24(ish) hours in Rome

I jumped into one of the white taxis waiting outside Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, laughing a little when I heard “Thriller” come on the cab radio. On the short ride to the hotel, with the taxi driver’s very bad English and my very bad Spanish, I practiced some very basic Italian:

Me: “How much.. como se dice?”

Taxi driver: “How much.. quanto costa.”

Me: “Okay, quanto costa … and, hello is ciao?”

Taxi driver: “Ciao, hello!”

Me: “Goodbye means…”

Taxi driver: “Goodbye, arrivederci”

Me: “arrivedkfjasli … Thank you?”

Taxi Driver: “Grazie”

Me: “Grazie … “

I met J at the hotel, and we immediately took the bus downtown in search of food. With sleepy eyes and growling bellies, we then walked for what felt like forever, before finding The Mirror pizzeria.

forking river on the way to forking food

forking river on the way to forking food

The Mirror Pizzeria

The Mirror Pizzeria

We squeezed in to a table in the back of the restaurant which was stuffed to the brim with loud, chatty customers, and hungrily devoured tomato bruschetta and two pizzas: diavola (spicy sauce) for me, and pepperoni for J. One bottle of smooth, Italian Chianti later, the waitress easily convinced us to split the tiramisu. The desert was extra yummy due to the fact it wasn’t lacking the coffee liqueur that’s almost always missing in the Doha version! Come prepared with small cash for a tip, as they conveniently did not have any change.

tiramisu for 2

tiramisu for 2

After dinner, we found the iconic Trevi Fountain. We had visited the fountain once before, on J’s/my/our first overnight trip to Rome. However, that first time, we neglected to throw coins into the fountain. Legend has it, throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain ensures you will return to Rome. We had already returned to Rome, even without donating to the fountain, but still made a point to (very quickly, when the cops weren’t looking) chuck in a coin. This happened after stopping for a scoop of gelato first, of course.

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Fontana di Trevi

Since leaving Rome this second time, I discovered the coin is supposed to be thrown from your right hand, backwards over your left shoulder (no peeking!). Also, there are supposed to be 3 coins thrown: 1 to guarantee returning to Rome, 1 for a new romance, and one for marriage. I’m not sure where we stand on the Trevi Fountain coin tossing scale, but at this point it’s fair to say that myth is BUSTED!

The next morning, we woke up in time to catch the (free) hotel bus to the City Center, then took a taxi from there to Vatican City. For a variety of personal reasons, I swore up and down I would never visit the Vatican. As with every other time I’ve said “I’ll never…”, I did.

Down the street from the Vatican, we crammed in to yet another tiny, filled-to-max-capacity Italian restaurant, Wine Bar. Because J had to fly an airplane in a few hours, we didn’t get to indulge in any grape-y delight. The place was off the beaten path, and the numerous priests dining there made us feel like we had hit a local jackpot. Sharing a small table with 2 other restaurant patrons, we savored a simple caprese salad, followed by a sausage pizza for J, and spinach-ricotta cannelloni for me. Olive Garden will never be the same!

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Wine Bar

After lunch, on our way to the Vatican, we walked by a BeDazzled Smart car. What could be more worthy of five seconds of internet fame than a BeDazzled Smart car?!

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BeDazzled Smart car

Happy Travel ticket scalpers were all over Saint Peter’s Square, trying their hardest to sell tickets for tours of Saint Peter’s Basilica and some other nearby sights. I think they were charging 35 Euro per person, and maybe that’s worth it if you really want a 4-hour-long explanation of everything you’re looking at, by someone whose first language is not English. We neither had that kind of time, nor wanted to spend that kind of money. Also, admission to Saint Peter’s Basilica is FREE! The line in front is not to buy a ticket – it’s a security line that moves fairly quickly, and you have to stand in that line even if you’ve already been ripped off by Happy Travel salespeople.

Saint Peter's Basilica

Saint Peter’s Basilica

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Looking up inside Saint Peter’s Basilica

One of numerous dead Popes in Saint Peter's Basilica

One of numerous dead Popes in Saint Peter’s Basilica

Next up was a short walk to visit the Vatican Museums, home of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

Sala Rotonda ceiling

Vatican Museum – Sala Rotonda ceiling

Vatican Museum - Gallery of Maps

Vatican Museum – Gallery of Maps

FYI: NO CAMERAS ARE ALLOWED IN THE SISTINE CHAPEL, NOT EVEN WITH THE FLASH OFF! We had walked all throughout the Vatican Museums, snapping flashless photos here and there, so I was totally shocked and very embarrassed when a guard angrily informed me that no pictures are allowed in the Sistine Chapel. I’m sure there was a sign somewhere, but I somehow missed it and, as a result, felt about 2″ tall for the next hour! Accidental Asshole in the house Sistine Chapel! Learn from my mistake!

By the time we finished exploring the Vatican Museums, it was dinnertime! I know it sounds like all we do is eat. We definitely don’t miss any meals. I don’t think I need to justify enjoying a meal (in Rome of all places – or anywhere else, for that matter), but this expat lifestyle is temporary, and the days really are numbered. We try to make the most of every opportunity, and eating pasta in Rome is the opportunity of a lifetime, so that is what we did.

The rustic looking, cozy feeling, dimly lit restaurant we ducked into was empty except for one other couple. It’s always interesting how much cheese is in American Italian restaurant food. Cheese, cheese, cheese – say when! Because really, who doesn’t love cheese!? Here, it was just a light dusting on top – the perfect balance, and something I will try to remember to do at home. Less cheese meant being able to taste the delicious tomato basil sauce.

tomato & basil spaghetti

tomato & basil spaghetti

We don’t usually have desert after every meal, but when in Rome…

There was cream filled cannoli with our names on it!

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dolci to the right

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dolci to the left

How we made it out of there with only one piece will remain a mystery.

We took a cab to the area near the bus stop, and were dropped off at Piazza Venezia, across from the Altare della Patria.

Complesso del Vittoriano (I think)

Complesso del Vittoriano (I think)

We popped in to the Gran Caffe Roma to get out of the “cold” (40or 50F – cold for having come from the desert!) while waiting for the bus. J got his caffeine fix with a frothy cappuccino, and I sipped on an incredibly sweet Italian hot chocolate. It was so rich, I could only drink about half of it, but it hit the spot and warmed my fingers.

I’m excited to try this easy Italian hot chocolate recipe on my parents when I go home… TOMORROW!

How to Make Italian Hot Chocolate
This recipe is by Paula Jones and can also be found by clicking this link!

What You Will Need:

  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate 70% or higher
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch

What To Do:

  1. Into a saucepan over LOW heat add chocolate and a smidge of milk. Stir with a wooden spoon until melted.
  2. SLOWLY add remaining milk until it’s well combined. Add sugar. Mix to combine. Whisk in corn starch.
  3. Continue cooking over LOW heat until it becomes thick, creamy and coats the back of the wooden spoon.
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Driver Boss, Jack-o-Lanterns & Camel Chocolate

Yesterday went like this:

J got home from work (flying to Dubai – or was it Abu Dhabi? and back) around 8:00am. I had my driver (he’s not MY driver per se, but the one I always call – “Driver Boss” for the purpose of this blog) take me 30 miles north of the city for my second interview at an international school. I have been toying with the idea of working full time here instead of just part time. The interview went well, and this particular school is quite nice and seems to be very Western.

After my interview, I had Driver Boss stop at Subway. I ran in and ordered 3 sandwiches: 1 for me, 1 for J, and 1 for Driver Boss, who had waited in the car an hour while I was at the school. While the Filipino man behind the counter prepared our sandwiches, an old Qatari man came in and waited behind me. The Dhuhr call to prayer (around noon) came on over the restaurant speakers and could be heard from area mosques. The local man cheerfully whistled along with the whole thing, then ordered his sandwich. I have never heard anyone, let alone one of the locals, whistle along with the call to prayer! It was pretty cute.

I love hearing D Boss describe India, so a portion of the drive back we talked about his home in Kerala – the nature, the houseboats. Most of his family still live there, including his mother, wife and daughter. He doesn’t know when he will move back to Kerala, and says it’s not too bad being here because he gets to go back to his family every 3 months. His older brother, an equally kind, soft spoken gentleman, lives with him here in The Country and drives one of the fleet’s five cars. Even so, D Boss preferred Dubai, where he lived and worked for 12 years, enjoying more freedom and luxuries than there are here.

We talked about religion, one of my favorite topics with D Boss and his drivers. He told me how his mother traveled all the way from Kerala to Mecca for The Hajj, and that he hopes to do the same one day. I asked him why men and women don’t pray in the same area at a mosque, or masjid. Women pray in a separate room from men. He explained how the men line up so close to each other while praying, that their arms actually touch. He went on to say it would not be right for him and someone else’s wife to touch while praying. Regardless of my own beliefs, I understood.

In preparation for Halloween, we broke out the Shuns and got to work on the Lebanese pumpkins we acquired the night before.

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I love pumpkins!

Amazingly enough, the pumpkins were the only things to get sliced (I keep a few bandaids under the Shun knife block just to be safe).

We both walked away from our glorious jack-o-lanterns with all fingers, toes, and everything in between 100% intact.

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Lebanese Jack-o-Lanterns + Cheesy Poof

Trying to get the Cheese monster to pose for a picture with our jack-o-lanterns reminded me of Mixy’s old pumpkin head “costume.” Mixy is my cat who is temporarily residing with my parents back in KC. Mixy wore that pumpkin head and she wore it well, although I can’t find the pictures now. Anyway, I brought Mixy’s pumpkin head “costume” all the way back to Qatari from Kansas City. Here is Cheese Louise in all her pumpkin head glory:

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Lookin’ good, Cheesy!

After royally pissing off Cheese, J and I headed to a gourmet cafe for some camel chocolate.

That’s right, “the first and finest camel milk chocolate.”

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Al Nassma camel chocolate display

Although cheese is my downfall, I opt for organic soy or almond milk instead of cow milk when eating cereal. I really try my hardest to avoid leather products, and of course I don’t eat meat. The thought of camel milk chocolate was pretty disturbing at first. I wanted to try it, because 1. I love trying new things, 2. when else will this kind of “crazy” opportunity present itself?!, and 3. I suspect camels are treated pretty damn fabulously compared to American dairy cows. Does that mean I was up for trying the $24 camel burger on the menu? Eh, no.

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Thanks, but no thanks!

So, what was the verdict in the trial of the camel chocolate? According to J, who absolutely did not want to try the stuff, “It was good! It was better than I thought it would be.” Indeed, it was a very smooth, very creamy, very delicious milk chocolate.

Even so, I don’t think I’d eat it knowingly again, as I couldn’t get the image of a camel being milked out of my head…

…especially not after watching Mike Rowe milk a camel at San Diego’s Oasis Camel Dairy!

What do you think – would you eat camel chocolate?

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!

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?

Oh Em Ghee, I Made Sweet Chapati!

I hear jet lag lasts one day for each hour of time difference. Kansas City is 8 hours behind us and we’ve been back in The Country for 9 days now. I am feeling pretty well adjusted today (it’s 10:30PM and I’m ready for bed!), so maybe there is some truth to the jet lag equation.

The last week, however, getting back into the swing of things (sleeping before 4:00am) has left me very bored at odd hours. As mentioned previously, I have really been wanting to learn to make sweet chapati. It is one of my favorite treats here.

Last night, I decided to try the recipe I found online. My biggest worry about making it was finding ghee. I am totally unfamiliar with ghee, but live in the perfect place to find it with ease in any grocery store.

Ghee

Ghee

My sweet chapati turned out quite scrumptious! Unfortunately, it ended up looking like a stack of little cockeyed tortillas.

Success, kind of.

Success, kind of.

For future reference, here’s how it looks when the pros do it:

Sweet chapati at its finest!

Note to self.

I hadn’t had any of the real stuff for over a month, so my mind was a little fuzzy in the Appropriate Chapati Shape Department. Still, I was feeling pretty confident about it, so decided to share some with our building staff (15 on duty during the day and 5 at night) to see what they thought of it. In theory, it was a great idea; our night staff come from Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines, so I figured maybe they could give me some tips for the next time I try making sweet chapati.

I took the elevator downstairs and found the building supervisor; a very kind, middle aged gentleman from Sri Lanka. I swear he works 12 hour shifts every day of the week, and even at the end of a long day he is always eager to be of assistance. I started out by asking him if he knew how to make chapati. Due to a language barrier, I wasn’t really able to convey, “I love sweet chapati and tried making it for the first time. Since it turned out so tasty, I thought I might share it with you and the rest of the staff! Can you tell me what you think?!”  Also, I talk fast when I’m nervous, which I get when I’m unsure of myself, which I was at that moment. Nevertheless, it was still worth the effort when his confusion turned into a big hearty laugh and warm smile when I uncovered the plate of chapati!

It might have been the worst sweet chapati he’s ever had, but I think he appreciated the gesture. Practice makes perfect, and that’s not the last of my chapati he’s seen!

This morning, I returned to work at the learning center for the first time in nearly a month. My first day back was one student’s last day. I asked the 12 year old if he was leaving forever, and he said no, just during Ramadan. He could hardly wait to play video games, sleep, and “focus on praying.” He’ll be back in August. I’m excited that he’s excited. Ramadan seems like a really fun time for Muslim kids. Ten more days until it begins!

For us non-Muslims, the last few days prior to Ramadan mean stocking up on booze, as the lone liquor store here will be closed during the Holy Month.

2013 stash

2012 stash

Additionally for us non-Muslims, Ramadan means getting a glimpse into a life that Western media will almost never show us, and experiencing a multitude of cultural activities with other fellow expats. It’s true that everyone here must abstain from eating/drinking/smoking/chewing gum/basically-putting-anything-in-their-mouth in public during the day, regardless of religious affiliation. Even so, once the sun sets, it also means fun nights that last longer, and an even wider array of delicious Arab food and drinks available. Just like stores in the U.S. “deck the halls” during the Christmas season, stores here will also go all out, with big sales and bright, festive lights and decorations galore.

Ramadan Kareem! (2012)

Ramadan Kareem! (2012)

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit excited. Let the festivities begin!