How to celebrate Bastille Day in Canberra and beyond, even if you’re not French

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Bastille Day, the biggest day of celebration in France, is fast approaching. If you want to get into the spirit of things, dig out your red, white and blue, pop some champagne and join in the French parties.

Of course, if you were French you wouldn’t even be calling it Bastille Day. In France it’s known as ‘le 14 juillet (the 14th of July) or ‘la fete nationale’ (national holiday). Elsewhere the day has become known as Bastille Day because it was on that day in 1789 that the people of Paris stormed the Bastille, a prison where Louis XVI used to keep his opponents locked away, which marked the turning point of the French Revolution and eventually led to the downfall of the French monarchy.

I studied French at high school and fondly remember days of 14 July as that meant instead of learning conjugations and subjective tenses we got to cook French things in class instead, like crepe suzettes. Who remembers when they were a popular thing at fancy restaurants, the waiter with a mobile table sauntering up next to you to prepare your crepes with great fanfare and flame?

If you want to get into the French swing, there are French themed activities happening all around the country. Melbourne and Sydney have dedicated days of celebrations to the events. Melbourne has the innovatively titled Bastille Day French Festival Melbourne and Sydney’s going all out with four days of celebration.

If you’re at home or in the sticks, you could plan a day of French eating. Maybe  a croissant for breakfast, baguette and cheese for lunch, and a macaron for afternoon tea. Maybe just drink champagne all day.

But if you’re in Canberra, here are some ideas:

How to celebrate in Canberra

  • Join the Alliance Francaise for a French-Australian brunch with smoked salmon and blinis, croissants and, of course, champagne. $50 per head, less discount for members.
  • Head to Buvette restaurant to shout ‘Vive la France’ and enjoy a special Bastille Day Feast, with pastries (of course), charcuteries, cheeses and desserts. And apparently there is a pig carving station! $75 with a champers
  • Take part in Canberra Rep’s annual quiz night and warm ‘les conquilles’ on what’s likely to be a chilly evening in Canberra (because winter!) on Sunday night, 14 July. The quiz is even French-themed for the evening. I loved their touch of French marketing line so much I included them here. 6.30-9.30pm. It’s $5 a person! Bargain.
  • Pop out to Flute Bakery in Fyshwick or L’orange in Manuka and pick up a superb little tart or three.
  • Venture a little out of town to Bungendore for a leisurely French lunch at Le Tres Bon with classic choices including French onion soup, cassoulet and even those crepe suzzettes I mentioned above. You can even join Chef Christophe in singing the French National Anthem! $95 for 4 courses. If you miss the lunch, you can take part in French cooking classes at a later time to cook up your own storm or get the kids involved.

If you can’t find your own French place to celebrate, you could just say ‘Bonjour’ to everyone you come across during the day and wear a beret.

Salut!

PS This post is not sponsored. I just like French food and celebrations.

 

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Burnt Orange: relaxed dining on Sydney Harbour

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I’m constantly amazed that no matter how many times I go to Sydney, every time I do there’s a new little pocket to discover.

A recent discovery was Burnt Orange, a delightful restaurant and event venue just a couple of kilometres past Mosman but a world away from the hustle and bustle of a big city. It’s tucked away in a bit of bushland, just next to Middle Harbour National Park, in an area that’s been used by the military for decades.

The 1920s building was once the clubhouse of the Mosman Golf Club but was resumed by the government in 1940 during World War II and used for as a military base. The golfers had to move to nearby clubs. In later times the building housed two military families, so it’s large with lots of nooks and interesting spaces. There’s even space for a lovely gift shop – dining out and shopping in one place!

img_0182-1-e1562118172773.jpgThe real star is the huge timber wrap-around verandah which makes it feel very Australian and relaxed. In winter plastic sheeting keeps in the warm but allows for the view. And it’s a lovely view, looking out across the national park to the water of Sydney Harbour beyond.

There’s a lot of space but it’s busy with lots of diners, just about all ladies celebrating various birthdays and events the day we visited.

The food is good too. Nothing too fancy but beautifully prepared fresh food with great flavour combinations.

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We went for fish: perfectly pan-fried schnapper, Jerusalem artichoke puree, parsnip chips and beads of black garlic washed down with a cheeky pinot gris, and life’s good. Left just enough room for this  mini bombe alaska, with coconut ice cream and citris zing, or the chocolate mousse square with berry on the side.

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They also do breakfasts as well as high teas. They even have one especially for the kids.

We ran out of time but there’s much to see and do in the surrounding area of the national park and much history to learn—forts, tunnels, gun pits and more—with guided tours available from October to May. And lots more of those harbour view.

I’m definitely going back.

 

World Giraffe Day, and the silent disappearance of giraffes

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Hummer the giraffe at the National Zoo and Aquarium

I’m just a tad late, but did you know it was World Giraffe Day last week, on 21 June? I knew, but couldn’t quite my act into gear to put up this post in time. Given that I’ve just come back from Africa and some amazing safari trips, it seemed appropriate to acknowledge the day.

World Giraffe Day in an annual event initiated by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to celebrate the longest-necked animal in the world on the longest day or night in the world, depending on your hemisphere. It’s also about raising awareness of the challenges giraffes face today in their natural environment, as their numbers drop dramatically.

In fact, giraffe numbers have plummeted 30% to 40% in the last three decades, and it’s happening fairly silently around us. It’s now estimated there are only 111,000 left in the wild. Habitat loss through expanding agriculture, human-wildlife conflict, civil unrest, and poaching for their meat, pelts and tails are among the reasons for the decline.

Giraffe numbers have dropped enough so that in 2016 giraffe were listed as ‘vulnerable to extinction’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. That’s really not a good list to be on.

So the race is on to tackle giraffe survival before it becomes too late. Who wants giraffe to become extinct?

This year World Giraffe Day 2019 is dedicated to Twiga Tracker, which is a massive giraffe GPS satellite tracking program, the biggest ever in Africa. (By the way, ‘twiga’ is Swahili for giraffe.) It tracks the movement of giraffes across Africa. The foundation is hoping to raise US$1 million this year to enable them to track giraffes and help secure a future for all giraffe in Africa.

Twiga Tracker aims to track a minimum of 250 giraffe across their range with innovative GPS satellite solar units so conservationists can better understand where giraffe live, where they move and how they use their habitat. So far, tracking units have been deployed in nine African countries and initial data is showing some interesting results.

I’m a bit excited that the group I travelled with recently to South Africa have pooled some money for this program, together with donations from the National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra, and soon we should be able to monitor the movements of four giraffes in remote Africa online. It’s sort of like animal adoption, but without the night-time feeding sessions. I shall report back with a link to the monitoring of ‘our giraffes’.

The giraffe face at the top of this post is Hummer, a gorgeous fellow who lives at the zoo in Canberra. I would have liked to have featured a fabulous, close up photo of a lovely giraffe I encountered on my recent trips to South Africa and Zimbabwe, but actually we didn’t see that many. Sightings were quite special when you realise that their numbers are reducing so much.

I know I missed the actual Giraffe Day, but if you’re interested in knowing more about the work of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation or if you want to donate, you can visit their website here.

You can also have a look at the conservation work the National Zoo and Aquarium contribute to.

Did you know?

  • A giraffe serves as a bit of a sentry in the wild. As they’re so tall they can spot a predator kilometres away and then move away. Others keep an eye out for giraffes to watch their movements.
  • Their tongues are dark blue to protect them from sunburn and are prehensile, so they act like our fingers and toes.
  • Ostriches have more vertebrae in their neck than giraffes. Way more. Giraffes have just seven, which is the same as humans, while ostriches have 17. Doesn’t seem fair, does it??

Discovering Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve – at last

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I have a confession to make.

I’ve lived in Canberra for well over 30 years and I like to get out and about a fair bit in my home town, but until just recently I had never been to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. Never! Given that Tidbinbilla is a pretty large and impressive nature reserve bursting with the best of Australian native animals and it’s got an amazing reputation in Australia and even around the world, it’s a  tad embarrassing.

Despite promising myself year after year I’d get out there (I mean, for goodness sakes it’s only 40 minutes out of the CBD), it took an invitation from Graham from Canberra Urban Adventures to actually get me there.  And of course now I’ve finally made it, I’m planning to go back again soon with the little munchkins in tow.

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is a protected area nestled at the base of the Tidbinbilla mountain ranges next to Namadgi National Park.  If you want to get up close and personal with a range of  Australian native wildlife in its natural setting, this is the place to be!

We’re talking kangaroos, wallabies and koalas of course, but you’re very likely to come across a whole range of other animals, birds and reptiles as well. Perhaps an emu, or a potoroo. In fact, Tidbinbilla is home to over 130 species of native wildlife. We didn’t see that many, though at the Wildlife Sanctuary area of five ponds I did encounter my first platypus in the wild! They’re fairly shy and elusive creatures so that was a bit of a thrill, rubbish photographs of said platypus notwithstanding.

Kangaroo at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

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I’m quite a fan of taking tours with locals as you get a lot of inside knowledge and get to discover places and facts you wouldn’t otherwise find out about. Reading the brochures and signage is one thing, but having somewhere tell you the stories is another. One half of Canberra Urban Adventures, Graham, is an ecologist by training and delights in sharing his love of wildlife and knowledge of the area. And I just love having someone around on a tour so I can ask all the things and get sensible answers.

You need a car to visit Tidbinbilla as it is a fair way out of Canberra (well 40 minutes remember, but this is by Canberra standards because we generally complain about driving more than 15 minutes anywhere) and you need a car to drive inside. (Actually, you could ride a bike, but it’s a fair hike. We did do a fun 5 kilometre glide down a big hill on an electric bike, shooting past bemused kangaroos, which was rather fun.) The guided tour is perfect for out-of-towners without transport.

The range of landscapes within the reserve is quite surprising: mountains, eucalypt forest, woodlands, open grasslands, wetlands, each different but each lovely and each home to different species.

Unfortunately the reserve didn’t fare well in the terrible fires that ripped through Canberra in 2003 and most of the reserve was badly burnt. Many of the animals didn’t survive sadly, and the koalas were especially hard hit as they move slowly on the ground. Only one koala resident survived, albeit with burns and had to be nursed back to health. They renamed him Lucky, of course, and we went on to live for many more happy years after that, eventually dying of old age not too long ago.

The area around Tidbinbilla is steeped in cultural history as it’s home to the Indigenous Ngannawal people dating back 25,000 years ago. There’s also evidence of European history with homesteads and farming dotted through the reserve. You can take an Indigenous tour to learn about the traditional history or you can stay overnight in one of the homesteads.

The nature reserve is also a leader in conservation work and operates a number of breeding programs which have been very successful, focussing on threatened species, including the Northern Corroboree Frog (they’re the bright yellow and black ones), the Southern Brush-Tailed Rock-Wallaby and the Eastern Bettong.

As a bonus, on this tour you also get to take in a bit more of Canberra with interesting commentary on the side to pick up some local knowledge and tit bits. This includes dropping in at the Canberra Deep Space Station and learning more about the role Canberra played in the moon landing and how we track space craft in our solar system in conjunction with NASA.

Satellite dish at Canberra Deep Space Station Space suit at Canberra Deep Space Station

Discovering Tidbinbilla by yourself

There’s a number of ways you can discover Tidbinbilla yourself, particularly if you live locally. If you self-drive, there are many guided tours with rangers and activities on offer. This includes 22 different walks to choose from, ranging from 15 minute strolls to full day hikes. Wear your sensible shoes.

There’s an entrance fee but really it’s as cheap as chips, charged per vehicle. And the good news is if you buy an annual pass (currently $36), you get to go back as many times as you want during the year.

I’m definitely going back. Perhaps next time I’ll nail a decent photo of a platypus.

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The magic of fog

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I’ve been quite busy this week writing a couple of commissioned pieces (yah me!) so in the interests of producing a quick post, this one is pictorial.

The weather has been a bit dreary the last few days, but it makes for the most ethereal and moody photos. Herewith a small selection taken in the early morning at the National Arboretum in Canberra, one of my fave spots to take photos.

 

If only I could get better at getting up in the mornings!

 

World Environment Day – and let’s hold onto hope

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I have been completely remiss in my blogging activities in recent weeks because – a month in Africa doing safaris and sunrises and sunsets and all the things!! It’s been all consuming and non-stop and not even vaguely possible to think about intended posts, let alone write and post them. One is supposed to be in the moment, after all.

I do have something like 10,000 photos and copious notes as a result of the trip instead, as well as a nasty skin reaction to the anti-malaria medication. I also have renewed and enormous respect for those who manage to take part in a super busy holiday/adventure while being able to maintain an online presence as well. Kudos to you!

I have some catching up to do and much more will emerge on that adventure in due course, but in the meantime I couldn’t let World Environment Day pass without a post and a pic.

I’ve been pondering this post during the day and what image it should feature. Maybe I should write something about waste and all the ways we can make a difference, conservation issues, water, wildlife trafficking, doing your bit, education, or maybe just a pretty picture of a beautiful place to remind us that we live in an amazing world and we should be taking the time to smell the roses – or admire the view, or dip in the ocean, or whatever.

I keep coming back to climate change though, that big burning issue that captures and exacerbates all other environmental issues (umm, extreme weather, anyone), and a hell of a lot of economic issues, and health and humanitarian issues, and food and security issues as well. It has very long fingers this climate change thing. It’s frankly terrifying.

But instead of dwelling on the frightening, I’m going with an image that depicts where  we should be heading in the future: the world of renewable energy, so we can leave fossil fuels in the ground.

Herewith the string of proud, tall wind turbines that I think form a rather majestic backdrop to Lake George (ahh, yes – that used to be a body of water) as you drive into Canberra from the north. Especially impressive when the sun is dipping low and making it glow, or it’s clouded in mist.

I don’t care what some of our short-sighted politicians may rant about on air (I’m looking at you Joe Hockey, though I know you’ve departed), I love driving into Canberra and taking in the spread of wind turbines lining the back edge of Lake George. I find it rather a majestic and see it as a sign of hope in our future. Immeasurably more attractive than a coal mine??

Don’t lose hope. Do what you can. Educate yourself. Urge our leaders to do more. Don’t give up.

This world is amazing, and it’s the only one we’ve got. I’d really like to see it in good shape when my grandkids’ era gets to be in charge.

Happy World Environment Day.

Packing for Africa – with a purpose

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I’m about to embark on a trip of a lifetime. After dreaming of doing so just about my whole life, next week I’m off to Africa! South Africa and Zimbabwe to be precise. Weehah!

There will be wild animals, safari nights, a long rambling train trip in luxury, food and wine delights, unlimited photography and rollicking good company. There will also be golf, which for me is less exciting as I don’t play golf, but there are brilliant alternatives when that takes place.

I have the best of intentions of taking lots of notes and doing lots of posts to record this trip, so let’s see if I hold true to my word.

The trip will be one with some dichotomy, as travel often is. While we will indulge ourselves in fine places and fine food, we will also visit some incredibly poor places where life is a struggle. It’s a prevalent tension of travel. I must admit I’m a bit daunted by the thought of travelling in Zimbabwe, a nation with a violent and troubled history and sometimes present, and where unemployment and inflation are at staggering rates. There will be much to learn, and perhaps our tourist dollars will go towards encouraging a fledgling tourism industry and support their wildlife conservation efforts.

We’ll be visiting and staying at a couple of safari lodges in Zimbabwe where conservation and community development are at the heart of what they do. There are a number of lodges throughout Zimbabwe, and indeed other parts of Africa and the world, which are part of the ‘Pack for a Purpose’ project. It’s a great idea. If you’re staying at one of the involved lodges, you can look up what specific needs their school or community has and take along some items to donate, like stationery, books or school items. And you get to see where it actually goes.

If anyone is travelling overseas soon, you can take a look and see if your accommodation choice is involved in this project. Alternatively, you can use the information provided to inform future travel accommodation choices. There are places in dozens and dozens of countries.

Here’s the link: Pack for a Purpose

 

 

 

The gift of reading: presents for the newborn

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We’re on our way to see the newest grandchild, just a few weeks old. As a gift to the little fella, we’ve been asked to choose our favourite book/s from our childhood. What a lovely idea!

The choice was very easy. Obvious, in fact, for both of us. And both were a series of books, read early in our lives and the ones we really remember as luring us forever into the magical world of reading.

My pick was C S Lewis’ Tales of Narnia, a fantasy world reached through the back of a wardrobe. I read the series when I was in Second Grade. In fact, I devoured them, so quickly was I drawn into the lives of the three children and their friends in Narnia. How vividly I imagined those stories. Still now 50 years later, I can see with absolute clarity the kind, grand face of Aslan the lion, and recall my distress when I read of his suffering and cried many real tears. I also still see in my mind snippets of shaved fur and rope and his large majestic paws. Confronting perhaps when you’re little, but amazing to be drawn so entirely into another realm.

Mr T chose the Lord of the Rings series, which he read at a similar age. I can’t speak for how he felt when he read those books, but he’s kept them and treasured them always and still watches the movies with relish when they come on television, which gives you an idea. He read those books out loud to our kids in their beds at night, the stories delivered over many months, maybe years.  How mesmerised they were. He didn’t actually finish the whole series with them, so he’ll have to make up for that with the grandkids. We just have to make our way deep into the ‘studio’ to find his copy of The Hobbit to make the set complete.

Despite my own affection for Narnia, I must say I could never pique the girls’ interest in it, try as I might. Instead they turned to the tales of Harry Potter and his world of wizardry as their definitive childhood books. They were at the perfect age for the Harry Potter phenomenon and aged in sync with Harry and his mates. That meant long lulls between books, waiting with huge anticipation until the next book was released, then line ups early at the bookstore to buy a copy hot off the press. Exciting times. The older one slept with a Harry Potter book on her bedside table for probably 15 years.

I’m hoping the books we’re gifting end up being more than just the books themselves, and perhaps turn into favourites. Let’s hope it helps to introduce Bubba to the world of reading and literature and he learns to love it for himself. It’s a pretty remarkable world, that book world, and is one that helps you on a path to other learning and understanding.

What was your favourite childhood book? Have you still got them?

Get your history fix: Canberra Heritage Festival

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Did you know there’s a Heritage Festival about to kick off in Canberra in a couple of weeks with over 200 separate events? 200! Sort of slips under the radar a bit, this festival.

I’ve just been going through the program to see what’s on: there’s tours and talks, fashion markets, Indigenous events, concerts, dinners, cycling, and even a Jane Austen ball where you get to dress up in your 19th century finest, if in fact you have any of that finery in your wardrobe.

You can tour a late-Georgian residence in Crace (I didn’t even know we had one of those, to be honest), squeeze into a tiny old school house and imagine what it was like in days gone by, learn about star photography, or even take a ghost tour. I did one of those recently, and it was VERY interesting. So many strange stories.

Given this year is the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing in 1969, there’s a few moon-themes events included in the festival. Canberra actually had a pretty big role to play in the 1969 moon landing, as the satellite images of Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon were actually received at Honeysuckle Creek Tracking station, a NASA Earth station, in Canberra. Those images, as well as audio of the infamous “one small step” words, were then transmitted to NASA in the US before they were sent relayed pretty much live to the rest of the world. There are three receivers (one in US, one in Australia and one in Spain) – as the earth rotates the different stations receives signals. When they landed on the moon, we were the ones best placed to receive the transmission.

This story of the Australian role in the transmission was made famous in Australia by the movie ‘The Dish’ although it used some licence in the story telling and set the movie in Parkes in Central NSW instead of the ACT. The actual satellite dish, now decommissioned, has since been moved from Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station (which closed in 1981) to the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex in nearby Tidbinbilla at the edge of the ACT for permanent display. The communication complex, opened in 1965, is part of the Deep Space Network of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed in Australia by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

So there you go – a bit of moon history many of us don’t know.

Back to the Heritage Festival, if you don’t live in Canberra and you like all things heritage, don’t panic as this festival is part of a broader Heritage Festival taking place across the country from 18 April to 19 May. The National Heritage Trust website has information about what other events are taking place in other states.

I’m a little bummed that I will be away for most of the Canberra events, but then again I have some pretty exciting travel plans coming up soon instead.

Who remembers what you were doing when Mr Armstrong took those first steps?

 

In praise of five fingers: an old school alternative to emojis

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In this age of rampant emojis—pictorial characters used to communicate succinctly in a fast-paced world—have you ever considered that the five digits at the end of your hands have played similar roles to send messages since way back yonder? Sure, fingers don’t travel easily through cyberspace, but in real life, they’re really rather effective.

Different fingers bear responsibility for individual sentiments, and when banded together in various combinations and positions, they deliver a veritable smorgasbord of signals, signs and meanings. Entire languages, in fact.

Consider the possibilities of solo-finger communication:

  1. An erect thumb gives a clear affirmation—a simple yes, all good, good to go, good on you, perhaps good luck. Add a quick flick and it converts to ‘get out of here.’ Also useful for hitchhiking, requesting volume increases and signalling distress when scuba diving.
  2. Peter Pointer has a plethora of things to say. Firstly, it’s the ultimate direction giver. Tapped to a head it signifies crazy, placed against a nose in charades it says yes, twirled it hurries someone along, and when waggled it can berate. Slightly raised, it can also buy a house in an auction or call for the bill in a fancy restaurant. And when driving in the country, that finger when lifted ever so slightly from the steering wheel greets an oncoming driver in a laconic rural salute.
  3. The role of the index finger is more limited. Reversed and raised, it yells obscenities silently by giving others ‘the bird’, sometimes a most satisfying feeling. Limited, but useful.
  4. The ring finger seems reserved for ring-related activities. Wave that before a partner to remind them of the benefits of marriage, perhaps with Beyonce playing in the background.
  5. Ah, the pinkie—a glorious little digit that can be thrust up in disgust at some turkey (almost invariably male) roaring past in an outrageously loud or over-fast vehicle to indicate displeasure and draw comparison between said pinkie and the size of their, hmmm, anatomical sizing. Now even legitimised in Aussie television commercials.

Once those five fine fellows partner up with their mates, with a wrist and forearm tossed in, the communication options are endless. Clenched fists, victory signs, an A-OK or a Trekkie salute—so many possibilities.

Who needs emojis anyway?