The sun is out constantly, the air is hot and humid. Sometimes I struggle to believe I’m still in Northern Europe, this weather is a far cry from what I was so used to in Scotland. Thunderstorms roll in most nights, which aren’t usually that unwelcome, as they clear and refresh the muggy air. 32-34’C average the last few days, BRILLIANT!
This post is pretty picture heavy, which is kind of a surprise because, in reality, it seemed to me that there was really very little to see or do in poor old Katowice. The city is pretty shabby and is all over the place, something which is not helped by the rebuilding of the railway station and some of the tram lines in the ‘city centre’ (in inverted commas because it is actually quite hard to tell exactly where the city centre is…)
We stayed at a friend of Marta’s. An old flat that she had inherited and has sat mostly empty for the past six years, meaning it is full of dust and causing some major allergic nasal floods the whole time we were there. I spent most of Saturday and Sunday wandering around the city in the sweltering heat, it was a rather exotic 34’C! Thank goodness for Biedronka and giant cartons of Ice Tea, and their delightful portions of chocolate halva (extremely dangerous)!!
The city isn’t a complete bore though, there are some interesting buildings, from every era, starting with the old German-Bavarian mansions, to the huge UFO of a concert hall from the 1970’s right up to the library building, which seems to be carrying on the tradition of being plonked right in the middle of where you would least expect it to be.
The city is, on the whole a rather poor place, and there are plenty of rather dodgy looking characters unafraid to eye-up your camera and back pockets, but it does definitely have it’s interesting bits that are worth visiting, though try and avoid the hottest days of the year!
Oh, and the trams are a bit like being on a scary rollercoaster (scary because you could fall off the tracks at any point…)
Hot-Dog? Bon Appetit!
The library building
Beware of fire-tailed Goats?
Today was a travel day, 1040 – 1645 on a bus. Riga to Kaunas in Lithuania. This bus was probably the nicest one so far, good leg room, good temperature, though a dubbed version of Fast and the Furious Five was maybe not the ideal ‘in coach entertainment’ choice!
I left the apartment in Riga earlier than I really needed to, but this was because I was determined to leave Riga on a high note. And, at long last it worked! I managed to track down the illusive Emil and the holy chocolate grail! This made me exceedingly happy. The perfect treat for 9:30am? A cup of the gorgeous hot liquid chocolate. This small but perfectly formed little cup provided me with a much needed and much appreciated chocolate high. This hot chocolate was literally just melted chocolate in a cup, even those little bits that are left in the cup you see began to turn back into solid chocolate. It was simply wonderful, only cost 1 lat and the lady that served me did so with a lovely smile and a warm bit of broken English conversation. It was a great ending to a strange few days in Riga. Thank goodness! The little shop is in the central train station, and there is even a tea shop too, I think I probably should have just hung out there the whole time I was in Riga!
I got to the bus station, waited a little while then hoped onto the bus, a double decker beast of a thing, but as I said, nice and comfy. The journey didn’t feel too long either, we made a small stop somewhere, then another short stop in Vilnius, which looked, from the bus window, a bit like Riga… Then I arrived at Kaunas. I went into the bus station to ask about buses for the next leg of my trip, received friendly and efficient service and then waited for my next host, Lina. She arrived a little after 5pm and after a quick pop to the supermarket we headed to her flat, which she shares with her husband. The flat is lovely, on the top of a hill only a few minutes from the bus station and it has the most wonderful view of the city, I will try to get a photo of it in the coming days. We sat and chatted, ate a little, drank a bit of brandy, which I actually enjoyed even though I didn’t think that it was my sort of drink. Then one of Lina’s friends arrived, we ate some dinner, a bit more chat and now it is time to sleep…
Tea 20: Power Tea, Eeero’s House, Vantaa.
Today I finally did NOTHING!! Yes, I’m sorry to say that today I had an exceedingly lazy day. I woke up late, ate breakfast late, wandered to the shop, ate lunch late and just spent the day learning how to say thanks and hi in Estonian and browsing around on the internet, semi-planning the next stage of my trip. Tomorrow I leave Finland for Estonia. To Tallinn. I’m quite excited about this next stage of my trip because not only do I have very little idea of what to expect, I am also staying with people I do not know. This might put fear into some people, but thanks to the joy of couch surfing I’m mildly confident that it’ll all be ok…..fingers crossed, if there is an abrupt stop to my entries on here then you will all know why!!
The temperature today hasn’t gotten any better than in the above image, hovering menacingly around the -10’C mark, still, a good 6-8′ better than last night! But then last night was my second and final Finnish Sauna experience. Much the same as the last time, really hot and stuffy. I seemed to find it a little harder to adjust myself to it this time. But it was enjoyable, my skin feels fresher today certainly. The beers and chocolate were good too! I now feel that it might be wrong to have a sauna anywhere other than Finland, as it was my first experience, and I doubt I will find anyone who likes them quite as hot as Eeero does, last night was another mega-cooking 90’C-er!
So yes, today was a day of relaxing my legs, the miles they have walked in the past three weeks is anyones guess, but a clue would be LOTS! And a day for preparing for the next leg, getting my washing sorted, making sure I know where my passport is, and the ticket for the ferry to Tallinn from Helsinki, and having a vague map / idea of where I need to go when I reach Tallinn. I’ve not done it yet, but I think my next job might have to be tea research for my next destination!
Tea today was a Power Tea to at least give me a bit of pep for the evening, it’s strange not going out, but I think it was probably a good idea, I don’t think I have properly rested since I began traveling. And I don’t know when my next opportunity will be. The Power Tea is good, I’ve not had any for a few days so it made a good change, the liquorice seems to be getting stronger. And hopefully the ginger will be good for my immune system.
Anyway, tomorrow is a travel day, so it may be another belated posting on Tuesday. But it might not be….. WHO KNOWS?!??!?! Not me! (it’s great!!)
p.s. The first photograph below is a 30 second exposure taken from my bedroom window late last night. The other two are from Helsinki that I haven’t posted yet.
Tea 13: Vihreä Tee (Green Tea) with Goji, Tyrni (Buckthorn) and Karpalo (Cranberry), Caffi, Helsinki.
First things first, last night. My first experience of a proper Finnish Sauna! In fact my first experience of a sauna of any kind! There is one in the house I am staying in and it is apparently tradition that a sauna is had every Saturday. And blimey, it was an experience. Eeero apparently has saunas HOT, I was warned of this before, but having never had one at all I had basically no inkling of what that really meant. But what it did mean was 90’C! Initially I didn’t really know what to think of it, I couldn’t really understand the whole thing, but I think I do now. After the first bout of heat I went out an took a cool shower then went back in, this time I still didn’t quite get it. I got out again and this time let myself cool down properly with a cool shower and a sit down to catch my breath again. Then, once I’d psyched myself up again I went back in. This time and then the next was when I realised that the sensation is actually quite enjoyable, I think probably as your body starts to defend itself and you get a bit euphoric, I even had a strange shiver at some point that felt pretty good. That and a couple of beers followed by a nice helping of Eeero’s homemade liquorice vodka and the night was a good one, full of chatter and laughs, think I got to bed at about 2a.m.
Today I headed, once again, into Helsinki and from there took a tram north-west to Meilahdentie, I got off the tram and made my way through a little patch of snow smothered park land to Meilahti, one of the bases for the Helsinki art museum, Helsingin taidemuseo. They are currently showing a collection of new work acquisitions. For the past 6 years or so the Museum has been buying contemporary works from young Finnish artists and this was a mere 50 or so of the 400 they have so far acquired. There was some interesting stuff; a reasonably immersive set of three videos by the artist Jani Ruscica, as well as some interesting and amusing photographic pieces by Antti Keitila.
After my visit I headed onto the island of Seurasaari, this tiny island is best know for being an open air museum of buildings and structures, reminiscent of the Skansen Open-Air Museum in Stockholm. The building have all been brought to the densely wooded island from elsewhere in Finland and they act as representation of the older, simpler days of life in Finland. The oldest building, the Karuna Church, dates back to 1686! The island was quiet and peaceful and very beautiful, with views out across the water back towards the city centre and another island, Vattuniemi. Red berries and green pine needles stood out against the perfect white sheets of snow that cover the ground whilst birds chitter away in the trees, feeding from bird feeders dotted throughout the island. I also encountered the islands tallest Spruce, at a whopping 30metres!
After that long, lovely walk in the fresh crisp cold air I headed back to the tram stop, luckily managed to jump straight onto a tram and back into the city centre. I was now on the hunt for tea. After two failed attempts, one being shut, the other where I almost got my nose taken off by the woman slamming the door in my face (it would seem I had inadvertently interrupted some sort of tea event, and despite my apologies she didn’t seem best pleased, ‘No, no, no’ were the only words uttered), I thought I had failed in my mission for the day so I went and got something to eat, a satisfying Thai dish of rice noodles, coconut and red thai paste with tofu and shrimp. I then headed back towards the station but my attention was quickly drawn to the chinese new year event being held behind the Lasipalatsi (glass palace) shopping / restaurant arcade. I had a meander amongst the stalls on the hopes of finding tea, there was some but alas over-priced and uninspired options. I then noticed a little cafe in the Lasipalatsi complex that looked promising. They had a fairly large wall of teas. I asked the waitress what she would recommend and after a disappointing few sniffs of some overly flavoured and floral mixes I settled on the Green Tea with Goji berries, Cranberries and Buckthorn. The tea was a little disappointing. The water was too hot and this had burned the tea immediately, making it bitter and heavy. And I felt that the taste had been compromised in some way, it may have been the combination of flavours, but I think it may have been flavoured rather than mixed, there were definitely Goji berries in it, but as for the others I’m not so sure, there was just a distinct flavouring taste in there that reminded me of the weird fake ‘fruit tea’ you can buy. But anyway, it was ok, but I won’t rush back for more, and next time I’ll pick a tea that can hack boiling water. They seemed to have a large Rooibos selection….
Tonight Finland gets a new President!