Category Archives: Australian customs

Celebrating Christmas in France – Great Resources To Help Plan Your Bike Trip to France – Wineries/les vignobles

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My Wednesday’s bloggers’ round-up this week starts with fellow Australian Kathy Stanford from Femmes Francophiles who’s been having a holiday from blogging but after a recent trip to France, she’s fortunately back on the job. So I’m starting with her authentic experience of Christmas in France with a French family. Next Maggie LaCoste from Experience France by Bike lists resources to plan a bike trip in France, including my beloved Loire Valley. Jill from Gigi’s French window, also Australian, compares cellar doors in France and Australia. Nothing could be more different! Enjoy!

Celebrating Christmas in France

by Kathy Stanford from Femmes Francophiles, an Australian who an ongoing passion for France and the French language just back in Australia from two months in France

christmas_femmes_francophilesMy love for La France is intrinsically linked with my passion for food. I have been extremely spoilt in staying with Valérie who is a generous and wonderful cook. In France the main meal at Christmas time is usually on Christmas Eve. Valérie’s son Grego offered to prepare this meal. Having lost weight for a film role he had been dreaming about an extra special Christmas Eve dinner. He devised the dishes, bought the ingredients and then he and Valérie worked as a team to create the dishes.

We started with champagne, foie gras on toast, radishes, carrot, foie gras and fig macarons from Pierre Hermé. I was rather sceptical about the foie gras and fig macarons as I have only ever known macarons as a sweet rather than something savoury. They however worked very well. I even bought some for New Year’s Eve. Read more

Great Resources To Help Plan Your Bike Trip to France

by Maggie LaCoste from Experience France by Bike, an American who loves biking anywhere in Europe, but especially France, which has the perfect combination of safe bike routes, great food, great weather and history

usseCyclotourism is getting to be big business in Europe, worth somewhere around 45+ billion Euros per year to the European economy.  This is great for you and me because countries like France, (and Germany, Austria and Switzerland) want our business.  Their improving their marketing efforts and they are rapidly stepping up efforts to provide better information on major routes.  Don’t get too excited, this doesn’t mean that you will have an easy time finding information on all major itineraries.  But it does mean that access to better information is improving, more of it’s offered in English, and the result is easier trip planning. To kick off the new year and bike trip planning season, let’s take a look at several major websites to see how they can help you decide where to go and where to bike. Read more

Wineries/les vignobles

by Jill from Gigi’s French Window, French ponderings from an Australian who must have been French in another life

lulu coco gigi 165This year I have decided to search out and enjoy all sorts of ‘french experiences’ right here in the land down under…

I made a start last weekend by  visiting a local winery…well it was an hours’ drive away, but I didn’t have to take a 2 day trip across the world!

But first some ‘pics’ to compare….

Last May, the ‘travelling bridesmaids’ and I went for a beautiful Sunday stroll along the tiny winding roads of Cassis,  southern  France.  We thought we would try a wine tasting, have know  how it goes….well the walk was fabulous, the scenery amazing…but none were open to the public!  It seems that tourism doesn’t come into play with french vineyards..(these ones anyway) .I think it must be all too serious a business for  that! Read more (and don’t forget to read the comments as well)

What am I really? Australian or French?

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If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I recently went on holidays to Australia and it was not always as I expected. In my monthly guest post for My French Life, the global community of French and francophiles connecting like-minded people in English & French, I ponder on where I really belong.

I lobbied alongside fellow expats from the Southern Cross Group a few years ago to have the Australian constitution changed so that Australian citizens living overseas could have dual nationality.

We were successful so I applied for French nationality. Now I can vote in French elections and I have a French ID. I can’t vote in Australia, though, because I have been ‘disenfranchised’ as I no longer reside in Australia.

When I travel to Australia, I use my Australian passport and when I return to France, I use my French passport. It’s like slipping into another skin. Read more

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Pokies and Casinos in France and Australia

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One of the things I noticed in Australia were the “Pokies” or poker machines. We ate on several occasions in surf lifesaving clubs and pubs that had whole rooms of one-arm bandits. In France the only place you’ll find a bandit manchot is in a casino which is strictly reserved for adults. And casinos are always in coastal towns or spas. There is a place called the Casino de Paris but it’s actually a music hall! There’s a chain of supermarkets called Casino as well.

Pokies at Coogee Beach Palace Hotel in Sydney

The closest casinos to Paris are in Enghien-les-bains and Forges-des-eaux, both of which are spa towns. Then there are the ones on the Norman coast such as Deauville and Cabourg. I’m not a gambler so I haven’t been to many casinos. I did go with a friend to the one in Cabours many years ago though. It was very chic and select and we stood around and watched people playing roulette and blackjack, like in the movies. I was taken to the casino in Townsville in North Queensland but it wasn’t quite the same.

During our family reunion, one of the women present was talking about her father who came to stay with her while looking for work. One day, she discovered that he was spending his share of the rent money at the bookies! Another woman said that her father had clocked up an enormous debt on his credit card before he died which is a bit like gambling on your life, isn’t it?

It made me think about why the Australians are such gamblers. I don’t know any other country where casket tickets (lottery tickets if you don’t come from Queensland) are so popular, for example. Even though they have a large selection in France, usually bought in a tobacconist, the following is much smaller. I might add that all French lottery and lotto tickets are sold by the government-owned Française des Jeux (FDJ).

Bar & tobacconist in Blois selling lottery tickets

And look at Melbourne Cup Day which must be one of the most celebrated horse races of all times. It seems odd to me now that in a Catholic school, betting was actually organised on that day and the nuns were just as excited about it as the pupils! When Black Cat was doing her student exchange in Brisbane, she joined the crowds at the Ekka races in Eagle Farm in Brisbane, dressed to the nines in one of her own creations.

So, what is my conclusion about gambling in Australia? It seems to me that the early settlers and subsequent immigrants were gambling their future by packing up and leaving to go Australia. They all hoped to strike it rich, and many did, but maybe the others had to find some way of achieving the riches they hadn’t found and gambling seemed the only way.

Black Cat dressed up for the Ekka races in Brisbane

We won a car when I was a child and you know what my father said ? “Oh dear, that’s a nuisance. It’s ruined my chances of winning the lottery”. And my father was not a mercenary man by any means. Casinos, pokies, casket tickets, the Melbourne Cup – what do you think about Aussies relation to gambling?

Breakfast in Australia

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One thing I’ve discovered this time is the Australian breakfast cult. I can’t remember when I lived here before (I left in 1975) that people went out for breakfast. I only remember morning and afternoon tea.The day of the Big Family Reunion was also my sister-in-law’s birthday so my brother thought breakfast would be a good idea. I looked up the Internet and found the Goldfish Bowl in Armidale which seemed to have a lot of good comments. Despite its popularity, we managed to seat 10 people.

The Goldfish Bowl Cafe in Armidale

Eggs Benedict with Hollandaise sauce and pancakes seemed to be the most popular choices at our table. The coffee and cappuccino were good and they even gave us plates for the birthday cake my brother had brought along, something totally unheard of in France. Another time in a café, a woman came in and said she had “a gluten issue” and asked if they could make toasted sandwiches with the bread she had brought with her. Not only did they do so, but they charged less!

Eggs Benedict at the Goldfish Bowl

The decor was very unusual at the Goldfish Bowl, with upturned packing cases providing extra seating. It was a very relaxed atmosphere and the service and food were good. A great way to start the day and celebrate a birthday.  I also loved the sign they put outside when it’s closed.

Sign outside the Goldfish Bowl

But our best experience so far is GGs at Coolangatta on the Gold Coast. The day my brother and family left to go back to Sydney after spending three lovely days with us, Leonardo suggested we join  him there after his workout. They had an even better choice of dishes including a “veggie” breakfast with poached eggs, spinach, feta cheese, avocado, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, mushrooms and toast which we both took.

GGs cafe at Kirra on the Gold Coast

Relationnel chose the traditional Big Brekkie (Australians love to shorten words), with poached eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, vegetable fritter and mushrooms. He also had the best coffee he’s had yet in Australia. I had a good cappuccino too. Australians will go a long way to get a good coffee. It’s something of a cult here and many people will stop off on their way to work to get a take-away coffee. That’s also something that has happened in recent time.

Veggie breakfast and Big Brekkie at GGs cafe

The Goldfish Bowl, 3/160 Rusden Street  Armidale NSW 2350, Australia (02) 6771 5533

GGs Café, 48 Musgrave Street, Kirra, Queensland 4225, Australia

Wine Tasting in Tassie

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Our four days in Sydney were spent catching up with family and friends, some of whom we hadn’t seen for 3 years, which was wonderful but exhausting particularly since we arrived a day later than I had expected which meant quite a bit of rescheduling. We left for Tasmania on Monday morning.

Flying out of the Sydney

The plane left about an hour late but we made up for some of the lost time between Melbourne and Launceston. It was rainy and cold when we arrived at our home exchange in Riverside. It has a wonderful view of the River Tamar which it was difficult to fully appreciate because of the weather.

Holy Trinity Anglican Church built in 1902

We drove into the city centre in our smart home exchange car with its built-in GPS. However, as I mentioned yesterday, we were amazed to discover that the shops are all closed by 5.30 pm. So much for food shopping. So we ate at Fish n’ Chips on Seaport Boulevard but thought it was very expensive and nothing out of the ordinary. The other restaurant was more upmarket. So a rather gloomy day in all.

View from just below our home exchange house in Riverside

When we woke up this morning the world had taken on a new light. It was sunny! We could appreciate the stunning view the start with. We went into town to have breakfast at Elaia Café where we sat outside and ate our bacon and eggs with great gusto (you can’t buy regular bacon in France). We parked in a side street with the prettiest little houses.

Elaia Café in Charles Street
Houses in a little street off Charles Street

Our next stop was a wine tasting at Vélo on West Tamar Highway. I had read about the vineyard in a magazine cutting sent by our friends in Canberra whom we went with on a wine tour to Young and Orange last time we were in Australia. Michael, the vineyard owner, is one of Australia’s leading cyclists, having participated in the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980 and competed in Tour de France and Giro d’Italia.

Wine tasting at Velo cellar door

During that time, he and his wife Mary lived in France and Italy where they fell in love with wine. About 10 years ago, they bought one of Tasmania’s oldest vineyards, planted in 1966 by Graham Wiltshire. They named their vineyard Vélo, which means bike in French. It was Mary who looked after us at their cellar door with its wonderful view of the Tamar Valley.

She was busy with other customers when we arrived so had the time to hear us speaking French. Relationnel was delighted when she said “bonjour”. Although a little hesitant at first, she was able to present the different whites we wanted to try and I just supplied the missing vocab from time to time. We began with a sauvignon blanc, followed by a riesling (as we’d mentioned oysters), a pinot gris and an unwooded chardonnay with a surprising lychee nose.

View from Velo’s cellar door, soon to add a café

We chose the well-structured riesling and the pinot gris, with its elegant mineral nose and long finish, both 2010. They were not cheap by our standards  at 25 dollars a piece, but then nothing is cheap for us at the moment now that the euro and dollar are practically on a par. They were our first experience of Tasmanian wines and we found them to be of excellent quality and very well-finished.

An excellent start to our first real day of holidays!

Feeling like a foreigner in my home country

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Each time I go back to Australia, I feel more like a foreigner and less like an Australian. Although I have dual nationality, I don’t really consider myself to be French, despite the fact that I have lived there 37 years. The trouble is, I still have my Australian accent so people expect me to know how things work and to act like one of the natives.

Coogee Beach, Sydney

I don’t know the coins to start with. Our one and two euro coins are more or less the same size but the two euro coin has two colours so is easy to distinguish. The two dollar coinn however, is much smaller than the one dollar piece.  Very confusing. I can still remember the pounds, shillings and pence which disappeared in 1966! And those dollars used to be much cheaper in the past as well. Now they are almost worth a euro!

The Just Those Café

I can’t always understand what people are saying either. The other day, I bought two wraps (a new word in itself) in a tiny terrace café in Redfern and was asked “justhose?” “I’m sorry I don’t understand”, I replied. “Do you want anything else ?” Oh, I realised, he must have said “just those ?” I wasn’t expecting him to say that.

The outdoor eating area at Brainy Pianist’s

When we were taking the train to Brainy Pianist’s the other day, we couldn’t get the train vending machines to work so we just stood back and watched the next person. It turned out we were putting the money in the wrong machine – we didn’t realise there were two different ones, one of which said EFTPOS, not that I know what that means. Which leads to another difficulty – they have all sorts of strange abbreviations these days.

View from Leonardo’s terrace

Would you believe that you don’t “go into town” any more but into the CBD or Central Business District. We just went into the Launceston CBD today and were stunned to find that all the shops were already closed at 5.30 pm (which explained why the parking metre was free – I initially thought it was just something else we didn’t understand. Only a news store (which didn’t have any more maps so was of no use whatsoever) and a pharmacy were open plus a couple of travel agents. We did see a Batman number plate on a Suburu though. How can you have a Batman number plate on a car?

Batman number plate

I guess it will gradually get better but I think it would be a whole lot easier if I didn’t sound like an Aussie !

Apple Crumble!!

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Hi! You may know about me a bit, I’m the Aussie son who lives in Sydney, nicknamed Leonardo in this blog. You may have read my recent interview with my Mum on what goes on under the streets of Paris!

I baked a very special apple crumble last week at work for my co-workers for whom I sometimes cook because there’s a kitchen at work (I’m French so I like cooking!) so I would like to share the recipe and photos of the process.
This is a very slightly modified version of my Mum’s original recipe. Two things make it stand out: less sugar (she taught me to put about half what people would usually put in), and oats to make it crisp and light. In France we use instant hot “Creme Anglaise” by Alsa as a topping which is sort of similar to custard except it’s ten times nicer. Here I couldn’t get some, so instead I used some vanilla ice cream. I recommend the “connoisseur” brand which is like Haagen-Dazs (same creamy dense texture) except half the price – but still twice as expensive as home brands. It’s totally worth it.

Let’s get to the recipe. The ingredients are, for 6-8 people:

  • 6-7 apples. Golden are great. Go for some kind of red apples if you can’t get some. Avoid Granny Smith and other acidic apples, they don’t work well
  • 1 cup of flour (250ml), preferably wholemeal
  • 1 cup of oats (250ml), the type you would use for porridge
  • 100+ grams of unsalted butter (half of a 250g package is fine)
  • 50-60 grams of sugar, brown

Step 1: peal and cut the apples in 3-4mm thick slices

Step 2: preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius (7)

Step 3: melt the butter. I went for the wok on low heat because it was the only recipient I had to mix it with the rest after, but otherwise you can just melt it in a bowl in the microwave, and mix in a large salad dish, it’s much faster.

Step 4: add the flour, oats & sugar to the butter and mix until it sticks together

Step 5: put on top of the apples

Step 6: Cook for 30 min at 200 degrees Celsius (7). It has to be a bit brown on the top. Check regularly during the last few minutes. It may take 25 or 35 minutes depending on your oven and the exact quantity. You want it to get darker but be careful not to burn it.

Step 7: Serve hot in bowls and add ice cream or “creme anglaise” or whatever you like on it. It’s also nice plain.

It worked out pretty well!


Sasha Baron Cohen


Freezing cold is relative!

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Place Stanislas, Nancy

As I’ve already mentioned, when a Queenslander says they’re freezing cold, it means that it’s 15°C at night and all the windows are open (can’t close the windows! gotta have fresh air, you know). When the French say it’s freezing, it actually is zero degrees outside. All the windows are closed and the heating’s up as high as it’ll go. It’s all very relative, isn’t it?

A couple of years ago in February, we decided to spend a week in Lorraine, best known for its quiches of course, but also the home of Nancy, one of France’s best examples of art nouveau.  We found an 18th century gîte to stay in about 15 minutes out of the city. It was a bit bigger than we needed (4 bedrooms) but it looked lovely from the photos.

When we got there, it had been snowing and it all looked very pretty. Inside, however, I immediately noticed the cold but sometimes it takes a day or so for a gîte to heat up, especially if no one has been in it for the last week or so. The bedroom layout upstairs was a bit strange – the only en-suite had two single beds, not exactly our idea of a romantic get-away.

The hoped-for warming-up never happened. The kitchen reached a steady 15°, the living room reached a ceiling of 19° and sometimes 20° when the fire was going full blast and we managed 17 or 18° in the en-suite bedroom where we ended up putting a double mattress on top of the two single beds so I wouldn’t have to freeze in the middle of the night going down two steps and across the unheated landing to the other bathroom.

Porte Héré, Nancy

But the coldest place in the house was the corridor between the kitchen and the living room. No matter how high we put the one radiator, it never went above 8°C. Now, 8°C indoors is cold by any standards. We later discovered that the corridor used to be a street running between two houses, one containing the present kitchen, downstairs bathroom and upstairs bedrooms and the other containing what are now the living room, dining room and entrance. It had been covered with a roof to join the two houses together but the question of heating had obviously not been taken into consideration.

Villa Majorelle, rue Louis

When I mentioned to the owner that guests should be warned about the lack of heat, she said huffily that it was the country, after all, what did I expect? Well, certainly not 8°C. We had another problem in the en-suite bathroom, where cold water started to drip directly over the toilet during the night. The owner’s husband came to have to a look then brought a plumber. It turned out that it was caused by condensation due to the fact that we were heating the bathroom (well, wouldn’t you?) when the rest of the upstairs floor was cold!

Rue Félix Faure

That did not however detract from the beauty of Nancy, starting with the very beautiful Place Stanislas, its old quarter with the 12th century Porte de la Craffe and 16th century ducal palace, its 18th century cathedral, its turn-of-the-century Basilica inspired by Sacré Coeur in Montmartre,  and all the lovely art nouveau buildings in the Quartier Saint-Léon, especially Villa Majorelle. The Musée de l’Ecole de Nancy is one of the few museums dedicated to a school of art and is a definite must.

Musée de l’École de Nancy, 36-38, rue du Sergent Blandan, 54000 Nancy, Wednesday to Sunday 10 am to 6 pm
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An Aussie in France on My French Life

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Corner of the Théâtre Royal

I’m delighted to have joined the My French Life team of contributing authors, photographers, interviewers and talented people who live all around the world.

My French Life /Ma Vie Française – online magazine & global community of French & francophiles – Connect, Share, Inspire, Aspire, Learn…

Local  Events/Réunions monthly in Paris & soon elsewhere   –  7 every month in Ville de Melbourne, Australia

Click here for my introductory post.

“Maybe it was the Latin mass that started it all. I loved chanting away in a language that wasn’t my own even if I didn’t know what I was saying. So when I started to learn French at high school, I was delighted. And it all fitted together so well, just like a puzzle. I actually liked learning verb tenses and vocabulary. I even talked to my dog in French! We had a TV programme at school about a family of four that lived on a barge on a French canal. From Townsville suburbia, it looked like paradise”. Read more

Washing Machines I Have Known

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I grew up in North Queensland with one of those enormous top loading agitator washing machines that could wash huge loads in record time. We had a drip dry cycle which meant that the machine stopped after the last rinse and you could remove whatever you wanted, such as a drip-dry shirt, drain it on the draining board over the huge aluminium sink next to the machine, put it on a hanger and then hang it up under the house (our house was on stilts), dripping water over the concrete floor and yourself in the process. All of which was of no importance because the water had disappeared within an hour. You didn’t even get your shoes wet because you were bare foot anyway.

This is not my mother! Photo credits : see link below



When we went on holidays to the Island, we stayed in Kooyang Flats which had a laundry down the back with a wringer machine. My sister and I were coopted into helping Mum with the washing. We loved turning the wringer and it was really quite a game, provided it didn’t last too long. Except for Mum of course. She must have hated it! Back breaking work for the woman who actually had to wash clothes for six people when she was on holiday, knowing that her huge agitator machine was sitting idle at home.

As I told you in a recent post, my experience with washing machines when I moved to France was somewhat different. Initially, I just used a laundromat. Speed Queens are used worldwide I’ve discovered. My first machine was a front loader tumble machine and I’ve never had anything else. It was in the kitchen though. I was horrified the first time I saw a washing machine next to someone’s fridge. There’s no real reason it shouldn’t be there, but it seemed strange. There are three basic reasons for this: practically no one in an apartment has a laundry room, the bathroom’s usually too small and you need a water connection.

I always made sure I washed the clothes when Leonardo was awake because he used to sit mesmerised in front of the machine the whole time. We didn’t have a TV then. He’s always been mechanically minded. I like to think that I was partly responsible for that. If you’ve ever used one of those machines in France, you’ve probably wondered why the cycles are so long. My normal 40° cycle is 1 hour 17 minutes (my current machine has an electronic display) and the 60° cycle is 2 hours 15 minutes. Well, the reason is very simple even though it took me ages to discover it. They are all connected to a cold water supply so they have to  heat up the water which obviously takes time.

When my parents used come to my place on holidays in the winter (I was living in a house in the suburbs of Paris at that time with a sort of back veranda next to the kitchen that had very handy lines that I used during the summer months), they would insist on drip drying their clothes. The only thing they didn’t seem to be able to quite comprehend was that, number one, it was cold outside which meant that it would take days for the clothes to dry, and number two, the dripping water didn’t magically disappear the way it did in North Queensland. I didn’t have any drip-dry clothes myself.

But there are other types of washing machines in France that I have experienced when on holidays in the country. They are top-loading tumble machines. Inside, there is a drum that revolves clockwise from the back to the front of the machine which means that the drum has to be tightly closed or the clothes will fall out. It comes with a unique opening/closing system where you have to match up some catches that are not easy to identify, then press on a not-always-obvious button. Of course few people really know how to manoeuvre the closing system and the opening has to be in the right place for you to do so. When the machine stops, the opening is usually at the bottom of the machine. Then as you take the clothes out, you can be absolutely sure that a baby sock will slip down the side of the drum, unbeknown to you, and cause the mechanism to seize up next time the machine is used. This is not necessarily your baby sock of course. You may just happen to be the next guest. For a long time, these machines were incomprehensibly the most popular in France. They still are to a certain extent because you can get ones that are 40 cm wide instead of the usual 60, a big boon in small bathrooms and kitchens. N’est-ce pas Leonardo?

Kooyang Holiday Units, 13 Hayles Avenue, Arcadia, Qld 4819, 07 4778 5570
Photo credit (not my mother!):

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