The Australian Adventure: Drive to Canberra

(This post is also available in Russian)

So back to our adventure. On the third day, when we barely mastered the skill of crossing the road (trust me, it’s not as easy as you think), we had to head towards the race site. Since we had to be in a region that was not very public transport friendly, we had no other choice to rent a car. Before leaving Canada, we pre-booked with Avis, mostly because they were a name we knew, and they offered an SUV at their city location.

Side note on Sydney Public Transport

For those who don’t know us, I am the brains behind any operations. Not very great, but the brains. Mostly because I like to control and freak out over things. So when we came back from our Bondi walk, my job became to find a way to go and get the car next morning.

We stayed in Randwick and were supposed to get a car at King Cross station at 9 in the morning, check out before 10, and get to Canberra just in the heart of the rush hour traffic. When I booked the car, I picked a location closest to our hotel, on the Google maps. “We will figure it out,” – said Alex.

According to Google, we needed to take a bus, and walk for few minutes. If we did not feel like taking a bus, we could take a taxi. Or we could walk for 6km, but who wants to do that on the tired legs. Since we did not feel like giving another possibly $60 to a friendly taxi company (ok, I am really not sure if the 6km ride would cost you that much, but after our airport experience, we were not going to test it), we opted for a bus.

That was a moment, when I realized that we were taking the bus during their morning rush hour. And all the buses heading downtown were accepting special payment cards only. They call them Opal, in Toronto area we are know them as Presto. Minor set back – we didn’t have these darn cards.

Few more minutes online, and minor nervous breakdown later I found out that you could buy these at the airport (only if we knew), train station and certain convenience stores. Conveniently, there was a location on the main street, where we had a dinner that evening. Once again, only if we knew.

We decided to go to the convenience store in the morning, and if we were not successful enough to get the cards, we would walk. It was sort of on or way. Also, the website said that we had to put minimum $10 each. I was grumpy at it, but it didn’t seem that we had any options.

I don’t think I slept an hour that night. “That stupid Sydney, I can’t wait to get home!” So, I ended up catching up on the news from home, playing a game where you line up some odd Tetris-like figures and stressing some more.

In the morning we got up, grabbed our keys and passports and headed to the main street where we bought the passes, boarded the bus and headed to the downtown. That is how it always happens.

Getting a Car

So we were standing in front of an Avis office, expensive coffee in hand. They had our reservation ready, and we filled out the paper work. Standard stuff: pick up and return dates, insurance and dents and scratches check.

“So where are you headed?”

“Snowy Mountains”

“Oh, Jundabyne? Just keep in mind, that you are not insured past the snow line?”

“Huh?”

“No matter what happens to the car, past the snow line, we are not paying to fix it. The line is the Jindabyne village.”

But the race site is 20 minutes past the village. And our hotel is another 20 minutes past the race site. Why exactly did we pay $600 for the insurance we wont be using for 12 days out of next 14, except for an occasional trip to the village grocery store or gas station? I guess its better to be safe, than sorry. Later we talked to other people on the team, they rented their cars in Canberra and had no issue with the insurance. I guess Sydney cars have no snow tires.

Slightly worried about the whole snow line situation, we headed to the garage where nearly brand new Toyota RAV 4 was waiting for us.

We both drive tiny cars at home, that are 8 and 5 years old. They are not extremely powerful, speedy or glamorous, but they get us to places for under $80 a month. So you can only imagine the excitement we got when we opened the door of a brand new SUV. Touch screens, outlets for your phone…. is that what grown ups drive? We even considered replacing our Saturn as soon as we get home (shhh, don’t tell him that).

However, we also drive our cars while sitting on the left. Ready? Poor Alex had to maneuver this oversized (to us) vehicle, while sitting in a passenger (again, to us) seat, out of the parking spot and onto the wrong (you got it) side of the road.

Apparently it is common with everyone who goes over to UK and Australia, but we laughed hysterically first time Alex had to turn on his flashers. They reverse them too, and the wipers went on quite few times when we needed to change the lane. For the record, Alex only mixed them up once upon returning to Canada.

We headed onto the road, and I nearly had a heat attack. Back in 2008 when I decided to get my driving licence, I thought that my instructor was a jerk. He yelled at me for the whole duration of our lesson, because I could not keep the car in the centre of the road, and kept hitting every sewer grid out there. In 2016 I realized I would make even worse driving instructor.

You know how you are not sure how big your car is? Now add being not sure where the centre of the lane is. Plus do all that in a narrow streets of, lets say, downtown Toronto. If we were going to divorce, it would be on that short ride back to the hotel. “You going to hit the parked car! You going to hit it! Aaaaaa!”

Just for the record, we did not hit anything. No one even honked at us. So we parked illegally in front of the hotel, and hurried up packing our belonging into the car. Looking at the stuffed back of the SUV I realized we would probably not make it as backpackers.

The Road to Canberra

So we headed to Canberra. Aside from trying to save five dollars of tolls and probably wasting 10 on gas, visiting great Sydney neighbourhoods, it was very uneventful. As soon as we got out of traffic, we were charmed by the views. I know, Alex’s brother once referred to Canada as the “land of nothing”, but I think Australia can beat us there. Wherever we could look, we saw nothing but wast fields and blue skies. Sure there were people, but nowhere near to the crowds we used to in GTA. It was peaceful and beautiful.

We saw plenty of warnings about all sorts of wild life: wombats, kangoroos and even ostriches crossing the road. But to our regret, and slightly gladly, we did not encounter any.

We had a lunch in a tiny restaurant in the historic town of Berrima, but didn’t have a chance to visit. We will do it next time, we agreed, hoping there will be next time. Reasoning with ourselves, that we can not see everything in the country in really just 11 days.

Around 5 we got to the capital. It was busy, and we had few stressful moments again. Biggest challenge was the fact that Australians just love circles. Roundabouts or just circular streets, it doesn’t matter. Canberra was full of them. Finally, slightly lightheaded from all the driving in circles, we found out hotel and unpacked the car, just to load it all back in few hours.

Few Hours in Canberra

After a quick shower, we found out that we are steps away from the Olympic pool and it has lap swimming time. Without hesitating any longer we headed for an adventure. I did not feel like swimming, but Alex thought it was too much of an opportunity to miss. And yes, I know, I just told you we said no to the historic site, yet could not skip a YMCA pool (they manage it since the Olympics are over). I guess everyone has their priorities.

According to Alex, it was amazing. 50 meters indoor/outdoor facility with, I believe, 8 or 10 lanes. No wonder Australians beat everyone at swimming. Originally, the pool was built as an outdoor structure, but later the roof and vinyl walls were added to make the facility useful during the winter months. So when Alex started swimming, the walls were not up, but by the time he was out of the water, staff put up the wall panels and it looked like one of those tents they set up at the race.

After a quick stop at the grocery store , we headed back to the hotel.

We stayed at the Australian National University residence, which was neat, but very old building. At this point, we stated noticing, that all the hotels on the continent were older, and very stuck in the 80s. But, aside from not having an elevator, it was cute.

Since neither of us went to university, this is as close to the residence experience as we got. We even slept in two tiny beds and ate twice in the cafeteria. It was fun.

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