I didn't expect to like Canberra so much. I had read up on it before I went and the prognosis was bleak. My options for daily entertainment appeared to be, in no particular order, museums, galleries and politics. I was also assured that public transport was poor and travelling by foot not recommended at all (thanks, Lonely Planet). It's a good job I'm an optimist.
Where are the best breakfasts in Canberra? I Googled this the first night and set off in earnest the following morning, grabbing a guide to Canberra from the hotel foyer on my way out.
In less than an hour I was sitting outside in Kingston, enjoying brekkie at Mr & Mrs Jones. There are people who have only a green smoothie for breakfast, which may be why I got a slight look upon ordering eggs, soy linseed toast plus a green smoothie. I just can't see a drink - irrespective of how much kale has been pulverised to make it - sustaining me until lunchtime. Who are these people? Thin, probably. Whatever.
During brekkie, I perused the Canberra brochure, quickly becoming excited by the sound of several of the main attractions. The section on Parliament House in particular caught my attention - I would go straight there.
I walked for around an hour and a quarter in 30°C heat (I may have set off in the wrong direction). Canberra is so wide and clean! Searing heat and dearth of shade aside, it wasn't a bad walk at all. The city also benefits from an interesting and user-friendly layout; providing you set off in the right direction to begin with, it's easily navigable.
Upon arriving at Parliament House, I lost interest in going inside (politics - yawn), but wandered up to the entrance anyway to take shelter in the shade of one of the huge marble pillars.
After some deliberation, I embraced the tourist mentality - when in Canberra! - and stepped inside.
A sign informed me that Parliament House was safe to enter today: reassuring. After passing through the screening area without causing alarm, I entered a giant room; a lady greeted me immediately, offering a brochure, map and details of the next guided tour. Very helpful, thank you (stopped me heading straight to the gift shop, anyway).
Now, Parliament House. What to say? Really, what do I say? Do I give away its secrets and ruin them for you, or do I keep quiet and risk you never going there, believing it to be a waste of taxpayers' money/huge yawn? Hmm.
Here's my tip: take the (free) guided tour. I should add that entry to Parliament House is also free. Total bargain aside, the tour guide enhanced the experience immeasurably. I know I would have taken very little away from the visit without the benefit of his insight, knowledge (on Canberra as well as the workings of Australian government) and humour. I can only hope David is on duty when you visit. He also let us into a secret, which I will keep to myself (although there is a clue in this blog somewhere) and simply reiterate that you should indeed visit Parliament House and take the tour. I think you would have to be a complete Philistine to walk away from the tour without a single positive feeling. I absolutely, sincerely LOVED IT. And I really did not expect to say that. There is so much I would like to share that I learned during the tour, but to do so would be to lessen the experience for anyone who might have stumbled across this post during their own Canberra research. Just do it; it's a treat.
Ooh, I have written more than planned on Parliament House and, perhaps, Canberra as a whole (I really did not expect to fall in love with this city), so I'll write a separate post re my second day, as things really took off then. Parliament House would have been enough for me, but Canberra chose to spoil me this week.
PS. Parliament House was also the setting for my first ever Lamington - Australia's national cake. My Lamington was accompanied by Japanese sencha green tea and a sensational view of Canberra. Do days get any better?