Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bright lights

Canberra isn’t really a city. It’s very nice: lots of greenspace, plenty of good shops and restaurants, well planned and mellow. It’s also the capital of Australia, so a lot of things that are important to the country happen here. It has a population of about 400,000 people. But despite all that, it doesn’t feel like a city to me. More like a big town.

We went to Sydney this past weekend. Sydney is a city. Skyscrapers, trains, traffic, energy--and possibly the nicest city harbor going. (Just seeing the ocean might have been the highlight of my trip.)

This was my second visit, and confirmed the favorable impressions I remembered from my first trip six years ago. We had fantastic weather, wandered past some of the more famous sights, caught up with some friends, and ate a lot of good food.

We drove up on Saturday morning, reveling in the fact that we were on a road trip to Sydney. The trip took about 3½ hours, including one stop, and we arrived in mid-afternoon. We dumped our bags at the hotel and headed off to see friends in Balmain. The kids built a giant train track on the living room floor, and we drank champagne and shared news. They cooked us dinner: roast pork on the barbie (of course!); scalloped potatoes; Croatian cole slaw (the method for which I attempted to memorize after I don’t know how many glasses of wine); salad; lots more wine. Dessert was a passionfruit cream sponge from their local bakery that I might be able to replicate with the right tools and about six months of patisserie training.

Sunday morning we headed off to find a likely breakfast spot. On our first visit, we had stayed in Camperdown, near the University of Sydney because I needed to be there for work, and had liked the neighborhood so much that DP booked us in there again. So we knew if we headed towards King Street we’d come across something good, and it took us about five minutes to find a place called HoochieMamma’s Café, with tables on the sidewalk and inviting smells wafting out. We had no trouble getting a table (a four-year-old in tow means eating breakfast a lot earlier than most university students) and not long to wait before generous plates of food appeared: a full traditional cooked breakfast for DP, ricotta hotcakes for Miss B, and Eggs Benedict (on French bread instead of English muffins) for me. The keeper recipe from this meal was the ricotta hotcakes: more chunky and substantial than regular pancakes, but still fluffy and delicious. They were served with butterscotch sauce, but I think I’ll try them at home with Miss B’s favorite blueberry maple syrup.

After breakfast we found a parking space (free! all day!) for the rental car, and then it was off to Newtown station so Miss B could commune with her beloved trains on a ride into downtown. (No trains in Canberra, which is a sad deprivation for my little trainspotter, whose favorite afternoon activity in Oxford was standing on Hinksey railway bridge, waving at anything on rails.) We got off at Circular Quay so we could goggle at Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House (one of the most amazing buildings ever), then walked across the Botanical Gardens to meet my friend L. and her family for a picnic.

L. and I became friends when we shared an office in Oxford, and she was a huge source of help, support, and information to me during Miss B’s bumpy start. I had only seen her once since she left the UK 3 years ago to return to Sydney, shortly after Miss B came home. It was great to see her and her husband and kids (who of course are now gigantic), and they had brought a delicious antipasto spread, complete with chilled wine and featuring an enormous pile of king prawns (aka jumbo shrimp--an Australian Christmas tradition, apparently). They even had finger bowls for cleaning up after peeling off the shells! We stretched out on the grass overlooking the harbor, eating prawns and other goodies and chatting to our hearts’ content, while the kids devoured all the chips and dip, between bouts of playing ball and crashing the wedding taking place down the hill. We enjoyed ourselves until mid-afternoon, when real life resumed and we went our separate ways, they to a Christmas party and we to get on the road home.

It was a great weekend, and a reminder of all the benefits of a sojourn abroad. Most of the time, for me, no matter where I’ve lived, daily life is pretty much the same: parenting, work, running a household, lots and lots of cooking. Most of the differences I notice are negative: things I can't find at the supermarket, vagaries of utility companies. But every so often, I get a day or an experience, special and memorable and particular to its time and place, that reminds me: this is why I wanted to come to Australia.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...