I spent my birthday in Paris, which was wet, miserable and cold. But, I’m used to the crazy weather now. In fact, I’ve concluded the weather is Paris is why French ladies always look great.
First of all, there’s something just perfect about the humidity. Every day was a perfect hair day, even without my GHD. Make up stays in place, and lasts longer somehow. Since it’s really cold a spring in your step is necessary to keep warm.
We stayed in a hotel near the Louvre, which was great because we walked all over. The taxi to get to our hotel was 55 euro though, so about $70! It seems the airport is far out of town.
It’s weird to see that the Parisian equivalent of our Holdens and Fords are Mercedez. Both taxis we caught were seriously plush and luxurious vehicles with all sorts of great gadgetry like headlight washers and ipod docks.
The shopping in Paris is obviously a great drawcards, and there was soldes everywhere. Just about every second shop is a shoe shop. Control was therefore difficult, and I was pleased for the first time that my bags were already full because I could have fulled an entire suitcase with adorable boots. However, not that practical at home.
During the day the streets are abuzz with local folk buying food and going about their business. There are lots of people walking around with breadsticks, so the movies are all true. The food is amazing though, all the stuff I crave at French restaurants was readily available everywhere.
We ate fois gras first night at a cute little restaurant, and I thought it’d be a midget little portion like at home, but now, we got two huge slabs of the stuff! While we were slowly making way through our entree, I didn’t care how they brought up the bird because the result was spectacular. We should all try force feeding more geese. So at the airport I bought some to bring home, since it’s canned quarantine shouldn’t take issue. I hope. It costs a fortune.
Things generally are fairly pricey, perhaps people here earn more. I’m not really sure. The exchange rate was ordinary too. Weirdly, champagne was cheaper at BevMo in the USA, so I should have stocked up there. Even the vintage champas was cheaper at BevMo. Jill… we need a BevMo in Cairns.
The Louvre was great, just like it is in the Da Vinci movie. We saw loads of paintings and got really sore feet walking around all day. The building itself was really spectacular as well, and that surprised me as I wasn’t expecting it to be an attraction in itself. I loved the Napoleonic Apartments the best, which are a recreation of how Napoleon lived in the same rooms that he originally slept in. They were opulent and in some places garish.
I’ve enjoyed Paris because it seems glamourous, but it has a lonely and grumpy feel to the place.
There are so many weird things about the USA. They mostly seem weird because I came from a Spanish speaking nation where you expect things to be different, but when everyone around you speaks English you sort of expect things to be the same.
First thing that’s different is Americans know the meaning of customer service. They’re seriously good brown-nosers! They’re chatty, friendly, full of personality and absolutely ready to give you ketchup with anything you please. Of course, it’s because they get paid like shit and they’re hoping you’ll tip them during the translation, so they put on a good show. We have much to learn by their vibrancy and enthusiasm for service. My glass was never empty, coffee is always flowing, they’re intuitive about cutlery and napkins and I never once had to ask for the dessert menu. But then, I didn’t eat one dessert in the US and this brings me to my second weird thing.
Portion size. It seems American restaurants believe they should not only be serving you dinner but also plenty for breakfast and lunch the next day. The serving sizes are ridiculous. I never finished a single meal, and I learnt quickly not to order entrees. Of course they also give you mounds of free bread, and often you’ll get free soup and salads as well. It seemed absolutely crazy to me!
Bacon is a different breed here. I always buy shortcut bacon, which has that big round bit with no grease on it. Well.. It seems the Americans have bred that bit out of the pig, because I’ve looked in 3 supermarkets for shortcut bacon and I can find is the evil fatty bit that I usually throw away. I am desperately looking forward to bacon and eggs at home.
While here I stayed with friends in Sacramento, Jillian and Brad, who very kindly put up with my curiosity and constant badgering about odd food and customs. They were both great sports and very fun to be around. They even laughed at most of my jokes, but perhaps they were just being polite. They’re a unique pair because Jill is a fiercely independent girl who is almost completely blind and Brad is a tall lanky black geek who is remarkably similar to Kaj in an absent-minded professor and metrosexual kind of way. According to Jill, Brad is the whitest black man alive, and I tend to agree.
Brad gave me a driving lesson in his car so I could drive to the Napa Valley and go wine tasting in a rental car the next day. He was a great sport because I almost scraped the passenger side of his car against another car twice as I had troubles with the wrong side of the road thing. Our Napa adventure largely went without incident, just on the way back I missed the exit and ended up in downtown Sacramento on the way to Reno.
Jill and Brad took me to the Jelly Belly factory which is near their house and we were able to tour the factory and see all the beans being made. It was really awesome, and at the end you could taste them all! You could even taste the new Harry Potter series with flavours like vomit, dirt, grass, soap, earwax and sardines. I almost chucked my lunch on the earwax one, it was awful. I found a great gem there though; belly flops. These are the not-so-perfect beans, so I bought a few huge packets for our not-so-perfect office!
I especially loved the time in the USA, and will really miss it. Out of all the places I’ve visited in the last 7 weeks this is the only one where I actually thought I could enjoy living. There is an amazing variety of product for sale, and producers, service providers and store owners seem to try that little bit harder than at home. It was incredibly helpful to be staying with some great locals who could teach me the way of the land too.
There’s no fresh milk here. Or at least if there is, I haven’t seen it. Everyone uses evaporated milk, and although it’s hard to believe it actually froths to make good foam for a cappucino. Tastes like crap though.
… are everywhere. Pigs, dogs, cows, llamas, cats, chickens and ducks line the streets of villages eerywhere. They’re often roped to something near the road, but it’s not uncommon to see a few cows leisurely crossing the street. We saw two large pigs roaming a service station last week. In Cusco, a city of 800,000 people, I saw a llama in the middle of a roundabout chomping on grass.
Frequently people approach you in the street to sell you stuf, which is usually crap. Sometimes it’s children doing the selling, and they’re a bit more forward. They poke your arms and tug at your clothes. Coral yelled at one once here in Cusco. In the last two days I’ve been asked to buy yellow confetti, massages, restaurant meals, finger puppets and lollies. Kaj was asked to buy marijuana and cocaine. He get’s all the luck.
Dot Matrix Printers
Evidently Peru is where all our old dot matrix printers have ended up. Just about every business has one, and very few have inkjet or laser printers. I hear that song in my head everytime a printer goes… you know, the dot matrix song?
Peru excepts its citizens of independant thought. The only helpful people we’ve encountered are non-Peruvians. This includes staff at hotels, airlines and shops. Maybe some of this are issues lost in translation, but it’s been particularly noticable in dealing with the staff at Lan. Problems get fixed if I call Lan in Miami, and people just give me blank looks here. There have been countless occasions of dealing with local people and they just can’t string together concepts.
Nobody needs to wear them, and most cars are not fitted with seat belts in the back. Drivers sometimes wear them, but it’s definitely a seat belt optional country. Which is an interesting concept because there also seems to be few speed limits. Luckily the roads are often so bad you can’t go fast on them anyhow.
Unfortunately the breakfasts are really ordinary. You usually get a couple of flat and tasteless bread rolls with butter (again, made from evaporated milk) and memolada, usually strawberry flavoured. You’re often served orange juice which is freshly squeezed from green oranges, so it tastes more like lemon juice. I am so looking forward to bacon and eggs, scrambled eggs with truffle oil, tomato tartlets, omelettes, pancakes and all the other breakfast goodies I make at home. Someone needs to revolutionise Peruvian breakfast.
In general, the bread is bad. Maybe they don’t have yeast here, but there’s no bread like we would know bread, so toast isn’t an option. You only ever get flat round rolls, or occasionally a good bread at a posh restaurant. I’m looking forward to a vegemite on toast – or anything on toast.
Erick, skip this bit. You don’t flush your toilet paper, apparently the system can’t handle it. So, there’s always a bin next to the toilet which hopefully the housekeepers empty every day. Otherwise it gets a bit whiffy.
Kaj and I are still in Cusco but are happily not suffering from altitude issues any longer. Last night was New Years Eve, and it´s interesting how people celebrate when they don´t have so many regulations like we do.
In the morning Kaj and I walked around the city and discovered a very strange looking market. Mostly local people were at this market, and we soon figured the things being sold were for the New Years celebrations in the evening.
Yellow is a good luck colour here and Cusco has this really odd tradition where people don yellow underpants on the outside of their clothing and run around the main square. So, one of the commonly sold items at the markets were yellow underpants. In Australia I´m not sure you´d see too many pairs of yellow knickers, but here there must be a lot of manufacturers that prepare specially for this day. There were little bitty lacy ones, man sized ones and even children´s editions. I have never seen so many yellow underwear!
Just about everything for the celebrations was yellow. There were plastic flower necklaces, streamers, bags of confetti, clickers and crazy flouro yellow glasses that had ´2008´written on them. Kaj noted they´ll have difficulty in 2010 as to 00 is for your eyes to see through. We didn´t buy any of these crazy things, but they were funny to look at.
We had tickets to an exclusive club here, Fallen Angel, which is famous for it´s New Years parties. We had dinner at the club, and then at about 10pm the staff moved all the tables out. The dinner had 150 people, and 600 folk had tickets for after dinner. I had no idea where 600 people would fit in this establishment, as in Australia they´d probably have approval for 100 people at the most. Needless to say, it was a dramatic fire hazard and we were sardines by 11pm.
Upon arrival at the party we were given a plastic bag filled with yellow goodies we´d seen at the markets earlier in the day, and a pair of silver wings and a halo. Since everyone was wearing white to the party, the whole place looked like a bunch of crazy angels with wings and halos.
At about 11:30pm, the owner of the club, who is an overtly gay man, got onto the microphone and started blurting gayness in Spanish. Then, he proceeded to throw yellow underpants into the crowd. The people cheered and scrambled for the yellow pants, which prompted him to tell everyone he had a pair for every person. Unfortunately for me the pair I recieved had a stain on the crotch, but I believe it was a passing smoker who came in contact with my yellow knickers. They were also branded with Fallen Angel 2008.
So then just before midnight everyone has their knickers, yellow goodies and halos and wings, and we´re ordered to clear out of the club and head to the main square which is about one block away. As everyone is leaving the club there are a collection of Fallen Angel staff at the front door handing everyone a bottle of bubbly.
There is a little mini square outside the club, and most partygoers had collected there with their bottles of bubbly. Then, at about 5 mins to midnight everybody started shaking their bottles and spraying their friends. It´s 4C and I´m breathing fog and I am so damn grateful the only friend we had at this party was Gonzalo our tour guide, as I had absolutely no intention of getting bubbly drenched in the freezing cold! It was bad enough I couldn´t feel any of my fingers.
Suddenly some major fireworks exploded above our little square, and they´re the closest I´ve ever been to exploding fireworks! Gonzalo knows the owner of this club quite well, and discovered that these fireworks were organised especially for the Fallen Angel party people. These were the only fireworks of the evening, as here they don´t have a big public display like we do at home.
Kaj and I still had full bottles of bubbly and collectively decidied we should dump them on Gonzalo since he was in the party mood. After we sprayed him I threw yellow confetti all over him, which stuck beautifully.
The whole party then marched together into the main square, and the street parted to let us through as if we were celebrities. Everyone was looking and gawking to see where we´d come from! We had drummers at the front of our procession, and a whole bunch of men scattered through the crowd letting off firecrackers above our heads.
Once inside the square we caught up with Gonzalo´s friends, many of whom we´d already met through our gourmet food travels. People were very celebratory and happy. The square was filled with a couple thousand people, and at least a couple hundred were letting off their own firecrackers. Loud booms often went off near us, and every couple of seconds there would be screaming fireworks shot into the sky.
Every now and then a hawker would approach Kaj and I to buy things. So I´d throw confetti on them and say ´Happy New Years´, and they´d soon go away.
At about 2am a whole bunch of riot police entered the main square, and that´s when Kaj and I decided it was time to head to bed. Seeing riot police in person are actually a bit scary.
Today is the last day of our gourmet food tour, and we´re looking forward to the finale dinner at the MAP restaurant inside the museum here. After that we take a train to Puno which is on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigatable lake in the world. Bolivia, a completely landlocked country, run their navy on the lake. This seems like a dramatic waste of money to me. We´re here for 2 days then head to the USA on 5th January.
At Erick´s request I´m not going to write any more details about my gastro issues, but you´ll all be pleased to know that for New Years Eve I may actually be well enough to consume alcohol. It´s now 2008 in Australia, we´ve got another 13 hours before our spectacular event.
For all those who rolled their eyes and groaned when I said we were taking a gourmet food tour, I can now confidently say the food here is spectacular when you know where to look.
Our tour started with a cooking lesson at a little restaurant in Ollantaytambo called Mayupata with Chef Oscar Morello. It had a lovely big pizza oven like at Rattle & Hum, which also doubled as a heater for keeping the restaurant warm! We donned aprons – yes! Kaj wore an apron! – and set about cooking 2 entrees, 2 mains and a dessert.
Something I love about the cuisine here is that it follows a routine I´ve always dreamed Australian restaurants would. That is, to only cook with seasonal local ingredients. Here it´s the distance and infrastructure issues that prevent otherwise, but the results are tasty food using ingredients in their prime.
At the moment corn is being harvested, and it´s not corn like we have at home. We were using this giant corn, which is only pale yellow, and isn´t as sweet as our corn, so it has more practical uses in savoury food. Still tastes divine with lots of salt though.
Chef Oscar guided us through our first dish which was using a grainy yellow potato and serving it with a delicious yellow sauce. Potatoes are actually natively Peruvian, and were originally poisionous. Many civilisations cross-bred them with other things to produce their edible form we have today, but amazingly Peru still grows 3000 different types of potatoes!
The dish was delicious, and although the chance of us finding the Peruvian yellow potato at home is slim, I´m sure a different potato will substitude just fine. A kifler might actually do a better job!
In the sauce, and in many other things we made, we used a small capsicum/chilli creature called a rocoto. It has a beautiful orange colour, and is used for both the slight spicy flavour, and the divine colour.
The most exciting thing we made in the class was the roasted trout. Gonzalo our tour guide and Oscar had visited the trout farm that morning and picked us a beautiful trout to cook with. It´s a rainbow trout which is farmed in clear and fresh mountainous water, and the flavour is just spectacular. Some Tetusya junkies might realise this is the same fish Tets uses as his signature dish, the Ocean Trout Confit. Just in Tets case the fish are caught in Tasmanian freshwater streams where the water starts to meet the ocean. Hence the name, Ocean Trout.
The trout had already been gutted, which was great because I don´t think Kaj had the stomach to do it. The rainbow trout is also an awesome fish because it has no scales! We put some rosemary where his gizzards used to be, and then covered him with salt mined in the mountains nearby. The salt had a mineral in it which gave it a slight pink hue, much like our Murray River salt at home. Then a little sprinkle of water and into the pizza oven for 30 minutes.
When it emerged we needed to tap the salt away as it had developed a hard outer crust. The trout underneath was beautifully cooked, and we ate it with a little Peruvian lemon. I must try this one at home.
Tonight we´re off to a famous New Years Eve party held by one of the first gay men un Peru to come out. Gay folk are still largely in the closet here as this is a strong Catholic nation with little acceptance of things they don´t understand. We´re looking forward to the party, we need to wear all white so I´ll be donning my melted snowman costume again. Kaj bought white jeans and is afraid of being molested at the party as he believes they make him look too gay.
See you all in 2008!
There’s a lot of chatter among businesses about the cost of IT services and their affordability, and because of the increasing dependence upon websites, this is begrudgingly becoming a cost centre. The good news is that as well as costing more, websites are also delivering more profit. More people and businesses rely on websites to research product information, and to make vital purchasing decisions.
Lots of businesses make poor decisions relating to their website because they’ve never taken the time to learn about the medium, and instead, try to cut corners that end up being expensive to fix. Here’s how to avoid some of these mistakes and save money on your website bill.
Have Clear Goals
Most websites are built for two reasons; credibility or profit.
Most service-based businesses need a website to prove their credibility to potential and existing clients. Service-based businesses include lawyers, accountants, public relations firms, graphic designers, advertising agencies and web developers. Their websites should provide extensive information about the services they provide, why a client should choose them, an up-to-date portfolio and an easy method of contact. These websites tend to be smaller, but require cleaver dynamic content to be effective.
Retail and event organisation businesses must turn a profit from their websites. Their focus should be on product information and strong photography to encourage purchasing. Retail websites are naturally large because of the number of products most shops carry. They also tend to be more expensive due to the need for businesses to frequently update their prices and product range. Most retail websites therefore have a database and easy management interface.
Clarify your website goals before engaging a web developer. If you expect to make money from your website, you should treat it like any other business expansion and write a plan.
Research Online Competition
You can save a lot of money by checking out the mistakes your competitors have made online and avoid them. Don’t just check the local competition, either; research similar companies in other regions of Australia and around the world to gauge your opinion.
Watch your own habits when researching products; pay attention to what grabs your eye, where you click on the page, what you searched for and how easy it is to find essential information like contact details and prices.
Keep a list of the things you think work well and the parts of websites you dislike. Be especially careful of gimmicks which might catch your attention but distract you from the message or purpose of the website.
Seasoned web developer Greg Slapp from Port Douglas Internet Services says, “If you want to play the game, you need to know the rules.” Take the internet seriously and get to know the players.
The major reason budgets blow out in the web design industry is because businesses are not organised. You can be several thousand out of pocket if you do not get this right.
Be aware that most web development companies charge by the hour, which means if you are disorganised, you’ll be paying by the hour for someone to get your materials in order.
Collect all your branding and marketing materials. This should include your logo, corporate colour scheme, business cards, brochures, letterheads and print advertisements recently in circulation. Ensure you have vector copies from your graphic designer of at least your logo, but preferably all these materials. These materials are more essential to the web design process than anything else and leaving it up to your developer to recreate digital files from business cards or printed material can incur hours of unnecessary extra work.
Consider providing a written brief. A clear and articulate design brief is crucial to the design process and if you don’t write one, your web developer will need to spend extra time putting one together. A good design brief will include extensive details about your company, the aims of your website, your target audiences, your budget and time frame, and examples of designs you like.
Be clear about how you wish your business to be portrayed. This doesn’t mean providing a layout for how you want your website to look — that’s what you’re hiring a web designer for — but be confident about what your business does, its target market and the image you wish you project. Are you looking for something professional and clean or modern and funky? Do not leave the guess work to your web designer; otherwise you may be up for extra design costs when the visuals don’t match your expectations.
Deliver the final version of your text, not drafts. Many web developers will not start work on any part of your website without having the final text, and any changes to this text require manual changes by your developer and will incur an extra charge. Deliver the text digitally (for example, as Microsoft Word documents,) rather than as physical printouts to avoid the need for retyping.
Hiring a Professional
Consider at which point you need to engage a professional and carefully consider the type of web development company you are looking for.
If you have just an idea or a concept, you will need to pay a web developer in a consulting capacity to transform this into a realistic project. This requires planning, experience and industry research.
Working with a local company in Far North Queensland will be considerably cheaper than hiring a capital city firm — you’re likely to be paying less than half by keeping your business here. You’ll also have the added advantage of working with someone who is familiar with your industry and readily available for face-to-face meetings.
Many businesses try to save money by hiring a whiz-kid or “friend of a friend”. Sometimes this can be an effective way of saving money, but ensure you have seen examples of their work before committing. You should be proud to show off your website.
Cutting corners here will be expensive later.
How Much Should it Cost?
Websites are custom built, so the costs here will provide you a ballpark figure of how much you should be prepared to invest.
Service-based businesses: $2500 – $3500 for a new website, and allow $500 per year if you make minor changes once a month.
Online shop: $5000 – $7000 for a new website.
(Please note, these figures are based on current pricing for professional website development in Cairns, Australia.)
As with all goods and services, you get what you pay for in web development; but careful consideration of your business goals and expectations coupled with thorough planning and preparation will ensure every dollar is well-spent.