After three glorious days exploring Mackay and the Queensland coast our next port of call was a visit to Australia’s capital.

Canberra is Australia’s political capital, similar to Ottawa in Canada, or Washington DC in the US. This city of approximately 500,000 people is set in the rolling hills about 3 hours south of Sydney.

Strangely this was the last state or territory in Australia that I hadn’t visited, so was an added bonus when Sam agreed to explore it with me during our trip.

What struck me most as we drove into the city from the airport was that it was eerily similar to Washington DC (but much more sparsely built) with government buildings lining wide boulevards, punctuated by large tracts of green space.

Given that Sam loves architecture I decided to stay at the Vibe Hotel adjacent to the airport. This masterpiece was designed by Bates Smart, and has distinct overtones of the Guggenheim in New York City squarely within its design. This six story gem is worth visiting Canberra just so you can visit this incredible building…when you see the lobby you’ll know exactly what I mean!

A beautifully appointed hotel with the only drawback being that it didn’t have a pool. Generally not an issue I’m sure given Canberra’s rather temperate climate, but in the summer heat (it was a sweltering 39C during our visit) and so a pool would have been ideal.

Although it did have a great little gym!

Our first day of exploring led us to the Australian War Memorial, which is a place I’ve always yearned to visit, but just never seemed to get around to.

Conceived at the end of World War I to honor those Australians that had fallen during the most recent conflict (1914 – 1918), but also as a mark of respect for those that had paid the ultimate sacrifice in all wars in which Australia had participated. It is a beautiful designed art deco structure, utilizing the sandstone which is so prevalent in Australia and surrounded by natural bush.

After years of funding challenges during the Great Depression it was finally open on Armistice Day 1941, but by then Australia was already engaged in the Second World War…

Over the ensuing years it has gathered and catalogued in access of 2.5 million records and artifact…and still adding to it by the day as Australians continue to donate family heirlooms and the like. A very impressive collection!

We spent four hours and could of easily spent another four and still wouldn’t have gotten to it all. A history buff’s dream really, so I was in my element. Free entry to all of the museums in Canberra is also a great bonus. 🙂

After lunch at the Memorial, we decided to drive across the boulevard and bridge to the Parliament buildings. There are two – the first, opened in May 1927 which is the original that I grew up with. “Regal” is the word I’d use when describing this grand old dame.

The new Parliament building was opened by the Queen in 1988, and is situated behind the original on a hill so that it looks as though its sitting on top of the old building, which is quite the optical illusion!

Interestingly, when you’re at the Australian War Memorial you can see both parliament buildings clearly in the distance at the end of a large boulevard that stretches across the city and spans Lake Burley Griffin.

As you know Sam is the resident foodie in our family and as such she had taken control of the food choices on this trip…notably after a dodgy decision or two by yours truly…but enough about that. 🙂

We had two very memorable meals during our stay in Canberra.

The first was at a delicious Indian restaurant – Spice Affair (Shop 8/15 Kingsland Parade, Casey). This little gem is ranked #1 restaurant in Canberra of the 1073 establishments…and for good reason.

To start we had Onion Bhaji and Gobi Manchurian (Asian style battered cauliflower pieces tossed in hot and sour sauce), followed by an interesting choice for Sam – Chicken Vindaloo. Which as you may or may not know is the marinated chicken cooked with spices and is notoriously hot and spicy!

I had the Home Style chicken curry. And given the hot weather washed it down with a fine Kingfisher ale (Indian), some basmati steamed rice and a good measure of freshly cooked Naan bread.

After our meal the owner dropped by our table and we got to chatting, he asked us where we were from given Sam had booked the reservation with her Toronto phone number.

When we told him Toronto, his face lite up and smiling said that he had just come back from visiting his brother who lives in Toronto… Such a small world.

This was without doubt the best meal of our trip, barring the oysters in Sydney that is 🙂

Our second day dawned just as hot as our first, and so leaving early we set out for the National Gallery of Australia.

As you’d expect it was chock full of incredible artwork, most notably the Australian Impressionists (including Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Jane Sutherland, Charles Condor and Fredrick McCubbin) who in my mind equal the more well known French impressionists (Matisse, Picasso and Degas) for their depiction of the 19th century pastoral scenes.

Yes, that’s a big statement I know, but their interpretation of the Australian landscapes is spot on. Just sayin…

After a morning filled with beautiful artworks, including some incredible Australian Aboriginal art we set off to find Sam’s next food masterpiece. We found ourselves in the city at the Cupping Room for a late brunch.

Did I say was a great finder of places to eat! This was no exception, with the a huge plate of sourdough, poached eggs, smashed avocado with bacon. Plus delicious coffee that was out of this world!

Yep, another great find if you ask me. Both the Cupping Room and Spice Affair are both “must do’s” when you visit Canberra.

Just one more stop before heading to the airport…

We decided to see if the Parliament building was open to visitors. As luck would have it they were open. Not only open, but also free parking to boot!

Loving the freebies in Canberra…

Interesting to explore the new Parliament building, both the House of Representatives and Senate rooms were open for us to take a peek inside. And although lots of security everyone was super friendly and helpful with answering our questions.

All in all, Canberra was a cool stop on our trip. Although, to be honest mostly memorable for the food! Yum, yum.

We took a late afternoon flight back to Melbourne to spend our final night in Australia before heading home to Toronto.

Until next week!