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!

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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 43, Warsaw, February 21st 2012

Tea 43: Japonska Wisnia (Green Cherry), Marta and Ania’s Apartment, Warsaw.

Today was a good long day of walking and sightseeing.  I took the Metro two stops past Centrum to Ratusz Arsenal.  This is the nearest stop to the old town (I think).  I left the station and took yet another guess at what direction to go, used the sun as a reference to what way was east and west.  I made it successfully to the Old Town and hunted out a Tourist Information to raid the free maps.  The one that Marta had bought the other day is good, but is massive and really conspicuous to carry around, I much prefer one you can slip in and out of your back pocket.  I wandered to the old town square where a good tourist information is, with a good selection of maps and guides in every language imaginable, and maps and guides in hand I went back out of the old town to the tomb of the unknown soldier.  This is a ceremonial heart of memorial for all the lost soldiers in the wars and is guarded constantly by two soldiers, guns in hand, a fire burning to keep them from freezing to death.  There is a small park behind the tomb with an impressive switched off fountain and various sculptures of goddesses, Venus, Art, Justice etc etc, there are a few without titles which I found a little odd, and tried to figure out what they were but failed.  The ice was thick on the ground, still solid with no sign of it shifting any time soon.

I wandered around that part of town for a while, the huge Soviet ‘Sofitel’ hotel mirrored across the huge open, parade type, square by the more modern glass fronted building, that looks to be offices.  I headed towards the hotel to the front of another building, which turned out to be the Zachęta National Gallery of Art.  I didn’t go inside as I am planning that for thursday when, hopefully, entry will be for free.  So I turned back and went to the Old Town side of the square, by the statue of Józef Klemens Piłsudski, which stares down on it’s audience with a dour and stern look on it’s face.

I then decided to go back to the tea house I had seen.  It is a Demmers Tea House, which turns out to be an Hungarian company.  I didn’t stay to drink inside, but instead chose to look through the teas smell a couple and make a purchase.  This I did, I picked Japonska Wisnia, a delicate green tea, Sencha I think, with cherry.  The smell of cherry is quite strong, but the flavour less so, which makes the tea very interesting and a good sensation to taste.  One of those teas where you can decide what to concentrate on, smell or taste, without either of them becoming the focus.  I also bought an intriguing sounding Pu Erh Chocolate Cake tea.  This will be reviewed next I am pretty sure.  It smells great!  Purchases made using a good mix of broken English and Polish I decided to head towards the river.  I went down this looping road that is still directly in line with the tomb and the Piłsudski statue.

The road has got this great big yellow bridge over it, with two tunnels through it, traffic goes one way through one and the other through the next.  There is are big sculptures lining the bridge, a mermaid stands on top looking down onto the passers with a threatening look and wielding a sword.  Behind her a bearded man’s face looks out, I can’t totally giure out if it is meant to look like it has been chopped off of it’s body, but that is what it looks like to me…  the mermaid is the emblem of Warsaw and there are many of them dotted about over the city.  Walking beneath the bridge, a little shrine set up to something, I headed for the river.  Making it there I walked past this amazing green glass building, but one that is not brand-new.  It looks like a huge greenhouse, and I thought maybe it was a public building or museum, but I don’t think it is, I think it is just offices.  But an amazing building.  The street was lined with coaches, loads of them.  I think this is because a little further down is the Copernicus Science Centre, or Centrum Nauki Kopernik.  This is housed in a modern building, it’s facade covered by lots of bits of metal in various tones of reddish-brown.

Walking past the Science Centre and then to the corner of the street I made the decision not to cross the river today so I turned right instead, past a hodge-podge of old, middle-aged and new buildings.  One very old building still appearing to bear the scars of some battle, bullet holes peppering it’s front.  I have read that this isn’t such a rare thing to see in Warsaw, so I’m pretty sure they are relics from WW2.  I then turned left onto Dobra Street, meaning ‘Good’ Street.  In front of me was a great sight, two old grey arching bridges loomed over the road, one being seen through the arch of the other.  They both carry trains I think and are huge and heavy looking.  I walked beneath them, with a short diversion into a supermarket, and then I walked along the edge of the biggest of the two, arch after arch leading up to the city centre.  Part of the bridge looks like it was once going to be developed into something, bare concrete blocks making rooms and spaces, with concrete staircases leading between floors.  It has now been taken over by graffiti artists and skateboarders.  A strange construction, I can not imagine how it was intended to look and how it would of ever looked right sitting between the legs of the bridge.  A long, tall, covered and graffitied staircase leads back up to the main town.  At the top of the staircase is the Muzeum Wojska Polskiego, or Polish War Museum, this is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but the outside area is still open and you can freely wander amongst aircraft, tanks, vehicles, and missile launchers.  If that is your cup-of-tea.  Some of the stuff is pretty impressive and the size of some of the rocket launchers, and their rockets, is quite a scary thought…

I left the ‘war garden’ and went back to the centre of town.  I walked through Waszawa Centralna (Warsaw Central) Train Station then back out and into the big new shopping centre.  The roof of this place is the most interesting part, made up of thousands of glass triangles the roof flows like the surface of an undulating sea.  The bluish glass reflecting the sky.  That’s about all I have to say about this place, it’s a shopping centre, we all know what they are like…

It was getting quite late now so i decided that I would head back to the apartment, so I got onto the Metro at Centrum and went back.  I rested my feet for a while, managed to get the internet to work on my laptop and then went out to buy some food, I had said I would cook tonight.  Successfully find a supermarket (though not the one I was looking for), I bought some pasta, Broccoli, Chorizo, Garlic and a couple of bottles of Zubr, a Polish beer.  Back home, Ania had got back to the flat whilst I had been away so we chatted a little and I began to make food for the evening, Marta was out until around 8:30pm.

Food eaten, Beer drunk, Marta and Ania decided to make a banana-chocolate cake.  No cinnamon in the house, Marta popped out to the shop and came back with that and a couple more beers, this time a honey beer Ciechan Miodowe, another Polish made one.  Sweet and tasty, I would definitely recommend it for those of you that enjoy honey.

Beer drunk, cake eaten, a quick cup of tea and it was time to sleep again!


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!