flying two hours!  Yet you can get to France.  Actual France!

One country, two flags
Wikipedia tells me that New Caledonia is a "special collectivity of France" and if my spellcheck is to be believed, that isn't even a word, so let's just make it simple and call it a territory.  Because it has all the French things.

French bare necessities


French indulgences


French elections!


The people of New Caledonia are legit French citizens, members of the EU.  Citizens who, as it turns out, can be trusted with a democratic election!  God bless 'em.

So full of surprises this place is.  This being France, everything's written in French and they're reluctant to use their English.  They're quite frosty towards the idea of hosting tourists and you can buy baguettes literally everywhere.

Despite its obvious French-ness, it is also so different from France.  First of all, it's ridiculously tropical.


Yet has pine trees all over the place.


So comes the name Isle of Pines, a tiny island (off the main island) that is on the next level of natural beauty.




Here we went on a boat trip to see what natural wonders lie above the water.



And below it.



Look at that gigantic stingray!  It was HUGE!  Adult human sized, probably longer than I am tall.  That sighting alone made the trip to Isle of Pines completely worth it.

But I was shocked by how casually our guide (and several guests) swam down and poked the damn thing.  I mean, seriously people, has history taught us nothing?


Here in Australia we know not to eff with nature!  Well, some of us anyway.

Though 99% of the time I am very pro leave-nature-alone you better believe I was all up in this:


Our tour guide jumped out of the boat to snatch up this turtle for our petting pleasure.  Which she does everyday, so it's not like the turtle was scared or surprised by this.



Childishly, I think I got more enjoyment out of this wildlife encounter than the stingray or turtle:




Crabs!  Hundreds and hundreds of crabs the size of your fist.  Crawling along, going (as far as I could tell) nowhere in particular, leaving really awesome sand art in their wake.


They were just delightful!

Back on the mainland we continued our exploration of all things French-meets-Pacific and spent the day touring the sites in the capital of Noumea.




Despite being relatively un-touristed, we were not the only tourists by a long shot.  Do you know why?


Cruise ship passengers.  By the boatload!

Several times per week a cruise ship from Australia rolls in and unloads heaps of tourists onto the city for the day.  Tour busses fill up and the streets are filled with backpack wearing holidaymakers.  I'd like to think we blended in a little better than your average tourist, since we wear our sandals without socks.  Because we're fancy.

We spent a good chunk of our day in Noumea at the WWII museum.  In my old age I fancy myself a bit of a WWII buff, and New Caledonia's role in the war is actually quite fascinating, (well, to me anyway).  With its strategic, close proximity to Australia and, get this - no malaria - it was the perfect place for American servicemen to start their overseas tour to get acclimatized to a tropical climate.

Over a million Americans passed through New Caledonia during the war.  Spoiler alert: we won.


Noumea is also where we did our best eating of the trip, and holy crap was it good.  Authentic French bistro food is so, so good!  I haven't had French food in a long time, and I haven't eaten this well in as long as I can remember.  It was nothing short of fabulous.





And don't forget the escargot!


Snails es muy delicioso.  Didn't see frog legs on any menus, though, which is an exotic French dish I've never had but want to try.

If you go to New Caledonia and see nothing but the inside of restaurants it will be time well spent.  If you've stumbled on this blog while looking for travel tips (resources are quite sparse; my apologies you've had to stoop to this level) I implore you, eat at Zanzibar.  A top meal of my entire life.  I have 3 words for you: Duck. Fat. Fries.  Let me tell you what, it changes a person.

We headed to the northeast coast, an area that's less populated, completely devoid of cruise ships and more lush than the west coast.

There we hiked up a literal mountain - in flip flops - to get to this waterfall.


Upon first inspection it might not look overly impressive, but check out the guy in red on the bottom right!  It was pretty darn big and exceedingly difficult to get to.  Holy shit were we out of our league with that hike!  The selfie game was worth it, though.


Just barely.  Uff da it was a hard slog.

I think the main reason Martin insisted we rent a car and drive across the country was to experience...wait for it...


A barge.  A really simple, 24/7, free barge that briefly replaces the highway and took less than 60 seconds to cross.  Tourist attraction of the century, people, step right up!

The area is undoubtedly nice, though.



Even more so than the super "exciting" and "interesting" barge we were there for one thing.

Squinting required
The first and only manta ray sighting of our lives!

But this was literally it.  A singular manta ray, that we had to chase, in a fairly dangerous current to view in poor visibility.  Worth it?  Debatable.  But damn it after our failed attempt at seeing mantas on Lady Elliot Island we can at least tick it off our bucket list.

Of approximate excitement to the manta ray we also saw a rock shaped like a chicken.


Wild times on the east coast of New Caledonia!

New Caledonia is, unfortunately for us, expensive.  Legitimately expensive.  This is the reason there are very few tourists besides cruise ship passengers, because getting around, hotels and eating cost the same - if not more - than Australia.

That's a tough pill to swallow for Australians when Bali is three times farther away but ten times as cheap, but as a friend pointed out, it keeps the bogans away!

For white trash-free travel in the southern hemisphere, in a tropical climate where everybody smokes and the food is out of this world, now you know just the place.