Friday, March 27, 2015

If you have ever wanted a pet pigeon, then I know just the place to go in Istanbul.

Yes, the parks may be full of pigeons, but these feathered companions can be bought for upwards a hefty price at the Edirnekapı Kuş Pazarı (Edirnekapi Bird Market). This pazar is held on Sundays, nestled amongst the old city walls, in the Edirnekapı neighborhood, just a short stroll from the namesake bus stop.

I was recently reminded of this unique pazar when I read Elizabeth’s blog post over at the Geriatic Gapper. I met Elizabeth, a longtime Istanbul expat, when we were both part of the local photography club. I knew I had a bunch of my own photos from this bird market somewhere, so I found them on my computer and finally compiled a new post.
In 2012, my husband and I toured through the Edirnekapı neighborhood on a wonderful spring day. This was one of the first times I saw the old walls of Constantinople upclose. The walls themselves date back to the reign of the Byzantine emperor Theodosius II, who was in power in the first half of the fifth century AD. They replaced a previous wall, built during Constantine the Great’s rule, to protect what was then the capital of the Byzantine Empire. The walls withstood for more than 1,000 years until 1453 when Sultan Mehmet II attacked and then the city became the new capital of the Ottoman Empire.
I always found Istanbul’s immense history so fascinating!

Back at the bird pazar, I recall being the only female there at the time. I’m sure traditional Turkish women were at home doing household chores while the men debated over the prettiest or perhaps, the fastest, pigeon. Meanwhile, I had my camera and took several photos as we wandered through this fascinating market.
I tried to find some history about this pazar, but couldn’t. I’m sure pigeons used to be a very effective means of communication between people way back in the day. However, the Edirnekapı Kuş Pazarı’s Facebook Page does seem current and even includes prices for some of the pigeons.
Istanbul is full of such stark contrasts like this market hidden amongst the old city walls, nearby apartment buildings and towering skyscrapers off in the distance. As the city continues to rapidly sprawl in every direction, I fear unique markets like this one will become a thing of the past all too soon.
Take one of the many city buses and disembark at the Edirnekapı stop. About a 5-minute walk away, look for the covered stalls and tents. The pazar is set up near the Altinay Spor Kulubu sign, Ayvansaray Mah., Salma Tomruk Cad. No. 4.

For a written guide/tour of the area, check out Istanbul’s Old City Walls by The Guide.

My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

One of the many Turkish things I still miss is the fantastic kahvaltı or Turkish breakfast.

To an American or other foreigners, having fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and parsley as part of your breakfast selection may seem strange at first. However, it is a Turkish tradition I fell in love with and have recently been rhapsodizing about to two expats who are soon moving to IstanbulI miss the breakfast plates piled high with varieties of Turkish cheese, balkaymak (honey with clotted cream), green and black olives, gözleme, eggs with sucuk, homemade jams, tahini paste, simits, soft, slices of white bread and the list goes on and on.
Turkish mezes for breakfast at Sütiş. 
Are you hungry yet?

Well, since I’ve been telling these new expats about my favorite breakfast places located in and near the Emirgan neighborhood, I thought this information would make an excellent blog post as well. Emirgan is a popular, slightly posh neighborhood located along the Bosphorus and is known for its many seaside cafés and the large Emirgan Park. Even though we lived in the city center, we often retreated to this area on the weekends to indulge in the Turkish kahvaltı tradition and admire the amazing water views.
I first heard about Kale Café shortly after we moved to Istanbul. In 2010, chef and TV show star Anthony Bourdain filmed an episode of his “No Reservations” television show in Istanbul and showcased this small, family-owned café. I’ve always admired Bourdain and had a mild crush on him for awhile. I figured if the café was good enough for him, it was certainly good enough for us.  I recommend ordering the serpme kahvalti (breakfast spread) and sharing between at least two people. You can order additional egg dishes separately.
Often, Kale Café is swamped because of its popularity and that’s how we discovered the nearby Café Nar. Here, you can order several delicious omelets or breakfast plates based on Turkish names such as Asli, Beril or Demet. The presentation is a bit more modern and the portion sizes are more than generous. Just keep waving down one of the friendly servers if you want more çay to drink.

My husband and I usually would order one of the omelets and a breakfast plate to share between the two of us. You can even get small, almost American-like pancakes here!

Sütiş has several locations around the city, but we preferred the Emirgan location because of its spacious, seaside position. This place gets packed on the weekends, so I’d recommend arriving by 10 a.m. if you don’t want to wait forever for a table. Here, you want to order small plates of individual items, sort of like Turkish breakfast mezes.
Photo credit: Emirgan Sütiş 
If you save room, I also can recommend Sütiş’s selection of homemade desserts and ice cream, or you’ll have to make another trip back here just to try the sweets!

Afiyet olsun!
My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Little kids and big kids like myself would probably enjoying hunting for these small dwarf sculptures that call Wrocław home.

During our weekend in Wrocław, a beautiful city located in southwestern Poland, I think we discovered 50 of these dwarves, at least that’s my count as I looked through our photos again. We found them hanging from light poles and signs, sitting in front of pierogi restaurants and banks and simply chilling in the middle of cobblestone sidewalks. If you weren’t careful, you could practically trip over one.
Not all the names seemed to translate well. For example, these guys were called Lifting and Pushing the Ball Dwarves.
Hunting for dwarves is the second biggest attraction in ‘Vrots-waff,’ as the city is correctly pronounced in Polish. You’ll find more than 200 of these fairy-tale creatures that actually symbolize the Orange Alternative Movement, which aimed to ridicule the city’s Communist regime in the late 1980s.  During that time, the Movement supporters often wore bright orange hats or drew pictures of gnomes on buildings wherever antigovernment slogans had been erased. In 2005, Polish artist Tomasz Moczek initiated and created some of the dwarf sculptures and the movement has grown since then.
The Disabled, Blind and Deaf Dwarves.
We bought a map from one of the local tourist stands so we could be more precise in our dwarf hunting. We also rented our favorite NextBikes so we could quicken our search around the city.

However, even with the map and bikes, the hunt was more difficult than we planned. Some dwarves were missing or (sadly) stolen as we were told when we asked where the dwarf was that was supposed to be somewhere. Finally, we got the hang of the search and realized we had to look up, down and sideways in order to find the dwarves.
Very popular lamp post dwarves. 
The search was like hunting for Snow White’s Seven Dwarves and their 200 cousins. There was Arcik the Traveler, Kinomatic and the Ecological dwarves.
As well as the naughty Prisoner Dwarf, who actually resides in the city’s former prison.
And the cute ATM dwarves, which really counts as three separate ones.
The Pieorogi and Gourmand dwarves, who must have eaten too many Polish pierogies.
The dwarves are everywhere!
Hunting for these miniature dwarves was a fun way to explore Wrocław while we took in some of the popular historical sites as well. It’s another Polish road trip that I definitely recommend.
The Drinker and the Distiller hanging out in Stary Miasto.
Yes, we had fun hunting for the wee dwarves!
My Traveling Joys

Monday, March 16, 2015

To me, chocolate and coconut are the perfect pair just like peanut butter and jelly.

This weekend, I finally discovered a gluten-free snack that combines chocolate and coconut together in the perfect package! And these cookies are also dairy-free and nut-free.

My dear Australian friend recently brought me back one of the coolest magazines I’ve seen in awhile. The new special edition of Donna Hay’s magazine features tons of gluten-free recipes that I can’t wait to try.

I whipped up a batch of her Choc-Coconut Bites and added toasted coconut and cocoa nibs. As soon as I took a bite of these chilled morsels, I thought of the irresistible Girl Scouts’ Samoas Cookies. That’s exactly what these taste like, to me, minus the cookie bottom and caramel. I suppose you could add these items, but I don’t think the cookies really need them and especially not if you’re trying to do a low-sugar diet as well.
For those of you who may not know, Girl Scouts’ cookies are sold once a year in the U.S. and are a BIG deal. My favorites have always been Thin Mints (one of the original cookies) and the Samoas, which were added in 1975.  In 2011, the cookies formerly known as Samoas — shortbread cookies coated in caramel, toasted coconut and chocolate stripes — were changed to the name Caramel deLites. However, I’ve been living abroad since 2010 so I’m still going to call these cookies Samoas.

Anyway, these Gluten-Free Almost Samoas Cookies will surely soothe your sweet tooth, and they’re husband approved! Just be sure to store the cookies in the refrigerator as they will melt in your hands.

(NOTE: All of these ingredients are easy to find in the many organic shops located in Warsaw.)

Gluten-Free Almost Samoas Cookies
Adapted from this recipe by Donna Hay Magazine
Yields: 20 2-inch (5 cm.) cookies

240      g.         desiccated coconut flakes
60        ml.       coconut water
125      g.         coconut oil, melted
125      ml.       brown rice syrup
1          tsp.      vanilla bean paste

For the chocolate coating:
80        g.         coconut oil, melted
90        g.         brown rice syrup
25        g.         cacao powder, sifted

For garnish: toasted coconut flakes and raw cocoa nibs

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the coconut flakes, coconut water, coconut oil, rice syrup and vanilla and stir to combine.

Press this mixture into a ¼-sheet tray (approximately 9x12 inches) that has been lightly greased and lined with baking paper. I did not fill up the full tray so that my cookies were 1/3-inch (.8 cm) thick. The original recipe calls for a 20cm x 20cm (8x8-inch) tray, which would yield fewer but thicker cookies. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm.

To make the chocolate coating, place the oil and rice malt syrup in a glass bowl and microwave briefly until warmed and melted. Add the cacao powder and whisk until smooth.

After 30 minutes, remove the coconut mixture from the refrigerator, and cut out 20 circles with a 2-inch (5 cm.) cookie cutter. You will need to remold the scraps and refrigerate the mixture again to yield the full 20 circles.
To dip the cookies, place one on a fork and dip into the chocolate coating. Place each round onto a wire baking rack over a piece of baking paper to collect the excess coating.

Garnish the top of each cookie with a pinch of toasted coconut and cocoa nibs. Place in the refrigerator again for at least 10 minutes or until set. Serve chilled. 
Once the cookies are set, you can place them in a plastic container lined with baking paper between each layer.
(NOTE: Here are 6substitutes for brown rice syrup if you can’t find it where you live.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Overnight Trip from Warsaw

Everyone, and I mean EVERY-ONE, had told me how cute, pretty and irrestible Poznań was, and I was about to find out for myself.

On an unusually hot August Saturday, we took an early train from Warsaw to Poznań. When we arrived at Poznań Głównywe decided to rent the almost-free NextBikes and ride to our hotel located right on the Stary Rynek (Old Market Square).
The colorful square, outlined by four fountains – Proserpine, Mars, Apollo and Neptune – is lovely and so is the beautifully-restored architecture.
Like most Polish cities, Poznań has experienced a tumultuous history. From Swedish, Prussian and Russian invasions to becoming part of Prussia, later Germany, and then incorporated into Hitler’s Third Reich during World War II, the city has survived and been rebuilt. What you’ll see, though, is quite stunning!

We dedicated about 26 hours to see Poznań, which was just enough time to enjoy the major sights. I highly recommending renting the bikes so you can cover more ground quickly. Here’s a rundown of how to spend your time here:

Hang out with the Goats
Every day at noon,  two metal goats appear at the top of the clock tower above the Town Hall in the middle of the square. We arrived with just enough time to drop off our backpacks, see the goats butt their horns together 12 times and count together in Polish with the crowd. Today, the Town Hall is home to the Historical Museum of Poznań and it’s worth popping in for 30 minutes or so to grasp a bit of the city’s history.

Why goats? Well, the legend is that two goats, intended to be cooked for a celebratory banquet, escaped and ended up clashing horns above the about-to-be-unveiled clock. Afterwards, local officials ordered the clockmaker to add the naughty animals’ images to his piece.

Take a Free Walking Tour
Shortly after watching the goats, we looked for a guide holding a sign near the Town Hall. I can’t remember now which company we used, but you can’t miss it. I find these walking tours are a good way to explore a new city, and then you tip the kind guide at the end.
The Colorful Merchants’ Houses
Inside the square, you’ll find some of the most brightly colored buildings I’ve seen so far in Poland. Known as the Merchants’ Houses, they originally served as stalls selling salt, candles, everyday items, etc. The upper floors served as living quarters for the stall owners. After WWII, the buildings were restored to their original design.
Old Churches
The salmon-colored Parish Church of St. Stanislaus is one of the largest churches in Poland at 55 meters in length. This baroque church, painted with many scenes featuring the life of St. Stanislaus, was originally built for the Jesuits by Italian architects after more than 80 years of work (1651–1732). The historical pipe organ dates to 1876.
Cathedral Island
After our walking tour, we road bikes over to Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island), the island where Poznań originated according to local history. The first Poznań Cathedral was built here in the 10th century; and you can see some old artifacts and original foundations in the crypt.
Castle Ruins
The newly re-built Przemysław Castle (also known as Castle Hill) is a slightly elevated part just west of the Old Market Square. The hill served as the foundation of the new Poznań when it was relocated from the Cathedral Island in 1253, and a new castle was built here by King Przemysł I. The castle was largely destroyed during WWII, but was partially rebuilt and now serves as the Museum of Applied Arts. However, the museum is currently undergoing renovations and will re-open in December 2015.
The War Cemetery and Citadel Park
Just north of the Old Town, it’s worth riding bikes around the spacious Citadel Park, consisting of 89 hectares and even a military museum. The park, the former site of several military battles and a POW camp, also contains a large War Cemetery – just another reminder of the country’s tragic history.
On top of the hill, you’ll find this interesting iron sculpture, The Unrecognized, by well-known Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz, that’s meant to question who we are and where we are going.
Meet Another Blogger
Well, this item won’t be on everyone’s to-do list, but it was on mine. Luckily, I got to meet and have lunch with Lois of The Polish Housewife. Although Lois recently moved back to the U.S., her blog is filled with lots of yummy Polish recipes, baking recipes and stories about her expat life in Poland.

We had a delicious lunch at the trendy MOMO love at first bite in Poznań.

Hopefully, my photos will encourage you to visit Poznań as well!

Where to Stay:
Brovaria Brewery and Hotel – newly remodeled, reasonable rates and has air conditioning.

Good Eats and Drinks:
*Brovaria Brewery
*MOMO love at first bite, ul. Szewska 2, a casual restaurant featuring fresh salads and seafood. 
*Find more than 100 Belgian beers, including gluten-free beers, at Kriek, ul. Wodna 23.
*Good selection of Spanish wines and delicious tapas at La Rambla Tapas Bar, Wodna 5/6.