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!

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Day 60, Krakow, March 9th 2012

Tea 60, Black tea with fresh orange and mint, Pierogi world (not the real name), Krakow

The 9th!

Today I decided to visit MOCAK, the Museum of Contemporary Art Krakow.  Isabel, the Spanish woman who was in Krakow still asked to join so we headed there together.  We walked across the pedestrian bridge to the other side of the river.  This is one of those padlock bridges that seem to be in every city (they are all apparently inspired by a novel, though I don’t know which, maybe you guys do?).  There were some quite old and some quite funny ones, some people had even gotten a little creative and gone for the bike lock approach!  We walked into the other side of town and started to attempt to find MOCAK.  We weren’t lost but weren’t exactly sure of the way, so we asked someone for some directions.  It turned out that the guy we asked was a tour guide!  Isabel had met him a couple of days before on a free tour of the city.  He sped off telling us to follow him, he was going at a fair pace though!  And he was talking the whole time, as though he is probably always stuck in tour guide mode.  He got us to the point where he was leaving us and pointed us in the right direction.  Probably couldn’t ask for a better person to ask for directions!  We walked through a square dedicated to the memory of those lost in the holocause, with empty bronze chairs set about the place.  We made it to MOCAK, which is right next door to the Schindler Factory Museum.  We went in, paid our entrance fee and walked into the museum.  Currently there is a retrospective style exhibition charting the 20+year performance of Eve + Adele.  This is a couple and artistic collaboration project aimed at highlighting, adjusting, altering and breaking down the social stigma and sort of taboo of sexuality and gender stereotypes.  The two artists have spent the last couple of decades as women (one is a woman, one WAS a man, but has since been legally recognised as a woman), dressing in matching outfits, and wearing similar make-up, but they also both shave their heads to complete baldness.  The show has large copies of Polaroid photographs plastered along the walls, showing them in attendance at many exhibition openings and artistic events.  The person who takes the photograph becomes their collaborator in each of these works.  There are also a number of videos, examples of their dresses / costumes and a few other objects.  The show has a huge affect on the viewer, with every image of the two they have huge smiles, which have a profound affect at making you smile back, even if the smiles are false.  I got to the end of this show with jaw ache!  And I also came to the end of the show thinking that the end of this project might not come with the acceptance and change that the artists are maybe looking for, but is more in danger of the end of Polaroid film!

There was another show by a polish sculptor and painter, which wasn’t my favourite, the best bit being the people that were playing table tennis behind one of the closed doors, hearing the ball bouncing about and their chatter.

There is also a large show of the permanent collection of the Musuems artworks.  This span various decades, some of the works are good, but they are ALL let down by the Museums attempts to enlighten the viewers with each and every work having a rather patronising and condescending piece of writing that attempts to ‘explain’ the work.  If you go, I implore you to NOT read what is written on the walls!

By the time we finished in the museum we were quite thirsty so we went to this other café we had heard about, called Cheder Café it is actually a coffee shop, not a tea house (SHOCK HORROR).  But we had both been convinced by the promise of Israeli coffee.  This place is lovely, decorated with great colours and furniture and a good soundtrack.  It is the hub of the Jewish community and events.  The place was shutting early on this day for a meeting about the Jewish festival, but we luckily still had plenty of time.  We ordered the coffee, and some food.  I had a Pitta bread with Feta, olives and a sauce called Zateh(?).  The food was good, the breads were thick and tasty, and the filling very satisfying.  The coffee was good too, a lot more mild than I had anticipated.  Spiced very slightly with cinnamon and nutmeg etc.  This, we found out, was from a pre-mixed pot, which was a bit of a disappointment, but it was nice none-the-less, though neither of us were convinced of it being that close to the real thing.

We sat for a while longer then left when the café started to set up for the meeting.  We went for another cup of tea, this time at the hostel that Isabel was staying at, spoke for a while longer and then it was the end of the day.


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 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.