Potatoes, Cabbages, Blue Jays and Mosquitos

So at the weekend we decided to escape the city a little, and ventured south on the bus to the Park Kultury, a bit of forest and fields and holiday ‘huts’.  The sun was shining hard as it has been for the last week or two, but the bus was nicely air-conditioned (apparently if the drivers don’t have it switched on they are getting fined).  We arrived at it was as though the whole of Warsaw had descended on the place.  There were men, women and children everywhere, all fairly scantily clad burning nicely in the midday sun.

We arrived and took a little walk through the park, then to the forest area where there were far less people.  However it soon became apparent why people might not be populating the  more covered areas, MOSQUITOS!  The Polish ones are MASSIVE!!!  And they are incessant! You’d think living in Scotland for the past 6 years would of hardened me against midges and all thing Vampiric, but these guys are a whole different class!  And, what was worse, the so-called ‘repellant’ we had bought with us (thinking ourselves to be very clever) actually seemed to be ATTRACTING the bloomin’ things!  They buzzed around my head like some sort of tiny version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre!  We escaped as quickly as we could, Mosquitos in hot pursuit.  We finally made it out the other side and fended off the last few brave enough to head out into the heat of the daylight.

Walking trying hard to resist the urge to scratch the various parts of our bodies, we were treated to some lovely views of long strips of land, all planted up with different crops, from Cabbages and Wheat to a lovely field of Potatoes.  We managed to ‘liberate’ a few from the edges of the field to take home and cook, just to see what they were like.  Then we headed back to the main part of the park, where the number of bodies to mosquitos lowered our chances of being bitten.  We sat in the sunshine for a while, watching people of all shapes and sizes stroll around the park, playing volleyball, chess or cards and drinking over priced beer.  We stayed until the temperature lowered enough to bring the Mosquitos back out, and then we headed back to the bus and homewards.


Better late than never

What better time to post my pictures of the first day of the Euro 2012 Football Cup than on the LAST day of the Euro 2012 Football Cup?  The Fanzone in Warsaw has been a great place to hang out and watch the games, the atmosphere has so far been great and the people all very happy and sociable.  Despite peoples reservations about how they would be treated and regarded in both Poland and the Ukraine, I should thing almost everyone has been pleasantly surprised, and I hope many of them have realised what a gem they might have been missing if they have never travelled to this part of Europe before.  Polska Polska, Bialo i Czerwoni!!! (Poland, Poland White & Red!!!)

The cheerleaders, however, could have done with a little more practice, and a little more stamina….

Definitely Polish…

Quite possibly British…  (we aren’t all like this I promise!)


Day 117 – 119, Cologne & Nijmegen, May 6th – 8th 2012

Tea 117, Ice Tea, Nijmegen

Tea 118, Apple Ginger, Cologne

Tea 119, Lavender & Camomile, Cologne

Day 117, Sunday.  Actually managed a trip to The Netherlands!  The day was spent with lazing about and walking the dog.  We cooked a very good coconut curry, with courgette and peppers and black Soya Bean noodles. Sehr Gut!  Then in the late afternoon we headed to a town in The Netherlands (which isn’t actually so far from Cologne) called Nijmegen.  The purpose of our trip?  To go and see a band that Regina really enjoys and had bought tickets for, called Dry The River.  The gig was good, the town very very small, but there was a good atmosphere and we got some good fries with satay sauce for our pre-gig snack.  Then at the gig I went for an extremely hardcore drink choice of an Ice-Tea with a nice slice of lemon and a stirring stick!  The gig was good fun.  The band played well.  Then we headed back to Cologne.

Day 118, Monday.  A bit of a disastrous day in terms of photos.  I walked all the way to the Dom, Cologne’s Cathedral, took my camera out of my bag, switched it on to find the lovely message of ‘No Card’…. BRILLIANT!  So absolutely no photos were taken on this day, including on the Agfa because I’d chosen to leave that at the flat instead of carrying it about.  Anyway, I obviously walked to the Dom, enjoying the sunshine, then around and to the Rhein.  I sat there for a while, mostly to eat a packet of onion rings (mmm a nice nutritious lunch!), and just to sit and contemplate stuff, as you do.

Dinner was mashed potato (white and Sweet varieties), onion gravy and these crazy ‘lupin fillets’.  They are made from the seeds/peas of the Lupin plant.  They tasted kind of cakey, but worked well with our home made onion gravy.

That evening me and Regina met up with a couple of her friends and we wandered around the town in the evening as the sun was going down, with a bottle of beer in hand and some chat. It was a fun evening.

Day 119, Tuesday, also the official end of WW2, or VE day.  A bit more success in terms of carrying my camera with me at least!  I visited Melaten, a large, neat and well kept cemetery.  I wandered around it for a while, there was a funeral happening in one part.  So this made me decide not to be around snapping photos for too long so I left and went back to the area we walked around the night before.  We had seen a bike shop there that sells second hand bikes too.  I checked a couple out and will head back tomorrow for a test ride of one they were in the middle of fixing up… we’ll see…

I came home for some lunch then headed back into town, though avoiding the demonstration that was meant to be happening at a nearby mosque… (I had been told that there might be some violence, especially from the right wingers)  I just explored the quieter areas a little bit using Regina’s bike.  It was good to use one again (though the seat is too low for me and so it wasn’t the most comfortable experience!)

The evening has seen me sit on the sofa and drink tea whilst Regina carries on unpacking boxes and sorting out her bookshelves!  I also sneakily fed the dog (Lumpi) some peanut butter…


Day 113 & 114, Cologne, May 2nd – 3rd 2012

Tea 114: Sweet Chai, Hallmackenreuther, Brüsseler Platz, Cologne.

Day 113.  My first day in Cologne, and quite a easy going one.  Usually my first day in a place is spent having a short explore around the local area to get my bearings.  I had a wander to the park just around the corner, the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Park.  There were people jogging and walking dogs as well as a few rabbits hopping around munching on the damp grass.  The air was heavy with misty rain filled clouds, but luckily it didn’t rain.  I wandered part way towards the city centre and then back again, to the park first, where I decided to feed the ducks in the strange big square pond, with water that is a strange shade of turquoise (I later found out that I’m apparently not supposed to feed that ducks here, but luckily no one stopped me), there are carp in the water too, so despite it’s colour it must be capable of sustaining some life, although apparently a few years ago they had to totally refill the thing because the water had gone toxic and was killing the ducks.

Walking past the flat and along the little high-street.  Then back to the flat I met with Regina as she had finished her first day back at work.  We went and did some food shopping at the asian supermarket.  We had thought about cooking this prawn, fennel, pasta dish (with fake prawns as Regina is a vegan), but we couldn’t find the fake prawns anywhere so that recipe quickly changed into a Pak Choi, Green Tea Noodles, lemongrass and tofu invented dish, which turned out to be very very good, if I do say so myself.

After eating we spent some time unpacking boxes from Regina’s basement, most of her stuff is still down there as she has only just got back from traveling around for the past year.

Day 114.  Today I wandered further into the city centre.  I found a few galleries, most rather commercial, but one quite nice space called Galerie Karsten Greve.  This is a big space with about 4 levels, and very, very clean and tidy.  The work on show at the minute is by Jean-Michel Othoniel.  Glass sculptural hanging pieces.  They are clean and sleek, but I’m not sure of the artists intent with them, I got the impression they are simply meant to be pretty objects.

After that I wandered back towards the flat, via a bicycle / sports shop.  Then Regina arrived home from work again and we decided to head out to buy a few things and then went for ice cream at this good italian ice cream parlour near the city centre.  I had a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of Pistachio, delicious!

Then we wandered to the ‘Belgian Quarter’.  To a little square with a church called Brüsseler Platz, and we stopped at a cafe called Hallmackenreuther, and I had the above tea, a Sweet Chai, with fennel and liquorice and cardamom.  It was good, though not amazing, possibly because I had wanted a different one, that they didn’t have, oh well.

We went home after that and cooked a traditionally German Asparagus dish.  The asparagus is the same plant as I am used to, but they dont allow it to grow out of the ground and turn green, so it is yellowy-white in colour.  We made a vegan bechamel sauce and potatoes to go with it, and it was very tasty.

After dinner we met up with Regina’s work mate in town and went to a gallery called ‘Museum Ludwig‘.  This houses a large collection of modern art work, some huge names, and therefore a very expensive collection.  Currently there is a sort of retrospective of the work of Yvonne Rainer.  There is so much there that it’s impossible to do it all in a day, let alone two hours.  This day was a special day where people who live in Cologne can get into the galleries for free, and due to the time we arrived I managed to get in for half price too!  There is also Cosima Von Bonin’s CUT! CUT! CUT!, a show that has toured around and grown, and is now in its ‘final resting place’, at Museum Ludwig.  I’m not too sure what I really think about this show though.  I’m going to reserve opinion on that one for the minute.

There is also Henrik Olesen on show.  Who’s work ‘Mr Knife and Mrs Fork’ has won the Wolfgang Hahn Prize 2012.  I actually saw this work for the first time a few years ago, when it was installed in a much rougher space in London.  It was good to see it again, and quite strange to see it in a much cleaner and ‘official’ situation, with clean floors, and weirdly carpeted walls.  The whole piece was set up exactly the same, except for the space and the way you enter the space.  It was a kind of surreal experience to see it again!

After the museum we headed to a bar, a traditional Cologne pub where we drank Kolsh, the Cologne beer that comes in short 200ml glasses and is refilled until you signal by putting a beer mat on top of your glass.  It is light and smooth, and pretty good.

After a couple of those we headed for a snack and then home!


Day 46, Warsaw, February 25th 2012

Tea 46: Power Tea, Marta & Ania’s Apartment, Warsaw

I had a much earlier start to the day today, and managed to leave the flat at a reasonable civilized time.  I went out and caught the tram to Raclawicka, where I had read about a bicycle shop.  I got off and found the shop, which was unfortunately shut, but I had a good look through the window anyway.  For those of you that are wondering, I am just currently flirting with the idea of doing the rest of travels on a bike, maybe…

I got back on the tram and took it to central.  I got off at Dworzec Centralny and walked to the Palace of Science and Culture.  I was on the hunt for a sculpture that Marta had told me about, which apparently still bears some signs of it’s Communist upbringing…I didn’t manage to find the one, but I will get her to take me at some point.  Hopefully it still exists.  I walked around the building and then decided to visit Galeria Studio.  This is a little gallery inside the Palace, part of the theatre department of the building.  I walked through the big heavy wooden and iron door and went to the glowing sign that said Galeria Studio.  This is at the bottom of the staircase which had a cordon across it, but there were two ladies there who seemed to be a setting up some sort of cloakroom service.  So I asked if the gallery was open.  They didn’t speak much English, but we managed a bit of communication and she called over an older guy in a smart suit.  Again more vague communication and the guy smiled and walked to the cordon, waved me over and we both stepped over it and he escorted me up the staircase, through a corridor, up another staircase and into the main gallery space.  He told me to wait outside of a dark curtain.  He disappeared for a few seconds and the lights to the space switched off.  Walking inside the space there were two large glowing sculptures.  One was of a Uterus, the other of some flying ejaculate heading in the direction of the Uterus.  They were amazing sculptures.  Made from smooth, solid material.  The guy came over and put his hand to the material, wrapping his hand rather surreally around a little offshoot of semen…he took his hand away and was delighted by the result, a perfect shadowy print of his hand on the surface which slowly began to fade.  The pieces were made from glow in the dark material, and further intensified by the use of UV lighting.  The pieces are by Karol Słowik, a polish artist, and the show was rather fittingly named ‘Immaculate Conception’.  It finishes in a few days, but if you are in Warsaw give it a look, and go to the gallery too.  After a little while in the space I left and the guy escorted me to another part of the show, a video work by another Polish artist, Anna Niesterowicz, entitled SKRA it is a document of an old sports ground / area, no mostly derelict.  She has also produced a few monoprints for the show too.  The short looped video is understated and pretty effective, it doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t and is just a good honest piece of work.

That was the end of my own private, escorted view of Galeria Studio.  The guy in the suit left me at the top of the stairs and I walked back down them, nodding my appreciation to the two ladies at the bottom of the staircase that had facilitated my viewing.  Back out in the city I decided to get on another tram and head to the north of the city, I had read about another bike shop up on Stawki which also sells second hand bikes.  So I went up and found it, there are some really lovely bikes in there, but way past any semblance of a budget I may or may not have for the purchase of a bike.  Shiny chrome, a multitude of glorious powder coatings.  It was nice to be near bikes again, I can’t believe it’s been so long since I last rode mine!

Outside of the shop was a great little sight, three lovely, tiny Fiat 126‘s sitting in a row, blue-red-blue.  I reckon they had parked next to one another on purpose.  Maybe I could drive around Europe in one of those…  though I don’t think I’d fit in one very easily, not made for the 6ft 1 high people I would hazard.

Back into the city centre I wandered around some of the streets for a while, just looking at the sights and architecture.  Then I ended up back at the huge palm tree on Aleje Jerozolimskie, I think I mentioned this the other day, so i’ll try to not repeat myself (an art project that stuck).  From there I decided to try to find another gallery, Galeria Foksal.  This is planted at the end of Foksal street (believe it or not), a street parallel to the palm tree.  It’s part of the wing of a big posh looking hotel, you have to walk through a bit iron gate to get to it.  The show was called Nosferatu, Dyktator Leku, (The Fearful Dictator), by Jacek Malinowski.  It is predominantly one large video piece, though there are two smaller video pieces in the hallway.  The video is pretty intense.  The acting is good, one of those performances I wish I could get myself to do but I just stand in awe of the bravery and balls of those that can!  The piece itself is fairly sensationalistic I suppose and I came out trying to figure out my opinion of the work.  It is definitely well considered and theorized, but there was just something that didn’t sit right for me.

I left the gallery and walked back to the centre.  I have just discovered that I have been walking about with a hole in the crotch of my jeans for god-knows how long so I decided a visit to the sale section of TK Maxx was in order.  Jeans bought (these ones promise to have a ‘flexible 3D system’, hopefully equalling effective crotch stitching…) I met Marta and we got on the tram homewards.

Back home and myself Marta and Ania had a few things to eat, a bit of a chatter and then we headed out for a night in warsaw.  We didn’t go crazy and just went to one place, called Reaktywacja. A place with various rooms, some for sitting, some for dancing.  We sat for a while over a couple of beers then went for a bit of a dance.  Ania had promised us she was going to try and get us some ‘drink sponsorship’ through her flirtations with some guys she had spotted during some ‘foreigner spotting’, a regular pastime in Warsaw I am told (jokes)!  Unfortunately this didn’t work out, but we had fun dancing to some of the music (Top of the Pops themed night), we left the club/pub/bar at around 3 and got a taxi home.


Day 43, Warsaw, February 21st 2012

Tea 43: Japonska Wisnia (Green Cherry), Marta and Ania’s Apartment, Warsaw.

Today was a good long day of walking and sightseeing.  I took the Metro two stops past Centrum to Ratusz Arsenal.  This is the nearest stop to the old town (I think).  I left the station and took yet another guess at what direction to go, used the sun as a reference to what way was east and west.  I made it successfully to the Old Town and hunted out a Tourist Information to raid the free maps.  The one that Marta had bought the other day is good, but is massive and really conspicuous to carry around, I much prefer one you can slip in and out of your back pocket.  I wandered to the old town square where a good tourist information is, with a good selection of maps and guides in every language imaginable, and maps and guides in hand I went back out of the old town to the tomb of the unknown soldier.  This is a ceremonial heart of memorial for all the lost soldiers in the wars and is guarded constantly by two soldiers, guns in hand, a fire burning to keep them from freezing to death.  There is a small park behind the tomb with an impressive switched off fountain and various sculptures of goddesses, Venus, Art, Justice etc etc, there are a few without titles which I found a little odd, and tried to figure out what they were but failed.  The ice was thick on the ground, still solid with no sign of it shifting any time soon.

I wandered around that part of town for a while, the huge Soviet ‘Sofitel’ hotel mirrored across the huge open, parade type, square by the more modern glass fronted building, that looks to be offices.  I headed towards the hotel to the front of another building, which turned out to be the Zachęta National Gallery of Art.  I didn’t go inside as I am planning that for thursday when, hopefully, entry will be for free.  So I turned back and went to the Old Town side of the square, by the statue of Józef Klemens Piłsudski, which stares down on it’s audience with a dour and stern look on it’s face.

I then decided to go back to the tea house I had seen.  It is a Demmers Tea House, which turns out to be an Hungarian company.  I didn’t stay to drink inside, but instead chose to look through the teas smell a couple and make a purchase.  This I did, I picked Japonska Wisnia, a delicate green tea, Sencha I think, with cherry.  The smell of cherry is quite strong, but the flavour less so, which makes the tea very interesting and a good sensation to taste.  One of those teas where you can decide what to concentrate on, smell or taste, without either of them becoming the focus.  I also bought an intriguing sounding Pu Erh Chocolate Cake tea.  This will be reviewed next I am pretty sure.  It smells great!  Purchases made using a good mix of broken English and Polish I decided to head towards the river.  I went down this looping road that is still directly in line with the tomb and the Piłsudski statue.

The road has got this great big yellow bridge over it, with two tunnels through it, traffic goes one way through one and the other through the next.  There is are big sculptures lining the bridge, a mermaid stands on top looking down onto the passers with a threatening look and wielding a sword.  Behind her a bearded man’s face looks out, I can’t totally giure out if it is meant to look like it has been chopped off of it’s body, but that is what it looks like to me…  the mermaid is the emblem of Warsaw and there are many of them dotted about over the city.  Walking beneath the bridge, a little shrine set up to something, I headed for the river.  Making it there I walked past this amazing green glass building, but one that is not brand-new.  It looks like a huge greenhouse, and I thought maybe it was a public building or museum, but I don’t think it is, I think it is just offices.  But an amazing building.  The street was lined with coaches, loads of them.  I think this is because a little further down is the Copernicus Science Centre, or Centrum Nauki Kopernik.  This is housed in a modern building, it’s facade covered by lots of bits of metal in various tones of reddish-brown.

Walking past the Science Centre and then to the corner of the street I made the decision not to cross the river today so I turned right instead, past a hodge-podge of old, middle-aged and new buildings.  One very old building still appearing to bear the scars of some battle, bullet holes peppering it’s front.  I have read that this isn’t such a rare thing to see in Warsaw, so I’m pretty sure they are relics from WW2.  I then turned left onto Dobra Street, meaning ‘Good’ Street.  In front of me was a great sight, two old grey arching bridges loomed over the road, one being seen through the arch of the other.  They both carry trains I think and are huge and heavy looking.  I walked beneath them, with a short diversion into a supermarket, and then I walked along the edge of the biggest of the two, arch after arch leading up to the city centre.  Part of the bridge looks like it was once going to be developed into something, bare concrete blocks making rooms and spaces, with concrete staircases leading between floors.  It has now been taken over by graffiti artists and skateboarders.  A strange construction, I can not imagine how it was intended to look and how it would of ever looked right sitting between the legs of the bridge.  A long, tall, covered and graffitied staircase leads back up to the main town.  At the top of the staircase is the Muzeum Wojska Polskiego, or Polish War Museum, this is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but the outside area is still open and you can freely wander amongst aircraft, tanks, vehicles, and missile launchers.  If that is your cup-of-tea.  Some of the stuff is pretty impressive and the size of some of the rocket launchers, and their rockets, is quite a scary thought…

I left the ‘war garden’ and went back to the centre of town.  I walked through Waszawa Centralna (Warsaw Central) Train Station then back out and into the big new shopping centre.  The roof of this place is the most interesting part, made up of thousands of glass triangles the roof flows like the surface of an undulating sea.  The bluish glass reflecting the sky.  That’s about all I have to say about this place, it’s a shopping centre, we all know what they are like…

It was getting quite late now so i decided that I would head back to the apartment, so I got onto the Metro at Centrum and went back.  I rested my feet for a while, managed to get the internet to work on my laptop and then went out to buy some food, I had said I would cook tonight.  Successfully find a supermarket (though not the one I was looking for), I bought some pasta, Broccoli, Chorizo, Garlic and a couple of bottles of Zubr, a Polish beer.  Back home, Ania had got back to the flat whilst I had been away so we chatted a little and I began to make food for the evening, Marta was out until around 8:30pm.

Food eaten, Beer drunk, Marta and Ania decided to make a banana-chocolate cake.  No cinnamon in the house, Marta popped out to the shop and came back with that and a couple more beers, this time a honey beer Ciechan Miodowe, another Polish made one.  Sweet and tasty, I would definitely recommend it for those of you that enjoy honey.

Beer drunk, cake eaten, a quick cup of tea and it was time to sleep again!


Day 38, Kaunas, February 16th 2012

Tea 38:  Green Mint tea, Lina’s Apartment, Kaunas

My hosts have made me so welcome it’s really great. Lina and her husband Anglis (this is probably spelt awfully wrong, but will check tomorrow…) made me a great breakfast of traditional porridge like stuff, but this one was made with barley grits, there was also bread and cheese and yoghurt.  Lovely.  We then headed out into the town centre.  Today, luckily enough, is one of Lithuania‘s Independence Days.  This one commemorates the first independence of 1918.  There was a parade with flag-bearers and little brass bands, and then a in the centre of town there was a big stage set up with traditional songs being sung, the national anthem, flags everywhere and people dressed in military uniform or traditional Lithuanian dress.  Some of the material pattern of the skirts is quite similar in design to that of the Scottish Tartans, and this Scottish link seemed to be a theme of the day today.  Anglis is currently thinking about applying to study a Masters at Glasgow School of Art, where I studied.  People were often buried in mounds much like the Scottish ones, and even sometimes with cairns or structures built on top.  There is a type of Bull, now extinct that makes up part of the Kaunas Flag, which, it would seem may be similar to the Highland Cattle in some ways, though this is just a presumption.  Even tonight we ended up playing cards with some pack advertising a Scottish Whisky!

Anyway, during the events of the morning we popped into the war museum, which although free today, is mostly shut as they are currently renovating / restoring many of the exhibits, it won’t be fully open again until the summer.  We then went towards the Kaunas Picture Gallery, which houses various works, but what I am most interested in seeing is the Jurgis Mačiūnas FLUXUS cabinet.  Alas this was also shut until the afternoon, partly due to the festivities, but also because today the award for artist of 2011 was being presented.  I will try to go back tomorrow and check it out properly.

A few days ago it was Lina’s Birthday and so today many of her family were coming to celebrate and get together over food and drink.  We popped into the supermarket, bought some stuff then headed back to the flat to prepare some food.  I made sandwiches, nice and traditional Salmon and Cucumber triangle classics!  whilst they others tidied the flat up for the arrival of the parents.  They all soon started to arrive and we began to gather around the table, a buffet style spread was set up and everyone helped themselves.  The atmosphere was lovely, the sun was shining through the beautiful wide SW facing windows and everyone was having lots of laughs.  We ate, and drank for, basically, hours!  We then started to play a board game called DIXIT.  For her birthday Lina’s mum had made her the game, which looked to have taken a lot of work as there are many cards involved and lots of little elements.  I won’t try to explain the game as it will probably take ages and not make any sense, but it was good fun, and I think my team came second out of six, so not a bad result!  We then had some tea and coffee, Anglis’s Dad had brought some of his home mixed tea, a good home grown mint, mixed with a little Green tea. It was lovely, delicate mint flavour, and the perfect after dinner drink, especially with the extreme gluttony that had just taken place!

By around 7 or 8 people started to leave.  We tidied up a bit then headed to a bar called Kultura, part of the same gallery I mentioned before, and therefore somewhat obviously or maybe ironically named!  We sat over a beer for a while, listening to an ‘interesting’ choice of music selected by the DJ, and apparantly one of the best Architects in Kaunas / Lithuania.  Though apparently traditional, yet modern songs, the choices were not quite right for the bar, with lots of very mellow, not depressing, but relaxing tracks.  But we kind of wanted to dance a little, even if just on our seats.  We spent a while there, I drank a nice, unfiltered Vilnius Beer, which was golden, slightly cloudy and smelt strongly of honey.  Very tasty!  We came home and relaxed for a while, a couple of games of cards, and now I’m in bed…