Balenciaga

Are you thinking of this?

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 07.59.08Or are you thinking of those timeless, iconic dresses and accessories when women “dressed?” Actually, properly, perfectly dressed.

If you want to see actual, proper dressing, head down to the V&A now until next February 2018 and see Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion. All the details are on the V&A website.

The outfits are hard to capture through the glass, but you get the idea. Members’ week at the museum and this was the preview night before it opens to the public this weekend.

Warsaw

It turned into a very unusual week and after Krakow, I had to dip up to Warsaw for two nights. Lots of running around to do (not the typical tourist activities), so I don’t have much to share except photos. I stayed at an Airbnb about a 10-15min walk straight (literally) from the train station (excellent Airbnb with a great host too). The train from Krakow to Warsaw cost 199zl ($54) for first class, and I think it was 129zl for standard – the whole journey took about 3 hours.

I’m going to gloss over the snow flurries that occurred right as I was arriving at my Airbnb after I took the picture of the arts and cultural building below (built in 1955 and now housing a variety of museums).

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Old Warsaw was destroyed during the war, with many of the buildings just shells of their former selves. The restoration work was amazing (see the header photo), with this part of the city being granted UNESCO world heritage status! (Between this, the salt mines outside Krakow, and old Krakow itself, I got 3 sites in 1 country!)

I wish I’d had more than 48hrs to spend in Warsaw – it is a city with lots of potential for a great vacation! (Ok, it snowed again a second time the night I arrived with big fat flakes.) It’s also a city filled with a mixture of period architecture, communist-era, and new, shiny modern – sometimes all on the same street. And from what I can tell, it is a huge, sprawling city with wide sweeping boulevards – fitting pedestrians, buses, trams, and cars throughout the city centre, lots of parks for recreational activities and relaxation, and amazing restaurants for a variety of cuisines and budgets (and like Krakow, McDonald’s everywhere). I need to go back (maybe when I’m better prepared for fluctuating weather)!

That being said, to head to the airport, I picked up bus 175 at the plaza between my Airbnb and the train station – it only cost 4.40zl ($1.15), took 30min, and dropped you off at the front doors of Chopin Airport! You can’t ask for easier than that, right?

Overall, go! Go to Poland! I was leery at first, but after one day there, between Krakow and Warsaw I was pleasantly surprised and you certainly will not be disappointed!

Krakow

Not the first choice of a spring vacation/holiday. I headed to Poland and everyone else was going to warm climates. I’m ok with that. I’ve wanted to visit Krakow since I was a kid. There was a classic book called The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric Kelly.  (And without giving away the whole book, you can still stand in the market square every day and hear the trumpet…)

So, cheap flight on Ryanair (ugh) and hotel booked via Expedia. Tourist card (picked up at the airport rather than pre-ordered) for €30/120zl. I was prepared for lots of rain so I tried to pack the best I could.  The train from airport to central Krakow 9zl (machine takes cash or card). DO get a ticket as they come by and check every ticket, every train, daily!

I stayed at Hotel Legend, off sw. Gertrudy. It’s approximately 15min from the station (if you aren’t hauling luggage and actually know where you’re going). Lovely little hotel located at the far end of the old city near Wawel Castle. Would certainly stay again! The breakfast was amazing and that helped me save money as I generally didn’t need to eat lunch. Staff at the hotel was beyond friendly and helpful. They could arrange tours or guides if you needed, and most spoke excellent English. I had a basic room and it was more than comfortable for my 4 night/5 day stay. My room did face the main street, which also has a tram line that runs on it, so be warned of noise if you’re a sensitive sleeper.

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Scenes from Krakow.

Day trip to the salt mines nearby was very nice, and I opted for it on 3 May (Constitution Day – a national holiday akin to 4th of July in the US) as every other tourist attraction and most everything else in the city was closed! It was easy to take the bus there and the bus fare was covered by my tourist card! Tours of the mine are done in English and to be allowed photos was 10zl extra. Cost = 99zl = 23€ = $26 = £20 (approx)

I attended a concert at Sts Peter and Paul church for only 60zl (£12). Most churches offer evening concerts and this was amazing – featuring Vivaldi and Chopin. The only downside was that 14th century churches are super cold at night and generally don’t have heat. Sometimes it was hard to focus as I was SO cold! But the acoustics were beyond amazing – better than some symphonies I’ve attended.

Meals on average ran about 25zl. And don’t miss out on the pretzels sold by the corner vendors for 1.60zl! Flavours are poppy seed, sesame seed, or (asiago) cheese. And one day, it rained so hard, I grabbed a couple pretzels and ran to the Starbucks to hide out for a bit. Give me my overpriced tea, but I’ll sit and eat my outside vendor food.

Starbucks, Costa, and Cafe Nero are familiar sights in the city as well as McDonald’s. McDonald’s IS. EVERYWHERE. EVERYWHERE. Yes, I ate there once, when I was rushing to the concert at the church because I lost track of time walking around.

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For fun, get a QR scanner app for your phone. There are park benches dotted around town with information to promote literacy! Scan the QR code, learn about the person (ignoring my ad-filled QR app):

And while the Schindler factory museum was fascinating (and very crowded with group tours, it was a tad annoying at times), there were a few photos I took that I don’t think need to be shared online as there’s enough hate, right? I posted one on Instagram so pop over there if you want to take a look. My favourite though was the Galicia Jewish Heritage Museum – the photography was amazing and poignant.

Fitbit stats = over 100k steps for the week and 25,000 or so on the day I went to the salt mines. Lots of thick stone steps and belltowers – my legs hurt!

English Heritage Day Trip

Back in the autumn, I waxed lyrical about my English Heritage membership and all the historic sites across the country you can visit… Well, in the newsletter they email out, I learned Wrest Park (Bedfordshire) was hosting the largest St. George’s Day festival in the country! For a nominal fee (on top of the membership fee), we could go and enjoy all sorts of activities over the weekend! Even better – if tickets were pre-purchased online, you could save an additional 10% – excellent.

So, what did we do? There were a tonne of “living history” re-enactments – everything from Vikings and Romans who lived in England long ago, to Medieval/Renaissance knights and folk, Crusaders, and 18th-century lords and ladies! Plenty of food choices (though an equal amount of people brought picnics as the weather turned nice), activities for kids of all ages, falconry demonstrations, the ability to enjoy the amazing grounds and gardens, and the house was open as well!

My dad really enjoyed it – he’s still talking about it! For Americans, since there’s no “national holiday” like we’re used to with 4th of July celebrations, this was a fun substitute. I even got a little St. George’s Cross flag for that patriotic vibe!

Overhearing a worker when I was having lunch, I learned Wrest Park was expecting 9,000 – 10,000 visitors over the 2-day event! Easily comparable to many of the Civil War or Revolutionary War re-enactment events you’ll find on the east coast of the US.

There are over 300 English Heritage sites to visit across the country – a membership can easily pay for itself in about 4-6 visits.

Artist (not really)

So, remember how I went to Emma Bridgewater a few weeks ago with my mom and did the design your own mug? Well, 2 weeks later, guess what arrived at my door?

I’m not quitting my day job anytime soon 🙂 Nonetheless, I think my dad is secretly jealous he didn’t get a mug of his own.

Would we take the drive up to Stoke-on-Trent again and do another day at Emma Bridgewater? Absolutely!

Busy Week!

So, remember back in late February/early March where I decided on taking my mom to Emma Bridgewater for that themed Mother’s Day gift? Well, we did that and a few days earlier – that absolutely gorgeous 24c Sunday in London – we went and took a cookie decorating class at Biscuiteers in Notting Hill!

First, Biscuiteers… It had been several years since I’d been over to Notting Hill. Honestly, I don’t get to that part of town that often. Kensington, yes, but not that little smidge bit further. If you do go up to the shop, it’s easier to take Ladbroke Grove tube rather than Notting Hill Gate. We did the Faberge-egg themed chocolate cookies! The staff were really great in instructing us too and I picked up lots of techniques to use at Christmas.

The cost of the class included all supplies, a Biscuiteers apron to keep, and a themed tin to take your cookies home in! The price is a bit high, but I had a 2 for 1 offer I redeemed from January.

And on to Emma Bridgewater! We went the day before Good Friday, so lots of M1 and A50 traffic. Lots. Most accidents were the opposite direction we were headed, but it did make for a long drive home. Tour started at 11:30 and we learned about how they make the pottery – and impressively, how so much is sourced “locally” throughout England, how it is recycled and reused when possible, and the sheer amount of local people employed by the company who started as apprentices for a number of years. My mom loved it and we came home with several pieces.

And more pictures… We were not allowed to take pictures in the design studio itself as there were a number of new designs and commissioned pieces being worked on. The decorate your own pottery was fun – a 1/2 pint mug was included in our visit, but we could’ve “upgraded” to a number of other pieces if we wanted. It’s harder than you’d think – a steady hand certainly helps.

Cookie Thief

Yep. I am. From Smitten Kitchen. Have you read her blog? If not, you should. Deb lives in NYC and has a tiny tiny kitchen. Not the normal kitchen found in most homes in America – but a proper tiny kitchen. Like you’d find pretty much anywhere in the UK unless you have a gigantic house or castle in the countryside with an AGA. I started reading her blog around 2008-2009. Once I realised I was moving to the UK, I was confident that if she could cook in a tiny kitchen, my kitchen in Scotland wouldn’t be any trouble. Or in England.

 

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NYC kitchen photo courtesy and (c) Smitten Kitchen

Except I still really don’t cook. You’ve seen my attempts. Same with baking. I can get on a roll (no pun) though, and when I do, my waistline expands considerably. Like last week. Craving chocolate chip cookies. Not really a “thing” here in the UK. 101 cookies/biscuits of every form in the store except those. So, back to the recipe I’ve used time and time again over the years:

Crispy Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 cups (260g) all-purpose flour (plain flour in UK speak)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup (190g) packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar (white sugar, not icing sugar)
  • 1 Tbsp (15ml) vanilla extract (you can use less if you want)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 cups (about 12oz) chocolate chips (semi-sweet, dark – your choice)
  • chopped walnuts if you want (I WANT!)

Pre-heat oven to 325F (165c). Line cookie sheets with parchment or Silpat mat (or grease as needed).

Sift flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In another bowl, cream melted butter, brown sugar, and sugar. Beat egg, egg yolk, and vanilla into the melted butter mixture until creamy. Mix in dry ingredients, chocolate chips (and nuts).

(I chilled the dough for about 1/2 hour but you don’t have to). Drop the cookies onto the sheet (about 12 will fit on a standard sized cookie sheet) about a tablespoon at a time. Bake approximately 15-17 minutes (mine were about 17-20min but they’d been chilled too). Let sit for about a minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

I had approximately 36 cookies. Not including the bit of dough I ate (no, I do not believe eating raw cookie dough will kill you – I’ve been doing it for 40+ years, however, use caution as there are raw eggs in the mix!) Additionally, the last time I made them, I only had dark brown sugar which made the cookies really dark and a tad hard to tell when they were done in the oven so back to the light brown sugar it is!

Really, they are crispy and chewy just like Deb’s recipe. My dad and I ate them all in 48hrs. Oink.

 

 

 

The fancy, professional photos are from Smitten Kitchen and the copyright/trademark belongs to them!