Monday, April 13, 2015

Despite the numerous trips we’ve made to London, I had never visited the well-known Camden Market.

This time, I visited twice and was inundated by the 700+ stalls that make up Camden Market and the funky, quirky, retro stores that line Camden High Street. Wow! The storefronts are like giant, in-your-face billboards screaming their particular product – a lot of shoes. I couldn’t resist buying a new pair of Vans with neon pink shoe laces!

Hubby and I playing along Camden High Street and stopping in one of the local pubs for a pint.
Warning: on the weekend, this street and the markets were absolutely mobbed with tourists and potentially some locals as well when we first visited. However, stop by on a Monday like I did or another weekday and you’ll find the markets much less crowded.

Continue walking up the street and you’ll find the lively Camden Market, which is actually made up of three separate markets – Union Street, The Lock and The Stables. The Stables Market gets its name from its previous incarnation as a horse hospital because, in Victorian times, the stables were where horses injured pulling barges down the canals were treated.
Today, you’ll find a catacombs of stalls selling everything from Turkish lamps and kilims to military jackets, cheap T-shirts and homemade clothes, belts and more.
The Camden Market is enormous! I spent about five hours wandering around the tiny lanes on a Monday afternoon; I still didn’t even cover all the stalls because there’s just too much to see and photograph! Every turn yields a new discovery in the numerous nooks and crannies here.
I love these old doors in the Stables Market!
The view along Regent's Canal in Camden.
After I wandered through the markets and ate a delicious gluten-free falafel lunch, I strolled through some of the neighboring side streets and found colorful houses like I did in Notting Hill as well as come cool street art.
Every time I visit London, I discover something new and I love photographing those little discovery moments. That’s the joy of big cities – they are constantly morphing and changing – meaning there are always reasons to visit.

Have you visited Camden Market?

My Traveling Joys

Monday, April 6, 2015

During our recent trip to London, I had the opportunity to roam around by myself and simply take photos.

Forget about spending the day in a museum, I’d rather just aimlessly wander down London’s quaint streets and see where they lead me. So while hubby had to work in the local office, I was free to explore the city. Sorry honey!

On a rare partly-sunny day, I decided to head toward Notting Hill because I remember enjoying my day there four years ago. This time, I tried to explore the side streets off the infamous Portobello Road. I’m glad I did because I quickly became distracted by all the beautiful colored row homes I found! Different shades of rainbows and muted pastel colors filled many of the streets of this now posh neighborhood.
These colorful beauties are located along Lancaster Road in Notting Hill.
It's almost like each home owner tried to outdo his/her neighbor!

One of these stunning row houses can be yours for the bargain price of £3 to £10 million ($4.5 to $15 million). Cough, cough! I knew London was one of the most expensive cities in the world, but really?
Even though these were the same color, they look pretty. I love the arched windows!
Well, if you don’t have a couple million in the bank, you can do what I did. Grab your camera and see where the lens takes you. It’s easy to while away a few hours, stopping now and then for a coffee or glass of wine at one of the many cafés in Notting Hill too.

Which colored row house would you want to live in?
These blue doors decorate one of the so-called British "mews houses," which are a row of former stables that usually had carriage houses below and living quarters above and were built around a paved yard or street. These were popular in London during the 17th and 18th centuries. Today most mews stables have been converted into houses.

And I couldn't resist these colorful front doors too! New Yorkers should definitely take note!

My Traveling Joys

Friday, April 3, 2015

Celebrating Easter after a long, gray Polish winter is a wonderful way to harken spring.

Luckily, I have witnessed three Easter seasons here in Warsaw. I absolutely love the colorful pisanki (painted eggs) that are sold at small shops and special Easter markets. Now, I have a collection of both wooden and real eggs that will always remind me of our expat years living in Poland. Many of the egg vendors sell these special eggs at my favorite market, Hala Mirowska.

Last year, we watched one of the most celebrated Polish Easter traditions in Warsaw’s Old Town. On the Saturday before Easter Sunday, Poles flock to their local churches, carrying decorative baskets filled with special items to be blessed. The Swieconka tradition means the baskets are lined with a white linen or lace towel and contain eggs, kiebasa, salt, candles, cheese or butter shaped like lambs and more. Each item represents something in the Christian faith.  To see a diagram of Easter basket items and the symbolism, click here.
This year, I made this Easter basket filled with chocolates, salt, cheese, kielbasa, horseradish and other sweets for a Polish friend.
At the church, the priest then sprinkles the individual baskets with Holy Water and gives his blessing in front a crowd. It was cute to watch the young children who are dressed up in their white Easter Sunday dresses or button-down shirts and pants. If you visit Poland during the Easter season, I definitely recommend finding a church to observe this tradition.
Bread shaped like lambs for Easter.
Some of the specialty shops sell the traditional Polish Easter baskets.
Or homemade Polish cheese in the shape of lambs and chickens.
On Palm Sunday, which takes place the weekend before Easter, you’ll find local vendors and even older Polish ladies selling decorative “palms.” Since Poland doesn’t have palm trees, the locals make these palms from dried wheat and flowers, fresh greenery and pussy willow (bazia) branches.   

Then, since many Poles fast during the 40 days of Lent before Easter, the feasting begins in earnest on Easter Sunday. During the week before this, the grocery stores and markets are a frenzy of kielbasa-pork-sweets purchases! Last year, I made Polish zurek soup, which is one of my favorites, for the first time at home. The soup is made from a fermented rye flour base and contains kielbasa and hard-boiled eggs. This article describes in detail the Polish Easter foods and includes some recipes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
We may not be Polish, but we’ve enjoyed seeing the different Polish Easter traditions here in Warsaw.

Happy Easter and Smacznego! 

My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

AKA: 7 Things I Dislike About Living in Poland

When someone asks whether I like living in Warsaw, I say yes. It’s easy to live here.

I love big cities like Warsaw! I love the nightlife, the ease of public transportation, the café culture, the multitude of parks, the crumbling brick buildings, the creativity of the younger generation seen in the fashion and food scene and here are my other reasons I love living in Warsaw. Life here is easy and much, much less expensive than Istanbul, which we previously called home for three years.

After two years, we’ve settled into a regular routine here in Poland. We know the city fairly well, but are still discovering new restaurants, parks and streets. One of my husband’s Polish colleagues recently told me that I know more about what’s going on in Warsaw than she does. Why thank you!
Well, I certainly can't complain about our view of Warsaw.
But life isn’t perfect no matter where you live. In Nebraska, life was too quiet and boring for me. In NYC, I detested paying nearly 75 percent of my monthly salary for rent. In Washington DC, I disliked the stuffy, political vibe of the city. In Istanbul, I hated the horrendous traffic and planning my daily life around it EVERY day. And in Warsaw, I recently compiled a list of things I dislike about living here.

To my Polish readers, please don’t take my musings personal. No place is perfect!

So what do you dislike about where you live now?

7 Things I Dislike About Living in Poland:

1. High School Hell in your 30s
Expat cliques are probably the number one reason why I had a difficult time adjusting to life in Warsaw for nearly the first year. I shed a lot of tears. For a long time, life among the expat circle felt like high school all over again – the popularity pecking order, the petty feuds, the gossip and cliques. Have you ever seen the movie ‘Mean Girls’? If so, you’ll understand what I mean.
Source: Pinterest
I will say this, the Warsaw expat group is definitely more clique-ish than what I was used to in Turkey. (In Istanbul, I felt like I connected instantly with more like-minded and open-minded people than I have here.) If I only wanted to be friends with Americans, why did I leave the U.S.? At some point, I decided to say f*** it and finally made peace with myself and am happy to  have an international circle of friends now.

2. Healthcare in Poland
We have company-provided insurance, but whenever I’ve called to make an appointment, I’m lucky if I get an English-speaking doctor even though I requested one. Google Translate can only help so much when dealing with important health issues! This seems to be a common complaint among the expats I know here.

Last year, I caught bronchitis, so I was off to the doctor and then an internist. I was prescribed antibiotics as well as vitamins. Then, I broke out in horrible, itchy hives all over my face and chest. Then, I was off to the dermatologist because of the allergic reaction from the antibiotics. Sigh! So now, I avoid going to the doctor via our insurance company unless it’s absolutely necessary. However, even going to private clinics doesn’t mean you will get a decent English-speaking doctor either.

3. Language Barrier
For more than a year now, I've taken Polish lessons. I’m trying to learn Polish, but it's such a damned difficult language and the grammar doesn’t make any sense at all! Do you really need 9 different ways to say each noun? And then don't forget to conjugate the adjective so it coordinates with the noun! Learning Turkish was çok easier! I'm ready to give up!

I make an effort, but sometimes Poles seem not to try at all. For example, for awhile, I tried asking for "kawy z mleko" and nearly every time the barista looked at me like I had two heads.  Well, the correct way to order is "kawa z mlekiem" because the milk is WITH the coffee not AND the coffee.
Can you pronounce these Polish words?
Another example, I went to the apteka looking for a men's multivitamin for my husband since we ran out of our American supply. This may sound like an easy request, but not in Poland. First the guy was a bit of a dick and said no English. Fine.
Mówię trochę po polsku. (I speak a little Polish.)
OK....vit-ahh-min. CodzienneMój mąż. (Everyday. My husband.)
Finally, the guy gave me a bottle of Centrum for men. Really? Was it that difficult to comprehend? I miss having a Walgreens or CVS like in America where I can just walk down the aisle and grab what I want!

Thirdly, I had to go to the doctor for some bloodwork.  I hate doctors and I hate needles, so I tried saying "Jestem zdenerwowany." (I'm nervous.) But I have a difficult time pronouncing all the z words in Polish, and there’s like 100 of them. I tried again, and the nurse repeated it. Then, the two of us laughed together because she got it.

I'm trying here people; so I’m very grateful to the few Poles that appreciate my attempts at their bardzo difficult language!

4. Construction Everywhere!
This seems to be a constant problem not only in Warsaw, but throughout Poland! Can't the city and even the country planners finish one project before they start another one? It seems like bridges, roads, tram lines and sidewalks are always torn up here. Earlier this month, Warsaw’s second metro line FINALLY opened after more than a two-year delay! The line has been flooded, caught fire, leaking and the home to local pigeons.  
When we drove to Wrocław in August, we were on a brand new, 2-lane highway half the time and the other half of the time on a crappy road in the countryside. Ironically, we still could see the nice highway in the distance. I don’t understand!

Then, if you want to drive to Krakow, you’ll deal with some awful single-lane “highways” for half the time. Your trip may take you four to five hours instead of the 2½ hours if you had simply taken the new express train. The normal trains take 3 hours and 20 minutes from Warsaw-Krakow.

Poland seems to slowly be improving its infrastructure, but it still has a looong way to go.

5. Little Old Lady Power
Now, this one doesn't only pertain to Poland. I had this problem in Turkey too, especially from the ruthless old ladies (teyzes). I really have to stand my ground or I will get cut off without a second glance especially when I’m at
Hala Mirowska.

There have been numerous times I've been standing in line and I’m the next person in line when another register will opens, but apparently the person (young and old) behind me thinks that's a great opportunity to cut me off and pounce on the new register herself. How rude!

6. Just when you think you have the right change.
I hate, hate with a passion, the large, chain grocery stores here and usually avoid them! For one thing, you have to pay use the grocery carts. If you don’t have the correct change, forget about it! This fall, I went to a Home Depot-like store and tried to get a cart. Well, I only had two 50-cent zloty coins, so I tried to exchange them for a 1 zloty so I could obtain a cart. Neither the checkout girl or the security guy were helpful. Finally, a good Samaritan in line exchanged my coins so I could get the correct coin to use the stupid cart!
Lesson learned: forget about getting ANY kind of customer service in Poland! And when you do, you can bet you’ll be frequenting that place more often because they actually show that they care about you as a customer!

7. Weigh your veggies or else!
This is another reason why I avoid the large grocery stores and prefer to shop at the smaller markets such as Hala Mirowska and the BioBazar in Warsaw. At the local markets, the sales people are fairly friendly, weigh your produce and give you a price. At the grocery stores, you must weigh the produce yourself – EVERY time. If you forget to do so, you can forget about taking that bag of apples home with you! I’ve left onions, pumpkins and tomatoes at the checkout on numerous occasions because I simply forgot to weigh them.

Recently, I forgot to weigh a package of Brussels sprouts, so I tried telling the checkout clerk, nie, nie ma problemu. However, this was the FIRST time when she actually took the time and called up the produce department to get the code and weighed the veggies herself. Shocking! I just wish there were more sales clerks like her!

Life isn’t perfect no matter where you live, but these are a couple of things that drive me crazy about living as an expat in Poland!

My Traveling Joys