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.
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!
Today (yesterday) was a lovely day. Lithuania is definitely a place I will need to go come back to. Unfortunately my time here is almost up and tomorrow (today) I will be leaving for Poland. My day started with another great breakfast, bread and cheese and then banana pancakes and yoghurt.
After this great start to the day I left the house and walked down the huge staircase (210 steps) to the town centre. First stop was the bus ticket office where I bought my ticket to Warsaw for another bargain price of 29litas, about 8.5 Euro. The lady in the ticket office was very friendly and helpful with everything, printed me off my ticket and then I headed into the town centre. I wandered down the long main high street Laisvės alėja, lined with trees and that leads all the way to the old town. The old town starts after you have traveled beneath the main road and come up the other side. Immediately recognisable as an Eastern European / Baltic Old Town, with the building styles and layouts. The first street is still the main street and leads directly to the town square. There are lovely little shops, a tea shop (though not cafe), which I popped in to have a look and a smell, but didn’t buy anything. Then I went to a little glass fronted photography gallery just off the town square. A nice space with some good work on show, though I have totally forgotten by who, and their website isn’t up to date yet. In the town square there were workmen taking down a huge christmas tree made from recycled green plastic bottles. I imagine it must have looked quite cool at night time. Apparently the tree is only just being taken down because some wise fellow decided that the weather had been much too cold for people to work outside at such a job and so it had been left until now, when the weather is reasonably milder. A very good idea! I wandered around and then decided to take a seat next to a sculpture of Maironis, Lithuania’s most celebrated poet, who had studied during his high-school years in Kaunas. While I was sitting there in the peace and quiet a delivery lorry turned up and two young people were, rather unceremoniously left holding a mattress. After a few attempts to lift and carry the thing I decided that I would offer some help to the young couple. So I got up, went over, apologised for my lack of Lithuanian but offered help. We carried the mattress the few hundred yards to their front door, had a little chat about why I was in Lithuania and what they did (students, one studying Music Technology, the other Medicine), and then I went back to the town square.
I then walked a little while north and found myself at Kaunas Castle, an old, semi-ruined, semi-reconstructed (and therefore sort of ruined a little more), building that stands more or less at the point where the two rivers, the Nemunas and the Neris, meet. It also marks the start of a small area of parkland that is the true point of the land where the two rivers meet. The little park is only a few meters higher than the river level, the ice of one river was pretty much mostly frozen, but on the other, the Nemunas the ice was breaking up and shifting. Huge great chunks of glacial blue ice slowly floated down the river, creaking and bobbing about. It was quite an amazing sight.
After that I went back into the Old Town Square, I had spied a place to get a little treat. Chocolaterie, as it is simply named, is a sweet little chocolate and coffee cafe. It isn’t cheap, and especially not by Lithuanian standards, but as a small treat it is ok. I had the above hot chocolate, and espresso sized cup filled with glorious liquid chocolate, I also treated myself to a piece of cake, true gluttony as the chocolate by itself was much more than enough sweetness. But the cake was really good, chocolate, cherries, more chocolate, and not just sponge but a layer of solid chocolate in the middle too. Very, very bad for you, and therefore very, very good for your soul…
I sat there for a while, then wandered through some of the side streets of the Old Town. Taking my life in my hands down the icy narrow, cobbled streets until I reached the Nemunas River again, but this time further up stream, by a large bridge that leads into the heart of the old town. A huge sundial sits on the wall of one building, it’s smiling face greeting all those that arrive. I then met up with Lina’s brother and one of his friends who decided to take me to the Žalgiris Arena, the huge black basketball arena that sits on a small island in the New Town area of Kaunas. Basketball is actually Lithuania’s national sport, and they are very passionate and proud about it. In the arena a competition was on between a lot of Lithuanian schools (though I don’t know if it was just local schools or the whole country). The stadium is mostly black, outside and in, which is actually quite nice to sit in, the focus is really on the basketball court. We sat and watched for a while. Small three person competitions taking up the time between quarters of the main game of the day. Then a small challenge for a member of the audience to throw a basketball from the centre of the court into the basket, but, as if this wasn’t hard enough, they were blindfolded. When they inevitably missed the audience was told to scream and shout as if they had made the shot. The guy throwing was very almost convinced!
After a while I decided I would head back home, so, leaving Lina’s brother and friend I walked across the main bridge back to the mainland, walked past the huge empty unfinished Soviet era hotel. This is an almost solid block of concrete, about 12 stories high and probably the size of a few football pitches. The thing is built so solid that it is apparently near impossible to break it down, the reinforced concrete latticed with steel. No one knows what will happen to the thing, but everyone hopes something will happen to it. It is like a huge, grey, gloomy reminder of the past. Making it back home, through the little park, that was once a graveyard, then a sports arena (another Soviet influence) and now a park with reference to the previous graveyard, and back up the 210 steps, myself, Lina and Algis sat a chatted for a while. Then we ate some traditional Lithuanian dumplings, little parcels of pastry filled with meat or mushrooms which are boiled and served with sour cream and salad. Very satisfying food! Then a couple of Algis’s friends arrived and we sat with some wine and a few card games, and another round of Dixit (the game I failed to explain yesterday). Then by the time all that was over it was time for bed!