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.