A wee jaunt to dusty sneezy Katowice

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!

Close Encounters?

The library building

Beware of fire-tailed Goats?

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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!


Day 50, Warsaw, February 28th 2012

Tea 50:  Yunnan Green Oolong, the Apartment, Warsaw.

50 days!  A half centrury and what happens….

Winter returned today!  The snow was falling fast and fairly heavy, giving a good coating to all the freshly ice free paths and roads.  It was almost as though the first lot of snow had not disappeared at all!  I wrapped up warm and left the apartment.  The chill was back in the air, making me fear the worst for the next couple of weeks.  I hope that the winter is not coming back and that that was just winter’s last laugh before spring kicks in.  I took the tram again today, heading for Jana Pawla II street once more, in search of this vegan restaurant I had seen the other day.

Making it there I wandered up Jana Pawla for a while to work up a bit of an appetite, then wandered back down to the restaurant.  The place is called the Loving Hut, an asian food spot, with all sorts of exciting looking things on the menu.  I went for the soup that you can see below, though I have forgotten what it is called.  But it was great, filled with Tofu, Broccoli, Beans, Celery, Lemon Grass, a fake prawn, noodles, loads of things.  It was spicy and coconutty, rich and lovely.  I sat and ate it up, flicking bits of soup all over the table, it was really good, especially with the cold wintry weather going on out of the window.  I also learned that Natalie Portman, Moby, Tobey Macguire and Bryan Adams are all vegan!

Food eaten, which took me quite a while as the portion was hugely generous, I wrapped up again and went out into the wind blustered snow.  I walked down Jana Pawla II then turned left onto Solidarnosci and walked to this little area just on the outskirts of the old town, wandering around a little park, that used to be part of the grounds to a grand old mansion, which still sits at the opposite end of the park.  Ducks were desperately looking for unfrozen water to wash in, crows were diving about in the snow playing with sticks and rocks, for what purpose I don’t know, but I do think they were just playing in the snow, one kept diving into it and rolling around!

More wandering, more looking in bike shops and I decided I was getting far too cold, so I went back into the centre, bought some food to cook for dinner and then headed home.  Back home I cooked a Beetroot soup and some Pierogi for Ania and I, Marta was at Yoga class.  We sat and ate and chatted for a while, then watched an awful film, then went to sleep.  A short, snowy day today.


Tea 34, Riga, February 12th 2012

Tea 34:  Milk Oolong, Aspara Tea House, Riga

I started to like Riga a little more today.  I went into the city centre, by foot once again, and headed straight for Aspara Tea House.  This was one of the ones I hadn’t managed to find yesterday, I think it is because the internet seems to think it is in two different places, but today I picked the right one!  The Tea House is a circular building, with glass windows all around, almost as though it is built on an old bandstand or something similar.  There are two floors, the upper is a full circle with loads of cushions and a view out over the park in which the tea house sits.  I chose to sit downstairs though, in a comfy arm chair.  I ordered a Milk Oolong tea.  This doesn’t involve any milk for any of you who are wondering.  The tea leaves come in a pearl form which then unravel with the addition of water.  This was served to me in a semi-traditional style, with kettle / thermos, teapot, fair cup and drinking cup.  The tea can be steeped between 5 and 7 times, with moderate increases in the steeping time with each new round.  The waitress told me to leave the second steep for around 1 minute, which I considered much too long, so I left the second steep for just about 40 seconds, this was still too long, in my opinion.  The first steep gave a refreshing, smooth and delicate taste, and yes, sort of milky, creamy sensation.  The second steep, which was far too long gave a much deeper, more bitter flavour, with far too many tannins attacking the sides of my tongue.  The flavour had become much dirtier, almost alcoholic in it’s sensation, with the flavour flooding the front of my mouth.  The third steep was better, this time I gave the tea only 25 seconds.  This was still a little long, but the flavour was much better, the smoothness and milky sensation returning though still a slight tang.  The flavour of the tea improved a lot as it cooled, becoming sweeter and more fragrant.  The fourth steep was for 25 seconds once more, this time the flavour was much more balanced, the dustiness and bitterness was totally gone now and there was much more clarity in the flavour.  The tea hadn’t become more delicate, but purer in flavour and fragrance.  Steep 5 and the colour had become beautifully golden now, the flavour was deeper, at the base of the tongue and the sweetness had begun to dissipate.  Steep 6, the final steep and the tea finished with a flourish, the floral notes in the tea coming out, super refreshing and clear in flavour.  The tea had seemed to come alive.  That’s why I decided to stop it there, there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing…

A couple of hours had passed now so I got up and went wandering through the lovely, peaceful parks.  The city was sleepier today, less people and traffic, the snow was falling again, covering up the brown-grey piles of old snow and ice, making it a little prettier.  I wandered past the congress building, various consulates, that line the Kronvalda Parks.  People walked their dogs, a guy had his girlfriend filming his snowy Parkour tricks.  Ducks splashed around in the few bits of unfrozen river.  The city felt a lot more inviting today.  I kept wandering like this, around the North-East of the city centre, past museums, official buildings, shopping malls for a good long while.  Then I met up with my host for more walking.  This time much farther North, along Brivibas Bulvaris.  The architecture along this road is pretty amazing, huge Gothic and Baroque style buildings lining the streets. Busts and faces staring out at you from the Facades.

We found ourselves on Miera Street, another one I had failed to find yesterday.  There is a nice mixture of traditional wooden houses and the more Baroque styled stone built buildings.  Miera apparently means ‘peace’, and we found this small, beautiful cafe there with the same name.  At number 9 Miera Street this little cafe is beautiful, with French music playing gently throughout the cafe, handmade hats, candles and teapots in the window.  I had a really, really good Chili Latte, with a beautiful syrupy decoration on the top.  We sat there and warmed up for a while, the chili doing the perfect job, then we decided it was dark and getting colder so we are both home.  More couchsurfers have arrived so the flat is getting full, but it is good to meet some more people.


Day 28, Tartu, February 6th 2012

Tea 28:  Milky Chai, Werner Cafe, Tartu.

Exactly one month of traveling!  If we count it in days, not by the day of the month.  Celebration time!  Chai tea, and Mojito Cake! Woo!

The temperature let up ever so slightly today, at least the inside of my nose didn’t freeze, my beard still did, but I am definitely counting my small blessings!  I left the apartment around 11 and headed in the same sort of direction I had gone yesterday, but this time I went under the Angel’s Bridge and to the Devil’s Bridge!  I do not know why this one is called the Devil’s Bridge, if there is any one reason it could be that it is darker and not painted in a pretty colour like the Angel’s Bridge, but I think it looks better, for that fact, and also just it’s construction seems more attractive, a bit more curvaceous if you like!  I went up onto the bridge then around the back of what seem to be a few more university buildings, round to the Cathedral.  I explored the ruined parts a little bit, I think some days you may be able to climb up into the rafters but the gate was shut today, probably because it’s a Monday.  Pretty much everything touristy is shut on Mondays and Tuesdays in Estonia, especially during the winter months.  I then went to look for the old sacrificial stone that was used during Estonia’s Pagan past, but is now used by student to burn class notes at the end of their exams.  I didn’t actually find the stone, but I think that that may be due to the snow covering it up.  I did find ‘Kissing Hill’, which is directly next to the stone, a small circular platform where Grooms traditionally carry their newlywed Brides.  Basically hard to miss, though how many grooms make it up the hill with their brides in hand is anyone’s guess!

After that I made my way back into the town centre.  I wandered through the little cobbled street until I made it back to the river bank, and from there I headed West, just in order to stay in the sunshine and soak up some of it’s lovely rays, vitamin D myself up…  The road follows the river for a long long way, so I turned off after a while and wandered through a little area of pretty wooden, multicoloured houses, guard dogs barking at cars as they crunched their way up the ice ladden streets.  I wandered like this for a while until the cold began to bite at my fingers, in two pairs of gloves, and in my pockets.  I took this as a sign to seek warmth, so I wandered back along the river into the city centre, stopping to take in various sculptures and monuments, the monument to Estonian and Armenia friendship, the Tartu Statue of Liberty, and various other stone and bronze creations.  I wasn’t feeling hungry or thirsty just yet so I wandered into a shopping mall to warm up, to browse through the shops, trying in vain to find some of those re-usable hand warmers to stuff into my gloves.  I then decided that now was the time to seek out tea, and cake.

I headed back towards the town square and found my way to Werner Cafe, a popular place with an innumerable variety of cakes, and various teas.  Today I went a little bit off topic with a milky chai tea.  Not really what I would normally choose, as classic cafe Chai is never up to much compared to proper stuff, but I fancied something milky, and not so sweet as hot chocolate, or as intense as coffee.  It was as good as they ever are in cafes.  I chose a Mojito Cake, which was tasty, with a ‘Paradise Apple’ on the top and some chocolate flakes for good measure.  It had a slightly odd texture, and could have had a stronger flavour, but was otherwise good.

After a good rest and warm up in the cafe, listening in to other English speaking conversations, I left and went up the hill behind the Pirogov monument to the old observatory.  The views from up there are pretty good, though probably mostly obscured by trees in the Summer, the Winter has some lovely views.  The sun had begun to set and the shadows were long and thin, the light yellow and soft.  I took some photos, more sculptures, a good view down onto the town square with people occasionally milling about, a few more sculptures.  Then down into town, more Easterly this time, towards the bus station, an open air market, that was closed by the time I got there, but looks as though it may be open most of the time.  Then onto the river across another bridge, a few more shots of the setting sun, the great red and white chimney and the interesting and quite good looking ‘Snail Tower’ (an apartment building), then into a few shops and back home.