Our second day in Canberra got off to a late start since Justin and I were in no rush and Angela was exhausted from working on her paper the day before. We made breakfast in Angie’s apartment and then caught the bus up Capitol Hill to see the Parliament Building that we had failed to reach on foot the day before.
Once you get into the Parliament building you are left to wander as whimsy takes you. Having grown up in Washington DC this seems absolutely preposterous to me. If you wanted to so much as walk into the lobby of a government building of any significance in DC you would have to submit to a security screening, full body scan, finger printing, metal detecting wand, pat down, light frisking, background check, and quite possibly be asked to provide a blood or urine sample. Assuming you are not deemed a terrorist after all that you would probably still have to walk around with an armed escort and a name tag with your finer print and picture ID on it. However, inside the Parliament building nobody seems to be terribly concerned with security of this magnitude. Once we were inside we opted not to do one of the hour long guided tours and instead let Angela take us around and give us the more concise run down of things.
As if being able to stroll around the most important government building in Australia wasn’t wild enough, they also allow you to take an elevator up to the roof and walk around on top of the building. The views from there are spectacular, and I didn’t see a single sniper or security guard while we were up there. I can’t tell if Australians are too trusting or they just long ago accepted that tourists don’t want to go to Canberra, so why on earth would an international terrorist waste time trying to blow up a lot of hideous buildings and empty space. Plus it would be a royal pain to get out there. So yeah, they are probably safe due to apathy.
After a thirty or so minute stroll through the new Parliament building, we decided to walk down capitol hill to check out the old Parliament Building. This building was in use from 1927 to 1988, when the New Parliament building was opened. The interior offices are set up to look like they did in the late 70′s, so there is awful wood paneling and yellow and green tones everywhere. It doesn’t really feel that old at all, just dated.
After we had seen our fill of the Parliament buildings, both old and new, we began our long walk back towards Angie’s apartment. To get there we walked back over Lake Burley Griffin and leisurely strolled around the sprawling green lawns in the surrounding Parliamentary Zone, an area very similar to the National Mall in Washington, only more deserted and futuristic looking.
“Even the National Capital Authority, the governing body for the city, admits in a promotional fact sheet that ‘many people believe the Parliamentary Zone has an empty and unfinished character, where the vast distances between the institutions and other facilities discourage pedestrian movement and activity. ‘ I’ll say. It was like walking around the site of a very large world’s fair that had never quite gotten off the ground.”
Exhausted and hungry we stopped at a wood fire pizza restaurant for dinner before heading back to Angela’s apartment to rest, shower and change before going to the Canberra Burns Club Pipe Band Ceilidh (a ceilidh is a gaelic word meaning party and it is pronounced kay-lay). The ceilidh was being put on as a fundraiser for the pipe band that Angela had been playing with since arriving in Canberra. Ever since we had proposed the idea of coming to Canberra, Justin had been ecstatic about attending the ceilidh.
When Angela and Justin were in Scotland last summer with the Citadel pipe band for the Edinburgh Tattoo, they had attended a traditional ceilidh with lots of older experienced pipers, and both of them had glowing accounts of this evening. Their experience consisted of them hanging out in a pub drinking while lots of pipers got up in front of the room and piped amazing solos and then everyone sat around chatting and generally having a great time.
If this had been how things had gone down it might have been an interesting cultural experience, but the reality of the evening was far from the intimate bar hang out that Angela and Justin had been expecting. Instead we spent upwards of two hours sitting in a banquet hall of a country club-type establishment listening to a bagpiping talent show-esk performance, featuring many differnet bag piping and celtic music groups from the area, many of whom were not that talented at all. Refreshments were absolutely perfect….. had we been at a five year old’s birthday party. On each table were plastic plates and bowls filled with doritos, potato chips, jelly candies and mints. Classy.
Since bagpipes have only one volume, obnoxiously loud, conversation was almost futile, but Justin tells me my facial expressions said it all. About halfway through the first groups set Justin looked over at me and said
“I think I am going to go get you a drink”
To which I replied “No amount of alcohol will make this better, but you are welcome to try anyway”
He came back with a Gin and Tonic which was made with some sort of weird gin that tasted vaguely like licorice. Even the alcohol in Canberra is awful.
Justin and Angela went back and forth discussing the various musical strengths and weaknesses of each group but to me it all sounded like a rousing chorus of cats being drown that refused to die. After about two hours of this Angela and Justin had both determined that this situation was never going to morph into the idyllic memory they had from Scotland and we left. Once we got back into the downtown area we met up with Angela’s friends to hang out at a bar that had more people in it than I had seen the entire weekend walking around the city. We hung out there and chatted for a bit before catching a cab back to Angie’s apartment, since it was below freezing out and Angie and I were both wearing dresses, having foolishly believed that the ceilidh would be an occasion that required such attire. I shouldn’t have worn a dress, I should have worn ear plugs. Once back in Angie’s apt Justin and I packed up our things to prepare for our early bus the next morning and then all three of us turned in for the night, underwhelmed but exhausted all the same.