Christmas in Japan

We had a funny experience earlier this week when we tried to buy a Christmas tree. We heard that Ikea sold real trees so on the last day of our rental car, we drove south to the store. Ikea is located on reclaimed land in the Osaka Bay, close to the mouth of the Yodo River. The waterfront in Osaka is not developed as a tourist destination, but instead is very industrial with a large port and factories.  My guess is that land was cheap and it was easy to receive imported goods so Ikea put their store there. The store is not near public transport so Ikea runs their own shuttle bus from the Namba station.

After about a 45 minute drive we got to the parking lot and there was a frenzy of activity near the entrance. They were selling “trees” around the corner from the entrance and when Nadia asked a salesperson how to buy a tree, she tells us that they are quickly selling out and to hurry to buy a ticket for a tree and stand before they run out. Nadia left for the sales desk and I went out to select a tree. When I got there however, I saw that the “trees” were just large branches. The locals were presenting their tickets and wrapping their branches in newspaper and were carrying them to the cars like babies. Hilarious! They were very happy with their branches. I guess it is all relative and in thinking about the size  of most Japanese apartments, a large tree would not fit. I quickly called Nadia and told her not to spend the 2,000 yen on a branch. Being from northern Michigan and having spent several years shaping Christmas trees at Hanson’s Tree Farm in my home town, I couldn’t get myself to buy a branch. It was a full branch, but it would have been worse than a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Instead we ended up getting an artificial tree. The main point was the kids, especially Ocean, loved trimming the tree and we infused some Christmas spirit into our house. We decided to put up the tree early this year because we are traveling to Australia for the holiday and want to enjoy the tree for a longer time.

The view from the Ikea parking lot back towards Osaka

I didn’t want to take any photos of people, so we sent Oliver to snap a photo of the branches to give you an idea of what they looked like. He took the photo that led this post, this branch sitting on a pallet, waiting for pickup from some happy customer.

I find it interesting as well that the Japanese love Christmas! There are decorations everywhere and Christmas carols playing in the stores. Nadia bought some ornaments and decorations at the local Ikea version, Nitori. Halloween was big here as well.

The view from the Midosuji Highway – downtown Osaka

A Christmas Tree Adventure

This weekend we went on our annual trek to buy a Christmas tree. We go to a farm about 20 kilometers outside of Belgrade in the Šumadija region, near the Avala Mountain. It is a tree farm in the village of Žuče. We have gone there for several years and you can get a tree for about 1, 200 RSD (10 Euros).

We buy the roots and all and carry it away in a pot instead of cutting the tree. We later find a spot to plant it.  The guys at the farm are very helpful and will dig it up, wrap the roots, and tie the branches for easier transport. The kids love going too because they can run around and play hide and seek.

We got off to a late start because of car trouble. I was filling the tires with air and the valve on the tire snapped in half. Luckily, I was with friends and the great mechanics of Anđelković Garage are in the neighborhood. They sent Jovan over and he saved the day by replacing the valve. We gave him a round of applause.

With the pot the tree is quite big and my friend Michael and I had a difficult time getting it up the steps and in the house. It was worth it however, because the decorated tree looks perfect and Nadia did a great job of decorating the house with poinsettias and Christmas decorations. This is our last Christmas in Europe and so we are going to enjoy it.

Now we just need snow! It is in the forecast, and tonight it is 1C so I am hoping for some of the white stuff when I wake up.

A big thanks go to Damian, Susie, Michael, and Brooke for their help and Miloš and Boško from the school.





A Special Evening



We had a wonderful Christmas Party on Christmas Eve night. Pennsylvania even had it snow to make it a white Christmas! It was great to be surrounded by new family and friends and eat and drink too much. The kids were so excited and screaming and running around like crazy.

We prepared a traditional Christmas Eve Slovak meal with all the traditions and dishes. The meal featured seven dishes, none of which is meat. We made salmon patties, pirohi, oplotki, lentils, etc. Some of the traditions include putting straw under the table cloth, locking all the doors of the home, and setting an extra place setting at the table.

It was a very special evening for all of us in many ways! Merry Christmas!

Christmas Tree Harvest


Yesterday we went and found our Christmas tree. We had a great time going with our friends, the Moynihan family. As last year, we traveled out to the village of Zuce, located on the eastern slopes of Mount Avala in the Sumadija region of Serbia. This year’s selections of pine trees was not great, but we did manage to find a cute one. Owen and Oliver selected the tree. The park has a wide variety of trees and shrubs for sale.

It was very cold, the coldest it has felt so far this year. We still do not have snow, probably one of the few places in Europe without snow. I want SNEG!!!

A nice option at the Park Zuce is to take your tree, roots and all back home (see photo below). They dig up the tree and wrap the roots and soil in a bag for you to transplant back home. We stopped at a roadside shop and bought a big plant holder and extra soil. They tie the tree up for easy transport. We will decorate the tree today and then after the New Year’s holiday, plant the tree in a nearby park. Last year’s Christmas tree is still growing in our garden. This is a nice green option and would be a nice idea in the USA. Imagine how many trees could be planted!

It was a really nice day yesterday. Besides the journey to Zuce, we took the kids to McDonalds. Owen, Oliver and I then went to basketball practice. I played for the first time in a long time. My back is a bit sore today and I worry about my knee blowing out when playing, but I played well and it felt very good to get back out on the court. We finished up the night, worrying about Serbia being down 1-2 today in the Davis Cup. I’ll be posting photos of our Christmas tree today.

Holiday Party Season Begins


Last night Nadia and I attended the first of many holiday parties. The school held its annual Christmas party at the US Ambassador’s Residence. As you can see, Nadia was looking absolutely radiant! It is great to have such a beautiful wife.

It was a fun evening with lots of laughs. Below are two of our friends, Verica and Marianna. I would like to thank Ambassador Warlick for opening the official residence to us.

Christmas Joy


Ocean, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

We had a nice day yesterday as a family. The kids were up early and so excited to open their gifts. Nadia and I have been using the “Santa Card” to get them to be calmer and to listen to us. Too bad that option is now over. it was so funny that Oliver even asked had he been good enough to receive gifts when he first awoke on Christmas morning.

Ocean really wasn’t sure what was going on, but she got into it when she saw her “Dazzling Dreams Castle” doll house. She also enjoyed her Princess car. We bought a monitor and key board to go with Nadia’s old Mac Mini for Owen so now he has his own computer. Ollie’s favorite gift was a car race track.

We ate a real Serbian turkey. I am used to those industrial factory raised turkeys from the US with the bland taste. This turkey tasted “meaty” and for example, had bones and cartilage on the drumsticks that I didn’t know existed. In the US, turkeys are not bred to walk and so the drumsticks have less connective tissue to get in the way. Nadia also made a raspberry dessert that was absolutely spectacular. I ate way too much and had a hard time jogging in the afternoon due to a full stomach.

As you can see in the photo above, our Christmas tree is doing fine. We bought it from a tree farm, roots and all a few weeks ago. We intend to plant it in our yard after the holidays are done. We bought  a large pot and extra soil for it to stay alive. This is common with Serbs, as the culture appreciates trees and almost regards them as sacred. Belgrade is filled with trees on every street and there are strict laws which prevent people from cutting them down. I guess that trees helped the Serbs survive against the Turks. The hajduks hid in the forests while the Ottomans inhabited the fortresses in the cities and towns. I think it is a great tradition and our family will never again use a fake tree or cut a tree to use for a few weeks.

Christmas Shopping



We had a nice first day of our zimovanje (winter holiday in Serbian). Nadia, Owen, and Ocean are shown above in downtown Belgrade. We did some shopping (kupovina) for Christmas. We stopped at the Turbo Limac, a toy store, similar to Toys R’ Us but smaller. I think it is Croatian.

It was very cold yesterday with below freezing temperatures. It snowed again last night, adding an inch or two. It truly is a winter wonderland.

Owen is not feeling well, with occasional fever and headaches. We went to the US Embassy commissary also. Oliver had a birthday party at his friend Oscar’s house.

Merry Christmas


Almost the perfect day yesterday as we had a great family Christmas. The house was crazy with our three children, our nanny, and three guests! Just how I like it.

The kids awoke early and loved opening the presents. Owen and Sebey’s favorite gifts were the spy gear. Owen is fascinated with James Bond and wants to be a spy when he grows up. Oliver loved his parking garage and Ben 10 ball. Ocean is pushing around her doll and stroller as I write this.

It was a Christmas miracle and snow arrived around 10:00 AM. It snowed a couple of inches and we went out and had a great time. Snowball fights and a football/soccer game. Ocean sat in the yard and loved the snow. Team Kralovec/Chavez prepared an incredible meal and we stuffed our faces. At night we went bowling to Delta City Mall. All and all a great day.

It was great that we could renew our bonds with Popa, Alejandra, and Sebey. It was also nice to welcome Brad and Vera to our family.