Brownies, Tea, Palaces and …er… Doors

What isn’t here is a picture of the absolutely amazing Chocolate Brownie that I had from the little festival type thing that was happening at Krolikarnia on this day.  It was one of the best Brownies I’ve ever had!  Rich, chewy, thick, tasty.  Every brilliant word you could think of.  Why no photo?  Well, because I ate it all of course!  The last thing on my mind was taking a photo!  After that we went for a walk and ended up in cafe Relaks, a cafe I’d been looking for for quite a while and have now, finally, found!  A nice cup of tea was had there, and the first tea photo I’ve given you all for a while.  More walking later into the evening.  Ending up in the city centre, around the old Jewish district again, then onto a bridge to witness a stunning sunset, which will be specially featured in my next post!

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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 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 24, Tallinn, February 2nd 2012

Tea 24:  Qi Pao Tea, from CHADO tea shop, old town 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…

                       

                        CHADO


Day 18, Helsinki, January 27th 2012

Tea 18: Chocolate Tea!, Fazer Cafe, Helsinki, also Green Tea with Strawberry and Vanilla (left).

Today was such a beautiful sunny day, the sunniest of my time in Finland so far.  I took the train into town for the last of my travel card trips.  The sun was shining down and glinting off of the soft white banks of snow as I day dreamed out of the window.  Once I arrived at Rautatieasema (Helsinki Central Station) I headed north-west, up past Kiasma and the parliament and congress buildings, the sun behind me, actually managing to feel a little warm on my back at points.  I was heading back towards Seurasaari, to visit the art museum Meilahti again, mostly to pick up the pack of cards I had seen there but been unable to buy a few days previous.  It was great to be in proper sunshine again, you don’t realise how much you miss it until it comes back.  And with the snow all around reflecting it all it felt like I was bathing in it.  I wandered through patches of woodland that line the coast, the snow deep and crunchy beneath my feet.  I made it to the museum and had another wander around the exhibits, taking in the ones I had not spent so much time with at my last visit a little more.  After that I headed back towards the city centre.  Following the coastline a little longer this time, I passed another park and gave it a short look, an interesting sculpture dedicated to Sibelius, ‘the most famous composer Finland has ever produced’, according to Eeero, though his wife is ‘the best composer, Sibelius is just the most famous’.  It’s a beautiful piece of sculpture, n doubt helped by the sun glinting off of the pipes.

By the time I had made it into town I was starving hungry, so I decided to pig-out and go to the chinese buffet that had rescued my stomach on the first day.  It took me ages to find it though, after stumbling on it by accident knowing nothing about the city on my first day, learning more about the city and getting my bearings had totally erased it’s location from my mind. After a good 20 minutes searching I finally found it.  I ate and filled myself up basically completely, pretty sure I over did it just a bit.  But it was good and got the cold out of my bones at least.  After that I went to meet Ella, the couchsurfing girl again.  We met in central station and headed to a cinema to check the schedule.  At the minute in Helsinki is a documentary film festival, called DocPoint.  We looked through the timetable and decided on an intriguing and slightly disturbing sounding film about a cathedral built from 12,000 white dresses, with the addition of some menstrual blood for good measure.  The film is called Water Children, and it was being screened at the Maxim Cinema.  The film is actually extremely beautiful, not at all what either of us expected.  The cinematography is wonderful and the perspective on the idea of menstrual blood completely different from what either of us expected.  The artist, Tomoko Mukaiyama, a Japanese Pianist, early on describes the blood as ‘the only blood that isn’t negative or aggressive.’  The film is beautiful, heart wrenching and funny.  It is a really wonderful film, directed by Aliona van der Horst, I urge anyone with the chance to go and see it, to go and see it.

After the film it was a short trip next door to Fazer, the Finnish Chocolatier cafe.  Inside is sprawling with chocolates, cakes, every treat imaginable.  I went for a wonderful Chocolate tea, tea leaves with added pieces of cocoa beans, it was rich and really tasty.  I have had chocolate tea before, but this one was much better, no real bitterness, just smooth and elegant.  Alongside it I treated myself to a bar of Fazer Milk Chocolate with Pistachio and Salt.  A great combination, even if it was milk chocolate!  Ella went for a lovely refreshing and clear Green Tea with Strawberry and Vanilla, alongside a fruit filled pastry, for some reason called a Weiner!  After a good chatter and some more laughs we went our separate ways and I headed home for some dinner (yet more food!!!)