When we were invited to a lunch in Canberra I was initially reluctant, not so much because of the three hour drive each way, but more from COVID-19 concerns. But as days without community transmission became weeks, and both ACT and NSW governments relaxed restrictions, I too relaxed. In the end, Bill and I decided to make it a four-night short stay from 6-10 December, and we set off on the Sunday morning for our first venture into sleeping in an unknown bed since last March.
We didn’t foresee that shortly afterwards an outbreak in Sydney’s Northern Beaches LGA (local government area) would send that region into hard lockdown. The nickname for that area is the “insular peninsula” but Australians are a mobile bunch and before the virus was detected, infected persons had unwittingly travelled to other parts of Sydney. This in turn has caused the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) to shut its borders to those from the massive Greater Sydney area of New South Wales, and they’ve scooped us in Wollongong into that as well. Apparently, the transmission has originated with an overseas airline passenger in hotel quarantine, or potentially an international air crew member. The health authorities are still to locate patient zero and determine how the virus leaked out of the quarantine programme and into the community.
Anyway, we made it in and out of Canberra before any of that situation developed, and this next bunch of posts will be about what we did there, starting with the lovely reception we received at the Mercure Hotel in Braddon, which is very central to the Canberra CBD.
This Mercure originally opened as the Hotel Ainslie in 1927, not all that long after Canberra had been established as the national capital (remembering that the various colonies of Australia only federated in 1901). Although Canberra’s first survey peg was planted in 1913 in what until then had basically been a sheep station, development was slowed by the First World War. The first sitting in the newly-built Parliament House did not take place until 1927, so it’s a safe bet that this hotel was popular accommodation for the representatives. That seat of government has become “Old” Parliament House, as it was replaced in 1988 with the modern edifice that now stands on Capital Hill.
I’d booked a mid-range room at the hotel, and the first lovely surprise was an upgrade to a loft room. No good if you can’t climb stairs, but thanks to my Pilates classes, I had fun proving to myself I could run up and down them.
The loft rooms have a lounge, dining and kitchen downstairs, bedroom and ensuite upstairs, and a small outdoor balcony. So, everything you need for a long stay! All the high-touch things such as cushions, magazines, etc had been removed. Tea, coffee, sugar and milk was handed over in individual gift packs at reception. It was no trouble for them to send fresh milk from the kitchen.
The main restaurant was closed except for breakfast, which was a pity, but understandable. I think that under the 4 square metre rule it was unviable to open it as well as the pub bistro in another part of the hotel. We had a very tasty dinner there, but it was a bit like being in a pub with noisy piped music so we didn’t return. Similarly, breakfast from a simple, limited, a la carte menu replaced the usual buffet. The relaxation of rules that allowed diners within 2 square metres had just come into effect, but just as well the management didn’t react too quickly as it has reverted again – at least in NSW. Also on account of COVID-19 we didn’t linger in the lounge area, but it did look inviting.
Our room faced into a leafy courtyard, a very pleasant outlook after a day’s sightseeing while enjoying a cool a drink and a book.
On arrival we couldn’t get the TV to work in either the lounge or bedroom but it didn’t bother us as we were off to visit a friend who had recently moved in to a retirement villa about twenty minutes away. While there, the receptionist rang and offered to move us to another room; and when we returned, all had been done for us. Quite an effort, as I’d already unpacked and laid things out in readiness for a relaxing stay.
If I ever needed accommodation in Canberra again, I would certainly keep this Mercure in mind. A comfortable and peaceful night’s sleep set us up in good stead for the next day’s sightseeing (to be continued in my next . . . )