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 94 – 103, Berlin April 12th – 21st 2012

OH MY GOODNESS!!!  I must really apologise to all the people who have been waiting and hoping for my update!!  But at long, long, long, long, LONG last here it is!

This first post takes us from the 12th of April until the 21st, days 94 – 103!  Some days are a little sporadic in note form, I hope this is ok with you guys!

12th A long and slow wander around the Tiergarten, I got approached by two people wielding a video camera, who then asked me to eat a chocolate quark cake thing and talk about what I thought, so, basically anyone could get me to eat chocolate if they just asked, so I went for it.  A rather funny situation, I was expecting to be asked questions but I just had to say stuff, as it came to me, so it was all a little awkward.  But I think I got away with it!!  After that I wandered the length of the Tiergarten and then back towards the city centre, and this time on the way back I visited the Russian memorial, a large imposing structure right near the Reichstag, I wandered around the rear of the monument where there is a short, but interesting history of.    Then I wandered to the Reichstag and took the usual touristy photo, then to the main train station to check out times and prices of  trains to various onward options, then I headed home, though moved out to stay with another pair of friends for the night.  We went to the opening night of a show, which had some work by an artist that my friend is assistant to

13th The next day I actually moved into a place to myself, just for the next two weeks, it’s nice, a good size for one and has a balcony and lots of lovely sunshine pours in through the large windows.  No photos of this day I’m afraid.

14th A nice walk to Friedrichshain area of Eastern Berlin and around shops and markets.  Then I wandered down Karl Marx Allee, a long, long, beautiful street, the sun was shining brightly, I made it to the fountain and sat next to the statue of Karl Marx for a while, enjoying the sunshine and the passers by taking photos.  More shops and wandering after that, found a Club Mate ‘Ice Tea’ version (image on previous post).  Not much different, maybe a little stronger in taste.  That evening I met up with Annett, a good old friend of mine, who, it turned out I’ve not seen in 3 years!, and her new boyfriend for a drink.  We had some good chat, they seem very besotted with one another, which is sweet.

15th, My friend Marta arrived in Berlin for a few days.  I spent the wandering around some more before I went to meet her at the bus station, and show her where she was! Whilst I waited I had a tasty Green-Oolong Milky Bubble tea with popping lychee balls!  Bubble teas seem to be all the rage in Berlin at the minute, they are quite expensive, but this one was quite tasty and the popping lychee ‘QQ’ were novelty enough!

16th, Today I took Marta to Friedrichshain to try to find film for her Holga camera, which failed because it was all far too expensive.  But it was a lovely wander around.  We wandered along the East Side Gallery, the largest stretch of the Berlin Wall which has been recently repainted, but with the same images as the original murals created, so it is looking really great.  We stopped of and had cake in a Turkish bakery near to Schlesisches Tor‎.

17th, A quick visit to the market that stretches along the canal around the corner from where I am staying, it sells mostly food stuff, veg, cake, cheese, bread.  Followed by a long walk to Victoria Park and the Kreuzberg monument, after which the area is named; Kreuzberg translating literally into ‘Cross Mountain’ basically a big green pointing thing with a cross on the top at the top of a tall hill, with a fake waterfall built onto it.  Then walked further West into the Shoneberg district, had a hot chocolate in a little old ice cream parlour that looks like it has existed forever, really old school decoration and wooden walls.  Then walked to Kliest park, and then found an old war time bunker as well as the area where the sports hall once existed that Hitler used to give his big speeches, including the one where he asked the crowd whether they want total war and the crowd cheered in agreement.  It is now a housing development.

18th, A walk to the city centre.  To the TV tower and Neptune fountain, then down towards the Brandenburg gate meandering about and finding old churches and other old buildings, the old Aeroflot office, that Marta told me used to still have the Hammer and Sickle on the sign, but not anymore it would seem, the Russian embassy, just a little way down the road though, still does have the hammer and sickle on its façade!  Then to the Holocaust memorial and found the area that once had a lot more of Hitlers bunkers, as well as the one in which he, and Eva Braun committed suicide, before their bodies were removed and burned.  Then also found the North Korean consulate / living quarters.  Strange place, seemed to be just normal flats and apartments, but totally caged in and then people came outside whilst we were taking photos of the place…  Coffee and cake at Checkpoint Charlie in Einstein’s.  A little expensive but the cake was very good, and huge slices too!  Walked home via international supermarket and through a really nice area of Kreuzberg, near a synagogue, that has a 24 hour guard and gates and fences up everywhere, seems mad that such a place still needs protection!  But the general area is beautiful, with some great apartments looking out onto the canal.

19th, A day trip to Charlottenburg, the old palace and gardens, there was really beautiful, properly warm sunshine, wonderful flowers and atmosphere everywhere.  Walked around gardens then went for pizza in this little place next to the Rathaus, made totally from fresh in front of us.  Service was a little shakey but otherwise the food was very very good, Gorgonzola and Spinach pizza was great, Marta had one with anchovies, capers and fresh parma ham.  Then we walked in the sun to zoologisher garden underground, found a place for more Bubble tea!  Green tea with Passionfruit and tapioca balls, and Green Tea with mango and coconut cubes.  Then we went into a big shopping place with lots of tea, very expensive; basically the same as somewhere like Harvey Nichols.  They had a huge space with tea in big urns, and lots of the dry tea out in cups to smell, and also to potentially slip a few of the pearl style ones into your pocket for sampling later…

20th Walk along the landwehrkanal, a beautiful day and a lovely walk, reasonably easy going after all the crazy amounts of walking done so far!  Lots of people out, jogging, dog walking, drinking by the river.  Lovely jubbly.

21st, Walked to a market near Boddinstrasse, in Neukolln, and I bought a new old camera!  An Agfa Agnar, for a hopefully bargain price of 4 euros!  It even has a little shutter release lead with it for photos of yourself!  With a shiny reflective viewfinder too!  A little walk through Gorlitzer park, slow easy paced day, not to over do it before Marta headed back home on the bus that night.

IMAGE TIME!!!  (they are smaller than usual because there are so many, but they are clickable for the larger versions!)


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.

<CLICK HERE>


Day 79 – 81, Warsaw, March 28th – 30th 2012

Tea 80, Loads of Yunnan Green Superior for study support!, the apartment, Warsaw

Tea 81, Sencha Sakura, the magic teapot (above), Warsaw

Day 79, well, what happened on this day?  I guess not a great deal, we did go and pick Marta’s coat up from the dry cleaners and then wandered around in the sunshine, it was a little windy today so much of our time was spent trying to avoid the wind tunnels between buildings.  We wandered around Jana Pawla for a while visiting the places we didn’t manage to go to the night before, the little tea shop, which is a bit expensive, then into the XX1 gallery to see the show that is on at the minute, although I think it might be shut now.  ‘Transfusion’ by Pavel Novak, apparently the Polish version of a super common name such as my own!  He had presented a few paintings alongside a sculptural glass installation of clear glass heart casts.  The work looked good in the space, especially with the sun beating through the window, glistening from and through the glass casts.  They weren’t exactly presented perfectly in the space though, somewhat ‘plonked’ on the end of white poles.  The press release seemed to say they should appear to be floating at heart level, but they weren’t floating.

Day 80, Thursday, we didn’t really leave until late, later than we had intended really.  Marta was studying for a job interview most of the day, I did pop to Galleria Mokotow for a short while to buy some eye moisturizer stuff from the pharmacy, as I had managed to lose my other one somewhere between Torun and Warsaw.  When we did eventually leave we headed straight to central and to a photo development shop where we dropped off Marta’s first ever medium format Holga film!  That was very exciting, and they had it ready in an hour, which amazed me, stuff like that in the UK usually takes about 2 weeks!  While we waited we went back to Zacheta, to see the newly installed sculptural installation show called ‘New Sculpture?’.  The show is good, I’m glad I got to see the other spaces in this gallery.  There were various large scale works by a number of artists including Martin Boyce (giving me a sentimental thought of Glasgow) and  Mai-Thu Perret, as well as others.  We wandered around in there for a while, attracting various suspicious glances from the guards.  The security guards in Poland are pretty hardcore, even more so in the health and beauty stores, Rossman’s is the worst, they may as well handcuff you as you walk through the door, and don’t even think about going in for a simple browse, not unless you are a massive fan of the serial voyeur!

Show seen we headed back outside, then had a whistlestop run around the old town to try to find a shop we had been to before that sells a great almond cake, we found the shop but sadly no almond cake!  Then we had to rush back to the photo shop to collect the film, but not without a quick diversion to the donut place on Chmielna to fulfill our sweet cravings.  We were both quite excited about the Holga results.  We really didn’t know what to expect, especially as the film that Marta had bought was such a cheap one that we didn’t even know if we had put it in around the right way to begin with!  But we were not disappointed!  The results were very pleasing, though we both realised that we had been a bit foolish, Marta had been using the different colours of the flash when she had taken the photos.  But it turned out we had both totally forgotten the film was black and white!  Needless to say coloured flashes are utterly pointless in this case!  Two of the photos are below, so I must credit Marta for them!

Day 81, the last day of employment for Marta!  And also a job interview for her too!  She had headed for this very early in the morning, I just about remembered to wake up and wish her good luck, before crashing back into sleep again.  When I eventually awoke I spent some time on the computer before deciding to head into town.  This was made a little difficult, I had been locked in!  Marta had accidentally taken the keys with her to work.  I sent her a message asking where they were, she looked in her bag and there they were.  Luckily she managed to get permission from her work to come back and free me.  Once that fiasco was sorted I went into town and walked around the shops for a while.  The biggest thing on my mind was (and is) a hunt for this camera, a DIY lomo (yes, Marta’s Holga experience has inspired me).  But this is a little different, one you build yourself from total scratch and that uses standard 35mm film.  It’s called a DIY Recesky Twin Lens Reflex (or TLR), and looks like it could be good fun.  I spent a lot of time searching around in the camera and gadget and toy shops, but to no avail.  I think I am going to have to buy it online when I am in Berlin, the problem is the delivery times, but I will still keep looking for the next few days I think.

After the fruitless search I went and met Marta outside her work.  She arrived carrying a load of stuff including some leftover cake from her goodbye cake collection and a goodbye present she had been bought, the fantastic teapot you can see above.  The cups are double-walled to keep the tea warm for longer!  A really great present, in my opinion!  We christened it with some Sencha Sakura, a floral, delicately flavoured tea (she had been bought this as well as some Chinese Sencha and two flower teas).  The tea was good, delicate and green, a very good sencha, and the flavoured aspect was very well balanced and didn’t take away from the tea too much!


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 55, Radom, March 4th 2012

Tea 55, Green tea, mystery mix, Radom.

Today was Marta’s Mum’s birthday, when we woke up she had already made another spectacular breakfast spread with all things you could think of, cheese, bread, tomato, cucumber, salad.  Loads and loads of stuff, and I was still pretty full from the indulgences on the previous day.  We sat and ate and chatted and watched the TV, which was dominated by the tragic and awful news of the train crash that has happened on the line between Warsaw and Krakow.

After a while of this we decided to head out, Marta, her mum and I, to this park area which is also home to a few galleries and loads of sculptures.  It is around 10km from Radom, and in which direction I am not too sure.  We also took the dog with us, fully intending to take her for a walk around the park too.  We arrived at this little place, which is dotted with buildings, looking a bit like a farm in lots of ways.  Everyone out of the car, including the dog and Marta and I went into the first building, a modern built gallery, to buy some tickets.  Luckily our tickets gave us access to more than one building because this first show was a bit of a disappointment.  The space is pretty interesting but it had been totally rammed with sculptural works by this one guy, which were, basically, terrible.  They looked like they were built in the 60’s, and this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if they had been.  But they were all pretty much brand new, gaudy, Francis Bacon-esque structures of painted driftwood and plaster.  It was a shame, and if there had of been even a TINY bit of critical choice in what was presented it would have been a hundred times better.  But it was just like the guy wanted to show and tell EVERYTHING!  And I know I myself am a minimalist, so usually something is always too much that nothing, but this was just stupid!

Ehem, so… moving on… We went back out into the park, Marta’s Mum had joined us half way through our tour around this first space and then we all walked to the next space, on a little tour with a lady in a brown hat who seemed pretty passionate about lots of the elements.  She explained a few of the things we could see as we walked along, and then we arrived at an old chapel, the all seeing eye staring down at us from on high.  We went inside and found an installation created by a guy and called (in Polish) Harvest.  This was a collection of ceramic figurines, made by the artist, who were, basically, Chavs / Neds / Delinquents whichever phrase you choose.  Then Marta explained to me that in Polish the word for harvest is very similar to that for something like a self destructive society.  The piece was a play on words.  This work had a lot of humour and enjoyment in it’s rather bleak subject matter, on figurine is peeing in a corner under the old alter, one is texting on a mobiule phone, others drinking in little huts and some fighting.

A little while spent in this space we left again, the lady in the hat locking the door with a huge key, had to be almost a foot long, and we continued onto another space.  This one used to be an greenhouse and so is open and full of light.  The work presented here was more interesting modern sculpture, of simply a toilet and a cement mixer.  They had, however, been covered in little squares of mirror, like on a disco-ball.  The toilet span around on its low plinth and the cement mixer was fully working, though only for a short period of time when the lady in the hat switched it on and then off again, suggesting that it may not be the most secure of creations. There were also some photos of the artist’s other creations, including a drain cover, a wheelie bin, and an original Volkwagen Beetle!  The photos were documents of when the artist puts them into real life situations and illuminates them, generally at night.

That space over we went back out into the park and headed for the main house.  This has been kept in its original condition, with its classical furniture, paintings and it’s egg cooker… so is more of a historical document than gallery space.  But it is an interesting little place with some very nice artworks and some intriguing gadgets!

Back in the car, we let the dog out for another, brief walk (she looked a little perplexed to being told to get back in the car after such a brief exit).  We then headed back towards town, Marta’s Mum dropped us off in town and we had a short walk in the sun and then went into a café/restaurant that used to be Marta’s favourite when she was younger.  We ordered a couple of juices (I decided I needed the vitamin C, I think I am getting a cold!), and a pizza to share.  It was a very good one with olives and capers and anchovies.  However it turned out to be a bit of a mistake, because on our return home it turned out Marta’s Mum had been busy in the kitchen yet again and there was another HUGE spread on the table.  Soup, potatoes, chicken, leftover goulash, more salad, and then when that had been gone over by us all there were cakes brought out!  This weekend I have been well and truly stuffed and feel like I won’t eat for a week!

After another few hours spent eating (again), it was time to head back to Warsaw with Marta’s brother.  The Clio’s heating system had been fixed so we didn’t have to drive with condensation all over the windows, but the seatbelts were still useless.  We made it back to Warsaw safely though.  Tomorrow (today) I leave for Krakow, I’m excited to be travelling again, but sad to leave Warsaw as I still think there is so much I haven’t seen!


Day 46, Warsaw, February 25th 2012

Tea 46: Power Tea, Marta & Ania’s Apartment, Warsaw

I had a much earlier start to the day today, and managed to leave the flat at a reasonable civilized time.  I went out and caught the tram to Raclawicka, where I had read about a bicycle shop.  I got off and found the shop, which was unfortunately shut, but I had a good look through the window anyway.  For those of you that are wondering, I am just currently flirting with the idea of doing the rest of travels on a bike, maybe…

I got back on the tram and took it to central.  I got off at Dworzec Centralny and walked to the Palace of Science and Culture.  I was on the hunt for a sculpture that Marta had told me about, which apparently still bears some signs of it’s Communist upbringing…I didn’t manage to find the one, but I will get her to take me at some point.  Hopefully it still exists.  I walked around the building and then decided to visit Galeria Studio.  This is a little gallery inside the Palace, part of the theatre department of the building.  I walked through the big heavy wooden and iron door and went to the glowing sign that said Galeria Studio.  This is at the bottom of the staircase which had a cordon across it, but there were two ladies there who seemed to be a setting up some sort of cloakroom service.  So I asked if the gallery was open.  They didn’t speak much English, but we managed a bit of communication and she called over an older guy in a smart suit.  Again more vague communication and the guy smiled and walked to the cordon, waved me over and we both stepped over it and he escorted me up the staircase, through a corridor, up another staircase and into the main gallery space.  He told me to wait outside of a dark curtain.  He disappeared for a few seconds and the lights to the space switched off.  Walking inside the space there were two large glowing sculptures.  One was of a Uterus, the other of some flying ejaculate heading in the direction of the Uterus.  They were amazing sculptures.  Made from smooth, solid material.  The guy came over and put his hand to the material, wrapping his hand rather surreally around a little offshoot of semen…he took his hand away and was delighted by the result, a perfect shadowy print of his hand on the surface which slowly began to fade.  The pieces were made from glow in the dark material, and further intensified by the use of UV lighting.  The pieces are by Karol Słowik, a polish artist, and the show was rather fittingly named ‘Immaculate Conception’.  It finishes in a few days, but if you are in Warsaw give it a look, and go to the gallery too.  After a little while in the space I left and the guy escorted me to another part of the show, a video work by another Polish artist, Anna Niesterowicz, entitled SKRA it is a document of an old sports ground / area, no mostly derelict.  She has also produced a few monoprints for the show too.  The short looped video is understated and pretty effective, it doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t and is just a good honest piece of work.

That was the end of my own private, escorted view of Galeria Studio.  The guy in the suit left me at the top of the stairs and I walked back down them, nodding my appreciation to the two ladies at the bottom of the staircase that had facilitated my viewing.  Back out in the city I decided to get on another tram and head to the north of the city, I had read about another bike shop up on Stawki which also sells second hand bikes.  So I went up and found it, there are some really lovely bikes in there, but way past any semblance of a budget I may or may not have for the purchase of a bike.  Shiny chrome, a multitude of glorious powder coatings.  It was nice to be near bikes again, I can’t believe it’s been so long since I last rode mine!

Outside of the shop was a great little sight, three lovely, tiny Fiat 126‘s sitting in a row, blue-red-blue.  I reckon they had parked next to one another on purpose.  Maybe I could drive around Europe in one of those…  though I don’t think I’d fit in one very easily, not made for the 6ft 1 high people I would hazard.

Back into the city centre I wandered around some of the streets for a while, just looking at the sights and architecture.  Then I ended up back at the huge palm tree on Aleje Jerozolimskie, I think I mentioned this the other day, so i’ll try to not repeat myself (an art project that stuck).  From there I decided to try to find another gallery, Galeria Foksal.  This is planted at the end of Foksal street (believe it or not), a street parallel to the palm tree.  It’s part of the wing of a big posh looking hotel, you have to walk through a bit iron gate to get to it.  The show was called Nosferatu, Dyktator Leku, (The Fearful Dictator), by Jacek Malinowski.  It is predominantly one large video piece, though there are two smaller video pieces in the hallway.  The video is pretty intense.  The acting is good, one of those performances I wish I could get myself to do but I just stand in awe of the bravery and balls of those that can!  The piece itself is fairly sensationalistic I suppose and I came out trying to figure out my opinion of the work.  It is definitely well considered and theorized, but there was just something that didn’t sit right for me.

I left the gallery and walked back to the centre.  I have just discovered that I have been walking about with a hole in the crotch of my jeans for god-knows how long so I decided a visit to the sale section of TK Maxx was in order.  Jeans bought (these ones promise to have a ‘flexible 3D system’, hopefully equalling effective crotch stitching…) I met Marta and we got on the tram homewards.

Back home and myself Marta and Ania had a few things to eat, a bit of a chatter and then we headed out for a night in warsaw.  We didn’t go crazy and just went to one place, called Reaktywacja. A place with various rooms, some for sitting, some for dancing.  We sat for a while over a couple of beers then went for a bit of a dance.  Ania had promised us she was going to try and get us some ‘drink sponsorship’ through her flirtations with some guys she had spotted during some ‘foreigner spotting’, a regular pastime in Warsaw I am told (jokes)!  Unfortunately this didn’t work out, but we had fun dancing to some of the music (Top of the Pops themed night), we left the club/pub/bar at around 3 and got a taxi home.


Day 44, Warsaw, February 22nd 2012

Tea 44: Dark Hot Chocolate, Wedel Cafe, Warsaw.

Ok, Ok!  Sorry, but Hot Chocolate over takes tea today, even though I promised you all a review of the Pu Erh Chocolate Cake tea.  Apologies… Not really, never apologise about hot chocolate!

Today was a huge day of walking, I’ve no idea of how far I walked, but it was FAR!  I left the flat, which is in the south of the city and wanted to head to this graveyard I had read about, and Evangelical place, in the North West of the city.  This walk took me about an hour or so I think.  Walking along the wide Woloska Street.  Glass fronted buildings mixed in with unfinished constructions, mechanics, petrol stations.  Trams buzzing up and down and cars hurtling past, the gentle rain fall melting the piles of snow into huge puddles, forcing you to walk in a zigzag up the street.  I eventually reached a little park ‘Pole Mokotowskie‘, wandered around the icy patches and the puddles, a few people were walking their dogs, some taking their lives in their hands cycling over the ice.  I walked through and found myself by a huge main road.  Cars rushing past and the spray from the rain and melting snow going everywhere.  I crossed the road and went through a little area of houses and woodland, a bit like some bits of Brighton in some way.  The area is called Filtry and seems quite pretty and a bit artsy in places.  finding my way through the small streets I got back onto another main road, Towarowa, this was a long long road, with loads of traffic and more mixed up buildings of various ages and uses.  The low clouds obscuring the tops of various sky scrapers that dominate the sky line, the hazy rain fall softening the traffic noise and making everything seem grey and dark.

Eventually I made it to the graveyard.  Although the first few gates I tried were locked, I almost gave up, thinking I had wasted my time walking all that way, but then I found the proper main entrance.  The graves and tombs in this place are really crazy, so many of them squeezed into such a small place, but so many of them being huge structures.  The amount of money and design that must have been poured into these things is totally unimaginable, it made me think that maybe whoever got buried there must of just left their fortune to their own grave!  One tomb, which was just for one person, not even a family tomb like many, could have easily house a family of four!  There is a great mixture though, some being very dour and sad with skulls and crossbones or weeping angels, others more unique and celebratory, a stone carved loosely into the image of a man and woman kissing, a great blue wave and a simple dry stone cave.  I wandered for another 45 minutes or so; weaving in and out of the graves, gawking at the sheer expenditure in the place, something I find pretty incomprehensible: except the case for the potential of it all being the dead party’s last laugh.

Walking back East towards the town centre, along Zyntia and Nowolipie, then South onto Al. Jana Pawła II, I found a largish food market called Hala Mirowska.  Fruit, veg, chicken, sausage, cake, all you could ever really want I suppose, if you looked hard enough.  There were some great characters in there, dour faced women hunched over cauliflowers, merry butchers whistling and having a little dance whilst wielding their hatchet over chunks of meat.

Back onto Al. Jana Pawła II and I came across a small gallery called Galleria XX1.  It was nice to be a little independent art space again, it feels like a while since I have seen something fresh and new.  The show has various red and black constructions floating about in the space, one wall is covered by a huge black and white print of an old fighter plane wing, with more of the strange objects superimposed onto the image.  There is another small space in the back of the gallery, which had an object installation, tall, human-scale grey structures.  Looking something like a small, metallic henge.  I couldn’t really figure out what they were made of, but metal and construction foam seemed to be involved.  Back out onto the street again I decided I wanted to warm up a bit with a drink.  So I headed to the Wedel cafe in the dreaded shopping centre.  One more thing to add to the good reasons for their existence, the other being free use of the toilets…

I ordered the dark hot chocolate, Gorzka (meaning exactly that).  The chocolate was rich and bitter, really great.  You have to drink it using the little spoon provided unless you want to get you face covered in rapidly solidifying chocolate… It was pretty good, not too cheap, but worth it!  Warmed up and a small chocolate high beginning in my cheeks I wandered around a little more.  Then I walked back to Mokotowska, the area Marta works and met her after she had finished work.

We went for some food in a ‘Milk bar’, the place most Polish will go to eat, traditionally frequented by the poor or homeless these places are dotted throughout the city and are going through something of a renaissance.  Called Bambino Bar, on Krucza Street, the food is good value, satisfying and traditional.  We ordered from a little man behind a screen who handed us our receipt which we then handed to a woman through a kitchen hatch, who takes it and a little while later passes our food to us through the same hatch.  We sat with our food and ate it up.  I had barley ‘grits’, what the British would call ‘Pearls’ (to make it sound more appetizing and to charge more for it probably), a piece of broccoli (basically half of one ‘bulb[?]’), and some Pierogi Ruski (the Russian variety stuffed with cottage cheese and potato).  These pierogi were MUCH better than the ones we had from the little touristy place in the old town.  I would recommend going to a Milk Bar over that place any day.

We left the bar and then got on a old tram from the 60’s back home.  But first via the post office, Marta had finally tracked down her parcel, which turns out to be a Holga Camera, she is very excited about getting it up and running, but first she needs to get batteries for the flash to work!  We were going to go back into town to see the city in the darkness, but I’ve totally tired myself out!


Day 39, Kaunas, February 17th 2012

Tea 39: More Hot Chocolate instead of tea!, Chocolaterie, Kaunas Old Town

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!


Day 38, Kaunas, February 16th 2012

Tea 38:  Green Mint tea, Lina’s Apartment, Kaunas

My hosts have made me so welcome it’s really great. Lina and her husband Anglis (this is probably spelt awfully wrong, but will check tomorrow…) made me a great breakfast of traditional porridge like stuff, but this one was made with barley grits, there was also bread and cheese and yoghurt.  Lovely.  We then headed out into the town centre.  Today, luckily enough, is one of Lithuania‘s Independence Days.  This one commemorates the first independence of 1918.  There was a parade with flag-bearers and little brass bands, and then a in the centre of town there was a big stage set up with traditional songs being sung, the national anthem, flags everywhere and people dressed in military uniform or traditional Lithuanian dress.  Some of the material pattern of the skirts is quite similar in design to that of the Scottish Tartans, and this Scottish link seemed to be a theme of the day today.  Anglis is currently thinking about applying to study a Masters at Glasgow School of Art, where I studied.  People were often buried in mounds much like the Scottish ones, and even sometimes with cairns or structures built on top.  There is a type of Bull, now extinct that makes up part of the Kaunas Flag, which, it would seem may be similar to the Highland Cattle in some ways, though this is just a presumption.  Even tonight we ended up playing cards with some pack advertising a Scottish Whisky!

Anyway, during the events of the morning we popped into the war museum, which although free today, is mostly shut as they are currently renovating / restoring many of the exhibits, it won’t be fully open again until the summer.  We then went towards the Kaunas Picture Gallery, which houses various works, but what I am most interested in seeing is the Jurgis Mačiūnas FLUXUS cabinet.  Alas this was also shut until the afternoon, partly due to the festivities, but also because today the award for artist of 2011 was being presented.  I will try to go back tomorrow and check it out properly.

A few days ago it was Lina’s Birthday and so today many of her family were coming to celebrate and get together over food and drink.  We popped into the supermarket, bought some stuff then headed back to the flat to prepare some food.  I made sandwiches, nice and traditional Salmon and Cucumber triangle classics!  whilst they others tidied the flat up for the arrival of the parents.  They all soon started to arrive and we began to gather around the table, a buffet style spread was set up and everyone helped themselves.  The atmosphere was lovely, the sun was shining through the beautiful wide SW facing windows and everyone was having lots of laughs.  We ate, and drank for, basically, hours!  We then started to play a board game called DIXIT.  For her birthday Lina’s mum had made her the game, which looked to have taken a lot of work as there are many cards involved and lots of little elements.  I won’t try to explain the game as it will probably take ages and not make any sense, but it was good fun, and I think my team came second out of six, so not a bad result!  We then had some tea and coffee, Anglis’s Dad had brought some of his home mixed tea, a good home grown mint, mixed with a little Green tea. It was lovely, delicate mint flavour, and the perfect after dinner drink, especially with the extreme gluttony that had just taken place!

By around 7 or 8 people started to leave.  We tidied up a bit then headed to a bar called Kultura, part of the same gallery I mentioned before, and therefore somewhat obviously or maybe ironically named!  We sat over a beer for a while, listening to an ‘interesting’ choice of music selected by the DJ, and apparantly one of the best Architects in Kaunas / Lithuania.  Though apparently traditional, yet modern songs, the choices were not quite right for the bar, with lots of very mellow, not depressing, but relaxing tracks.  But we kind of wanted to dance a little, even if just on our seats.  We spent a while there, I drank a nice, unfiltered Vilnius Beer, which was golden, slightly cloudy and smelt strongly of honey.  Very tasty!  We came home and relaxed for a while, a couple of games of cards, and now I’m in bed…