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Walking in a winter wonderland

Heather Wallace

My teeth are chattering, the weather app says it’s minus two degrees and my only thought is “I’ve missed Canberra winters!”

A couple of years ago I wrote an article about how much I love winter. I wrote it before Elsa was singing about the cold never bothering her anyway, and even before I’d heard anyone from House Stark ominously intone “winter is coming”. Side note: there is a brilliant Frozen/Game of Thrones mashup declaring “Jon Snow never bothered me anyway”.

Long before Disney and HBO made winter, um, cool, I looked forward to the temperature dropping. Every April I’d see if I could make it to Anzac Day without turning on the heater, and I’d throw open my wardrobe to wake my winter coats from their summer slumber. I looked forward to frosty grass sparkling under a clear blue sky.

When life took me to Melbourne for a few years I longed even more for those cold but crisp Canberra mornings. Two winters of grey days and Arctic winds were more than enough, and I’ve come home determined to get out and enjoy every minute of the winter months. There is so much to do here in winter!

Rug up and get out and about

I was lucky enough to go to the launch of the annual Winter Festival, right in the heart of the city. The centre piece is the ice rink, and I became well acquainted with it at the launch – well, bits of me did! I fell on my butt more often than I stood upright, but it was so much fun that I didn’t care. Once you’ve taken a few turns on the ice, you can hurtle down the giant slide next to it, and where else can you body-toboggan in the middle of a city? After that, treat yourself to Spanish hot chocolate or a German sausage, and you have all the best bits of Europe right here. I love how it looks at night, lit like wonderland. The Winter Festival finishes this weekend, and all the details are here.

The thing I love about Canberra’s cold is that you know what to expect. Once you accept it’s going to be icy, you get on with life and layer up. Sure, you might feel like the Mr Stay Puft Marshmallow Man but think about this: every time you go inside you get the chance to do your own burlesque routine. Don’t just throw off your layers, add some theatrical flourishes, tug at the fingers of your gloves one by one, then slowly unwind your scarf seductively. I’m hoping to get some tips this Saturday at the Mab Midwinter Masquerade, where the audience will don masks and join Queen Mab’s court for an evening of cabaret and burlesque, courtesy of Sass and Tease.

When you’re outside bundled up in long coats, you can pretend you’re a Cold War-era spy. I’m certain it was called the Cold War because everyone wondered around in trench coats all the time. The Parliamentary Triangle is the perfect location to take a trip back in time in your long coat, hat and sunglasses. You can visit the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, where Australia’s very own 1950s spy drama, the Petrov Affair, played out.

Gin and vodka

Local spirits to warm you up from the inside.

I’m sure even John Le Carre’s Spy Who Came In From The Cold, would enjoy a warming beverage at our local bars. The bartenders at speakeasy Molly will make you a flaming cocktail right in front of you, while over at Shorty’s you can get a glass of piping hot mead. Like warm honey it’s a great alternative to mulled wine and on a cold day it’s potent. I shared a glass with a friend and we both had to go and have an afternoon nap to sleep it off. Tim Reardon at the Canberra Distillery has also created two winter blends you can add to cocktails of your own making. His Gin Liqueur has a slightly sweet and spicy taste and is great with ginger beer, while Canberra Fog has a subtle liquorice flavour.

“Fosts and frogs”

Talking of fog, as much as I love our crisp, clear days, I’m even excited about the fog. I love how it wraps itself around the landscape and turns everything mysterious. Even a simple walk becomes a David Attenborough-like adventure when a mob of silent kangaroos break through the fog. And winter irises that flourish in the Canberra climate seem like brightly coloured jewels in the ground.

Winter iris

Winter irises are like brightly coloured jewels in the ground.

If bare tree branches are getting you down, take a tour of the Australian National Botanic Gardens and wend your way through lush ferns and foliage. On a visit there last week I stumbled across Jindii Eco Spa, and booked in for their hot rock massage winter special. There are so many new places that sprung up while I was away, it’s no wonder this winter is particularly magical for me.

But if you’re looking for a more down to earth way to get through winter, then I recommend a celebration of the greatest vegetable of all time… the potato!

One potato, two potato, three potato, four

I don’t think it’s possible to get through winter without potatoes. And even if it were, why would you want to? Be it as wedges or fries dipped in aioli, roasted and smothered in gravy, or puréed with leeks in a soup, the potato is your winter best friend (in a true Freudian lapse I accidentally wrote “best fried”). And if you think one potato is much like another I recommend taking a wander through Canberra’s fresh food markets at Epic Farmers’ Markets, Fyshwick or Belconnen to see the variety. Names like Golden Delicious, Dutch Cream, Kipfler, Otway Red and Royal Blue sound like paint samples, but each one is a ticket to deliciousness.

Are there times when you’re planning a hearty menu and can’t decide between a side of mash or baked potatoes? Well, I have the answer for you! Boil and drain your taters for mash as normal, then smash them roughly in the saucepan and season to taste. Rather than adding milk to make a creamy mash keep it rough. Then smear oil in a fry pan and when it’s good and hot, fry the mash. Give it a chance to develop a slightly golden crust on the bottom and then toss it quickly. It’s part hash brown, part mash, part crispy baked and all round delicious.

Tiffy in blankets

Tiffy all snuggled up.

As much as I’m excited about experiencing all the things on offer this winter, I still love to cuddle up under the blankets with my dog, a cup of tea and a book. You can tell from this photo how much my Jack Russell Tiffy loves being home, and there’s nothing she loves more than a crackling fireplace. Sure I don’t have one but thanks to a DVD virtual fireplace, anyone can have a no-mess, no-fuss log fire—just don’t try toasting marshmallows on it!



Heather Wallace

Heather’s career in arts and heritage PR spans 15 years, with highlights including working for Sean Connery at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and promoting Australia’s World Heritage places. Her blog, Myths and Misadventures, (, is about life lessons we can learn from the Romans. You can follow her on Twitter @Missmythology. More about the Author