Friday, May 29, 2015

If you want to see what Warsaw looked like pre-World War II, you must cross one of the city’s bridges over the muddy Vistula River to the other side.

The neighborhood north of Park Skaryszewski, the largest park on Warsaw’s right bank, is called Praga. Local press has described this area as gritty, bo-ho and up-and-coming. One time my husband’s Polish colleague said I shouldn’t be in Praga alone because it was dangerous. I laughed because I was already in Praga, with my camera in tow, strolling around and taking photos in the spring sunshine. I’ve lived in enough big cities so that I wasn’t worried.
At one time, yes, Praga was home to more unscrupulous characters and minor criminal activity. However, with the recent opening of the second metro line, Praga seems to be taking on new life and modernization as I discovered during another stroll. Cobble-stoned Ząbkowska street features a couple new cafés, modern apartments as well as empty storefronts that are just ripe for Warsovian hipsters to take over.

What I love about Praga is its crumbling, bullet-ridden, pre-WWII tenement buildings! Some of these appear to be hanging on by a thread while others are currently undergoing renovations. Unlike the rest of Warsaw, Praga remained more intact post WWII…probably thanks to the Russian Army simply hanging out and waiting while the Nazis destroyed the city on the other side.

Over the past two years, I’ve strolled through Praga several times and finally compiled my 400+ photos into this single post. If you’re looking for a neighborhood off the normal tourist path, I’d recommend hanging out in Praga.

Old Tenement Buildings
The main tram stop for Praga from Stare Miasto stops right in front of St. Florian Church. A few blocks behind this 19th-century church is Ząbkowska street, also known as Praga’s Old Town, which contains many old tenement buildings. The oldest surviving house here is located at no. 14, which dates from 1866. This street is where you’ll find some nice cafés and bars and is certainly ripe for development with all the current empty storefronts.
 Communist-era newspapers decorate one of the passages along Ząbkowska street.
A cool cafe/bar at Łysy Pingwin, ul. Ząbkowska 11.
Bar Mleczny Ząbkowski, ul. Ząbkowska 2, is a classic Polish milk bar where you can enjoy very basic and cheap meals such as cabbage soup, pierogies and pork cutlets.
Don’t forget to look for all the fading architectural elements on these old tenement buildings! You can just imagine how beautiful Praga once was!
Bazar Różyckiego
Once regarded as Warsaw’s premier bazaar, the historic Bazar Różyckiego has seen its popularity wane since 1989. During Communism, a black market trade once thrived at the bazaar, which dates to 1901. Now, you’ll find cheap wedding dress, wigs and shoes. Great for photos, but I did feel slightly self-conscious using my expensive Canon camera here.
Ulica Brzeska and Street Art
Behind the bazaar is ulica Brzeska, home to some of Praga’s oldest buildings, dating back to 1874 and the early 1900s. The houses have eclectic, fading facades and you’ll find some quality street art along here as well. This street used to be known as the most dangerous street in Praga, but I’ve only found friendly locals that help pointed out things for me to photograph like the courtyard shrines!
Sea for Brzeska Mural (Mural Morze dla Brzeskiej) is located on one of the brick walls along ulica Brzeska.

Virgin Mary Shrines
Tucked into Praga’s numerous courtyards, you’ll find about 100 shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Catholic shrines usually feature a large statue of Virgin Mary as well as flowers and candles. The Poles built the shrines post WWII when organized religion was frowned upon. Some of the shrines look a little weathered, but they are still worth hunting for behind the buildings. Look for them along Ząbkowska, Targowa and Kępna streets, in particular.
Old Factories
Praga is home to several old factories. Most notable is the Gothic-looking Koneser, ul. Ząbkowska 27/31, a vodka factory dating from 1897. Instead of producing Polish vodka, Koneser now serves as modern cultural center with several art galleries, Praga tourist information office and hosts many local events.
What do you think of Praga? Would you venture over to Warsaw’s ‘wild side’?

Loved these different windows in Praga!
Sadly, many old buildings also are boarded up in Praga.
Housed in a Polish renaissance style building, Teatr Baj, Jagiellonska 28, is a children’s puppet theater now but formerly was the Jewish Educational Center when Praga was predominantly a Jewish neighborhood before WWII.

My Traveling Joys

Monday, May 25, 2015

Lucky me, Warsaw still continues to surprise me!

This weekend, I was in for treat when a friend shared photos about the newly opened upper gardens of the Warsaw Royal Castle (Zamek Królewski w Warszawie). The rear of the castle has been under construction for what seems like the whole two years we’ve lived here. And finally, the gardens opened this weekend to all visitors for free!
Not surprisingly, the castle has always had gardens which extended from the rear of the castle to the Vistula River. From 1818-1827, Polish architect Jakub Kubicki redesigned the gardens in a neoclassical style (hence the name Kubick Arkades). Now, nearly 200 years later, the gardens have been restored to their former glory; and it looks like more renovations may be in the works down the road according to the castle’s website and its garden plans.
Yesterday’s weather was slightly overcast, but plenty of Poles were out taking advantage of the brief sunshine and strolling through the new gardens. I joined them with my camera in hand and spent about an hour trying to get some good photos of the new gardens. I probably should return on a weekday morning so fewer people would be in the photos.
Stop by the new gardens for yourself someday soon! You can even enjoy a beer or other refreshment at the café located here as well while you soak up the sunshine!
This section is part of the castle's lower gardens.
Warsaw Royal Castle
Plac Zamkowy
Gardens are open: 10 a.m. to dusk Monday to Saturday
11 a.m. to dusk Sundays
More photos on the Facebook page of Fall in Love with Warsaw

My Traveling Joys

Friday, May 22, 2015

It’s been ages since I actually posted a recipe, especially one for Turkish mezes.

Well, with spring here, it finally means my favorite market, Hala Mirowska, is bursting with local green and white asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, herbs, baby potatoes and beets. That means I’ve been in the kitchen taking advantage of all this fantastic produce and making some simple dishes like baby potatoes with butter and dill and steamed asparagus with lemon.

But the latest dish is the one I want to share with you. Last week, I roasted some baby beets with olive oil and sea salt. Since the beet greens looked so vibrant and fresh, I decided to treat them exactly the same way I did with my Turkish spinach roots. In the Turkish kitchen, you never throw any veggie scrap away. Something can always be reused or repurposed into something else like soup, Turkish börek or gözleme
Lots of lovely beets at my local markets right now here in Warsaw!
Imagine – fushia and green-colored tender beet greens sautéed with Turkish olive oil and lots of garlic, seasoned with a generous pinch of Turkish pul biber. So delicious and healthy!

I served up my beet greens meze alongside those baby potatoes, roasted beets and grilled steaks. A perfect spring dinner at home for two.

Smacznego or Afiyet olsun since this dish is almost Turkish!
Beet Greens Meze
1-2       Tablespoons    olive oil
6-8       ea.        cloves of garlic, roughly chopped (You can never have too much garlic!)
220      g.         beet stems, trimmed to 1-2 inches in length
300      g.         beet leaves
Generous spoonful of pul biber (red pepper flakes), if you like it spicy like we do
To taste           salt and freshly ground black pepper

(Note:              The amount of beet stems and leaves will vary depending on the beets you buy where you live. My amounts are from 2 bunches of beets here in Warsaw. This recipe can easily be adapted to your own taste and the amount of beets that you have.)

In a large pan, heat the olive oil. Sauté  the garlic for a few minutes until softened.

Then add the beet stems with just a little water to help them cook. Cover the pot with a lid. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Add the beet leaves. Replace the lid. The leaves will wilt and cook down just like spinach. Cook briefly until everything seems tender.

Season the beet greens and leaves with pul biber, salt and pepper.

This meze can be served hot or at room temperature.
Separate the beet stems from the leaves since the stems will need to cook 
a few minutes longer than the tender leaves.

My Traveling Joys

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Having not set foot in the U.S. for exactly 18 months, I felt extremely out of place and overwhelmed during my recent trip.

An 18-month stint is the longest I’ve ever been away from “home” during the past 5 years that we’ve been living abroad as expats, currently residing in Poland. In April, I spent about 3 weeks in the U.S. visiting family and friends and spending time with my dad who has been ill. Although I don’t really miss “home,” the trip was much needed to catch up with our loved ones. Skype conversations and email are wonderful tools to keep in touch, but they can’t replace face to face time in the same place.

So while I was in the U.S. I experienced what I’ll call 7 culture shocks in this new post. I guess after being away for an extended period of time my eyes were re-opened to how different life IS or can be in America. My trip took me through NYC, New Jersey, the Detroit airport and  Nebraska, where I grew up, so my revelations are based on those locations. I’m interested in hearing if you’ve ever experienced culture shock especially in your native country.

As soon as I walked through the JFK airport, I was surrounded by people of all colors and races. The languages swirled around me and hearing so much English being spoken made my ears buzz. The same experience continued during the couple days I wandered around the melting pot of NYC, took the subway and simply enjoyed being back in one of my favorite cities. In contrast, Poland is really, really white with a few Asians (mainly Koreans and Vietnamese) thrown in the mix. According to the Polish Central Statistical Office (Główny Urząd Statystyczny; GUS) 96.7% of the 38 million people are Polish, making the country very homogeneous indeed.
I don't have a really good photo to show the diversity in NYC. However, eating dim sum is definitely culturally different and not common in Poland.
Americans are so Friendly!
A few months ago, a German acquaintance said that Americans are fake and too friendly. I disagree. After living in a country where people often ignore my “dzien dobry” replies in my own apartment building, cut me off in lines or never say thank you if I hold the door open especially for elderly people, I was thrilled beyond words to be greeted by my fellow friendly Americans. Everyone was so nice! Restaurant staff were super friendly. Store clerks were helpful. Every day people held doors open for me and told me to have a good day.

I think being friendly is a normal part of our American culture, and I for one relished my recent American experience!

Free water with Ice!
As I’ve mentioned before in this post, I have a thing for ice and so do most American expats I’ve ever met. I loved being served unlimited and FREE, tall glasses of ice water at every café or restaurant I frequented during my trip! I want my cocktails served with ice. I want my white wine served cold and my water not to be room temperature, especially on a hot day. Sure, I’ve adjusted and I don’t normally complain in Europe, but next time can someone please serve me some ice?
Expat joys - free ice water and icy cocktails in America!
So far, Scotland wins for being the best European country at serving ice water!

One of the things that drives me crazy about Poland is having to wait at street corners until the pedestrian light turns green. Technically, you can get fined by the police for crossing the street on a red light. I understand having this rule in place on busy street corners, but on quiet side streets or when it’s like 0C outside, I refuse to stand and wait. So when I was in NYC, I jaywalked whenever I could like all the other New Yorkers out there.
 No jaywalking allowed in Poland!
Wide, Open Spaces
Having lived only in big cities for the last 10 years, I sometimes forget about all the wide open spaces there are in the world. My native Nebraska is full of gigantic fields, wide rivers and long, open stretches along the highway. I was thrilled to have a change of scenery and enjoy feeling quite small in this big world!
Wide, open highways are perfect for listening to favorite high school songs and singing as loud as you want in the car!
We have lots of cows in Nebraska!
Doing Laundry in an Hour!
Have you ever done laundry in Europe or Turkey? If you answered yes, then you know how dreadful it is. An average load will take at least 3 hours to wash and dry. Luckily, we own a washer and a dryer, but the latter basically “steams” our clothes and takes an average of two hours to dry a load of laundry. It’s often easier to hang out the clothes on a rack near a sunny or open window to air dry!

However, when I was at my parents’ house, I used their mega-sized, American washer and dryer and completed a load in just an hour! What a time saver!
Note: no dogs were injured in the taking of this photo. In fact, Sandy (my parents’ dog) seemed quite content to pose for my photo.
American Variety
Shopping in the U.S. is overwhelming! I spent over an hour each time just walking around Target or Wal-mart even though I had a list. I think Americans take a lot for granted, and I think this is just one of them. American stores offer so much variety and so much stuff you don’t even need. Being abroad, I’ve learned I don’t really need as much stuff as I once thought I did. However, it was nice being able to read all the hair products labels in English and buy stuff that I actually did need!
At our local Wal-mart, I think there were like six aisles just for greeting cards, wrapping and tissue paper and birthday supplies. Amazing!
Have you ever experienced culture shock in your own country?

My Traveling Joys

Monday, May 11, 2015

New York City is always a good idea and visiting in the spring is an even better idea!

I recently spent about three days back in NYC, my first time back on American soil in more than 18 months. I honestly experienced some culture shock this time because everyone spoke English and the city is filled with so many different colors of people. This is such a different scene than Poland where we currently live.

Besides meeting up with family and friends, I love simply wandering around NYC with my camera. I love her iconic buildings such as the Empire State, Flatiron and other skyscrapers. I love the old metal fire escapes, the large windows and brownstone buildings. There’s so much I want to capture an image of – little things perhaps I didn’t take notice of as much when I actually lived here.

And then there’s the city’s rebirth during spring. Pink and white blossomed trees line the streets. People are out enjoying the sunshine and relaxing in the parks. Planters are filled with colorful daffodils and tulips. I loved being back in the city!
And just to share my love of NYC, here’s a photo post featuring some of my favorite springtime images I took during this trip. Enjoy!

Where do you like to enjoy spring?
NYC's skyscrapers surrounding Bryant Park. Did you know that Bryant Park is built over an entire structure that houses the New York Public Library’s archives?
Bryant Park is a lovely patch of green located in Midtown Manhattan, between 5th and 6th Avenues and 40th to 42nd Streets.
Springtime blossoms at the Church of the Holy Trinity, built in 1917, located on the Upper East Side.

I also love the water towers that dot the city’s skyline! Most buildings in the city taller than six stories actually need some sort of water tower and pumping system to provide water pressure to their tenants.
 If you're in the mood for shopping, head to Macy's on 34th Street. But remember to look up and look for the Empire State Building too!
 NYC's Flatiron building and spring flowers - what a wonderful sight!
My Traveling Joys