This installation, by the artist Julita Wójcik has moved from it’s temporary home in Brussels to it’s new permanent (I hope) home on the super trendy, hipsterville of Plac Zbawiciela. You can read more about it by clicking here.
Next a just a smattering of photos from my latest trip to Radom, there was a huge thunderstorm in the night, and although I didn’t manage to catch an actual lightning strike, I did do some long exposure photographs that have a strange glow in them when the lightning struck part way through the exposure time.
Tea 88, Fresh Mint Tea, Ankerklause, Berlin
Day 87, Thursday. Today I spent the day wandering around for ages, Abigail had gone to her studio so I decided to explore the city centre. It was one of those days of loads of inadvertent walking. I walked back to Alexanderplatz in an, ultimately futile, attempt to find a tourist information, god knows where it is! I should probably check the internet, but I keep on forgetting before it’s too late. I did by a little notebook with a map in it though, so that is helpful to me. It also makes checking maps in a more incognito fashion easier! From Alexanderplatz I walked West and past a large area of museums and tourists. I eventually, accidentally, made it to Checkpoint Charlie, the place was heaving with tourists carrying cameras and beggars carrying cardboard begging scripts. I didn’t really hang around here for any time at all, the crowds of people putting me off. There are two men standing in American Army uniform pretending to guard the checkpoint, which was one of the most tense and symbolic border crossings between East and West.
I escaped up a quieter street, which was a bit of a relief, walking past a car museum / rental place called Trabi world, the Trabi (or Trabant) was the most common car driven and produced in Eastern Germany. This little place is filled with cars that you can hire and drive around the city. Very old school…
A bit more of a wander, I thought I was on my way towards the Brandenberger Tor, although I never actually made it in the end, I think I did manage to walk all the way around it though! Much more walking around in a large loop around the city before I made it back home.
That evening Sergej and I went out for some more drinks, where some of his workmates and an old friend were hanging out. The place was so so smokey! By the time we got home I totally stank and had to have a cold shower to get the stench of smoke out of my hair and skin. It still surprises me that most places allow smoking anywhere in Berlin. And it is kind of weird to see advertising for cigarettes, especially that still promote them in a life giving kind of way!
Day 88, Friday. Today was a slow morning, Abigail and Sergej have gone away for the weekend, sort of for her birthday, which is next week. Eventually I got up and started some work on my website, which is part of the reason for these belated, bunched up posts. All the shops were closed today, it was Good Friday, though not the cafes and restaurants. I met up with one of Abigail’s friends, Ulijona, and we went for a cup of tea at a cafe called Ankerklause. This place is quite popular, and I am told, a good place for celebrity spotting (it’s apparently one of Quentin Tarantino‘s favourite places). The sun was mostly out, so we sat outside and I had a nice Fresh Mint tea and we chatted for a while about clubbing, Berlin, art, etc. Then we both decided that we were hungry so Ulijona took me to the place she considered to have the best Falafel (I imagine there is a lot of opinions for a lot of different places!) But it was good, I had Falafel with Halloumi and it was pretty good, and possibly better than the first place I went to, though mostly because the Halloumi had been cooked properly here. After that Ulijona went home and I walked around trying to soak up as much sunshine as possible, though it was a little cold in the wind. I got home and did a bit more work on my website and some more pondering about the future, which seems to be dominating a lot of my thoughts right now.
Day 89, Saturday. So, finally! A post that happens on the day it happened! Today I woke up and had breakfast and then left fairly quickly, compared to usual. However, as I got to the door and opened it, I was greeted by sleety, snowy freezing rainfall. I decided to leave anyway, although changed my original plan (which was a walk through the Tiergarten!) and went back towards town and browsed in bookshops and found the Lomography shop which I had a little look around (Marta’s experience with the Holga has still inspired me to look for something of my own to use) I basically did a big loop and wandered around some of the smaller streets, filled with high class galleries, and expensive shops. Then I got back home, via the Chinese market where I bought some rice crackers and a can of Aloe Vera juice. I sat and rested my legs for a while. Then the sun peeped it’s head out so I went out again to try to catch it, I wandered around the remnants of a little market next to the cafe I visited yesterday, most of it had been packed away, but there were still a few stalls left. I walked some more whilst the sun stayed up and then came back home, via the supermarket where I treated myself to some over priced Peanut butter, it was far too expensive, but I have been craving it for long enough to make it seem worth it!
Time for more work on the website.
Also, don’t forget to check out the Kickstarter Campaign, if you don’t mind.
So, day 84 was spent travelling from Warsaw to Berlin by train. It was about a 5.5 hour journey which was reasonably comfortable, there was only one incident of an altercation with a woman and an incorrect seat choice. But it was fine, though she seemed very angry for a woman who then started to read an esoteric book about Auras!
I made it to Berlin at around 3:30pm and met Abigail, the woman I run the Hello Collective with. We took a few trains to get to her place, in Kreuzberg district, the current hub of the creative world in Berlin, apparently. Also the heart of the Turkish community in Germany. There must be more Falafel, Halloumi and Baklava shops per square meter than anywhere else in the world! Including the middle east! We got home and I dropped my stuff, finally met Sergej, Abigail’s boyfriend to whom I have only ever existed through Skype (and visa-versa)! We sat a chatted for a while and then popped to a cafe around the corner for a coffee and Abigail had a pizza before she had to disappear off to a German lesson. I went back to the flat and chilled out for a while. When Sergej arrived back from his studio we started to cook a bit of food ready for Abigail’s return. She didn’t get back until late (normal for her German lesson days) and we ate, then went out for a little drink.
Day 85, Tuesday. We woke up and went out into the local area, a little market by the river, then I went to see Abigail’s studio and we carried on walking to the Neukolln area and visited a few art spaces and then ended up in a place called Agora, a cafe which is also home to a few artist’s studios. We sat with a coffee for a while and chatted about our plans for the summer residency program and what needs organising, including the fundraising issues! Another reminder about our Kickstarter campaign, please visit our page and if you can donate a little. Some guy made 3.8million dollars for a computer game development, so SURELY we can make a modest $2500! CLICK HERE!
We met up with Sergej for a bit of lunch, an aubergine Halloumi wrap, which was tasty, though very messy! The rest of the day seems to be a bit of a blur… hmm… We basically explored the city a bit more, then Abigail had another German lesson and I went towards the city centre, making it to Alexanderplatz for a while then headed home. After a while we decided to leave and wandered around a while longer then headed home. Later that evening we met up with Sergej and his brother and went for a couple of drinks in a bar around the corner.
Day 86, Wednesday. We spent the morning do more Hello Collective things, trying to get some more emails out to people to try and drum up a little more sponsorship and trying to investigate other avenues if we don’t manage to make it to our target. Then in the afternoon Abigail took me on another little tour of the area, taking me to this amazing arts supplies store called Modular. Everything you could probably imagine! Quite cool, though maybe a bit ikea arts ish?
We then went for a tea in a place called Betahaus, a very cool space near to Modular. It was very nice and chilled out in there though, and the green tea, though standard, was of very good quality. We sat there and chatted for a while, and people watched. A funny situation developed when a woman arrived, put her things down and went to get a coffee, whilst she was away from the table another gentleman arrived and sat at the same table. When the woman got back from ordering her coffee she approached with a rather confused expression and went to the table. The man had obviously not noticed her stuff on the seat and there was a funny looking (though unheard) conversation that took place before the man got up and went to another place.
That evening we had a night in and watched a film, the 80’s childhood classic, Flight of the Navigator! I love that film! Though it was maybe not Abigail’s cup of tea, for Sergej it seemed pretty nostalgic, one of the first American films he remembers seeing when Eastern Germany left communist rule.
So, monday was a bit of a write off, the only reason I left the flat was to go and do a bit of food shopping and come back again. So, not much to talk about there, and no photos either I’m afraid.
Straight onto Tuesday then, and a bit more eventful. I started the day with a little trip to Raclawicka again, to show Marta the little second-hand bike shop and to wander around in the sunshine. It was a beautiful day with loads of sunshine, though a bit windy. After a while walking around there, into a second hand shop where Marta bought a lovely red hooded coat with black toggles for a bargain price, we started to head towards town. We popped into a little photo shop to see if they develop medium format film, Marta recently invested in a Holga and has used her first roll of film! She also got her photo taken for her US Visa application. The place was tiny and dark and smelt like many decades worth of cigarette smoke had seeped into the walls. The guy looked like he has propped up the counter for his entire life too.
Back out into the daylight I had a sudden craving for an ice cream, the bright sunlight stirring that primal ice cream eating monster inside us all! A chocolate Magnum made it into my stomach in double quick time, and we carried on walking. We walked through Pole Mokotowskie, and then into the city centre, on the hunt for a launderette for Marta’s new coat. We didn’t manage to find a reasonably priced one before making it to Central Station, where we stood in a queue for ages and I bought a ticket to my next destination, Berlin next monday.
Ticket bought and we intended to get a tram up to the old town and to stop for a coffee in the cafe where I had the great Turkish Coffee, cafe Adi. All the trams were totally packed though, so after attempting to get onboard 3 we decided we would just make the most of the sunshine and walk. We did so and made it to the cafe whilst the sun was still streaming through the open window. It was so warm and lovely in there, and the turkish coffee was really good again. The place started to suddenly get really really full of well dressed pensioners, who were probably waiting for a show at the theatre across the road. We had finished our drinks so we decided to leave.
We then continued our walk, it was still sunny and quite warm so we walked up to the huge monument to the Polish Resistance and the funny multicoloured Pegasus’s ( Pegasuses? Pegasi?? ) that sit outside of the national library and the supreme court.
Then we headed West and ended up on Jana Pawla, where we managed to find a cheap launderette for the coat. We left it there and carried on our walk, south now and back towards the city centre, we stopped off in a few shops in search of some Ciechan Honey Beer, which seems to be in short supply at the minute. Unsuccessful we headed back to the Metro at central, at the minute and until the end of April part of the Metro is shut down so you can only get as far as Central from the stations south and only from Ratusz Arsenal north. You have to get a tram or bus between Central and Ratusz Arsenal at the minute. But this didn’t really affect us, just meant a slightly longer walk, we bought some chocolate covered raisins to sustain ourselves!
Back home via the Marc Pol store, where we successfully got some honey beer, though not Ciechan, but another brand, we ate some food and drank some beer and then the clock decided it was high time we headed for the sack!
I’m sorry! I’m sorry! TEN whole days without a posting! That is awful! And now I’m even going to role those ten days into one post! even more awful! As you can probably tell, internet availability has been somewhat lacking. Hoping between wifi cafes has not been ideal for posting up stuff. But I will try to be more active now that I have got a little more stable internet back again. It even made me miss Mother’s Day it would seem, so here is a public apology to my mum for that! I am sorry!
So, what have I done since being back in Warsaw. Well, hmm, mostly tried to find internet it would seem! One major occurrence was the haircut I gave myself! At long last I now have short hair again! It had got to that point when the hair on the sides starts to curl upwards and I look like I am sporting a nice set of wings like Hermes or Mercury! So, yes, a good chop with a pair of kitchen scissors and I felt positively refreshed!
The first thing I did on my first day back, a Sunday, was to return to Maharaja, the indian restaurant. I took Marta, who is kindly looking after me again, on the hope that the Thali lunch was still on. Unfortunately it is not on over the weekend, but we stayed anyway and I ate a really great sweet and sour fish dish with a Vegetable stuffed naan. It was really really good! So much food, too much really and I should of taken some of it home, but I ate it all instead! We then walked around the city in the cold sunshine and took some photos, Marta had taken her holga with her, the new love of he life. We found a small statue of Jesus that was in a rather strange position, in the little courtyard of an old tenement block. The building is one of the ones that has survived the war, but it still bares a lot of the scars. We managed to get inside, the doors were open and went up the staircase to the top and got a good view of a few rooftops. The inside looks like it hasn’t changed much since the war either! A great building, but it needs some work doing to it if it is to survive much longer!
Later that afternoon we met up with Carolina, one of Marta’s best friends and we were intending to visit cafe Vincent, the french bakery on Nowy Swiat, when we go there though the place was totally rammed with people (this was not a surprise), so we crossed the street and went to this little ice cream parlour directly opposite. This place is a little gem, mostly for people watching. We ordered some cake and I got a coffee and we sat and chatted whilst little old ladies snuck into the place, past us and then to the toilet. Some of them stayed for ice cream, some not. One really amazing lady seemed to be having the time of her life with her ice cream. Spoon after spoon disappeared into her mouth, the pace was incessant, and it seemed as though she had a never ending ice cream. I have never seen so much concentrated enjoyment on an adult face in my whole life! After this little place Carolina and Marta were still craving vincent, and something savoury. So we tried again, this time we managed to get a seat, and I ordered a tea whilst they both ordered a ciabatta and more tea.
We sat and drank tea and ate for a while, then decided it was getting late so we left. Eventually we decided to head to Carolina’s place for a while, so we got on a tram, or two, bought a bottle of wine, a rather unusual Moldavian variety, and went to her flat.
The next day was a rather quiet one for me, I left the flat late and went for a small wander around the town, I did buy a new tea, from the 5 o’clock tea shop in the basement of the horrible shopping mall in the city centre. It is a Yunnan Green Superior. I bought it mostly as an everyday tea, nothing special. It is good, but i think the leaves have been ripped up too small, it is lacking the smoothness that bigger leaves can give it. I also popped to the supermarket and bought some food for dinner. That night I made a Moussaka, and I have to say, it was the best one I have ever made in my life, and possibly the best I have ever tasted! (this probably means that it didn’t taste anything like a real Moussaka, but it was goooooood!)
Tuesday now…Again, I went into town late, I spent the morning working on a few things. But then went in to meet Marta, I had a little walk around the embassy district while I waited, the ponds in the little park there were still frozen despite the temperature being above zero for the past few weeks. I then met Marta and we went to Green Coffee for a drink and a bit of internet access, we checked emails and just did the little things that needed to be checked. That was about it for Tuesday I think.
Wednesday, Marta had the day off for a doctors appointment so she dragged me out with her to the shopping centre where her doctors is (yes INSIDE the shopping centre!). This place is called Blu City, and is just full of the usual shops, Saturn, Empik, McDonalds etc etc, and lacking in customers which is probably more normal now than we like to admit. After my wandering past and through a few of the shops Marta reappeared, we went back home, and I am now struggling to remember what we did for the rest of the day (see, this is exactly why I need to keep updating daily!)
Thursday, the same problem, exactly what I did during the day that wasn’t spent on working towards the residency I do not know. But in the evening Marta and Ania’s landlady came over, so I made myself scarce for a while and wandered to this park called Park Arkadia. This place has got a great view out across the East of the city, the sunlight was fading and the lights were beginning to twinkle from the flats and high rises. The park falls down a steep hill where there are a couple of ponds, which were still frozen, the ducks skidding about avoiding an enthusiastic chasing dog. A few people were there, wandering around or sitting on the benches with a bottle of beer or two. One guy with two girls on either side of him looking rather happy with himself… Then I went back to the flat, via a shop to buy loo roll.
The next day I spent most of the day working at Hello Collective stuff, but then in the late afternoon I met Marta and we went for a wander around the old town, we got on the tram for a couple of stops and got off near Metro Swietokrzyska. We wandered around in the low yellow sunlight for a while, before we decided it was too cold and it was time to head home again.
Ok, time for a new post…
So, I know that the Brits are famous for talking about the weather, but please forgive me this once.. Three seasons in as many days!??!?! Today was grey, drizzly and dull. The sunshine of yesterday was long forgotten and positively autumnal weather has taken over! The day before yesterday was winter, yesterday was summer, and today autumn, when is spring going to arrive!?!?!??!
Ehem….moving on… Because of today’s greyness I didn’t really have much incentive to leave the apartment, so I stayed in and did some work for a few hours and then at around 2:30 I left, I ate lunch in the flat in an attempt to reduce my costs and then caught the tram into town. I got of a stop or two before Centralny today and walked East, past various forms of architecture, new, old, decaying and decayed and found my way to Marszalkowska, the main traffic street in this part of the city. I just sort of wandered for a while, the drizzle hitting my face despite the umbrella. Eventually I found my way to Raster, one of the more independent and contemporary galleries in town. It is hidden a little way along Wspolna Street, number 63. They are currently showing a piece by Michał Budny called Zywica. He had spent some time installing the piece, playing with different compositions and designs of the space and has landed with a superbly minimal and interesting work. Sheets of polythene hang silently from the walls, a plastic covered square piece sits above the lintel like a clock, the noisy door opening and closing with a bang and screech. It was a work I couldn’t quite get hold of to begin with, I think because I have seen so many noisy and chaotic pieces lately, but I spent some time in the work and it began to evolve, and the atmosphere developed over time, people entering and leaving the space, the receptionists light keyboard tapping, the temperature.
After some time in the space I left and went back into the grey, drizzly day. The space seemed to reflect the grey, muffled silences that the drizzle creates in the city. I walked for a while back north east, towards the palm tree and the old town. After more little derives along streets and window shopping I headed to Zacheta, the contemporary art gallery for another attempt at getting in for the free thursdays (last week the gallery was shut). This week I did manage to get in, but only to see the new exhibition ‘7 Rooms’, by Rafał Milach. This is photography and stories of Russians born during the USSR period and their opinions and experiences comparing then to now. The show is fairly documentary, and does exactly what it says on the tin. The photographs are varied and some do have a great deal of beauty in them. The rest of the gallery would seem to still be shut. I presume they have a permanent collection, but there is a cordon up across the staircase and beady-eyed guards making sure no one makes it up. There is basically no information to say what exactly is going on though, so I can’t say when or even if the permanent collection will be back on show…
That done I decided I needed a sit down, I thought there might have been a cafe in the gallery but alas there is not. So I headed for the old town, walked past a cafe that looked OK but carried on in the hopes of a cozier looking place, but this never happened, so I came around in a loop and went back to the first place I had spotted. I took a seat and ordered a hot ginger, lemon and honey drink and sat and wrote on the back of a press release, trying to figure out the next step of my journey. A little while later, at around 6:45 I met up with Marta and we wandered to yet another part of Warsaw that I had still not discovered. This is the old Jewish district. There is one street that still has some of the old buildings that date back to before the war, and are still potted with bullet holes and some still have their old shop signs. The street, which is now ghostly and silent was once the bustling heart of the district and is now in ruins. The buildings had been left as some sort of document of the past, and also because of anyones reluctance to renovate, it seem that now there is some kind of work going on, one side of the street is blocked off by steel fencing and there is a crane and building materials dotted about. This place is also where they apparantly filmed The Pianist, the film about a Jewish man who managed to evade capture by hiding out in the Warsaw Ghetto. We went into a little cafe that sits on the end of one of the buildings, somehow managing to survive in the crumbling tenement block. Called Cafe Prozna (on Prozna street), this is a nice little place with wooden tables and chairs, though very modern in style. We ate some food, Marta had a sorrel soup whilst I had a tasty quiche with salad. I enjoyed the food though Marta wasn’t very impressed with her soup.
We then went for a walk in the dark, but multicoloured city lights, ending up in the original Wedel chocolate cafe. The walls are decorated with paintings and old photos, the building itself is capped with a big illuminated Wedel sign, so it is pretty hard to miss. I decided that it was dark enough and cold enough to justify having a hot chocolate with rum, whilst Marta had the traditional chocolate. She has lived in Warsaw for basically two years and this was her first time here!!! CRAZY! It is a nice little place, and the chocolate is really great. There was a very good helping of rum in mine and it did the perfect job, chocolate high with a rum filled edge… We sat there for a while chatting and talking about what Marta will do now she has resigned from her job and then we decided to walk around the city some more.
The drizzle had abated a little and we walked back towards Nowy Swiat. Then further East to outside of the Chopin Museum (today was his birthday and there are various things happening, many that seem to involve carrying around Polish flags…) The building is all lit up at night, like most of the famous and big buildings in the city. From there we walked across a footbridge and down a staircase and then down onto Dobra Street where we walked South towards the railway and tram bridge (Poniatowski Bridge), then along the side of this bridge, up the staircase and back into the city centre. We caught a tram home and got in around 11pm.
What a difference a day makes! Today was the most gloriously sunny and beautiful day, all of yesterday’s snow had melted away and it was genuinely warm! Today was a day filled with cafes.
The day started with a little trip around town with Ania, for her to do some errands and things like that. We went into the old town, where Ania needed to do some photocopying for her teaching job. whist she did that I explored the little cobbled streets and old buildings and this pretty park with the sun shining down, the back of a grand looking church towering over from the top of the hill. After about 20minutes Ania returned and we decided to go to this cafe called Ogrody, meaning garden in Polish apparently. The cafe is clean and modern with a nice chilled out atmosphere, in the summer time they apparently have tables and chairs out on the little square on which the cafe sits. I had a really tasty salad and a pot of Green Sencha tea with Prickly Pear and Orange Peel and Lemongrass. It was very good, fresh leaves in the pot smelt sweet and fruity whilst the tea itself was delicate and smooth. After a while sitting there enjoying the sunshine we headed back into the old town, then Ania decided we should go back into the city centre to find another place that she enjoys.
We took a bus and then waited for a tram from Centrum which took us to the pretty little roundabout with the white church. There we found another cafe that Ania really likes. Called Charlotte it is another fairly modern place, full of young professionals and mothers-to-be. The staff are all about 12 years old with surfer-waxed hair or bohemian looks in their eyes. The place is very nice though, the bread is all baked fresh, you can see the bakers working away behind the counter, flour filling the air, sun rays pouring through it from the huge windows. We sat in one of the windows, on some bar stools and watched as traffic and people milled about outside, people sitting on the terrace in the sunshine with their coffee and cigarettes. The cafe has all of those classic cafe sounds, spoons clinking the edge of the cups as the sugar is poured in, people chatting and laughing, tearing their bread or crunching their croissant. The sun was warm on our faces, the disbelief at the gloriousness of the day compared to yesterday still the main topic of conversation. We sat there for a while, also stirring our coffee or crunching our croissant. I took some photos of people through the window, of the zebra-crossing which was empty one second and the next being jam packed with people trying to cross the road.
After a while Ania had to head home so I took her to the tram stop and saw her off, then I went to wander around in the sunshine before I met up with Marta. It is mad how much more stuff you notice when you aren’t hunched over yourself trying to keep warm. A straight back means you can look up at all the amazing sculptures that sit atop of all the buildings, staring down at all of the people below. I literally just walked up and down the streets, enjoying the sunshine and noticing things that I hadn’t before. Then it was time to go and meet Marta, she resigned from her job today so wanted to go for a drink after work.
We met at her office and then walked into the centre, taking an elongated route, along Kruzca for a bit, then down onto Mokotowska and along for a while, staring in shop windows and some beautiful entrance halls to tenement apartments. We then got onto Nowy Swiat, walked along a bit and turned off, behind the street is a little area of bars and a few boutique shops. Mostly bars though, all decorated in different styles but more or less doing the same thing. We picked one filled with a mix-match of old furniture and dark decor. We ordered a pitcher of beer for a bargain happy-hour price of 15Zloty, about £3! We sat, drank, chatted for a couple of hours or so and then we left, walked along past the Sheraton Hotel, Parliament buildings, the embassy buildings, and that area of town then I dropped Marta off at her friends apartment, where she was heading for more drinks, and I took the tram home, ate a good helping of the leftovers from yesterdays soup and some Pierogi, then sat for a while doing worky things and went to bed!
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!
Tea 36: Lemo Mate and Apple Ginger Explosion!, Kristine’s apartment, Riga
Happy Valentine’s Day!
So, today I decided I would have an indulgent day and go get myself something tasty to eat, no matter what the cost. I had read about this little Hare-Krishna run vegetarian cafe so decided to seek it out. Walking into the new part of town, North West from the apartment, the snow still falling and the hundreds of cars quickly turning it into dark brown slush, but the weather was much warmer today, I only needed one hat and one pair of gloves on for the first time in a couple of weeks! Even now the temperature is only around -2’C! Glorious!
I walked up into the new part of the city. New meaning ‘not medieval’, still pretty old though. Rama, the cafe-restaurant is on Krišjāņa Barona iela, a busy-ish shopping street, but one of the more attractive ones, probably caused by the Romanticism of Tramlines and wires… I kicked my boots free of snow and walked up the little staircase to the front door, inside and another door leads to the cafe, whilst a small shop and what looked to be a room for worship were through other doorways. Before I had even got my hands on the door handle to the cafe an elderly man, wearing a plastic apron, so I presume someone who worked there, and one of the Hare-Krishna followers began to mutter something in Latvian whilst referencing my boots and the wet floor. I apologised that I could not understand him, he then muttered something about my ‘being sorry’ in English and disappeared up a staircase. It seems I can’t even get a break in the Hare-Krishna community of Riga! Oh well… I went into the cafe, a friendly man who was behind me and had witnessed the little altercation, let me through the door with an encouraging smile. The food in the place was good. It is served by weight, and there are loads of options, all are indian inspired. I had some rice with some marinated and grilled vegetables, as well as a lovely potato vegetable fried thing. It was very nice and reasonably good value for money. If you go make sure your boots are pristine, not even a good hard knock on the steps outside will do!
After that lovely meal, just what my body had been asking for, I wandered the streets a little while, going around the new town, around the little shops of Berga Bazārs (not little locally owned shops as I had imagined, but more upper-class boutique places). I had hoped to find Enihls Gustavs Chocolate shop there, but it would seem my guidebook is already a little behind the times, and unfortunately the shop is no longer there (there is one in the Central Train Station though, I am told). I wandered down into the old town, got myself a cup of coffee in a little ice cream parlour. The coffee was good, certainly sorting my energy levels out, and then I decided to go to the Central Market. These four huge arched buildings, that look like aircraft hangers, are located opposite the coach station and adjacent to the train station. There are various stalls outside of the buildings, selling everything from handicrafts and leather to fruit and flowers. Inside the buildings is everything you could imagine in a food market, meat, cheese, cake, bread, tea, chocolate, sweets. Its a pretty cool place, lots of atmosphere and life. I just spent a while looking around the place, didn’t buy anything, not even cake today! I’ve decided to start a bit of a health kick and try to eat a bit of a better diet, as much as possible. Traveling isn’t ideal for gourmet dining though!
After that I headed back towards home, through little side streets and an artsy warehouse district with bars, a concert hall, a gallery called ‘kim?’ and restaurants. The gallery is currently showing an installation by american artist Nick Mauss, if you are around on the 24th of February the artist Karl Holmqvist will be presenting his new reading series A WORD TEXT VORTEX. There will also be a compilation of films, video and audio selected by Nick Mauss, presented at the cinema K. Suns (amongst them films by Yvonne Rainer, Robert Breer, Nina Könnemann and Megan Sullivan)
After that little bit I made sure I went home via Stalin’s Birthday Cake, the Latvian Academy of Sciences building, so that I could get a photo before I leave for Lithuania tomorrow. That said, tomorrow involves around 6 hours of travel, so a decent, or in fact existent, posting tomorrow is a slim possibility.