I am usually a fairly sensible person. Well, sometimes at least. When I book a trip it’s usually months (often a year) in advance and I research and plan everything to the nth degree because I am a control freak. On Wednesday morning I was chatting with the girls at work about their travel plans this year. I thought “I’d really love to see Vietnam”. After a bit of quick Googling it turned out April and October were the best months to travel, weather-wise. I mulled this idea over in my head and went home. Whilst casually browsing the Qantas website at home before my dinner date to see what I could do with my abundant Frequent Flyer points, the sensible part in my brain snapped and I booked flights. Just like that. And I leave in a month. Wonderful!
Vietnam ticked all the boxes of the perfect travel destination – I wanted to see somewhere new, I needed something affordable and I wanted the destination to be under 9 hours from Australia as I only have 2 1/2 weeks annual leave. Plus I am fascinated by the breathtaking natural sights, the culture and most of all THE FOOD.
So please, dear internet, give me your Vietnam suggestions! I don’t have the time to research this country as thoroughly as I’d like before I leave so please share with me your favourite experiences, foods, sights and any dos or don’ts. I also have a few nights at the end of my trip in Hong Kong so any additional suggestions will be more than welcome!
Where are you off to next?
I have spent a lot of time travelling throughout Iceland and Scandinavia but it’s always during summertime – so I have never seen the Northern Lights! Known as the Aurora Borealis in northern latitudes, it is a natural light display in the sky caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere. They occur most frequently in a belt of radius 2500 km centered on the magnetic north pole. This so-called auroral zone extends over northern Scandinavia, Iceland, the southern tip of Greenland and continuing over northern Canada, Alaska and along the northern coast of Siberia. Whilst I have always associated the Northern Lights with wintertime, they are actually present all year round – it’s just that we can’t see them during the light nights of summer.
One day I will get to experience this amazing phenomenon and cross it off my travel bucket list!
I recently discovered Pamukkale, Turkey through a friend’s photos on Instagram. It came as no surprise to me that Pamukkale translated as “cotton castle” – it looks like these hot springs formed against cliffs have been draped in white cotton candy! Pamukkale’s terraces are made of travertine, a sedimentary rock deposited by water from the hot springs. I am adding Pamukkale to my bucket list!
Where in the world are you currently fascinated by?
Edit: Thanks to my lovely readers I have now sourced some locations to buy authentic Dulce de Leche in Australia. Firstly online from Mi Casa Fine Foods, or at a store called La Torre, 9 Nelson St Fairfield.
I was recently gifted 2 jars of delicious Dulce de Leche (or in Portuguese Doce de Leite) from my cousin who had just returned from South America. The jar on the left is from Brazil and the jar on the right is from Argentina. This caramel is hugely popular in South America and has been steadily gaining popularity in desserts within Australia.
After doing some taste testing (for scientific purposes of course) I think I am learning towards preferring the Brazilian Doce de Leite – it’s darker and richer and a little less sweet than its Argentinian friend. However both are sublimely delicious and I have been sprung on numerous occasions by my housemate at the refrigerator, spoon in hand.
Now, with nearly a kilo of caramel, what does one do with all of this deliciousness? I can’t keep eating it with a spoon, my teeth will fall out. Here are some of my recipes I am considering using it in:
I want to whip up a batch of these tasty sesame seed biscuits and sandwich them together with my caramel (a nice and quick way to avoid boiling sweetened condensed milk)
For a super quick Banoffee Pie- make a biscuit base, spread with the caramel and let set in the fridge. Then top with sliced bananas, whipped cream and shaved chocolate and serve. Too easy!
To make salted caramel buttercream simply beat the dulce de leche with butter, icing sugar and a pinch of sea salt until a spreadable consistency is achieved. Then sandwich between ginger cookies, or pipe onto cupcakes.
Some other popular uses in South America include spreading it on bread/toast (like a super sweet and decadent version of peanut butter I guess?!)
Or freshly cooked churros dipped in dulce de leche. Yum!
Have you tried the authentic doce de leite before? What are your favourite dulce de leche desserts?
I’m getting itchy feet again and am starting to plan my next holiday – once I finally decide on my destination of course! I’m thinking a few weeks in Reykjavík and New York. Heaven.
I thought I’d share with you some of my top travel tips to help you in planning your next escape.
Research and planning are always integral to a successful trip. My first step is always to investigate the climate in my destination(s) of choice. Knowing when to travel and how the seasons will affect your experience is super important. You don’t want to spend your beach holiday locked in your hotel room whilst a tropical cyclone rages!
Once you’ve settled on your time to go, start thinking about what sort of travel experience you want to enjoy on your next trip. Do you want to go on a group tour or embark on a solo adventure? Are you going to stay in a hotel, an apartment or a hostel?
Now that you’ve booked in all the components of your trip it’s time to start ticking things off your pre-departure checklist. Travel insurance, immunisation injections and visas need to be organised to ensure you stay safe and healthy during your holiday and don’t come back with any nasty bills or diseases!
Once you’re finally home you will suffer the inevitable post-holiday blues - take time to appreciate what you have at home, then start fantasising about your next adventure!
For more travel advice check out my Travel Tips page.
I was writing an Icelandic travel guide yesterday and after detailing the Icelandic delicacy of putrified shark meat (apparently it tastes and smells as bad as it sounds) I thought I would go into more details of unique (and often stomach-churning) local delicacies around the world.
Putrified Shark (Hákarl) – Iceland
Hákarl is shark meat that’s been fermented for 4-5 months until it becomes (questionably) safe for human consumption (the sharks in the waters around Greenland are in fact poisonous). It is described as smelling extremely high in ammonia and people often vomit at the mere smell of it – enjoy!
Chicken Sashimi (Torisashi) – Japan
Japan is home to many unique local dishes including live prawns and octopus and horse meat. But one dish that leaves me feeling particularly squeamish is chicken sashimi. The raw chicken is sliced thinly and served with a mirin sweetened soy sauce.
Guinea Pigs (Cuy) – Peru
Yep, that cute and furry animal we often keep as pets is a local delicacy in Peru! From high end restaurants to street carts selling guinea pigs on sticks, this animal sure is popular – Peruvians consume an estimated 65 million guinea pigs each year!
Here are some eggs. I couldn’t bring myself to post a real picture of Balut. It looks that disgusting – Google if you dare!
Fertilised Egg (Balut) – Philippines (and other parts of SE Asia)
Take a fertilised chicken or duck egg, boil it alive and eat it straight out of the shell. I have enough issues eating normal (unfertilised!) eggs so this dish is completely beyond my stomach’s capabilities. Apparently it is a hearty snack that is thought to be an aphrodisiac.
Rotten Cheese (Casu Marzu) – Italy
Hailing from Sardinia in Italy, larvae are added to cheese to promote a level of fermentation close to decomposition. Apparently the tiny worms can jump up to half a foot if disturbed – who knew eating cheese could be so frightening?
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten overseas?
I am constantly surprised by the amount of people who head off overseas after scoring a cheap flight or accommodation package and then complain when there are monsoonal rains/40+ degree humid weather/cyclones. Seasons regularly dictate when and where I travel and I am careful to research my destination properly so that I don’t end up spending my holiday trapped in a hotel as the heavens rain down.
The monsoon in Hanoi. Image source
I don’t want to bore you with detailing the weather conditions of every country around the world, but here are some popular destinations and tips on when to enjoy them.
♥ Western Europe
Western Europe can be enjoyed all year around and each season has its perks and drawbacks. My favourite time to travel to Europe is in Spring and Autumn – the weather is more temperate, the prices are moderate and there are (slightly) less tourists. Summer is a very popular time to travel as tourists enjoy the warm weather, long days and flock to the beaches – be aware of inflated prices, LONG queues to basically everything and and lots and lots of tourists. Winter can be COLD (although not as bitterly cold as Eastern Europe but more on that later) – but travelling to Europe in Winter has its perks. There is of course skiing and Christmas Markets, as well as the advantage of less tourists (so you can mingle with the locals more) and cheaper prices. But be aware of the drawbacks of shorter days, freezing temperatures and the risk of planes being grounded in blizzard conditions (learnt that the hard way).
♥ Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe tends to be hot in summer and freezing in Winter, making autumn and spring the ideal times to explore the area. I remember sweltering in Hungary in the height of summer and nearly freezing to death in Prague in Winter (and it only gets worse the further east you go – there are scores dying in Romania and Poland as we speak). The South East is a hugely popular summer beach destination particularly around Croatia so be aware of inflated prices and lots of tourists like the rest of Europe!
♥ Northern Europe
By far the best time to travel to Northern Europe (Scandinavia, Iceland etc) is in the summer. Yes the prices are higher and the tourists are plentiful but the weather is by far the best and those long loooooong summer days make for plenty of sightseeing and partying time. Winter is long, dark and very very cold. HOWEVER there is the added bonus of seeing the Northern Lights and doing snow related activities such as dog sledding and visiting Santa in Rovaniemi.
Japan’s summer months are hot, humid and WET – I would definitely avoid travelling in this period. Winter time in Japan is cold but absolutely feasible if you dress appropriately. Spring is absolutely amazing with the blooming cherry blossom trees however the Japanese love to also experience the cherry blossoms leading to high prices, busy trains and sold out hotels. Autumn is a great time to travel with temperate weather and moderate prices.
The lower half of the west coast of America (San Fran, LA etc) is fine to travel all year round but Spring and Autumn carry the added perks of mild temperatures and less crowds. Further up the coast (Seattle, Portland) the Winters are bitterly cold and dark.
Similarly the East Coast has gorgeous weather in Spring and Autumn. New York/Boston and the rest of the North East have bitterly cold winters and hot and humid summers.
♥ South Pacific
The best time to visit most of the islands in the South Pacific is during the dry season, which is between May and October. Outside of these months you are looking at high humidity, tropical rain and the risk of cyclones.
♥ Hong Kong
Avoid Hong Kong during the summer, it’s hot and humid and STINKS. Plus the pollution seems even more oppressive. Oh and there are typhoons from September. I personally prefer travelling to Hong Kong in Winter – it’s not too cold and the air quality seems almost cleaner.
One country that I have always wanted to visit but have been put off by its vicious climate is Vietnam. It seems to be either in the grips of a summer monsoon or a winter monsoon, with freezing cold weather or sweltering heat.
If you have been to Vietnam, when did you travel? What was the weather like?
After sitting down and having a good think in response to the question “What are your 3 favourite cities in the whole world” I think I have settled on my top 3. I am sure as soon as I have posted this I will be madly apologising to Stockholm, Melbourne and Kyoto for neglecting them. But here we go:
I have visited Iceland on two occasions and have spent a lot of time in Reykjavik. Why do I love this tiny city of 120,000 people? I love the locals – so friendly, helpful and fiercely proud of their heritage and culture. I love the quirky shops lining the streets, the plethora of cool bars and the locals enthusiasm on weekends for the rúntur (pub crawl). I love walking along the harbour and watching the sunset at the Sun Voyager statue. I love that it no longer costs an arm and a leg to book a bed in a hostel anymore. I love that I can get on a bus and soon arrive at numerous breathtakingly beautiful natural wonders – the Blue Lagoon, Gullfoss, Jökulsárlón. I love the awkwardly cute puffins and the small, furry Icelandic ponies. I love that when I land in Iceland my heart swells and I feel HAPPY!
My first day in Tokyo I wasn’t sold. Maybe it was the jetlag but everything was too loud, fast and it smelt weird. Then on day 2 something just clicked and I fell head over heels for Tokyo. I love seeing the men in business suits picking up rubbish in the streets and shop owners frantically sweeping every morning (the place is so CLEAN for such a huge city). I love that despite the thousands of people swarming around stations and across crossings no one is rushing or rude. I love their respectful bowing and hearing “irasshaimase” every time I enter a store. I love their dedication and pride in their cuisine – I ate the most amazing food everyday. I love finding a shrine in the middle of the city and temporarily escaping the hustle and bustle. I love that you can buy sexy transvestite costumes in the local department store. I love that they have cat cafes.
♥ New York
Forget the Statue of Liberty and Times Square, there is so much more to this amazing city. I love the variety of amazing food this city has to offer (the bakeries, the pizza, the bagels). I love the plethora of amazing vintage stores (seriously, Sydney is terrible for vintage shopping!) I love retreating into Central Park for a relaxing afternoon picnic. I love the nightlife – rooftop parties, hidden bars, drinks in a beauty parlour. I love that a complete stranger will tell me I have lipstick on my teeth (New Yorkers are famously direct and forth coming!) I love the mind boggling amount of art exhibitions, events and theatre that is on every night.
And the overrated…
Rome is essentially a tourist city. Wherever I turned there were hawkers trying to see me their flashing Colosseum key rings, gypsies trying to relieve me of my spare change, overpriced restaurants or a tour group blocking my path. Don’t get me wrong – the ruins scattered about the city are truly amazing and well worth a visit (after you have queued for hours). But keep your visit to Rome to a few days – see the sights and then head off elsewhere – Tuscany, Milan, Florence, the Cinque Terre… so many places to take in the culture, food and wine without the tourist hustle and bustle.
Los Angeles is like a large, souless, cement suburb. Avoid the Hollywood area like the plague – not only are there unsavoury types hanging around but it’s dingy and the tourist-driven tackiness is a bit overwhelming. Whilst there are some great eating spots in LA I would much prefer to spend my time up the coast in San Francisco. The only reason you need to visit LA is for Disneyland (yep I’m a kid at heart).
Frankfurt, I have visited you twice and you bored the socks off me. In fact I got so bored by you I actually returned to my hotel in the early afternoon and watched TV (something I very rarely do when travelling). If you’re in Germany I strongly suggest you go north to Berlin for it’s rich and fascinating history, art scene and night life, or south to Munich for gorgeous architecture and Bavarian culture. Frankfurt is kinda like the boring cousin no one wants to hang out with.
What are your favourite cities? What let you down? Do you completely disagree with my overrated list? Let me know your thoughts and I may give those cities another chance :)
Wow, it’s hard to imagine that this time last year I was in Europe freezing my butt off and finally getting to experience a White Christmas! As an Australian, Christmas has always meant a stinking hot day with a BBQ and lots of salads followed by a swim and a nap. But I had always yearned for that quintessential white Christmas experience – snow covered buildings, mulled wine, and CHRISTMAS MARKETS!
First stop was Munich. The Christmas Markets in Munich are located in Marienplatz and run from Nov 25th – Dec 24th with opening hours of Monday – Saturday 10 a.m – 8.30 p.m and Sunday 10 a.m – 7.30 p.m.
The most famous Christmas market is the Christkindl market.
The Munich markets are breathtakingly beautiful with fairy lights lining the streets and illuminated Christmas trees and stars dotted around the marketplace.
The Rathaus (new Town Hall) looks even more beautiful lit up at night and serves as the perfect backdrop for these markets.
I LOVE gingerbread. Gingerbread stalls are everywhere, coming in different shapes and sizes. Happy Swah!
There are beautiful Christmas tree ornaments, photo frames and dolls for sale throughout the market place.
There are other smaller Christmas markets dotted around Munich, we stumbled upon this one whilst out sightseeing one day.
I LOVE YOU gingerbread. I demolished this in a day.
My next stop were the Prague Christmas markets. I was only going to walk by and briefly check them out but I actually enjoyed these markets even more than the famous Munich ones! The Prague markets are located at the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square and run from 26 November – 08 January. Their opening hours are Monday – Friday 9 a.m – 7 p.m and Saturday – Sunday 9 a.m – 8 p.m.
Gorgeous Christmas trees are lit up with fairy lights throughout the Prague markets.
Similarly to the Munich markets, Prague stalls sold a variety of crafts, sweets and mulled wine.
The Prague markets also serve a dessert called Trdlo. It is a cylindrical pastry that is rolled in sugar and almonds. It looked and smelled amazing but as I am allergic to almonds I only could stare and sniff. :(
Even walking back to my hotel there were Christmas decorations and lights everywhere! It was like a fairy tale.
In the day time the Christmas markets are still beautiful (and a lot less busy). What a great time I had experiencing my first White Christmas :)
When you are packing for a big overseas adventure, shoes are generally something packed last minute and given little thought. But I am sure a week into your trip when your feet are covered in blisters, your lower back is aching and you are scolding yourself for taking 7 pairs of shoes you will wish you had been more organised!
Now firstly, for the love of god – please don’t wear sneakers when travelling. If you want the equivalent of a large sign strapped to your head declaring “I am a tourist!” then by all means go ahead. But if you like to look somewhat fashion forward and try and blend in as a local when abroad, there are other (comfy) options.
♥ DON’T wear thongs – they are easy to trip over in, are slippery when wet and don’t protect your feet properly from nasty things (broken glass or worse). Similarly, ballet flats look great but most provide no cushioning or support for your feet and can lead to lower back pain.
♥ DO look for nice sandals that have proper arch support and a sole with stable grip. I love Ziera shoes (formerly known as Kumfs)- they are designed with comfort and support in mind and whilst they used to be a bit daggy, they have released a lot of nice looking designs.
2. Ziera Talon shoes
♥ Dressing up at night – strappy heels/wedges are perfect for warm nights. But only take ONE pair that goes with everything – something black and timeless works well.
♥ DON’T think you can get away with wearing just sneakers or low cut leather shoes. Not only will you freeze but your feet will get soaked through from snow.
♥ DO buy knee high boots preferably in leather (for quality, although I understand if you would prefer pleather for ethical reasons). As you’ll be wearing them everyday, select a simple style and colour that can work with all your outfits.
♥ DO ensure your new boots have a rubber sole to prevent slipping in the wet/on ice (if you find your dream pair of boots that have a leather sole, then go to your local cobbler and get them re-soled with rubber!)
♥ Dressing up at night – enclosed high heel brogues or heeled boots are the safest option. You’ll look sexy and won’t lose a toe to frostbite!
♥ Ankle boots, brogues, mary janes – mid season weather is the easiest in terms of shoe options! Make sure you always have a wet weather shoe option.
♥ Team your shoes with socks or cute hosiery if it gets a bit chilly.
♥ Always break in your shoes/boots before you leave for your trip! You don’t want to spend the first few days of your holiday covered in blisters.
♥ Waterproof your shoes with a waterproof spray before you leave.
Stay tuned for a post on what clothes to pack for the various seasons!
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