There is a joke making the rounds about our beloved president at a power breakfast. With his inimitable ability to mangle language, he shocks the White House kitchen staff with his mispronunciation of the word “quiche.” It is merely French, after all.

My use of the word has nothing to do with either Bush or the previous occupant of the White House. It refers to the duration of our recent stay in Canberra in comparison to the actual amount of time it took to get there.

The point of the jaunt was an academic conference. When I suggested driving, I didn’t really consider the ramifications of my offer. For me, it was an excuse to see a bit of the nation’s capital and do a bit of cycling on my own bike. Canberra is a very cycle friendly city. It is, however, some 400 miles from Melbourne.

The Hume highway is four lanes wide with the exception of a long stretch of construction just before you reach Canberra.  What I hoped would be an eight hour drive stretched into nine.  The scenery varies little. We had covered the first half on our way to cycle the Murray to the Mountains rail trail.  The second half wasn’t much different.

When Australia’s separate colonies were federated in 1901, neither Sydney nor Melbourne could concede the national capital to the other, so an Australian Capital Territory was established. The creation of Canberra was the compromise. In 1908 a site was selected and a competition was held to lay out the city.  Astoundingly, Walter Burley Griffin, an American architect, beat 136 other entries to design the capital of Australia.

He was from Chicago, but his main influence was definitely Washington D.C. Even though the automobile age was in its infancy, it seems like the city was designed for cars.  Canberra is dominated by wide boulevards and sweeping vistas, dotted with low, grand, government buildings.  A river was dammed to create a large lake in the center of the city.

The one exception to the tasteful, sedate pattern of architecture is the National Museum of Australia.  Designed by the firm that created Federation Square in Melbourne, it is outrageous in both color and design.  I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

Canberra is now a city of some 305,000 Australians.  Like many capital cities, it seems to arouse the ire and contempt of the natives.  The new parliament house (which took eight years to build and topped out at over a billion dollars) was the winner of yet another design competition. It is built into a hillside and covered by grass.

Our home base was a grand, gracious 5 star Hyatt once known as The Hotel Canberra. It was established in 1924 as a Government-owned hostel. Three years later it became the Hotel Canberra.  For many years it was the only hotel in the A.C.T., and even after the opening of other hotels in the city, it remained the home of many politicians.

I’m afraid your faithful correspondent down under was a less than efficient tourist on this visit.  From our arrival on Friday evening until our departure on Sunday around 11 am, I saw only the hotel, the Museum of Australia, and about half of Lake Burley Griffin from the bike path.  Twice.

As is usually the case with hasty encounters, the visit was less than satisfying.  I’m looking forward to a return bout with the capital, its museums and the surrounding countryside.  I think I’ll fly next time.  Or cycle.  Stay tuned.