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!)

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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?

Yellow & Blue

Sometimes, while we are enjoying a life of considerable luxuries, the weight of the rest of the world gets to feeling really heavy.

From certain angles, we have an awesome view. To one side of our balcony, there is a marina which is home to many extravagant yachts and superyachts. To the other side sits a neighborhood of brightly colored, Venetian-inspired apartment buildings. Seated on our living room couch though, one looks directly at the building next door that has been under construction the entire year we have lived here.

View from couch

View from couch

For many months, looking over the edge of our balcony provided a view of the imported construction workers, a.k.a. worker bees or Lemmings, taking their midday nap. On the concrete. Mostly under direct sunlight. At the construction site that will eventually be a near carbon copy of our building.

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concrete siesta

One day, I was observing their building methods (ex: hard hats as buckets, lack of safety ropes when working on scaffolding, etc.) when I noticed a worker on a balcony who seemed like he might be looking my direction. So, I waved at him. He waved back, and we both broke out into huge smiles!

See, a lot of us Westerners like to frown on India’s caste system, but we all know damn well that we don’t interact with them, unless they have a service or product that we want/need. Many places here don’t even allow entrance to blue collar male workers.

The cool thing about smiles is not only are they beneficial to our health, but they are immune to language barriers.

Feeling inspired, I took off my jewelry, changed into workout clothes, and hurried to the building next door. I was going to make a difference. Free English lessons for all!

The construction site was teeming with dirty, dark, stone faced, fatigued men.

“Supervisor?” I asked one after another. “Supervisor?” Nobody spoke a drop of English.

Finally, a security guard approached me. I eagerly told him I am giving free English lessons, and anyone interested should contact me via SMS. I figured if I received a text message, I could use Google Translate to arrange, at minimum, a place to meet, then we could go from there. The security guard promised he would pass my number along to the workers. I left thinking this was the best idea ever, and the beginning of something amazing. Then it dawned on me… THESE GUYS DON’T HAVE PHONES. I have yet to receive a text regarding free English lessons.

सुरक्षित रूप से काम करते हैं. परिवार आप के लिए इंतज़ार कर रही है.

सुरक्षित रूप से काम करते हैं. परिवार आप के लिए इंतज़ार कर रही है.

The same kind of un-airconditioned bus that drops many of them off every morning also picks many of them up at 4:30PM.

Waiting for the bus

waiting for the bus

waiting

single file with “dabbas”

The other day, I decided if I couldn’t help anyone with English, I would at least take them something cool to drink before the buses came. I walked to the store between my building and theirs, filled a shopping cart with 100 bottles of cold beverages (juice, water, pop), paid, and, much to the dismay of the grocery store employees, wheeled the cart full of refreshments off to the construction site.

I lucked out this time and found a worker of Asian descent who spoke English. I wondered why he was doing this shit job when his English was actually pretty good, but I didn’t get a chance to ask him because a bus pulled up. Workers started boarding when I yelled WAIT! and started handing them bottles. Bottles of mango juice, bottles of orange juice, bottles of kiwi juice, bottles of strawberry juice, bottles of apple juice, bottles of mixed berry juice, cans of Coke, bottles of water.

THEY WERE SO GRATEFUL.

The cart was empty in less than 30 seconds.

“How many workers are at this building?!” I asked the English speaking worker. “I only brought 100 bottles!”

“One towsan,” he replied.

“What?! One thousand?! This building?!” I couldn’t believe it.

“Yes,” he smiled.

By that point, a grocery store employee had tracked me down and was more than happy to return the cart for me. Empty handed, I walked home with more weight than when I had pushed over the cart full of drinks. It hadn’t been full enough.

I spent a few minutes on our balcony this afternoon, eyeing the under-construction building next door. A worker sat in the corner of a balcony at that building while his comrades tried to pull him to his feet. No luck.

So. Hot.

So. Hot.

Tomorrow doesn’t look much better.

July 3

Almost every time I go out on our balcony now, I find a worker to wave at. Sometimes I have to stand there and wave twice, or even three times, but I’ll be damned if I can’t get a return wave and a smile.

I want to say to these workers, I see you and I’m sorry. I’m sorry you are over here being exploited as all hell, making pennies and living in a labor camp, roasting to death (sometimes literally) under the desert sun. I’m sorry I moved into this building, because if people stopped moving into these places, you wouldn’t be building them. Every time I look out my window, I am so fucking sorry. You can’t even begin to imagine how sorry I am. My heart weighs a gazillion pounds when I see how thirsty and tired you look and I am just so so so so so so so so so sorry.

I’m sorry I have been here for a year and can’t think of a fucking thing to do to make anything better.

Until something comes to me, I am going to bake rainbow cupcakes and give them to everyone I see.