Tuesday, 12 February 2013

A Tale of Two Springfields

So the title is a little random here - I was thinking about the two cities I am about to cover here, and from nowhere at all this title of a great old episode of The Simpsons sprang to my mind. Given how different my experiences were in Canberra and Melbourne (which I revisited), it certainly seems apt. 

After spending a fair few days in a rain-sodden Sydney doing, on the whole, very little, I decided to take action and head down to Canberra; it's not reputed to be the most riveting place in the world, but if one has the time, one might as well go see the capital of this continent-country. 

My generally none-too-high expectations for Canberra were, however, did not prepare me for the dreary reality. The place is basically a bunch of giant, often unsightly, concrete creations separated by cumbersome distances and connected by empty superhighways, with the empty spaces in between filled with what could be lovely parks but what are ultimately just vast expanses of dull, unplanned lawns and scrub (see below - both photos are taken right in the city "centre"). I'm a little loathe to paint such a bleak picture of any one place, but within a day and a half or so I had had thoroughly enough of Canberra. Getting anywhere is an enormous faff (which, to some extent, is of course my own fault for coming to a country this size without a driver's license), but that's no excuse for the complete absence of any character or soul or, for that matter, life. 

The one good thing I will say about Canberra is that the Parliament building does look cool, integrated as it is into a large hill. It's just that the rest of the city feels like a sort of motorway rest station catering to the Parliament, which for inexplicable reasons was put in the middle of nowhere. It's a beautiful example of a compromise benefitting nobody, as the only real reason for Canberra's existence is Sydney and Melbourne squabbling over which should be the country's capital. 

Clearly whoever planned Canberra lacked a thorough understanding of the complex intricacies of Basketball...and of sports courts in general, as this one was completely fenced in and there was no door.
It comes as no surprise, then, that I was glad to see the back of Canberra and make my way, for a second time, to Melbourne - the joys of a rail pass and infinite free train journeys! This turned out to be an excellent decision, although you wouldn't have known after my first night at the hostel I checked into. Nestled snugly between two train stations it was never going to be a quiet night, but the guy on the bunk below me returning completely drunk at 4am with a lady conquest and having (or attempting to have...?) sex for some 3 hours took levels of general discomfort to a whole new level. The muttered German sentence fragments drifting up from below were nothing short of depressing at times (the girl said "it's too small" several times - I struggle to conceive of any sexual situation where that might be good for the guy), and the squeaky rocking of the bed was not much of a lullaby, either. 

The next day, however, I got home to a very hungover, contrite and thoroughly apologetic bunkmate who actually turned out to be a good guy; with him and 4 others we spent the evening drinking cider (they had actual Bulmers, which is about the best that can be hoped for here) at an Irish Pub. On our way back the buskers lining the streets - which were still teeming at midnight as it was Chinese New Year - were nothing short of fantastic. They included a guy with a telescope trained on Jupiter, which thoroughly blew my mind, and someone in a penguin suit playing the bagpipes which is not easy to top in terms of sheer randomness. 

The hard at Melbourne's central rowing clubs. Not bad for a backdrop!
You know you have it good when palm trees grow where you row. Bit of a contrast to hearing of windswept -10C outings in Ely from Helena...
More importantly, earlier that day I had been for a run. This is not unusual in itself, but the halfway point happened to be at a place called Power House Rowing Club, and this also happened to be where I suddenly needed the loo something fierce. The girl outside the club turned out to be their captain, Caitlin, who kindly let me use their facilities. We chatted for a bit (I'm not one to forgo the possibility of rowing chat) and one of the club's men squad joined us. Nick turned out to be an HRR semi-finalist and they invited me along to the next day's squad session; I don't think I've ever accepted an invitation quite so gratefully. 

And so it was that I found myself in a shiny new pair, going for a pretty good sightseeing paddle down the Yarra - and subbing into a couple of the club's crews at the Ballarat Regatta the next day. This was a fun, laid-back affair, the equivalent maybe of St Neots Regatta or something along those lines, and I raced in a novice 4+ and an IM3 4+ (or thereabouts). Incidentally, we won both races, and I am now a proud owner of 2 Australian rowing medals and a new one-piece. It was the best possible way to spend my last day in Melbourne, and a thorough pleasure to fully immerse myself in all that we love (and love to hate) about the rowing world, including the terrible chat, the faff, blisters, scratch crews and dodgy rolling starts in awful conditions. Thanks again to all of PHRC! 
The winning Nov4+: Pav, Marcus, Tara, myself and Brad
Closer action in IM3 4+; also me stroking my first ever non-small boat!
Winning IM3 4+: Ross (I think?), Nathan, Dave, Caitlin and yours truly
In other vaguely cool news, I have now rowed on three Olympic rowing lakes: Melbourne 1956, Moscow 1980 and London 2012. 

And suddenly I find myself just a few hours shy of leaving Australia for New Zealand, where I will attain the furthest distance from Europe at 19-odd thousand kilometres. I am planning several sweet hikes which will hopefully result in some more exciting photos, so stay tuned!

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