Saturday, a beautiful sunny day, with proper warmth in the air! It was a really lovely day, like summer had just popped up to say hello! I spent the day wandering around the city, enjoying the sunlight and the fresh air. Marta and I ended up back in Cafe Vincent, we had planned to go to the is fish place called Top Fish, but it was full with people, like most places. We were really lucky with Cafe Vincent, managing to nab a seat as some people left. I had a really great Salami and Mozzarella baguette and some orange juice. It was very good, one of those baguettes with proper substance to them, nice and chewy, and warmed up a bit too. We scoffed those down and then carried on our sunny walk.
We walked and then sat in the university grounds on a bench in the sunshine for a while, until some neddy characters turned up and decided to stare at us until we decided to leave, what is with some people some times, they are just out to spoil other people’s enjoyment, I have never understood that. Anyway, we started to wander again, then bought a cartoon on Green Grapefruit Juice and went to sit by the river. The bank has large steps built onto parts of it and there were loads of people out enjoying the sunshine. It was a lovely atmosphere, people buzzing up and down on their bicycles and rollerblades. We sat there for a while until it started to get a bit cold as the sun went down and then we attempted to go home. This took us aaaaages! We got on a tram, then, with the intention of speeding up or journey home, got off at the Metro stop and went down to the platform. What a mistake, engineering works were happening which meant we could only get a train two stops, then we had to get off, get another train another two stops, from the opposite platform, then get off again and go home. This whole fiasco took about two hours in the end! There was loads of confusion about which platform to be on and when and why. I’m glad I wasn’t alone, I think I would of ended up in Siberia or something!
Sunday, and another great sunny day. I went to the flea market up at Kolo, on Obozowa street. This was full of stuff, much of it bric-a-brac and junk, but it was a good experience, lots of good faces and banter going on. I bought a little badge that the stall holder described as junk, which it probably is, but then, aren’t all badges really?? We walked up and down the stalls for a while. I took a few photographs, and was glad that I hadn’t photographed one stall, as I saw a girl trying to and then the stallholder come bowling towards here waving his arms at her camera in anger. That was a lucky escape, for me, and for her camera which remained intact.
We then met up with Carolina again, and her boyfriend, another Michael from Scotland (though this one was born and bred). We then headed to the Jewish Cemetery, where Marta was meeting a friend. Her friend is part of a scheme that is currently trying to clean up and restore parts of the cemetery as it is in a rather sorry state. The place is really massive though, so it is little surprise. We wandered around the graves for a while, it is reminiscent of the graveyard in Krakow, although much much larger and there is a little bit more space between the gravestones. The sun was still shining down, and a small breeze was waving the tall, thin tree trunks gently back and fourth. The place is very peaceful, and in the sunshine very serene.
After a while there, meeting Marta’s friend and talking and her showing us some of her favourite and some of the most famous stones, we left and went to get something to eat, sadly just some fast food in the Arcadia shopping mall. Then we got a tram to the New Town area, and walked south into the old town, people watching, the other Michael taking cheeky pictures of girls who took his fancy, a 50/50 mix of people who seemed flattered and some who were less so, and a few that pretending to be annoyed but with a rye grin on their faces. We ended up in BrowArmia, a pub that brews it’s own beers and has a terrible live singer stuck in the window, in a vain attempt to draw in more punters. If I were them I would stick to radio warsaw….
A nice half litre of Stout drunk and we left, wandering towards central. Carolina and Michael jumped on a tram home and Marta and I walked around the city a while longer. We found this interesting little place called V9, a sort of artists space, mostly for graffiti artists it would seem. Then we carried on our walk and finally headed back home.
Monday, I spent the morning at home then left and went to the city, I am still thinking about the bicycle travel plan, but can’t quite figure it out in my head just yet. But I had another look at a few bikes. Then got drawn into a bookshop by the window display of books about chinese tea. Then I found myself in Cafe Adi. I ordered a Turkish coffee and sat down. There were only a few other people there. One appeared to be the owner, a big Turkish man who was definitely the patriarch of the place. The waitresses, yep, all girls, seemed to be at his beck and call. One even had to go out and clean the inside of his car window! But it all seemed fairly light hearted and they seemed to know how to deal with him. The coffee was really good. Much better than the Israeli coffee I had in Krakow. The flavours of the spices were properly there and the coffee was thick and rich. I sat for a while, writing and thinking. The sun was pouring through the window, making you forget about the wind that was lashing the awnings and forcing the door shut with a huge slam a few times, even with a rock the size of my head holding it open!
I drank up my coffee, then walked slowly back to the city centre, got on the metro at Politechnika and went back to the flat.
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!
Tea 44: Dark Hot Chocolate, Wedel Cafe, Warsaw.
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!
Tea 36: Lemo Mate and Apple Ginger Explosion!, Kristine’s apartment, Riga
Happy Valentine’s Day!
So, today I decided I would have an indulgent day and go get myself something tasty to eat, no matter what the cost. I had read about this little Hare-Krishna run vegetarian cafe so decided to seek it out. Walking into the new part of town, North West from the apartment, the snow still falling and the hundreds of cars quickly turning it into dark brown slush, but the weather was much warmer today, I only needed one hat and one pair of gloves on for the first time in a couple of weeks! Even now the temperature is only around -2’C! Glorious!
I walked up into the new part of the city. New meaning ‘not medieval’, still pretty old though. Rama, the cafe-restaurant is on Krišjāņa Barona iela, a busy-ish shopping street, but one of the more attractive ones, probably caused by the Romanticism of Tramlines and wires… I kicked my boots free of snow and walked up the little staircase to the front door, inside and another door leads to the cafe, whilst a small shop and what looked to be a room for worship were through other doorways. Before I had even got my hands on the door handle to the cafe an elderly man, wearing a plastic apron, so I presume someone who worked there, and one of the Hare-Krishna followers began to mutter something in Latvian whilst referencing my boots and the wet floor. I apologised that I could not understand him, he then muttered something about my ‘being sorry’ in English and disappeared up a staircase. It seems I can’t even get a break in the Hare-Krishna community of Riga! Oh well… I went into the cafe, a friendly man who was behind me and had witnessed the little altercation, let me through the door with an encouraging smile. The food in the place was good. It is served by weight, and there are loads of options, all are indian inspired. I had some rice with some marinated and grilled vegetables, as well as a lovely potato vegetable fried thing. It was very nice and reasonably good value for money. If you go make sure your boots are pristine, not even a good hard knock on the steps outside will do!
After that lovely meal, just what my body had been asking for, I wandered the streets a little while, going around the new town, around the little shops of Berga Bazārs (not little locally owned shops as I had imagined, but more upper-class boutique places). I had hoped to find Enihls Gustavs Chocolate shop there, but it would seem my guidebook is already a little behind the times, and unfortunately the shop is no longer there (there is one in the Central Train Station though, I am told). I wandered down into the old town, got myself a cup of coffee in a little ice cream parlour. The coffee was good, certainly sorting my energy levels out, and then I decided to go to the Central Market. These four huge arched buildings, that look like aircraft hangers, are located opposite the coach station and adjacent to the train station. There are various stalls outside of the buildings, selling everything from handicrafts and leather to fruit and flowers. Inside the buildings is everything you could imagine in a food market, meat, cheese, cake, bread, tea, chocolate, sweets. Its a pretty cool place, lots of atmosphere and life. I just spent a while looking around the place, didn’t buy anything, not even cake today! I’ve decided to start a bit of a health kick and try to eat a bit of a better diet, as much as possible. Traveling isn’t ideal for gourmet dining though!
After that I headed back towards home, through little side streets and an artsy warehouse district with bars, a concert hall, a gallery called ‘kim?’ and restaurants. The gallery is currently showing an installation by american artist Nick Mauss, if you are around on the 24th of February the artist Karl Holmqvist will be presenting his new reading series A WORD TEXT VORTEX. There will also be a compilation of films, video and audio selected by Nick Mauss, presented at the cinema K. Suns (amongst them films by Yvonne Rainer, Robert Breer, Nina Könnemann and Megan Sullivan)
After that little bit I made sure I went home via Stalin’s Birthday Cake, the Latvian Academy of Sciences building, so that I could get a photo before I leave for Lithuania tomorrow. That said, tomorrow involves around 6 hours of travel, so a decent, or in fact existent, posting tomorrow is a slim possibility.