Winter in Europe

Liechtenstein palaceAs the weather turns colder, its time to celebrate the best things Winter has to offer….roaring fires, frosty mornings, weekend trips to see snow with the kids and Santa…..say, what?! Well, perhaps not in the southern hemisphere, but the Europeans know the perfect recipe for celebrating a white Christmas! Take a Winter wonderland, add fairy lights, mulled wine, romantic towns with fascinating histories, a dusting of snow, Christmas markets and of course….Christmas shopping! A river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest covers four countries and is a magical, dreamy holiday that also grounds you with history. Not only will you float down a river of Christmas cheer, but you’ll also touch 1000 year old books in the Melk library, stand where Hitler delivered his rousing speech in Nuremberg, peddle your E-bike through quaint towns, learn how to bake German biscuits, escape into the music of Strauss and Mozart at a private concert in Palais Liechtenstein, soak in Thermal baths and attend Christmas Mass.

Christmas MarketChristmas markets, also known as Christkindlmarkt, originated in Germany in pre-Roman times.
They were born out of necessity as it was the only way to stock up on food and other essentials before everything shut for those days over Christmas. Nowadays, with our 24/7 lives and the availability of supermarkets and online food deliveries, the Christmas markets are more focused on the beauty around this special time of the year – entertainment, mulled wine, decorations, Christmas biscuits and celebrating the four weeks of Advent.

Thurn and Taxis Christmas marketChristmas markets have spread all across Europe and draw millions of visitors each December. Each country has its own unique style of Market and many have different themes. There’s the Angel Market in Cologne, the Nautical Market, the Gay and Lesbian Market…. in fact every market is different, every day is different and every experience will fascinate you. Even non-shoppers will be swept up in the magical lights, the cinnamon smells and the warmth radiating from the locals.

There is plenty of variety to this trip. It isn’t all shopping and glass hand-blown decorations. In Amsterdam, we mixed a dangerous combination of jet lag with ice skating. The result was hilarious and luckily we skated away unscathed. At your peril! If you prefer a more sedate afternoon, marvel at the art on display at The Rijksmuseum. You could easily spend an entire day here, and still want more.

Lipizzaner stallions in ViennaVienna:
“If you want Vienna to enjoy Vienna, just open your eyes”. As soon as you step one foot into this city, you will be amazed at its beauty. Breathtaking buildings and a sense of history looms down at you. Vienna is also famous for its animals, and in particular The Lippizaner Stallions. To witness the precision of these beautiful horses as they “dance” in perfect unison is awe inspiring.

A behind-the-scenes tour takes you through the tack room (where the individualised saddles are kept in immaculate order) and you can visit the horses in their stables. When they’re not “working”, like us, they want to relax and have some fun. They were so cheeky – trying to bite my jumper, nibble my fingers and push me around! I must admit, I left a little of my heart in Vienna….

Melk abbeyBack on the ship and rounding a bend in the Danube, we saw the beautiful Melk Abbey, an 18th Century Baroque masterpiece that dominates the landscape by towering over the Wachau Valley. This UNESCO World Heritage site is unforgettable both for its size and its grandeur. Inside, the Melk Abbey is famous for its library that houses 1000 year old books…which you are allowed to borrow, can you believe?!

Melk libraryIt impossible for a city like Nuremberg to escape the history of the Nazis. It was here, in 1927, that Hitler, gave his famous speech at the Nuremberg rally and the city was also the site of the Nuremberg trials. Most of the city was destroyed by Allied bombers but was rebuilt using original material, so has a truly Bavarian feel. A place where you can choose to immerse yourself in history, or enjoy a stroll through the Imperial Castle with its manicured gardens.

Salzburg is uplifting – perhaps it’s the mountains, perhaps it’s the buildings or perhaps it’s Julie Christie. Yes, Salzburg was the location for filming “The Sound of Music”. A guide can show you all the famous locations where the cast sang, danced, kissed their first Nazi boyfriend and finally escaped over the mountains. In a logistical twist of fate, the path the cast headed down (in reality) would have led them straight into the Nazis! But it was the most picturesque route, so that was what they filmed!

Taking the waters in BudapestThe best way to see Budapest is by arriving at night. The Hungarian Parliament is (appropriately) lit up like a Christmas Tree and as its situated on the banks of the Danube, its a picturesque first encounter with this intriguing city. I have fond memories of being rugged up against the Winter chill, drinking mulled wine, laughing and soaking in the lights.

For a totally different experience, “take the waters” in the 125 thermal springs of Budapest . A soak in these naturally heated pools will ease any tension, hangover and may even improve your Chess skills (if you’re brave enough to challenge a Hungarian to Chess, that is!)

 

What to pack:
Warm, comfortable clothes! You’ll need all your layers to tackle a European Winter – thermals, thick socks, beanies, and a great coat that can handle cold winds and snow.

I took gumboots which was perfect for the cobblestone streets. Admittedly, it wasn’t ideal wearing them on the plane as I couldn’t jam another item into my case, but once you unpack on your cruise ship, life is easy!

As with any trip, you’ll need a few cocktail dresses for the Palace events, concerts and degustation dinners. Make it a stretchy dress and really indulge!

Take touch screen gloves. Lets be honest, most photos are taken on our phones so why get cold fingers while you snap away?

When I travel, and even at home, I always carry a collapsible water bottle. Then I can refill it every morning and I’m set for the day, without the guilt of adding to landfill.

You don’t need to take any Christmas cheer – you’ll pick up plenty along the way and you’ll remember this Christmas forever … for all the right reasons! Its truly a celebration of the birth of Christ, and the meaning behind Christmas – sharing, loving and laughing.

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International Womens Day

As women, we’re very good at deflecting any attention or appreciation. So having a day devoted to us can feel a bit uncomfortable….but I say let’s embrace it! How many times has our breakfast been our kids’ crusts? How many mornings have we been doing our make up at the lights, while the kids are immaculate in their car seats? Same job, less pay….that’s us! Bringing home the bacon….and cooking it into a zucchini slice….tick! Women do a lot for society (as do men, but March 8 is for us….just one day, ok?!)

As a mum to two boys, I’m constantly surprised by what pops out of their mouths. They’ve grown up watching me head out the door for work (and I always come back!), heard the stories about my grandmother starting her own business and they attend a co-ed school surrounded by gung-ho girls and their go-getter mums. So then the questions start:…..can girls can build sky scrapers? Can they jump out of planes? My stock answer is “girls can do anything, more in fact because we can do all that and have babies.”

My husband works and still does the pick up/sport drop offs while juggling dinner and phone calls. They witness both of us running the house and our separate careers. So even though our boys have great modelling around them, the subliminal messages are still getting through. And they permeate from everywhere. Last weekend, we went away with two other families. The dads played golf on Saturday (so we mums looked after the kids) and then on Sunday the dads took all 7 kids for a bushwalk. Well, its normal for mums to look after them but people were high fiving the dads on the walk. “Good babysitting, mate, well done” people were saying. Please. And its not babysitting, its called parenting.

On a darker note, the “time’s up” campaign has put men on notice. Predatory behaviour in any workplace is unacceptable and finally people are being held to account for their actions. However, I think we need to be careful that the men’s club doesn’t just close ranks. I hear reports from varying industries that men are pulling the curtain around themselves even more tightly. We cant afford to get into a “Them vs. Us” arms race, because it won’t end well for anyone, and men will continue to out-promote women. Consequently, if women aren’t cracking into the elite levels then pay parity gets pushed even further down the corporate agenda.

We should all celebrate EVERYONE, by showing kindness, respect and equality. Perhaps this is a utopia, but I’m hoping it will be a reality in the not too distant future. I’ll start by raising my boys to know that girls are wonderful, talented and deserving of their appreciation. That’s the least I can do for future women and possibly my future daughters-in-law!

As for me, I’ll start focusing less on what I should be and become more curious on who I am. And get busy celebrating that!

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Japan

IMG_2242When I was 20, I was lucky enough to live in Japan for two months, but I never really felt that I managed to crack the veil around Japanese life. My trip with Getaway did that in just two weeks! I travelled further, learnt more of the language and through our fantastic guides learnt to understand more of the complexities of the Japanese culture and mindset. Even pouring a cup of tea is totally different in Japan with its own rituals and customs!

We landed in Tokyo and spent a few days gobsmacked at the size of the city, its 36 million people and the ease with which the city runs. People are polite, thoughtful (no-one makes phone calls on the trains as that would be considered rude to the other passengers) and the city is totally safe.

FullSizeRender-2Tokyo never feels claustrophobic as there’s large parks that are the lungs of the city and a peaceful haven for its people. Jump on a Shinkansen (Bullet train) and it won’t take long to be whisked to the countryside where the natural beauty of Japan is astounding. Once you leave the big cities, there’s space, greenery, dramatic mountains and beautiful islands. Our first stop was the open air museum at Hakone. Wandering around the huge statues with a backdrop of beautiful gardens and distant mountains, was truly relaxing and inspiring…now I just need to erect a 50m high statue at home to remind me of Hakone! Every day finished with an Onsen (natural hot bath) – the perfect way to reflect on the day while staring meditatively at the mountains.

IMG_1751I was apprehensive about our next stop – the city of Hiroshima. A place of so much devastation, destruction and death. I had read many books about the Atomic bomb being dropped on August 6, 1945 but had no idea what Hiroshima would be like in 2017. Well, its a thriving city of two million people with a passion for modern architecture and art. Hiroshima will never outlive its past and the city always remembers that horrific day. The area where the bomb was dropped is now The Peace Park – a permanent memorial for all the direct and indirect victims. Against the backdrop of the still-standing Genbaku Dome, you can wander through the gardens, leave a crane at the Children’s Peace Monument, pray at the cenotaph and learn more of the history at the Museum. We can’t change the past but by learning about it we can change the future.

IMG_1869The beautiful city of Kyoto was revealing in many ways. With Scenic, we had dinner with a Maiko (Kyoto’s version of a Geisha) who performed ancient dances and chatted with us in her usual graceful way. It was delightful to understand this elaborate ritual of their make up, kimonos and the delicacy with which they conduct their lives.

For me, Japan has it all – incredible food, natural beauty, a fascinating culture, imperial Palaces, a strong sense of spirituality and welcoming people. Oh, and Sumo wrestlers!

Every day was an adventure and I’ll be forever grateful for my time spent in the land of the rising sun.

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It’s all about the lace….

Mariana HardwickHaving hosted the Logies red carpet special for Nine a few times, I’m lucky enough that a few designers contacted me about wearing their dresses. It’s so fantastic to try on all these gorgeous dresses, but its so awkward when they just don’t feel quite right. How do you explain that to a designer who has spent hours creating these gorgeous gowns? Marina (my stylist at Nine) is very tactful and diplomatic…so she did all the talking and I stayed in the background. I wanted a dress that was classic, old Hollywood but still with some sex appeal. My idea of a winning dress, is one that hints at sexiness, without revealing anything exciting. Not an easy line to walk at times!

Mariana HardwickMariana Hardwick sent over a few dresses and I loved the way this dress fitted me, but it was too plain for the Logies. We started playing around with the silver lace which would photograph really well. I found some inspiration on Pinterest and an idea was forming. We went to Marianna Hardwick and asked if they could layer the lace over the black base of the dress. After countless hours of Marianna’s talented ladies choosing lace, stitching it and attaching scalloped lacework, my dress was nearly complete. We chose a solid, modern belt so that the completed look wasn’t too vintage. It needed a very subtle modern edge to it, whilst still retaining a classic look.
Black nail polish also added to a contemporary feel…the finishing touch.

Sky high heels and teasing in my hairdo added a few inches to my height as I’m a vertically challenged 5″7. It’s a dangerous game to play though as I certainly didn’t want to topple over in front of a wall of cameras! An hour later, and I’d navigated my way into the Palladium room at Crown, ready for the big show. Or is the red carpet the big show? It’s hard to tell, these days!

A huge, bottomless pit of thanks to Annalise, Franca and the hard working team at Mariana Hardwick. You were wonderful!!

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Logies

As a guest, the word can either send shivers down your spine or a thrill of excitement. It’s fun catching up with people that I don’t get to see often….or people that I think I know. One year, I had a great chat with Alf from Home and Away until I remembered that we’d never actually met before. I’d seen him in my living room for so many years that I felt like I knew him. I’m sure he and his wife had a great giggle about that nut bag he met at the Logies.

Nut bag or not, it’s crucial to look the goods on the night. Fifteen years ago, I’d find a dress a few days before the event and then iron my hair on my ironing board before hitting the red carpet! These days, a dress has to be cross-checked with other attendees, approved by different departments and get the fashion nod by the critics. Basically, the planets have to align.

My style lends itself towards classic Hollywood glamour. I’m not fashion-forward, retro is jarring to me and its hard to criticise old world glamour. I’ve hosted the red carpet special for Nine many times and the stand out dresses are always classic with a dash of sex appeal.

Below are some of the creations I’ve worn over the past 17 years of attending the Logies. Most of them are there, but I couldn’t track them all down as social media wasn’t around in the late ’90’s! Some good, some questionable…but this time, you be the judge!

Livinia Nixon - LogiesLivinia Nixon - LogiesLivinia Nixon - Logies
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Livinia Nixon - LogiesLivinia Nixon - LogiesLivinia Nixon - Logies

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How to holiday like a celebrity…without paying the price.

How to holiday like a celebrity. It sounds expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. The answer is online, baby!

1. Rae’s on Wategos

Byron Bay is famous for its gently rolling waves, natural beauty and bohemian lifestyle. You might be thrilled to surf on one of Wategos long waves, but it becomes a life experience when you’re sharing that ride with a pod of dolphins. No wonder Byron attracts everyone. Being the ultimate beach babe, Elle McPherson, stays at Rae’s on Wategos in the Ocean View Penthouse. Oscar winners Baz Luhrman and Catherine Martin are regulars in the Mirabella penthouse and were the first couple to use the day spa. Kate Hudson and Owen Wilson were also guests, enjoying the delicious food in the beach front setting.

Raes on WategosMirabilla - Baz Luhrman

2. Semara Uluwatu, Bali

With the high Australian dollar and our proximity to Asia, Bali is a no-brainer for Aussies. Breathtaking scenery, amazing food and serious luxury are a magnet for the well heeled! Jennifer Hawkins and Jake Wall got married at Semara Uluwatu in front of 70 friends and family. The ceremony was held under a beautiful white marquee on a lawn that overlooked the Indian Ocean. This hotel is right next to the famous Potato Head Beach Club although the resort has three great restaurants if you don’t want to venture too far from your villa.

Semara Executive BathroomJennifer Hawkins

3. Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa – Blue Mountains

If a tree change is your scene, it doesn’t get more beautiful than the Blue Mountains, just an hours drive from Sydney. Michael Clarke and his wife, Kyly, stayed here for three nights after their secret wedding, codenamed: Operation Snow White. They indulged in spa treatments, horse riding, mountain biking and wildlife treks. Delta Goodrem is another home-grown star who has stayed at Wolgan Valley, spending time playing tennis and having candle lit dinners with Nick Jonas.

Online prices vary but it is possible to nab a luxurious holiday at an affordable price. Luxuryescapes.com has some amazing deals and with the Australian dollar so high, its a terrific time to travel internationally or enjoy our own world-class resorts. Either way, its about relaxing and enjoying life!

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So I did a juice cleanse….

There’s nothing new about juice cleanses. In fact, juices even rate a mention in the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are however, new to me. The idea of only putting liquids into your body for up to five days seemed ludicrous to me. Then I did one…and it was even more absurd. 

As I was about to return to work after a long maternity leave, I wanted to look fresh and healthy. Ten months of nurturing two little people – night feeds, daytime tantrums, cooking, cleaning, washing, bathing, food shopping etc. etc. had left me feeling anything but refreshed.

I figured that in my lifetime I’d had 10,000 days of eating pretty much whatever I wanted. Three days of giving my system a good rest seemed only fair.

For me, it was crucial that my husband join me for a liquid lunch, dinner and breakfast, or I was going to crack. Someone else needs to understand why you’re suddenly pyscho, obsessed with food, tired and really angry… All day, every day. 

There’s six juices that you drink at two hour intervals, with aloe vera water and chlorophyll that you sip throughout the day. The juices taste great but the fillers are horrendous. Oh, and you can drink as much tea and water as you like. Gee, thanks. 

Day one went well. We were on an adventure – trialling different juices, comparing how we were feeling, waiting for some incredible body transformation. We were so bored that we went to bed at 8pm. You don’t realise how much your life revolves around food until you’re drinking all your meals.

Day two rolled around and I started getting tired. Its not that unusual since we have two young boys and had just moved house, but this was a different type of lethargy. Compounding it was the fact that I still had to cook meals for the boys. Preparing a steaming spaghetti bolognaise whilst sipping kale/spinach/parsley juice (your fifth juice for the day) is torturous.

In desperation I checked the company’s website. Yes, I was allowed to eat salad and raw vegies (they didn’t tell me that in the store). No, we weren’t meant to do heavy exercise (they didn’t tell me that in the store either).

No wonder my husband nearly collapsed after his 80 km bike ride, although I’m not in danger of doing heavy exercise at any time, so was perfectly safe at home lolling about on the couch, shovelling lettuce and avocado in my mouth as though it was chocolate cake. I really missed chewing. Such a simple act that we take for granted but I really missed it. My jaw thanked me for the salad.

Day three and the end was in sight. I wasn’t  feeling “amazing” as the girl in the store said I would by the third day, but the whites of my eyes were unusually clear. The rest of me was pretty much the same, just hangry (mixture of hungry and angry). I reasoned that once I’d finished the juices, the cleanse was over. So I set about drinking them as fast as I could. My tipping point arrived when I was cooking a toasted sandwich for Henry – the prosciutto was truly irresistible! I then felt absolutely no guilt in nailing two toasties, a Picnic bar and Ted’s cruskits. From then on, it was game on…I had a lot of eating to make up for.

Maybe I’m not the right person to do a juice cleanse. In fact, I now know that I’m definitely not the right person for it. I just love chewing too much and plan on doing it for a very long time.

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You want dinner every night??

Tips for shortcuts in getting through life with kids.

Life is busy. Kids are demanding. As much as you might want to do a job properly, sometimes shortcuts are required just to stay sane. Here’s a few I’ve collected along the way! Lets just hope my husband (neat freak) doesn’t read this.

1. I have been known to vacuum crumbs from the kitchen bench. It’s allowed.

2. Getting dressed “off the rack”.This ain’t no fashion term, just pull all the clothes required for the family straight off the drying rack. No folding or putting away required. The downside is that you tend to wear the same clothes on a three day cycle.

3. A lady with four kids, yes four, puts them all in the bath together. She gets one big bowl of dinner (risotto or short pasta would work) and feeds them all in a row. Then she washes the food from them, pulls the plug and rinses away all remnants of dinner. No dishes, no benches to wipe and no messy kids. The downside is that bath outlets aren’t made for food scraps so the plumber might need to pay a visit after a while.

4. Shut the kitchen. I give my kids a five minute warning that the meal is over and then the kitchen is shut! Otherwise breakfast can go for two hours. I leave out a plate of cut up fruit…and they’re on their own until the kitchen opens again. Tough but fair.

5. A midwife in hospital said to me “always get your dinner done in the morning”. Great advice as I tend to get crunched around 5pm with bath, bottles and tired babies. So I either stick on the slow cooker around 10am (perfect if theres two dinner sittings) or peel all the vegetables and put them in a steamer. I even put the water in so all I have to do is turn a dial and cook some meat. It makes life so much easier!

6. Clean up only at the end of the day. I struggle with this one as a messy house does drive me crazy. My busy friend (two kids) only wipes down the kitchen bench at the end of the day. Not for me, but if I could guarantee no-one was going to drop in, then maybe….

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Get out the straighteners, im going back to work!

Being a mum is the hardest job in the world. If you advertised for it, it would read:

WANTED – someone to work 7 days a week, including nights. You need to be a cook, nurse, negotiator, cleaner, ironing lady, story teller, stylist, driver, activities director and preferably good at ball sports. Also, you wont be paid. This is a love job.

Hmm, tempting??  No wonder I’m keen to go back to paid work and outsource some of the less palatable jobs listed above.  Since my school days, I’ve been told that our generation of women can “have it all”. For a few moments in time, I have had it all…but it’s exhausting, requires military precision to achieve and I’m not convinced that its worth it.

My day swings from gorgeous moments- the cuddles, tickles and unique conversations – to the drudgery.  You know what I mean – wishing the day away as it stretches out before you, the inane questions, the groundhog feeling that exists even on weekends. Paid work is so much easier as there’s one task to concentrate on and the people around you generally don’t throw tantrums, vomit on you or accidentally head butt you nearly every day.

I miss the feeling of being part of a work team – together, having a giggle and being in control of your time. I know I’ll never have this time again (especially as we’re not having any more kids) but I can’t help but feel that the world is flying by without me.  Some days that scares me and others its a blessing. It’s a treat to take your time, put off jobs and literally smell the roses.  On rainy days, we head back to bed at 9:30am for a cuddle and stories. Precious times that won’t happen when my boys are at school and “on the clock”.

Our little family is a vibrant, noisy unit. When we’re at home together, we’re in a ten metre square radius at all times. When life eventually speeds up again, I know ill take sanctuary in my little family. Even if the cuddles with ted leave me splattered with dribble.

Let the juggle begin!

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The great escape: Daylesford

There’s gangs of women trawling the streets in daylesford . Women rushing to relax as the hours tick by until they must return to the kids, the washing, the dog and a husband in need of cuddles. Daylesford is the go-to Victorian country town for relaxation. There’s natural springs with the massage centres bubbling up around them, the cute antique stores and the delicious restaurants all only an hour from melbourne.

Our book club group of ten women left 28 kids* at home and while we thought we’d have lots of sleep and come back refreshed, the reality was very different. We regressed to our childhood, giggling in our rooms until 2 in the morning. We drank far too much wine, had scones and pavlova for lunch before rolling to dinner and ordering nearly the entire menu. When the waiter offered to “put on a show” we thought all our Xmas’ had come at once!( the show never eventuated although we did drink a few cocktails while waiting for it. Smart move by the restaurant!)

We all went on an unannounced cleaning strike for two days. Our rented house looked like a bomb had hit it while we gossiped, laughed, spaa’d and discussed every aspect of life. To debrief like this is essential and nourishing for life. I’m a big advocate of my marriage being a solid unit that allows us both to go do our own thing. When my hubby says he wants to spend two weeks cycling around Belgium with mates, I say go for it! It’s not something i wanted to do but it wasn’t long before I went to Switzerland filming with getaway for two weeks. It all evens out.

The only problem with our girls weekend away was that we all came home exhausted, but there’s that unwritten rule that you can’t state how tired you are when you’ve been away gas bagging all weekend. Suck it up, sister.Next year, we’re thinking about the Yarra Valley. Somewhere close if we need to rush back, but somewhere far enough away that the screams can’t be heard- ours and the kids!

The great escape: DaylesfordThe great escape: DaylesfordThe great escape: DaylesfordThe great escape: DaylesfordThe great escape: Daylesford

*the average number of kids per Aussie woman is 1.9 so clearly we’re not doing enough reading!

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