Tea 83, Hot Chocolate (another tea deviation!), A cafe whose name I can’t remember, Warsaw
Happy April Fool’s day (belated)!
Today was, very sadly, my last day in Warsaw. It’s very strange to be leaving, I am still really loving the city and the people here.
We decided to go for a wander around the Praga district, to have a proper look around on the other side of the river. We managed to get one bus all the way from Wilanow to Praga, so that was pretty good. The day was very cold again, with loads of snow once more, but very sporadic with beautiful sunshine in between, very British style weather (though that would probably be rain instead of snow which is worse I think). We got off the bus in central Praga and just began to wonder, the streets and back courts are dotted with murals and Madonna’s, some of which are kept in wonderful condition, whilst others have slightly more bizarre surroundings.
We wandered around a little more, our original intention was to visit the Vodka Distillery, but this is shut at the weekends, though we knew that before we set off. But we got a good look at it from the outside, before heading into an entrance way where I took one photo that then resulted in a slightly fraught conversation with a security guard about the private property aspect and not being allowed to take photos. Marta managed to hold her ground pretty well though, then we made our escape. We wandered around the outskirts of this same area of derelict land, coming around the opposite side we could look through a gate and see what all the fuss was about, but it was all just literally piles of rubble and the remains of one last building. We took some more photos just to spite them!
We then popped to the shopping centre nearby to answer a call of nature. I managed to enter a situation where a man appeared to have locked himself in one of the cubicles and was possibly doing more than his fair share of drugs, the cleaners were calling for security to come and sort the situation.
Managing to escape another strange situation we headed out of the shopping centre and then found ourselves wandering around some more old, old streets. We managed to find an open door to one old tenement which we explored a little, with some beautiful old railings and a butchered bike on the top floor. Then we found a nice little cafe selling lots of cookery books too, and with some great photographic and fashion magazines. So we sat with a hot chocolate and read whilst we waited, in vane, for the weather to improve. Back out into the cold we wandered some more, bought some crisps/chips and then got on a tram back to the old town on the other side of the river.
We got off at the first stop in the old town then made for the University Library building. On it’s roof is a huge garden, which anyone can freely and easily explore. It is pretty cool, even at this time of year when not too much is growing, though it is great to be able to see the buds on the trees starting to bulge with leafy life. We then decided we were getting a bit hungry so we had a look in a few of the university cafeterias to see if anything took our fancy. There didn’t seem to be too much, so we walked for a while along Dobra and in and out of a few shops, a great bookshop/cafe where I managed to convince Marta to buy a copy of Alain De Botton‘s ‘The Art of Travel‘. I hope she will enjoy it! This place didn’t have much savoury food on offer though, so we carried on walking. We eventually made it to a branch of Rue De Paris cafe. This one was decorated pretty roughly with lots of colourful lampshades and bare brick walls, a nicer atmosphere compared to many. We had a Goats cheese tart and a Camembert and Walnut tart between us. These were good, though were a little disappointing when you are literally just presented with a tart on a plate, no salad or garnish even for visual effect!
We ate and people watched for a while then had a slow and relaxed wander back to the city centre and then home.
Tea 74, Green Tea (not pictured), Torun
Today I travelled with Marta and her Mum to Torun, a town on the Unesco World Heritage list, founded by the German Teutonic Knights and the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus. The day started with Marta rushing across the city to pass on a birthday present to a friend before we left. She got this cool bracelet in the style of an Octopus arm from an online store run by her friend called oohandy.com.
I then met her at Dworzec Centralny at about 11 and we got a train at 1130 that took us to Zyradow, a station on the outskirts of Warsaw where Marta’s mum, Hanna, met us with the car. We all piled in and off we went. The journey to Torun took about 3 hours, the views are very nice, a part of it tracks a very pretty part of the Vistula river. Though lots of the road surfaces aren’t exactly friendly! They are building a whole new motorway infrastructure along this part though, that was intended to be ready for the Euro 2012 competition: take this as fact… it won’t be!
We made it to Torun at around 4, and were dropped off in the city centre. We then wandered around the town a little, soaking up the sunshine and then we went to this pancake place called Manekin, where we met Carolina and Mike, who had also come to Torun for a couple of days, though they were there waiting for the bus back to Warsaw.
After the pancake and a pint to drink Carolina and Mike had to leave to catch the bus, so we all left and Marta and I took in a bit more sightseeing, with the light failing and the stars appearing in the sky. Eventually we too decided it was time to leave so we headed to the bus stop, got on a bus and went to Marta’s uncle’s house somewhere in the Torun suburbs. We spent the evening chatting and eating, another huge weekend of food was ahead of me! And then Marta’s uncle got out a few of his spirits and we drank a little too, cherry liquor, quince liquor, and one make from aronia, or chokeberries. All of them very tasty, if I had to pick my favourite, I’d go for the quince!
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.
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.
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!