Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When you find really tasty tomatoes, especially heirloom varieties, you want to keep the flavors fresh and simple.

That’s why I fell in love with Turkish cooking because it emphasizes fresh ingredients such as tomatoes and herbs.
Heirloom tomatoes and fresh summery greens at home in Warsaw.
Last week, hubby asked if I could make Turkish kebabs and mezes one night. I said, tabii ki (of course)! So on Wednesday, I went to the BioBazar here in Warsaw and discovered a stall selling the BEST heirloom tomatoes I’ve seen outside of the U.S. The Polish farmer, who spoke excellent English, told me he specializes in unique products like the heirloom tomatoes, herbs and greens (Swiss chard, Italian lettuces and more) and sells many of his organic products to local restaurants.
The BioBazar is open open on Wednesdays and Saturdays in these old pre-WWII factory buildings.
I knew exactly which Turkish dish I would use these heirloom tomatoes in – a Gavurdağı Salatası – a sweet, tangy and slightly spicy tomato-parsley-pomegranate salad that is utterly delicious! This salad is named after the Gavur mountain, part of the Tarsus mountains in Southeast Turkey. It’s one we tried for the first time when we visited Gaziantep, a city in SE Turkey, two years ago.
In Gaziantep, we tried Gavurdağı Salatası at both Imam Cağdaş and Kebapci Halil Usta. The tangy spice, sumac, also was used in these versions.
Some versions of Gavurdağı Salatası add sumac or freshly chopped mint leaves. Other recipes like this one by my friend, Claudia of A Seasonal Cook in Turkey, include green peppers and more onions than what I like. As salads go, simply taste yours and see what you would like to add or modify.

My version of Gavurdağı Salatası was the perfect summery complement to an evening at home with Turkish kebabs and mezes. Turkish raki included, of course! I hope you’ll enjoy this salad as much as we did!

Afiyet olsun!
Gavurdağı Salatası (Tomato, Parsley and Pomegranate Salad)
Serves: 2-4 people

4-5                              medium heirloom or regular tomatoes, deseeded and chopped small
¼                                 large white onion, chopped small
1          cup                  flat parsley, roughly chopped
1          teaspoon          ground cumin
1          teaspoon          dried mint
1          teaspoon          ground black pepper
Pinch                           crushed red pepper flakes (Turkish pul biber)
To taste                       salt

2          Tablespoons    walnuts, chopped
2          Tablespoons    Turkish olive oil
1          Tablespoon      pomegranate molasses (nar ekşisi)
Juice                            from ½ a lemon
1          ea.                    garlic clove crushed with salt in a mortar and pestle

Chop the tomatoes, onions and parsley into small pieces and place in a bowl.
Discard the tomato seeds and extra juice so you don't make your salad too "wet."
Sprinkle the spices on top.
In a small glass jar, add the dressing ingredients and shake to mix well. Pour over the salad when ready to serve. Alternatively, mix the ingredients in a small bowl with a whisk.
Garnish the salad with the chopped walnuts.
Serve the salad with fresh bread or pita so you can enjoy the delicious, spicy juices at the bottom of the bowl.
NOTE: We had about 1 cup of salad left that we finished off the next morning as part of a Turkish breakfast at home. Simply serve with cheese, hardboiled eggs and fresh bread.
I love Turkish mezes like these!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Since it’s drearily raining here in Warsaw, I thought I’d bounce back to Paris – a city that’s romantic even when it is raining!

During our last trip, I  realized that Parisians seem to j’adore flowering window boxes! Everywhere I walked in Paris, I stumbled upon vivid red geraniums spilling over the window boxes.
Geraniums in shades of hot pink, red and white seemed to be the most popular flower.
Of course, I started noticing so many of these window boxes, so I thought, “Hmm…I bet these would make a nice photo post.” So here you go. I selected 12 of my favorite photos for this special French blog post.

Besides geraniums, I did spy a few window boxes featuring elegant roses behind the wrought iron fencing on the balconies.
As I walked around Paris, I wondered what kind of people lived behind these well-maintained window boxes? Perhaps a young French couple, an older mademoiselle or a kind old gentleman? I wonder.
I remember taking this photo of window boxes in the Les Halles neighborhood.
What do you think?

Au revoir!
BTW, Here’s another blog post I found online featuring Paris Window Boxes. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

One of the devastating reminders of World War II in Gdańsk lays just across the Motława River on Granary Island (Wyspa Spichrzów).

Here you’ll still find skeletal remains of some of the more than 300 granaries that once operated on Granary Island, which date back to the 14th-16th centuries. At one time, the granaries serviced more than 200 ships a day and supplied more than 300,000 tons of grain per year when Gdańsk was the largest Baltic harbor.
I found it interesting to walk around and explore Granary Island, which once was joined to the mainland, but was created in 1576 when the New Motława Canal was dug.
Soon after crossing the bridge connecting the island to the Main Town, you’ll encounter the Gothic, red-brick defensive tower, Stagiewna Gate (Stagwie Mleczne), built in 1517-1519. It is one of the city’s most important surviving monuments on the island. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much history about this gate except for this brief Pomorskie Travel link.
Continue walking around the island and you’ll discover more skeletal shells of the former granaries, which once had names like Gloria, Bear Dance and Copper.
Apparently, there are plans to restore some of the ruined granaries. Here you can see a short video clip about the Restoration on Granary Island. The project includes benches, a lighted walking path around the entire island, hotels, offices and apartments and is being partly subsidized with European Union funds. We saw some of the construction cranes on the island last summer.
A few of the granaries have been restored over the years. The walls of three of them were preserved on Ołowianka Street and after reconstruction in 1985, they became the main exhibition area for the Central Maritime Museum. The museum’s collection is focused on the history of shipbuilding and trade as well as models of Slavic boats, Gdańsk’s medieval ships, warships from the 16th and 17th centuries and more. Perhaps we’ll have more time to explore this museum on our next trip to Gdańsk.

Another 17th century granary was converted into a hotel, Hotel Królewski, Ołowianka 1, and is a good place for a  pre-dinner drink along the river. Unfortunately, the hotel looks like it’s already booked up every weekend in August.

After exploring the island, we returned to the Main Town and enjoyed a fantastic dinner at Restauracja Cała Naprzód, which features wonderful views of Granary Island. We arrived around sunset so we could watch the boats come into the port. The restaurant is located on the top  floor of the fairly new Maritime Museum next to the Zuraw Crane and features a good international menu.
Hopefully, the next time we return to Gdańsk, the restoration projects taking place on Granary Island will be more evident.
You can even take a ride on this Old Galleon Ship on Motława River right by Granary Island.
Granary Island as seen at night from our dinner at Restauracja Cała Naprzód.

Friday, July 18, 2014

When we travel abroad, seldom do we return to the same city more than once unless we have guests. (That’s why we’ve already visited Krakow five times in the past 16 months!)

There are just too many places we want to see and explore in this world.

However, with the August 15th holiday weekend in Poland rapidly approaching, we’re thinking about returning to the Baltic Sea, which is the closest beach by the sea we can reach by car or air. And with the new A1 highway finally finished, we can reach Gdańsk in 3 ½ hours instead of the 5 hours it took us last year.

I absolutely adored the Gothic architecture and the vibe in Gdańsk! Hopefully, my pictures in this post will showcase Gdańsk’s beauty and why we might return soon to this historic city by the sea.

First to get my bearings in Gdańsk last year, I decided to follow the Royal Route Walk as suggested by Rick Steves’ Snapshot guidebook. The walk starts at the white Upland Gate (Brama Wyżynna) and follows the same pathway the Polish kings took during the 16th and 17th centuries when Gdańsk was Poland’s wealthiest city.
After entering the gate, you’ll notice a large red-brick building, the Torture House (Wieża Wiezienna), and the taller, attached red-brick Prison Tower (Katownia). Here, you can explore an amber museum and see medieval torture implements and old prisoner cells.
Next, walk around to the left side of these buildings, and you’ll see a long brick building with four gables, which is the 16th century Armory. This is one of the best examples of Dutch Renaissance architecture in Europe, according to Steves.
Continue past the brick buildings a bit and you’ll encounter the beautiful Golden Gate (Złota Brama), which was originally built in 1612 and then rebuilt following World War II. The four female statues on the west side on top of the gate represent Peace, Freedom, Prosperity and Fame.
As you go through the gate, you’ll be entering Ulica Długa (known as Long Street), which is lined with colorful, ornate, skinny buildings. Approximately, 90 percent of Gdańsk was in ruins following WWII, but the citizens wanted to revive their once beautiful city. Hence, you’ll find an eclectic mix of buildings with elaborate façades here. I loved them!
One of the original 19th century buildings at Ulica Długa #19-20.
Can you believe this is what Gdańsk looked like post WWII?

Soon, you’ll be standing in front of the Main Tower Hall (Ratusz Glównego Miasta), with its striking clock façade. For only 5 pln (about $1.75), you can climb up the hall’s observation tower and look out over the Main Town (Główne Miasto), as the old part is called. It’s well worth all those steps for the fantastic views!
You'll find boisterous entertainers like this guy along Ulica Długa.
Construction for St. Mary’s Basilica, the brick tower on the right, began in 1343 and lasted 159 years. The church is believed to be the largest brick church in the world.
Looking out over Ulica Długa toward the Golden Gate. 
Near the tower hall, you’ll see two more interesting buildings, specifically, Neptun Kina, #57, which was the only movie theater in the city during the 1980s. Secondly, across from the old theater, look for the Ferber House, #29, which is adorned with ornamental heads of Roman emperors, originally built in 1620. The wealthy Ferber family produced six mayors, numerous other city officials and two parish priests of St. Mary’s Church in Gdańsk.
 Next, at the center of Długi Targ (Long Square), you’ll encounter Neptune Fountain, one of Gdańsk’s most important landmarks. Neptune represents the god of the sea, an apt symbol for a city that’s had a long history connected to the sea.
Continue wandering down the street and you’ll walk through the Green Gate (Zielona Brama), which originally was built as a residence for the visiting kings. I didn’t find this gate nearly as impressive as the Golden Gate.
Upon exiting through the gate, you’ll be along the River Embankment of the Motława River, a channel of the Vistula River. The river was the source of the city’s wealth with its busy shipping trade. On the far end, look for the wooden Zuraw Crane, which was used to place masts on ships and to load cargo, that dates back to the 15th century.
So now, you’ve learned a bit of history about Gdańsk. Hopefully, you can see why I loved it and cannot wait to return next month!

Have you visited Gdańsk? If so, what did you enjoy best about this Polish port city?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Normally, I’m not a fan of zoos, so I haven’t visited many in my life.

But upon moving to Warsaw and reading “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” I knew I had to visit. The zoo played an important role during World War II, which I’ll describe more later. Recently, I returned to the zoo with a group of expat friends on a photography trek because I started a photo group earlier this spring. Every month, I try to organize a photo trek in a particular neighborhood, which is exactly what we did in Istanbul.
One of my favorite photos from last month's photo trek at the Warsaw Zoo! 
The Warsaw Zoo, opened in 1928, is located across the east side of the Vistula River in the Praga neighborhood and has an interesting history. In 1939, the zoo was enlarged to 32 hectares (80 acres) and became the largest zoo in Europe. Sadly, WWII meant an end to the zoo as parts were destroyed and many of the animals were killed by the Nazis. But the zoo director, Jan Żabiński, who was involved in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, and his wife, Antonina played a pivotal role by sheltering more than 300 Jews inside their home and within the zoo during the war. The historical fiction book based on Żabińskis’ life is well worth a read if you are interested in WWII and Polish history. I loved it!
In 1939, Antonina wrote in her diary about the zoo: “Our animal republic exists in the busiest and most buzzing Polish city, as a small autonomous state defended by the capital. Living behind its gates, as if on an island cut off from the rest of the world, it seems impossible the waves of evil spilling across Europe could overwhelm our little island as well.”

Unfortunately, WWII did overwhelm the zoo. Following the war, the zoo was rebuilt but suffered badly for many years. It wasn’t really until the 1980s before it was incorporated into the new development plans for Warsaw that the zoo began to flourish.

Today, you’ll find one of the most impressive zoos I’ve seen, with 500 species of animals, and my friends were surprised too. A flock of vibrant pink flamingos greet you upon entering the zoo. (Great for photos!)
The zoo is well-laid out with wide paths and paved roads on its 40 hectacre campus. Just grab your camera and wander throughout the zoo like we did. Unfortunately, the animals don’t always cooperate when you’re trying to take their photos.

You’ll find lions and tigers.
And playful penguins, which are publicly fed at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. every day.
Feed me! Feed me!
And cute and cuddly kangaroos and wallabies.
Try setting your camera on the sports setting to capture the active kangaroos.
And zebras and some kind of striped donkey.
And a baby zebra (foal) and a young calf (baby bison).
A tower or herd of giraffes.
And much more!
Loved this baby elephant at the Warsaw Zoo! In fact, we saw several baby animals last month. 
If you’re a family with kids or maybe just a big kid like me, I’m sure you’ll enjoy a photographic outing at the Warsaw Zoo too!
City Zoological Garden in Warsaw
Ratuszowa street 1/3
Warsaw, Poland
Phone: +48 (22) 619-40-41
This baby rhino followed his mama the entire time we watched them.