Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Day Trip from Melbourne

Since it’s the middle of winter in Australia, the lush, green landscapes of Yarra Valley, about an hour outside of Melbourne, completely surprised me.

We had come to sample the valley’s award-winning wines, but didn’t expect to fall in love with the surrounding countryside as well. Can you imagine this verdant place in the spring and summer months?
Earlier this month, my husband and I  booked a full day tour with Yarra Valley Wine Tasting Tours, which included stops at four wineries, a dairy farm and cheese shop and a chocolate shop. We want to take full advantage of the city and country as much as possible since we don’t know how long we’ll be living here. The tour was a fantastic introduction to Yarra Valley, and we didn’t have to worry about who was going to drive since we were on a small tour bus.

We first stopped at Yering Station, a winery established in 1838 by the Scottish-born Ryrie brothers who adopted the Aboriginal name “Yering.” The brothers planted two grape varieties but mainly used the land for cattle. Over the years, the property changed hands, but continued to produce wines, winning the Grand Prix at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889. Today, the property is locally owned by the Rathbone family, purchased in 1996, who also established a restaurant overlooking the vineyard’s beautiful countryside.
Our favorite wines from Yering Station were the shiraz viognier and the cab-sav (as Aussies like to abbreviate everything).

Our second stop was at Yarra Valley Dairy, a local farm featuring both homemade cows’ and goats’ milk cheeses. We’re both suckers for cheese especially soft and stinky cheeses. The dairy’s goat cheese pyramid with ash reminded us of French cheeses we’ve liked so we bought this and two other cheeses. Unfortunately, the shop was crowded so I didn’t get any cheese pictures, but the surrounding farm lands were pretty.
Next, we headed to Domaine Chandon, which produces some of the best bubbly we’ve had outside of France. It’s probably no surprise to learn that the company is now part of the French-based champagne producers Moët & Chandon. However, the property has been operating as a vineyard since the 1800s as well. I loved the sparkling wines here, so we bought two bottles!

After enjoying our bubbly, we headed to Rochford Wines for lunch and our fourth (technically) wine tasting of the day. Our tour included a one-course lunch, so we both opted for the melt-in-your-mouth beef cheeks cooked in red wine, of course. Delicious!
I’ll admit that the Rochford wines were not my favorite, but the food was tasty and the place offered scenic panoramic views from a tower we climbed up.

By the time we stopped at St. Huberts Winery, originally established in 1862, I’ll admit that I was feeling tipsy. Silly me as I had tried everything put in front of us as well as some extra samples. I simply couldn’t resist the wine! St. Huberts is a lovely boutique winery and I’ll have to try the wine again with dinner.
Finally, we ended our day at the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie, which featured abundant chocolate samplings. If you love chocolate, this is the place to be! However, we didn’t buy anything as the chocolates were rather expensive. The chocolate bars were sold as 60 grams each (most brands normally as 100 grams) and cost $8 to $10aud. However, we did treat ourselves to two ice cream cones and then went out to see the cute farm animals outside.
All in all, our full day tour to Yarra Valley was a spectacular way to sample the country’s wines and food. Plus, our tour bus included singing Irish girls on the way back home. Sadly, we didn’t share any American songs in return. 
Some Yarra Valley wines to enjoy later at home!

My Traveling Joys

Monday, July 20, 2015

This week, one of Warsaw’s most iconic buildings, the Palace of Culture and Science (Pałac Kultury i Nauki), turns 60 years old on Wednesday, July 22nd.

It’s a building, the tallest one in Poland at 231 meters, that people either love or hate.
As we called Warsaw home for 27 months, I saw the Palace of Culture every day from our balcony, except on really foggy days. I happen to rather like this skyscraper that lit up the city’s business center in different colors every night, which reminded me of the Empire State Building in my beloved NYC. It’s a building I photographed many, many times while we lived in Warsaw as you can see from the photographs in this blog post.
Balcony margaritas to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Warsaw.
Where is the Palace of Culture?
However, the building, originally named in honor of Joseph Stalin, was considered a “gift” from the Soviet Union to Poland after the Communists took over following World War II. For obvious reasons, many Poles dislike what the building represents and the fact it was built in the middle of the city where people lived in burnt-out tenement buildings following WWII.
Stalin's name was erased from the statue on the right after the Communist regime fell in 1989 in Warsaw.
Construction on the palace lasted three years, and the doors were open to the public on July 22, 1955, with a special ribbon cutting ceremony. (Click here to see PKiN photos from 1955.)

Little do most Poles know that the building’s design was partially based on some Polish architecture.

Designed by Soviet architect Lev Rudnev, the palace is similar in style to his main campus building for Moscow University, based on Socialist Classicism, and others built during the same era in Riga, Latvia, and Russia.  However, Rudnev also travelled to Polish historical sites in Kraków, Zamość, Kazimierz, Torun and Sandomierz to study Polish renaissance architecture, resulting in the spiky “Polish parapets” that decorate the roof of the building. (I learned this fact from a private tour with Orange Umbrella in Warsaw. I can highly recommend arranging your own private tour!)
A misty view of the "Palace of Culture" in Riga during our November 2014 Baltic Road Trip.
This picture depicts the spiky “Polish parapets.” 
To celebrate the Place of Culture’s 60th birthday this week, there will be special events on Wednesday from 12-17:00, concluding with a birthday cake cutting ceremony at 5 p.m. If you want to participate in the fun on the eve of the 22nd, people are encouraged to buy entry tickets to the observation deck of the Palace of Culture from the lobby entrance along ul. Marszalkowska. More details can be found here.

In addition to the special events on Wednesday, there is an anniversary exhibit which includes architectural models, furniture, audio devices, uniforms, key rings and vintage paraphernalia once used in the building. This exhibit runs through July 31st.
Thirdly, there is a special photo exhibit by local Polish photographer Jacek Fota  running from July 22 until August 26, which features the interior and people that work in the Palace of Culture.

Here are some interesting tidbits about the palace:
  • has 44 floors. On the 30th floor, at a height of 114 meters, there is an observation deck that is open to the public. (This is my favorite place to take guests and give them a bird’s eye view of Warsaw. Don't miss out on this observation deck when you visit Warsaw!)
  • has 3,288 rooms inside.
  • is the home of several public institutions, a movie theater, sports club and local museums.
  • takes 40 million zl to maintain every year.
  • the Polish government paid about 160 million zl for its construction during the 1950s.
  • tontains an indoor swimming pool, “secret rooms” and a sanctuary for cats on level-2
  • Did you also know that the Rolling Stones and Elton John have played at the Sala Kongresowa here?
Though the Palace of Culture may be either loved or despised, the building represents a part of Warsaw’s past. This week is the time to remember the city’s history and pay tribute to its future.

Happy Birthday to the Palace of Culture in Warsaw!

By the way, the interior of the palace is just as impressive as the exterior!
Spring and Winter views of the Palace of Culture in Warsaw.
Northern view during winter from the observation deck at the Palace of Culture in Warsaw.
Southern view from the observation deck at the Palace of Culture in Warsaw.
View of Old Town from the observation deck at the Palace of Culture in Warsaw.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The ups and downs of my new life down under

I think I spent my first week in Melbourne overwhelmed and consumed by extreme jetlag, English-language overload and a burgeoning foodie scene.

From Warsaw, I had a 26-hour flight that took me through Dubai and Kuala Lumpur before landing in Melbourne at 1 a.m. on a Saturday. I was exhausted, confused and didn’t even know what day it was, technically. I left on a Thursday and landed on a Saturday as if I had been in some kind of time warp. This was the longest flight I’d ever been on, my muscles ached and all I wanted to do was sleep. 

Since I’ve had a little time to adjust and reflect, I thought I would share my ups and downs from my first week here in expat country number three.

Hello English!
After five years living as expats in Istanbul and Warsaw, I’m thrilled to not learn a new language for once. At first, I thought re-living in an English-speaking country would be too easy, but Australia is a whole new world for me. Everyone speaks English here, but it’s a different kind of English. “Is that all for you love?” “Sure doll.” “No worries.” “It’s much of a muchness to me.”

I often find myself messaging my good Melburnian girlfriend I met in Warsaw who’s now living in Dubai and telling her about my day here. So far the Australians I’ve encountered at cafés, restaurants and stores seem super friendly to me!
One of the rare, really sunny days during winter in Melbourne along the Yarra River.
Winter and Time Difference
Besides suffering jet lag and waking up every day at 3 a.m. wide awake, I’ve been dealing with different seasons and a major time difference. While all my friends in Europe and the U.S. are posting sunny beach and mouthwatering BBQ photos, I’m dealing with fall-like temperatures (5-10C/41-50F) and chilly, dreary, rainy days. I’m wearing winter hats, scarves and gloves. Our apartment never seems to warm up so I sit in front of an electric heater every day when I’m on the computer.
Staying bundled up while exploring Melbourne's awesome street art scene.
Although we’ve had several partly sunny days, we’re living in the middle of winter down under. At least, there’s no snow! Well, at least not in the city.

Being so far in another part of the world also means a crazy time difference. That means 6 hours to Dubai, 8 hours to Warsaw and 15 hours to my family in the U.S. Thank goodness my phone’s weather app keeps track of the various times for me! My mom still has a hard time understanding that I’m a full day ahead of her when I call in the morning my time, but early evening for them.

NYC Double Take
So much of Melbourne reminds me of a smaller version of NYC. The city is located along a river. The taxis are yellow. There’s a theater district just like in Times Square, and the CBD’s architecture is reminiscent of buildings built in the early 1900s in NY. The food and market scene is amazing! Plus, there are even restaurants named after places in New York. Perhaps all these almost familiar items are why I feel so comfortable in Melbourne. Now, all I need to do is find a good Mexican restaurant and I’m set as an expat.
Transportation Woes
Traffic flows in the opposite direction here compared to what I’m used to in Europe and the U.S. Australians drive on the left side of the road just like their counterparts in the U.K. Trams and buses follow the same route. I have to make sure I look twice before crossing the street. I have to always remind myself that if I want to go north, I need to catch the tram on the west side of the street and so forth.
Afternoon traffic in Melbourne's Southbank neighborhood where we live.
This opposite world also applies to people. Pedestrians must walk on the left side of road so people can pass on the right. Escalators are the same way. Stand on the left side, pass on the right. Did you know that “it is illegal to walk on the right-hand side of a footpath in Australia?”

At first, these rules were very confusing, but I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of opposite world and hopefully I’ll never get fined for walking the wrong way.

Foodie Heaven
During my first week living in Melbourne, I ate American barbecue, Australian kangaroo, Chinese dumplings, Italian cannolis, Korean ramen noodles, Vietnamese pho noodle soup and Turkish breakfast, gözleme and lamb pide. I am literally in foodie heaven here! I can get every kind of cuisine that I want, and I plan to try it all! I've also visited and been impressed with the farmer's markets here - Queen Victoria Market and South Melbourne Market - so far.
Coffee Fiends
I knew my Australian friends loved coffee, but to see this fact in person down under is a whole different thing. There are coffee shops everywhere! And a flat white, seems to be the popular Aussie order. This caffeinated beverage was created here  in Australia or New Zealand, both countries lay claim to its invention.

A flat white is an espresso-based beverage with steamed milk consisting of very small, fine bubbles (micro-foam) resulting in a velvety consistency. There’s no distinct layer between the coffee and foam. A flat white is not just a small latté  because there’s a higher proportion of coffee to milk and the foam is different.

All that I’ve learned so far is that a flat white is delicious and often pretty!
An Aussie flat white is best enjoyed with dessert in my opinion.
It’s been nearly 3 weeks now since I joined my husband here in Melbourne. I’m over the jetlag and just trying to explore the city as much as I can. I hope you’ll stay tuned for more of my Australian adventures! 
My Traveling Joys