Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Welcome to California. First stop... San Francisco

An early morning flight from Washington DC, saw Cara and I arrive in San Francisco just before lunch time. The sun was shining, so we quickly decided to walk down to the docks and have lunch around the  San Francisco Bay area.  This small but still densely populated city is one of the most visited tourist destinations in America. It’s known for it’s artistic culture and freedom of expression.  Aside from many musicians and artists residing in San Francisco, it also well known for it’s cultural diversity as it’s become home to many immigrants. Japan town, China town, Little Italy, Korea Town all provide much variety when exploring San Francisco. 

Cara and I made our way from our hotel, through the cities bustling financial district and toward the water front, and specifically the famous Pier 39. If you ever get the chance to go San Francisco, Pier 39 is a must see place to visit. It’s a popular tourist destination full of restaurants, souvenir shops, cafe’s and bars. Pier 39 opened in 1978, and what makes it so popular for tourists (aside from the vast amount of food and drink available), is it’s prime location. It has some of the best views of the San Francisco bay area. The Golden Gate bridge is in view on one side as is the famous ‘Alcatraz’ island on the other side. As Cara and I sat down to have lunch, it was time for me to once again broaden my research on local American beers. I ordered an “Anchor Steam Beer”. A local beer which first began brewing in San Francisco in 1849. Once again like many American beers, it was created by German brewer, Gottleib Brekle and his family. The Brekle family produced their unique blend of beer until 1896 when they sold the company to another German brewer, Ernest Baruth and his son-in-law, Otto Schinkel. The beer company stopped production during the prohibition years in the 1920’s and early 1930’s, but as soon as prohibition ended, Brewer, Joe Kraus bought the brewery and started producing the distinctive german style beer, which had gained so much popularity during it’s early years of production.  In 1959, the Anchor Brewing Company, began to increase into mass production and under took and heavily marketing campaign, which has made it one of the most popular and traditional American made beers to date.  I’ve always loved a bold and full flavoured beer. Many Australian beers such as James Squire, Little Creatures and Coopers all have these qualities, which makes them all so popular.  The Anchor Steam, has a deep rich amber colour, with a soft creamy head. When smelling the beer, you can pick up a strong hop flavours with a hint of caramel. When tasted, It’s not as heavily and strong as it looks. It is light and refreshing with a dry, slightly bitter after taste.  All in all, The Anchor Steam Beer is a well rounded nice refreshing beer. If you love your German style beers, this is definitely worth a try. 

After lunch, Cara and I continued to explore Pier 39 and as the afternoon got later, we slowly made our way back to our hotel, trying to see as much of the city along the way.  The next day we set off early to visit by far one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco, Alcatraz Island.  The well known island is situated almost 2.5km from the San Francisco docks and was originally built for the US Army in 1847. But it’s most famous for being a federal penitentiary for prisoners from 1933 until 1963. During this time it was home to some of America’s worst criminals, arguably the most famous being Al Capone. It was also said that no prisoner could ever possibly escape from Alcatraz and history shows that this is true, despite 14 attempts, all prisoners were caught, except for 3 who were presumed drowned during the swim back to San Francisco, although no bodies were ever found, this still remains a mystery of Alcatraz.  Cara and I spent a couple of hours on the Island, learning about how life was as a prisoner and a worker on the “The Rock”. We jumped back on the ferry and enjoyed the short trip back to the mainland taking many pictures of Alcatraz and also the Golden Gate Bridge along the way.

Approaching “Alcatraz Island"

We spent the next day walking the streets and exploring the different cultural neighbourhoods. Of course our love for all things Italian couldn’t be ignored as we found a nice restaurant in the heart of Little Italy to have lunch. We continued walking though the 'hilly’ landscape of the city, only stopping to witness people hanging off the side of San Francisco’s well known Cable-Cars.  As we kept on moving we found ourselves in the middle of the Fillmore Jazz District, home to many jazz and blues bars and clubs in San Francisco.  The cities popular jazz scene is also what attracts many tourists every year. So we decided to head back to our hotel, freshen up and head out later that night, to listen to one of the local jazz bands play. Cara and I ended up making some new friends with the band and we sat down with them after their gig, and over a few drinks, asked them about life in San Francisco. They told us about the relaxed and laid back vide of the city and how it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, people don’t judge each other in San Francisco.  After a great night out and an amazing few days, Cara and I headed back to the hotel for some much needed sleep. The next leg of our journey was sure to be an interesting one. Our plans were to hire a car and tackle the American roads on an 8 hour drive through the desert to Las Vegas.  

San Francisco’s Famous Cable Cars

Looking back towards the city from Alcatraz Island

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The History and Culture of Washington DC

We left Philly and continued our journey south toward the nations capital, Washington DC. Another 4 hour bus ride and we reached DC in the early afternoon. Now, Washington is not well known for its cocktail and bar scene, but this visit was not about researching bar culture in DC, it was more about discovering and learning the about history of America.  It’s a city which is full of monument’s, well known political buildings and the famous Smithsonian museums. Our stop in Washington was just for the weekend, and as luck would have it, we were fortunate enough to witness the annual cherry blossom festival which sees thousands of tourists from far and wide visit the city, as it turns pink with cherry blossoms. 

I’d booked Cara and I into a hotel, just off the National Mall, perfect location for getting to all the major sites on foot. We dumped our bags and wasted no time and quickly set off the see what Washington had to offer.  As we made our way out into the centre of the “Mall”, we could clearly see two of the most well known structures in America, and probably the world, At one end, we saw the dome of the famous US Capitol Building and at the other, was the unmistakable giant spike, which was the Washington Monument.  We decided to make our way toward the US Capitol first.  This famous building is the meeting place for the US Congress and the US Federal Government. Funnily enough, Before Congress and Government came to the Capitol Building, it had previously been held at Philadelphia’s “Independence Hall”, which Cara and I had visited the day before. It was Thomas Jefferson, who in the spring of 1792, decided to hold a design competition, for architects to propose an idea for a new home of government in Washington, as well as a home for the President. Architect William Thornton, was the winner for the US Capitol Building design. The building began its construction in 1794 and on November 17th 1800, the US Congress held its first meeting inside the new location. Construction and expansion continued until 1811. When seeing the Capitol Building on TV and movies, It’s hard to comprehend the size, but as we made our way closer, we were both blown away and amazed that something so impressive was built over 200 years ago. 

As is to be expected in Washington, security is tight surrounding important places, so we could only go so far. After several photos and long periods of staring in amazement, we made our way back, up the Mall, toward the Washington Monument. The shape of this structure is known as a “obelisk”, which is a tall 4 sided pillar, tapering in at the top into a point. This monument, which was named after George Washington, is the largest obelisk in the world. It stands 170 metres tall. It’s construction began in 1848, but was not completed until 1884. Due to lack of funds, building was halted for 23 years in the middle of that time. The Washington monument is arguably the centre point of the city.  As Cara and I stood at the bottom of the giant obelisk, we had a clear view back toward the Capitol building. In the other direction was the famous Lincoln Memorial and reflecting pool. Lastly, directly north of the monument is the presidents home, "The White House”.  Never had we seen so many different famous sites within one eye shot. 

After an amazing first day in the nations capital, we made our way back to our hotel for some much needed food and drink. We stopped off at a nearby bar, where I decided to continue my research on American brews by trying another US beer. This time it was the Yuengling Traditional Lager.  Yuengling is the oldest brewing company in America. It was established in 1829 by German brewer David Gottlob Yuengling. When David Yuengling immigrated to America, he started up a brew house, based in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.  So far I’ve noticed that American beers are very heavily influenced by the Belgium and German style of brewing, and the Yuengling beer is no exception. Although It’s a lager, the Yuengling flagship beer has a deep rich amber colour. It has a light herbal aroma and when tasted, you can pick up hints of caramel which makes this beer a little sweeter than your average lager. It has a nice crisp clean finish and it’s slightly higher in carbonation, which made for a nice refreshing, thirst quenching beverage after a long day of travel and sight seeing. 

The site seeing continued the next day as we visited the Smithsonian museums, and some of the many other monuments and memorials in Washington DC. But, by far our highlight for the day was getting up close (well, as close as we could get) to the White House. The home of the US President was designed by Irish architect James Hoban, in 1792. Like the Capitol Building, Construction was completed in 1800 and it has been the home to every US President since that time. Before the White House, US Presidents would base themselves in New York City. But in 1801, Thomas Jefferson was the first president to move into the White House. As we walked around, taking many photos, we saw a nice little restaurant along Pennsylvania Avenue, which would make a perfect place for us to have dinner and a cocktail.  On an unseasonably warm night in Washington, Cara and I enjoyed the opportunity to sit outside, just near the front gates of the White House and look down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol Building whilst sipping on a cocktail. Cara was drinking a lychee and raspberry Bellini, and I decided to go for one of my favourites, a classic ‘Rum Punch’. 

The next day, the city was a buzz. It was the day of the famous national cherry blossom festival. It’s a day which symbolises friendship between America and Japan. It started in 1912 when the mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, gave Washington DC the gift of 3000 cherry blossom trees. Every year during the month of April, these trees blossom which turns some of Washington’s most famous sites into a sea of pink. As Cara and I made our way around the festival taking it all in, we were lucky to witness the annual parade which goes through the city centre which includes many of the local school groups and sporting teams. It also celebrates many other cultures and people who have immigrated to America, not just the Japanese. 

Looking at the Jefferson Memorial, through the Cherry Blossoms.
As mentioned at the start, Washington DC is not the epicentre of all things cocktails and bars in America. It is however a place full of history and culture. Cara and I both learned a lot from our weekend visit. We now have to say goodbye to the east coast of America as out next stop would be the on the other side of the country in San Francisco!

“Lychee and Raspberry Bellini”
Shake with no ice
30ml Lychee Liqueur
30ml Raspberry Puree
Pour into Champagne Flute
Top with Prosecco

Classic “Rum Punch”
Build over ice
15ml Lime Juice
30ml Sugar syrup
45ml Rum
60ml Orange Juice
Garnish with grated Nutmeg over the top (optional)

The classic rhyme for Rum Punch goes...

“One part sour, two parts sweet, three parts strong and four parts weak"

Saturday, 13 April 2013

A Quick Stop in Philly

We jumped on the mega bus from New York, and headed south to Philadelphia. It’s only 3 hours from New York, which meant we would be in Philly by lunch time.  People would ask us before this trip, why Philadelphia? and the answer is simple. After a hectic 5 days in New York, we needed some relaxation time and it was also a good half way point to our next stop, Washington DC.  But don’t get me wrong there is still plenty of things to see and do in Philly.  If you ever find yourself in Philadelphia for 24 hours, there are a couple of things you absolutely must do. 

The first “Must-Do" is to run up the famous “Rocky Steps”, as seen in the movie. As cheesy as it sounds, you can’t help but laugh and have fun doing it.  As Cara and I arrived in Philly, we dropped our bags at our hotel, and headed straight for the Philadelphia Museum of Art to conquer the famous 72-step climb.  The steps have now become an icon of the city and attract thousands of tourists every year. We made our way down Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and straight away we could see the steps in the distance. Once we reached the steps, we were surprised to find not to many other people were mimicking the sprint up to the top.  So we had the steps mostly to ourselves.  Cara and I took it in turns to make our way to the top, laughing and smiling the whole way. You can’t help but get into the mood and sing the Rocky theme as you reach the end of the steps. Once we conquered the climb, we had the chance to stop and take in the view over the city on a gorgeous day in of Philadelphia. 

Once we departed from the steps is was time to relax, so we headed to “Old town”, a part of Philly which is famous for Independence Hall and also being the home of our second “Must-Do”, which was having a famous “Philly Cheese-Steak”. The cheese steak was a concept which was invented in Philadelphia, but it’s now a popular meal served all across America. As we explored Old Town, we found a local bar which was advertising the Philly Cheese Steak (along with a very appealing happy hour), so we decided to set up camp for the afternoon, sit outside and enjoying the warm 30 degree day.  As you can see by the photo, the Cheese Steak is not the most attractive looking meal, and in true American style, it’s far from the healthiest. It is basically a baguette, filled with shaved steak, and diced fried onions, topped with melted cheese and served with more than your average serving of fries. Cara and I figured we’d earnt it, after our run up the Rocky Steps, so we were looking forward to this Philly tradition.  I also decided to try one of the local brews sold in many bars around Philadelphia, the “Yards Pale Ale”.  The Yards Brewing company is a local Philly company which began in 1994, when friends Tom Kehoe and Joe Bovit decided to mass produce their Ale, after having been home brewing since 1988. At first they were only able to produce 6 kegs at a time, making the beer very exclusive. When demand increased and popularity grew, Tom and Joe were forced to move to another much bigger brew house, just outside Philadelphia and began mass producing their beers.  The Pale ale is a solid well rounded beer consisting of clean and crisp flavours. It has a slight citrus aroma and after taste. It is easily one of the most popular beers in Philadelphia and you can tell that there is a lot of local pride when it comes to the Yards range of beers.  

As we spent our afternoon, relaxing, eating our cheese steaks and drinking yards beers, we couldn’t have asked for a better place to chill out after the hustle and bustle of New York City. Philadelphia is probably not on the list of must see places when coming to America, but it does have a lot to offer. It was the perfect stop-over on our way to Washington DC. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Living the Dream in NYC

New York City... There has been no other place that we’ve been to which has carried such anticipation and exception as we arrived.  As our plane arrived into JFK airport from Iceland, we both couldn’t wipe the smiles from our faces. We were in America! The land of the free and the home of the brave. Since becoming a bartender, it has been my dream to one day visit New York City and drink in some of the great bars of the world.  Cara and I quickly gathered our bags and jumped on board the NYC metro train and headed  for Union Square, located in the lower east side of Manhattan.  Throughout our travels, Cara and I have tended to stray away from the cab option when travelling from airports to city centres. We find that catching public transport gives you a better feel for how the locals live. Our first train ride in America will be a memorable one. Mid-way through the trip, a couple of dances jumped on and began to give the commuters a break dancing show. We’d seen buskers in trains in Italy and France, but this was something else. Using the trains handles and poles to perform flips and other break dancing tricks, running up and down the carriage as the train was moving. It was quite a good show and a great introduction to life and culture in America. 

We made it to our hotel on 17th Street, dumped our bags and headed across the street to a bar for frosty cold beer and classic New York style pizza.  I ordered a pint of “Blue Moon” Beer, this popular NYC beer, is a Belgium style beer which is brewed in Colorado. Blue Moon is produced by the MillerCorrs Company, one of the biggest brewing companies in America. MillerCorrs are most commonly known for the Miller Genuine Draft range along with Corrs lite (2 of the most popular beers in America). Both the Miller and the Corrs and very light in colour and are made in more of a lager style, so the inspiration behind the Blue Moon was to create a European style beer which was more similar to an ale. This unique beer has proved to be successful as I noticed throughout our time in New York, that almost every bar had the Blue Moon on tap.  After a our beer and pizza, the time was 11pm, but with the time difference from Iceland,  our body clock was telling us it was about 4am. So we got back to our hotel and hit the hay. We needed sleep as the next few days were going to be busy. 

There are so many places to visit in New York City, where do you start? Cara and I had no idea what to do first. If you had to see only one thing in New York, what would it be? After some debate, we agreed that the Statue of Liberty would be the top of the list. So we set out and made our way to the lower west side of Manhattan Island. On our way to the Statue of Liberty, we had the opportunity to visit "Ground Zero”, the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. No words can describe the feeling when visiting the World Trade Centre site. Cara and I felt many emotions during our visit. Obviously great sadness for the victims, but we also had much admiration for the people in New York. These locals have turned this tragedy and have used it to pull together and support each other and build a community spirit which can never be broken.  

Once leaving Ground Zero, we were only a short walk from the Staten Island ferry. This free ferry service, takes you from Manhattan Island, right past the Statue of Liberty, to Staten Island. Its the best and cheapest way to see the Statue up close. Once we cruised to Staten Island and back, taking many photos along the way, it was time for lunch.  As we went in search of the typical NYC diner, we suddenly found ourselves standing on Wall St, out the front of the New York City stock exchange. After more picture taking, we found a diner, and had another regular meal in a New Yorkers diet, a classic Hot Dog.  

We began to make our way back to our hotel to freshen up, as we had a big night planned. We were heading to Times Square and also popping into B.B. Kings Jazz Bar to see the band “Atlantic Star”.  As we made our way up 5th Ave, we decided to stop off in a local tavern, not for a cocktail, but for a simple rum and coke, just to get a feel for what your standard New York “watering hole” was like. We struck up a conversation with the bartender who was happy to explain to us the "do’s" and “dont’s" for tourists in NYC. A “do” was to tip well and you’ll get “hooked-up” by the bartender, by over pouring your next drink, tip poorly, and you might as well just purchase a coke, because you won’t have much rum in you glass next time you order. Another “don’t” was not to take a horse and carriage ride through central park. New yorkers see that as a bit of a joke. If you want to see Central park, walk it, or hire a bike. So we took that advise on board as our next day was going to be spent in the park.  We finally made it to Times Square and did what thousands of other tourists were doing and thats take as many photos as we could and try not to get hassled by buskers or people dressed up as movie characters trying to get you to have your picture taken with them.  This place was packed, and it was just your usual saturday night. You could only imagine what it would be like for the famous “ball-drop” on new years eve.

After an amazing night out at B.B King’s and Times Square, we needed to return to our hotel. We had another busy following day ahead.  I could go on and describe every single little thing we did during our time in New York, but it would go on forever. To summerise, The next day was spent entirely in Central park, with dinner later that night spent around the lower east side of Manhattan. The following day was jam packed with us conquering the Empire State building and going to the Ed Sullivan Theatre for a taping of the “Dave Letterman Show”, then going to some of the top drinking spots the city had to offer.

When it comes to cocktail bars in various cities we visit, It’s usually me, who does the bar research and Cara is the one who gets dragged around to the many amazing bars we’ve drunk at. But this time, Cara suggested a bar that we must visit as it was featured in “Sex and the City”, one of her favourite shows. So I was more than happy to visit a bar which i’d never heard of before but is apparently well known to many locals. It was a place called “The Monkey Bar”, a short walk past Madison Ave on 54th Street.  This bar was definitely not a touristy bar. Filled with business men and women who had just finished work. It was quite intimidating for Cara and I as we walked through the door. We didn’t let this bother as too much as we pulled up a stool at the bar and ordered our drinks. I ordered a cocktail called a “No Problemo”. I martini style drink which consisted of Reposado tequila, Celery bitters, lime juice, an egg white and Licor 43 (a bright yellow Spanish liqueur, which has a strong vanilla and herbal flavour). Cara ordered a drink called “Mule Variations”. This was exactly what the name said, it was a variation on a classic Moscow Mule. It was made up of aged rum, fresh pressed ginger juice, lime juice and spiced walnut liqueur. Both our drinks were nice and well balanced. After two years of travelling the world drinking cocktails, it now takes a lot to impress Cara and I, So despite our drinks being very nice and well balanced, they didn’t exactly rate up there with the best drinks we’ve ever had. But that didn’t matter though. We were sitting in a swanky NYC bar, absolutely loving life and it gave us a chance to stop for a second and reflect on the past few busy days in the city the never sleeps.

We had one more day left in New York, so we decided to head out of Manhattan and visit Queens. After spending a gorgeous afternoon in Flushing Meadows Park we had one last thing to do in Manhattan. I mentioned earlier about the classic New York hot dog which we had at a local diner, and as delicious as the diner hot dog was, no visit to NYC is complete without a visit to “Grays Papaya” probably one of the most famous chain of hot dog stores in the world. So just before we returned to our hotel for the last time, we made a stop off at Grays Pappaya, just near 17th street.  It was our last night in New York and it has been a visit we will never forget. We tried not to get to upset about leaving, we still had much left in America to see. As we chowed down on our “Papaya” hot dogs we looked ahead to our next stop... Philadelphia.

“No Problemo”

In a Shaker,
45ml Reposado Tequila
15ml Licor 43
A dash of Celery Bitters
30ml Lime Juice
1 x Egg White
Shake and double strain into a Martini Glass

“Mule Variations”
In a Shaker:
60ml Aged Rum
30ml Lime Juice
5ml Ginger juice
15ml Walnut Liqueur
Shake and strain over ice in a short glass

The Amazing New York City, Looking out from the top of the Empire State Building.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

40 hours in Iceland

So we're finally on our way home back to Australia. On our way, we'll be making stops in America and New Zealand. But before we arrive in the USA, we are making a quick stop over in Reykjavik, Iceland. As we stepped off our flight and made our way outside of the airport terminal, we instantly noticed the crisp clean air. Something that you don't get very much of in the massive metropolis that is London. A light mist sat just above the rocky landscape and as we boarded our transfer from the airport, we were both excited for the next 40 hours in Iceland ahead of us.

Reykjavik, is the worlds most northern capital city. It has a population of approximately 200,000 and the entire country of Iceland only has a population of just over 300,000. The island is built almost entirely on top of black volcanic rock, which makes the landscape look like something from another planet. Iceland regularly have minor earthquakes and also tend to have volcano eruptions every 5 - 10 years.

So what can we do in just 40 hours in one country? As we arrived very late on our first night, it was important we got as much sleep as we could, as our first full day involved us touring the country's famous "Golden Circle". The Golden circle is a route which takes you to some of Icelands most breathtaking sites. We were starting our tour at the Gullfoss waterfall. Also known as the Golden Waterfall, this popular attraction boasts a giant 3 step waterfall which ends with gallons of water falling into a deep crevice spanning 20 metres wide and 32 metres deep. What blows you away with the Gullfoss Waterfall is it’s sheer size. From the viewing point above the falls, it’s an impressive sight, but once you make you way down the footpath and closer to the waters edge, the loud sound of the falling water and the depth of the crevice is a breath taking sight. Photos really do not capture the magnitude of the waterfall.

After several photos and much gazing at the beautiful Gullfoss Waterfall, our tour continued to the Geysir geothermal field. This site was filled with little boiling hot springs all dispensing steam into the air. This trail of steam looked like somebody had lit little spot fires, but as we approached each spring we could see the bubbling water bouncing around like you would see when boiling a kettle. The most popular sight in the field was the “Strokkur” hot spring. Known for it’s erupting water, Strokkur blasts boiling water up to 40 metres high every 8 - 10 minutes. These hot springs and eruptions of water have been happening for the past 10,000 years. They are caused by the build up of water and gas pressure deep in the earths core. Depending on the position of the earths plates, these hot springs have been know to only erupt very rarely, but due to an earthquake in 1935 the Strokkur Geysir now erupts very frequently making it one of the most popular attractions in Iceland.

During our days travels we also had the opportunity so visit an Icelandic greenhouse, which is used to produce some of the countries finest vegetables. Their main product is tomatoes. This completely organic tomato farm, harnesses the geothermal energy created to heat and maintain the greenhouses at exactly the right temperature, perfect for growing vegetables. We were lucky enough to taste some of their natural tomato juice which they produce and sell. This juice looked nothing like any tomato juice i'd seen before. It was not the usual red colour which you come to expect. It looked more like carrot juice. But when we tasted it, it was amazing. No artificial flavours, just 100% natural tomato juice. Bloody Mary's will never taste the same again.

After a long day of sight seeing around Iceland, it was time to head back into Reykjevik and relax. As we set out for a short walk through the town centre, naturally we had to check out the popular beverages sold in Iceland. We could clearly see that the most common drink which was being ordered in bars and pubs was a beer called “Gull”. This locally brewed lager is extremely popular with the Icelandic people. In 2011, Gull won the award for worlds best standard lager, something that the locals are very proud of.  It’s marketed as a working mans beer. It’s clean and crisp taste makes it a favourite and is stocked in almost every bar and pub in Iceland. After some food and a couple of pints of the local brew, we headed back to our hotel with only around 14 hours left until we had to be back at the airport and head off to America.  The next day we were up and out early again keen to make the most of our last few hours in the country. Fortunately one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland, just happened to be on the way to the airport. So we wasted no time and jumped on to our tour bus and made our way to the famous "Blue Lagoon". The lagoon is widely considered the best natural medical spa resort world wide. Guests have the chance to bath in the natural hot springs which stay at a constant temperature of 37 -39 degrees. The spring holds over 6 million litres of geothermal seawater, which is renewed every 40 hours. A dip in these hot waters was just what Cara and I needed before heading to the airport. So after a relaxing swim, we boarded our bus and were off the airport and bound for the USA. At the start of our travels 2 years ago, we never thought that we'd ever get the opportunity to visit Iceland. Some times we had to pinch ourselves as we were seeing some of the most beautiful and amazing sites on the planet. Our 40 hour stop over was well worth it and we both would recommend anyone to make the journey if given the chance. For now though it's off to America. First stop… New York City!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Top 5 Things We’ll miss about the UK

Well our time here in the UK has come to an end. We now begin to slowly make our way home to Australia. Our time here has been unforgettable and truly life changing.  Over the last 2 years I posted things on this blog largely to do with the cocktail culture and the hospitality trade outside of Australia. But our trip has been so much more than cocktails and food. It been about experiencing a lifestyle which is different to what we have been used to in Australia. Sure you can go and holiday to the UK and see all the popular tourist attractions, but it is only when you get stuck into the day to day life of working and living that you get a true understanding on what life is like in the UK.  It has also made Cara and I appreciate what we have in Australia. The large open spaces, the gorgeous weather, cheaper  living expenses amongst many other things. In saying this though, there are many things that we will miss about Great Britain. On our last night in London, we decided to visit a bar which we’ve been just recently been voted as one of the top 3 bars in the world, a place called “NightJar”. It is at this bar where we’ll have our last cocktail in the UK, and reflect on the last couple of years. We decided to think back and put together a list of the “Top 5 things we are going to miss about the UK”. 

(In no particular order)

The Classic British Pie:  In Australia you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll find a “Schnitzel” on every pub menu. But in the UK, it's the classic pie. Usually a steak and ale pie, or a beef and Guinness pie, Cara and I had our fair share of this popular pub dish. Always served with chips and vegetables or in some cases, mushy peas.  Some of the pies we’ve had in our travels have been amazing. We think only maybe a very select few pubs in Australia could compete with the quality of the pies. 

You’ll never run out of things to do in London:  We have spent most of our time living and working in London and even after living somewhere for so long, there is always something new to do. A new exhibition, a new west end show, a different market to check out. You never seem to be short of things to do. I’ve heard this quote many times since being in London, “If you are tired of London, you are tired of life”.   This saying seems to mostly ring true. Although the hectic busy lifestyle of London can wear thin after a while. We’ll never get sick of exploring the city and discovering new hidden gems which make London so special.  

The Picture Perfect Countryside:  When we would go out our little adventures outside of London, and even when we toured the Scottish highlands, we could not get enough of how beautiful the landscape is outside the big sprawling cities. We saw plenty of pristine green rolling hills which look like landscape paintings, something which we don’t see much of in the baron outback of Australia. The Aussie countryside has it’s own beautiful qualities, but nothing as lush and green as the UK.

The Accessibility to the rest of Europe:  What makes the UK so appealing to many Australians is the close proximity to the rest of Europe. Cara and I have certainly taken advantage of this, doing quick trips to Italy (3 times), France (Twice), Spain and also Ireland just recently. Living in Australia means you are so far away from (what feels like) the rest of the world.  

Friends and Family:  Last but certainly not least, we will miss our friends and family who we’ve spent so much time with over the last 2 years. For me, I had the chance to see my extended family, who I’ve not seen since I was 3 years old. I have no memory of that trip, so it was like I was meeting family for the first time. They have all made Cara and I feel welcome and at home, and for that we can not thank them enough.  We’ve also made many close friends who we are all urging to make the trip to Australia. Whether they make it over or not, we’ll certainly stay in touch with all of them.  

Of course there are going to be many other things we’ll miss about the UK. I’ll miss the Haggis in Scotland. Haggis, Neeps and Tatties was a dish I fell in love with living in Glasgow. It’s something I probably won't eat for a long time, if ever again. Also, being a big fan of European football, I’ll miss watching games in primetime. It’s back to either staying up, or setting the alarm to watch live soccer in the middle of the night. 

We sat at Nightjar reflecting on our time and we had the pleasure of drinking some of their delicious cocktail creations. We were joined by some friends and began working our way through the menu. Every cocktail served at Nightjar was an amazing work of art. We could understand why this bar is regarded as one of the best in the world. It was hard to pick out our favourite drink of the night, so I thought I’d share 2 cocktails from our Nightjar experience. One drink which stood out was a cocktail called a “Naked Lady”. This consisted of Santa Teresa Claro Rum, Umeshu (a sour Japanese liqueur), lemon juice, egg white and grenadine. It was a simple drink with a nice, well balanced flavour, but what made this cocktail amazing, was it’s presentation. The use of icing sugar on the outside of the glass and the egg shell floating in the drink made for an interesting look. The egg shell was filled with tiny easter eggs and the foam created by shaking the egg white, made it strong enough to hold the weight of the shell. Along with the egg shell, was an assortment of berries, which added to the overall presentation of the drink. The recipe itself was quite simple, but the presentation made this cocktail fun and was certainly a conversation point with us all. Another cocktail which blew us away with it’s unique design was a drink called “Chicha Morada”. This consisted of vodka, sherry, date syrup and Peruvian blue corn soda. Again, another simple recipe, but the fact that it came out to our table served inside a butternut pumpkin and topped off with berries almost made the taste irrelevant. The cocktail looked so impressive it was almost too good to drink.  Every drink we ordered at Nightjar was a mystery as to how it would be served. It made for a fun filled evening with friends as we celebrated our last night in the UK.

As mentioned, Our time in the UK has been unforgettable. But our trip is far from done. Next stop... Iceland!!

“Naked Lady”
In a shaker:
45ml Santa Teresa Claro Rum
15ml Umeshu Liqueur
15ml Lemon Juice
Dash of Egg White
Dash of Grenadine
Shake Hard and Strain into Cocktail glass

“Chicha Morada”
Build inside a Butternut Pumpkin:
60ml Vodka
15ml Sherry
15ml Date Syrup
Add Crushed Ice
Top with Peruvian Blue Corn Soda
Garnish with Berries