Friday, 13 June 2014

First impressions and other things involved with settling in...

Photo credit: Michael.
What does the sign in the photo say? Have a good look. Yes? You've read it, re-read it? No, don't plug it into Google Image. Select "Read more..." and I'll tell you what we thought it said and what it actually says and we'll see if we saw the same thing. Go on...

We've been here for 2 months (10 to go), so I thought it was about time to share some of the things we've noticed that either took us a bit of time to get our heads around, or that are just plain different to Australia.

Pillows: We thought the sign said "Pillows". Ok, we still think it looks like Pillows but it's not. The sign says Dillons. When we were reading Pillows, we avoided the place, thinking it was some sort of Big W or even Bunnings, but more homey and haberdashery than DIY and garden. It doesn't help that there are pot plants, pots, and bags of potting mix on sale just outside the doors. We were quite mistaken, much to our relief, because there is one within walking distance of our apartment, meaning grocery shopping is not an issue. Yes, Dillons is basically like a Woolworths or Coles etc.

Greenspace: There is a lot of this. Mostly grass, long and level, with the odd field of dandelions. Between the road and the footpath, between the footpath and a carpark, and sometimes between a carpark and the building in the centre of the block. Ok, so I'm exaggerating a little. But it's only a little. Really, this point should be "urban and light commercial sprawl".

Grass: They like it long here (no more than 12 inches), and featureless. With a few trees here and there. You know, like in the cartoons, especially Looney Tunes. It's not done just for the convenience of the artists, the lawns actually look that way. Oh and the grass is what we called "itchy grass", back in school, and it cuts Jimmy's soft skin.

Fire hydrants: These pop up in the oddest of places and they just sit there, in the middle of a grassy patch, by the road, as though someone had just dropped it there without any thought. If Doctor Who had broken into the US market with this (horrible) film, they might have used them as part of a villain's evil plans to take over the USA, and no one would suspect them because they look like strange comical gnomes. I guess they still could do that.

Footpaths: There are footpaths. They are of a decent width. They do go most places. They do, however, generally only run on one side of the road, just ending at the end of a block, for no apparent reason. As pedestrians we are left with two choices: cross two roads, or; venture out, crossing diagonally...

Right of way: If the speed limit is less than 30 miles per hour, provided the roads are not major, crossing a road diagonally is not a high risk, because it seems as though pedestrians have right of way. I'm not willing to test this, but waiting for a car to go, when they are clearing waiting for me to cross a road they want to enter, is frustrating for me, and probably them to - it's like waiting for that learner driver to make their maneuver when they have right of way but they clearly don't know it. So, yay for having right of way, sorta kinda, as a pedestrian.

Car parking: There is sooooo much car parking area in this town! Soooo much parking... and the parking spaces are big. Given that they have to fit these big monsters of cars, I'm not surprised.

Roads: Mostly made of concrete, and the gutters are included. Actually the gutters are more like retaining walls for the grassy lawns. The roads are wide, except when they are in the older, residential areas, and then cars must give way to each other, if there are cars parked on the street. The roads are generally noisy because they have seams in them. They are probably expensive to fix too, because big chunks would need to be dug up to fix a pothole. Concrete gives off a lot of radiant heat, because of its light colour.

Gutters: These don't work. They are the same level as the road in most places, therefore the water just streams out onto the lane, making the outside lanes dangerous in wet conditions. There are big drains for the rain to go down, but it doesn't seem to.

Sugar: Is in EVERYTHING. Bread, yoghurt, breakfast foods, tinned beans (and what they called baked beans), bagels... And if it's not sugar, it's honey, corn syrup, or high fructose corn syrup. And I'm not alone in my concern about the fact that there is sugar in just about everything unless it comes from the fresh produce section. This documentary looks interesting, but also terrifying, I'll just have to work out when and where I can see it.

Bread: I spent a week looking for bread without sugar, and found brand. And then another. They were still not great. We have recently found another sugarless brand of bread... They use honey and corn syrup instead. The best bread is made on the other side of town, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, after 2:30 pm. If only Bourbon & Baker did home deliveries...

Fat: They are obsessed with everything being low-fat. Never mind that they have to pump it full of sugar, or high fructose corn syrup, to make things taste good. Mince meat, on the other hand, is fairly high in fat, ranging from 27-20 %. It makes for tasty, but fatty, spaghetti bolognese.

Dairy: There no such thing as regular yoghurt here. Every brand of yoghurt is either 2 %, 1 %, or fat free. There is one, yes one, brand of yoghurt that does an unsweetened Greek-style yoghurt. But they strain most of the whey, so it gets dry really quickly. It's also low-fat. And 4 % fat milk? Our choices, unless I'm missing something, are fat free, 1 %, 2 %, or 12 %. Yes, 12 %. All enriched with Vitamin D. After drinking 12 % fat milk for a year, 4 % fat milk is going to seem like skim milk. Yes, I think I like the higher fat content in my milk. And while we're on the topic of fatty dairy... there is a nice variety of soft cheese at our local Dillons, some local, some imported, and we can afford to buy some of them! It's pretty good, because there's an Amish brand that does a really good blue-vein and a yummy gorgonzola.

Coffee: While we had trouble dealing with our first encounter at our hotel, we happen to live within walking distance of a Radina's Coffeehouse & Roastery. We tried their latte's... hmmmm... They were not what we were expecting, but the coffee itself was good. Actually, the coffee was a really nice, but it was just watery. We've switched to ordering cappuccinos, closer to cafe latte's, and espresso shots. We also make a lot of coffee at home, thanks to my Aunty B and ground coffee from Dillons. The choice and quality of coffee beans, and grounds, is good, which isn't surprising given how close South America is. Funnily enough though, one of our favourite coffees comes from Seattle.

Tea: Tea comes in pods or bags. Almost exclusively. And loose leaf tea seemed really expensive when we first found it. Twinings for nearly US$7? And then we had a choice of Earl Grey or English Breakfast. At least it came in a tin! Fortunately they have Lipton loose leaf tea at Dillons, and while cheaper than Twinings, it's still on the pricy side for tea, but it's tea.

We're still working things out and finding new, or different, things, but I think we're settling in. Have I mentioned that there's an Asian supermarket, about 5-10 minutes drive from our place? There is! When one of Michael's coworkers took us there, oh! I felt like a kid in a candy store! All of a sudden stocking up on spices was not going to be as expensive as we thought, and with cinnamon quills and cardamon pods and fresh curry leaves and little chillies and brown mustard seeds... Masala chai and general Indian cooking are being enjoyed on a regular basis. Next on the list is a bicycle for Michael...

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