Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I’ve never seen so many different ethnic groups wearing their country’s traditional dress at one time as I witnessed yesterday in Melbourne as part of the 2016 Australia Day celebrations.

More than 100 community and cultural groups participated in the annual Australia Day parade, which started in the CBD and went down St. Kilda Road. January 26th marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the first fleet of British ships into New South Wales and the raising of the British flag by then Governor Arthur Phillip. The day also has multiple meanings for some, Survival Day or Invasion Day, as the Europeans took over the land from the Aboriginals – not too different from the U.S. situation either, I might add.

Anyway, I was so thrilled I took the time to see the parade because it was fantastic! I loved seeing all the traditional outfits from China to Thailand as well as Latvia, Macedonia, Sicily and the Black Sea region of Turkey.

I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I did taking them!

Which one is your favorite photo?
These six fighter jets flew over the park after the parade.
Young girls from Bangladesh.
So here's the Turkish flag and the lovely group from the Black Sea region. They responded cheerfully to my Turkish "Merhaba" to them. 
The colorful Chinese dragon followed by the Chinese women below.
Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, is a high-level cultivation system from China, based on ancient principles such as Truthfulness and Benevolence. 
The Melbourne Indonesian Community
Japanese families celebrated too in this photo and below.
Latvian group in Melbourne
Cheerful ladies from Macedonia
The Friendship Australian/Egyptian Assn. in Melbourne.
Melbourne Lithuanian Community
Mexican Dance Company in Melbourne
Bring on the Scottish bagpipes!
Italian ladies from Sicily
Smiles from Thailand
Ukrainian children in traditional dress
Locals in Victorian-era costumes
Of course, why wouldn't Darth Vadar and Storm Troopers attend the parade?

My Traveling Joys

Sunday, January 24, 2016

After travelling nearly nonstop for a month and having visitors here in Australia, I’m lagging a bit behind in writing my annual foodie blog post.

This past year, we enjoyed a few more European trips, with Belgrade, Serbia, being a surprisingly wonderful foodie destination, plus several good meals in Warsaw. In June, we left Poland after living there for 27 months and started a new expat journey in Melbourne. Although we’ve eaten out quite a bit Down Under, I can’t say that any meals have really wowed me yet. Aussies do breakfast fantastically well, and there are tons of ethnic options like Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese and Malyasian. I’ve even been cooking a lot more Asian dishes at home since the ingredients are easy to find here.

The following destinations are where we had some of our Best Meals in 2015! Where did you have your favorite meal this year? I would love to know!

Bon appétit!

January: L’enfant Terrible in Warsaw
In January, I kicked off the year with a group of friends at one of Warsaw’s newer fine dining restaurants called L’enfant Terrible. Chef Michał Bryś, who had worked at European Michelin-starred restaurants, has since received accolades and his restaurant was recommended by the first Polish edition of the Gault & Millaut guide. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what the dishes are that we had and I didn’t take a copy of the menu. Some dishes were good like the tender beef for my main dish, but the foie gras macaron appetizer was a bit odd and so was the bacon-solar system course. 
At 350zl (about $100usd at the time), this was the most expensive meal I’ve had in the Polish capital.

February: Fancy French Food in Warsaw
We experienced a phenomenal dining experience thanks to a visiting 2-Michelin Star chef from France. Besides dining at Nolita again for my birthday, this special 7-course degustation menu by Chef Olivier Nasti, MOF, was THE best meal we’ve eaten here. The event was hosted by the Sofitel Warsaw Victoria and sponsored by AirFrance so we sampled some fantastic French wines (at a bargain) as well. The main entrée was roasted pigeon smothered in black truffles and served with a dollop of celeriac puree. I love truffles! I also love chocolate and dessert number 1 was a rich, dark chocolate mille feuille with coffee ice cream. You can read more about our fancy French meal in this post.
Wonderful Winebar in London
In February, we also travelled to London because my husband had some work meetings and I tagged along. Over the weekend, we ate at a cozy winebar called Brawn, located on Columbia Road (near the Sunday flower market) in Bethnal Green. We ordered several dishes to share, and my favorite was a ball of Buffalo Mozzarella with smoked aubergine puree and lemon. I could have licked the plate clean. I tried grilled duck hearts for the first time (kind of taste like liver) served on top a creamy polenta, perfect hearty food on a winter’s night. For a main dish, we shared the confit pork belly with Puy lentils and root vegetables. How could I resist some pork!
March: Classic Viennese Café
In March, we spent a short weekend in Vienna to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary together. Of course, we had to check out some of the historic cafés in Austria’s capital city. We had a late lunch at Café Central, open since1876; and in the late 19th century, it became a key meeting place for the Viennese intellectual scene. Former customers include Leon Trotsky, Josip Broz Tito (first president of Yugoslavia), Sigmund FreudAdolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin.
Besides the beautiful architecture, what makes you ohh and ahh is the pastry display case, which is filled with all kinds of tempting sweet tooth pleasures. I had a difficult time choosing just one pastry to share with my husband after a simple lunch of beef tartare and soup. Which one would you pick?
April: Balkan Delights in Belgrade
In April, we spent the long Easter weekend in Belgrade with our Istanbul friends. I fell in love with this city’s architecture – a mix of Austrian, European and even some Ottoman influences – and the food scene. The food reminded me of trips to Greece, Turkey and Croatia as well as the modern touches which would be compatible in NYC. Our local Airbnb host recommended our last lunch destination called Manufaktura, which is owned by Dušan Ivković, considered the godfather of Serbian basketball and now the head coach of the Turkish Anadolu Efes team. 
Manufaktura is housed in an old building with lofty ceilings and an open floor plan filled with high bar tables and a charcuterie display case that will make you swoon! Seeing all the cured pig’s legs reminded me of Italy! This popular restaurant serves Serbian food with modern touches. Must-try dishes include ćevapi (small sausage-like grilled portions of minced meat), sopska salata (a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and cheese which is very similar to the Turkish Çoban Salatası), any of the locally-cured meats, and baklava for dessert.
May: Fine Dining in Warsaw
In May, I was spoiled with a birthday lunch and a multi-course dinner at Nolita where we had the dined the previous year for my birthday as I wrote about in this blog post. Nolita is hands-down my favorite fine-dining restaurant in Warsaw; and honestly, an international bargain for the food you receive – 6 courses for 235zl (then about $75 and now $57usd). My favorite course this time was a foie gras bon bon that I likened to a rich peanut butter and jelly combo. Again, I wanted to lick the plate clean!
June: Farewell Fiesta with Girlfriends
After throwing our own going-away, Mexican-themed party, I took some time to hang out with girlfriends. One of my farewell lunches was at one of my favorite Warsaw winebars, Alewino, tucked in behind an archway off fashion lane of ulica Mokotowska. The chalkboard menu always features seasonal items with a beet salad of some kind that’s delicious no matter how it’s prepared.
I love talking to the knowledgeable staff (in English) about the wines, particularly an incredible Hungarian selection! The truffled risotto and stuffed zucchini flowers are two of my favorite dishes when in season.
July: Tassie’s Simple Seafood
Once Down Under, we hit the road running to travel around our new home country. We spent a weekend exploring the southeast corner of Tasmania, a beautiful, lush, wild island. Perched on a hill beside a vineyard, Bangor Wine & Oyster Shed, about 45-minutes outside of Hobart, is the perfect place to enjoy a simple seafood lunch. We ordered freshly shucked oysters served three different ways with three tangy dressings and abalone sautéed in butter and garlic served with a brandied mayonnaise lettuce salad and of course, a chilled bottle of local Pinot Gris. All we had to do was sit back, sip some wine and enjoy the lovely views!
October: Paris is Always a Good Idea
In October, we ventured back to Europe for a few weeks and were able to celebrate a belated wedding anniversary with my brother and sister-in-laws in Paris. We treated ourselves to a new 1 Michelin-starred restaurant called Les Climats, located on the left bank. Considering its star status, the tasting menu priced at 5 courses for 98 euros was a decent bargain, at least in the City of Lights. This Art Deco restaurant features French cuisine with modern touches and is devoted to an immense collection of wines from the Burgundy region.

For the first course, Chef Julien Boscus served us crab seasoned with fresh herbs and pil pil sauce, octopus carpaccio, beef chorizo and multicolored cauliflower. The second course, one of my favorite, was a fillet of wild sea bream in a bread crust with mushrooms, fresh walnuts and red orach. The main course was a Scottish goose breast with Chasselas grapes, wild mushrooms, Swiss chard, chicory and straw potatoes. Unfortunately, we didn’t like the modern interpretation of the cheese course with fresh muscat grapes, red porto and Pinot Noir.
So our very generous server brought over the full cheese cart and let us choose several French cheeses to have instead.

Then, we ended up having two delectable dessert courses: pears poached in turmeric and caraway with pecans and pear sorbet; followed by a chocolate confection of guanaja biscuit with Tonka beans, caramelized hazelnuts, coffee Chantilly and chocolate sorbet. Oh my! And if those weren’t enough, we ended this amazing meal with a plate of petit fours and chocolates!
December: Shoreside Seafood in New Zealand
We ended 2015 with a 6-day holiday in New Zealand. After taking the ferry boat from Picton across the Cook Straight, we immediately settled in for lunch at Shed 5 in Wellington. This former woolshed that faces the harbor was recommended by fellow foodie and blogger friend, Meg of Notorious MEG, who lived in Welly for several months.

Along with a bottle of Marlborough Sav-Blanc, we ordered six oysters and three seafood appetizers to share. My favorite was a ceviche salad of flash cured tuna and Akaroa salmon with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, avocado mousse and olive oil caviar.
When visiting picturesque New Zealand, you can’t help but indulge in the local wines and fresh seafood!

Where did you enjoy your favorite meal in 2015?

My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

After planning our second trip to the Great Ocean Road nearly two months ago, we weren’t expecting a widespread bushfire to alter our plans.

Unfortunately, the combination of a lighting storm, dry land and hot temperatures caused a large bushfire on Christmas Day that has destroyed more than 100 houses along this famous tourist route. The fire occurred in and near the small towns of Wye River and Separation Creek. According to the latest Melbourne news, the fire still continues to burn in dense bushland about 6km west of Wye River; and more than 200 firefighters are battling this blaze.

A small section of the Great Ocean Road had been closed because of the fires, but just reopened yesterday (January 6th). Basically, we got lucky because we started our road trip on the same day.
Not too far outside of the bustling town of Lorne, we started seeing the devastating effects of the raging fire. Blackened trees and shrubbery as well as dusty brown leaves on tops of the trees still standing.
You could tell where the fire had jumped across the road and consumed any remaining vegetation along the beach.

This was my first experience seeing the damaging effects of a fire upclose and I was shocked. I thought about all those displaced people and animals that called this beautiful area of Australia home. How long will it take to rebuild their homes? How long will it take for the forest to rebound and turn green again?

It’s devastating.
Driving through the small town of Wye River on January 6th, 2016, you can certainly see where the bushfires hit.
But at the same time, it’s important to note that the Great Ocean Road IS open for business.

These small communities rely heavily on tourism, and they need YOUR support. The month of January is one of the busiest tourism months because children are on school break. There’s still plenty to see and do along the GOR.

We have three days to re-explore this lovely area that’s famous for its beautiful beaches and sweeping landscapes.

I can’t wait.

My Traveling Joys

Important information to note from the Great Ocean Road Tourism Site:

  • No vehicles will be allowed to stop between Cumberland River and Wye River bridge. This includes look-out points and pull-over areas on the sides of the road.

  • The turnoff for Sheaok Falls is closed.
  • Speed limits have been reduced, and there is a stronger police presence along the road.
  • There is restricted access to residential areas in Wye River North and Separation Creek due to the health and safety risks from the bushfire that has affected the area. Residents of these areas have been granted limited access.
  • If you see wildlife that appear injured or distressed, please contact the Wildlife Welfare Officer on 5233 5565.