“What do you do for fun?”

One of the most common questions I get asked when I go back to the States is what we do for fun over here.

For starters, we go out to eat pretty frequently with friends. It’s not always easy coordinating the guys’ schedules, but having a social life here is a huge key to happiness. And by happiness, I mean not getting totally depressed and bailing. I eat at restaurants more often now than I have ever before in my life. For me, sharing a meal with friends is a sort of group therapy, a source of familiarity found in the closest individuals to family on this side of the planet. Of course, every opportunity to be with friends is like this, but sitting around a table “breaking bread” especially so.

Chain

Name that chain!

This one is easy...

This one is easy…

Mom & Pop (Thai)

dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant

We like going to the local shooting complex. Maybe I should say, we have liked going there, because we’ve only been twice so far. Now that it’s getting nice out (below 100F), we hope to start going more regularly. Pistol ranges are reserved for the national teams and military forces, but expats are allowed to shoot skeet with 12 gauge shotguns. Cost per 25 shells, with “equipment” and “assistance” runs $27.

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take your pick

This is me, getting ready to miss the target!

This is me, getting ready to miss the target!

Sunset on the way home from the shooting complex

January sunset on the way home from shooting

We go to the movies. While we are lucky to be expats in a Middle Eastern country progressive enough to have public cinemas, there is still blatant censorship in the movies here. For example, the back side of a statue in Django Unchained was blurred out. In Kick-Ass 2, “Mother F*cker” became “Melon Farmer.” Suggestive scenes are simply cut out, and new releases are not released during Ramadan. All censorship aside, the caramel popcorn that’s sold at the concession stand, and the reasonably priced concession items, are always a nice treat!

django-statue

Django Unchained (uncensored version pictured)

Halle Berry in a custom made bikini cover-up

Halle Berry in a custom made bikini cover-up

Salty for J, sweet for me!

Salty for J, sweet for me!

We hit the beach! For being a desert country, there are an awful lot of beaches around here. Last January, we rented 4-wheelers for a few hours, and played in the dunes. We weren’t technically at the beach, but we were close. This should happen again soon, since the weather is decent now (and when it does, I want to ride a camel!). This week, we went to the private beach area in a friend’s subdivision, where we kayaked through the Venetian inspired waterways. Previously, we kayaked through The Country’s mangroves: an area with so much vegetation, it seemed like a different country. When it’s not too hot, we can walk to our “neighborhood’s” residential beach. Unlike some of The Country’s beaches, bikinis are allowed there.

Sea from ATV

Sea from ATV

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Private beach area

rainbow kayaks

rainbow kayaks pre-mangrove tour

Bring your resident ID to this one!

Bring your resident ID to this one!

We hang out at the Souq! It’s a shopping and dining area, designed to resemble a traditional marketplace. We prefer to go here when it’s not too hot, since sitting outside to smoke shisha, browsing the many outdoor souqs, or shops, and getting some cheap henna is much more enjoyable when not on the verge of heat exhaustion! There’s something for everyone at the souq.

A waiter takes a break next to the shisha pipes at the souq's Syrian restaurant

A waiter takes a break next to the shisha pipes at the souq’s Syrian restaurant

fabric

fabric

lanterns

lamps

souvenirs

souvenirs

falcon souq

Falcon Souq

Getting from Point A to Point B, finding out basic information (contact info, hours, cost, directions, etc.), might take twice as long (or longer) than it would back home, but there’s no denying there’s always something to do here. We manage to stay pretty busy.

What do you do for fun?

This Morning’s Migrant Workers

Somebody, somewhere, is selling their used, unairconditioned school buses to somebody over here who uses them to transport imported, blue collar workers. These old, yellow school buses packed full of worker bees are a common sight around these parts.

the wheels on the bus go to a labor camp

the wheels on the bus go to a labor camp

Where in the world could they be coming from?!

Oh, right.

Oh, right.

Much more plentiful than the yellow school buses are the big, white Tatas.

No, seriously. Big, white Tatas.

Tata buses

Tata buses taking migrant workers to work

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Tata buses taking migrant workers “home” (restricted access)

The Country has been under extra scrutiny, as of late, for alleged mistreatment (forced labor, Passport confiscation, non-payment of wages, denial of drinking water, assault, etc.) of its migrant workers.

All reports of alleged “slave labor” have been vehemently denied by labor officials.

This morning, I woke up at 4:00am. After returning from the US last week, I have had the worst case of jet lag of my life. I fought the urge to play Candy Crush for over an hour, then finally decided to just go on a walk. I headed outside, thinking about how I probably never would have gone on a walk when it was still dark out in Kansas City, MO, but I feel so physically safe here. An American in the Middle East. It’s not at all what Fox news would have you think.

I took “the big dog” aka our Sony fancy-pants camera with me. I’m pretty sure everyone I meet thinks I’m a complete nut anyway, so I really don’t care too much anymore how ridiculous I look walking around at 5:00am in workout clothes and a tourist-style camera hanging around my neck.

As I was leaving, I stopped to chat with one of our building staff members. We have daytime staff and nighttime staff, both consisting of maintenance workers, concierge, and security guards. They are all very nice people, mostly from Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Philipines. As poor as those countries are, they produce some of the friendliest people on the planet. This particular staff member sleepily described their 6:00pm-6:00am shift, and how the bus was coming soon to take them on the hour long trip to their accommodations in the Industrial Area. I asked how it was to sleep during the day there, as I’d heard some areas out there are without electricity at different times throughout the day. The staff member said it’s very difficult. I started to ask, “How many…” when my sentence was finished for me: “In one room? Eight.” Eight workers share one room.

On my walk this morning, I got a little brave. Instead of dropping my eyes to the ground when passing a blue collar worker, instead of pretending they are as invisible as they probably feel, I greeted them and (in hand gestures and diluted English) asked if I could take their picture. I expected a lot of heads shaking “no,” and even to get yelled at by some unidentifiable supervisors. Surprisingly, these guys were quite eager to have their photos snapped. Many seemed as surprised as I was, and politely tried to assemble their very best “Good morning!”

Below are some shots from my morning walk.

I have attempted to protect and censor the identity of all individuals pictured, to include company and country details.

worker1

A for effort, but most worker bees don't speak - let alone READ - English

A for effort, but most worker bees don’t speak – let alone READ – English

Clearly, safety is a priority!

Safety is #1 priority, just read the board…

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from the morning bus to the job site

from the morning bus to the job site

"Are you conscious about comply others to do work safely?"

“Are you conscious about comply others to do work safely?”

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Fire Safety

fire safety station close-up

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How does your garden grow?

How does your garden grow?

bus "terminal"

bus “terminal”

If patience is a virtue, these guys are as virtuous as they come.

If patience is a virtue, these guys are as virtuous as they come.

Poseidon and the sea

Poseidon and the sea

paintbrush trident

paintbrush trident

In 1984, George Orwell describes modern war between Eurasia, Oceania and Eastasia. He writes, “…there is no longer, in a material sense, anything to fight about … it is a war for labor power.” Detailing the disputed territories, home to “about a fifth of the population of the earth,” he goes on to say, “…they all contain a bottomless reserve of cheap labor. Whichever power controls equatorial Africa, or the countries of the Middle East, or Southern India, or the Indonesian Archipelago, disposes also of the bodies of scores of hundreds of millions of ill-paid and hard-working coolies. The inhabitants of these areas, reduced more or less openly to the status of slaves, pass continually from conqueror to conqueror…”

Knowing that having moved here makes me a contributor to my surroundings, like staying here makes me a contributor, like looking away makes me a contributor, like not doing or saying anything to advocate something better makes me a contributor, weighs heavily on my conscience. I am part of the demand. But what to do? It is exhausting to care so much about a bad situation you can’t improve, but to care less, or not at all, is surely criminal.

Inaction is action.

“The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, but because of those who look at it without doing anything.” - Albert Einstein

Will Tutor For Tofu

I have been pretty intimidated by the thought of private tutoring. Recently, however, I started meeting with a Korean grandmother who is so friendly. How friendly?

SHE GAVE ME A REAL LIVE TOFU DEMO!

AND TOFU AND SAUCE TO GO!

We had just ended our lesson for the day, when she motioned for me to follow her into her kitchen. The last time I was in her kitchen, she showed me cabbage (I think) kimchi and a very VERRRRRY potent shrimp sauce. Today, she removed a small, plastic container of minced garlic and chopped scallions from her fridge. I wasn’t too sure what was happening at this point, but then she started cutting up tofu and heating up a frying pan. To the container of garlic and scallions, she added soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and chili powder, eyeballing all of the measurements.

The four tofu slices were quickly browned on each side, after which she artistically arranged them on a small plate and topped each one with the sauce mixture.

I wasn’t sure if the whole experience was just me watching her prepare her lunch, or if I was supposed to sit down and finish off the whole plate myself. When she offered the plate and a fork to me, I was more than happy to try a piece of the quickly prepared entree! In the past, I haven’t liked soft tofu, but it was a nice consistency and the simple sauce made it quite flavorful.

She even sent me home with a small jar of the sauce and a block of tofu!

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I was so excited about the whole experience (I’ve never had a tofu “cooking lesson” before!), I replicated the recipe as soon as I got home. It is a simple recipe – the best kind, in my opinion!

Yum!

Yum!

Here is the quick and easy recipe, replicated to the best of my ability, based on the method of and ingredients used by my Korean student:

A+ Tofu

Ingredients: organic soft tofu, 2+ T Canola oil, 1/2 C soy sauce, 1 T sesame oil, 1/4 C chopped scallions, 1 T minced garlic, 1 T sesame seeds, chili powder to taste

Directions: In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, minced garlic, sesame seeds, and chili powder. Mix and set aside. Cut tofu into rectangles or squares; remove water by pressing tofu pieces between paper towels. In a frying pan, heat canola oil on high/med-high heat. Add tofu. Brown front and back sides of tofu. Serve tofu topped with sauce mixture. Enjoy!

Just when I thought nothing could be better than hearing this sweet Korean grandmother reading The House on Mango Street, I hit the vegetarian jackpot with a free tofu cooking demo. It’s a good, good day!

Georgian Haramadan

I have regretted a lot of things, but I have never regretted traveling.

On Sunday, August 4, the first day of American embassy closures across the Middle East and North Africa due to unspecified “information” and “conditions,” I hopped on a flight with J to Tbilisi, Georgia.

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(Partial) Emergency Message for US Citizens: August 1, 2013

I am regularly told I don’t “look” American (whatever that means), and I really do have a fairly strong faith in The Country’s ability and desire to keep the people here safe. Even so, sensationalism by the media of the newly increased “risk” and “threat” of al Qaeda had me on mental red alert since reading the August 1st emergency message I received from the US embassy here.

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Aug. 3 – CNN International Edition (On an unrelated note, notice NO MENTION of Edward Snowden)

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Aug. 3 – CNN US Edition (HOLY SNOWDEN OBSESSION, AMERICA!)

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Aug. 3 – Al Jazeera

As I made my way through The Country’s airport before the flight to Tbilisi, I kept my beautiful blue passport concealed and spoke to no one except when prompted by security.

When the magnetic forces of the duty free shop pulled me in, I immediately gravitated toward the book section.

I love bookstores. And I love books. I’m not very good at finishing books, because while reading one, a tidbit of information will pique my interest and then whoosh! I’m turning the pages of another. It’s a vicious cycle.

Leisurely flipping through the crisp pages of some airport bestsellers was a vacation in itself. There aren’t many bookstores here – definitely not any used bookstores (to my knowledge), which I love so much back home. No one, neither J nor a driver of any sort, was waiting for me to hurry up and get back to the car; rather, I was just waiting for my flight. The only thing missing was a comfy chair and a hot drink. (Barnes & Noble, I MISS YOU.)

I happily boarded the flight to Tbilisi with 3 new gems: Robert Lacey’s Inside the Kingdom (banned in Saudi Arabia), William Woodruff’s A Concise History of the Modern World, and Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (who doesn’t love light reading with inspirational quotes?!).

Unfortunately, the fact that I only put one of my new books down long enough to enjoy a savory spinach and cheese crepe mid-flight didn’t stop Overly Confident Local Man from trying to chat me up. He inquired about my travel plans to Tbilisi. I said I am visiting with my husband there. I opted to keep it vague, because really, the last thing a stranger needs to know in the wake of this alleged terrorism + closed embassy hogwash is that I’m an American and my American husband is FLYING THE AIRPLANE WE’RE ON.

He told me about the very important business he will be conducting over the next year in Tbilisi, then gave me his number on a receipt (because apparently not all very important businessmen have business cards) then made sure to let me know that number was available 24 hours (oh good, so it’s not a payphone). I abruptly buried my face back into my book and he apologized for bothering me.

While I was speed reading the left page of my book to avoid eye contact on his side of the plane, I noticed out of my periph something bright waving around. Fantastic, he was trying to show me a cell phone picture of his daughter.

“She’s so cute!” I told him with a forced smile.

Back to my book. Again, bright light waving around in periph.

“What is your mobile?” he boldly requested. (“Mobile” here means “cell phone number” and the lazy abbreviation has a nails-on-a-chalkboard effect on my nerves.)

“I can’t,” I said, shaking my head N-O. He looked confused. “I can’t, I can’t,” I repeated, finally pointing to the front of the plane.

“Your husband?!” he asked, looking a little worried.

“Yeahhhhh,” I smiled.

I had to bite my lip and think of some really awful things to stifle the laugh that was bubbling up as the failed pick-up attempt of Airplane Creeper replayed itself in my mind.

Note to Men: Don’t hit on girls on airplanes. We may be a captive audience for the duration of the flight, but that won’t make it any less awkward. This is especially true when we are married, when YOU KNOW we’re married, and when EVERYONE WORKING ON THE PLANE knows we’re married. Don’t be That Guy.

Finally, we landed in Tbilisi. I thanked my lucky stars to be out of the desert and away from the restrictions of a month-long religious holiday.

The feeling is mutual, Tbilisi!

The feeling is mutual, Tbilisi!

Upon arriving at the hotel, we quickly changed clothes. I was unnaturally excited to rip off the black leggings and cardigan I had paired with my dress. My personal style has really transformed over the last year due to living in a Muslim country. At this point, I wholeheartedly believe that too much modesty is better than not enough modesty. I think modest attire almost always appears more flattering and demands more respect. Even so, sometimes it’s nice to feel free from multiple layers of clothes. I like my skin, I’m not ashamed of my skin, and I tire of worrying about how much must be covered.

As we walked to our favorite hole in the wall restaurant/bar, I felt like a teenager that had just moved out of my parents’ house. Flaunting bare knees and bare shoulders, it didn’t really matter if I’d hit or missed looking amazing – I felt amazing.

I'm not perfect, but I'm free!

I’m not perfect, but I’m free!

Inside Cellar on Rustaveli

Inside Cellar on Rustaveli

Our Georgian dinner was as delicious as I had remembered it when I visited with J previously.

Just getting started...

Just getting started…

I kept it veg friendly with warm Georgian bread, hearty “bean in a pot,” Chvishtary (cornbread with cheese), and crispy cheese blins. Always eager to make up for missed meat, J ordered a huge rack of pork ribs (“smoked ribs menu”) and pork shashlik, the latter of which he says is his favorite thing on the menu (his exact words were, “It was pretty f***in’ awesome!”). We washed it all down with Georgian beer and wine, and slept like logs when our heads finally hit our pillows.

The next morning, we opted out of the overpriced hotel breakfast and went to a nearby cafe. The service left much to be desired, but the coffee, pastries, and outdoor seating were the perfect way to start the day.

Decisions, decisions...

Decisions, decisions…

Waking up with coffee & an apricot pastry

Waking up with coffee & an apricot pastry

We definitely take the little things, like eating/drinking as we please, for granted. I couldn’t help thinking of David Turashvili’s movie-novel, Flight from USSR, where Soso Tsereteli’s father smuggled a pair of “genuine American jeans” into Soviet Georgia in the 1980′s. According to the author, “The banned jeans became sweeter than the forbidden fruit … In those days, every pair of jeans were believed to be American and, as the Soviet propaganda was set on destroying American values, many associated happiness with where jeans were thought to be in abundance” (Flight from USSR). I’d like to say I can’t even imagine, but I can.

After deep thoughts at breakfast, I hit an accessory sale jackpot at a nearby shop.

Tbilisi Turquoise

Tbilisi Turquoise

We took a cab to the Old Town area, admiring Narikala Fortress, St. Nicolas Church, and the swaying cable cars we rode only a few months previously, from below.

Tbilisi Old Town

Tbilisi Old Town

In the future, we’ll start a day in Tbilisi in the Old Town area. We had no idea how much was there!

Sulphur Bathhouses

Sulphur Bathhouses

Old Town mosque above sulfur spring water

Old Town mosque above sulfur spring water

We stopped for a light lunch at an Old Town restaurant called Konka Station. Taking advantage of every opportunity to sit outside, we made ourselves comfortable on their misted patio. It didn’t take long for a friendly street cat to make our acquaintance. I enjoyed a vegetable ragout that reminded me of our first meal in Istanbul, J picked through a Greek salad, and the three of us (myself, J, and Street Cat) shared Khachapuri Imeruli.

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After coffee and J’s strange chocolate milkshake concoction (chocolate milk plus an ice cube), we left Street Cat to see what else we could squeeze in during our last hour in Tbilisi.

We wound up down the street at the Georgian Orthodox Sioni Cathedral, which was originally built in the 5th Century, but destroyed and rebuilt multiple times since then.

Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral

Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral

Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral

Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral

We hung a right out of the church, expecting to catch a cab to return to the hotel, when I spotted one of my favorite things E-V-E-R…

A CARPET STORE!

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J’s Worst Nightmare

My Achilles' heel

Inside: my Achilles’ heel

I have a serious weakness for handwoven rugs. J, however, could not be any less interested. Especially after the week we spent in Istanbul, it is probably safe to use the word “dread” when describing J’s feelings about carpet stores. If I ever have any doubt about his feelings for me, I can just remember the oodles of kilims we (I) admired in Istanbul, and the fact that he didn’t abandon me in Turkey, and I know the guy loves me.

Rugs in Tbilisi are SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive than in Istanbul. In Tbilisi, the carpet sales people do not seem to care whether you enter their shop or keep on truckin’. Istanbul is a much different story, with salesmen quick to make you feel at home with a hot cup of tea if you so much as glance in their direction.

Somehow, we managed to leave the Georgian carpet store with a small kilim without feeling completely robbed.

K is for Kilim!

K is for Kilim!

A few hours later, we were back at the Tbilisi airport. I sat next to an American couple while waiting to board the plane. How did I know they were American? Because THEY WERE TALKING LIKE TYPING IN ALL CAPS MIGHT SOUND. IT’S NOT LIKE TRAVEL ALERTS FOR AMERICANS WERE SWIRLING AROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE OR ANYTHING.

US Embassy Aug. 2

US Embassy Travel Alert (Aug. 2)

“U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves while traveling” might imply to STOP BEING SO DAMN LOUD.

Anyway, the American lady (also an expat), at a very high decibel, told me all about their travel mishaps over the last few weeks, how she just wants to move home (don’t we all), and about the couple of cats she saw doin’ the deed in her friend’s garden, while I sat there wondering what about myself suggests to people I want to hear this crap. She mentioned the all too common theme among expat wives of giving up her career to come here for him. That is one fire that will never run out of fuel.

We landed back in The Country around midnight. While walking through the arrivals terminal, I noticed a white man standing out like a sore thumb in a sea of brown. He was on the other side of the glass dividing new arrivals from the waiting area, eagerly scanning the arriving passengers as they walked through. Suddenly, his face lit up as though he’d won the lottery, and I heard two little voices behind me call out, “Papa! Papa!”. A woman hurriedly pushed a cart of suitcases past me, with two young children seated on top like two cherries on top of a giant suitcase sundae. The sweet sight of their Papa scooping them up, embracing one in each arm, made me a little sick, because I know what it’s like to deeply miss loved ones.

I found a seat in the immigration area while I waited for J. A little girl across from me was repeating abracadabra! and at that moment there were so many things I wished would happen.

For now, where we are, the media is the greatest agent of terror. We’ve started locking our doors, but we won’t be giving up on the world any time soon!

Warsaw Revisited

I lucked out.

I really, really lucked out.

I was able to leave 100+ degree temperatures in The Country, with all of its stores closed during the day for the Holy Month, and return to wonderful Warsaw!

We landed around 6:00am again, napped for a few hours upon reaching the hotel, then awoke in time to knock out one of the five things remaining on my Warsaw Bucket List; a Sunday afternoon Chopin piano recital at Lazienki Park!

Before heading to the park, we stopped in nearby Marrakesh Cafe for some sandwiches to go. I had no idea it was a vegetarian/vegan joint. It just happened to have the best takeaway menu of the restaurants closest to the hotel. J and I ordered falafel pita sandwiches, coffee (soy cappuccino for me, Americano for him), and went on our merry way.

We arrived at Lazienki Park’s Chopin monument around 3:30pm; nearly half an hour before the second (and last) concert of the day was to begin. I recommend arriving at least that early, to secure a seat, or bring along a blanket to sit in the grass. We made ourselves comfortable on a nice bench to enjoy our sandwiches and coffee in the magnificent park.

Guilt-free sandwiches + music + nature = Heaven

Guilt-free sandwiches + music + nature = Heaven

The park began to fill with people, and by the time the concert began, there were five of us crammed onto a bench that was probably only meant to hold three.

Chicka chicka boom boom! We relocated to a set of brick steps before our bench met the same demise as a certain coconut tree.

Chopin himself appears to supervise the recital

Chopin himself appears to supervise the recital.

Pianist Kacper Toloczko played beautifully. I kept thinking, my dad could do this! and teared up a few times, wishing my parents could have been right there right then. Although my parents are musicians, and I took years of piano lessons, I was embarrassed not to have recognized the music from that afternoon’s program. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed every second, and highly recommend the free event to all Warsaw visitors.

At the conclusion of the concert, we left Lazienki Park and walked until we found ourselves at Park Ujazdowski. While being smaller than the previous park, Park Ujazdowski was so picturesque with such lush greenery, I wished we could have stayed for a dinnertime picnic there!

Fabulous foliage!

Fabulous foliage!

Note to self: Bring picnic blanket to Warsaw.

While reading through a Warsaw visitor’s guide, I came across a 2-page advertisement for Zapiecek. I figure anywhere that can afford two entire pages in a travel magazine must be doing something right. Maybe I’m just a sucker. Anyway, that is where we went for dinner and it was AH-MAZING. Another must if you are in the city.

pierogi perfection

pierogi perfection

We feasted on “fried dumplings served in the hot pan”: dumplings with meat (for J), dumplings with spinach leaves and cheese, and dumplings with lentil. J also tried the chicken, which he said was some of the best he has ever had. I was pleasantly surprised with the cup of dried fruit compote, which sounded not-so-nice, but was actually sweet, smooth, and refreshing. For a most sinful dessert, we savored blueberry dumplings, served in a hot cast iron plate, and topped with sweet cream. By the time we were done eating, I was seeing dumplings, breathing dumplings, and was definitely feeling like a dumpling.

The next day, we woke up early – and I mean EARLY (5:00am The Country time; 6:00am Warsaw) to make it to the Warsaw Uprising Museum, the Orange Balloon Station, the Nespresso Boutique, and to find a Polish cookbook in English. We had to be back at the hotel by 1:00pm, so we really did not have much time.

We walked from the hotel to the Warsaw Uprising Museum, just under a mile away. Unfortunately, we did not realize the museum doesn’t open until 10:00am during the summer.

No big deal. We figured we would  just take the train to the Orange Balloon Station, then return to the Uprising Museum afterwards. We boarded the #22 train (#24 will also take you there) and everything was a-okay, until we got off at our stop near the Narodowy Stadium. Of course, since we got such an early start, the giant orange helium balloon wasn’t even up and operating yet, so we couldn’t even see in what direction we were supposed to be walking.

Thank goodness I had pączki z różą for the road.

Thank goodness I had pączki z różą for the road.

Along the way, I dragged J into a very strange flea market-y place that reminded me of las pulgas in the Rio Grande Valley.

Mexico, is that you?!

Mexico, is that you?!

I didn’t find any bootlegged DVD’s or bags of chicharrones de harina, so we continued walking.

Chicharrones at the pulga

Chicharrones at the pulga (2010)

Thankfully, neither one of us needed a bathroom break, but just in case we did, there was this:

Cute name, cute heart, still not goin' in there!

Cute name, cute heart, still not goin’ in there!

I’m pretty sure we walked around in a ginormous circle before finding the Stacja Balon, which was GROUNDED FOR WEATHER ANYWAY.

So sad. So very, very sad!

So sad. So very, very sad!

By that point, we had wasted a ton of time, my feet were hurting, and I was ready to cry. We didn’t make it back to the Uprising Museum, but we did make it to the Nespresso Boutique, where we loaded up on our favorite capsules which are SOLD OUT in The Country!

Nespresso Rainbow

Nespresso Rainbow

We passed numerous flower stands, which I love.

The lady working at this stand yelled at me for taking a photo.

The lady working at this stand yelled at me for taking this photo.

The lady working at this stand neither minded I took a photo, nor wanted the 2PLN I offered!

The lady working at this stand neither minded I took a photo, nor wanted the 2PLN I offered.

I have yet to find a Polish cookbook in English, and remain far from a master Polish pastry chef. Hopefully with time, I am able to cross off the remainder of my Warsaw Bucket List!

Warsaw Bucket List (Revised):

* Admire Warsaw from the Orange Balloon Station (Call first to inquire about weather! +48 510 316 660)

* Visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum (Opens at 10:00am Monday, Wednesday & Friday in the summer)

* Find an authentic Polish recipe cookbook (If all else fails, look online)

* Become a master Polish pastry chef (Make everyone a guinea pig!)

24(ish) Hours in Warsaw

Last week, I was thrilled to accompany J on another of his trips for work. He goes to so many cool destinations; it is a dream come true for me to be able to travel with him to the fun ones. The clock is ticking on our expat lifestyle, and it would be crazy to pass up these travel opportunities!

This trip found us in Warsaw, the capital of Poland.

Business class was full on the way over, however in “steerage” (as J calls it), I scored a seat in an empty row and was able to put the armrests up and stretch out across 3 seats. Not too shabby! I was just happy to have made the flight. If you’ve ever traveled standby, you know what I mean…

We landed at the Warsaw Chopin Airport around 6:00AM. At Polska Kontrola Paszportowa, I impatiently waited in line while the travelers in front of me (one Asian woman and two black men) got absolutely grilled by border control agents. When it was my turn, I handed the agent my passport and waited for the 20 Questions game to ensue. Instead, the agent looked at my passport picture, looked at me, and promptly stamped my passport. No questions asked. I love my American passport!

Happy Independence Day from Poland!

Happy Independence Day from Poland!

Very tired from the night flight, and much too early to do anything anyway, we enjoyed a solid 5 hour nap at our business district hotel. When we awoke, we took a hotel cab to the Jewish Cemetery. Although the majority of Warsaw was destroyed in World War II, the Jewish Cemetery remains. Exploring the sacred grounds and reading the dates on a fraction of the 200,000+ tombstones was extremely humbling. I highly recommend all Warsaw visitors witness this beautiful resting place.

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We decided to head to Warsaw’s Old Town after visiting the Jewish Cemetery. Little did we know, the kosher thing to do in Warsaw is to order a taxi by phone, which we did not have. After unsuccessfully trying to hail multiple cabs, we wound up walking about halfway to Old Town.

Cemetery to Old Town

Cemetery to Old Town

Not really a huge deal, except I’m pretty sure we weren’t walking the direct route. And I was wearing these:

paper thin

paper thin

We stopped in a grocery store along the way to pick up some cold water and snacks. The freshly baked Polish pastries we found didn’t last long enough for a photo opp, but they did give us the energy we needed to continue our walk until we found a non-phone-ahead cab. The cab ride was short, as we were already so close to Old Town!

We found a nice restaurant with patio seating in the middle of the Old Town Market.

Old Town Market Place

Old Town Market Place

J made up for all of the pork he doesn’t get in The Country, while I enjoyed potato and cheese pierogies with sour cream.

Raspberry-y beer & a plate of pierogies

Raspberry-y beer & a plate of pierogies

After rolling ourselves away from our plates, we strolled around the vintage area, soaking up all of the sights.

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Hooker adverts

Hooker adverts

We noticed lots of advertisements for “working girls” on car windows. It appeared the more run down the car, the more ads adorned the windows. I’m not sure what types of correlations can be drawn from that, but it seems w#@&%$ may be attracted to junkers. Imagine that?!

We kept walking until we came to the Church of St. Anne.

Kościół św. Anny

Kościół św. Anny

The church’s bell tower had a VIEWING TERRACE sign, so of course we had to check it out! I think we paid about $1.25 each to go up.

150 steps to the top!

150 steps to the top!

Soviet looking entrance/exit hole

Soviet looking entrance/exit hole

Old Town view 1

Old Town view 1

Old Town view 2

Old Town view 2

View 3

View 3

After making our way down from the viewing terrace, it took no time at all to get our hands on some Polskie lody (did I get that right? Polish ice cream!).

lody dody da

lody dody da

One chocolate duzy (“large”) swiderki (I don’t know) + one vanilla duzy (“large”) wloskie (“Italian,” according to Google Translate??) = $3.31

After walking off our lody, we took a very overpriced cab back to the hotel and wandered down the street for dinner at a restaurant called Babooshka. Part of me felt like I was cheating by dining at a Russian restaurant in Poland instead of at a Polish restaurant in Poland, but the rustic decor was so cute, and the food was so good, I didn’t regret it for a moment!

Delicious blinczyki with spinach & white cheese for $5.09!

Delicious blinczyki with spinach & white cheese for $5.09!

The next morning, we woke up early to take a hotel cab to the Lazienki Krolewskie Park & Palace. The Palace on the Water, the White House, and Myslewicki Palace were all beautifully designed and well preserved, embellished with lavish paintings, ornate rugs, and an array of other period appropriate antique furnishings.

Łazienki Palace on the Water (Pałac Łazienkowski)

Łazienki Palace on the Water (Pałac Łazienkowski)

Pałac Myślewicki entrance

Pałac Myślewicki entrance

Little White House (Biały Domek) interior

Little White House (Biały Domek) interior

All architectural grandiosity aside, my favorite part of our time at Lazienki Park was being surrounded by the beautiful greenery that we miss in the desert.

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???????????????????????????????To top it all off, when we were leaving the park, a little squirrel ran by. I crouched down, and it actually jumped onto my knee and put its little hand into mine to see if I had any food! I didn’t have any, so he scurried away as quickly as he had come. It was a scene straight out of Snow White! I’m happy to report I am rabies-free.

We made the most of our short stay in Warsaw, but there’s still so much more I want to see and do there!

Warsaw Bucket List:

* Admire Warsaw from the Orange Balloon Station

* Visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum

* Enjoy a Chopin piano recital at Lazienki Park

* Find an authentic Polish recipe cookbook

* Become a master Polish pastry chef

Any other suggestions?