Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Another Food-Filled Melbourne Getaway

It had been nearly two years since my last excursion down to Melbourne and I thought I was long overdue for a visit.  I rounded up my mate Malcolm and we took a Friday off work to make it a long weekend.  The main purpose of our visit:

The fabulous Margaret Cho!  She was playing a full week of shows as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.  As always, she was on fire (but not literally).  Now, we didn’t travel all the way down to Melbourne just to see Margaret Cho… Ok, so we sort of did, but we decided that three days was long enough to fit in a bunch of other things too.  Looking at the guide book, I realized I missed a few things on my first two trips.  One of them was our first stop:  the Queen Victoria Market!

It was massive and it had everything you can imagine:  clothing, jewellery, souvenirs, pastries, nuts, produce, meats, all sorts of food stalls, and even live birds:

Wowzers!  Now, if you read that above list correctly, you’ll notice that foot items made up a big part of the list.  And that’s when the ultimate foodie weekend really began.  Fuck everything else:  I want food!  Pretty much everything we did revolved around food, and Melbourne’s food scene really is leaps and bounds ahead of Sydney’s.  For starters, I got these abnormally large macarons at the Queen Victoria Market:

I could barely bite into them they were so big, and the flavours – oh my!  Lemon Tart (hence why I’m wearing powdered sugar), Tiramisu, and Blueberry Cheesecake were just some of the macaron flavours that I sampled.  Speaking of desserts, no trip to Melbourne is complete without a jaunt down Acland Street in St Kilda to sample the row of delicious bakeries.

Of course, you can’t have dessert without having a proper meal first.  For brunch, we visited St Ali in South Melbourne.  Aside from having probably the best coffee I’ve tasted in Australia, they also had corn fritters.  Corn fritters are a usual staple for Aussie brunch places, but normally the corn fritters come covered in bacon.  That’s a no no in my Jew book.  But at St Ali, the corn fritters come with haloumi instead of bacon – HALOUMI!  I do love cheese and I do love corn fritters and it even came with eggs and tomato relish and some rocket (arugula in Aussie speak) to make it completely healthy.  I don’t know what they put in those fritters, but they were fanfrittertastic.

For dinner, we ended up one night at Chocolate Buddha – which to my disappointment did not involve any sort of chocolate.  It was Asian fusion, and it was fantastic.  But the kicker was Mamasita.  One of Melbourne’s most popular Mexican restaurants, I had previously tried to eat there on both of my first two trips to Melbourne, and both times the line was just too long to wait in.  This time, I made sure the third time was the charm.  They had delicious margaritas:

And the most delicious corn on the cob for a starter.  I don’t know what they put on that corn – some sort of sauce and maybe a bit of cheese – but it was totally worth the vigorous flossing that was required later that evening.  Of course, there were tacos:

And for our main we shared the pollo en mole.  It was delicioso!  The dessert is where they really threw me off guard.  Behold, sweet corn ice cream with caramel and popcorn.

There were bits of corn actually in the ice cream.  You’d think that’d be strange, but no.  It wasn’t strange.  It was deliriously amazing.

Aside from our time in Melbourne, we also took a day trip up to the Yarra Valley wine region.

Special thanks to Malcolm’s friend Amanda for driving us around like we were Miss Daisy.  We started out at Innocent Bystander – a cute winery with a delicious restaurant inside:

The advertisement for their cans of pink moscato was genius and was definitely targeted at me:

And then I bought some!  (Of course!)  There seemed to be a theme in Melbourne with the Obama references:

I don’t know why there’s so much Obama inspired advertising, but I like it.  There are two things, however, that I don’t like in Melbourne.

The first:  being made to snort and start giggling in a massive chocolate shop full of children.  But seriously, what sort of chocolate factory would create a chocolate starfish?

Either they’ve never seen Urban Dictionary or they’re just fucking with us.

The second thing I don’t like in Melbourne:  driving.

For real?  Fuck this.  We’re taking the tram!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

#85: Parliament House!

No trip to Canberra would be complete with a stop at Australia’s Parliament and checking this item off my list of 103 Things was the primary purpose of my little adventure to the nation’s capital. 

Travel buddy Cade was a trooper and allowed me to wander around aimlessly for quite some time after our tour so I could get extra photos to mark the crossing off of another item from my list.

The capital building itself is only 25 years old and is in the shape of 2 boomerangs, with the building itself in the middle.  Built atop a hill, the architects kept the grass on top and put most of the building under the hill, though there was a ton of light inside.  This photo of a photo of the construction illustrates it best:

Aside from the boomerang shape, Parliament House also had quite a bit of indigenous art both inside and outside, including on the pathway leading up to Parliament.

Inside there was a small exhibit of how Parliament works and it really did a good job of making it very simple and understandable for those of us still familiarizing ourselves with the Parliamentary system.

The Great Hall hosts lavish receptions for diplomats and even weddings (and maybe a bar mitzvah if the price is right!) and is backed up with a heavy tapestry.  The tapestry is based on a painting of bushland near Shoalhaven, New South Wales.

The balcony above the Members’ Hall features portraits of important people including most of Australia’s Prime Ministers.  The hall even includes Prime Minister Harold Holt, who in 1967 went for a swim and just disappeared.  He was presumed drowned.  These things only happen in Australia…

Of course, there is also a prominent portrait of Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia:

We visited both chambers on our tour of Parliament House.  Just like in the United States, Australia’s Parliament has a House of Representatives and a Senate.

The Senate is various shades of red which where were taken from the ochres of native Australian plants.  Notice how the red shading changes as you go up the rows.  Similarly, the green shades of the House of Representatives were taken from a variety of eucalypts and other native plants.

The roof of the building is covered in grass and contains an 81 metre flag pole.

Just don’t trust a German tourist to get a photo of you and your mate with said flagpole.  Far too difficult apparently…

After our time at Parliament, we made a quick pit stop at Old Parliament House.  The Old Parliament House was completed in 1927 and was fully intended to be a provisional or temporary Parliament House until Australia had enough money to build a proper one.  The was evidenced by the building not being constructed on the site for Parliament House originally selected by Walter Burley Griffin, Canberra’s original architect.  The site he selected is where the current Parliament House sits.

As Australia outgrew the Provisional Parliament House, several extensions were added to expand the building’s lifespan.  It became apparent in the 1980’s that further repairs and renovations weren’t the way to go and plans were set into motion to construct the current Parliament House.  After much debate as to whether the building should be preserved or demolished, the government finally decided to turn it into a museum.  Inside you can visit the old Prime Minister’s office, press galleries, and chambers.  The red of the Senate is pretty old school compared to the new, more-Australian red found in the new Parliament House.

The green of the House of Representatives is equally as bad.  The Old Parliament House also features The Museum of Australian Democracy which features a few interesting exhibits.  There was even a shout out to America.  Woohoo!

A little blurb also mentioned that even “when George Washington died, there were 316 slaves living on his estate and women did not have the vote.  Democracy, as defined by today’s terms, still had a long way to go.”  They giveth and they taketh away.  Did they need to remind us of that?

Of course, the museum is called the Museum of Australian Democracy and Australia was heavily featured.  Did you know that Australia has no Bill of Rights?  I’m not quite sure what to think of that, but I’m going to do some research and ponder and get back to you at a later date.

The best part of Old Parliament House, however, had nothing to do with the old Parliament or a museum.  It was cartoons.  Cartoons!  The museum has a special exhibition on political cartoons from year 2012.  There were heaps of cartoons – probably hundreds – covering the whole spectrum of political discourse.  The largest bunch had to do with Prime Minster Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott – both of whom are pretty shitty.

Others focused on the perception that Australia is turning into a “nanny state”:

My favourite, however, was this one:

I’d totally vote for Morgan Freeman to be Prime Minister of Australia.  Can that happen?  Please?

Canberra: The Nation's Capital

Ask nearly any non-Australian what the capital of Australia is and most will tell you Sydney.  Or maybe Melbourne.  Ask any Australian what the capital of Australia is and most will sigh and tell you in a very disappointed tone – that the capital of Australia is a little, boring place called Canberra.

Most outsiders have never heard of it, but Canberra is indeed the capital of this big prosperous nation.  It was selected as such in 1908 after a few years of squabbling between Sydney and Melbourne over which of the two would become the principal city of the newly federated Australia.  Canberra is a fairly small city – with a population of about 370,000 – though it’s about on par with Washington DC when looking at the metropolitan population as a percentage of the country as a whole.  Most Australians hate Canberra.  They think it’s boring and devoid of all liveliness and located in the middle of nowhere – just a pit stop off the highway that connects the country’s two largest cities.  When you tell a Sydneysider or a Melburnian that you are headed to Canberra for the weekend, they pause and give you a puzzled look that I can only imagine would be the same look they would give you if a mini-UFO were to land on your head and bite size aliens jumped out to wash your hair.  Seriously puzzled.  And then they proceed to tell you how awful Canberra is and how they went there once on a school trip when they were a teenager and how it was the most boring place on Earth.

Them:  “Why the fuck would you waste a weekend in Canberra?”
Me: “Well, I want to see what’s there.  Plus, I’m a bit of a nerd and a politics junkie so I think I might actually like it.”
Them:  “Oh.  Well, maybe you’ll enjoy it then.”

Thanks.  Way to kill my pre-trip excitement.  I’d like to point out that most of those people went to Canberra when they were in school 20 years ago and I imagine a lot has changed since then.  I actually found Canberra to be quite delightful – chock full of cafes, restaurants, outdoorsy options, and all the usual stuff you’d find in any big city – just with a lot of nerdy museums and other activities thrown in on top.  I’ll admit that I’d probably never want to reside there, but I think it’s an awesome weekend get away from Sydney.

The only thing people actually tell you to do in Canberra when you tell them you’re going to Canberra isn’t actually even in Canberra at all.  It’s about an hour outside Canberra and conveniently located just off the highway in a town called Goulburn.  What is it?  It’s a big thing.

This is a Big Merino.  Actually, it’s the Big Merino and it’s probably the most famous thing to do in Canberra even though it’s located nearly 100 kilometres before you hit Canberra.  If you don’t know what a big thing is or why it exists, I’ll just point you to a past blog rather than re-explain here:  http://phillipdavid.blogspot.com.au/2011/06/big-larry.html

No big merino is complete without big merino balls… oh my.

Canberra is centered on two different axes.  The first is a land axis which runs down from atop Mt Ainslie through the Australian War Memorial, along Anzac Parade (the main drag), and onward to Parliament.  The other axis is a perpendicular water axis comprised of Lake Burley Griffin, formerly a river which was dammed and named after the architect of the city.  The city itself actually does resemble Washington DC to a substantial degree – lots of straight roads radiating out from large round-a-bouts, no massively tall structures, a river running through it, and tons of monuments and museums everywhere.   To demonstrate both the axes and a bit of DC-ishness, I present to you various views, including a view of the land axis from the roof of Parliament:

From the other end, the view of the land axis taken from atop Mt Ainslie:

The city centre and Lake Burley Griffin from atop Mt Ainslie:

Another road radiating from the giant round-a-bout that surrounds Parliament.  It runs at approximately a 45 degree angle to Anzac Parade and leads to the Australian American War Memorial.  Notice the eagle on top:

We arrived at the Australian War Memorial at 4pm.

What I thought was simply a memorial where I’d walk up, read an inscription, snap a photo, pay my respects, and leave, turned out to contain a giant war museum underneath as well.  It outlined every war Australia has participated in and paid extra special tribute to World Wars I and II.

The museum is huge and houses some pretty incredible artefacts, including one of the Japanese submarines that attacked Sydney Harbour during WWII.

Having only an hour to run like the devil through the museum, I had to do more of a quick peruse rather than devote proper time to each section.  Despite that, I was amazed at the detailed coverage of different wars.  Aside from the big obvious wars, there were also displays on the Boer War which began in South Africa in the 1800’s and is often considered the first war in which Australian soldiers fought (even though Australia was yet a federated country when the Boer War started).  Of course there was Korea, the Gulf War, and a substantial section on Vietnam:

I was surprised that there were already displays on Afghanistan and Iraq, and a bunch of other conflicts that I knew nothing about as I don’t think the US was involved and therefore not prominently featured in our high school history textbooks.  As an influential country in the Asia Pacific region, Australia has helped out with conflicts in Indonesia, Malaysia, and East Timor, as well as peacekeeping missions in Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, the Solomon Islands, and many others.  I knew absolutely nothing about any of these conflicts which surprised me, though I wonder if Australian students learn too much about Panama, Grenada, Kosovo, etc.

One thing I know Australians learn more detail about than Americans is Captain Cook, though we certainly did learn about him in the US.  This globe on the waterfront serves as a memorial to Captain Cook:

Look closely:  all of the different coloured lines trace each of his voyages.

After a few good nerd moments, I decided to do some other non-nerdy stuff, mainly because I like to spice it up but also because I think my travel companion, Cade, would have had a nerd overload if I made him cram in museum after museum.  We hit up the Old Bus Depot Markets which turned out to be fantastic.

They had all sorts of trinkets, paintings, clothing, and other random items along with a massive food section with spices, honey, fresh squeezed orange juice, chocolates, and some delicious macarons, among other tasty treats.

I was also totally stoked that Canberra has not one, but two different Ethiopian restaurants to choose from.  Do you know how many Sydney has?  None.  Well, at least none until about four months ago when one allegedly opened somewhere in the northern suburbs, but reviews have brought me to the conclusion that the one here in Sydney might not be so authentic and may be more of an African fusion type restaurant as opposed to true Ethiopian.  But I digress.  We drove into Canberra on a Friday after work and our very first stop in the city was Ethiopia Down Under.  Not bad.

There was also some delicious brunch in the Kingston neighbourhood, a vast assortment of fine dinner options in the city’s centre, and even a gay club for us to dance away the evening at.  Who knew?

Now, I’m obviously missing one major item from Canberra (take a guess!) but I’ll save that for the next post.  Overall, Canberra was delightful and I can’t wait to go back and hit up some of the other museums soon.