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!

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.

Preparing for Spring (and Mom)

It supposedly felt like spring today in parts of the country. Rumour had it there was bright sunshine in London. Trapped out in the shire, it was slightly overcast here, felt a bit damp, and was breezy. Maybe it would rain? The temperature would have easily reached the ever elusive 15c without the breeze. Needless to say, there are things in the shire springing about – which gives the dogs plenty to smell on their walks. There definitely were crocus – yellow crocus – attempting to peek out!

But now that February is basically gone, March is here and Mother’s Day is right around the corner (word to the wise, in the US, it’s in May and generally always fell right around my mom’s birthday, which often led to us forgetting one day or the other). Weirdly, I’ll type or write “mom” but when addressing her say “ma” – I think it’s a New York thing. English friends say “mum” and Irish friends say “mam.” Dialects…

So, I’m opting for a theme. Emma Bridgewater. Not the taste of everyone for sure, but my mom will love it because it’s pottery and crafts, and definitely English! Waitrose offers an exclusive pitcher with flowers for £68 delivered. Done. They also have a wide range of other flowers and plants at varying prices – and I’ve used them before to send flowers down to Cornwall which arrived on time and just as I selected.

Continuing the Emma Bridgewater theme, I decided to book a day and take my mom/mum/mam up for a factory tour. But even better – they offer a full “factory experience” day where you not only get a tour but have a nice tea and lunch, decorate some pottery and receive a discount on any pottery purchased that day! £30 per person isn’t bad at all considering a mug normally costs £20 and lunch is around £10 at a pub or anywhere out so… easy peasy! Bear in mind, I only live a short 2.5hr drive away, so depending on where you live in the country, your drive could be a bit longer and may involve a hotel stay, but if you planned with your mom/mum/mam or family, or group of friends, it may be a great day out! We’ve never been up to Stoke-on-Trent where all the pottery factories were located so this should be fun, right?

**All the photos in the above collage were taken from Emma Bridgewater’s Instagram page and the copyrights respectfully belong to them!**

 

This post was not sponsored in any way by Waitrose or Emma Bridgewater, but simply products I like and event I will be participating in. That being said, I’ll post pictures and updates for you to see after the fact!

When You Need a Cheap Fix

Facials can be great if you find a good esthetician to work with, but honestly, all the amazingly good ones that will make you look 20yrs younger, refreshed, relaxed and are on the hot, popular celebrity list are out of everyone’s price range. And they always want you to come back every 4-8 weeks. Sometimes at $100/£100 or more a visit it isn’t always affordable unless you sacrifice something else. Then again, I have a friend who does because that’s her “thing.” She doesn’t have cable TV and justifies it as simply trading one expense for another.

Nonetheless, when I was in the US back in February, I was looking and feeling beyond exhausted and my skin was dry and flaky. I went to Sephora looking for something – but I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted – until I came across these sheet face masks.  Because ones from Korea seem to be the best (right?) I purchased one from Boscia (below) and one from Karuna.

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There were over a dozen to choose from, including Farmacy, Dr. Jart+, Tony Moly, and Sephora’s own line. At an average of $8 each, how bad could they be?

In full disclosure, I had one gifted to me by a friend when I lived in Scotland as I was generally feeling like crap and going through a few things at the time and it was a nice little “I’m thinking of you.” I never used it because to me, the packaging was sceptical! (I’m a marketing/designer person’s dream, as I really do, unfortunately, buy things based on packaging.) It’s still in my drawer of beauty “stuff” but, I digress…

In the US, I spent the next day in a robe with my hair up, attempting to fit a sloppy, gooey sheet on my face and set the timer on my phone. Fifteen minutes later, I peeled it off, hopped in the shower, and went about the rest of my day (not wearing any makeup). My skin certainly felt softer, but I didn’t immediately notice a difference until I went to meet friends for lunch. Every. Single. One. commented on how amazing my skin looked (especially after such a long flight), what did I do, etc. And over the next few days, my skin didn’t seem to suffer any adverse effects such as spontaneous or random breakouts. Win.

Fast forward almost 10 months and at Sephora last week, I stocked up on more Karuna (Sephora was out of the Boscia one) and two Sephora branded ones. But the minute I got back to the UK, it seemed everywhere was carrying them! Boots, in Biggleswade no less, not only has its own brand in about 5 formulations, but also Garnier, Masque Bar, FaceInc, and the ones with the “sceptical packaging!”

On closer inspection, the “sceptical packages” reveal they are made by a UK company called 7th Heaven – and believe it or not – they aren’t tested on animals, are vegan/vegetarian-friendly, and have that cruelty-free bunny logo! For £1. Yeah, £1. ASDA has them too. For reals. I purchased 2 to try and dug out the one my friend gave me. (If given a choice, I do try and purchase cosmetics and similar items that are cruelty-free when I can if they aren’t ridiculously more expensive than other more mainstream products.)

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So, moral of the story, is run, don’t walk to your nearest shop/online and get a few face masks for when you want a cheap fix to feel better about yourself. The more expensive ones may be worth a try too, but again, the average price is about $8/£8 per mask or get like 100 of the 7th Heaven ones at £1 each that aren’t tested on animals. It may be the perfect thing for a Sunday night in order to start your week fresh!

Slow Week

I was in the US this past week to renew my driver’s license and visit friends. The trip turned out to be a good time, albeit quicker than I imagined, as suddenly it was time to go home!

I flew on Virgin Atlantic this time and wow. Impressed. Maybe I was just lucky with the crew I had on my flight, but having to get up at a god-forsaken hour of the morning to catch the bus to Heathrow for an early morning flight (I wanted to be in the US at a reasonable time, as when I arrived, I still had a 3 hour – or more – drive ahead of me), the entire flight crew was friendly and pleasant. This started at check-in and lasted until we landed in Atlanta. Like, so pleasant, I actually commented to the crew about it. Something I have not done in *years.* Years! Rental car on arrival was a bit of a kerfluffle, but in the larger scheme of things, the melt-down I had was likely due to stress and being tired.

Ahhh, Atlanta. Your traffic is horrid. Horrid. For a Friday evening, it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, but well, yeah. And the weather – whilst somewhat expecting warmer temps, I wasn’t 100% sure it was accurate, so I still packed a few light weight sweaters and long sleeved shirts. It was almost 80F/26c when I landed. Over the weekend in South Carolina, it was about 75F/24c! Sunny. Sunny. Sunny. And not a bit of a breeze. But having fun at a dog event and the associated banquet was great!

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Then Monday, driving *back* through Atlanta to Birmingham (Alabama) it was still warm. Passing through three states, however, looked like scorched earth. Asking a few people, it hadn’t rained in months – maybe a bit before the hurricane blew through and maybe a bit after, but literally no rain. The leaves on the trees weren’t brown and coloured due to it being November – they were just dead. The grass was beyond crunchy and hard as a rock.

Alabama. Fun. I got to see friends, ate at a great new little quick Mexican restaurant with sangria and made several huge Target runs, then back to Atlanta and home. Oh, there was a bit of an election thing that happened on Tuesday too. Somehow, I managed to survive the entire trip with no jet-lag until I got back! Unfortunately, I’ve been paying for it for 2 days now. But the dogs are glad to have me home.