An evening amongst wild Sweet Peas, Sunshine and Cherries.

After a day spent indoors avoiding the extreme 35’C heat we headed out in the evening, when the sun was getting low and the temperature a bit more reasonable. Most days all you have to do is walk out of the door and you are soaking in sweat, sorry to be so graphic! This evening, the same one as the Tram evening in the previous post, we headed vaguely North West out of the flat, past the Tram depot and some lovely allotment gardens, then ended up alongside the train track and eventually stumbled upon what must have been allotments in the past.  We discovered beautiful pink Sweet Pea flowers growing wild as well as a few old cherry trees that were offering up some lovely ripe fruits, which we gobbled with smiles on our faces. They were juicy and sweet, with just the right amount of sourness in them.  We walked a little more, then the Mosquitoes woke up and seemed hungry, so we did an about turn and headed home.

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Day 74, Warsaw – Torun, March 23rd 2012

Tea 74, Green Tea (not pictured), Torun

Today I travelled with Marta and her Mum to Torun, a town on the Unesco World Heritage list, founded by the German Teutonic Knights and the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus.  The day started with Marta rushing across the city to pass on a birthday present to a friend before we left.  She got this cool bracelet in the style of an Octopus arm from an online store run by her friend called oohandy.com.

I then met her at Dworzec Centralny at about 11 and we got a train at 1130 that took us to Zyradow, a station on the outskirts of Warsaw where Marta’s mum, Hanna, met us with the car.  We all piled in and off we went.  The journey to Torun took about 3 hours, the views are very nice, a part of it tracks a very pretty part of the Vistula river.  Though lots of the road surfaces aren’t exactly friendly!  They are building a whole new motorway infrastructure along this part though, that was intended to be ready for the Euro 2012 competition: take this as fact… it won’t be!

We made it to Torun at around 4, and were dropped off in the city centre.  We then wandered around the town a little, soaking up the sunshine and then we went to this pancake place called Manekin, where we met Carolina and Mike, who had also come to Torun for a couple of days, though they were there waiting for the bus back to Warsaw.

I ordered a pancake with Feta cheese, olives, basil and tomatoes, which was very good, though both mine and Marta’s pancake ended up with us after a short stop at the wrong table…

After the pancake and a pint to drink Carolina and Mike had to leave to catch the bus, so we all left and Marta and I took in a bit more sightseeing, with the light failing and the stars appearing in the sky.  Eventually we too decided it was time to leave so we headed to the bus stop, got on a bus and went to Marta’s uncle’s house somewhere in the Torun suburbs.  We spent the evening chatting and eating, another huge weekend of food was ahead of me!  And then Marta’s uncle got out a few of his spirits and we drank a little too, cherry liquor, quince liquor, and one make from aronia, or chokeberries.  All of them very tasty, if I had to pick my favourite, I’d go for the quince!


Day 57, Krakow, March 6th 2012

Tea 57, Japanese Green Tea, with Cherry, Lemon and Honey, The apartment, Krakow

So, today was my first day in Krakow.  The cold has returned a bit today, which is a shame as I had begun to get used to the warmth again!  Hopefully this little cold snap won’t last too long, though looking at the weather that is happening in what will hopefully be my next stop (the Ukraine), maybe it should stay so I can get used to being cold again.

I woke up, first time, at around 8 today.  The sun was pouring in through the window, the bright blue sky up above giving more illusion of a warm summers day.  One of the people I am staying with (another Marta, not to be confused with Marta from Warsaw) made me a cup of tea, a dose of Chocolate Cake Pu Erh tea.  She then left for university, which resulted in me promptly falling back to sleep and not waking up for another two hours!  So, second attempt at being awake, and this was much more successful.  I topped my tea up with some hot water, luckily I had removed the tea-ball before I had fallen back to sleep so it wasn’t too well steeped.  Then me and my host Malgorzata sat at the table with some breakfast and some more tea, this time a cup of power tea (the one I bought all that time ago in Copenhagen), we sat and chatted about art, art schools (she is studying at the Krakow Academy of Art), art students, painting, Marina Abramovic, Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, Guy Debord.  Loads of stuff.  It was nice to have a good long conversation about these artists and philosophers that I’ve not had much chance to talk about for quite a while.  She seems to be going through a similar time at art school as I did, especially in my third year, the year she is currently in.

A couple of hours later we decided we should probably head out into the town.  Marta had called and asked if we wanted to meet her in a cafeteria that is part of the Music school, so we jumped on the tram and took it to the old town.  We wandered around a little, trying to find the place.  Old Town is one of those ones that is pretty easy to get turned around in and we had gone slightly the wrong way, but a quick phone call later and we were back on track.  We went into the Music school building and took the lift up to the top floor, where the canteen / restaurant is.  This little place has got an amazing view!  Both side of this floor are glass and offer a wonderful panoramic view of the entire city, one downside is that if, like me, you are a non-smoker, then one side is for smokers and the other not, so you only get one choice of city view.  But it is great!  The food is good quality too, like most student places it’s good value and good portion sizes.  I ate Zapiekanka ziemniaczana, a kind of potato based lasagne-style thing.  It was pretty tasty, cheese, potato, some sort of sauce, beetroot, salad.

After that, and by this time it was after 3pm, Malgorzata and I left Marta, who was preparing for a presentation she had to give in English later that day.  On the way out I went to the loo.  This was in the basement of the building, and there were loads of people practicing every kind of orchestral instrument imaginable.  A trombone, tuba, violins.  Then, walking into the actual toilet I was greeted by a lad practicing his clarinet, he was all set up with stool and music stand and everything and seemed very content there!  Rather surreal if you ask me!

We left the building then went separate ways, I was on the hunt for the tourist information, to raid their free maps and info.  Walking in the sunshine was lovely, the rays soaking into my skin making me feel nicely content.

Map found and I went for a little aimless wander around the city, a little while spent in the old town.  The obstacle-course of tourists leading me to the decision to head outside of the city walls (!) and explore the less touristy bits of the city.  My first impressions of Krakow are that it is a very different place to Warsaw.  I think this may be due to the huge focus on the old town that there is in Krakow, it is the heart of the city.  In Warsaw it is more of a part of the city than THE city.

I left the old town out of the western side and walked down a little street that could have been Karmelicka street.  A mixture of buildings, old and older, all with various bits of facia and / or concrete falling or chipped off of them.  I kept on walking around, heading north and then east.  I ended up in a little market area, fruit, cakes, bread spread across tables, people with brilliant faces and great characters.  They were beginning to shut down their stalls, and pack up there things, so this was only a short visit, I will try to have another look around on another day.

I then made it onto Plac Matejki, a large monument to Grunwaldi dominates the street.  I turned right back towards the old town.  I wandered through the park area that surrounds the town wall, soaking up the last few rays of sunshine as the sun began to fall below the level of the buildings.  Then I followed the wall east, popped into the Galeria Krakowska to go to the supermarket, came out and did another little loop around a few of the narrow streets.  Then back to the town wall and I followed this around and then began to follow the tram lines until I made it to the river, the sun was totally down now and it was getting dark and cold, but I stayed for a while a took some photos of the river and the helium balloon that goes up and down all day long, giving views of the city.  Then I got the tram for about 3 stops and came back to the flat.

I sat for a while, catching up with all the belated postings I owe you all, then Malgorzata and Marta came home.  Malgorzata made me a lovely cup of Green Tea with cherry (my bag from Warsaw) with added lemon and honey to try to fight off my cold and slightly sore throat.  Then Marta made a great hot chocolate for herself and Malgorzata, and which I tried a very small cup of, despite the risk of congestion I couldn’t really resist!


Day 45, Warsaw, February 24th 2012

Tea 45: Pu Erh Chocolate Cake, Marta’s Apartment, Warsaw.

First things first, but it seems I have forgotten how to count and have managed to add a day onto my travels as if by magic, so the last three posts have been updated with the correct travel day.

So, Pu Erh Chocolate Cake tea.  This tea is very unusual, as if you probably couldn’t guess that anyway.  Pu Erh tea, for those of you who do not know, is a partially fermented tea, and with a very unusual flavour, rather aquired I would say, but once you are into it I’m sure you will enjoy it’s complexity.  This one is reasonably smooth for a Pu Erh, not too much bitterness or dustiness.  The chocolate element is very interesting, similar to the chocolate tea I had in Helsinki.  The tea itself is very dark and thick, like the colour of black treacle.  It is intriguing and I can’t make up my mind about it, I feel I need to experiment with it some more, maybe with sweetness and with different steepings.

Today I didn’t go into the city centre until the late afternoon, the morning was spent catching up with life, finishing off some bits and bobs for an artist residency program myself and another are running in the summer, which will actually be in Poland, albeit a completely different part of the country to where I am now, and the two do definitely feel a world apart! And resting my oh so tired legs from the previous days marathon walk…!

Eventually making it out of the house I was walking towards the Metro station thinking to myself, ‘the pavement is very wet’.  Puddles everywhere!  But then I realised that all the snow had melted!  The grass was back, albeit very muddy, but it was grass, which it feels as though I haven’t seen in over a month!  I made it to the Metro, bought a 20minute ticket and was about to validate it through the barrier when I noticed that there were trains sitting at both platforms, and neither were moving… I waited a few more seconds to see if their doors would slide shut but they didn’t and then an announcement came over the tanoy, which I can only presume said the Metro was not operational, as everyone began to leave the station.  I left and found the Bus stop, as did basically everyone who had been in the metro station.  Eventually the bus arrived, already loaded with people our stop must have basically trebled the number of people.  Sardines in a can is not an appropriate metaphor, but it’s the best there is!  The next problem… the bus follows the same route as the Metro, meaning it stopped at all the metro stops into town.  And being as the entire Metro was down, every stop had a massive crowd waiting for a bus, many of which still thought it possible to get themselves onto the bus… click HERE for a scene that is very similar…

Eventually we got into town, me with my arms directly over my head for the entire journey until Warszawa Centralny, where everyone got off except for about 5 people!  I stayed on until Zacheta, where I was meant to meet Marta.  We were intending to visit the Zachęta Narodowa Galeria Sztuki, or contemporary art gallery.  Unfortunately though this was shut today because they are currently installing a new show.  So, I took out the map and found some other places nearby that we could go to.  We first tried to find a little place called Galeria Kolonie, but we failed at this task, I think it might be in an office building, but we couldn’t seem to find it unfortunately.  Then we stopped off at a little place that sells traditional Polish doughnuts, this is a little window out onto the street.  A lady stands and serves you, whilst in the background the kitchen is a hive of doughnut baking activity.  I chose a chocolate and cherry one as well as a more traditional Rose Marmalade one.  They were warm, sweet and utterly delicious!  I scoffed them down much too fast, but they were SO good!  We then decided to look for another gallery space, this time on the opposite side of the Palace of Science and Culture.

We wandered through the neon and traffic light filled streets to the Palace which was lit up in the darkening sky.  Wandering around looking at the sculpture that adorn it’s walls, there is a little ice rink set up on one side for those of you who enjoy a little bit of skating.  The building is all divided into different sides, youth centres, sporty bits, cultural parts and of course science.  On the other side of the building we crossed a Zebra-Crossing designed to look like the keys on a piano and then turned left down a little street with a large neon announcing ‘MUZEUM’.  This is the Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej w Warszawie, sort of.  The museum doesn’t actually exist yet.  It is currently in construction phase, and is planned to be opened in 2014.  This space is a temporary space for small shows and examples of the work they hold.  And currently they are actually running a KINOMUZEUM, a free cinema showcasing many new films.  They opened with the premiere of Steve McQueen‘s Shame, we managed to see a new film by Miranda July called The Future.  I’m not a big one for reviewing films, but needless to say we were both glad we had stuck around.  I can’t totally make my mind up about how I feel about the characters, at some times they were infuriating, whilst at others very sweet.  If you like Miranda July films definitely see it, it also reminded me a bit of The Science of Sleep, a film I love, so if you like that then you should see this too (though it’s not so good).  Anyway, I suppose that was a bit of a review.

The film finished and we headed back out into the night, the air had turned a bit chilly and a slightly icy wind was billowing up the gaps between the skyscrapers.  We got a tram that took us directly home, cooked some tasty food for our now angrily rumbling tums and eventually went to sleep.


Day 14, Helsinki / Suomenlinna, January 23rd 2012

Tea 14:  Thyolo, théhuone, Helsinki.

Today I headed to the islands of Suomenlinna.  This is a short boat journey, which if you have a travel-card like me, is included, so is basically free.  The island are an old fortress, which began life in 1748, when the Swedish, who at that time ruled over current day Finland, built it to defend themselves against Russian expansion.  Suomenlinna played a key role in many disputes, swapping hands time and again, until 1918 when it became part of newly independent, Finland.  It is now an UNESCO world heritage site.  The island is quite pretty, the first impression was a little disappointing, the buildings on the first island are similar to those in the city, and quite close to the Swedish architecture in Stockholm.  As I headed further into the complex though things got more interesting, crossing a small bridge I entered the old port area, where currently a wooden Gunboat is being constructed.  This is based on the plans of architect F. H. Chapman.  The main aim of the project is to employ and train young people and to revive and maintain ancient ship-building skills.  They are certainly doing a good job on this project, the ship is still in a skeletal stage, but it looks as if it will be amazing when finished, it is huge!

After that I headed towards some even older looking bits of the fortress.  The complex is huge, and like a rabbit warren, it would be so easy to get totally lost in there if there weren’t maps dotted about.  The building is quite low, barely going over two stories for the most part, but the walls are really thick and, like I say, the labyrinthian quality must of made it an excellent defensive structure.  I headed towards the Kings Gate, basically the original main entrance / first stop off for any wannabe invader.  There are cannon of various ages, some from the earlier period of it’s history and some from the more recent conflict around 1918.  I spent around two hours on the island before my fingers began to get numb through my gloves, definitely the coldest day so far, the exposure of the island to the Baltic Sea and the fresh bout of snowfall all contributed to this.  I hopped back onto the ferry headed back to the mainland.

My mission now: TEA!  Of course.  I almost indulged in a hot chocolate instead, but my tea head was on and I wanted to go back to the shop that had been closed on Sunday, théhuone (Teahouse in Finnish).  I was greeted by a wall of amazing smelling teas.  The shop was inviting and warm.  A pair sat at one table and another lone soul like me at another, so I took a third.  The menu was extensive to say the least, I couldn’t read any of it except for the tea names, and country of origin.  I picked one and asked to smell it.  The smell was deep and reddish, exactly what I was looking for to warm me up, and to give me something different.  The tea was called Thyolo, I presume in further reference to it’s origin, Thyolo in Malawi.  Today I decided to take proper tasting notes, especially because it was a tea I definitely haven’t experienced before.  So here we go:  The tea was smooth and rounded in flavour, delicate in flavour, and no bitterness at all.  There was the slight hint of Rooibos and also a smell it took me ages to pin down, but I think it might have been the very tiniest hint of Passata (tomato puree).  It took me ages to think what it was, and I might still be wrong.  There was an edge of sweetness to the tea, mostly from the Rooibos tones, that refreshed the underside of my tongue along and a slight and pleasant lingering metallic note in there somewhere.  The tea was dark amber in colour, reminiscent of Golden Syrup.  The water was heated perfectly and the timing of the brewing was to perfection, thanks to a little egg-timer used my the assistant.  I also indulged in a delicious seeded Croissant with St Dalfour Black Cherry jam.  It was SOOOO good!  After my tea I chatted to the assistant for a while about tea and travel, she told me how, for her honeymoon, she and her husband travelled for five weeks down very much the same route as I am planning but in a Caravan, it has made me think more about using a different form of transport than the trains and buses I have planned so far…..