The most immediately and continually amazing thing about Canberra is the exotically perfumed air. Overwhelming all else is the eucalyptus. Eucalyptus trees in many varieties are everywhere; there is one outside our bedroom window, a living incense. Close upon that are the agapanthus, jasmine, cedar, vast shrubs of rosemary, oleander, bougainvillea, and trees in the park that smell like cocoa butter on warm days. Add to that all the more typical summer smells of freshly mown grass, lavender hot in the sun, and the cool breeze off the lake and you are gloriously immersed in the heady bouquet of the Inner South A.C.T.
A near competitor with the flora of Canberra is undeniably the fauna, specifically the birds. The are LOUD and varied. There are flocks of yellow crested cockatoos that sound like first cousins to flesh-rending Velociraptors, black and white speckled magpies that sound like dial-up internet connections, birds that always sound like they just heard a bad joke and ducks that mew like cats! There are black swans, tropical parrots, rosellas and doves that look exactly like our nephew, with the cutest little mohawks!
The next thing you notice is that, to be the Australian Capital Territory, it is remarkably uncrowded, slow-paced. Locals 35 and under (and a few over) say it is the most boring, class conscious, unfriendly city around; 35 and over tend to say it is Australia’s best kept secret. I’m divided; our side of the lake, Parliament side, is lovely, full of parks, tree lined streets and easily walkable “villages”, museums, gardens,nature reserves, and memorials galore. The waterfront on the opposite shore is very nice as well. Then, there is The City and City Center: I found that area to be completely and inexplicably repellant, “big city” without any charm, mystery or quaintness to make it palatable.
Speaking of palatable, now for the good stuff: the food. The food here has been terrific (and terrifically expensive!), with plenty of gluten-free options and honest to goodness European quality coffees and hot chocolates. The eggs have naval orange golden yolks (have you ever noticed that yolk colors vary region to region, and country to country?), there are more types of mangoes at the local market than I knew existed, and there always seems to be a friendly and knowledgable person around to tell you what things like wagyu, rocket, capsicum, and dukkah are.
The two areas whose gustatory offerings we have explored most thoroughly are Manuka (pronounced Monica) and Kingston. Manuka is trendy and bustling, with lots of cafes, and good people watching opportunities. My Cafe has been a mainstay of our trip, with good options no matter the time of day, but an especial favorite for finishing off the night with hot chocolate for Jason. Charmers does an excellent breakfast with perfectly cooked over easy eggs, the craziest, biggest, best bacon you ever saw (though if you like yours crispy, you should be sure to ask), and super friendly service. Public seems the place to see and be seen after work (if you can raise your eyes from the paella and flourless chocolate torte with berry compote) and Wasabi does beautiful sashimi. Kingston is a bit quieter, homier, with some seriously good food, if not as many evening options (many places in Canberra, at least the Inner South, seem to do half day service. Kingston seems especially full of cafes that only do breakfast and early lunch service). There is an italian restaurant in Kingston, L’unico, that does a gluten-free pasta you would never guess wasn’t the real thing. At the Kingston Grind you can get great coffees and some of the best salads I’ve ever had. Ideallic also does an outstanding coffee (and nice latte art) and good, affordable sandwiches, with gluten-free options available.
We still have a week and a half left here in the summer-land before heading back into D.C. winter so hopefully many more adventures and pictures to come.