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Two Canberra Museums in Half a Day August 31, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Canberra, Travel.
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The Australian War Memorial

Canberra has some great free museums, and two of the best are the Australian War Memorial and the National Museum of Australia.  After spending the morning at my personal favourite, the science museum Questacon (which imposes an entry fee), we decided to blitz through both the War Memorial and National Museum in the next four hours.

It had been more than a decade since I last visited the War Memorial, considered one of the great war museums in the world.  Everything from the design to the layout to the collections are all top notch and you don’t have to be a war or history buff to enjoy looking through the massive collection of Australian war memorabilia throughout the ages, from the colonial period all the way to present day.  And it’s not just photos, videos, medals, letters, clothes and weapons.  The museum is huge enough to house planes, tanks, submarines.  The incredibly detailed dioramas with all those little toy soldiers were my favourite.

The view from the front of the memorial

On the outside, you can get a fantastic view of Parliament House from the front entrance, and apart from the museum there’s also the marvellous Commemorative Area, which includes the Hall of Memory and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Commemorative Area

It’s the type of place that can take you a whole day or more if you want to look at everything slowly and take it all in (as you would), but given the time constraints we did the ‘short tour’ that barely traversed all the highlights.  It was good enough.

After the War Memorial we drove down to the other side of town, where the National Museum of Australia is situated.  I attended a conference there a few years back (lamest thing ever — a bunch of young lawyers pretending they knew something about the law) but didn’t get the opportunity to look through the the exhibits.

The kind of weird stuff you'll see outside the National Museum of Australia

The National Museum definitely has one of the more unique designs of any museum I’ve been to, though the inside is more standard.  We sat through a rotating theatre and checked out the numerous exhibits through a strangely confusing circular path.  It’s not as exciting as say the British Museum or the Louvre, but considering the short history of colonised Australia (there is of course a section on indigenous history), the National Museum actually has a lot of stuff to offer (including a pretty cool gift shop).

Like the War Memorial, you’d probably need close to a full day to enjoy all the exhibits at the National Museum, so again we did the speedy tour and skipped a few sections.

Both museums are fantastic because they are well maintained and have a wealth of information.  Perfect for children and those who would like to learn a little more about Australia.

Check out the websites (click on the links above) for more information.

Brodburger: Freaking Delicious Burgers! August 24, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Canberra, Food, Reviews, Travel.
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The Brodburger food caravan

I like my burgers, and few places make burgers like Brodburger in Canberra.  I was sceptical at first, considering that Brodburger is served out of a dodgy looking ‘food caravan’ in the parking lot of Bowen Park.

But we were on a high after Questacon and in need of a good feed, so we drove down by Bowen Park in search of the conspicuous red caravan.  And there it was, right at the edge of the parking lot, a perfect spot for nearby workers who want to enjoy a burger down on the grass overlooking Lake Burley Griffin.

It was 11:45am and Brodburger doesn’t open until 12 noon, but there was already a line of about 10 to 15 people, some regulars, others tourists, and all with a ravenous hunger plastered on their faces.  The clock ticked over to 12, and the line increased to about two dozen, and yet the owner of the van was nowhere to be seen.  At around 12:10, stomachs started grumbling and patient customers were wondering whether the delicious burger would elude them on this sunny day.

If you want to eat a Brodburger you have to get there early!

At 12:15, some rumblings could be heard behind the van, but less astute customers hadn’t noticed.  Fortunately for us, a group of about five decided it wasn’t worth the wait and departed, moving us up the queue just in time for the van to open up.

On this day, Brodburger was run by two friendly, carefree dudes — one serves and the other cooks.  Their menu is displayed outside on a wooden board, and contains an assortment of burgers, including beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian, as well as fries.  The prices are reasonable and bottles of water are given for free (if you ask nicely).

Finally! Open for business!

After a short wait we reached the front of the queue and went with the classic Brodburger (according to the website: A grade gourmet beef patty, flame grilled. Fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and Spanish onions. Includes homemade aioli and tomato relish) and a BrodChicken Burger (Succulent chicken breast in a secret marinate, flame grilled. Topped with bacon, avocado, fresh lettuce, tomatoes and Spanish onions. Includes homemade chilli aioli).  A lot of people went with the Brodburger Deluxe (which contains an extra patty, egg and bacon), but it looked like a coronary waiting to happen, so we passed.

The great thing about Brodburger is that their burgers are made fresh to order, but because of a shortage of facilities and staff, you almost certainly have to endure an agonising wait before you can devour your burger.  There weren’t that many people before us, but some of them ordered entire boxes of burgers and fries to take back to the office, and consequently we ended up waiting a further 30 minutes or so before our two burgers were ready.  And trust me, when you’re already starving, waiting for 30 minutes while surrounded by tempting burger fumes borders on torture.

Eventually, the burgers were ready, nice and hot in our little hands, and we took them down like prized jewels to a cozy spot by the lake.  A few birds looked like they were eager to be friends, but I barked at them for the safety of the burgers.

You know, photos rarely ever do burgers justice. This is the BrodChicken.

The Brodburger

So how was it?  You know I don’t like to exaggerate, but the burgers at Brodburger must be amongst the best I have ever tasted.  The buns are so soft and fluffy, and the meat is fresh, juicy and full of flavour.  The lettuce and tomato balance out the saltiness perfectly, but it is the generous amounts of the insanely delicious, tangy tomato relish and home-made aioli that elevated the burgers to a whole new level.  The Brodburger featured the green chive aioli and the BrodChicken featured the pink chilli aioli — both were to die for.

The half-eaten burger usually isn't a good look, but I simply couldn't resist

Bloody hell, just writing this post is making me super hungry.  I’m going to get some food.

10 out of 10!

Brodburger
Address:
 Bowen Park Carpark, Bowen Drive/Wentworth Av, Barton ACT
Opening Hours:
Tuesday: Dinner: 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Wednesday: Lunch: 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm; Dinner: 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Thursday: Lunch: 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm; Dinner: 5:30 pm – 12:00 am
Friday: Lunch: 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm; Dinner: 5:30 pm – 12:00 am
Saturday: Lunch: 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm; Dinner: 5:30 pm – 12:00 am
Sunday: Lunch: 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Website: http://www.brodburger.com.au/

PS: Apparently the Brodburger van is not situated in a legally approved location and the council has been trying to get them to move, but petitions from customers have managed to keep them there, for now.

I love Questacon! August 19, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Canberra, Technology, Travel.
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I’ve always loved science museums.  In fact, a visit to a science museum as a child may have prompted me to tell everyone that I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up.  Having the worst science teachers (one threw a metal dust pan that narrowly missed a student’s head) and performing poorly in science during my formative school years (I was told to stand in a corner after tracing light rays on the table instead of my workbook during an optics experiment) quickly put those dreams into a permanent coma.  But my passion for science museums remains alive.

And so during our recent trip to Canberra, my number one must-visit was Questacon, Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre.  Questacon is located at King Edward Terrace, home to a bunch of other galleries and museums such as the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of Australian Democracy, and is adjacent to Parkes Place, which is where the High Court of Australia current sits.  By the way, Australia’s highest court of law is a dump.

Questacon is undoubtedly designed for curious children, but that didn’t stop me and many other adults from trying out the 200+ interactive exhibits across the 8 galleries in the museum.  The layout is uniquely designed.  You start off on the first exhibition hall on the top floor, then slowly make your way down the circular walkway through the various halls until you reach the eighth and final one on the ground floor.  Reminded me a little of the astoundingly good aquarium at Osaka (Kaiyukan), which has a similar design.

Burn your shadow onto the wall!

For us, we started off with a dry ice show in one of the theatres on the ground floor (there are a few throughout the day, and this one was supposed to be the best), which was very cool.  I learned a few things and was surprised by how many children were willing to volunteer to answer questions they clearly did not know the answer to.

The famous free fall slide!

I’m not going to bother going through all the exhibits they had — you can check them out for yourself at the Questacon website.  For me, the coolest were the ‘Perception Deception’ gallery (especially the ‘phantom limb’ — that was freaky!), the ‘Awesome Earth’ gallery (where you could experience earthquakes and massive lightning strikes) and the ‘Sideshow’ gallery (like a free theme park with those rotating clowns, roller coaster simulators and a six-metre free fall slide!).

The only clowns that don't scare me...ok, maybe just a little bit

Questacon was a lot of fun.  It was hygienic too, with free hand sanitizer pumps in every gallery.  We went during school holidays, so there were a lot of kids (though I imagine not as many as there would be on the weekend), but the good thing is that as an adult you can just shove them out of the way.

Questacon is open 9am-5pm every day except Christmas Day
Adults $20, Concession $15, Children (4-16) $15, Family (2 adults+3 children) $60 + $7 for each additional child. 

Silo Bakery (Canberra) August 16, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Canberra, Food, Reviews, Travel.
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On the morning of our second day in Canberra we took a little drive down to nearby (everything is ‘nearby’ in Canberra) Kingston, home of the famous Silo Bakery.  According to my Canberra resident friend, Silo is only one of two or three places in Canberra where you can get both awesome coffee and pastries, and it’s the best of the lot.

We decided to put his bold remarks to the test and ordered a couple of coffees and pastries.  It was a Friday morning and the little cafe was still relatively packed, with all seats taken up and a few in waiting (so we had to get takeaway and eat in the car).  Apparently on weekends the line extends all the way down the street.

Anyway, my friend was right.  The coffee was fairly good and the pastries were amazing — one raspberry and the other rhubarb.  Both were phenomenal.  Sweet but not overly sweet and the pastry was baked to perfection.  Despite having just finished a moderately sized buffet breakfast we scoffed them down in a hurry.

Absolutely recommended for anyone with a sweet tooth.

Silo Bakery
36 Giles Street, Kingston, ACT
(02) 6260 6060
Open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 7am-4pm
website: http://www.silobakery.com.au/ 

Italian & Sons (Canberra) August 12, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Canberra, Food, Reviews, Travel.
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This photo has been brightened -- it's a lot darker than this at night

From what I’ve heard, there is only a handful of great restaurants in Canberra.  Not surprising really, considering how awfully tiny the place is.  One of the so-called ‘must-visit’ places is Italian & Sons, a super popular Italian joint that you must reserve to get a table on most nights.

Italian & Sons is located at 7 Lonsdale Street in the suburb of Braddon, very close to the big shopping centre in the retail district of town.  One would think it would be easy to find, but it’s not.  Because there are no obvious signs outside the restaurant (apart from a few tiny scribbles on the dark glass) and it’s dimly lit inside, we drove by several times without even noticing the restaurant.  If the same happens to you, don’t despair.  Just follow the street numbers and you’ll find it.

Inside, Italian & Sons is warm and cozy, with wooden furniture, an open pizza bar and friendly waiters clad in white aprons.  The menu is simple (and can be found at their website, here), with an assortment of antipasti, meats (affettati), pastas, pizzas and main courses (one for every day of the week, except Sunday, when they are closed).  Of course, they also have a few ‘daily specials’.  Additionally, they have the usual — sides, salads, desserts and cheeses — more than enough for one massive meal.

My Canberra resident friend informed me that their pizzas were good, but the real delights of Italian & Sons are their other dishes, especially the mains and specials.  Nevertheless, we went with an assortment of dishes.  Here’s what we ordered:

The wood fired garlic focaccia was one of the highlights, especially with that dipping oil

This was a special -- a double-barrelled pasta with veal ragu and olives in a spicy tomato sauce

An amazing side dish -- the Peperonata -- pan fried peppers, onions and potatoes

The Diavolo Pizza -- salami, fried peppers, chilli and roast garlic

Last but not least, dessert -- a flourless chocolate torte with orange and pistachio gelato

The taste of Italian & Sons can be described as ‘authentic’ Italian.  The dishes are simple, not overly delicate and infused with strong flavours.  Some might consider it a little on the salty side but having had plenty of ‘authentic Italian’ over the years it’s nothing out of the ordinary.  The wood baked garlic focaccia was splendid and I really enjoyed the Peperonata side dish (loved the peppers) and the veal pasta (the chilli and olives gave it a real kick).  While the pizza was also quite good, I have tasted better elsewhere.  I guess my friend was right when he said the mains and specials were the best — and this was backed up by what I saw on other tables.

In all, it was still a pleasant meal.  Among the better Italian restaurants I’ve experienced in Australia, though not one of the best.  For Canberra, it’ll have to do.

8 out of 10

Italian & Sons
7 Lonsdale Street, Braddon, ACT 2600
Phone: +61 2 6162 4888
Lunch: Tues – Fri
Dinner: Mon – Sat
Price range: expect around $35-50 per person, not including drinks 

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