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!

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Graveyards and Abandoned Hospitals.

Another roasting hot day was met with gusto as we headed out into the city centre.  We had arranged to meet up with two couchsurfers who were visiting Warsaw for a few days and were looking for good, vegan food. I recommended the brilliant Lovin’ Hut on Jana Pawla II, and they kindly invited us to join then for a spot of lunch.  The food has never disappointed me there, and it still hasn’t, though I did have to have a second choice because the first was sold out (quick tip, get there early if you want to a chance to sample something from the whole menu).  This time I had ‘Teriyaki Island”, and it was very very good as usual, the soy dressing is really well done, and their little rice piles perfect for the size of dish.  I would recommend this place to absolutely anyone, no matter what your diet or eating preference, even the strictest carnivore can’t fail to be impressed or satisfied here!

After lunch we went our separate ways and Marta and I headed to the Jewish Graveyard, to see it in the sunlight, and hopefully to cool down.  The place was really beautiful in the sunshine and the trees made the light dappled and beautiful, as well as making the temperature bearable.  The biggest problem however was the abundance of hungry mosquitos, baying for our blood.  But we just about survived, though the next day my legs looked like someone had filled them with pink ping pong balls!  (toothpaste and lemon seem to be doing the trick at keeping the itching down a bit though)

We jumped on a tram, intending to head straight home, but stopped off in the city centre and ended up inside the old children’s hospital on Jerozolimskie, ‘Szpital Omega’.  This is slowly being turned into artist’s studios and there is access to the building thanks to a tiny boutique that has opened up on the 3rd floor.  The whole building is pretty accessible if you don’t mind the piles of rubble lying around and we had a good old snoop throughout the place, which has got some creepy stuff still kicking about. The picture above is of the old oxygen cabinet, and there are some more photos below, which gives you a bit of an idea of how cool it is to explore this place, before it all gets neatened up.

Tired and sleepy we headed back home to enjoy the cool flat and some nice cups of tea.  I have, at long last, got myself a bag of normal green Mate, which is very very welcome at all times of the day and a good change from the roasted one that I have been drinking lately. I do wish I had brought my Bombilla from home though, the ones in Warsaw are all rather expensive. That’s exoticism in Poland for you!

A really amazing tombstone, possibly my favorite!


Brownies, Tea, Palaces and …er… Doors

What isn’t here is a picture of the absolutely amazing Chocolate Brownie that I had from the little festival type thing that was happening at Krolikarnia on this day.  It was one of the best Brownies I’ve ever had!  Rich, chewy, thick, tasty.  Every brilliant word you could think of.  Why no photo?  Well, because I ate it all of course!  The last thing on my mind was taking a photo!  After that we went for a walk and ended up in cafe Relaks, a cafe I’d been looking for for quite a while and have now, finally, found!  A nice cup of tea was had there, and the first tea photo I’ve given you all for a while.  More walking later into the evening.  Ending up in the city centre, around the old Jewish district again, then onto a bridge to witness a stunning sunset, which will be specially featured in my next post!


Day 84 – 86, Berlin, April 2nd – 4th 2012

Tea 86, Green Tea, Betahaus, Berlin

So, day 84 was spent travelling from Warsaw to Berlin by train.  It was about a 5.5 hour journey which was reasonably comfortable, there was only one incident of an altercation with a woman and an incorrect seat choice.  But it was fine, though she seemed very angry for a woman who then started to read an esoteric book about Auras!

I made it to Berlin at around 3:30pm and met Abigail, the woman I run the Hello Collective with.  We took a few trains to get to her place, in Kreuzberg district, the current hub of the creative world in Berlin, apparently.  Also the heart of the Turkish community in Germany.  There must be more Falafel, Halloumi and Baklava shops per square meter than anywhere else in the world!  Including the middle east!  We got home and I dropped my stuff, finally met Sergej, Abigail’s boyfriend to whom I have only ever existed through Skype (and visa-versa)!  We sat a chatted for a while and then popped to a cafe around the corner for a coffee and Abigail had a pizza before she had to disappear off to a German lesson.  I went back to the flat and chilled out for a while.  When Sergej arrived back from his studio we started to cook a bit of food ready for Abigail’s return.  She didn’t get back until late (normal for her German lesson days) and we ate, then went out for a little drink.

Day 85, Tuesday.  We woke up and went out into the local area, a little market by the river, then I went to see Abigail’s studio and we carried on walking to the Neukolln area and visited a few art spaces and then ended up in a place called Agora, a cafe which is also home to a few artist’s studios.  We sat with a coffee for a while and chatted about our plans for the summer residency program and what needs organising, including the fundraising issues!  Another reminder about our Kickstarter campaign, please visit our page and if you can donate a little.  Some guy made 3.8million dollars for a computer game development, so SURELY we can make a modest $2500!  CLICK HERE!

We met up with Sergej for a bit of lunch, an aubergine Halloumi wrap, which was tasty, though very messy!  The rest of the day seems to be a bit of a blur… hmm… We basically explored the city a bit more, then Abigail had another German lesson and I went towards the city centre, making it to Alexanderplatz for a while then headed home.  After a while we decided to leave and wandered around a while longer then headed home.  Later that evening we met up with Sergej and his brother and went for a couple of drinks in a bar around the corner.

Day 86, Wednesday.  We spent the morning do more Hello Collective things, trying to get some more emails out to people to try and drum up a little more sponsorship and trying to investigate other avenues if we don’t manage to make it to our target.  Then in the afternoon Abigail took me on another little tour of the area, taking me to this amazing arts supplies store called Modular.  Everything you could probably imagine!  Quite cool, though maybe a bit ikea arts ish?

We then went for a tea in a place called Betahaus, a very cool space near to Modular.  It was very nice and chilled out in there though, and the green tea, though standard, was of very good quality.  We sat there and chatted for a while, and people watched.  A funny situation developed when a woman arrived, put her things down and went to get a coffee, whilst she was away from the table another gentleman arrived and sat at the same table.  When the woman got back from ordering her coffee she approached with a rather confused expression and went to the table.  The man had obviously not noticed her stuff on the seat and there was a funny looking (though unheard) conversation that took place before the man got up and went to another place.

That evening we had a night in and watched a film, the 80’s childhood classic, Flight of the Navigator!  I love that film!  Though it was maybe not Abigail’s cup of tea, for Sergej it seemed pretty nostalgic, one of the first American films he remembers seeing when Eastern Germany left communist rule.


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 16, Helsinki, January 25th 2012

Tea 16: Flunssan Nujertaja (The Cold Cruncher), Cafe Java, Helsinki.

Today was another snowy day and my earliest start so far.  I was in town for around 11a.m, though I did experience my first snow related train delay today. A few minutes only, pretty impressive considering the amount of snow and the rather balmy -7’C….  I was meeting up with a person I met on Couchsurfing who had offered to show me around a bit of the city.  I met her in the train station and we went for a little bit of lunch in the university cafeteria.  I had a satisfying portion of Elk medallions.  They were pleasant, a lot milder in flavour than I had expected.  But the portion was good and set me up well for the rest of the day.  We then took the Metro to Kaapeli (The Cable Factory), where I had been the night before.  We visited the photography museum there, which was unfortunately half shut, but that did mean we got into what was open for free, my favourite price!  There was an interesting exhibtion of self portraits from various groups there, as well as a small exhibition that was mostly about the development of human rights.  We then browsed around the small bookshop and headed back out into the cold air.  We took a tram towards the old town and wandered along Kalevankatu and stopped off in a small Greek cafe called Cafe Delicato where we both had a lovely hot chocolate, and Ella had a slice of expensive but tasty looking blueberry cheesecake.  We sat and chatted for a good long while about life, learning, traveling, mono-brow parties and boob inspired pizza before braving it out into the cold weather once more.

We wandered around the old town a little more, occasionally lifting our heads from the inside of our jacket to take in views of the rather beautiful architecture around this area. Yellow townhouses line the streets with sweet windows and pointy rooftops.  The weather seemed to have gotten even colder though so we didn’t stay outside for long, but got onto another tram back into the city centre.  We headed for Cafe Java, which my guide for the day had assured me did a lovely tea, the Cold Cruncher.  And she was right.  The tea was just the ticket, warm and soothing with lemon, honey, ginger and a spiced Rooibos tea all in perfect balance.  It was the perfect answer to such cold weather.  I was made even better with the addition of a good slice of apple strudel cake on the side.  Today was definitely one of those made for sitting in cafes watching the world go by, and observing all the cold people outside rather than being one of them.  My guide, Ella, was an interesting and funny character with a smiling face and plenty of good stories.  She seems to have lived, visited or travelled through pretty much every country in Europe.  Another boost to the confidence levels for the continuation of my travels!