So, monday was a bit of a write off, the only reason I left the flat was to go and do a bit of food shopping and come back again. So, not much to talk about there, and no photos either I’m afraid.
Straight onto Tuesday then, and a bit more eventful. I started the day with a little trip to Raclawicka again, to show Marta the little second-hand bike shop and to wander around in the sunshine. It was a beautiful day with loads of sunshine, though a bit windy. After a while walking around there, into a second hand shop where Marta bought a lovely red hooded coat with black toggles for a bargain price, we started to head towards town. We popped into a little photo shop to see if they develop medium format film, Marta recently invested in a Holga and has used her first roll of film! She also got her photo taken for her US Visa application. The place was tiny and dark and smelt like many decades worth of cigarette smoke had seeped into the walls. The guy looked like he has propped up the counter for his entire life too.
Back out into the daylight I had a sudden craving for an ice cream, the bright sunlight stirring that primal ice cream eating monster inside us all! A chocolate Magnum made it into my stomach in double quick time, and we carried on walking. We walked through Pole Mokotowskie, and then into the city centre, on the hunt for a launderette for Marta’s new coat. We didn’t manage to find a reasonably priced one before making it to Central Station, where we stood in a queue for ages and I bought a ticket to my next destination, Berlin next monday.
Ticket bought and we intended to get a tram up to the old town and to stop for a coffee in the cafe where I had the great Turkish Coffee, cafe Adi. All the trams were totally packed though, so after attempting to get onboard 3 we decided we would just make the most of the sunshine and walk. We did so and made it to the cafe whilst the sun was still streaming through the open window. It was so warm and lovely in there, and the turkish coffee was really good again. The place started to suddenly get really really full of well dressed pensioners, who were probably waiting for a show at the theatre across the road. We had finished our drinks so we decided to leave.
We then continued our walk, it was still sunny and quite warm so we walked up to the huge monument to the Polish Resistance and the funny multicoloured Pegasus’s ( Pegasuses? Pegasi?? ) that sit outside of the national library and the supreme court.
Then we headed West and ended up on Jana Pawla, where we managed to find a cheap launderette for the coat. We left it there and carried on our walk, south now and back towards the city centre, we stopped off in a few shops in search of some Ciechan Honey Beer, which seems to be in short supply at the minute. Unsuccessful we headed back to the Metro at central, at the minute and until the end of April part of the Metro is shut down so you can only get as far as Central from the stations south and only from Ratusz Arsenal north. You have to get a tram or bus between Central and Ratusz Arsenal at the minute. But this didn’t really affect us, just meant a slightly longer walk, we bought some chocolate covered raisins to sustain ourselves!
Back home via the Marc Pol store, where we successfully got some honey beer, though not Ciechan, but another brand, we ate some food and drank some beer and then the clock decided it was high time we headed for the sack!
Tea 42: Green Rooibos ‘African Sun’, Marta and Ania’s Apartment, Warsaw.
PHEWWW!!! Finally got the internet to work on my computer! At long long long last! Hopefully this will mean my postings will be back on schedule! So, yes, today (or yesterday)…
I didn’t actually leave the apartment until really really late in the end. And I managed to miss most of the sunshine! That was a bit of a shame, but I think I needed the rest. EVENTUALLY I made it to the Metro and took the train to Centrum. I came back above ground and tried to figure out which direction was the right direction. I took a punt and ended up going down Marszalkowska, heading South, and eventually back to the tube station I had gotten off the day before. At least I had figured out some geography and not gotten totally lost! After find myself back where I had started the day before I decided I would head to the Royal Park, Lazienkowsky. The long Aleje Ujazdowskie, is lined with big embassy buildings and other parks. It is quite a spectacular road. I wandered down the road, popped into another park, paths thick with ice, slowly beginning to melt, a small hole in the ice acting and looking a lot like a bath just the right size for a duck. Birds scrambled about for scraps of bread recently left by some kind samaritan.
Making it to Lazienkowsky I was first met by a huge sculpture of Chopin. This is a really amazing looking sculpture, Chopin sitting beneath a stylized Willow tree. Walking around the rear of the sculpture you realise you are at the top of a high mound of land, with one steep side leading down to the rest of the park. I slowly scaled the slippery path down to the main area of the park. A rather treacherous journey! The park is huge, full of buildings for various purposes, cafes, amphitheaters, museums. Ducks, and peacocks. One wandered up to me, probably trying to figure out if I had anything it would like to eat, unfortunately I did not. There was also a really beautiful Mandarin Duck and his partner. I’ve never seen one of these up close before and he was very impressive. It was now approaching 5 and I had arranged to meet Marta after work and go for something to eat. I wandered back out of the park. Along the long embassy road again and back towards the Stary Mokotow district.
I met Marta outside of her work building and we walked past a lovely church lit up in the early evening light. We then hopped onto a Metro train for one stop, jumped off again and found this little schizophrenic Chinese restaurant (the ceiling is covered in fake Grape Vines, suggesting it was once an Italian place. We ordered some food, I had some Soy Noodles with vegetables and shrimps. It was tasty, but much like the Baltic Countries I have visited, the Polish do not do much spice! We ate our food and had a rather long and fruitless wait in a Post Office whilst Marta tried to track down a parcel that she was expecting, then it was time to head home.
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!
Many apologies for a two day in one day blog… I feel genuinely guilty. Yesterday was another travel day, and so I didn’t get chance to take many photos or to document my tea, but needless to say it was another lovely Estonian Herbal tea, brewed to perfection by my wonderful Pärnu hosts. I took the bus from Pärnu to my current location, Riga, Latvia. The bus was luxury compared to the bus from Tartu to Pärnu, a good few inches of leg room beyond my knee caps, and a comfortable seat, and even some sporadic internet access. I arrived in Riga, met my new host and we went to her apartment to the East of Riga city centre. After a sit down and a little bit of relaxation we headed into Riga, myself, my host Kristine, and her flatmate Linda. We wandered around for a while, showing me a few of the sites, mostly around the old town and the Latvia Statue of Liberty / Liberty monument. We then stopped in a cafe for a coffee and a small but glorious slice of nutty, praline type cake. VERY good stuff! I had a coffee instead of a tea, mostly because I needed a caffeine boost, but also because their tea selection wasn’t up to much, doubt me if you will, but a cup of ‘Hot Love‘ tea certainly wasn’t my, well, cup of tea! We then headed back to the apartment, got some food and I went to bed.
So, day 33. Today I woke up around 9 and spent the morning Skype-ing family and doing internet stuff. By lunchtime I had finished catching up with modern life stuff and headed into the city centre. The weather was still cold, but not as bad as it has been, probably helped by being in a massively busy, bustling and somewhat polluted city. I wandered to central station then up towards the north-east of the city, just to wander around streets and get my bearings mostly but also in search of tea. Unfortunately this search was a little fruitless. I had had some suggestions but had forgotten their names and was hoping that they would jump out at me, but, today, they did not. Fingers crossed for tomorrow…
After a wander around this district, with it’s pretty little parks offering some peace from the traffic-filled streets, I went back towards the old town. More wandering around these cobbled, higgledy piggledy streets, souvenir shops and tourist trapping restaurants. Then I got a call from Linda, to meet her at central station. I headed there and met up with her and her boyfriend and we hopped on a train to a little town called Jelgava. There we met up with Kristine. The plan was to visit the Ice Sculpture Festival. This is an annual event, apparently run in tandem with a Sand Sculpture Festival in the summer months. Before we got there though we went for a tea and a bit of cake to warm up and give us a bit of energy. The weather in Jelgava was palpably colder than in Riga and it didn’t take long for us all to cool down much too much. We stopped in a little cafe / restaurant called Silva. I had a lovely cup of Green tea with fresh lemon and ginger, not an amazing tea but a great cold weather tea. I also had some kind of layered cake that tasted a little bit like a mild lemon meringue pie. Warmed up once more we headed for the festival ground. In the site are loads of ice sculptures that have been created by many different people from all over the world. There had been a judging contest and the winning one was this huge spire of ice with a figure reclining half way up the spire. It was very impressive, they all were. The time and effort stuff like that must take is unimaginable. It has to be a full time careers for some of these guys who have honed their skills so well. Seahorses, pocket watches, an amazing Chinese New Year Dragon, an Owl, a Dinosaur Skeleton, all things imaginable, and not. Wandering around we took in all we could with the cold biting heavily at our toes, a short but sweet firework display and then we decided to head back towards home. We stopped off in Silva once more to warm up and then made for the train station. We hopped on the train, got back into Riga, and the rest, as they say, is history, or the future…
P.S. You get extra pictures today to make up for the lack of yesterday’s posting…
Coming to Pärnu was a good decision. This little cute seaside town is very beautiful and has some similarities to a few British Seaside towns. I woke up and got ready to head into the town centre where I was meeting Ivo, one of the guys who I am staying with, in his Wine and Chocolate Café ‘Piccadilly Wine’. I wandered into town slowly, soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the relative warmth of -10’C, compared to the previous days -15 – 20’C. I found myself in the small town centre; traditional wooden faced buildings lining most of the streets, and then eventually found the Café; gentle music playing into the street from the café is the best clue. Inside is beautiful, one wall is lined with many different varieties of wine and also some teas. Gorgeous cakes line the counter and handmade chocolates gleam out at you temptingly. Ivo was talking to a customer so I looked around a little and then took a seat. When the customer was gone I got up and chatted to Ivo for a while and then had a lovely cup of Organic Pu Erh Tea. This tea is not to everyone’s taste, it is very earthy and dark and extremely complex. The tea was rinsed first, this helps to remove some of the dustiness that can be in the tea, it is not essential to do this as most people like it this way. But for a morning tea it helps to lighten it up a little. I was then given a wonderful Chilli Dark Chocolate Truffle. The chocolates in the Café are all made by Ivo’s business partner, specifically for the café and they all look amazing, and if they all taste as good as that one did then they all taste amazing too! I spent a good hour or so chatting and drinking tea. Then I decided to head for the seaside.
I walked through the little town, its beautiful buildings glinting with icicles, the trees lining the streets casting long, thin shadows across the perfect white snow. I made it to the seaside where I could not actually see the sea. For as far as my eyes could perceive the ocean was frozen, just pure white reflecting the winter sunlight, the snow fall from the previous couple of weeks unbroken and perfect. I walked out onto the ice for a while, spying into holes in the ice, clambering over mounds of broken and then refrozen ice. The peace and tranquillity was wonderful, that is why I am so glad I came here. The place was just so peaceful for me, probably a stark contrast to the summertime, when this little city becomes the ‘capital’ of Estonia. I walked along the coastline for a while, going out as far as I dared, which probably was nowhere near as far as I could have gone, the ice being so thick and solid. The snow crunching beneath my feet and the cold, salty sea air cleansing my lungs. I then turned off of the beach and into this little area behind the dunes and marshland. In this area are a few sculptures, and some buildings, one of which apparently houses the Parnu mud baths. I then decided it was about time for something to eat and so headed back into town. Through a nice little park with birds chirping in the sunlight and flitting about between the branches of fir trees. Back in the centre of town I found a little organic café that had been suggested to me earlier. It is quite nice inside, a little bit like they are trying to bring the outside in with Parisian style plastic seating and small tables. I had a nice fish soup and a cup of rooibos vanilla, which was much like any rooibos vanilla. I sat for a while writing and watching the world go by then left and headed towards the river. Next week will be the Parnu ice festival and at the crest of a small hill/mound by the river teams of people are currently building huge ice castles, igloos and other such sculptural works from breezeblock sized chunks of ice. I wandered amongst the activity then out the other side where a small group of lads were doing some snowboard stunts and taking photographs using a bungee try system where three guys would run with the bungee, stretching it out and into the hands of a fourth who would then propel themselves off of a small ramp and onto the railing of a staircase currently laden with snow, whilst two others would be searching for the perfect angle to get the best photograph. After a while standing, watching and taking a few of my own photographs, I went further up along the river to a little bridge that led to a dry dock and the Parnu Yacht Club. More wandering and then back into the centre of town, along the opposite bank of the river. In town I decided to buy my ticket for the bus and to warm up in shopping mall, buying a few snacky things for my bus journey. Then I went back to the apartment. Ivo was home when I arrived and we hung out for a while before we both then went back to his café.
Back in the café Ivo did a bit of work and I sat and wrote a little more. Then we had a little food and a really great slice of chocolate cake, warmed up a little to make it even more wonderful, and complimented with a bit of homemade strawberry sauce. Really, really great! After a while we left and went back to the flat, Liis, Ivo’s wife and my official couchsurfing host came home around 9:30pm after a yoga class and we prepared her some more food, as well as another helping for ourselves. Then we sat and watched a movie, I made all of us a hot chocolate using rice milk, and then I went to bed. A lovely day, relaxed, peaceful, comfortable, and now I’ve sat and written this, I realise, quite full!
Tea 26: Õuna-Ingveri Plahvatus, Heli’s Apartment, Tartu.
Today I travelled to Tartu, in South-East Estonia. I woke up, packed up, said my goodbyes to Ingrid and made for the bus station. The bus I took left at 1pm and cost me the princely sum of 5 Euros! On a Saturday people aged 26 or under can travel for half price! That was a hugely pleasant surprise! The coach took 2 and a half hours, in which time I managed to catch up on a little sleep missed the night before and to see a bit more of the Estonian countryside. The country is pretty flat for the most part, with a few huge lakes, currently covered in snow and a little hard to differentiate from the fields. But the scenery is beautiful, which chunks of old, fir tree woodland, covered in snow, making the fronds and branches droop under the weight.
I arrived in Tartu at 3:30pm, and was met at the bus station by Heli, my new couch surfing host. We went straight from there to her apartment, kind of in the north of the city. My beard froze more or less instantly in the cold -21’C air! I was introduced to her family, and a brief introduction to the cat. Then started to make myself at home, chatting all things travel, to art, to card games and liquor. Some lovely Mandarino Italian liquor Heli brought back with her from a recent trip to Italy, and then a great Lasagne cooked by her sister Evelyn. It was very good, the perfect food for a cold day and an empty stomach. We sat a chatted for a while after, played a few card games and I am now sitting in front of the fire drinking a cup of the above-mentioned tea, before I head to bed / couch. The tea is a fruit tea, with all sorts of lovely chunks of orange, apple, and ginger. The name actually just means apple-ginger explosion! It is lovely, not strictly tea, but good none-the-less!
Below is a picture of the fire and a couple more from my time in Tallinn.
Today had another gloriously sunshiny morning. But yet again, the coldest day so far, I think -20 was the high today…. I left the apartment around mid-day and made for the old town again. On my way I wandered around some of the side streets, slightly off of the beaten track and was treated to various sights of old tumble-down, but beautiful wooden and brick buildings, literally next door to huge, modern glass structures, such as the Radisson Blu hotel, and the Sokos. The business hotels basically. The sunlight was beautiful in these patches though, glinting off of windows and through the broken windows of the older buildings. I carried on towards the old town, and stopped off in the little Tammsaare park again. Today I noticed there were now quite a few ice sculptures that I am fairly sure were not there yesterday, a hedgehog, a wolf, an eagle, a knife and fork…. All sorts of things, glinting away in the low lying sunshine.
A few photographs later, and I was in the old town. I headed straight for the tea shop I had spied yesterday. What an amazing little tea shop, loads of excellent quality teas from all over the place. I stood and chatted to the shop keeper and her sister for ages about tea and traveling and all things inbetween. They were lovely people, very friendly, warm and inviting, and passionate about tea! It is really an amazing place, called Chado it is situated on Vana-Viru, a right turn directly after the main entrance bit of the old town. I chatted for a while and bought a cup of Qi Pao tea to go, as well as a small packet of Ginseng Oolong and a small sample of a mystery Pu Er tea they had gotten hold of, it is twelve years old, and hopefully will be amazing! I’ve not tasted either of these two yet, but as soon as I do you will be the first to know! I think I need to save the mystery tea for a proper occasion, with all the gear to get a proper idea of it. If you are in this part of town, and let’s face it, who doesn’t go to old town Tallinn, make sure to give this shop a look! There’s also a link to their website at the bottom of this page.
I took my hot cup of Qi Pao into the cold outside and began to drink. It was really good, smooth and refreshing, with a great tannin level to make it just right in the cold air. I’ve kept these leaves too for another few brewings. I wandered around the old cobbled streets a while longer, trying to keep the cold out; the remnants of my tea actually froze in the cup, and the lid also froze to the cardboard! Eventually the cold started to freeze me again and hunger started to creep in, so I decided to try and find the Krug Inn, a place recommended to me by my host Ingrid. After a little search I found it hidden on the corner of the town hall building, a white washed building that looks like a church. Inside is dark and extremely medieval, the only light supplied through the small translucent windows and a few candles dotted about. The waitress was dressed to the nines in a red medieval frock and a service style to match. She is funny and brilliant, but in a completely abrupt, some would say rude, manner. It’s all part of the act though and if you take it in your stride you will only enjoy it! They serve two things, Elk soup and pies, though various types of pie. I had a steaming, hot, rich and delicious bowl of Elk soup, with a sweet, tasty carrot pie. The food is really good, the perfect food for the cold. If you make it there be prepared to drink from the bowl and mop up with your pie, or make sure you have packed your spoon…
After that I decided that I didn’t want to have too much time out in the freezing cold, so I made for the Museum of Occupation. This charts basically the last century when the country of Estonia has changed hands basically three times, first the Soviet Occupation came, followed by the Nazi Germany invasion and occupation, followed once more by the Soviets taking Estonia back from the Germans. The museum is small but has numerous objects from the whole era, as well as a number of documentary videos charting the whole process from initial occupation, through deportations, exploitations, to sovereignty and finally full independence at the fall of the Soviet Union. If you visit here, which you really should to get a true appreciation of what the estonian people have gone through, then give it time and watch through the various documentaries, it is really enlightening and moving. And entrance is only 2 Euros, so well worth it! I then headed home, the snow had started to fall again and it was still bitingly cold. I read it is only going to get worse in the coming days, and my next stop, Tartu, over the weekend, is even colder…