Thursday, August 29, 2013

On Sunday, we set out to watch and photograph the shortest, and perhaps most colorful, parade we’ve ever seen.

The parade, part of the seventh annual Multicultural Warsaw Street Party, kicked off Sunday afternoon at Plac Bankowy in downtown Warsaw. This event is billed as a street festival that “promotes multiculturalism through joyful fun” according to the organizer’s website, Kontynent Warszawa.

I thought the parade would be fun for photos while my husband informed me that he hates parades. Guess we’ve never been to a parade in the seven years that we’ve been together. Well, I dragged him to the parade anyway with the promise of lunch and a beer afterwards.

Later on, I think hubby was a little happy he tagged along as we watched the pretty gals shake their tail feathers down the parade route. However, I suspect the majority of the women were Polish dressed up in Brazilian, African and other dance costumes. I discovered later that many of the dancers were representing local companies that offer African, flamenco, salsa, samba, tango and other dance classes.
Still it was a fun parade, and I give the participants props for their contagious enthusiasm. You couldn't help but want to dance to the vibrant beats or at least stomp your foot to the rhythm.

Hope you enjoy the photos!
 
I was impressed with these local drummers, especially the gal in front.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I don’t know why, but Süleymaniye Camii always seemed unattainable to me.

Proudly perched on one of the city’s Seven Hills overlooking my beloved Eminönü, the mosque always seemed to mock me. 

Elusive.
A view of Süleymaniye Camii from the Golden Horn.
I had trekked all over Istanbul, from Arnavutköy to Zeytinburnu, but somehow couldn’t reach the city’s largest mosque. I would weave through the maze of streets leading to the mosque, catching a glimpse of it now and then, but then it would disappear out of sight. I was always in a hurry; and thought, 'someday I'll get there.'

Finally, in the last weeks leading up to our move, we made a bucket list of things remaining to do in Istanbul. Visiting the Süleymaniye Camii was a priority on our list. (Seeing the Seaviews from the Sağır Han also made the list.) That someday was now.
The view of Süleymaniye Camii as seen from Atatürk Bulvarı.
Instead of trekking through the backstreets of Eminönü or coming from the Grand Bazaar, we took a public bus to the Valens Aqueduct. For whatever reason, we thought it would be easier to approach from this direction. Plus, I got some good photos of this Roman aqueduct that used to serve the citizens of Constantinople.
After a 10-minute walk through some dusty city streets, we finally reached Süleymaniye Camii, which was finished in 1557, designed by the Ottoman Empire’s greatest architect, Mimar Sinan, and named after Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. The mosque dominates the city’s Third Hill and overlooks the Golden Horn. You even have seaviews from the Bosphorus to the Asian side.
How had I missed this grand mosque?

Unfortunately, we timed our visit just before the afternoon call to prayer. We didn’t have much time to admire the interior’s detailed, painted dome and colorful, stained glass windows. The mosque underwent extensive restorations, costing 21 million TL, between 2008-2010.

Still, it’s difficult not to immediately be wowed by Sinan’s masterpiece. The mosque is beautiful.
Outside the mosque, we watched as Turks performed their washing ablutions and then strolled around the peaceful grounds. You easily could spend an hour in this area. Nearby is Sinan’s tomb as well.
After taking all the photos I wanted, we continued to stroll down towards Vefa so my husband could try Turkish boza for the first time. Let's just say that I like the fermented drink better than he does. We also found a quaint, second-hand bookstore called Labirent Kitap Evi that’s worth a stop.

Now, I think that visiting the Süleymaniye Camii and drinking boza should be on everyone’s to-do list in Istanbul.
How to get here:
You can walk from the Grand Bazaar to here; or, take any of the public buses from Taksim, Eminönü or Karaköy that are heading to Unkapanı.
Süleymaniye Mah.
Şifahane Sokak (See map)
Istanbul
  • The mosque is open every day for free, but donations are suggested.
  • Be sure to heed the call to prayer times which you can find here.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Homemade fruit preserves, ricotta and goat cheese balls preserved in olive oil.

Chorizo quesadillas and beef tacos with habanero chili salsa.

Locally grown fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Had we been transported back to hipster Brooklyn or some other NYC neighborhood? Nope, we were still in Warsaw.

On Saturday, we discovered a new open-air farmer’s market cum food truck center in Warsaw’s neighborhood of Zoliborz, just a 10-minute bike ride from our apartment. This market, called TargŚniadaniowy (Breakfast Market), is open every Saturday from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. until September 14. Only three more weekends to go!
We were surprised to stumble across this market thanks to my daily Warsaw Foodie emails; and, I was in foodie heaven!

We did a quick walk-through to see what food options were available. Ethiopian food, tacos, pierogies, Polish fruit crepes, grilled chicken, roast beef sandwiches, pastries galore and homemade popsicles were some of the options. We selected the Jakie Taco?! food truck at the end of the market for our late-morning breakfast. For dessert later, I had a homemade raspberry and yogurt popsicle.
Delicious food truck offerings in Warsaw!
This market definitely catered to the young 20 and 30-something crowd and was family friendly. Toddlers were rolling about on picnic blankets or being pushed in strollers everywhere. I also heard more English spoken here by other foreigners than I have in any other place.
Only two stalls sold fresh fruit and vegetables, but that was all I really needed. We also snagged some fresh ricotta cheese and a jar of those aforementioned goat cheese balls from a local cheesemaker.
With Targ Śniadaniowy being so close to where we live, you can bet that will be back in the upcoming Saturdays!
Just a taste of what was available at Targ Śniadaniowy.
How to get there:
The market is located in the park at the end of Aleja Wojska Polskiego. I would recommend walking or riding bikes as parking is limited. There also are several tram stops in the area.

Here's a link to Other markets in Warsaw.

Friday, August 23, 2013

What goes well with Chanterelle mushrooms? Why pork of course!

Here in Warsaw, Chanterelle mushrooms (kurek or kurka in Polish) still abound at the summer markets such as Hala Mirowska. Hopefully, the locals will continue to bring them in from the nearby forests especially since we are having a rainy spell.

I recently was looking for new inspiration to use up a fresh batch of kurek. I took a peak at my new Polish cookbook, From a Polish Country House Kitchen, by authors Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden, published last year. (My mother-in-law kindly brought me five cookbooks in July).

Appelbaum, a Pulitzer Prize winner, lives in Poland part-time as her husband, Radoslaw Sikorski, is a Polish politician and writer. She also is a columnist for the Washington Post and Slate.com. Crittenden currently works for the online journal of the Huffington Post Canada.

This excellent cookbook features gorgeous photography as well as 90 recipes for modern takes on traditional Polish food such as pierogies, chlodnik (cold beet soup) and sernik (Polish cheesecake). And I happened to find several recipes utilizing mushrooms including one for chicken breasts with a creamy Chanterelle mushroom sauce. I didn’t have chicken on hand, but I did have thin, boneless pork chops.

Off to the kitchen I went to break in my new cookbook.

This recipe took a bit of time as the mushrooms required some extra cleaning. However, I don’t mind spending time in my kitchen as long as I have my music turned up.
The end result is a casserole dish brimming with cooked pork chops baked in a Chanterelle mushroom cream sauce flecked with loads of onions and dill. My side dishes were simple steamed green beans and boiled summer potatoes with dill.

I’m sure Applebaum’s Polish recipes will make a regular appearance on our dining table.

Smacznego! (Bon appétit in Polish)
Our Polish-American dinner enjoyed outside on our balcony in Warsaw.
Polish Chanterelle Mushrooms with Pork

Ingredients:
1                      T.                                 butter
1                      T.                                 olive oil
500-600           g.         (about 1 ¼#)    thin pork chops
2                      T.                                 butter
3                      medium                       onions, diced
4-6                   ea.                                garlic cloves, chopped
350                  g.         (12 oz.)            Chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
240                  ml.       (1 cup)             chicken stock
240                  ml.       (1 cup)             water
180                  ml.       (3/4 cup)          cream (I used 18% cream in Poland.)
To taste                                               salt and freshly ground black pepper
To taste                                               fresh dill, roughly chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F/176 C.
2. Pat the pork chops dry. In a large pan over medium-high heat, melt 1 Tablespoon of butter and olive oil together. Then, fry the pork chops until golden brown on both sides. I had to do this in two batches. When done, set aside in a medium-sized baking dish (about 8x11 inches).
3. In the same pan, add the remaining butter. As it melts, scrape up any of the browned pork pieces with a spatula.
4. Add the onions and garlic. Sauté until the onions are translucent.
5. Add the mushrooms. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook until the mushrooms are softened and have released some of their liquid.
6. Add the chicken stock, scraping up any more bits on the bottom of the pan. Simmer until the sauce has reduced and thickened a little, about 10 minutes or so.
7. Stir in the cream. Season with salt, pepper and some dill. Pour the sauce over the pork. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and lightly browned on top.

8. Garnish more fresh dill on top of the finished dish.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Once upon a time, I never would have dreamed I would be sunning myself along a powdery, sandy beach in Poland.

Yep, you heard right. Poland has some lovely beaches!
This past weekend, we escaped to the beach since hubby had some time off for a national Polish holiday. Poles celebrate two holidays on August 15 – Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Wniebowzięcie Najświętszej Maryi Panny) as well as Armed Forces Day (Dzień Wojska Polskiego). The latter commemorates the Battle of Warsaw in 1920 in which Polish forces defeated the Bolshevik Red Army on the outskirts of Warsaw.

At 5 a.m. Thursday, we hit the road for our apartment between the coastal towns of Gdańsk and Sopot, located along the Baltic Sea or technically the Bay of Gdańsk. I’m still saying we visited the Baltic Sea for the first time!

Between these two towns and only five minutes from our apartment is a popular 4.5 kilometer-long stretch of golden beaches. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Poles and other tourists, also were frolicking and sunbathing here over the holiday weekend. However, we didn’t venture out too far into the sea as the water temps were only 70 F (21 C). Brrr!
Manicured beaches in the early morning.
To our delight, the beaches are edged with charming little pubs and cafés here and there. We didn’t stray too far away from the beer tents.
Classic Polish street food - zapiekanka (pizza on French bread) and Polish beer on the beach. 
As you get closer to Sopot, you will find sophisticated beach clubs and more upscale restaurants and bars if that’s more your thing.
Sunset view of Grand Hotel, built in 1927, in Sopot.
Our section of the beach, called Brzeźno, definitely seemed more laidback and family friendly. We easily found a spot for our beach mat and Turkish towels in the afternoon. However, we saw beach-goers arriving as early as 9 a.m. to stake out their prime spots by the shore.

We didn’t spend our entire holiday on the beach as there were bike paths to discover, pastry shops to find and history to explore in nearby Gdańsk. But that’s another post.
How to get here:
Brzeźno Beach can be easily reached by tram 3, 5 or 62 from central Gdańsk.

Where to stay:
We stayed at this modern, clean apartment on airbnb.com near Brzeźno Beach.
In the background here, you can see the iconic shipyard cranes in Gdańsk.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I think that most television shows today are pure crap.

When we visit the U.S. on our annual holiday trips, I can’t stand the shows that my friends and parents watch. I feel my brain cells rotting with nearly every show such as American Idol, The Real Housewives and nearly everything on TLC. Really why would someone watch My Teen is Pregnant & So Am I?

‘Don’t you want to read a book, go for a walk, listen to music; or heck, maybe even talk to each other?’ I think.

In 2010, when we moved to Istanbul to start our new expat life, we left our big screen TV behind with my in-laws. Since there’s different electricity outside of the U.S., we saw no need to bring the TV. We had been wasting over $100 a month for deluxe cable that we hardly ever watched since we worked six days a week.

Once we settled in Turkey, we saw no need to buy an expensive TV and pay for pointless Turkish cable that featured about one channel in English. Instead, we bought a nice Panasonic stereo system so we could listen to music.
I guess if we owned a TV, this is where it would go in our apartment.
I also found plenty of other activities to occupy my time like starting this blog.

Even now in Warsaw (a little over 3 years later), I just don’t miss TV.

However, our one expat indulgence together has been watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report online via Comedy Central. These guys make me laugh my butt off! Comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert poke fun at all the stupidities happening in America as well as abroad, politicians, U.S. Congress and on Fox News. And for some reason Anthony Weiner continues to make an appearance. Sometimes, I think I find these shows even more hilarious since we don’t live in the U.S.

 For real news, I’ll look online or skim through my Twitter feed. That’s enough for me.

We never saw the need to get hooked on the latest television series except for Mad Men (even if we’re a season behind), and I still continue to watch Grey’s Anatomy.

Many expats I know buy slingboxes, Hulu, Netflix and all sorts of devices or subscription services so they still can stay up-to-date on their current shows. We haven’t. Thank goodness, my husband doesn’t care that much about sports either.

I can understand the fundamental reasons why people watch TV.

Television makes you feel good, laugh, and cry or helps you relax or helps you fall asleep.

But I don’t need television.

And TV definitely doesn’t belong in the bedroom in my opinion. As a friend once told me, the bedroom is for two things and they both start with the letter “s.”


What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Last week, we experienced record heat waves in Poland. Temperatures across the country topped up to 40 C (104 F).

Such a strange contrast from my first week in Warsaw, and six inches of snow covered the ground in APRIL!

We’ve been living as expats in Warsaw a little over four months. Recently, several friends and readers have asked what’s Warsaw like and how we are adjusting. I’ll admit that the first two months were rough. I shed quite a few tears, and I was depressed.

But now I can see the silver lining of it all. Sure, I still have a bad day now and then just like anyone else. However, I have realized there are many reasons to love living in Warsaw too.

My husband and I recently discussed what we like about living in Warsaw. We feel like we have everything at our fingertips – public transportation, a good location, more international food options, Dr. Pepper and pork – just to name a few things. Besides our family and friends in the U.S., I can’t think of anything else I miss from America anymore.

Top 10 Reasons to Love Living in Warsaw

1. Cost of living – This is one of first factors that attracted us to living in Warsaw. Our cost of living has been cut in half compared to living in Istanbul. Rent, eating out, drinks, international groceries are all much cheaper here. For example, on average, a half liter of Polish beer costs 8-10 zl ($2.50-$3) compared to 8-10 tl ($4.50-$5.20) for an Efes in Istanbul. Doesn’t take long for this stuff to add up!

2. Green spaces – Warsaw is green! According to this study, Warsaw has almost 20,000 hectacres (50,000 American acres) of green spaces and as such has earned the nickname “green city.” In fact, 14 percent of the city’s urban area (7,258 hectacres) is covered by forests – much more than any other European city. Because of all this green space, you constantly see people running, riding bikes and relaxing in the city’s numerous parks.
3. Polish pierogies, piwo and pork – You knew food would be one of my top reasons, right? Polish food is hearty and reminds me of a grandmother’s homecooking. We’ve eaten our fair share of delicious Polish pierogies washed down with half liters of piwo (beer). Piwo was one of the first Polish words I learned. I am almost overwhelmed by the abundance of pork here.
4. Pubs in Parks – The Poles certainly got this idea down pat! As you stroll through the city’s numerous parks, you often will stumble upon a small pub. Our favorite is the Flinstone-like Pub Lolek located in the large Pole Mokotowskie Park. Just park your bike, order some beers and kielbasa and you’re set. We also like the small beer tents set up along the Vistula River.
5. History – After World War II, Warsaw was left in ruins by the Nazis. Nearly 85 percent of the city was destroyed. Then, the country was under harsh Soviet rule for 40+ years. The Poles have endured a lot (too much) and their spirit is one of total perseverance.
This photo shows what Warsaw looked like in 1945 following the war. Devastated!
I love wandering through the restored Old Town area and hanging out in the New Town section. You’ll also see many important reminders of the city’s Jewish history too.  
6. Classical music – I think you could catch a live classical concert every night if you wanted to in Warsaw. Since the city is home to the famous 19th-century composer Frederic Chopin, classical music plays a big role in life here. I like wandering behind the University of Warsaw where you are bound to hear students practicing classical melodies. On Sundays through Sept. 29, you can catch either the noon or 4 p.m. outdoor piano concerts featuring Chopin’s music at Warsaw’s Royal Łazienki Park. A wonderful free activity! (More info: http://www.estrada.com.pl)
Just look for the large Chopin monument at Warsaw’s Royal Łazienki Park.
7. Renting bikes – In order to get to those free Sunday concerts, we often ride bikes thanks to the city’s convenient rent-a-bike system by NextBike. After paying an initial 10 zl annual fee, we can rent bikes from more than 50 stations around the city. Rentals for less than 20 minutes are free. Warsaw has numerous bike trails and wide sidewalks that are perfect for long bike rides or quick trips down to the river or the market.
Until we moved here, I hadn’t rode bikes much as an adult except for the times my husband has tried to kill me on vacations in Bali, Belize and Bozcaada. However, I have grown to really like biking. We see much more of the city on bikes; not to mention, that they often are quicker and cheaper than other modes of public transport. And when there’s a promise of a beer in the park, what’s not to like?
8. Farmer’s market – I visit my nearby farmer’s market at Hala Mirowska at least twice a week for the freshest Polish produce. I don’t know much Polish yet, so shopping at the market is pretty comical and involves a lot of pointing and smiling. I love having this market just five tram stops away from our apartment!
9. Ease of getting around – Although Warsaw is a large metropolitan city with a 2.7 million population, I find it relatively easy to get around. Much, much easier than Istanbul, thank you very much! Warsaw’s public buses, trams and subways are just easy to use and inexpensive. For 250 zl ($80), I use a 3-month unlimited, refillable transportation pass. 
Also with smart phone apps such as itaxi.pl and jakdojade.pl, with just a click, I can order a taxi or figure out the fastest way to get somewhere via public transportation.

10. International foods – Lastly, we have been impressed with the city’s selection of American burgers and steaks, Vietnamese food and pizza. International food isn’t “Turkified” like it was when we lived in Istanbul, so I actually can eat a decent bowl of pho or bánh mì  sandwich. Now, if only, I could find some authentic Mexican food somewhere.
While it’s taken more time to grow to love Warsaw, with a bit of insatiable curiosity and some patience, I have come to realize it’s a great place to live!

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