New blog with my new husband!

June 26, 2012

Hello,

I’m not posting on my Carmen the Aussie website as much anymore, as I have started a new travel and food blog with my husband, Dave.

You can check it out here: www.double-barrelledtravel.com

We hope to grow the website so that it’s even more successful than Carmen the Aussie.

Thank you for reading my blog over the past few years, I’ve really enjoyed writing it.

Carmen x

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For Lizzie

May 14, 2012

Infectious smile, sparkling eyes

Making so many laugh, time after time

Witty humour, much to say

Who could imagine you’d be gone today

In one small second a life can change

I hope you didn’t feel any pain

Full of life and then it’s gone

Leaving so many behind to mourn

Because everyone loved you, that they did

You touched so many with the life you lived

Of you I never heard a bad word spoken

And now so many hearts are broken

Thinking about what you’ll miss

So many nights out, the boys to kiss

One day you would’ve walked down the aisle

And raised children who’d have had your smile

So as we live on but you’re gone

The guilt can make us feel so torn

But Lizzie would’ve wanted us to live

As she would’ve, with love to give

And not wanted us to waste a single day

To make the most of it in every way

And till that day we meet again

I hope you know we love you, friend

Weekend in Vienna

April 22, 2012

Our friends recently got married in Vienna so we flew over to the Austrian capital to spend the weekend there. We managed to cram in a lot of activities around the wedding, and the day itself was a beautiful affair. Many international guests were present and it was the first time I’d been to a celebration which was carried out in three different languages – English, German and Turkish!

The service was next to a pavilion in a park in the centre of the city and then the reception was at a top class restaurant called Vestibül which I would highly recommend.

Gourmet food at the wedding

On the night we arrived we had dinner at a traditional Austrian restaurant called Stadt-Heurigen. Set over three floors it feels as though you are in a deep warren of wine cellars yet the fairy lights twinkling everywhere give it a glamorous touch.

We had typical Viennese food which consisted of pork schnitzel and a delicious potato salad that I was quickly hooked on. It’s served cold but with a yummy dressing consisting of mustard and vinegar.

Traditional fare at an old style cafe

The odd thing was that people still smoke in restaurants in Austria, even 10 metres underground, which took a little getting used to!

The following day and the morning of the wedding, we strolled around the Museum Quarter and ate breakfast in one of the museum’s cafe. I had a Mexican breakfast whilst my husband had museli with yoghurt and our friends had pancakes.

The rest of the day went off without a hitch and it was an intimate wedding with 30 guests who seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves.

On our final day, thankfully our hangovers weren’t throbbing too badly, we went further out of the centre of Vienna to visit the Schönbrunn Palace. Set in landscaped gardens which included a labyrinth, fountains and monuments, the palace was built in the mid-1500s and features nearly 1,450 rooms.

The maze at the palace

Unfortunately only about 40 of these are open to the public but strolling through them gave you a good insight into the lives of the super rich back then. One of the queens who lived there had hair down to her ankles – imagine living in time with hair like that and no shampoo!

In the afternoon we went back into the city centre and visited St Stephen’s cathedral and its catacombs. Many priests were buried under the cathedral, as well as members of the royal family. During the plague back in the 1700s the cemeteries in the city were over crowded so they created a mass grave in the bowels of the church. More than 11,000 bodies were thrown in there and you can view their skeletons as you walk around the cobbled underground vaults. Eerie.

Wanting to lighten the mood (my husband had since left to catch an earlier flight) I went to one of the most famous restaurants in Vienna with my new found friends, Sophia and Joe, who were also part of the wedding party.

We chose Figlmüller as a place to dine, which had been running for more than a hundred years and had a queue leading out onto the street which is always a good sign.

The food didn’t disappoint. I tried something new and had boiled beef, whilst Joe had homemade Viennese gnocci and Sophia had a schnitzel that was bigger than her plate! It was all washed down with wine that comes from the owner’s vineyard. The restaurant doesn’t serve beer which was a little un-Austrian, I thought!

Delicious food!

To finish off my delightful weekend away, we went to a wine festival which was located outside the city’s stunning gothic-looking city hall. There were plenty of stalls which served Austrian wine in proper glasses (unheard of at Australian festivals) and had people dancing on the tables by 3pm! The event featured more traditional food, unusual stalls such as the shop selling products made from mares’ milk (!) and Austrian dancing with the performers dressed up in traditional costume.

(To view a video of the dancing, click here)

It was a great way to finish off my 48 hours in the city and I would recommend putting Vienna into your itinerary the next time you plan a European holiday.

Untouched Puglia – a little slice of Italian heaven

September 25, 2011

Growing up, the Italians living in my hometown always said that Perth weather was very similar to the Italian Mediterranean climate. I never really believed them and after travelling to Milan and Tuscany I still couldn’t see the similarities.

Then I went to Puglia. Located in the heel of the Italian boot, the region borders the Adriatic Sea and therefore is south enough to have agreeable temperatures all year round.

Similar to the Aussie bush but with ancient stone instead of billabongs

Puglia has a diverse history, being ruled by Ancient Greece, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Normans in various points in time. Visiting the town of Ostuni, this history can be seen in the architecture. The white washed walls remind me of Greece yet strong Roman influences can also be seen in the pillars and arches that surround the town square.

White-washed walls are reminiscent of Greek architecture

Of course, none of this reminded me of Australia, but the environment sure did. The nearby beach was very clean for European standards
and virtually deserted which made a change from the usual ritual of fighting for a space to lay your towel.

Deserted beach on the Puglia coast

The food is inspired by the region and the seafood was the freshest I’ve tasted since moving from Australia to London nearly three years ago.

Straight out of the sea

We stayed in a villa called Impisi. Built by a British couple, they embraced their natural surroundings, constructing the guest rooms out of ancient limestone rock found on the property. Both artists, the pair have decorated the grounds with sculptures and mosaics; whilst making sure the design remained true to the area’s interesting history.

A sculpture within the villa's garden

Sitting on the roof terrace of our villa, you could see Ostuni in the south and the ocean in the north. The garden is dotted with olive trees and cacti, plants that grow in abundance in the Swan Valley region of Western Australia – the similarities were apparent.

Plants that need little water are suited to the hot climes

The villa’s pool seems as though it has been carved out of the natural limestone in the ground, giving the effect of a rock pool that you might find at the beach rather than a manmade swimming hole in the middle of an olive grove.

The view of the pool from our room

A very relaxing trip in inspiring surroundings, I’m surprised I managed to do what I came to do – write! Stay posted for my Italian short story.

As for Puglia – I can’t wait to go back!

'Impisi' Villa

To check out how the villa was built, watch this episode of Grand Designs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6VPZKlDTaM

Trying to make sense of the senseless violence

August 11, 2011

Over the past few days, many people have tried to analyse why the riots started. Many have said that they ‘understand’, even if they do not condone, the way young people in the UK are behaving because they are so ‘detached’ from society.

These thugs (and they seem to be aged between 10-20) are on a rampage smashing up shops, burning down homes and in the tragic event that unfolded last night, killing people in cold bold.

Some argue it is because of the government spending cuts to youth services, because many of these children need help and attention which has supposedly declined since David Cameron was voted in to head up the country.

Government spending cuts have not yet been put in place though, and statistics show British expenditure this year is actually up when compared to the same time frame in 2010.

I believe that instead of the government not giving these youths enough, they have given them too much. These children, most from the poorer end of society, have often been brought up in troubled homes, living on council estates and not having good role models in their lives. The British benefit system is so vast that many do not see the need to work – why bother when you can get given a house for free and an income for nothing?

The younger you are and the more children you have also increases your chance of getting up the free-housing ladder. If you’re an unemployed single mother, your prospects are greater still and it won’t be long before you’ll be getting benefits for your children, your rent paid for, exempt from paying taxes – such as council tax – and even enjoying free dentistry.

Looking at it this way, it is easy to see why many have jumped on the free-ride train.

Unfortunately, getting something for free doesn’t bring many people joy. How can you have appreciation for something if you haven’t worked hard to earn it? How can you feel a sense of purpose when you feel you have nothing to lose or anything to gain?

To say that these people are struggling to get work is a myth too. When I arrived in the UK, excited and disillusioned about the amazing journalism job I believed I would find within two months, it was disheartening when it took two years. Arriving in the middle of the recession meant I had to work in a call centre, become a shoe shiner, and work as a waitress in a diner – basically every scummy job you could think of aside from selling my body.

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t awful and that I didn’t feel like packing up and going home. But I stuck at it and things slowly improved. What this does prove is that even when the UK was in its worst economic state it had seen for decades, during the recession of 2008-2009, jobs were still to be found. They’re always hiring at McDonalds as they say!

When I finally got some money in the door, I even managed a holiday on my minimal budget. But it was the best holiday I’ve ever had because I felt I’d earned it.

As these youths loot stores and steal their neighbours’ goods – many of which are small business owners who will lose their livelihoods as the items are stripped from their shelves – I can’t help but get the feeling that these thugs feel they deserve it.

The government has given them so much already – why not take a little more?

London’s looted as police tell us to stay indoors

August 8, 2011

Tonight as I write this, London is under siege. I can hear helicopters humming above my terrace flat and police sirens wailing.

Damage is widespread throughout Brixton

I’ve just returned from Brixton where the streets were eerily quiet. I was the only one heading on the bus into the area and cop riot vans raced past me, looking for where the incidents are.

Not a soul on the bus

The problem is – the riots are everywhere. What started in north London, from the shooting of one man (whether innocent or not is still unknown for certain) in Tottenham, has now spread to the south, Croydon. Along the way riots have started. The violence is everywhere now – from Hackney to Deptford; Oxford Circus to Islington. Police are warning us on the news that we should stay indoors.

When I got into Brixton, police were scattered out the front of shops that had been looted. There was little activity going on but the atmosphere was unlike anything I have ever experienced. The few people I passed were skittish, unsure whether they should be there.

Looters smashed into this phone store

I saw a woman, about my age, walking quickly past me carrying a bin bag, speaking on the phone in a panicked voice. It was only after a moment I realised she had a backpack and a big handbag in tow too. Shortly after, a man ran across the road dragging two suitcases, casting nervous glances over his shoulder. Then I realised – people were fleeing with their belongings.

Topshop and Morleys boarded up

I walked down the street and saw Topshop boarded up in an attempt to stop hooligans breaking in. Other shops weren’t so lucky. Across the road H&M had had its windows smashed, mannequins lying on the floor, arms broken and flung to the opposite sides of the shop. Dresses had been ripped from the hangers and clothes’ racks pushed over.

H&M

H&M

The Footlocker had been burnt, all three floors, and the alarm was repeatedly sounding. Although the fire was out, the area was still cordoned off as smashed glass scattered the footpath. Three policemen stood out the front, guarding it from further looting. I met some residents who were worried about the people who lived above the shop.

Mobile phone shop

McDonalds

Electronics store

I was surprised to see a mother, her two kids alongside her, racing excitedly up the street screaming into her phone about what was going on.

The mood was dark and few people were coming out of the tube station. As I headed back on the bus – the 109 that leads to Croydon, which is ablaze at this moment – I couldn’t help but notice the four men who got on behind me. I say ‘men’ but really they were probably only about 16. They seemed twitchy and were talking amongst themselves in low voices about getting to Croydon. I couldn’t help but feel that London is being over run by youths, who are no more than this age.

 

Riot van

As the tension builds tonight, the same question keeps arising on all the news channels – ‘How did we let the young people in this
country get to this point?’

Does Australia have a class system?

February 26, 2011

I saw the King’s Speech last weekend. What a movie! It really made me proud to be an Aussie. Only an Aussie would insist on calling a king by his pet name – Bertie!

In the film (for all of you who haven’t seen it) the speech therapist, Lionel Logue, insists the king and treat him as an equal, forgetting the class system which was prevalent in those days. It made me think about the class system in Australia, or lack of it.

One of my favourite things about Australia is that you could be a tradesman or a doctor and yet you can still mix in the same crowds. No one would look down on you if you earned more than the other person and it’s hard to define exactly what middle class is.

In England it’s very different. One of the first questions someone will ask you when you meet is what you do for a living and then put you in a box according to your answer. Well that’s what I’ve found anyway.

There’s a major class system. Just look at the supermarkets! The middle class and the rich shop at Waitrose and Marks and Spencers and the rest of us use the cheaper supermarkets.

It’s bizarre.

In the UK your class can also be determined by the kind of accent you have. The middle class have a ‘proper’ English accent whilst other classes might speak with an Essex accent or a south London accent. It’s weird. You go to different parts of the city and people speak differently. That’s something you don’t really get in Australian cities.

Maybe it’s because Australian history comes from the convicts, where we all spoke the lingo of the poor English, banished to Australia for our crimes. Even the rich who moved to our land were forced to adapt to harsh conditions, living in remote towns and often farming the land for their food. It didn’t matter how much money you had, the country was new and so you had to adapt. There were no roads to use a horse and carriage on and you could forget about those beautiful gowns if you were a rich girl.

Maybe Australia is changing. The class thing is probably becoming more obvious – I’m not sure? However, with the mining culture that we have, especially in WA, many can strike it rich if they’re willing to take on a fly-in-fly-out job. So who gives a crap about class? You can be a bogan and live in a mansion, and to me that’s what being an Australian is all about. Not having to worry about being ‘proper’ or what your status in society is – you can just be yourself.

Brixton’s Duck Egg Cafe

February 13, 2011

When my parents lived in London back in the late 70s, early 80s, Brixton was a place to be avoided. It was rough and dangerous and the Brixton riots didn’t help it much.

A lot has changed since then and Brixton is now quite a creative area, with a good music scene and great bars and restaurants.

Recently, feeling very hung over following birthday celebrations, my friends and I went to The Duck Egg Cafe which is situated on Coldharbour Lane just off the high street.

Friends Corrin and Rosie tucking in

I first stumbled across The Duck Egg Cafe by accident. I was actually looking for Rosie’s Cafe, because a friend of mine had her cookbook, Spooning with Rosie, and she told me to check it out. Unfortunately mum and I couldn’t find it, so we ended up going to The Duck Egg Cafe instead.

A good choice.

Yum!

 

All the produce is fresh and most of it is sourced locally, either from the Brixton markets or farms outside of London.

You can choose whether you’d like duck eggs or chicken eggs with your breakfast, but I would advise to go with the duck eggs. They are HUGE and the yolk is unlike that of a chicken egg, it is almost fluro yellow in colour.

The setting is like a posh greasy spoons and very small, with only about eight tables. You may have to wait for a table but it’s often not for long and you can get a coffee at the counter while you do. Trust me, it’ll be worth the wait.

I ordered the breakfast with the smoked salmon and hash brown. Delicious. The coffee is very good too and they do freshly-squeezed juices – I highly recommend it!

Chez Bruce

February 5, 2011

London is often slated for its cuisine but over the past few years it has gained increased interest for unique dishes created by celebrity chefs.

Take Heston Blumenthal for instance. His show (Heston’s Feasts) is pretty out there but it’s amazing to see what kind of unique twist expert chefs can put on simple dishes.

We decided to venture out recently and experience some of the Michelin starred restaurants which the best London chefs work at. I do want to try Heston’s new restaurant, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal which has just opened and will feature dishes from centuries ago that have had an experienced a modern Blumenthal touch, but until we taste his delicacies we are satisfying ourselves with a few restaurants owned by Bruce Poole.

The first one we ventured to was Chez Bruce in Wandsworth Common. I went with my mum whilst she was visiting in London.

 

The menu is surprisingly well-priced, which is great. You pay about £30 a head for three courses, depending on what time of the week you go and for the food you get this is great value. The wine list is extremely extensive and a sommelier is on hand to help you pick what topple will go best with your meal.

For my starter, I had the fish cakes with poached egg. It melted in my mouth and was delicious.

Fish cake

Following this, I ate the braised pork and a bok choi inspired dish which came with a samosa. It was cooked to my tastes, although the meat was perhaps a tad on the fatty side.

Pork with bok choi

For my dessert I had a crème brulee which was one of the best I’ve ever tasted. I love crème brulees and this one was baked exactly how they should be – very thin yet large in size. It was as big as my hand! Divine.

Creme brulee - as big as my hand!

My fiancé had the frois gras with brioche, followed by the lamb and then the champagne jelly for dessert. He enjoyed the first two courses but was a little disappointed by the third as he said it was rather bland.

Fois gras

Lamb

Champagne jelly

 

My mum had the risotto with truffles, the salmon and the chocolate cake. Her selection was great, especially the risotto which was lovely and rich and full of smouldering flavours that danced on the palette.

Risotto

 

The service at the restaurant was good. I hate it when waiters come up to you 100 times, asking whether your meal is nice, whether you’re enjoying it and so on. I like to be left alone. At the same time, I like them to be attentive in friendly. When your glass needs topping up they should be able to spot it and fill it straight away before you even notice.

Chez Bruce’s service was precisely like this, which I commend them for. The decor however was rather bland and unexciting with strange pieces of abstract art dotted around the place.

The bill came to £200 but we had two bottles of wine between the three of us, which was a pinot noir from New Zealand that complemented a vast range of our dishes well.

Next time I will blog about Chez Bruce’s sister restaurant, The Glasshouse, which we also enjoyed recently.

Ben Southall – a traveller’s inspiration!

February 2, 2011

My friend Natasha and me with Ben Southall

Met an inspiring traveller on the weekend – Ben Southall. Heard of him? He won Tourism Queensland’s ‘Best Job in the World’ competition a couple of years back.

I watched him speak at the Adventure Travel Show in London and afterwards my travel-writing friend managed to entice him to have coffee with us.

He really is an inspirational bloke.

Not many people know this, but before he landed the best job in the world, he travelled through Africa on his own, climbing the continent’s six highest mountains and participating in six marathons, raising £25,000 for charity.

He documented all of his travels on his blog and no doubt it was one of the reasons why he landed the Queensland gig.

Ben still lives in Australia today and at the moment he’s organising a canoeing trip, retracing Captain Cook’s journey from when the explorer landed on Aussie shores for the first time.

He’s taking a crew with him, including film experts who are going to make a Google ‘streetmap’ of the ocean’s reef and its fish – how cool is that?

All the while, he is promoting the protection of the reef and creating awareness about global warming and its effects.

I’d love a job like his and he gave me some valuable tips for documenting my future travel adventures. Perhaps one day I could have the pleasure of sitting on a beach, laptop on my knees, writing about the dolphin dive I just went on, all whilst being paid?

One can dream!