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Bye Bye Amsterdam: One final nostalgic post…

25 Jan

So our time on exchange has come to an end, and sadly I think most of us have flown back to all our respective homes around the world by now. For me, that’s Sydney, where I’ve spent the last few days with the fams, eating copious amounts of my granddads cooking, and soaking in the Sydney Sun at the beach. But despite the glorious weather, and as soppy as it sounds, I can’t help but reminisce about all the fantastic times we’ve all had in the past six months in the Dam, usually accompanied by great food, great wine (or the dodgy Albert heijn variety), and great conversation (or the dodgy drunken variety). Here are a few moments, things and foods I’ll miss the most:  

Dinners out in the Dam

Some of the best memories of Amsterdam are of dinners out in the town- usually for birthdays, farewells, or just any excuse to eat out. Favourites included Ethiopian food out at Overtoom, Bazar out at Albert Cuyp, Pinsa’s Italian near the shipping containers (for delicious, amazing value pizza), Gauchos Argentinian Steakhouse (Argentinian steakhouses are everywhere in the Dam. We’re pretty sure said steaks aren’t from South America, although the ones we had at Gauchos got the thumbs up from two argentinians, so we’ll let it slide!); and of course, the “De 2 Grieken” around the corner.

 

Argentinian Grill at Gauchos

Ethiopian at Overtoom

Pinsa’s Italian pizza

The Greek restaurant around the corner

Albert Heijn

The most famous supermarket chain/ personality in the Netherlands. (Seriously, I couldn’t tell you the name of the current Dutch prime minister, but Albert and his blue and white logo I know) Thank you AH for the 3 euro wines, pre-made salads, Euroshopper, and Ben and Jerrys. Thanks for teaching us the majority of our Dutch vocabulary from the labels on your supermarket aisles. And thanks for being on every street corner when we needed you.

 

International dinner parties in the lounge

The Prinsengracht lounge was often host to many international dinner parties from all over. There was Kelly’s “All American” breakfast downstairs, David’s South African tea party (which I unfortunately I missed, although I did manage to sample this delicious deep fried doughey dessert called a “koeksister” which I shall be fervently trying to track down in Sydney), American thanksgiving, a Chinese Steamboat party, and Italian Pasta dinners…

Kelly cooks pancakes for the American brekky

South African “koeksisters”

The Dutch stuff

 Sadly, I have to admit that I never once in the last six months ate at a “Dutch” restaurant. (In my defence, I don’t think many Dutch people do either) But, there are an assortment of dutch specialties which I’ll sorely miss- apple pies from Winkel,  Snert (dutch pea soup), herring (more for the novelty factor than the taste), Chocomel, pannekoeken (Dutch Pancakes- especially from “Pancakes Amsterdam”), croquettes, bitteballen and of course, my all time favourite- stroopwafels.

Pancakes at Pancakes Amsterdam

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and I’ll sorely miss all the fantastic friends and foodie moments we’ve shared. However, I will take consolation in three fantastic things I’ve learnt in the past few days: Coles Supermarket stocks stroopwafels in the foreign foods section; there is a place out in Smithfield, NSW called “Holland house” which  serves all manner of dutch delicacies…and apparently in the last six months, Ben and Jerrys has finally made its way to Sydney shores (god bless globalisation).

“Holland house”, out at Smithfield, Sydney

So I guess this is our final goodbye to Amsterdam, and the most amazing six months ever.. And to everyone else-Totes Ziens (for now) , farewell and most importantly, Bon appétit!!

Firecrackers, felafels and other favourite food moments in Berlin

6 Jan
So to say our adieus to 2010 last year , Xin and I decided to bus down from Amsterdam to Berlin to spend time with our two lovely mates Mich and Janet, who are currently studying there on exchange (as well as many uni students from back home who happened to be floating around Europe at the time.)
First things first- New Years in Berlin is crazy. To our joy, fire crackers are legal here, so on NYE, everyone, young and old, rushes outside onto the streets with their stash in tow and lets loose their inner pyromaniacs. It’s like a cross between a street party and a warzone, with crackers shooting left right and centre, the city skyline ablaze, and the odd damaged ear drum /pedestrian… but definitely one of the most memorable new years we’ve had in a while!

 

Of course as always, we ate very well too…Admittedly, very little German food was had (unless you count Haribo gummy lollies and Jaegermeister, which I think I shall), but much of our diet consisted of delicious burgers, kebabs and other fantastic hangover cures which Mich and Janet discovered during their stay here… Here are a few favourites 🙂 :

 1.      Mustafa’s (the best kebabs in Berlin)

 Just near the exit to Meringdahm station, right at the top stairs, is a small, unassuming kiosk called “Mustafa’s” which, you may not guess it, has THE best kebabs in Berlin. Now, in a city where there is a doner kebab store on almost every street corner, this is a pretty big call.

 

Luckily it was freezing that day so we didn’t have to wait long, but in summer the lines apparently wind all the way around the block and then some, and a half hour wait is not abnormal.  After one bite, you can understand why. The chicken kebab is packed to the brim with char grilled vegetables, fresh salad, onions, crumbled fetta and assortment of sauces (German’s a bit rusty so not sure which exactly …we just nodded enthusiastically and said “ja”) but the winning element has to be the paprika flavoured chicken with spices and veges cooked into the meat.

 

Janet and kebab

And all for under 3 euros. So so good.  

 2.      Burgers at Room 77

 This is a nice little bar in Kreuzberg with cozy lounges and live music at times, but the star of the show is definitely the burgers- big, fat juicy affairs with a generous sides of home baked wedges, ketchup and sour cream.

 There’s a whole selection- mushroom/cheese, bacon/cheese, guacamole,…but particularly notable mentions are the “Plus Plus” which Xin had (Beef patty, lettuce, tomato, bacon, egg, ketchup …and interestingly, peanut butter), and the intimidatingly named “Triple bypass burger” (essentially a triple cheeseburger with three grilled patties and three cheese slices). No one was game enough to attack the triple bypass, although Chris did slam down the double…

The "double bypass" burger

 It also wins the award for the most unhelpful, but somewhat amusing, holiday door sign, which read something along the lines of: “On Christmas day, sometimes we are open sometimes we are not. If we’re open, the kitchen may or may not be closed…”

 3.      King of Felafel, Kreuzberg

 I have a theory that the best, most authentic places to eat in any town are usually cheap, crowded and slightly dodgy looking (eg Mustafas ), and this one ticks all the boxes. This hole-in-the-wall in Kreuzberg is, according to Mich and Janet, the go to place for felafels in this city.

 Manned by a somewhat hardened looking, headscarf wearing, but wonderful Eastern European lady, these felafels are prepared fresh from scratch with much tender loving care. Janet, Xin and I opted for a juicy felafel and haloumi wrap, and Chris for the “manly man’s breakfast” of a felafel plate- topped with two fat felafel balls, salad, olives, mushrooms, chickpeas, grilled capsicums, slices of hot, fried haloumi and a generous serving of hommus, salsa and yoghurt sauce on the side- which he surprisingly inhaled pretty quick smart.  The complimentary cups of hot Turkish tea- sweet honey drinks with hints of herbs and rosemary- were also a perfect antidote to the cold!

 

 

Chris’s manly breakfast (with 13 ingredients)

4.      Monsieur Vuong

I’ve mentioned this place before in a previous post, but since we made a second visit and it’s pretty much an institution, here it is again. The ambience is great, as is the Vietnamese food. Admittedly, I did have the Chicken Pho noodle this time, which wasn’t the best I’ve had (I live in Sydney where I’m spoilt with good pho everywhere!), but the shrimp spring rolls (which taste like they’ve been coated in prawn crackers), crispy beef wantons and chicken salad/glass noodles are top notch.

  5.      Home cooked Christmas dinner

Nothing beats a hearty home cooked meal on Christmas day, and with most of our families soaking up the sun and a good 24 our plane ride away, it was great to celebrate our first White Christmas in Europe with awesome friends and food. After a frantic rush to the local Turkish supermarket on Christmas Eve, Janet, Xin and Mich whipped up a yummy feast of hearty beef and red wine stew, couscous and beetroot and fetta salad….finished with home-made glu-wein and carrot cake for dessert (We modified the recipe a little bit- a shot of jaegermeister makes a surprisingly good substitute for vanilla essence!)

Xin in baking mode

 

 Chris and I , the self proclaimed “children” of this family (largely because of our inability to do things like laundry and cook complex meals)  helped out respectively by playing DJ for the chefs and making origami Christmas decorations for our home made Christmas tree.

Here is the picture of the tree, made out of branches collected off the street, candy canes, and Michelle’s old law notes 🙂

 

“Fatties in the snow”- our glorious food tour of Paris, Copenhagen, Berlin and Prague

19 Dec

 A high school science teacher once told us that people require more calories in the cold in order to heat our bodies.  Lately, I have translated this to- “It’s snowing! Quick, eat everything!!” (granted, the number of bratwursts consumed over the past month are probably enough to provide heating for a small family, but that’s a minor detail)

Anyway, Elisa, Steph and I did a little European adventure recently, and since it has been mighty cold, we thought it would be a perfect chance to warm up by, well, eating everything in sight. Here are some highlights:

 … Paris

  I was with my mum and brother for this leg, and we happily decided to consume as many croissants, crepes and hot chocolates as we could stomach in 2 days. Yummy things we had included:

    -Breakfast croissant and hot chocolate from a “boulangerie” (that’s the snazzy french word for “patisserie”)

    -ham and cheese crepe from a street stand for lunch

   – Traditional French dinner at “Comme a Savonnieres” restaurant  in St Germain (mains included delicious veal, duck, steak with blue cheese sauce and fish stew, with snails for entree)

 ..ANd of course, the main attraction,  Angelina’s tea room on Rue da Rivoli. Decked out in marble and fine furnishings, this place is absolutely GORGEOUS inside, and has been frequented by the likes of Coco Chanel, Proust, and Parisian aristocrats over the past century.

 More importantly, it is widely toted as having THE Best hot chocolates in Paris. The famous “L’Africain”, served on a silver platter with a jug of rich cream on the side, is the richest, thickest and most delicious thing you will ever taste. Top that off with a slice of the delicious mille feuille (a scrumptiousvanilla slice with layers of custard cream and crispy thin  pastry), and the signature “Mont Blanc” dessert (a meringue, creamy thing topped with noodles of sweet chestnut paste), and you are on your way to sweet, sugary heaven.

The amazing hot chocolate

Mont blanc

desserts 🙂

 
 

more desserts...

 

….Copenhagen

 Compared to Paris, Copenhagen was a little disappointing on the food front, largely because eating out will cost you an arm and a leg. Seriously, I’m talking 8 Aussie dollars for a small cup of hot chocolate! (It was cold. I was desperate). In any case we did manage to score some yummy carnival eats at the Tivoli gardens- this amazing Christmas themed amusement park/ winter wonderland full of rides, illuminated trees and castles and chinese pergodas (as well as delicious churros and hot dog stands)  

Churros with ice cream

Tivoli gardens at night

…  Berlin   

One of the best things for a foodie to do in Germany is a visit to the Christmas markets, and luckily for us, Berlin is the capital of German Christmas markets. Our market tour took us to the main one at Alexanderplatz, as well as the slightly swankier (and in my opinion, better) christmas market Gendarmenmarkt. (You have to pay 1 euro entry, but you more than make up for it with all the amazing free samples) Delicious things we sampled included:  

  • Bratwurst and currywurst (many times over)
  • Delicious Melted cheese scooped out of a warmed cheese wheel and spread across fresh slices of bread
  • Langos  (deep fried dough topped with tomatoes, sour cream and cheese. Also known as a heart attack on a plate)
  • Berlin chocolates   
  • Candied nuts  
  • Juicy Pork sandwiches 
  • And of course, Gluhwein!!! (mulled wine)

 

pork sandwiches

 

langos

Berlin chocolates (and free sample plate)

The other great thing about Berlin? Cheap, good asian food. In fact, cheap everything. Elisa, Steph and I were all shocked and ecstatic to find decent sushi for under 5 euro (impossible to find in Amsterdam!)

On the recommendation of some friends, we also ate ate a fantastic and reasonably pricedVietnamese-fusion restaurant – Monsieur Vuong, – where we feasted on delicious spring rolls, vermicelli/chicken noodles and pho. Supposedly the best Vietnamese in Berlin!

Delicious shrimp spring rolls at Monsieur Vuong

…Prague

Prague is an absolutely stunning- especially in the snow. Quaint colourful houses, cobble stoned streets, snow capped rooves… the whole city looks like it’s straight out of a fairy tale. The Christmas markets at Old Town square are equally lovely. I am too lazy to describe just how lovely, but here are some pics:

hams on a spit (or the biggest shish kebab you've ever seen)

more hot dogs in prague

  All in all, a very fun trip! And ,as planned, I think we’ve all successfully managed to put on an extra layer of fat to insulate us through the cold European winter!

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Other handy travel tips

  • For the best macaroons in Paris, I am told that Pierre Herme  in St Germain cannot be beat (Although La Duree on the Champs Elysee is meant to be up there as well!). My friend Kristen brought back some to Amsterdam when she was visiting (in flavours like creme brulee, grean tea and passionfruit/dark chocolate), and they were ridiculously amazing.  
  • If you cannot afford a walking tour, but are  keen to learn a bit about Czech culture, a good tip is to hang around important looking buildings and eavesdrop whenever an English speaking tour group walks by. You can do this by pretending to take photos of nearby things. Chances are they’ll never spot you!
  • A word of warning- J walking is illegal in Berlin, and enforced. Quite bizarrely, in Berlin, one can urinate, fornicate, or run around naked in public, but walking across the street when the little red man is flashing could land you with an 80 euro fine!

Cheungs visit Amsterdam: sexmuseum, windmills and the best apple pies in town

12 Dec

So, my mum and brother (and my friend from Paris, Kristen) were in town the other weekend, and as I now consider myself somewhat of a semi-local, I put it on myself to provide a fully fledged food/ sightseeing tour of Amsterdam for the occasion.

 As many exchange kids will know, having parents visit is a fantastic thing- not only because you love them and miss them dearly, but because of the happy certainty that for a few glorious days, you will be able to eat to your hearts content without  having to worry about whether you can afford next month’s rent. It’s also a fantastic excuse to do all those embarrassing touristy things you never got around to doing in your first week- eg the windmills/ clog making factory in Zaanse Schans, or the Amsterdam Sex museum. 

 ( Incidently, taking your mother to the Sexmuseum is not as mortifying an experience as one might think. In fact, it can be rather entertaining, like the moment when your mum turns to you, while observing a collection of 1800s black and white pornographic photographs, and says in hushed Chinese: “Jen, these girls aren’t very pretty at all are they?” )

 Our visit to Zaanse Schans was equally entertaining, because it just so happened that the day we went, the town had been transformed into a sort of “black pete” wonderland in the lead up to Dutch Christmas. Upon entering, we saw about fifty dutch people in full black pete attire,  my favourite being one particularly fetching fellow who had fashioned himself as “Elvis Black pete”, complete with black quiff, sunnies, and a red silky ruffle top.

 

            (Black Petes hand out peppernoten to the children, and the hungry Australians)

 Elvis Black Pete

As it turns out, the local kids were graduating from “Pieten academy” that day after completing their “Pieten” training. Here is a picture of Kristen with the “Pieten diploma” she received from SintaKlaas (actually I think it belonged to a little boy called Sven Van de Heugel or something who had carelessly left it behind, but same same)

 

Anyway, back to food. In my opinion, a food tour of Amsterdam really isn’t complete without the holy trifecta– stroopwafels, Mannekin pis French fries, and apple pies from Winkel.

 Winkel is a café located at Noodermarket which, I have it on firm authority, has THE best apple pies in Amsterdam. I have been there several times, none of which have disappointed. Here are some pics:

mum and apple pie

 These pies are just, in a word, awesome- big fresh chunks of juicy apple (none of that artificial syrupy filler nonsense), encased in a warm, crumbly, cinammony-sweet crust, and served with a generous dollop of whipped cream.  

 In fact, so good are these pies, that if you come on a market day (Saturday or Monday), this is all they serve. The place is essentially transformed into a pie making factory, with one guy popping whole pie after pie out of the oven, another lining about ten of them up on the counter factory line style, a third taking orders and making coffees. Word of warning, on market days, the place is kind of pandemonium. The place is usually packed and you could find yourself waiting a good twenty minutes for a seat.  But believe me, it’s worth it!

To date, the only real challenge for the spot of “Best dutch Apple pie”  is from my friend Evelein, who claims that her home-baked ones are better than Winkel. Big claim my friend, to which I say that the only resolution is a good old fashioned Iron Chef style cook-off.  I for one, am more than happy to taste and judge!

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Winkel

Noordermarkt 43, 1015NA Amsterdam
Tel: 0206230223   |   Web: http://www.winkel43.nl

Good Greek food in Amsterdam- “De 2 Grieken”

27 Nov

I love Greek food. All kinds. Octopus, stuffed tomatoes, feta, grills, baklava, dodgy 2 euro pita gyros from a souvlaki stand in Ios (often followed by a  dodgy 2 euro nutella crepe from the stand next door )…the works.

So I was very happy when my greek friend, Maro, informed us that there was an awesome Greek place just around the corner from our building- “De 2 grieken” (or “The 2 Greeks”, I think). I feel I have a special bond with Maro because we have a shared love of Greek food, and a shared love of Greek Pop star/2nd runner up in the Eurovision Song Contest 2004, Sakis Rouvas. Maro was stunned to find that anyone outside Greece knew who he was, to which I replied it may have had something to do with his dark hair, piercing green eyes, and chiselled abs….

Where was I? Oh right, food. Anyway, my point is that if a Greek person recommends this place, you know it’s gonna be good.

And indeed it was. De 2 Grieken is a cute little family run bistro, with maps of Greece, ouzo bottles and for some reason, porcelein cats adorning the walls….They also serve, hearty, value-laden Greek meals.

If you are indecsive like me, in a group, or keen to try an assortment of nibblies, I would definitely recommend getting on of the starter plates. Fresh olives, fetta (Which Maro tells me is from a special part of Greece, I forget the name or where it’s from, but my it’s tasty), tomatoes, meatballs in gravy, spinach and cheese deep fried triangle thingies, and an array of fres bread and dips like hummus, tzatziki and babaganoush. This is the plate:

And this is the aftermath:

In hindsight, inhaling the appetizers above was probably not the best idea, cos the main meals were equally HUGE, but equally delicious. Delicious things that we ordered include:

– Grilled lamb chops with yoghurt sauce (divine)

– Prawns and warmed fetta in a steaming tomatoey stew (also divine)

– Moussaka (a big cheesy eggplant lasagna with bechamel sauce)

– – A mixed grill plate with an assortment of yummy barbecued meats (good if you’re hungry and indecisive about which meat to order) ; and

– Stewed lamb in a red wine sauce ( This is what I ordered, and I must admit, not as great as it sounds. I think i was kinda expecting a super tender piece of lamb where the meat falls straight off the bone, but this was really ordinary lamb slices with gravy. Still yummy, but not as authentic as I hoped it to be).

AS you can see, all meats are served with a side of rice, salad, and in true Dutch style, potato wedges. ( the last bit seems a bit of an anomoly to me. THey do it in “Chinese restaurants”here too, where your sweet and sour pork comes with a side of fries. A tasty anomoly don’t get me wrong, but strange no less)

IF you still have space in your stomachs after mains, (or if you dont, but like me will never pass up an opportunity to eat dessert), I’d definitely try the baklava and ice cream (and whipped cream and chocolate sauce) . Baklava is a delicious greek dessert with layers of filo pastry and crushed pistachio nuts, drizzled with a delicious sweet honey like syrup- its delish.

To top it all off, the service at this place is great. THis might have had something to do with the fact that we were accompanied by a Greek person, and the owners are fiercely patriotic. (eg one asked me, WHere are you from? ME: Australia. Him: Oh Australia, it’s nice, but Greece is better!)

Overall, I’d definitely recommend a visit to this place- good food, good atmosphere, and good value. Definitely deserving of an “Opa”!

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Contact:

Prinsenstraat 20, Amsterdam
020 – 625 53 17.

I want to move to paris because…

26 Nov

Of the dessert.

My friend Kristen, who’s studying in Paris at the moment (and has now become my French foodie correspondent i ve decided), sent me some mouthwatering pics of things she has scoured across the pattiseries of Paris….

Now, The fact that these pics were mouthwatering really does not surprise me at all. I have known for quite some time that French pastry chefs are amongst the most pedantic and dedicated professionals in the world.

For instance, my friend, Vanessa, used to work at the Paris Cake shop in Bondi beach (which in my opinion is still the best thing on her resume), run by a French patry chef named James, who would wake up at 4 am each morning to bake his desserts fresh from scratch and create his little morsels of edible art. Any leftovers at the end of the day were discarded, or taken home by employees ( much to the happiness of Vanessa and our high school friends, who would always conveniently materialise at her place for tea the next day whenever this happened).

 Recently, I also read an article about how French McDonalds had started serving macaroons on the menu, causing an uproar amongst French pastry chefs across the country at the fact that there beloved meringey dessert had been commodified by corporate America. I am sure James was similarly aghast. (In my opinion, they looked pretty good!)

      McMacaroons at McCafe

Anyway, without further ado, I present to you an assortment of Parisian desserts that will undoubtedly make your mouth water. Also known as pure, unadulterated food porn for your viewing pleasure.

Enjoy 🙂

10 other things I loved about London

24 Nov

1. Topshop , Oxford st.

After Harrods food Hall, Topshop comes in a close second for heaven. Let me warn you- this ain’t no ordinary Topshop store. The 3 storey one on Oxford st is more like a shopping mall compressed, or a mini airport. It has not only mountains of lovely clothes, shoes and makeup, but also a cafe, cupcake store and hair salon downstairs. So big and bewildering is this place, that there is even an information desk on the lower floor, where I actually had to for directions to the check out counter. As it turns out, the check out counter  was set up like a little bank- with 12 tellers at their own little stations and a little flashing electronic sign above indicating which teller is free. Marvellous.

Oh another word of advice about Topshop- set yourself a spending budget. Then prepare to blow it by double.

2. The Tube   

I love riding the Tube. Not only is it quick, and a great way to escape the cold,  ít’s super fun. It’s like playing a  game, Snakes and Ladders meets monopoly in fact, where the objective is to find the quickest route from A (Leicester Square) to B (Bond st)  along the maze of colourful squiggly lines. Incidently,  the tube map has absolutely no geographical correlation to what’s above ground. After taking a particularly long and convoluted route, best refrain from patting yourself on the back, as you may find that you have in fact emerged only two blocks down from where you started!  

 The station names are also fun and hilariously British-  “Chalk farm”, “Forest Hill” , “Golders Green”. The kind of names that make you think you will emerge from the station to find cottages and woodlands and possibly hobbits, only to be brought firmly back to reality by the sight of red double decker bus screeching across a busy, rainslicked intersection.

(Golders Green does not look like this in reality)

3. Intermittent bits of sunshine

On Friday, the sun came out. This is a rare thing for the Brits (and the Dutch I might add), and it was glorious. The birds were chirping, families were about, children were  laughing…I half expected Brits to randomly take their tops off in their delirium and start sunbaking on the streets. 

On Saturday, it rained.

4. Things that should be free and were  

On our first day, we had lunch at a sushi train ( which I have missed sorely in Amsterdam), and were pleasantly surprised to to discover two things.  Free table water..And free toilet access. My golly.

For those of you outside the Dam, there is a weird thing here (and in other parts of Europe) where restaurants refuse to serve you  free table water (only bottled). I m told it has something to do with hygiene, but really the pipes here are fine and I think restaurants here are just stingy. You will also be hard pressed to find a place which lets you use the bathroom without a 50c fee!

Speaking of toilets, the bathrooms at Harrods were amazing. Not only are they free, but on the back of the cubicle doors were lovely gold embossed signs with instructions on how to flush, turn on the tap, and exit the bathroom. I am not sure if Harrods was  trying to be helpful here, or simply doesn’t think too much of the intelligence of its customers.

5. Squirrels

These were everywhere, and so so cute. I’m told they’re pests, but they’re oh so adorable!  (beats the funnel web spiders and cockroaches we have back in Oz)

6 British hospitality

We encountered some lovely Brits. IN fact, after we got off the train on our first day, a delightful Londoner asked us in a lovely accent whether we were lost and needed directions. We did. 

 In hindsight, this might have had less to do with the  kindness of strangers, and more to do with the fact that I tend to  walk around with a permanent  expression of lost confusion on my face, which only escalates when I travel to new countries.

7. British accents

As the great Australian comedian Adam Hills once said, “An Aussie accent is what happens when british got lazy in the dry australian heat” (or something like that, but funnier): “Jeffrey look at this new country, it’s rather pleasant don’t you think? Tad warm though, scorchin’ actually… streeuth it’s bloody boooilin you got a VB mate? ”.

Also great to be able to hear familiar Brit/aussie slang words like “cheers, mate and wanker”…or say these without people looking at you funny.

8. British cable TV

It’s hilarious. We had planned to go out one night, but flicked our remote to BBC3 and were hooked. On offer that night was a fantastic reality show about a gay couple planning their wedding (One of the grooms was partial to cabaret, drag queen performances and shiny polyester suits…the other not so much), a singing TV contest where 5 tone-deaf, middle aged women get makeovers and sing on stage in top- to- toe sequins, and an ad for Neighbours.

For non Aussies, Neighbours is an Australian show which has been running for over 20 years, and a place where many famous Aussies like Kylie Minogue got their “big break”. I know hardly any Australians who actually watch it, but it has a bizzare cult following overseas which consists of the entire of the United Kingdom.

Kylie on Neighbours in the 80s, pre plastic surgery (and  pre stylist it seems)   

9. Discount Theatre tickets at West End.

Catching a show at West End is something I would highly recommend. We saw “We Will Rock You”  (the Queen Musical) at the Dominion theatre on Friday night for a mere 27 pounds. It was brilliant! Friends who know me will know that I will jump at any opportunity to start an impromptu Bohemian Rhapsody singalong (be this in a karaoke booth, the back of a car, or the back of a rickety sing tao taxi through the jungles of Thailand), so being part of one in a crowd of 1000 strong was pretty damn awesome. 🙂

(Me at West end)

10. Potter mania

Harry Potter opened this weekend in London, and it was huge. ON Saturday night, theatres were booked out everywhere…and at Wimbledon theatre  where we saw it, each of the 12 cinemas inside were screening the movie at regular 30 minute intervals.  The other cool thing about watching Harry Potter in London is little moments like these:

Harry: Where are we Hermione?  (Me: (to Steph) That looks like where we went last night!)

Hermione: Shaftsbury Avenue.. ( Me: It WAS where we were last night!)

Hermione: My parents used to bring me to a theatre here as a child ( Me: We went to that Theatre! I wonder if they saw We will Rock you?)

Anyway, if you haven’t seen Harry Potter yet, please do. Stat. Now, I’m an ardent fan of the books, and have never in my life recommended any of the movies to anyone (because really they don’t compare to the books do they? ), but even I must admit that the 7th one was, as the Brits would say,   “bloody brilliant”. I was hooked the whole way through, and I swear I  did not ONCE cringe at Hermione’s  acting.

Can’t wait till next July!