Day 87 – 89, Berlin, April 5th -7th 2012

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.

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Day 58, Krakow, March 7th 2012

Tea 58: Lemo Mate, the Apartment, Krakow.

The sun and it’s warmth came back today, gladly (though I hear it’s not to last, again).  I left the apartment and walked in the sunshine to the river, the Wisla.  I walked past the big helium balloon and crossed the bridge.  I then turned south, towards the sun and following the rivers edge.  As i walked the bells of three churches all began to ring for 12 o’clock.  Though it would seem they are all have about 20 – 30 seconds of difference between them.  Maybe this is on purpose so that they can all get a fair share of the attention.  The big white church next to me was  the last to chime, it’s big bells clanging about with great passion.

I continued along the river, then crossed the blue arched bridge to a part of town that could still be part of Kazimierz district, or it could be part of Podgorze district… There I wandered up a staircase to a small park dedicated to Wojciech Bednarski, a polish educator, councillor and activist from the 19th – 20th Century.  The park is small but has a nice feel, with lots of trees and a large cliff at the far side, which has a wall built on the top of it that looks to be a fort of some kind.  I sat there in the sunshine for a while, then left out of another entrance / exit. There was this huge old house at opposite the entrance which looked like something out of a fairytale, with a great roof and cornicing and a turret.  I then walked back down the hill and onto a town square which has a large intricately decorated church at one end, that basically backs onto the little park I was in.  I wandered down the main street, with its old buildings and their great old signs and facias.

After a while of weaving in and out of the streets, trying to keep in the warm sunshine, I made it back across the water and into Kazimierz proper.  I wandered around a little more, walked up Mostowa Street and onto another little square, then along Jozefa street, where there is a tea house I have read about, I didn’t visit it today, but have found it so I know where it is when I am ready (probably tomorrow)!  I then continued east, went under a tiny little bridge with the railway going over the top and found myself outside the large Jewish cemetery called Nowy Cmentarz Zydowski.  I went in, began to walk amongst the hundreds and thousands of gravestones that fill this place.  There is such a concentration of graves in this place, like I have never seen before.  There are even tombs lining the pathways and they are so tightly packed that you can see where paths used to be, but which are now totally taken over by graves.  The place is in quite bad disrepair, which is a shame, some of the stones were once very beautiful but have suffered terribly, probably largely due to the various wars.  After a while amongst the stones I left, walked north and found myself in another food market, with people milling about getting their fruit and veg. Walking out of the market I found myself at a large old bridge, built in the middle of the 19th Century, which marks the start of Dietla street.  Walking down, still in the beautifully warm sunshine (though I still needed a hat and gloves) I then went back into Kazimierz, and found this little cafe I had walked past a little while earlier, called Mostowa artcafe, named after the street it is on and the art on the walls.  I ordered a coffee (I needed the caffeine, the cold is still keeping me under it’s influence), and some olives and sat for a good hour or so writing and just staring out of the window onto the street outside.

After that I left, and walked back to the little square called Plac Wolnica, with the Krakow Ethnography Museum on one side.  I decided I hadn’t been in a museum for a while now and that I would visit this one.  It’s fairly simple, with examples of old tools, traditional costume and reconstructions of houses and rooms.  The usual stuff you find in such a museum.  The best thing about this place was the photographs.  There are loads and loads of old photographs (all reproductions) that are really great, so many faces and characters that say so much more than an outfit or old hammer in a glass case.

A while was spent in there, keeping warm, the temperature had begun to drop when I left the cafe.  Then back out, the sun had begun to set and I wandered back to the river, via a supermarket, and this time instead of crossing straight over I decided to walk north, towards the Jubilat shopping centre, with it’s red neon sign reflecting in the water.  The sky was turning a wonderful orange colour as the sun got lower and fuller.  People were milling about on the rivers edge, rollerblading, cycling, taking photographs and being romantic, even a man walking his horse!  I made it around to the next bridge and walked over it and then weaved through the streets of Debniki district until I found myself home again.  Attempting to get into the building by asking the concierge to let me through the door descended into humorous chaos as I attempted a tiny bit of Polish and then got my tongue all twisted, but eventually we managed to communicate and I got back into the building.


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 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.


Day 42, Warsaw, February 20th 2012

Tea 42: Green Rooibos ‘African Sun’, Marta and Ania’s Apartment, Warsaw.

PHEWWW!!!  Finally got the internet to work on my computer!  At long long long last!  Hopefully this will mean my postings will be back on schedule!  So, yes, today (or yesterday)…

I didn’t actually leave the apartment until really really late in the end.  And I managed to miss most of the sunshine!  That was a bit of a shame, but I think I needed the rest.  EVENTUALLY I made it to the Metro and took the train to Centrum.  I came back above ground and tried to figure out which direction was the right direction.  I took a punt and ended up going down Marszalkowska, heading South, and eventually back to the tube station I had gotten off the day before.  At least I had figured out some geography and not gotten totally lost!  After find myself back where I had started the day before I decided I would head to the Royal Park, Lazienkowsky.  The long Aleje Ujazdowskie, is lined with big embassy buildings and other parks.  It is quite a spectacular road.  I wandered down the road, popped into another park, paths thick with ice, slowly beginning to melt, a small hole in the ice acting and looking a lot like a bath just the right size for a duck.  Birds scrambled about for scraps of bread recently left by some kind samaritan.

Making it to Lazienkowsky I was first met by a huge sculpture of Chopin.  This is a really amazing looking sculpture, Chopin sitting beneath a stylized Willow tree.  Walking around the rear of the sculpture you realise you are at the top of a high mound of land, with one steep side leading down to the rest of the park.  I slowly scaled the slippery path down to the main area of the park.  A rather treacherous journey!  The park is huge, full of buildings for various purposes, cafes, amphitheaters, museums.  Ducks, and peacocks.  One wandered up to me, probably trying to figure out if I had anything it would like to eat, unfortunately I did not.  There was also a really beautiful Mandarin Duck and his partner.  I’ve never seen one of these up close before and he was very impressive. It was now approaching 5 and I had arranged to meet Marta after work and go for something to eat.  I wandered back out of the park.  Along the long embassy road again and back towards the Stary Mokotow district.

I met Marta outside of her work building and we walked past a lovely church lit up in the early evening light.  We then hopped onto a Metro train for one stop, jumped off again and found this little schizophrenic Chinese restaurant (the ceiling is covered in fake Grape Vines, suggesting it was once an Italian place.  We ordered some food, I had some Soy Noodles with vegetables and shrimps.    It was tasty, but much like the Baltic Countries I have visited, the Polish do not do much spice!  We ate our food and had a rather long and fruitless wait in a Post Office whilst Marta tried to track down a parcel that she was expecting, then it was time to head home.


Day 30, Tartu – Pärnu, February 8th 2012

Tea 30: Meliss (Lemon Balm), Liis & Ivo’s loft, Parnu

Two belated posts in a row…  oops.  Yesterday was another travel day mostly.  I spent the morning packing and relaxing on the sofa in Tartu, trying to gather a bit of energy back.  A huge breakfast of chocolate pancakes and toastie sandwiches was made for me so that was really good.  So after a little bit of zombifying in front of the TV I went down to Tartu bus station bought my ticket for Parnu and left.  The bus was really full and possibly the least leg room I have ever experienced.  Luckily the bus had quite an early stop and a large chunk of the people got off at that first stop, so that was a bit better, but i still had my legs stuck out into the aisle, wedged between my rucksack and the armrest.  Traveling by bus shows you just how much of Estonia is covered by thick dense forest.  60% apparentely, it’s no wonder they burn so much of it to heat their homes.  But I am assured it is all sustainably done.  Arriving in Parnu at about 5:30pm, I was met at the bus station by Liis, who is kindly putting me up for two nights before I make for the border and into Latvia.

We went straight away to her husband’s car and the three of us drove, picked a fourth person up, and headed out into the countryside, to one of their friends houses. I had been kindly invited to join their dinner party.  A weekly occurance they pick a ‘theme’, or vegetable, that will be cooked into as many different options as possible.  Last night was one of my favourites, Sweet Potato.  We had it as salad, baked, and ‘caramelised’ crisp/chip style.  It was good food, and followed by a documentary film, The Living Matrix.  Basically this is about energy fields that may, or may not, exist around the human body, and how holistic medicine can engage with these fields to heal.  It was very interesting, though the characters and scientists were all quite extreme and intense, which can be a little off putting for some people.  If you are into, or just curious about the ideas of holistic medication, healing, acupuncture, the placebo effect, and such things it is worth a look.

We all left after the film, and headed to Liis and Ivo’s apartment, which is a roof space apartment near the centre of Parnu.  They keep insisting it is unfinished, but it is a really lovely space, nice decor, nice environment, really lovely.  I am certainly jealous, it is one of those places you always wish you could live in, and the decor you always strive for but never feel you achieve.  I’m pretty sure these two have achieved it.  It is really lovely, especially the ‘rocket stove’, which I am currently sitting on typing this.  We drank tea, ate apples from Liis’ Gran’s Garden, and chatted for a while about what I am ‘planning’ and where the two of them have travelled and what their plans are.  They seem very happy here.

So, no Parnu photos yet, but here are some more of Tartu, including the rather dazed looking face of the pig sculpture that stands outside of the Tartu meat market…


Day 26, Tallinn – Tartu, February 4th 2012

Tea 26:  Õuna-Ingveri Plahvatus, Heli’s Apartment, Tartu.

Today I travelled to Tartu, in South-East Estonia.  I woke up, packed up, said my goodbyes to Ingrid and made for the bus station.    The bus I took left at 1pm and cost me the princely sum of 5 Euros!  On a Saturday people aged 26 or under can travel for half price!  That was a hugely pleasant surprise!  The coach took 2 and a half hours, in which time I managed to catch up on a little sleep missed the night before and to see a bit more of the Estonian countryside.  The country is pretty flat for the most part, with a few huge lakes, currently covered in snow and a little hard to differentiate from the fields.  But the scenery is beautiful, which chunks of old, fir tree woodland, covered in snow, making the fronds and branches droop under the weight.

I arrived in Tartu at 3:30pm, and was met at the bus station by Heli, my new couch surfing host.  We went straight from there to her apartment, kind of in the north of the city.  My beard froze more or less instantly in the cold -21’C air!  I was introduced to her family, and a brief introduction to the cat.  Then started to make myself at home, chatting all things travel, to art, to card games and liquor.  Some lovely Mandarino Italian liquor Heli brought back with her from a recent trip to Italy, and then a great Lasagne cooked by her sister Evelyn.  It was very good, the perfect food for a cold day and an empty stomach.  We sat a chatted for a while after, played a few card games and I am now sitting in front of the fire drinking a cup of the above-mentioned tea, before I head to bed / couch.  The tea is a fruit tea, with all sorts of lovely chunks of orange, apple, and ginger.  The name actually just means apple-ginger explosion!  It is lovely, not strictly tea, but good none-the-less!

Below is a picture of the fire and a couple more from my time in Tallinn.