I call Praga Magic Bike District mostly due to this sweet little find we had at the top of a creepy old beaten up staircase in the Praga district of Warsaw. So this day became the magic day, riding a Cafe Beigu Tandem around the city trying not to crash or kill anyone, including ourselves. The tandem came (kind of) free from cafe Beigu, a coffee shop just off of Plac Zbawiciela near the city centre (you had to spend 40zl on food and drink). It was a lovely sunny day and we covered a good few miles on the bike. This was all a day or two before the start of Euro 2012, so the town was starting to buzz and there were lots of tourists around. This first photo is taken at the Narodowa Stadium, the new national stadium in Warsaw, which was gearing up to host the opening night and game.
The last picture of the palm tree before it rather sadly and unceremoniously had a haircut, resulting in the removal of about 3/4 of it’s beautiful fronds.
Do you wanna be in the bus stop band?
Probably my favorite photograph so far, showing the tomb of the unknown soldier.
Tea 80, Loads of Yunnan Green Superior for study support!, the apartment, Warsaw
Day 79, well, what happened on this day? I guess not a great deal, we did go and pick Marta’s coat up from the dry cleaners and then wandered around in the sunshine, it was a little windy today so much of our time was spent trying to avoid the wind tunnels between buildings. We wandered around Jana Pawla for a while visiting the places we didn’t manage to go to the night before, the little tea shop, which is a bit expensive, then into the XX1 gallery to see the show that is on at the minute, although I think it might be shut now. ‘Transfusion’ by Pavel Novak, apparently the Polish version of a super common name such as my own! He had presented a few paintings alongside a sculptural glass installation of clear glass heart casts. The work looked good in the space, especially with the sun beating through the window, glistening from and through the glass casts. They weren’t exactly presented perfectly in the space though, somewhat ‘plonked’ on the end of white poles. The press release seemed to say they should appear to be floating at heart level, but they weren’t floating.
Day 80, Thursday, we didn’t really leave until late, later than we had intended really. Marta was studying for a job interview most of the day, I did pop to Galleria Mokotow for a short while to buy some eye moisturizer stuff from the pharmacy, as I had managed to lose my other one somewhere between Torun and Warsaw. When we did eventually leave we headed straight to central and to a photo development shop where we dropped off Marta’s first ever medium format Holga film! That was very exciting, and they had it ready in an hour, which amazed me, stuff like that in the UK usually takes about 2 weeks! While we waited we went back to Zacheta, to see the newly installed sculptural installation show called ‘New Sculpture?’. The show is good, I’m glad I got to see the other spaces in this gallery. There were various large scale works by a number of artists including Martin Boyce (giving me a sentimental thought of Glasgow) and Mai-Thu Perret, as well as others. We wandered around in there for a while, attracting various suspicious glances from the guards. The security guards in Poland are pretty hardcore, even more so in the health and beauty stores, Rossman’s is the worst, they may as well handcuff you as you walk through the door, and don’t even think about going in for a simple browse, not unless you are a massive fan of the serial voyeur!
Show seen we headed back outside, then had a whistlestop run around the old town to try to find a shop we had been to before that sells a great almond cake, we found the shop but sadly no almond cake! Then we had to rush back to the photo shop to collect the film, but not without a quick diversion to the donut place on Chmielna to fulfill our sweet cravings. We were both quite excited about the Holga results. We really didn’t know what to expect, especially as the film that Marta had bought was such a cheap one that we didn’t even know if we had put it in around the right way to begin with! But we were not disappointed! The results were very pleasing, though we both realised that we had been a bit foolish, Marta had been using the different colours of the flash when she had taken the photos. But it turned out we had both totally forgotten the film was black and white! Needless to say coloured flashes are utterly pointless in this case! Two of the photos are below, so I must credit Marta for them!
Day 81, the last day of employment for Marta! And also a job interview for her too! She had headed for this very early in the morning, I just about remembered to wake up and wish her good luck, before crashing back into sleep again. When I eventually awoke I spent some time on the computer before deciding to head into town. This was made a little difficult, I had been locked in! Marta had accidentally taken the keys with her to work. I sent her a message asking where they were, she looked in her bag and there they were. Luckily she managed to get permission from her work to come back and free me. Once that fiasco was sorted I went into town and walked around the shops for a while. The biggest thing on my mind was (and is) a hunt for this camera, a DIY lomo (yes, Marta’s Holga experience has inspired me). But this is a little different, one you build yourself from total scratch and that uses standard 35mm film. It’s called a DIY Recesky Twin Lens Reflex (or TLR), and looks like it could be good fun. I spent a lot of time searching around in the camera and gadget and toy shops, but to no avail. I think I am going to have to buy it online when I am in Berlin, the problem is the delivery times, but I will still keep looking for the next few days I think.
After the fruitless search I went and met Marta outside her work. She arrived carrying a load of stuff including some leftover cake from her goodbye cake collection and a goodbye present she had been bought, the fantastic teapot you can see above. The cups are double-walled to keep the tea warm for longer! A really great present, in my opinion! We christened it with some Sencha Sakura, a floral, delicately flavoured tea (she had been bought this as well as some Chinese Sencha and two flower teas). The tea was good, delicate and green, a very good sencha, and the flavoured aspect was very well balanced and didn’t take away from the tea too much!
Tea 61, 20 Year old Pu Erh, Herbaciarnia, Krakow
So, the 10th. What I did on this day may come as a surprise to many of you, but I actually decided to return to Warsaw. I have decided that I will attempt to stay in Warsaw for a little while. My next intended stop is the Ukraine, and after a bit of deliberation I decided the weather was still too cold there for me, and that I still wasn’t done with Warsaw, so I decided to come back, sit out the cold weather a while longer and get to know Warsaw a bit more. This all hinges on finding somewhere cheap and easy to stay at for a month or so, but will probably be the case.
The morning was spent getting my stuff together, and then I went with Marta (Malgorzata’s flatmate, not Warsaw Marta), to the art school to have a look around the studios and see what their system is like (not the sort of system I agree with at all), and we talked about art and our passions and intentions with it for a while. Then I went to town and to this tea house called Herbaciarnia. This is tucked down a small staircase off of Florianska street in the old town that leads to the main square. It was an amazing find. The place is in the basement and the vaulted ceiling is bear brick and a bit like the little tea house under the church in Warsaw. I ordered a tea, a 20 year old Pu Erh tea. This was a great choice, it was a really amazing tea, one you could feel working, the warm glow you get in your cheeks and the tingle up your spine. It was a really amazing, meditative tea. Really wonderful. A while spent there until it got a bit cold from all the people coming in and out of the door. I paid, left the building, went to a milk bar for some simple but satisfying soup and salad and then went to the bus station, which it took me ages to find, getting lost in the train station because of all the construction work going on. Then I got on the bus and headed back to Warsaw!
Tea 54, Green tea with prickly pear and lemon, including Krupnik, Marta’s Mum’s House, Radom
Today was a beautiful day, glorious sunshine beaming down, with real warmth in it. The shadows were still cold though, and there was the occasional gust of a chilly wind. We just walked around Radom today, seeing the old town, which is unfortunately in a bit of a state in places, wooden beams literally stopping many buildings from collapsing. I am told that the old town is going to be renovated and repaired this year though, so hopefully that will happen because it is already charming, and with a bit of TLC could be very beautiful.
We first wandered through a little park, with a sculpture of Chopin and a funny little castle that is now a public toilet in the middle of it. Next to it is a bizarre little sight, rather than a play ground for kids they have an exercise ground, with a cross trainer / stepper type thing, a bench and chest press thing, all sorts of stuff, including a table tennis table. It’s quite nice because the kids still have fun playing around and climbing all ovet the stuff, whilst the adults can probably have a good time too, if they aren’t too shy to exercise in front of the whole town, which is small enough for everyone to probably know everyone… There is also a rather large and unusually sculpture of a guy called Kochanowski, I can’t remember exactly what he is famous for, but I think he was a poet, and has a bit of a sad history concerning his daughter, who was apparently some sort of child prodigy but died very young. The sculpture is good, but the figure is adopting the most bizarre pose I think I’ve ever seen!
Out of the park and down the high street, looking at the people, the entrance ways and arches to some of the old buildings. We accidently locked ourselves into one of the little courtyards but were rescued a little while later when a lady wanted to come in at the time we were trying to get out! More explorations found us a little old building that was once a printers shop. This old brick building had a thing over the door stating 1818, which I presume to be it’s original building date, and it looks it. It is in semi ruins now, but is a very interesting building and I hope it gets saved by someone.
In to the old town, we wandered into the grounds of a Benedictine church, a few brown robed monks milling about, the sun shining down on the well kept lawn and shrubs. More meandering brought us past another church, the original church of the old town, and then into the old town square, a vast, empty space, in need of a bit of life and improvement, which will undoubtedly arrive at some point. At the moment it is a minimalist’s dream.
We then wandered out of the old town, to the Galeria (shopping centre) which has pretty much singlehandedly brought the blight that the town centre is suffering into being. Despite this we were on a hunt for a gift for Marta’s Mum, for her birthday, which is on Sunday. We found what she was after, or had been instructed to get by her sister and brother and then wandered back in the sunshine towards home.
We had intended to pop home and then go out again, but when we got back Marta’s Mum had prepared a huge spread of salad and soup and chicken and her Dad had made a wild boar goulash! He is a hunter, and despite my reservations to this fact and my preference to veg over meat, the goulash was very good. Mashed Potatoes with Dill, Carrot and Sauerkraut. It was a proper feast, and for this reason we did not make it back out into the town, the food was so non-stop that we spent the whole afternoon eating and drinking! The drinking went a fair way, starting with a local (ish) beer and then wine and then onto the spirits…! Krupnik is a honey liquor, pretty strong and fragrant, but good. There was also a vodka that Marta’s Dad had infused with quince. Basically there was A LOT! To freshen up a little Marta and I took her dog Etna for a walk around the park, then we came home and watched a film, one of my favourites ‘True Romance’, with Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette.
What a difference a day makes! Today was the most gloriously sunny and beautiful day, all of yesterday’s snow had melted away and it was genuinely warm! Today was a day filled with cafes.
The day started with a little trip around town with Ania, for her to do some errands and things like that. We went into the old town, where Ania needed to do some photocopying for her teaching job. whist she did that I explored the little cobbled streets and old buildings and this pretty park with the sun shining down, the back of a grand looking church towering over from the top of the hill. After about 20minutes Ania returned and we decided to go to this cafe called Ogrody, meaning garden in Polish apparently. The cafe is clean and modern with a nice chilled out atmosphere, in the summer time they apparently have tables and chairs out on the little square on which the cafe sits. I had a really tasty salad and a pot of Green Sencha tea with Prickly Pear and Orange Peel and Lemongrass. It was very good, fresh leaves in the pot smelt sweet and fruity whilst the tea itself was delicate and smooth. After a while sitting there enjoying the sunshine we headed back into the old town, then Ania decided we should go back into the city centre to find another place that she enjoys.
We took a bus and then waited for a tram from Centrum which took us to the pretty little roundabout with the white church. There we found another cafe that Ania really likes. Called Charlotte it is another fairly modern place, full of young professionals and mothers-to-be. The staff are all about 12 years old with surfer-waxed hair or bohemian looks in their eyes. The place is very nice though, the bread is all baked fresh, you can see the bakers working away behind the counter, flour filling the air, sun rays pouring through it from the huge windows. We sat in one of the windows, on some bar stools and watched as traffic and people milled about outside, people sitting on the terrace in the sunshine with their coffee and cigarettes. The cafe has all of those classic cafe sounds, spoons clinking the edge of the cups as the sugar is poured in, people chatting and laughing, tearing their bread or crunching their croissant. The sun was warm on our faces, the disbelief at the gloriousness of the day compared to yesterday still the main topic of conversation. We sat there for a while, also stirring our coffee or crunching our croissant. I took some photos of people through the window, of the zebra-crossing which was empty one second and the next being jam packed with people trying to cross the road.
After a while Ania had to head home so I took her to the tram stop and saw her off, then I went to wander around in the sunshine before I met up with Marta. It is mad how much more stuff you notice when you aren’t hunched over yourself trying to keep warm. A straight back means you can look up at all the amazing sculptures that sit atop of all the buildings, staring down at all of the people below. I literally just walked up and down the streets, enjoying the sunshine and noticing things that I hadn’t before. Then it was time to go and meet Marta, she resigned from her job today so wanted to go for a drink after work.
We met at her office and then walked into the centre, taking an elongated route, along Kruzca for a bit, then down onto Mokotowska and along for a while, staring in shop windows and some beautiful entrance halls to tenement apartments. We then got onto Nowy Swiat, walked along a bit and turned off, behind the street is a little area of bars and a few boutique shops. Mostly bars though, all decorated in different styles but more or less doing the same thing. We picked one filled with a mix-match of old furniture and dark decor. We ordered a pitcher of beer for a bargain happy-hour price of 15Zloty, about £3! We sat, drank, chatted for a couple of hours or so and then we left, walked along past the Sheraton Hotel, Parliament buildings, the embassy buildings, and that area of town then I dropped Marta off at her friends apartment, where she was heading for more drinks, and I took the tram home, ate a good helping of the leftovers from yesterdays soup and some Pierogi, then sat for a while doing worky things and went to bed!
A spectacularly sunny day today! The weather was a little colder than on the previous days, but the sun made up for that, the sky was a great glass-blue colour, a few whispy clouds dotted about. I got up and took the tram to central. From there I went and bought myself a new memory card reader, another thing that has bitten the dust along with the crotch-hole jeans…
Then, after escaping the horrible shopping mall I followed Emilii Platter street south. It’s southern end is a stark contrast to the part north of central, narrow and quiet with lovely little shops and cafes. I wandered down as far as Wilcza then turned east, then back southwards along Marszalkowska. The town seemed a bit sleepy today, probably the fact of it being a Monday I imagine. Walking through Constitution Square and then down onto Plac Zbawiciela with the pretty Kościół pw Najświętszego Zbawiciela (church). I then went down Mokotowska, still southwards. By now my brain had begun to think about food, it was after two and I had a desire for something wholesome and nutricious. I wandered around, looking at the various options, a thai place, a cafe, until I found Restauracja Maharaja. This lovely little Indian restaurant is on Marszalkowska, right next door to Galerie Next. go through the door and up to the top floor and it is tucked away there. I guess I arrived pretty late, but the place was empty, although I did walk through at a semi-rush hour, two people literally in front of me up the stairs and a third close behind.
This little place is really great though, the food was VERY good, I ordered the veggie set lunch option, Saag Paneer. It is a thali style lunch so rice, naan bread, poppadum, yoghurt and all sorts of other things were included. It was a proper feast, I totally stuffed myself. The Masala Chai I ordered alongside my meal was very good too, the right balance of sweetness and milkyness, and went really well with the food choice. It tasted freshly made, and properly made, not just chai tea with a bit of milk in it, but properly made with milk and only milk. The food was exquisite, the Paneer cheese perfect, the brightly coloured sauces complimenting everything perfectly. And the addition of aniseeds (fresh and sugar-coated) to freshen the palate and breath was a lovely touch that doesn’t happen often. I must have sat there for the best part of 2 hours, eating for most of that time! No-one else came into the restaurant after the little tidal wave I had come in on, but they should. The lunch was only 20Zloty, the tea another 10. If you have a different main the price changes, but not by much if you stick to the set lunch menu. They have different lunch dishes on offer everyday of the week, so I might well go back before my time is up in Warsaw! And I would encourage anyone else to go too!
Full and satisfied I dragged my belly back down the staircase to the street and then decided to finally venture down Mokotowska Street proper. This street is one of the popular streets for posher shop and things, but it is also where I have found my first hammer and sickle in the ex-soviet bloc so far! A building being held up by two figures, one holding his sickle, the other his stylized hammer. They are posing as though they have just caught the building and are holding it there so it doesn’t fall down, infinite strength or infinite labour, you decide… Carrying on down the street I came back to the big palm tree and the start of Nowy Swiat, which leads into the old town. I walked down this street, weaving in and out of the crowds of tourists, students and one unicyclist. Making it to the start of the old town, the sun getting low in the sky, reflecting off of windows and making the colours of the buildings bright and vibrant, I took a side street to get off of the main drag of the old town, the narrow street cobbled and lined with old terraced buildings. Back into the old town I took a photo of the view out across to the stadium and then was asked by another group to take their photo. They were visiting from Spain and were also about to head to Bucharest, seeing some friends. Back onto the cobbled streets and I walked through the town square and down to a little viewpoint out across the river. Then heading back north into the ‘New Town‘ part of the old town. The buildings still coloured and higgledy-piggledy, I walked up to Fort Legionow, a round building which appears to be shut at the minute but looks as though it usually holds a museum, up onto a long double-decker bridge, the trams buzzing along on the lower level and the cars and buses rushing over the upper level. It was quite late by now, the sun had set and I decided it was time to head home. Luckily one tram goes all the way from there to the southern part of the city, so it was an easy journey home.
Tea 43: Japonska Wisnia (Green Cherry), Marta and Ania’s Apartment, Warsaw.
Today was a good long day of walking and sightseeing. I took the Metro two stops past Centrum to Ratusz Arsenal. This is the nearest stop to the old town (I think). I left the station and took yet another guess at what direction to go, used the sun as a reference to what way was east and west. I made it successfully to the Old Town and hunted out a Tourist Information to raid the free maps. The one that Marta had bought the other day is good, but is massive and really conspicuous to carry around, I much prefer one you can slip in and out of your back pocket. I wandered to the old town square where a good tourist information is, with a good selection of maps and guides in every language imaginable, and maps and guides in hand I went back out of the old town to the tomb of the unknown soldier. This is a ceremonial heart of memorial for all the lost soldiers in the wars and is guarded constantly by two soldiers, guns in hand, a fire burning to keep them from freezing to death. There is a small park behind the tomb with an impressive switched off fountain and various sculptures of goddesses, Venus, Art, Justice etc etc, there are a few without titles which I found a little odd, and tried to figure out what they were but failed. The ice was thick on the ground, still solid with no sign of it shifting any time soon.
I wandered around that part of town for a while, the huge Soviet ‘Sofitel’ hotel mirrored across the huge open, parade type, square by the more modern glass fronted building, that looks to be offices. I headed towards the hotel to the front of another building, which turned out to be the Zachęta National Gallery of Art. I didn’t go inside as I am planning that for thursday when, hopefully, entry will be for free. So I turned back and went to the Old Town side of the square, by the statue of Józef Klemens Piłsudski, which stares down on it’s audience with a dour and stern look on it’s face.
I then decided to go back to the tea house I had seen. It is a Demmers Tea House, which turns out to be an Hungarian company. I didn’t stay to drink inside, but instead chose to look through the teas smell a couple and make a purchase. This I did, I picked Japonska Wisnia, a delicate green tea, Sencha I think, with cherry. The smell of cherry is quite strong, but the flavour less so, which makes the tea very interesting and a good sensation to taste. One of those teas where you can decide what to concentrate on, smell or taste, without either of them becoming the focus. I also bought an intriguing sounding Pu Erh Chocolate Cake tea. This will be reviewed next I am pretty sure. It smells great! Purchases made using a good mix of broken English and Polish I decided to head towards the river. I went down this looping road that is still directly in line with the tomb and the Piłsudski statue.
The road has got this great big yellow bridge over it, with two tunnels through it, traffic goes one way through one and the other through the next. There is are big sculptures lining the bridge, a mermaid stands on top looking down onto the passers with a threatening look and wielding a sword. Behind her a bearded man’s face looks out, I can’t totally giure out if it is meant to look like it has been chopped off of it’s body, but that is what it looks like to me… the mermaid is the emblem of Warsaw and there are many of them dotted about over the city. Walking beneath the bridge, a little shrine set up to something, I headed for the river. Making it there I walked past this amazing green glass building, but one that is not brand-new. It looks like a huge greenhouse, and I thought maybe it was a public building or museum, but I don’t think it is, I think it is just offices. But an amazing building. The street was lined with coaches, loads of them. I think this is because a little further down is the Copernicus Science Centre, or Centrum Nauki Kopernik. This is housed in a modern building, it’s facade covered by lots of bits of metal in various tones of reddish-brown.
Walking past the Science Centre and then to the corner of the street I made the decision not to cross the river today so I turned right instead, past a hodge-podge of old, middle-aged and new buildings. One very old building still appearing to bear the scars of some battle, bullet holes peppering it’s front. I have read that this isn’t such a rare thing to see in Warsaw, so I’m pretty sure they are relics from WW2. I then turned left onto Dobra Street, meaning ‘Good’ Street. In front of me was a great sight, two old grey arching bridges loomed over the road, one being seen through the arch of the other. They both carry trains I think and are huge and heavy looking. I walked beneath them, with a short diversion into a supermarket, and then I walked along the edge of the biggest of the two, arch after arch leading up to the city centre. Part of the bridge looks like it was once going to be developed into something, bare concrete blocks making rooms and spaces, with concrete staircases leading between floors. It has now been taken over by graffiti artists and skateboarders. A strange construction, I can not imagine how it was intended to look and how it would of ever looked right sitting between the legs of the bridge. A long, tall, covered and graffitied staircase leads back up to the main town. At the top of the staircase is the Muzeum Wojska Polskiego, or Polish War Museum, this is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but the outside area is still open and you can freely wander amongst aircraft, tanks, vehicles, and missile launchers. If that is your cup-of-tea. Some of the stuff is pretty impressive and the size of some of the rocket launchers, and their rockets, is quite a scary thought…
I left the ‘war garden’ and went back to the centre of town. I walked through Waszawa Centralna (Warsaw Central) Train Station then back out and into the big new shopping centre. The roof of this place is the most interesting part, made up of thousands of glass triangles the roof flows like the surface of an undulating sea. The bluish glass reflecting the sky. That’s about all I have to say about this place, it’s a shopping centre, we all know what they are like…
It was getting quite late now so i decided that I would head back to the apartment, so I got onto the Metro at Centrum and went back. I rested my feet for a while, managed to get the internet to work on my laptop and then went out to buy some food, I had said I would cook tonight. Successfully find a supermarket (though not the one I was looking for), I bought some pasta, Broccoli, Chorizo, Garlic and a couple of bottles of Zubr, a Polish beer. Back home, Ania had got back to the flat whilst I had been away so we chatted a little and I began to make food for the evening, Marta was out until around 8:30pm.
Food eaten, Beer drunk, Marta and Ania decided to make a banana-chocolate cake. No cinnamon in the house, Marta popped out to the shop and came back with that and a couple more beers, this time a honey beer Ciechan Miodowe, another Polish made one. Sweet and tasty, I would definitely recommend it for those of you that enjoy honey.
Beer drunk, cake eaten, a quick cup of tea and it was time to sleep again!
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!
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.