Full circle.

The last Christmas I spent in Australia was in 2010. My first European Christmas occurred the following year, and was in fact my first time in Europe at all.

A friend from school was living in Germany at the time, working as a rocket scientist, and had extended an open invitation to anyone who wanted to visit her. I had planned to go to the UK after New Year’s anyway to have trial lessons and suss out schools before auditions the following year, and was easily persuaded (and in turn easily persuaded my parents) to extend the trip by a few weeks.

In that first week of questionable, alcohol-fueled life decisions in Germany, the Rocket Scientist introduced me to the BFGD, or Big Friendly Giant Dutchman. I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone that tall at that point in my life. He arranged a brief sojourn in Amsterdam for us, including seeing a concert at the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ.

In a nice bit of symmetry (which I always interpret as the universe telling me I’m doing the right thing with my life), I recently performed at that very same music hall as an intern with the Nederlands Kamerkoor. Right before boarding a flight to bring me back to my first Australian Christmas since that European holiday in 2011.

Since moving to the Netherlands, I’ve had many people ask me what Christmas is like in Australia. Some even question whether it happens at all! (Answer – yes, we have Christmas. We’re in the southern hemisphere, not on Uranus.) Basically, the essentials remain the same: family, food, presents, food, not working, food. But there are a few key differences, namely:

1. Summer

Seeing as we’re on the other side of the world, our Christmas occurs in the middle of summer. We still sing the traditional carols like Jingle Bells, they just make no sense. The Christmas holidays are part of the longer summer holidays, and so the family get togethers can be huge, as everyone is free to travel to whichever relative lives closest to the beach.

2. Salad and seafood

Many families still do the traditional roast ham, turkey and chicken as part of the Christmas lunch or dinner, though more often that not these are served cold rather than hot. But where we Australians really come into our own is with the salads – the more unusual the flavour combinations, the better. Seafood is also a pretty important element on many Christmases now – why eat turkey when you can have prawns?

3. Presents on the 25th

I’ve always found the European thing of opening presents on Christmas Eve really strange, not realising that this is the more “authentic” tradition. But for us (or at least my family), Christmas Eve is just a large feast and then filling stockings and putting remaining presents under the tree. Christmas morning is when you open the gifts.

4. Trifle

Trifle is hands down the most important aspect of Christmas in my family. For those poor deprived souls who have never experienced trifle, it is a pudding made from layers of sponge cake soaked in jelly, fruit, custard and cream. My grandmother was always in charge of making the Christmas trifle, and it would appear that since her passing, the recipe has become a thing of legend. No fewer than four children and grandchildren claim to have been taught the secrets of the trifle at her knee, yet all disagree on crucial aspects of the recipe. I personally believe that I alone know how to make the real thing, as in fact my last Christmas in Australia was also my grandmother’s last Christmas, and I made not one, but two trifles under her supervision. I’ve tried to make two trifles in The Hague, neither successful. But I might head back this time armed with Aeroplane Jelly and some crushed peanuts…..third time lucky!

 

Merry belated to Christmas to anyone reading, and Happy New Year!

 

 

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The rain in Spain.

In contrast to the seven weeks spent gallivanting around Italy and Portugal last year, this year I managed to secure a measly two weeks off from work. Which meant only two weeks somewhere away from the Dutch weather. Based largely on my childhood adoration of Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving (and slightly as an “up yours” to Portugal) I decided on Spain. By chance, my oldest friend, Loz, was going to be in Europe at that time, and we agreed to holiday together.

Both Loz and I are by nature slow travellers: two weeks in one city is perfectly normal, as we both like to get a feel for a place by getting lost at our leisure. We both like being able to have a regular café, and believe that frantically dashing around the top tourist sites is unlikely to offer an insightful impression of a new place. However, for our Spanish sojourn, we decided to be different for once and pack as much into two weeks as possible, trying to get an overview of a country, rather than an overview of a city.

Our itinerary was as follows: a few days in Barcelona, followed by a flight to Valladolid where we spent an afternoon, a day in Salamanca, a few days in Madrid, a couple of days in Seville, a day in Córdoba, a day in Granada and a couple of days recovering at the beach in Nerja.

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The Festive Season.

So that time of year has come and gone again. The time of year when eleven months of diet and exercise is ruined in a three day spree. The time of year when Bing Crosby is played incessantly everywhere you go. The time of year you start to wonder if your great aunt Mildred has Alzheimer’s, because if she remembered anything about you, she’d be damn certain you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing whatever monstrosity of a sweater she gave to you this year.
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I quit sugar.

If I had to describe myself in three words or less, I’d go with “raging sugar addict”. It shames me to admit it, but I have been known to add five teaspoons of sugar to a cup of hot chocolate. Those desserts that most people outgrow by the age of eight because they become nauseating to eat? Yeah, I eat those for breakfast (when I bother to eat breakfast). When The Wasp asked me what to include in my next care package from home, I insisted on CSR brown sugar, because I had not found an acceptable version of brown sugar in the Netherlands. Yes, I’d tried out more than one type.

So facing the not-medically-confirmed possibility of having my legs amputated from diabetes at age 30, I decided drastic action was needed. I was going to face my kryptonite, wrestle my delectable demon, conquer the cake. I decided to quit sugar.

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Portugal: An alphabetical roundup.

A while ago I wrote a post entitled A is for Apple. I liked the title immensely, and had grand plans for a whole thread of observations and hilarious anecdotes based on the alphabet (seriously, there would be nothing more satisfying than finishing with Z is for Zelenka). Imagine my shock when my life didn’t progress according to the alphabetical sequence! After contemplating inane and mediocre posts like C is for cold and M is for music, I reluctantly abandoned the idea of an alphabet thread.

Until now.

Ok, I know one post is just that, a post not a thread, but whatever. Don’t shoot me down here people!

I just came back from three weeks in Portugal (yes, life is hard) and my time there was so full of beautiful, fun and interesting things that I was quite perplexed as to how to go about chronicling my adventures. There is no chance in hell I would have the patience to write a day by day journal, and even less of a chance in hell that anyone would find 21 days of my holidays interesting. There are only so many times you can read “And then I ate cake” without getting bored.

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Heart attacks and happiness.

Upon arriving in the Netherlands, one of my immediate impressions of the in habitants of The Hague was that they were pretty fat. And I don’t mean that in a mid-2000s teenage ‘ph’ kind of way, but in a literal, everyone struck me as a bit tubby kind of way. Of course, all the starving students were off on holidays and all the scary fit Dutch people were off hiking, swimming to England, wrestling bears or whatever fit people do during the summer, so the city isn’t actually totally populated by beach ball lookalikes. But for the first two weeks it seemed that way. And that’s coming from an Australian. Continue reading