8 Good Eats in Rome, Italy

Friday, April 18, 2014

Day Trip from Warsaw

What do you do on a dismal, rainy Sunday when you just want to escape Warsaw for the day?

Why, you find the nearest medieval castle in Poland to explore, of course!

Thanks to this list of Polish castles, I’ve been able to map out day trips we can do from Warsaw and plan for longer roadtrips. So the other weekend, we drove about 45 minutes to the tiny town of Czersk, located about 40 km south of Warsaw. (Note: Not to be confused with another Czersk located in the opposite direction and about a 4 hour drive away.)

The Ruins of the Mazovian Dukes’ Castle in Czersk (Ruiny Zamku Książąt Mazowieckich) are the remains of a Gothic castle built between the 14th-16th centuries for the Mazovian princes. The castle was originally built in the 13th century; and during that time, Prince Konrad Mazowiecki, who brought the Teutonic Knights to Poland in 1226, imprisoned the future Prince of Krakow and Prince Henryk Brodaty, the Prince of Wroclaw, in the south tower.
Unfortunately, the ugly skies did not make for pretty pictures as you can see here.
Same location, but taken about 2 weeks apart. What a difference!
Yesterday, I woke up to absolutely brilliant blue skies, and I decided to drive back to Czersk by myself to take better photos. I didn’t mind the nearly hour drive, because of traffic, and was happy to spend a relaxing afternoon on a mini roadtrip. The photos turned out stunningly!
Crossing the medieval bridge and moat on a beautiful spring day in Czersk, Poland.
If you visit this medieval castle, you can access two of the three towers and enjoy magnificent views over the Vistula River, situated about 1 km away, and the countryside. The stairs are steep and well worn, but the views are worth the effort.
Czersk was the first capital of the Mazovian region, but in 1413, the town was succeeded by Warsaw when the route of the river apparently changed. As with most of Poland’s castles, this one was destroyed by the Swedes in the mid-1700s. Eventually the castle was abandoned in the late 1800s and served as a quarry for many years.
The Czersk Castle reminded me of the one we saw in Ciechanów last summer; and not ironically, they both met similar fates. But the Czersk Castle still plays an active role in the community and hosts a  number of summer events. For example, on May 10 and 11, the annual VI Knights Tournament will be held here. This event draws hundreds of participants to watch the knights perform re-enactments such as jousting. Here’s also a link to a list of the Knights Tournaments that will take place throughout Poland in 2014.
Not sure if hubby should be allowed to play with medieval weapons like this one! :-)
Luckily for us, we have many historical buildings that are located practically in our backyard from Warsaw! This won’t be the last time you hear about our adventures in Polish castles!
I love water reflections like this one!
One of the former crests used by the Mazovian knights.
Don't forget to peak into the quaint Catholic Church located just outside the castle walls.
Zamek w Czersku
Plac Tysiąclecia 1
Czersk, Poland

Admission: 10 PLN for adults/7 PLN reduced

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Living as an expat in a new country opens your eyes to new traditions and experiences.

Last year, we were greeted with Easter Snow Bunnies near our hotel on our first night in Poland. We didn’t know about this tradition! Luckily, this year, Easter falls later in April (Sunday, April 20th) and our weather is warm and spring-like.
 An Easter Snow Bunny on April 1, 2013, in Warsaw. 
This past week, I just learned about the colorful tradition of Polish pisanki, which are real eggs usually decorated with melted beeswax and then dyed for Easter. The pisanki I’ve seen so far here in Warsaw are exceptionally beautiful! Take a look:
Polish pisanki are named after the verb verb 'pisać' which in contemporary Polish means 'to write' yet in old Polish also meant 'to paint.' Yesterday, I watched a woman demonstrate how to make Polish pisanki as part of my expat group called International Women’s Group of Warsaw. She heated the beeswax over a candle, dipped the stylus tool into the wax and “wrote” on the egg making various designs. Later, she dyed the egg, then removed the wax by heating it over the candle and rubbing off the wax with a towel. Thus, revealing the intricate design and pattern on the egg.
There are even various types of Polish pisanki, based on the technique and preparation used. For example, at my favorite farmer’s market, Hala Mirowska, I bought a basketful of malowanki – hand-painted Easter eggs. Luckily, these are wooden and not fragile real ones!
Another variety is called drapanki – solid-color eggs with a design scratched onto the surface after they are dyed. I only bought one of these because drapanki cost 20-30 pln ($6-10) each instead of the 7 pln ($2.50) I paid for the handmade pisanki made with beeswax and dye. (Meanwhile on Etsy, you’ll pay upwards of 70 pln (about $23) PER egg if you want to buy outside of Poland!)
Lastly, another variety you’ll find is nalepianki – eggs decorated with paper cut-outs or straw. The Polish rooster seems to be a popular motif for these Easter eggs.
Did you know that Polish pisanki are usually made to be given to your family and close friends as a symbolic wish for the gift of life? The eggs can be saved from year to year and sometimes are even blessed at church during the Easter celebrations. I won’t be visiting my family until Christmas, so these pisanki are all mine.

Did you also know there’s even a Muzeum Pisanki in Poland? This small museum in the town of Ciechanowiec, 140 km northeast of Warsaw, is dedicated to the history of Polish Easter eggs and more from Eastern Europe. Hopefully, I can drag hubby here one of these days.
More Polish pisanki for sale at an ornament store on Emilii Plater in Warsaw. 
Meanwhile at home, we simply dyed Easter eggs with some of our colleagues’ children the old-fashioned way – store-bought dye kits! Last weekend, the kids had fun getting their hands messy with dye and putting stickers on the Easter eggs. I’ve been eating a lot of egg salad this week!
Maybe next year, I’ll get a bit more crafty and attempt to make my own Polish pisanki!

To those of you who will celebrate Easter this weekend, Happy Easter!

***Please check out what some of my fellow bloggers have to say about celebrating Easter abroad and at home:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

As I was editing the tulip photos from my recent trip to Istanbul, I couldn’t help but notice that all the red images seemed to stand out the most.

Red and white make up the colors of the Turkish flag, so not surprisingly, the Turks transferred that same color scheme into their gardens, especially at Emirgan Korusu.

A Turkish "flag" made from red tulips was a new addition to the park this year. 
Since I took more than 100 photos of the tulips this year, I decided to devote a second blog post only to the red tulips in the park. I had so many photos that I found it difficult to narrow it down to simply 10 photos of the red tulips, which do look quite ravishing.
Interestingly, a Persian legend may be responsible for the red tulip’s symbolism of love and passion. One of the story’s variations goes that a prince named Farhad was love struck by a maiden named Shirin in Azerbaijan. The original story, "Khosrow and Shirin," was the title of a famous Persian tragic romance written by Nizami Ganjavi (1141–1209).

After meeting, the two lovers keep ending up in different places. Finally, after Farhad learned that Shirin had been killed, he killed himself by riding his horse over the edge of a cliff because he was overcome with grief. The legend says that scarlet tulips sprang up from each droplet of his blood, giving the red tulip the meaning of “perfect love.”

Well, even if you don’t believe in this tragic story, there’s no denying that red represents the color of love, and these red Turkish tulips are quite lovely!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

It seemed only fitting that we returned to Istanbul to see the Turkish lale (tulip) blooming this spring.

Last year, we left Istanbul at the beginning of lale season when we moved to Warsaw. We spent our second to last day of residency enjoying the tulips at Emirgan Korusu. This year, we ended up returning almost exactly a year later to see the tulips again. I’ve vowed to make this annual trip every spring to Istanbul!
A field of yellow tulips blooming in front of one the pavilions in Emirgan Park. 
During late March and the month of April, Istanbul transforms into a kaleidoscope of colors thanks to the 20 million tulips that were planted this year in gardens, parks and squares all around the city. This year, the ninth International Istanbul Tulip Festival continues through April 30 and costs a total of 5 million Turkish Liras. The tulips are grown by villagers in the Central Anatolian province of Konya as well as Silivri, Çatalca, Şile (located near Istanbul), Pamukova and Geyve. 
Spring has always been my favorite season no matter where we have lived, but Lale Zamanı (Tulip Time) holds a special place in my heart. Istanbul simply bursts with bright blooms throughout the city, but especially at Emirgan Korusu.

This trip, my husband and I took our visiting American friends to see the park for themselves. Jason jokingly asked if I had enough tulip pictures from the previous years, and I replied, never!
A rare photo of hubby and I actually together at Emirgan Park in Istanbul.
The three guys were good sports as I literally took another 100 photos of the tulips. I simply couldn’t resist. I wanted to capture all those memories and beautiful blooms in a photograph or two.

If you love spring flowers, I bet you couldn’t resist either!

Which photo is your favorite one?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Today, April 1 marks our one year anniversary of living in Poland’s capital city!

I woke up to slightly overcast skies, but warm temperatures in Warsaw.
April 1, 2014, in Warsaw, Poland. 
However, one year ago, was a different story; we arrived in Warsaw with six inches of snow on the ground. I cried! I thought the world was playing an awful April Fool’s Day prank on me; and I was angry at my husband for moving us here from my beloved Istanbul! (See: Expat Life: Week One in Warsaw.)
April 1, 2013, in Warsaw, Poland.  
Luckily, Poland treated us kindly for our first winter. We had a fairly mild winter here in Warsaw with only below freezing temps in January (when I was walking every day to my Polish classes, of course).

Comparatively, our families in the U.S. have experienced some of the worst winters in many years; and my in-laws had snow on the ground just last week outside of Philadelphia! We’ve had to restrain ourselves from bragging about Poland’s weather!

Meanwhile, our weather has been sunny, and the spring flowers are blooming everywhere in Warsaw. The city is full of life again! I cannot complain.
Mild temperatures in March in Warsaw. 
I’ve started riding the nearly free rental bikes around the city again. On the weekends, we head to our favorite watering hole for a locally-brewed IPA beer or pop into a new place. We’re still exploring Warsaw’s many nook and crannies and constantly finding new restaurants.
Last night, we popped into the new Delirium Pub that opened in Nowe Miasto in Warsaw. 
I continue to find beauty in the city’s pre-WWII abandoned brick buildings. To me, this is what makes the city intriguing. Forget the fancy, modern buildings and the ugly Communist-era blocks, I want to see the city’s history when I walk down the street.
In the middle of the city, you can still find buildings like these!
And I’ve been practicing my Polish. The other week I had an entire conversation with an animated taxi driver who’s been learning English. I understand more Polish than I can speak, but I am quite pleased with my new Polish skills. Polish is still by far the most difficult language I’ve ever tried learning!

Being an expat forces you to get out of your comfort zone.

Being an expat isn’t always easy, but I at least try to make the best of any situation.

I’m thankful I didn’t spend the past year wrapped up in my comforter like I wanted to when we first arrived in Warsaw.

There’s still much I want to explore and discover in Poland’s capital city. I hope you’ll stay along for the ride!
My father-in-law and me enjoying a sunny day in Warsaw in July 2013.