Christopher Pratt (cpratt) wrote,
Christopher Pratt
cpratt

Some good things about Australia.

In no particular order:

Cordial. I don't recall ever seeing this in the UK (but I may simply have overlooked it in my stampede towards the part of the store where they keep the Bitter Lemon bottles), but it's a staple of Australian life. The first time I actually drank the stuff was after a raft trip with Iain and Dan; before that, I was hesitant to do so because, well, it looked kind of icky. You know, for kids! Anyhow: what it is is a bottle of concentrated syrup to which you add water to produce a drink roughly analog to US Kool-Aid. Thing is, though, the good stuff usually has a lot more than just sugar or artificial flavoring in it: it's mostly fruit juice. As a result, even the diet ('low joule') stuff tastes really good. I'm currently hooked on some low joule lime cordial that comes in old school glass bottles, although the Dick Smith diet lemon crush is also terrific.

Ulur. Every last bit of hype you've heard about the place is an understatement at best. There is absolutely nothing like it anywhere else in the world, and the enormity and stillness of the place are overwhelming. Even if it's overrun with loud American, chain-smoking Asians, and Europeans sending SMSes back home, it's still worth the trip. Especially after having seen so much of the country, I feel confident that there isn't anyplace more beautiful to visit in Australia.

Wine. The trick with Australian wine is that most of it is actually pretty good, even the two or three liter cask wines. As a Californian and onetime college student, I know damn well how awful American wines can be - Carlo Rossi, MD 20-20, Night Train Express, Franzia... it's a long list. Sure, Australia has its crap as well (think Coolabah four liter boxes of moselle, which may well be single-handedly responsible for hundreds of thousands of alcoholic Aborigines, but I digress), but largely even the cheap stuff is OK. You can get a bottle of wine for less than $10 here that will get the job done. I suspect this all has part of its roots in historic collaborations between UC Davis and Australian universities, but I can't be sure. The main difference is that there seems to be a market for inexpensive wine that tastes good - whereas in the USA so few folks drink wine that there apparently isn't a market for stuff that's both good value and drinkable.

The Aussie motel room fridge. Although it's become less important now that we have a 50 liter Waeco fridge in the back of the truck, it's still great to be in a country where you can be virtually certain of a small fridge in any motel room you rent. Why is this great? Well, it allows you to keep leftovers cold overnight (you can then take them on the road with you and have 'em for lunch before they start going off), and even more importantly, it keeps milk cold for your tea in the morning. One teensy complaint: whereas New Zealand usually has fresh milk available, the size of Australia means that you'll normally only get UHT milk here.

Newsagents. Unlike the USA, where most people seem to only ever read magazines at the dentist's office, periodicals and newspapers seem to be big business here. There are any number of good things to read, often on a weekly basis - say, New Scientist, The Economist, The Guardian weekly edition - but even more interestingly, there are all kinds of oddball one-off things that run in fortnightly series. Dan's been collecting Real Robots (AKA 'Gaybot') ever since we got here, and I've been tempted by cool things like a hardbound Agatha Christie novel and magazine every two weeks for just A$11.95. I've never seen this kind of thing in the USA. Does Canada have this kind of thing?

Branded government services. Queensland really impressed with their very pomo branding of all government services - a distinctive logo with a uniform 'Queensland Government' typeface. Sure, it may seem kind of weird as a foreigner, but I like the way it suggests that the governement is really just another money for services outfit kinda like McDonald's - you know you've already paid your taxes, so at least it seems like they're making an effort to make sure you're aware that they're there, and that you're entitled to take advantages of certain of their services.

Counter meals. Although I haven't taken advantage of too many of them in recent months, it's nice to know they're there. Sure, what you get at your local pub probably won't be very good for you, but it's probably going to be fast, cheap, and pretty tasty. Some hotels have actually been surprisingly good - the Malanda Hotel, for example, had much better food than some fairly pricey restaurants in Sydney. (Either that or the very presence of both parsnips and swede on my plate sent me into paroxysms of joy unparalleled before or since.) So: if you're travelling around the country, forget the foofy places with names like Le Phoque or 2-Rice and just head for the cleanest hotel you can find.

Dick Smith. Daggy as all get-out, ol' Dick seems the closest you'll get to Sam Walton down under. He's a goofy looking guy whose face is still plastered all over a Radio Shack-like electronics chain (even though he hasn't owned it in years). He's currently busy doing a line of food products that are amusing in that they're doggedly patriotic - for example, their peanut butter jar explains that by buying it, you'll be guaranteeing your children a future instead of exporting their jobs to someplace like Myanmar. Pretty cool! Best of all, it tastes good and has fewer calories than Kraft extra chunky.

Mango. Thankfully, Australia has put its tropical land with good rainfall (or bore water) to good use growing a shitload of mangoes. I can't get enough of the domestic dried ones, which can be phenomenally good, especially ones from northern Queensland. Now, if I could only convince the national supermarket chains to stock those instead of overly sugared Thai dried mango, everything would be perfect, but as long as I can find farmer's markets in the countryside, all systems are go.

Footpaths. It's been a few months since I've seen any - the tropics and the deserts are usually too hot to get many hikers - but when I get down south again, where it's cooler, it's going to be great to get back out on the trail. One of the most brilliant Tassie tourist schemes is the Great Short Walks program, which prints up brochures that tell you how to get out in the countryside and onto a beautifully maintained and signed trail that'll keep you busy for a few hours and show you how beautiful the country can be. If only California or Germany could get their acts together and do something like that, instead of leaving foreigners to scratch their head and wonder where they can go to get away from the parking lot and find their own special quiet spot for the day...
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