checking out neighborhoods… on foot

Can’t believe I’ve been here two weeks by now. It’s the end of a long weekend, which was starting to drive me crazy since I’ve been spending a lot of time in a very small, dull apartment with no broadband. At least the broadband issue has been somewhat rectified with the purchase of a new iPhone 4 on Friday (yes, they had it in stock this time!); I have some connection to the outside world, though I’m still watching my usage both because data usage is explicitly billed in Australia instead of the “unlimited data” plans common in the US, and because I don’t have nearly as much bandwidth as I want.

What to do? Shopping? Maybe, but on Sundays and public holidays all the shops close at 4 pm and the buses make their last run at 7 pm. While I could use more clothing, I have discovered that items in the downtown shops comparable in style and quality to what I’m wearing now cost three times as much as I paid in the states — that’s $150 for a typical pair of jeans instead of $50. Maybe they’re just passing on to the consumer costs like living wages which American firms externalize, but if so, I have no indication that that’s what’s happening. Or maybe I just went to the wrong shops. But to get to the factory outlet stores where I am liable to witness the actual price floor, it’ll be about two and a half hours on the bus. Because they only come every hour. And their schedules don’t sync particularly well. I might have an hour of shopping for four hours spent on the bus.
edit: No, according to the natives, apparently things really are that expensive even at the “outlets”. This may need its own post just for venting later.

Sometime shortly after noon, I realized there are other means of entertainment at my disposal, and that’s when I set out on a walk to explore the city. The goal is to experience the different neighborhoods, take notes, figure out where I might want to live on a more permanent basis. This walk took me about seven hours to complete. I don’t even know how many miles I covered, but I would estimate between 10 and 15. My legs hurt now as I type.

What strikes me most about the experience is, once again, how spread out Canberra is. Distances that look on the map as though they should take 10 minutes to traverse take more like 25 minutes. Whether this is due to my failure to accurately interpret the scales involved (the iPhone version of Google Maps has no scale), or due to some bizarre scale-free featurelessness of the Canberra landscape, I’m not quite sure. I came within a hair’s breadth of missing the very last bus from City Center back to my neck of the woods, which would have cost me yet another hour of walking, or at least $20 cab fare, probably more.

The information acquired, boiled down and summarized, is as follows: Ainslie has nice light and open spaces, and is convenient to City Center. Kingston is less convenient to City Center, but has tons of shops and apartment buildings and seems as though it would be generally more lively if it weren’t a public holiday. Dickson has shops but is not otherwise particularly charming, in fact it seems pretty scruffy. Braddon is scruffy but more urban, and is convenient to City Center. Hackett (where I’m staying now) and Griffith are mostly houses and are quiet and fairly dull; Griffith is better kept.

Also, about half the houses I see on the road have these enormous opaque hedges out front. I think they’re intended as walls of shrubbery, which keep out prying eyes and allow the householders to imagine they have their own garden courtyard — despite living right next to a divided highway with plenty of traffic. It seems more conceited than practical to me, but I’ll confess that as a foreigner it may be one of those things I don’t yet understand.


About Richard

I'm an American scientist who is building a new life in Australia. This space will contain words about science and math, but also philosophy, policy, literature, my travels, occasional rants, all sorts of things I find strange and awesome. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer at the time (currently University of Sydney), though personally, I think they should.
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2 Responses to checking out neighborhoods… on foot

  1. dianna says:

    richard, you should take up knitting. it takes care of long hours in a dull anywhere. and you’ll end up with a smart sweater at the end of it.

  2. Christine says:

    A point about the hedges, since you’ve obviously noticed their frequency :)

    A Canberra local once told me that ACT law either did or does prohibit front fences in urban properties. Hence instead of the common picket fence, Canberrans apparently turned to hedges to achieve some modicum of privacy. You can see the logic (of the response, not the law) but still a hedge takes a lot more work than a fence!

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