Macarons and Lightning, very, very frightening (and tasty too!)

Try reading that title to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen….

So, Marta had never had Macarons/Macaroons before, and we came across this little stall in a shopping centre that was selling them, so I decided to get some as a little treat.  Previously she thought they were some sort of wafer with a flavoured centre, but despite my attempts to explain them I couldn’t quite describe them properly.  I guess you really do just need to taste them to find out.  These ones from the company Le Roy & Louis (maybe an attempt at ‘poshing up’ the name Leroy?!?!)  were pretty good, nice amount of crunch on the outside with a good squidgy centre.  The Pistachio and the Chocolate were the best, the other two (Raspberry and Blackcurrant) were also good, but I think the Pistachio and Chocolate are a bit more classic.  We munched them down with gusto when we got home, alongside a nice cup of Sencha Sakura tea.

That night there was the most spectacular thunderstorm, I have literally never seen or heard anything like it before.  The amount of lightning strikes was just amazing, the whole sky was lighting up like a strobe in a smokey nightclub.  It was just amazing.  We went to the top floor of the apartment block, 10 stories up and watched the three storm formations circle around us.  Despite the number (literally hundreds) of strikes it is surprisingly hard to take a photograph of the lightning.  It took me the best part of 700 photos to get just three shots of the lightning, and only one of those was really something special.  They are all below.

Enjoy!


A wee jaunt to dusty sneezy Katowice

This post is pretty picture heavy, which is kind of a surprise because, in reality, it seemed to me that there was really very little to see or do in poor old Katowice.  The city is pretty shabby and is all over the place, something which is not helped by the rebuilding of the railway station and some of the tram lines in the ‘city centre’ (in inverted commas because it is actually quite hard to tell exactly where the city centre is…)

We stayed at a friend of Marta’s.  An old flat that she had inherited and has sat mostly empty for the past six years, meaning it is full of dust and causing some major allergic nasal floods the whole time we were there.  I spent most of Saturday and Sunday wandering around the city in the sweltering heat, it was a rather exotic 34’C!  Thank goodness for Biedronka and giant cartons of Ice Tea, and their delightful portions of chocolate halva (extremely dangerous)!!

The city isn’t a complete bore though, there are some interesting buildings, from every era, starting with the old German-Bavarian mansions, to the huge UFO of a concert hall from the 1970’s right up to the library building, which seems to be carrying on the tradition of being plonked right in the middle of where you would least expect it to be.

The city is, on the whole a rather poor place, and there are plenty of rather dodgy looking characters unafraid to eye-up your camera and back pockets, but it does definitely have it’s interesting bits that are worth visiting, though try and avoid the hottest days of the year!

Oh, and the trams are a bit like being on a scary rollercoaster (scary because you could fall off the tracks at any point…)

Hot-Dog?  Bon Appetit!

Close Encounters?

The library building

Beware of fire-tailed Goats?


Day 120 -125, Cologne & Laacher See, May 9th – 14th 2012

Tea 121: THE MYSTERY PU ERH TEA all the way from Tallinn!, drunk in Cologne.

Tea 125: Fruit Tea, Bockhaus Laacher See, Laacher Sea, Eifel

The past few days have been a bit of a mixture really.  My 120th day, May 9th, involved me returning to a bike shop I had visited the day before.  There had been a bike there that I had liked the look of, but it wasn’t ready to be ridden, so I returned on this day to give it a spin.  Needless to say it seemed like a good ride. I gave it a going over and then left the shop, still strongly considering it. Trying to figure out what I would need as well as the bike and trying to see if I could get a deal.  The way back I decided to pay another visit to the Melaten graveyard.  I hadn’t given it SO much attention the day before.  There had been a funeral going on, and even though the place is absolutely huge and they probably weren’t aware of my presence, I still felt a little weird about being  tourist in such a situation.  This time I stumbled upon some interesting graves, including one of a really well detailed and ‘life-size’ (?) grim-reaper.  There are some other really amazingly crafted gravestones and sculptural pieces here, so if you are interested in these things I would say it is well worth the visit.  There are so many trees that it would probably be ok in any weather except maybe the heaviest rainfall.

Day 121, I decided to head back to the Dom (cathedral) today, this time with my camera’s memory card safely installed!  I went via the city centre where I was researching tents and compasses for consideration in my potential bike adventure.  The day started out a little cloudy with the odd bit of rain, but it brightened up later in the day.  I took Regina’s bike with me too, to try and figure out whether my yearning for bike travel was founded in anything. It seems it is…

The Dom looked quite good against the grey sky, it’s moody blackened facade contrasting quite nicely with the pale grey.  I wonder if they will ever try to clean it?  I hope not.

After that I took the bike down to the river bank and followed the Rhein for a little while.  There I discovered a chocolate museum.  Despite the temptation to pay the entrance, I decided to just visit the shop instead.  The museum looks like it’s basically run by Lindt, so I’m pretty sure they couldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know… The shop was pretty good though, and I might pay it another visit before I leave Cologne.  For some weird reason, opposite the museum, on the river, is a huge representation of Noah’s Ark!  Proclaiming to be Europe’s first Bible story theme park, the place looks mental, a huge Orangutan hangs out of the front, whilst Noah and his son are carved out of wood at the entrance. An impressively bizarre thing.

A little further along the river I tried to use my gallery map to find a photography museum, but failed, so I headed back towards home, I stopped off at a little bakery and bought a ‘Musli‘.  Basically a bit like granola, a huge circle of oats, seeds and dried fruits dipped in dark chocolate.  It was great!  I munched it down pretty eagerly and headed back to the flat.

That evening I at long last tried the 12 year old mystery Pu Erh that I had been given such a long time ago in Tallinn, Estonia.  The taste was really great, smooth, almost sweet and, for a Pu Erh, surprisingly delicate. From my experience of these teas so far I think they older they get the smoother and more refreshing they become.

The 11th, and I have to say one thing only, after all the umming and ahhing, the procrastination and trepidation, I finally made the decision to buy the bike…!!!

The 12th.  Tomorrow will be Regina’s birthday.  So today was spent preparing stuff for the next days barbeque and park party. We did some shopping, some cooking, Regina went and met a close friend in the evening and to see a gig and I did some work at the apartment and then met another of her friends, Boris, who had come from Berlin to see Regina for her birthday.  When he arrived that evening we both went into town and met up with Regina after the gig. We planned to go into a bar called KGB bar, though this is a new name, it was formerly HoteLux.  The place was completely full of people though, we could barely put a foot through the door.  So we went for another place, the first choice was one that appears to have shut down inbetween Regina being away and coming back, so we ended up in a bar opposite.  This was totally busy too, but a good atmosphere.  I was wondering where all these people had come from, the city seems much busier and fuller at night time!  After a drink there we headed to another place, a quieter one, where we could get a seat and have some good chat.  On the way home we stopped at a place for Falafel, and I must say that this one totally beats any of the Falafel I had in Berlin!

The 13th arrived and Regina’s birthday!  We woke up fairly early and prepared some more food for the barbeque.  I was on vegetable parcels.  Courgette, tomato, peppers and mushroom in little foil packages with oil, cumin, and some mixed herbs, salt and pepper. Regina made some really amazing looking, smelling and tasting pizzas.  We then headed to a nearby park at around 2:30 and set up the stuff and people started to arrive from around 3.  The weather was really really amazing, the perfect day for the barbeque, as well as for a birthday.  We sat and chatted, cooked and drank until around 10pm.  The sky was clear the whole time and it stayed warm pretty late, though eventually the last few of us that remained got a bit chilly.

Day 125, Monday.  Regina had to wake up early again!  She normally has mondays off from work, but today was a leaving do for a colleague, so she had woken up early to cook yet more food (Coconut pancakes) and headed out.  She got back around 12:30 and we all (Regina, Boris and I) all headed out for a little jaunt into the countryside.  We went to a place called Laacher See, a large lake near to the city of Koblenz.  The weather was still perfect.  When we arrived we walked a little way to a restaurant called Bockhaus and had a little lunch.  I had a ‘German speciality’ called Toast Hawaii.  Basically ham and pineapple on toast and totally coated in cheese.  It was actually quite tasty and reminds me of when my mum puts a slice of pineapple on top of Gammon steaks (but with added cheese).  After that we walked for a while trying to find the edge of the lake, which we did when we eventually found the end of the huge caravan park that seems to have a bit of a monopoly over this part of the lake’s shoreline.  After that we headed back to Cologne, the sat-nav tooks us on a good route, that involved taking a ferry across the Rhein! As well as some lovely views of the hills, which are covered in vineyards, some of which seem so steep I don’t think harvesting can be the easiest job in the world, you’d probably need to pay me danger money!  In Cologne we dropped Boris off at the train station, me off by Regina’s bike (which she had left in the city centre on saturday night), she drove home and I cycled her bike back.  That evening she did yet MORE baking, raspberry tray bake cake thing.  It looked and smelt amazing!  But this was for her workmates to celebrate her birthday once again!


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 75, Torun, March 24th 2012

Tea 75: Green Pepper Hot chocolate, Madame Chocolat, Torun

The first and only full day in Torun.  Marta, her Mum and myself all went into the city centre in the morning for a little bit of a walk around (mostly in shoe shops for Marta and her Mum’s amusement), but also to the old Teutonic Castle ruins, past a little model of a dragon where the world’s only confirmed sighting of a real dragon was made, also a sight of a screeching pair of Peregrine falcons flying about their nest just across from the castle.  I wonder how long Peregrine’s have lived near the castle?  Maybe they are a medieval throwback!?!?

Then we went into this cafe / chocolaterie called Madame Chocolat.  This is a fairly new place in Torun apparently.  The decor is a little basic and plain, I think because it is so new, and it is potentially slightly naively named, and decorated also…  We ordered:  Green Pepper Hot Chocolate, Advocat Hot Chocolate, Chocolate Fondant cake, Chocolate Advocat cake, and another chocolate cake, whose contents I can’t really remember, but it was very tasty none-the-less!  The chocolate was tasty and rich, nice and thick.  Sadly the green pepper part was just some fresh green pepper on the top, it hadn’t been cooked with the pepper in it, so it hadn’t really got any chance to infuse the flavour.  But it was still quite good hot chocolate, nice and thick.  The cakes were all very good.  My fondant came with a nice, but small blob of ice cream and a chocolate twirl.

After this rather indulgent start to the day we went for a bit more of a walk, to burn off a bit of the sugarific-ness.  We ended up in a Gingerbread shop along with a crowd of rather merry polish guys out on a team building weekend.  They appeared to be buying the who shop up, gingerbread gift baskets were flying off the shelves!  All for their boss apparently, though I’m pretty sure lots were for wives and girlfriends too, an apology for the horrendous hangover they were likely to be suffering the next day…

We then headed back to the car and back to the house where lunch was being prepared.  Another huge meal with everything you could imagine, including another traditional wrapped Polish dish called Gołąbki.  Minced meat, rice and spices are all wrapped in boiled cabbage leaves.  They were very good, despite looking a little anaemic initially.  We ate until we were royally stuffed, as usual. Then sat in the beautifully sunny garden for a while drinking tea and eating (more) cake!  This all took a couple of hours and then we decided to head back into the town, to visit the Centre of Contemporary Art, or CoCA.  We got back in the car and were dropped off.  The gallery is a nice space, surprisingly large and the work on show is of a good quality generally.  There is a show on at the minute entitled The Fourth State of Water: from Micro to Macro.  This is obviously all about water.  It’s a strange show, a bit hit and miss and some of the curatorial decisions are a little dodgy, but it is a definite improvement on the work I saw in Krakow!  The other show on at the minute is called People and the City, a collection of photography, video and the occasional painting.  There are some big names here, Henri Cartier Bresson, WeeGee, Wolfgang Tillmans and Peter Blake to name a few.  The collection of works is good, and is put together in a straightforward, simple, but effective way.  This space is much better than the other.  More open and higher ceilings.

We eventually got asked to leave the gallery, the place was closing, but luckily we had made it around everything.  They shuffled us out pretty quickly, but I still managed to get a photo of this hilarious sign declaring that the gallery had been estimated as a very good gallery…

We left the gallery and went for a walk around the town as the sun began to set.  The town was quite quiet for a Saturday night, that was until a group on bikes cycled past us with music blaring out from a speaker system being pulled along by one of them.  We went to see Copernicus’s residence, then to this leaning tower which I fully expected to be an actual tower but turned out to just be a four story building, but it was definitely leaning…

Then we got picked up again by Marta’s mum who had been on a trip with her gran to visit the grandfather’s gravestone.  We then drove across the river and found the panorama, a spot across the river where you can get a really wonderful view of the whole of the old town.  Postcard perfection!

Back home and more food was prepared, pierogi’s, bread, cheese, salad.  Everything!


Day 53, Warsaw – Radom, March 2nd 2012

Tea (coffee) 53:  Double Espresso, Charlotte Cafe, Warsaw.

So, today nothing very much happened, I just stayed home for the day, needing to catch up with a load of work for the residency program (www.hellocollective.org) , and also to try and sort stuff out for the weekend.  Tonight I travelled to Radom with my host Marta.  This is where she is from and her family have invited me for the weekend.  This was my first experience of Polish driving, with Marta’s brother taking me, Marta, himself and two of his friends with stuff in a Renault Clio, a bit of a squeeze, but with there being no working seatbelts it probably helped that we were like sardines!  Even more so at 150kph on the motorway!

We arrived around 9 or so, a wonderful spread of salad and bread and cheese waiting for us when we arrived.  Marta’s lovely dog Etna, a chubby, wire-haired Irish Terrier, greeting me warmly as I walked through the door.  We sat, ate, talked about my travels past and future, went through a few photos and headed to bed.

Because of today’s lack of any photographs I am giving you all a photographic treat of a few photos that I’ve not posted yet, a Warsaw recap.


Day 52, Warsaw, March 1st 2012

Tea 52: Not tea, Hot Chocolate with Rum! Original Wedel Chocolate Cafe, Warsaw

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.