Thursday, December 31, 2015

G'day fellow readers and travelers!

2015 was a year of two big changes. I left our expat home of Warsaw after 2 years. And we traded Polish pierogies for kangaroo steaks when we moved Down Under to Melbourne,  Australia. I've enjoyed sampling all the new markets and Asian delights. 

This past year was filled with fantastic travel opportunities, taking us to Lviv, Belgrade, Dubai, Paris, London and many destinations in Australia. I can only hope 2016 will hold more of the same and perhaps we'll see more of our European friends.

As you celebrate New Year's Eve festivities with family and friends, I hope you have a moment to look back on the past year as well. Life may hand you some lemons (or limes), but remember just add tequila and salt and enjoy!

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year in 2016!

Friday, December 18, 2015

G’day from Down Under where it’s sunny and hot!

I’ve really been struggling with the warm temperatures here in Melbourne because it simply does not feel like Christmas. How can stores being playing Christmas carols about Rudolph and white Christmases when the country uses kangaroos for Santa’s sleigh and there’s not a snowflake in sight?

It’s strange! You can read more about the differences in my recent guest blog post called
Australia vs. the U.S. Christmas Around the Globe series for a fellow expat blogger in Germany.
Despite the fact that it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere, the city has excelled at trying to make everything look festive as you’ll see in my photos below. Just imagine walking around in a sundress and flip flops vs. sweaters and winter coat.
Plus, the awful holiday consumerism that takes over the U.S. is very minimal here in Australia. I don’t feel that crazy frenzy to buy, buy, buy; and it’s lovely! I had to explain what Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is to an Australian friend because it doesn’t exist here and they don’t understand the concept. Trust me, I don’t either.

I swear Aussies are the friendliest bunch you’ll ever meet; and they’re happy to chat when I tell them this is our first warm Christmas. I’ve had several sales clerks tell me that they can’t imagine a white Christmas.
This Christmas tree in Federation Square took more than 1,200 hours to build, is built from 500,000 LEGO blocks and weighs a massive 3.5 tons! This tree is taller than a two-story house and is the largest LEGO Christmas tree in the Southern Hemisphere.
While our families and friends are dealing with winter temperatures and snow in the U.S. and Europe, we’ll be spending the holidays with Aussie friends by the beach. Maybe this will become a new tradition?

Happy Holidays!
Melbourne Town Hall by day.

Bottom two photos: Every night through Christmas, you’ll find colorful, animated illuminations projected onto the exterior of the 148-year-old Melbourne Town Hall. Visit daily from 9-11 p.m.

The Myers department store celebrated the 60th anniversary of its animated Christmas Windows display, similar to the windows at Macy’s and Bloomingdales in NYC. This year’s theme is based on the children’s book, Little Dog and the Christmas Wish, which is set on Christmas Eve in 1956 and includes many of Melbourne’s most iconic sites such as Flinders Street (train) Station, the Block Arcade and the Hopetoun Tea. This is a cute display! 

Do you have a sweet tooth? In Melbourne’s CBD, you’ll find an Aussie Gingerbread Village by Epicure. Entry is a gold coin donation to Make-A-Wish Australia. The village is made from 500 kilograms of gingerbread, 360 kilograms of royal icing, 150 kilograms of marzipan and around 800 miniature Christmas trees. Instead of winter snow scenes, the village features Melbourne icons such as the Luna Park amusement park and beach scenes.
Melbourne's Central Train Station also has a small Christmas illumination.
Interested in Christmas traditions from around the world? Please check out some of the awesome Christmas posts from my expat blogging group:
Christmas Card from Wroclaw, Poland by The Twisted Red Ladybug

Christmas Time in Switzerland by Can’t Google Everything

My Traveling Joys 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at least in Poland!

I finally put together a post about some of my favorite Polish Christmas decorations and gift ideas, particularly handmade ones. Even if you don’t live in Warsaw, I have provided several online store recommendations as well. So now you bring a little bit of Poland into your home like we have!

One of the most popular Polish decorations is made from gingerbread (pierniki). You’ll find gingerbread hearts, snowmen, angels, trees, trains, snowflakes and more at the slightly-hidden Tebe shop located along busy Aleja Jerozolimskie. You can even buy edible gingerbread spoons that you can dip into your morning cup of coffee or tea.

Whenever I’ve popped into Tebe, the couple who run the shop are quite friendly and help me find the ornament I want. They use only natural ingredients to make the pierniki dough, which is baked and then decorated with dozens of different types of seeds, dried flowers and fruits. For example, red lentils outline the stars and poppyseeds make up the snowmen’s hat.
Another popular item that most Americans will recognize are colorful, blown-glass ornaments, known as bombki. Following WWII, bombki appeared on the market again and became a major export for Poland. In the U.S., you’ll find these traditional ornaments at large department stores such as Dillards and Macy’s, but they will cost you about 5 times or more than what I’ve paid here in Poland.

I bought my bombki from Bombkarnia, across the street from the Palace of Culture, which is open year-round and also sells pretty Easter egg ornaments in the spring. Note to European and American readers, Bombkarnia does have an online store and ships all over the world, so you can have your own Polish glass ornaments at home!
Handmade items
Thirdly, I couldn’t resist buying several handmade, crocheted snowflakes at Cepelia’s Centrum location. My grandmother often used to knit and crochet so these Old World items remind me of her and would make lovely Christmas presents too. Cepelia, which also has an online store in English, is a national foundation under the Minister of Culture and Art that promotes Polish folk and artistic handicrafts. Most ornaments are reasonably priced between 10-20 pln (about $3-$6.)
Polish Ceramics
Even if you've never been to Poland, I'm sure you've seen or heard about Polish pottery. You’ll find the ever popular Polish pottery being used in all kinds of Christmas décor from serving plates to cake stands as well as Christmas ornaments and candle holders. I love visiting the friendly, English-speaking Anna at Anka Pottery in Mokotow. Anna will happily ship to the U.S. and will fulfill orders for particular patterns too. I can also recommend buying pottery from the Cepelia stores and Bolesławiec Pottery, which is near the Rondo Onz tram stop.

Additionally, if you live in the U.S., you can contact my friend, Donna, who used to live in Warsaw and now owns a Polish pottery business in Texas. You can order from her online store at Touch of Poland.

Polish Cookbooks
Wherever we have lived, I love learning how to cook the local dishes. Below, you'll find a few of my favorite Polish cookbooks, which you can directly order from Applebaum's book is one of my favorites because the Polish recipes are practical and adapted to more modern tastes. Both Rose Petal Jam and Sugared Orange are not only filled with beautiful, seasonal photos from around Poland, but also delicious recipes. A great gift for the cook in your family!

Polish Jewellery
In Poland, you'll find a variety of handmade jewellery, with Baltic amber stones being the most popular. I also like the handcrafted ceramic and wooden beaded necklaces that you'll often find at local Christmas markets.
My niece is into writing in journals, so I bought her several cool Polish-looking notebooks from Empik bookstores and Bęc Zmiana Foundation in Warsaw.
Polish Food
When all else fails, give your loved ones popular Polish food and beverages. You can't go wrong with gifting Polish vodka or kabanos, at least not with most of my friends and family members! And you can even buy these items at the airport!

Which Polish gift would you like to receive for Christmas?

My Traveling Joys

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Imagine having nearly five hours to enjoy the magical Great Barrier Reef in Tropical North Queensland!

Well, part of the time you’re relaxing on a catamaran and then you get to hop off the boat into the clear turquoise waters of the Coral Sea. We enjoyed a wonderful snorkeling trip on the Silver Sonic through the Quicksilver group, based in Port Douglas. This is a smaller tour, with about 80 people maximum, compared to some tours which can be like 200 to 300 people. The tour isn’t cheap at 224aud ($164) per person, but we figured this was probably an once-in-a-lifetime experience so we went for it.
And we certainly were NOT disappointed either! The sea is teeming with more than 1500 different species of colorful tropical fish in every shade of the rainbow too. Our tour included three stopping points which allowed us to see a variety of fish and coral in the outer reefs, which are supposed to have some of the best diving and snorkeling sites.
Hubby braved his first diving experience and took to it like a fish in water. His dive (an additional 65aud ($47)) included personal instruction and a 30-minute intro dive. He loved it!
The biggest fish we saw was a Maori Wrasse, pictured above with my husband. This guy scared the crap out of me, but this species is really friendly and the boat staff fed it some bait so we could take photos of “George”. The Maori Wrasse can live up to 30 years and grow to over 2 meters in length.  Unfortunately, this fish is eaten in many southeast Asian countries but is listed as endangered on the Union for Conservation of Nature list, since 2004.

Meanwhile, I suited up in a lycra suit because the water was a bit chilly and to protect myself from sunburn or potential jellyfish. Then I went snorkeling. I’ll admit I was a bit freaked out in the middle of the sea by myself. So on our last two stops, I strapped on a life jacket vest to help keep me afloat in the water and then I felt much safer.
We also rented an underwater camera from the company for about 65aud, but again the cost was worth it. I took more than 300 photos of the marine life in the Great Barrier Reef, plus it kept me occupied instead of worrying about floating away. Ha! I saw so many different kinds of fish that I couldn’t even identify them all.
The Parrotfish are easy to spot thanks to their parrot-like ‘beak’ and they are abundant in the Great Barrier Reef. The Parrotfish use their ‘beaks’ to bite off and eat the soft and hard corals in the sea.
The yellow Butterfly Fish is another easy one to recognize because of its distinctive body shape and what looks like a long ‘nose’. One interesting fact is they usually travel in pairs and tend to mate for life.

And we found a Nemo (clown fish)!
Check out all these bright blue colored fish too!
If you visit Australia, I highly recommend taking a snorkeling trip in the Great Barrier Reef too! This trip was worth every penny, and I have a ton of colorful photos of our memories here!

Is snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef on your bucket list?

My Traveling Joys 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Being an American in Australia on my favorite foodie holiday of the year proved to be less difficult than I thought it would be.

Luckily, I’ve met a few other American expats and one of them decided to host a Thanksgiving lunch at her house in Melbourne. Our international Thanksgiving meal included the traditional turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy as well as Asian dumplings, chicken wings, tofu with rice, Indian curries and samosas and a couple French desserts. It certainly was delicious!
I made two desserts – a French cherry clafoutis because cherries are in season now and a pumpkin tart using my gluten-free crust recipe. I forgot to take a picture of my whole pumpkin tart so you’ll only see a slice of it with a glass of wine that I had saved for my husband.
Though our move to Australia has probably been our most difficult one, I was happy to be included among such a warm and friendly circle of other expats. For many, this was their first time experiencing Thanksgiving, a holiday I cherish because it’s not based on religion but on being thankful for what you have and your loved ones. I’m thankful we are able to travel and see so much more of the world, but there are times I wonder what a “normal” life would be like again…if that’s possible.

After lunch, I literally took a nap for an hour before my husband came home so we could go out for dinner. A newish restaurant, Nieuw Amsterdam, an American-style bistro located in the CBD, served up a delicious spread of all the traditional Thanksgiving Day components. Our server was even from the NYC-area. The only thing missing was American football and, of course, our family and friends. 
I don't know how I managed to eat a second Thanksgiving Day meal, but I did! We’ll definitely be giving this delightful restaurant another go during the non-holidays!

Happy Thanksgiving Day to my dear US readers and any other expats who might be celebrating abroad like we are!


My Traveling Joys