Joys of Life in Australia

P1000262 I’ve always said, if there is no risk then there is no fun. Risk provides us with the zest in life. We play sport, we surf, climb mountains, take long walks in the bush and jump out of aeroplanes. It’s all risk and it somehow makes us happier with life. In the past a long country drive was also full of risk although these days we try and reduce that risk as much as possible by providing rest centres and “driver reviver” stops to enable drivers to take a break on long trips, thus reducing the fatigue. The picture to the left is of one such stop on the Federal Highway next to Lake George (itself a wonder) near the border between New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

The driver reviver stop is good. Australian companies provide local charitable or social organisations such as Rotary, the Lions Club, the State Emergency Services and the local Bushfire Brigades with the makings for tea or coffee. Bushells currently provides tea bags and coffee whilst Arnott’s provides some biscuits as a snack. The social organisations then man the Driver Reviver stops and make tea and coffee for weary travellers. Those running the Driver Reviver will generally have a collection bucket out where travellers may make a donation.

The beauty is that you have to physically stop the vehicle, get up off your bottom (no drive throughs here) and walk over to the folks making the tea or coffee. The hot drink is free as are the biscuits. The cup the drink comes in also does not have a lid you can drink through so you really have to wait and drink the tea before heading back off on the road. All-in-all, a great way to ensure that a driver gets a break.

P1000263 Of course, this is Australia and as I mentioned above, we like risk. The photo to the right is on the way into the driver reviver stop photographed above.

Ah Australia … where in Australian nature, if it moves it will likely eat you or poison you – if it doesn’t move it will probably just give you a nasty sting!

One Flat White and a Ristretto

We have a coffee machine in the offices we rent. These are serviced offices and the coffee machine is provided as part of the rental package – albeit a part that is charged at $20 a month per person whether you use it or not ((this is real nickel and dime stuff as the office rental is like thousands a month but the cheap buggers insist on charging $20 extra for tea and coffee)).

We have had a number of coffee machines through here and numerous breakdowns over the 18 months we have been here. I fondly recall the coffee machine mechanic who was here a year ago fixing the then machine. His comment was “I don’t know why you guys bother with this machine when an electric jug and a jar of Nescafe is more efficient, quick, hot and doesn’t breakdown every 5 minutes!”

The one thing about these coffee machines is that they appear to have been manufactured by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation ((with apologies to Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sirius_Cybernetics_Corporation#Sirius_Cybernetics_Corporation)) in that they produce something that tastes almost like a cup of coffee. My solution? Take one mug, press the button for flat white. When that is finished, press the button for Ristretto ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ristretto)). After that, top up with hot water. Almost a nice cup of coffee.

Sigh, where’s the tea bag?

Poor Cappuccino Froth and Coffee Not Quite Hot

One thing that Thomo has continually searched the world for is the perfect cappuccino. I’ve travelled to around 50 countries and have tried a cappuccino in most of them – even in Cambodia. For the record, the best one so far, allowing for the temperature of the coffee and the thickness of the froth, was the Italian Restaurant on the Aker Brygge in Oslo, Norway. That coffee was absolutely magnificent. The fact that it was summer and there were loads of gorgeous Norwegian girls walking past as we drank it only served to heighten the experience. I digress however.

Ulaanbaatar has a number of foreign restaurants – French, Italian, Korean and so on. It also has a number of coffee shops (German, French, Italian and Korean) selling coffee and pastries. I have tried a “cap” in most of them and so far they have all come up short. The coffee component is lukewarm or the froth is thin. It just was never quite right.

I did start to wonder if the problem was the milk here. Some of the milk is local and the rest of it appears to be imported from Korea. Then it occurred to me. Baagi (Baggy), my translator and ever faithful aide confidente and I were talkiing whilst driving home. We were talking about the boiling point of water and how it gets lower the higher you get (go on, cast your mind back to high school physics).

Then it occurred to me – perhaps temperature is the problem. Ulaanbaatar is 1316 metres above sea level. That means that water boils here at 95 degrees celsius, not 100 as it does in say Sydney. Cappuccine requires steam passing through milk and steam occurs when water boils. In Ulaanbaatar, the steam is cooler than in low laying cities. Could this be the reason I could not find a good cappuccino in Ulaanbaatar? Perhaps.

In any case, I am glad to report that I have found the best cappuccino in Ulaanbaatar. It is at the newly opened Irish pub, the Grandkhaan. They have a coffee corner and the cappuccino there is really very good.