Thursday, February 28, 2013

My life as a human brochure...

So, some time last year (I forget exactly) I saw somewhere on my social networks (again, I can't recall) that Australian Capital Tourism were running a project called the 500 Humans - in which they would take 500 humans and give them an all-expenses-paid weekend trip to Canberra, to experience all that our nation's capital had to offer. The catch? These 500 humans would need to record their experiences, be it through tweeting, instagramming, video'ing or blogging, and broadcast it through social networks so that everybody could be jealous of them, and presumably re-think their attitudes about Canberra being a less-than-thrilling choice for a holiday. Ultimately, by creating online content and sharing it with our networks, we would be "Human Brochures". Marketing genius, right? 'Cos everybody wins.

So, as I do with many competitions, I took the 5 minutes or so to enter. It was the usual questions of "Why do you want to participate?" as well as some information on one's social media usage. I submitted my entry, and then promptly forgot about it.

That is, until the beginning of October, whereby I was informed that I had been successful in gaining a place in the Arts & Culture stream on the February trip.

Flash-forward to February 15th, and there we were...

Video: Day 1

So, we were flown to Canberra, picked up at the airport, and taken to our very-classy hotel, and left to our own devices until it was time for the evening reception at the Australian War Memorial. We chose to hire the free bikes that the hotel offered, and rode around the lake. By "around" I actually mean we cheated and used the bridges. The evening was somewhat reminiscent of school excursions, where we were keen to get to the wine and finger-food, but first we had to go on the tour and look at dioramas of battle scenes. Still, the big planes were cool. When we returned to the hotel, ready to sleep, we were pleasantly surprised to find a couple of complementary beroccas waiting for us, to aid us in the next morning.

The next morning, we were keen to get to the restaurant for our buffet continental breakfast. Unfortunately, we were anticipating the buffet, not realising that "continental" basically means toast, cereal and juice. Still, some of the bread looked pretty fancy, and when you've got an all-expenses paid trip for the weekend, there's no sense in complaining about such things.

And so we headed off. We went to Parliament House, which I thought would be boring, as I'd already been there, but it turned out to be quite interesting, and we visited the PM's office (I hadn't already been there).

Video: Day Two 

Then we were taken to lunch at Two Before Ten, if for no other reason, so that Canberra could show us Melburnians (there were quite a few in our group) that they could roast, blend and brew some decent coffee. And decent it was - sure, it was no St Ali or Seven Seeds, but it was still pleasant. After a break, we went to the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition, where Margaret, our awesome tour guide, told us many interesting things about French society during the Bohemian Revolution. After a few glasses of bubbly in the sculpture garden, it was off to Mezzalira Ristorante for a five-course degustation, which was pretty awesome. A few of us kicked on to Honkytonks, and then we remembered that there had been surprise bottles of wine in our hotel rooms, so we headed back to enjoy them...

On Sunday, a few of us were a little worse for wear, but we headed to the Museum of Australian Democracy (aka Old Parliament House) for brunch and tours. Here, we were reunited with the other streams (Adventure, Food & Wine, Families) who had been staying at other hotels. After some cringe-worthy political entertainment, we headed off to the Kingston Markets.

Video: Day Three

As a pleasant surprise, the Jumptown Swing crew were doing a swing-dancing demonstration, so we jumped in for a bit of a social dance and a shim-sham. Then, it was time to head to the Glassworks for a tour and a crafty session, where we created a glass tile. Once that was done, it was time to part ways with our newfound friends - although many were actually flying back to Melbourne anyway.

All in all, it was a positive experience. It gave new perspectives on places that I'd already visited, and highlighted a few things that I possibly hadn't considered or been aware of. It also reminded me that Canberra is definitely close enough to go away for a weekend, and have an enjoyable time. If it had been a week, then the experience might be something different. But personally, I would certainly consider a weekend trip to Canberra, if it were to coincide with a touring exhibition, for example. And with the city's celebrating its centenary this year, there would be many reasons to pop up for a couple of days.

Of course, it was by no means the perfect trip. Personally, considering that we were guests on an free holiday, I never felt any need to complain, nor did I feel that my time was being wasted at all. However, there were definitely a few participants who felt entitled to their every need, desire and expectation being met, and when they weren't the grumbling ensued.

Furthermore, the trip exposed us to a few things that we might not experience on an average holiday to Canberra. I don't imagine I'll be able to afford a weekend at a 4.5 Star hotel any time soon. Nor will I be treating myself to a fine dining degustation meal in the near future. And I don't think I'll be sitting in Julia Gillard's chair ever again. In these respects, we were real VIPs, which takes the experience far beyond the average vacation.

Still, I'm glad I went. We had an awesome time. It was great to tune out (mostly) before heading to Adelaide for the Fringe, and take a much-needed vacation.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Greetings from the End of the World...

Well, it's a busy time at the moment. Last weekend, I went to Canberra to participate as a Human Brochure, which was a lovely experience - definitely highlights all of the things I like about Canberra, along with a few hidden gems (that I might not necessarily be able to afford, as a tourist...). However, I haven't had time to blog about that, because...

I'm in Adelaide! For one week only at the Adelaide Fringe. I'm performing a show, called "Songs from the End of the World"...

It's basically a solo cabaret show, and I'm performing it at La Boheme, which is a beautiful little cabaret cocktail bar on Grote St. There's already been a review published, which you can read... I tend to avoid reviews until after the show is over, as they make me a little neurotic, but I believe that it is on the positive side!

So, if you're in Adelaide, I'd love it if you came and saw the show. I'd say it's definitely my best show so far - it keeps a lot of the quirkiness of my previous stuff, but I like to think it's also matured a little, like fine cheese.

Friday, February 1, 2013

On Being a Tourist in Australia

Recently, I had a friend visit Melbourne from overseas, and the question was posed "What should I do in or around Melbourne?"

My initial response was along the lines of, "Well, there's always some festival around town. Or you could go and see a film at the Rooftop or Moonlight cinemas, or go have coffee in St Kilda or Fitzroy. Or go op-shopping, or go to the cricket or the tennis, or go find some obscure alleyway bar in the city."

Then I realised - these are the kinds of things that I associate with being in Melbourne - because it's my home town. They're not necessarily things that a tourist visiting Melbourne would necessarily want to do - probably because these are the kinds of things that tourists would do in *their* home town.

Instead, folks go on bus tours to the Great Ocean Road, or head up to Ballarat and wander about Sovereign Hill, or down to Phillip Island to see the Penguins. Or, closer to home, they'll go to the Melbourne Aquarium or the Melbourne Observation Deck - two things that I can't say I've really gotten around to doing, despite the fact that I live here.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, S & I bought tickets to go see Sharon Jones perform at the Summer of Soul festival in Mossvale Park, near Leongatha. As it was on a Sunday, we decided to make a weekend of it, and head off to Wilson's Promontory on Saturday. Here's what ensued:

All in all, a very pleasant weekend. At Wilson's Prom, we crossed paths with a wide range of local beach-goers and bushwalkers, as well as plenty of overseas visitors. The scenery was beautiful, and it only cost us the expense of driving a car there and back.

However, last weekend, we were in Adelaide, and decided to head down to Kangaroo Island (or as the locals call it, "K.I.") for the first time. We were astonished at the cost of catching a 45 minute ferry across to the island (about $90 return), but figured that it'd be worthwhile once we got there. However, once we got there, we discovered that it was pretty much impossible to get around the island unless we'd booked a guided tour with the bus touring company. We also had the option of getting an expensive hire car, which only included 100km before we'd have to pay extra. The island is over 150km long.

Fortunately, we were able to get some mildly expensive standby tickets for the tour, and saw everything there was to see on the island. It was nice, especially seeing some of the wildlife, and I'm glad that we went, but at the same time it was definitely a tourist trap - quite literally - as we were stranded in a situation where we had to spend lots of money to make it worth the expense we'd already paid to get there!

But it also opened my eyes a little more on what many others might experience when they come visiting Australia. My backpacker travel instincts have generally been along the lines of "show up, check in, and then have a look around and see what's worth doing". It's always worked out for me in the past, travelling around Asia.