Saturday, September 1, 2018

Canberra: The Sequel

I took a little long weekend trip to Canberra last year.  It was my second trip to Australia’s capital city.  As I mentioned in my first blog about Canberra all those years ago (, many Australians mock Canberra for being a boring little backwater.  But on this second trip there, I really enjoyed my time.  The city’s population is fairly young and progressive, a new light rail is set to make getting around easier, and there is actually a fair bit to do and see (and even eat!) in Canberra.

I ticked off some of the big-ticket items on my first visit four years prior, such as Parliament and the Australian War Memorial, so I was keen to see what else was on offer.

Australian Institute of Sport
My travel companion visiting from the USA is an Olympics enthusiast and he requested we visit the Australian Institute of Sport.  It wouldn’t have normally been on my list (and it wasn’t even in the Lonely Planet guidebook), but I’m actually super glad we went.  The AIS is where many of Australia’s elite athletes come to train in advance of the Olympics and other competitions.  There’s a smallish interactive museum inside the visitors’ centre, and a guided tour takes you around to check out the facilities, including athletes’ gyms, a giant Olympic swimming pool, and gymnastics facilities.  The best part:  the tour was led by a current athlete, in our case, a super cute male gymnast from Western Australia.  Yummy!

National Gallery of Australia
The excellent National Gallery of Australia contains heaps of art from Australian artists, both indigenous and non-indigenous.  There was also other eastern and western art, including a creepy installation from Filipino artist Rodel Tapaya featuring the upper half of humans flying away with their suitcases.  I think it appealed to the traveller in me.

National Portrait Gallery
I’m so glad I didn’t visit the National Portrait Gallery on my first visit to Canberra, because it gave me four extra years of knowledge about famous Australians.  The gallery features portraits of all sorts of famous Australians – historical and current – from the worlds of politics, business, sports, arts and entertainment, and more.  There were many portraits of super famous people that I knew before hand – such as actresses Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman, and Harold Holt (the Prime Minister who famously disappeared while swimming) – but had I gone on my first visit, I wouldn’t have recognized many of the names and faces that are famous in Australia but not so famous around the world – such as Lee Lin Chin (news presenter), Cadel Evans (cyclist), Princess Mary of Denmark (who is actually Australian), Gough Whitlam (former Prime Minister), Sidney Myer (founder of the Myer department store), and more.

Royal Australian Mint
The Royal Australian Mint is where Australia makes its coins… and more!  The museum inside has great information on the history of Australian coins, details of how they make them, and plenty of fun facts.  The old 1 and 2 cent coins were on display, as well as the medals from the 2000 Sydney Olympics which were also made at the Royal Australian Mint.  Did you know that the 1 and 2 cent coins that were retired in Australia were melted down and made into the bronze medals?  How cool is that?!?  The mint also mints coins for other countries, particularly the small Pacific island nations which can’t mint their own, and some of these were on display too.

I also re-visited some places in Canberra, like the viewpoint at Mt. Ainslie and the weekend Bus Depot markets, plus new cafes and restaurants.  My favourite thing in Canberra, however, was…

Driving in Canberra is a dream.  A dream!  In the 8.5 years that I’ve lived in Sydney, the traffic has become increasingly heinous.  It used to take about 35 or 40 minutes to get out to Costco.  Now it’s well over an hour.  It’s ridiculous.  But Canberra was modelled after Washington DC, with wide lanes, long stretches of road, and roundabouts to help the traffic flow.  And by “help the traffic flow”, I really mean, “help the four or five cars flow”.  There is hardly any traffic in Canberra because it’s just not a big enough city yet.  Things are quite spread out, but it hardly takes any time at all to get around.  It’s joyful!

I took a few other trips last winter (North American summer) with my mate, Tyler, from the USA, and I’ll blog about those in the next few weeks.  Hopefully.  But first, let me take a… oh wait.  I didn’t take any selfies in Canberra.  Not a single one.  Ugh.  Here’s a picture of me at the Australian Institute of Sport instead.  I won a gold medal.  You can only guess what in!

To see more photos of my time in Canberra, follow this link:

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

England & Wales 2016

The last time I blogged I said that I’d start blogging about more trips soon-ish… well, I’ve had like three overseas trips and one big domestic trip since then and now I’m even further behind.  But I’m going to give myself a pass because it’s been under a year so I’m going to count that as soon-ish.

I’ll begin with where I left off:  right after my gap year.  As I mentioned in my last post, I hung out in London for a few weeks trying to figure out if I could get a job and a visa.  Job: Easy.  Visa: A stern “Hell No” from Theresa and the Brexit Bunch.  Once I realized that, I made haste to try to tackle as much of London as I could.  I had seen a few things when I passed through earlier that year, but there was so much more to be experienced.  With that, here are my top five favourite attractions (in random order) that I saw in London:

1.  London Transport Museum:  Clearly my first stop, I love all things transport-related because I’m a transport nerd.  I was slightly disappointed (but not surprised) that airports were only a small part of the museum, but all of the stuff about the tube and double-decker buses was fantastic.  Also, A+ on the gift shop.

2.  Museum of London:  Outside of transport, the Museum of London was an overload of information, but in a good way.  Detailing the history of the city from way back when all the way to modern day, the museum was thorough but never boring.  I particularly enjoyed learning about London during and just after WWII.  This one also had a strong gift shop game.

3.  British Museum:  It took me three attempts to conquer the British Museum.  It’s so big and the first two times were just a bit overwhelming.  “Where do I start?  How am I going to ever see all this stuff?  I should just leave and get Chipotle instead.”  Finally, on my third attempt, I forked out some money for a “Highlights Tour” of the museum which was clearly the way to go.  The tour featured a little bit of everything and all of the most important pieces.  I was then able to go at my own pace and re-visit a few select exhibitions that really grabbed my interest.  The size and scope of the collection is just unbelievable.

4.  Tate Britain:  I like new things, so I just assumed I’d prefer the Tate Modern to the Tate Britain.  But you know what happens when you assume?  The Tate Britain had hundreds of years of British art, arranged chronologically throughout the museum.  Getting to experience the changes in art over time was brilliant, and this one goes down as one of my absolute favourite art galleries on the planet.

5.  Wellcome Collection:  This little museum contains the private collection of one Sir Henry Wellcome, and a bit more.  An avid traveller, Henry picked up some insane souvenirs along the way, like Napoleon’s toothbrush, Florence Nightingale’s slippers, a whole mummified person from Peru, Japanese sex toys, anti-masturbation devices, chairs with spikes, chastity belts, and so much more.  The museum itself isn’t all that big, but it’s one of those museums where you just have to look at each piece on display and read each caption.

Of course, I did a lot more than just these… but I won’t give my full comments on every single one because you’ll fall asleep.  But here are the brief comments, where warranted, just in case you are planning a trip to London:  Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (glorious and beautiful!), Tower of London (do one of the Beefeater Tours), The Monument (I climbed the steps to the top for my annual workout), The Royal Observatory at Greenwich (I straddled the Prime Meridian and added to my collection of straddling famous… imaginary lines), St. Paul’s Cathedral (with splendid views from the dome), the Lloyd’s of London building (formally checking off one of my 103 Things), The Churchill War Rooms (where I learned everything I needed to know about Churchill and his tenure during WWII), Kensington Palace (which wasn’t all that big but had a great exhibition on the fashion of HM The Queen, Princess Margaret, and Princess Diana),  Hampton Court Palace (which was all that big and super interesting and a must see it you have time for a day trip just a bit out of London), the Geffrye Museum (which explores British homes from 1600 until today), and the Jewish Museum London (because I’m a big gay Jew).

But wait there’s more!

I also visited the Natural History Museum (which wasn’t that much different than other natural history museums… just more British…), Houses of Parliament (because I’m a politics nerd), Westminster Abbey (because you have to, right?), the Queen’s House (not the actual Queen’s house, but like, an older queen’s house – it wasn’t furnished. Odd.), the National Maritime Museum (which had really interesting/depressing information on the slave trade and other maritime stuff), and the V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum, which had a lot of stuff in the permanent collection, and a lot of it – like, how many bowls do you need? But the temporary exhibition on underwear was super interesting!)  I also visited parks and neighbourhoods and stuff.

Outside of London:
I visited Bristol and Oxford on my first trip to London, so I had to see a few new non-London places this time too.  I visited my friend Jemma in Cheltenham (which was a super cute little city but didn’t have any super outstanding tourist attractions) and we did a day trip to Cardiff in Wales (hence the title of this blog includes Wales because of the few hours I spent there).  We visited the Cardiff Castle which was great, and the National Museum Cardiff which seemed to be half closed for renovations.  But that kept with the theme of Cardiff on a Sunday:  mostly closed.  I also visited my mate James in Cambridge where he showed me around some of the colleges and the Fitzwilliam Museum which was like a smaller version of the British Museum.

Food.  Clearly there was food involved.  Because there’s always food involved.  Except when I have food poisoning (like the Great Nepal-Malaysia Disaster of 2015) or when there’s only shellfish and pork (refer to my point above about being a big gay Jew).  I ate meat pies.  Lots of them.  I ate fish and chips.  Because Britain.  I went to the Harrod’s Food Hall more times than one should.  Their brownies are ridiculous.  I also had an afternoon tea at Harrod’s because I’m posh like that.  I went to nearly every Australian-owned cafe in London in search of good coffee and Aussie-style brunch.  I went to the Borough Market to eat the orgasmic cheese toasties from this cheese place there.  So much cheese.  So much delight.  I stayed with my mates Ross & Jon in Highbury and they were conveniently located not far from an Ethiopian restaurant, something that isn’t all that common in Australia.  So, obviously, I ate there a bunch.  The lady knew me by the end of it.  I think she misses me.  I miss her food.  And, of course, Chipotle.  London has Chipotle.  And I knew I’d be going back to Australia soon and Australia’s Tex-Mex scene is pretty piss poor so I just ate ALL of the Chipotle.  I think three times per week at the end.  That’s how dire it is in Australia.  I was relishing burritos in Britain!

British TV:
I had time to watch some British TV, and I loved it (but to be fair, I’ve always loved British TV).  One new show (well, new to me) that I just fell hard for was The Great British Bake Off – which features amateur bakers in an intense competition with crazy hosts and judges and all sorts of sexual innuendo.  LOVE.  I also watched lots of First Dates which follows people on blind dates in a restaurant (the whole restaurant is there on a blind date).  It’s brilliant and surprisingly classy unlike most dating shows.  There are international versions of the show, including one in Australia, but they’re just not as good as the original British version.  Less classy but equally as entertaining is a show called Naked Attraction where all of the contestants are naked and one person starts eliminating people based on what’s below the waist, the torso, the face, and then the voice.  They show full frontal on TV in prime time.  I belong in Britain.

And finally, I spent a good chunk of my time in London just giggling.  I’d giggle every time I rode the Piccadilly Line because the line ends at Cockfosters and every announcement was “This is a Piccadilly Line service to Cockfosters.” Hehe!  Someone is fostering cock!  And, of course, I just had to be staying around the corner from a pub called “The Famous Cock” (hehehehe!) which I would see every time I went to the tube station, so it was just a constant gigglefest. Because I’m mature.  So mature.


I’ll blog again… soonish.  But first, let me take a selfie (on the Prime Meridian!)

To see more photos of my time in England AND Wales, follow this link: