OK, so for my first Melbourne Cake/Pastry review, I failed to note down the details of what exactly I was eating such was my desperation to get stuck in. Nevertheless, I do suspect I was eating a rugelach despite its non-traditonal appearance. A rugelach is a Jewish pastry that is usually rolled into a crescent shape and is filled with such items as walnuts, raisins and cinnamon – like a cinnamon scroll in many ways.
My own strict rules for reviewing pastries was to only review those that were made in-house at a particular establishment. Perhaps this was a silly rule as my primary motivation for going to a cafe is for its coffee and accordingly cakes and pastries are usually secondary items on the menu. So what this means is that many top cafes buy in their cakes from boutique wholesalers – this was the case at Market Lane in Prahran. And these boutique bakers still do a sensational job despite them not always being a retailer. I guess my initial fear of bought-in cakes was that they would be of the mass-produced one-dimensional kind. My suspicion is that Market Lane purchase their rugelach from Little Bertha in Richmond.
First of all, the rugelach was delicious. As I’ve said before, I like my cakes to not be overly sweet and my rugelach managed to give a good account of itself on this front. The walnuts gave a solid, crunchy texture, the dried fruit some chewiness and the pastry a nice amount of crumble. It was cinnamonny (?), nutty and ever so slightly cakey. A perfect accompaniment to the TOP coffee at Market Lane. Yes, I do love a good cake/pastry and this one lived up to expectations.
I’ve been told that cakes and pastries from Little Bertha can be found at some of the best cafes in and around Melbourne and I will surely be seeking out more of these delectable morsels over the coming months.
When thinking about leaving the 9-5, all I could really think about is how free I would be once I was no longer obliged to get out of bed for a day filled with tasks – tasks I was responsible for, but had no personal connection with. I think most people transferring from the 9-5 to the free think this. But once I was free of these obligations and my end-of-work holiday was finished I really didn’t know what to fill my days with. I started practicing being lazy and found others online with the same philosophy. Surely this is what it was all about! The art of doing nothing! No… It’s a cop out. It’s great to be lazy for 9-12 months, but then the “Meaning of Life” question starts to rear its ugly head. In recent times, I’ve been giving deep thought to the purpose of giving up the 9-5. Why give it up? If I’m not compelled to work full time anymore, am I compelled to do anything? If there’s no compulsion to do anything, what am I going to do!? The three points I came up with were:
Pursuit of the Arts
For the ages, artistic expression has been the mechanism by which people have communicated their inner-self in a manner that words cannot compete with. The sense of expressing my inner-self through music, dance, drawing or any other form of artistic outlet is something I want to reconnect with. I’ve never been good at drawing and many of the arts, but I have a passion for music, I’d like to learn how to dance and I’d love to expand on my photography knowledge to the point where my shots are of a professional standard.
These pursuits will be passions; activities which will feed the soul and stimulate the mind.
What use are we in the world if we can’t improve ourselves both on an emotional and intellectual level? The intellectual can be pursued through the reading of books and more formal education (whether that be skills-based or academic). The emotional is more difficult and we owe it to those around us to be the best we can be. To be a good person, to forgo judgement of others, to be a positive person. This emotional self-improvement I feel will be a life’s work. If at the end of my life I can say that I gave it a good shot, I’ll be pleased. We are such complex, emotional beasts that the struggle for improvement is destined to be a long and difficult journey, but one in which falling asleep at the wheel can be a waste of one’s life.
Abandonment of the Inane
Many people spend their work lives whiling away the time until 5pm rolls around so they can go home. Surfing the net, endlessly reading and sorting emails, chatting to work colleagues. Much of this is inane and a complete waste of your time. I found that after leaving work I fell back into old habits. Surfing the net for hours on end, constantly checking email, reading and rereading the latest news headlines, doing internet banking daily (!), searching online for stuff to do. This was the inane of my work-life creeping into my personal time. My time will now be filled with all of those things that I said I would do when I left work. Make my own cheese, take more interest in gardening, learn a bunch of new practical skills. Inane begone!
I’ve only managed to realise these issues on a deeper, more meaningful level over the past weeks as I went through some difficult times in Myanmar. This emotional turmoil in the mind lent itself to much self-reflection and an opportunity to set the course for the next chapter of my life. For me, I knew all of this on an intellectual level, but it required some serious soul-searching for it to really make sense and force me to act.
To all potential lifestyle designers, I urge you to tread carefully as this next phase is truly a make or break occasion. Fail and you may fall back into old habits from your old life (and you’ll be poorer). Succeed and you will achieve all of the life-changing experiences that you dreamed of – it just won’t be handed to you on a platter.
How did you manage your transition from the drudgery of the 9-5 to free living?
The journey to Kalaw/Inle Lake by bus is excruciating. From every direction, it requires a bus journey of more than 9 hours. From Yangon it is in the realms of 12 hours and this may or may not including a change of transport in the small town of Meiktila at around 3:30am! The journey from Meiktila, through Thazi and up the hill is 5 hours of largely unpaved road that in the dry season becomes a dust bowl. And as most buses keep their windows and doors open, the colour of your skin changes to a dark brown and your lungs become clogged with the parched Earth. Yes, it is a hell. But on the bright side, Kalaw and Inle Lake are an excellent place to spend a week or so just relaxing and catching up with fellow travellers and sharing a yarn – and the trekking is memorable.
Kalaw is a nice place to rest for a few days after being completely broken by the state of the road to there. There isn’t much to see or do, except for perhaps the local cave with thousands of Buddhas. This was quite good and receives very little tourist traffic. We got the impression that most people stayed in Kalaw for just one night and started trekking the next day.
Most people Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake and this seems to be the most sensible option given that the road from Kalaw to Inle Lake is also treacherous. Most people take the 3 day/2 night trekking option which generally provides for one night’s accommodation in a villager’s house and one night’s accommodation in a monastery.
For most people, the first day of trekking is quite strenuous because it is uphill for almost the whole day. But despite its difficult nature, there are plenty of rest breaks and total trekking time doesn’t exceed 5 hours. At the end of the day, the harshness is quickly forgotten. The second and third days are much easier and probably a little shorter.
Accommodation on the trek is basic, toilet facilities are clean, but very Asian (but better than almost all roadside toilets at home) and washing oneself is simply a scrub of the face and underarms because of the very public nature of the wash facilities. Costs vary from trek to trek, but we can recommend Sam’s Trekking service located at Sam’s Cafe. He’ll almost never have more than 4 in a group (we were 2) unlike some others that were trying to get us onto a group of 7!
Baggage can be sent ahead to your chosen guesthouse at Inle Lake for 3000 kyat, you are not required to carry your own bedding and the food provided on the trip is ample and of a great standard. You must trek!
Despite the charm of the Lake, the best reason to visit this area is to relax and chat with people about anything and everything. We spent 4 days here just sitting on the balcony of the fantastic Aquarius Inn – one of my favourite guesthouses anywhere.
Most people stay in Nyuang Shwe which is a good kilometre from the lake in the dry season and go on adventures from there. One day we cycled to some caves and then a winery (!), the other days we read endlessly and chatted about travel, sports and the meaning of life. Some people insist on seeing the sites of the lake, but almost universally they report that apart from the lake itself, the other activities are not good (such as the jumping cats).
So Inle Lake is really about relaxation and it is a fantastic place for this.
Despite the relaxed atmosphere of Kalaw and Inle Lake, they really serve as bookends to trekking through remote villages. I would seriously question visiting either of these places if trekking wasn’t part of the itinerary as the logistics of travel may just be too punishing. But then again, what else are you going to do in Myanmar except visit places at the end of treacherous roads? Does Myanmar sound exciting yet?
Whenever I travel, I always hear the same lines trotted out about how “best” to travel. One in particular that grates with me is the one about ditching the Lonely Planet or Travel Fish guide and relying on fellow travellers and/or locals to provide advice on where to go and what to do. Now, I know there is this romantic notion that travel can only be authentic if you’re mixing it up in the squalor of the slums of Rio de Janeiro or the forbidden areas of Burma, but the reality is that unless you’re a masochist it’s awful. The food is awful, the hygiene is awful, the accommodation is awful and you may very well fear for your life. Now, some people do call that “living”, but I don’t.
So that’s the extreme version of ditching the guidebook and getting stuck into a destination in an *cringe* authentic way. What about if we keep the guidebook in our pocket and don’t venture beyond what it recommends? Surely that means we’re not *cringe* authentic? Well let’s run an itinerary in Cambodia and see if it works.
Fly into Siem Reap, catch a tuk-tuk to your guidebook-recommended guesthouse costing $10 per night. Accommodation is not too flash, but there are no cockroaches, bed bugs and an edible breakfast is included. You spend the next 3 days visiting the sites of Angkor by local tuk-tuk seeing lots of other tourists along the way, but also having many moments of complete isolation and silence (it’s that sort of place). The next day, you burn off to Phnom Penh by local bus and stay in another guesthouse for $20 per night. You hire a tuk-tuk for a couple of the days and visit many of the sites either memorialising or paying respect to the millions killed in the Khmer Rouge genocide. At night, you choose to eat at Romdeng (NGO-run, restaurant-quality cambodian restaurant) where you might snack on a fried tarantula. Hang on, I’m hearing you… The fried tarantula cannot be authentic because it wasn’t cooked in a market or a roadside stall – it was cooked in a hygenic kitchen! Anyway, back to the itinerary… The rest of the South is pretty much the same… Take some local transport, stay in some cheap guesthouses, meet a bunch of tourists, some NGOs doing good stuff, a bunch of locals going about their daily business, eat some great food (both local and not!) and lounge around in hammocks.
So this is what the guidebooks generally advise us to do. They make the task of rolling into a town easier by having reviewed some accommodation, some eating options and the local attractions. Aside from that, what else are you going to do when travelling around? Sure, you can venture to towns that are hardly touched by tourism and there is some merit in this. But the problem is that the facilities are of a local standard and are quite often austere, unhygienic, unpleasant and downright depressing. The interaction with locals you get in that town might counterbalance your depressing living arrangements, but for how long is this sustainable? Yes, this is where the sensible and happy medium comes into play.
Putting away the guidebook entirely is 1) Foolhardy and 2) likely to have you missing some of the best parts of a place. Never putting away the guidebook and refusing to interact with locals is going to 1) allow you to have a good experience and 2) miss a bunch of cool stuff that might just be beyond the boundaries of the guidebook. Somewhere in the middle, we can still meet some local people doing some pretty ordinary things like tilling the fields and feeding cattle, but also see all the best stuff the country has to offer as guided by our trusty Lonely Planets and Travel Fish(es).
At the end of the day, everyone has a different style of travelling and none is right or wrong. But this elitism that is growing in backpacker circles about what is authentic travel and what is not is frustrating. Just because you’re shitting in a pit in the ground and I’m shitting in a porcelain bowl, doesn’t mean that you’re more authentic. It just means you’re a stingy bastard.
Most people enter Myanmar (Burma) through the Yangon Airport and proceed to a local guesthouse to settle into the country and find their bearings. It’s immediately after exiting the Airport that you realise that Myanmar is locked in a different time to the rest of the world and that travel here is going to be more difficult than most SE Asian destinations.
The roads of Yangon are rickety, ramshackle affairs giving a feel of neglect and austerity. But these roads, the poorly constructed buildings and the vast array of businesses plying their trade on the streets give the town a character that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. There is charm amongst the poverty that makes Yangon not too unpleasant to hang around for a few days.
The main attractions are all listed in the guidebooks, as are the guesthouses and restaurants and these are pretty much on the mark. We stayed at Motherland Inn 2 and despite its location, we loved our experience there. Better yet was the fact that they seem to have a free bus from the airport for anyone wishing to inspect their rooms – a saving of $7.
A good place to gain information on buses, trains and other Burma-specific travel information is the MTT counter at the train station. This Government-run service asks for no money and is happy to hand out maps, book tickets and give out free up-to-date information about the country. We found this service necessary as the first move out of Yangon proved to the most difficult logistically.
Travel to Bago can be done by Bus or Train. The train journey is longer than the bus journey, but is an activity in itself. The journey takes 2 hours and costs $2 for ordinary class tickets. We booked a day in advance and I would recommend this journey as a great way of seeing the countryside.
There are trishaw drivers waiting at Bago train station to take you to all the sites. We had worried about where we would store our luggage, but the drivers insisted on carrying it with us on the trishaw to all the sites.
The Bago sites generally revolve around the religious and as such you will see a bunch of pagodas and a big snake at a monastery. The activities can be completed on a day trip and there really is no need to stay for the night.
The number one question people asked us about Golden Rock is whether it is worth it. There were rumours swirling all throughout Myanmar that Golden Rock is hopeless and not worth the hassle. But we only met one other person that had been there and they enjoyed it! We decided to go anyway despite the runaway rumour mill and enjoyed ourselves.
The truck ride and trek to the top were fun. The rock itself was Golden… And that’s about it really. But if you travel to every destination expecting the Grand Canyon, you are always going to be disappointed and we accepted the rock for what it was and got the hell back down the mountain and out of the heat. All in all, it was worth the effort.
Been to Burma? Want to go? I’d love to know your motivation!
I’ve been listening to reports about the situation in Europe recently where Greece is apparently on the brink of defaulting on it’s debt obligations. That is, not being able to refinance a big portion of its debt. It really doesn’t sound good to me. The pundits are saying that the best course of action would be to let Greece go bankrupt (ie not repay their loans to the French and German banks). What would happen then is that Germany and France would have to bail out their banks again as they did in the original Global Financial Crisis and the good thing about this for France and Germany is that they then can move forward and forget about Greece. On the other hand, if they lend the money directly to Greece so the Greeks don’t default on their loans, they have to rely on Greece making cuts to public spending and increasing taxes massively in order to rebalance the books which the Greek public is resisting. So bailing Greece out could be a case of throwing good money after bad! We’ll soon see what happens next as the current proposal on the table is being put to member states for ratification soon.
At the end of the day, they are talking about either Greece or Germany reverting back to their old currencies and not using the Euro anymore! Amazing! If that happens, it looks as though some other European countries will follow the same path such as Spain and Portugal… And England is in trouble as well. So it looks very gloomy. On that alone, you’d have to say that stock markets around the world will tumble.
There’s a problem in this prediction, however. America is rebounding from its disaster with jobs growth and a strengthening ecomony (meaning the worst is well and truly behind it???). China is growing so fast that it is trying to reign in its overheating economy… That is, it is booming bigger than it was before the GFC. The GFC was simply just a hiccup for China. Taking that one step further, the nation of Australia is riding on China’s back because a huge amount of minerals are being sold to China increasing Australian employment and tax revenue – the GFC was simply a hiccup for Australia too. So where does it leave those of us with investments? On the one hand, the world looks shaky. On the other, parts are being shielded by the stunning emergence of China and the US is re-emerging slowly.
You know what it really looks like to me? The balance of power shifting from Europe and America to Asia. All in the space of 5 years. Asia dominates, the west faces crisis. Australia is in a strange position of not being in the West, being a modern economy and not being in Asia. There are drawbacks of being already developed, but advantages of having enormous mineral wealth and being situated in or close to Asia. I think Australia is in a very good position. Perhaps Canada too. The American story is widely debated and no one really knows the answer.
So when you look at investments at a macro level, there is probably no long term issues if you’re investing globally and not just in your domestic economy. Short-term, however, it could be very bumpy for everyone.
Like my non-professional analysis of the world economy from an Aussie perspective? Let me know!
The catalyst for me starting a new blog is the break-up of my 12 year relationship with my good friend and wife. We had previously been writing for www.dutyfreeliving.com and made a good go at blogging, lifestyle design and a new way of living. So rather than getting down into the doldrums about a break-up, I thought I’d write a little bit about it. Since the decision was made to separate, I’ve been documenting my feelings and reactions to the whole process. To date (and prior to moving house), these are the key points:
Shock – For me, this was accompanied by a kind of numbness that meant I wasn’t emotional. In this stage I was very clinical and matter of fact. I did, however, lose my appetite completely and gain a new friend which I call an “Anxiety Ball”. Essentially, this was a terrible tension in the stomach area that wouldn’t allow me to focus on anything else except the issue at hand. Most of this lasted about a week from the decision to separate.
Fear – One of my big fears was about the future. I had not given any thought whatsoever about my direction without my wife and this meant I needed to act quickly to determine what the best course was. The problem was that most options seemed so backward given that I’d recently left a career, a house and relocated to a new city for a new life. My initial reaction was to head back to the safety of what I knew – a full-time job, move back to my old city and try and get some “normality” back into my life. After pondering these thoughts for about a week, I had a revelation and came up with a solution which is not much different from what I was going to do with my wife anyway. It’s just that this solution is more independent than before.
Optimism – Many believe our feelings are beyond our control and that our frame of mind is fixed by our moods. There is some merit in this, but I believe that with strength, we can shift our moods. In times such as these, it would be easy to be pessimistic about the future. It’s the default position for most people, me included, and one in which we feel entitled to. Well, we may well be entitled to pessimism, but wallowing in our own self-pity won’t get us very far. Optimism is king here and I think it’s worthwhile steadfastly sticking with optimism even when it feels good to wallow in self-pity.
So whilst all this sounds terribly depressing, it doesn’t need to be! If we allow ourselves to be slaves to our emotions, we can easily fall into the abyss. So I think the first step is to recognise that significant life changes are all part and parcel of life itself and with significant life change comes discomfort. I say a big, “Hello!” to Mr. Discomfort but, “you can bugger off if you’re going to try and drag me down.”
For many people in relationships that are heading down the Lifestyle Design path, the issue of the relationship itself is quite often off topic. As I move forward, I plan to give more thought to how relationships both enhance and hinder the Lifestyle Design process. Happy to discuss!
I love cakes and pastries. I really, really love them. They bring me so much joy when I munch on those little morsels – chocolate melting, almond meal crumbling, pastry fading away on the tongue to nothing… So from this day forth, I think I will try to review a cake or pastry once every fortnight and perhaps get a sense of whether there really is a BEST baked good. For me, I think the important aspects need to be:
Not too big – A large cake or pastry ruins itself. It just goes on and on and on and doesn’t know when to stop. It’s like getting a great masseuse who finds a knot in your shoulder, but then continues to kneed it for 10 minutes when 3 would have been ample.
Not too sweet – Really sweet cakes and pastries don’t do it for me unless they are absolutely minuscule. I quickly find them cloying and no longer satisfying! Add some sweetened herbaceous flavours and I’m anyone’s.
Something away from the norm – Unless something is made spectacularly in its traditional form (like an unbeatable croissant), I look for something a little different from the norm. So none of this bulk-buying from a central factory business that so many cafes lazily do – that just doesn’t cut it because the lowest common denominator is catered for. I want something with a twist to allow me to pause for thought and appreciate this new sensation.
So, given I’m living in Melbourne at the moment, are there any suggestions as to where I might find some nice cakes and pastries to try out?
After recently travelling through Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) with a friend of mine, I felt compelled to write about my experience. It was one of the most intriguing places I have ever visited and over the coming weeks I’ll be providing more detail about the political situation there, some of the sites and perhaps some photos of this nexus between India and South East Asia. Truly fascinating.
Lost in Time
When first arriving in Myanmar, the first thing you notice is that there are a lot of old vehicles driving the streets. Particularly buses. It’s the first indication you get that this place is stuck in some sort of weird sanction-imposed, poverty-induced time warp! As you travel further and further into the countryside, you begin to see many more ox and cart arrangements straight from 3000 years ago and comparatively very few horses. Motorised cultivation seems to be light years away which is astounding because this method of agriculture is widespread even in what many people would class as a poorer nation, Laos. The number of times you find yourself saying “old school” in Myanmar is amazing.
Much of the tourist transport in Myanmar is the same method as the locals use. That is, coaches and mini-buses. Because the roads in the most part are very poor, it takes a long time to travel from place to place and it means that visiting the main tourist destinations in the country will require at least three overnight coach journeys which can be horrendous. Worse still, arrival times of coaches after these journeys is quite often between 3am and 5am, so you can arrive at a guesthouse absolutely shattered from a bus journey, but still have to wait for a room to become available. (It’s all part of the oppression)
Cost of Living
The local currency in Myanmar is the non-convertible Kyat (pronounced chee-at). It means that it is almost impossible to buy or sell Kyat outside of Myanmar. Furthermore, there are no ATMs within Myanmar to access your money from. So you are forced to carry as much US Dollars as you will need for your entire stay with you at all times and then try and exchange it on the black market. The black market is in full swing in Myanmar, so guesthouses will routinely exchange money for you at reasonable rates.
Once you have your Kyat, living expenses within the country are generally very low. Most meals were averaging $1.50-$2 plus drinks. This average was based on us eating what we wanted and not trying to resort to the cheapest item on the menu. If you did that, you could get away with less than $1 for every meal. Also, breakfast is seemingly always included in room prices meaning another saving on meals. And accommodation costs are ridiculously low for the quality provided! Most rooms were about $6 per person for the better quality varieties. Some rooms were as little as $3-$4 per night.
All in all, when including the cost of transport, food, accommodation, some tourist access fees and miscellaneous expenses, I spent about US$20 per day. CHEAP!
Internet is inexpensive and available fairly widely in Myanmar, but it is apparently heavily monitored by the authorities and many sites are simply blocked. So there can be some issues accessing email accounts such as hotmail – I wouldn’t go there expecting to be able to email freely.
Myanmar is a hot place. I visited in March/April and the temperatures were regularly above 40C (104F) with less humidity in the North than the South. These temperatures really take their toll on your body when walking around town. But more importantly, at night some rooms can be unbearably hot! So air conditioning in some places is a wise investment, even if the electricity supply is erratic.
Myanmar is a tough country. It wears you down. Many travellers I met in Myanmar compared it to India, but felt that India was much more in your face whereas Myanmar wore you down more. Perhaps its the oppressed national psyche which imparts itself on visitors leading to more depressed feelings – a negativity which you can’t put your finger on. Whatever the case, Myanmar is a country definitely worth visiting as an interesting look at how a country in a unique geographical location copes with the lunacy of a despotic regime.