Holiday in Western Australia

It is self evident that I am an advocate of traveling. Having spent over half a year within the borders of Victoria (although there is heaps to see in the state alone), I figured that it would be nice to get around to see Australia a bit more, and most of all take a selfie with the world’s happiest animal, the quokka, who inhabits Rottnest Island just outside of Perth in Western Australia. Not too bad way of spending Christmas!

Quokkas having a sneaky snack.
Quokkas having a sneaky snack.

During my one week long getaway to Western Australia I learned that one should not travel during holiday season, if it is any way possible to be avoided. Somehow I did not think it would be that different, but as it turns out, rental car prices were triple to normal, and the accommodation availability everywhere south of Perth was non-existent. As one could imagine, having to pay extra for things and having a bit of a struggle to organise things doesn’t allow you to relax as you should on holidays. Therefore, from now on if I travel on holiday periods (which is very likely), I will try to book as much as possible in advance, and try not to move around as much. I shall embrace the fact that everything is closed on Christmas Day, and prepare myself to eating only nuts and crackers for a day.

Sunset at the Pinnacles
Sunset at the Pinnacles

The magnificent stone formations in Nambung National Park just a few hours drive North from Perth are rather magical for sunset, sunrise, full moon and any time it is not packed with tourists (go late or early and get the park for yourself!). These limestones that now poke out in the sandy desert were once seashells in the water, which were broken into sand and blown inland, forming oddly dunes. Since the 1960s, these rocks attract over 250 thousand tourists a year. The pinnacles are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by ghostly small towns, but if you want to get them at their best, you should sacrifice one night for the trip. On the way to the pinnacles from Perth, Yanchep National Park makes a good pit stop.

Fremantle, or Freo, looks quite like New Orleans.
Fremantle, or Freo, looks quite like New Orleans.

I fell in love with the relaxed seaside small town atmosphere of Fremantle, just twenty minutes outside of Perth. The architecture is beautiful, there are loads of restaurants and small shops, and the weekend market is lovely. When visiting Freo, I would recommend eating seafood at Kailas fish and chips, right by the pier. And of course Rottnest island and aforementioned quokkas are a must!

Like being on a tropical island
Rottnest, like a tropical island
Busselton jetty at dawm, when the tourists are gone and the fishermen are enjoying the peace and quiet.
Busselton jetty at dawm, when the tourists are gone and the fishermen are enjoying the peace and quiet.

When going south of Perth, there are plenty of small towns, beaches, and all kinds of (mostly marine life) activities along the way to Margaret River, the promised land of wine, local delicacies and products. Busselton, with the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere (whoa!), is a nice town to stop and take a stroll 2kms out to the sea and maybe a sneaky plunge in to the water, too.

A jetty so long it has a train.
A jetty so long it has a train.

Margaret River is rather nice, if you like wineries, beaches and such (who doesn’t?), but during the holiday season it is crammed and the atmosphere is very touristic. On another occasion it might show a completely different side, but for now I can say that I am glad I went, and I was glad to be back in Melbourne.

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Specialities

Japan is known for its’ peculiarities. Here are some of my encounters during the Christmas season. I have earlier mentioned the Japanese love for (Christmas) cakes and maybe their sweet breads as well, but it’s hard to believe until you see for yourself.

 

I can only imagine the flavor
I can only imagine the flavor of these elves

Christmas trees, elves, houses, snowmen and basically everything else can be formed as pan, which is the Japanese equivalent to bread, which is nothing like what we call bread in Finland. If you buy bread in Japan thinking it is the same stuff you get back home, you’ll be in for a surprise. You never know if there’s spaghetti, curry, sausages or cream inside the fluffy pillowy dough.

Japanese version of a gingerbread house
Japanese version of gingerbread houses

After a while, it is not so weird to see the different characters made of food: the beloved animation character Anpanman has a nose made of pancake, and the super popular bean-paste filled dorayaki pancake gets its’ name from another anime character, Doraemon! The Japanese do love their sweets. And they are big on seasonal treats and specialities.

Individual packing is more a norm than exception
Individual packing is more a norm than exception

After Christmas, no snowmen can be found outside the sale boxes, since now it’s the time for snake everything – this is the year of the snake, so decorations in food and everything else are of course matching the theme. I even found special shop dedicated only for snake year stuff!

 

Special limited edition Pepsi White, oh I am so lucky!
Special limited edition Pepsi White, oh I am so lucky!

Example of the speciality craze: Pepsi co. launched a special seasonal drink, Pepsi white, to be sold only during this season. This mikan (mandarine) flavored drink is/was available in 6 different snowman style for a limited time – gotta catch ’em all, eh? I had a sip, and that was it for me. Drinking something that was a) pepsi, therefore carbonated but b) white and c) mandarine flavored was just messing with my brain a bit too much. I do feel special now, and less disappointed for missing the summer’s Salty Watermelon Pepsi! I wonder what’s next, both on the beverage field as well as in the “bread” section.

PS: I have discovered the Japanese fondness of KitKat chocolate bars. In Finland, we only have the basic version, but after doing some research, I found quite many different kinds during my trip. So, maybe I will get into the chocolate bar craze later on. I also have interesting omiyage (souvenir) package pictures and texts to share.

“Little by little you will be filled with happiness when relaxing with these delicious sweets.” Who could say no to those Cheese cookies from Yufuin?

Kurisumasu Japanese way

My New year’s celebrations resembled the Finnish Christmas since I spent days indoors, surrounded with family and eating heaps of special foods almost non-stop. The real Christmas in Tokyo was rather unlike what I am used to, but it was definitely interesting, too!

The essence of Christmas: Fried chicken (combini style) and a santa suit, only thing missing is the strawberry cake!
The essence of Christmas: Fried chicken (combini style) and a santa suit, only thing missing is the strawberry cake!

 

The Japanese have adapted some parts of Christmas that suit their taste: the holiday is just like any other day, except for the fact that Christmas cakes are aplenty, restaurants are filled with couples or groups of friends, and the Christmas jingles are everywhere.

Jolly Santa with no presents
Jolly Santa with no presents

It was a bit last-minute, but I ended up spending my Christmas eating the most fabulous and abundant buffet possible (thank you Intercontinental Hotel), with live music and the most wonderful company possible: my father. I was sleeping in a nice hotel, in a Western bed with a real pillow for the first time in months. What a better way to spend the most important holiday of the year! On Christmas Day we went for a walk in Yoyogi koen, watched the crowds sitting in the sunshine in Harajuku, got lost trying to find our way to Roppongi Hills, and had a terrific dinner in an izakaya (6 days for dad in Japan without eating sushi, it was about time to have some on the last night!).

Since there has been enough food porn on the blog lately(and surely there will be plenty more to come), I will not post pictures about the Christmas feasts. I am not sure if your imagination will do justice to the delicacies, but oh well. I do have pictures of other things than food, too!

Blending in with the locals
Blending in with the locals

My dad traveled from Thailand to meet me, so his presents from Finland  had suffered a bit on the road and in the heat and moist climate. I can say that before I could have never imagined eating this, not to say enjoy it, but different sorts of salmiakki candy mushed and melted together, blended with scrapes of the paper bag they were packed in, served from a shower cap was rather enjoyable. I finished the whole kilo, and licked my fingers afterwards. This is what I call patriotism!

My goodie bag for Christmas, with an unconventional presentation
My goodie bag for Christmas, with an unconventional presentation

 

Traditional oshougatsu and osechi ryori

Back in Beppu, I now can only dream of the holiday season which was filled with good company and cooking exiting foods that have a long history and each represent something important. This year was my first new years’ eve to miss fireworks and it was all in all quite unlike any other; in a good way to say the least. In addition to eating toshikoshi (New Year’s) soba and other treats at midnight, I added a small Finnish twist to the holiday: sparkling wine at the turn of the year.

Cozy way to welcome the New year
Cozy way to welcome the New year

The traditional Japanese way to spend the New Year includes going to a shrine, but since it was cold and I was tired from all the cooking, we decided to watch the New Years’ show on tv. Good decision! I also missed the first sunrise of the year, which is another popular tradition. On the first few days of the year, millions of Japanese pilgrimage to temples to wish luck for the new year.

Jubako filled with home-made onishime, traditional osechi ryori
Jubako filled with home-made onishime, traditional osechi ryori

After getting lost in the super market with all the last-minute osechi grocery shoppers, we started cooking for some of the various Japanese osechi ryori. In our table, there was for example the pictured nishime to represent good foresight, and many other dishes for other purposes.

Sashimi and various osechi ryori in the jubakos
Sashimi and various osechi ryori in the jubakos

Kuromame (simmered black beans) to work hard; “mame mame shiku hataraku”
Kazunoko (salted and marinated herring roe) for fertility
Kuri kinton (mashed sweet potatoes with chestnuts), the golden color of which is a wish for wealth and good fortune
Tai (sea bream) to bring luck due to its’ name, which resembles medetai: auspicious and joyous
Kamaboko (fish paste cakes) also ward off evil, and cleanse the spirit
Tazukuri (tiny crunchy fish) for abundant harvest

We also had a version of the ozoni soup, which varies from region to region.
I was in charge of making few dozen not so traditional harumaki (Vietnamese fresh spring rolls), which turned out quite well! For dinner we had oden made from scratch, which was definitely better and healthier than any oden I can imagine: in stead of the deep fried fish paste, the stars of this dish were daikon radish, shirataki noodles, fresh tako (octopus) and boiled eggs, among other less-processed ingredients.

Oden, onishime and buri shabu shabu
Oden, onishime and other “left overs”

In a way, this holiday resembles Finnish way f celebrating Christmas: it’s all about family and food. This food was thousand times better, though! I was constantly told that I could be Japanese, which for a foodie like me is of course a big compliment. After eating this well for a week, it might be a “slight” shock to come back to the dorm life…

More travel treats to come, there are loads!

Kurisumasu

Prima ballerina
Prima ballerina

Christmas in Japan is not a big deal in the same sense it is in Europe. Of course you can hear the jingles and buy all the very necessary decorations, cards, cookies and chocolates here as well, but the way of spending the holiday is completely different.

Christmas market in Vienna, Austria (2011)
Christmas market in Vienna, Austria (2011)

Christmas markets are abundant all over Europe, and though it’s mostly unnecessary knick knacks and foods they sell, the spirit is indescribable!

In Finland, Christmas is by far my most favorite holiday. It is a time for family, candles, good smells, over eating and staying indoors. Basically what New Year’s is to the Japanese. My first Christmas time away from home has not felt like Christmas at all: being in the mountain isolated from all the commercial stuff has probably been a good thing for me. After Christmas, I will let you know how it went – so far I know that there are things I really miss from Christmas, but also some that I can perfectly do without. I guess the most important thing about the holidays is the company, no matter where you are. But the spirit can easily be lifted with few familiar things!

Satsumas (mikan) and chocolate: essentials for Christmas
Satsumas (mikan) and chocolate: essentials for Christmas

I will let you know how my Japanese Christmas went, after returning from where ever I spend it!

Merii kurisumasu minasan!