Tea 114: Sweet Chai, Hallmackenreuther, Brüsseler Platz, Cologne.
Day 113. My first day in Cologne, and quite a easy going one. Usually my first day in a place is spent having a short explore around the local area to get my bearings. I had a wander to the park just around the corner, the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Park. There were people jogging and walking dogs as well as a few rabbits hopping around munching on the damp grass. The air was heavy with misty rain filled clouds, but luckily it didn’t rain. I wandered part way towards the city centre and then back again, to the park first, where I decided to feed the ducks in the strange big square pond, with water that is a strange shade of turquoise (I later found out that I’m apparently not supposed to feed that ducks here, but luckily no one stopped me), there are carp in the water too, so despite it’s colour it must be capable of sustaining some life, although apparently a few years ago they had to totally refill the thing because the water had gone toxic and was killing the ducks.
Walking past the flat and along the little high-street. Then back to the flat I met with Regina as she had finished her first day back at work. We went and did some food shopping at the asian supermarket. We had thought about cooking this prawn, fennel, pasta dish (with fake prawns as Regina is a vegan), but we couldn’t find the fake prawns anywhere so that recipe quickly changed into a Pak Choi, Green Tea Noodles, lemongrass and tofu invented dish, which turned out to be very very good, if I do say so myself.
After eating we spent some time unpacking boxes from Regina’s basement, most of her stuff is still down there as she has only just got back from traveling around for the past year.
Day 114. Today I wandered further into the city centre. I found a few galleries, most rather commercial, but one quite nice space called Galerie Karsten Greve. This is a big space with about 4 levels, and very, very clean and tidy. The work on show at the minute is by Jean-Michel Othoniel. Glass sculptural hanging pieces. They are clean and sleek, but I’m not sure of the artists intent with them, I got the impression they are simply meant to be pretty objects.
After that I wandered back towards the flat, via a bicycle / sports shop. Then Regina arrived home from work again and we decided to head out to buy a few things and then went for ice cream at this good italian ice cream parlour near the city centre. I had a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of Pistachio, delicious!
Then we wandered to the ‘Belgian Quarter’. To a little square with a church called Brüsseler Platz, and we stopped at a cafe called Hallmackenreuther, and I had the above tea, a Sweet Chai, with fennel and liquorice and cardamom. It was good, though not amazing, possibly because I had wanted a different one, that they didn’t have, oh well.
We went home after that and cooked a traditionally German Asparagus dish. The asparagus is the same plant as I am used to, but they dont allow it to grow out of the ground and turn green, so it is yellowy-white in colour. We made a vegan bechamel sauce and potatoes to go with it, and it was very tasty.
After dinner we met up with Regina’s work mate in town and went to a gallery called ‘Museum Ludwig‘. This houses a large collection of modern art work, some huge names, and therefore a very expensive collection. Currently there is a sort of retrospective of the work of Yvonne Rainer. There is so much there that it’s impossible to do it all in a day, let alone two hours. This day was a special day where people who live in Cologne can get into the galleries for free, and due to the time we arrived I managed to get in for half price too! There is also Cosima Von Bonin’s CUT! CUT! CUT!, a show that has toured around and grown, and is now in its ‘final resting place’, at Museum Ludwig. I’m not too sure what I really think about this show though. I’m going to reserve opinion on that one for the minute.
There is also Henrik Olesen on show. Who’s work ‘Mr Knife and Mrs Fork’ has won the Wolfgang Hahn Prize 2012. I actually saw this work for the first time a few years ago, when it was installed in a much rougher space in London. It was good to see it again, and quite strange to see it in a much cleaner and ‘official’ situation, with clean floors, and weirdly carpeted walls. The whole piece was set up exactly the same, except for the space and the way you enter the space. It was a kind of surreal experience to see it again!
After the museum we headed to a bar, a traditional Cologne pub where we drank Kolsh, the Cologne beer that comes in short 200ml glasses and is refilled until you signal by putting a beer mat on top of your glass. It is light and smooth, and pretty good.
After a couple of those we headed for a snack and then home!
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 55, Green tea, mystery mix, Radom.
Today was Marta’s Mum’s birthday, when we woke up she had already made another spectacular breakfast spread with all things you could think of, cheese, bread, tomato, cucumber, salad. Loads and loads of stuff, and I was still pretty full from the indulgences on the previous day. We sat and ate and chatted and watched the TV, which was dominated by the tragic and awful news of the train crash that has happened on the line between Warsaw and Krakow.
After a while of this we decided to head out, Marta, her mum and I, to this park area which is also home to a few galleries and loads of sculptures. It is around 10km from Radom, and in which direction I am not too sure. We also took the dog with us, fully intending to take her for a walk around the park too. We arrived at this little place, which is dotted with buildings, looking a bit like a farm in lots of ways. Everyone out of the car, including the dog and Marta and I went into the first building, a modern built gallery, to buy some tickets. Luckily our tickets gave us access to more than one building because this first show was a bit of a disappointment. The space is pretty interesting but it had been totally rammed with sculptural works by this one guy, which were, basically, terrible. They looked like they were built in the 60’s, and this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if they had been. But they were all pretty much brand new, gaudy, Francis Bacon-esque structures of painted driftwood and plaster. It was a shame, and if there had of been even a TINY bit of critical choice in what was presented it would have been a hundred times better. But it was just like the guy wanted to show and tell EVERYTHING! And I know I myself am a minimalist, so usually something is always too much that nothing, but this was just stupid!
Ehem, so… moving on… We went back out into the park, Marta’s Mum had joined us half way through our tour around this first space and then we all walked to the next space, on a little tour with a lady in a brown hat who seemed pretty passionate about lots of the elements. She explained a few of the things we could see as we walked along, and then we arrived at an old chapel, the all seeing eye staring down at us from on high. We went inside and found an installation created by a guy and called (in Polish) Harvest. This was a collection of ceramic figurines, made by the artist, who were, basically, Chavs / Neds / Delinquents whichever phrase you choose. Then Marta explained to me that in Polish the word for harvest is very similar to that for something like a self destructive society. The piece was a play on words. This work had a lot of humour and enjoyment in it’s rather bleak subject matter, on figurine is peeing in a corner under the old alter, one is texting on a mobiule phone, others drinking in little huts and some fighting.
A little while spent in this space we left again, the lady in the hat locking the door with a huge key, had to be almost a foot long, and we continued onto another space. This one used to be an greenhouse and so is open and full of light. The work presented here was more interesting modern sculpture, of simply a toilet and a cement mixer. They had, however, been covered in little squares of mirror, like on a disco-ball. The toilet span around on its low plinth and the cement mixer was fully working, though only for a short period of time when the lady in the hat switched it on and then off again, suggesting that it may not be the most secure of creations. There were also some photos of the artist’s other creations, including a drain cover, a wheelie bin, and an original Volkwagen Beetle! The photos were documents of when the artist puts them into real life situations and illuminates them, generally at night.
That space over we went back out into the park and headed for the main house. This has been kept in its original condition, with its classical furniture, paintings and it’s egg cooker… so is more of a historical document than gallery space. But it is an interesting little place with some very nice artworks and some intriguing gadgets!
Back in the car, we let the dog out for another, brief walk (she looked a little perplexed to being told to get back in the car after such a brief exit). We then headed back towards town, Marta’s Mum dropped us off in town and we had a short walk in the sun and then went into a café/restaurant that used to be Marta’s favourite when she was younger. We ordered a couple of juices (I decided I needed the vitamin C, I think I am getting a cold!), and a pizza to share. It was a very good one with olives and capers and anchovies. However it turned out to be a bit of a mistake, because on our return home it turned out Marta’s Mum had been busy in the kitchen yet again and there was another HUGE spread on the table. Soup, potatoes, chicken, leftover goulash, more salad, and then when that had been gone over by us all there were cakes brought out! This weekend I have been well and truly stuffed and feel like I won’t eat for a week!
After another few hours spent eating (again), it was time to head back to Warsaw with Marta’s brother. The Clio’s heating system had been fixed so we didn’t have to drive with condensation all over the windows, but the seatbelts were still useless. We made it back to Warsaw safely though. Tomorrow (today) I leave for Krakow, I’m excited to be travelling again, but sad to leave Warsaw as I still think there is so much I haven’t seen!
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 48: Mate Palona, Gander’s Tea House, Warsaw.
Marta and I left the flat and headed into the city centre, we jumped on the tram to centrum and got off. We were both feeling a bit drowsy, despite everyone in the flat sleeping really well we seemed to all have a heavy headedness. It has started to snow again a bit today so we think it might be the change in air pressure or something like that. Marta had promised to show me the sculpture at the Palace of Science and Culture of the guy holding a book bearing Lenin‘s name. After a bit of a hunt we managed to find it, on the Emilii Platter side of the building, standing up the guy holds a book bearing not just Lenin’s name, but also those of Marx and Engels. It seems that it has never been attempted to be removed or altered in anyway. A proper throw back to the historical period that built this huge building.
My curiosity at long last satisfied we got onto another tram that took us to the other side of the river, to Saska Kępa, the more beaten up, but slowly reviving area of the city. We got off just after the bridge, which seems to go on forever, taking us across the wide river then past the new football stadium, still waiting for the christening of the Euro 2012 competition. We walked down Francuska street, past some old shops and buildings being taken over by modern eateries and bars, then past the sculpture of the famous poet and writer Agnieszka Osiecka, sitting outside of the Rue de Paris cafe. Across the street at number 12 Francuska is Gander’s tea house. This is the best tea house I have found in Warsaw so far, in terms of atmosphere, tea selection, tea quality and quirkyness. It is a bit like going to your posh grand-relatives house. Old wooden furniture upholstered with texture floral patterns, doily table cloths, slightly tarnished silverware. And for the first time the background music was more suitable! We sat and read through the bible of teas they have on offer, loads of varieties of all colours of teas as well as a few traditional Polish mixes, Ayurvedic teas and so on. I decided to go for Mate Palona, this was a great choice, the first PROPER Mate I have had in ages. It is made with toasted mate leaves, almond pieces, cocoa husks, sunflower and cornflower petals. The tea is really smooth and, for a Mate, delicate. You can chose whether to have it in the traditional way, with a gourd (as above) or I presume as a simple infusion. It was so good to be able to have it the proper way for a change, carrying a gourd and bombilla around in a backpack is not much of an option for the travels, though I might try to get hold of a bombilla at least, I left mine at home.
The Mate shook off the heavy headedness pretty effectively, and after a couple of hours sitting there we left and walked north, into a little park called Skaryszewski, its grass covered in hundreds of mole hills, probably from the poor things almost drowning from all the melting snow. There is also an old soviet sculpture, dedicated to the Red Army who fought against the Nazi’s during the Second World War, still with its five-pointed star, but bearing the scars of having it’s hammer and sickle removed. Red paint is spattered all over it too, though whether this is through protest or support I couldn’t say.
We continued through the park and then into Praga, the more populated and central bit of this side of the river. We wandered up and down the old, decaying streets as the darkness began to fall and the snow with it. The streets here are quite a stark contrast to each other, half of the buildings are new, others are renovated and the rest are still waiting for something to happen. There are still big old wooden gates to the entrances to most of the buildings, the balconies and plasterwork look as though they could fall on your head at any minute! We then went in search of another sculpture, one of a street band. We didn’t find this straight away, but then went for a look at a couple of churches, lit up resplendently in the night air. At the rear of one red bricked church we found the sculpture. This was made as a sort of dedication to this part of the town where many folk and street bands can often be found busking and celebrating their art.
We then decided we were far too cold and we went to get the tram back into town. This went back across a different bridge than before, one that leads to the old town. We jumped off after a couple of stops and found the tram that would take us back to the centre. We were both hungry and had decided to search out a little place. We found it but it was shut, doesn’t open at all on the weekends, but close by is U Szwejka, a vibrant Hungarian place, that looks from the outside like the British Harvester of Beefeater chain type places, but it is actually very nice, a great atmosphere and some lovely food. We both had a Goulash soup, a bargain at less that 8Zlotys, and then we shared a plate of Pancakes filled with Spinach and Cheese and Chicken. I seemed to devour most of them myself though!
Fed and satisfied we headed back out into the dark, cold and snowy night air. Walking down to another tram stop, throwing snowballs at each other and at other stuff (until I hit Marta in the mouth….oops….). We got on the tram home, watched a film and now it’s time to sleep, again! Days are going fast!
Tea 46: Power Tea, Marta & Ania’s Apartment, Warsaw
I had a much earlier start to the day today, and managed to leave the flat at a reasonable civilized time. I went out and caught the tram to Raclawicka, where I had read about a bicycle shop. I got off and found the shop, which was unfortunately shut, but I had a good look through the window anyway. For those of you that are wondering, I am just currently flirting with the idea of doing the rest of travels on a bike, maybe…
I got back on the tram and took it to central. I got off at Dworzec Centralny and walked to the Palace of Science and Culture. I was on the hunt for a sculpture that Marta had told me about, which apparently still bears some signs of it’s Communist upbringing…I didn’t manage to find the one, but I will get her to take me at some point. Hopefully it still exists. I walked around the building and then decided to visit Galeria Studio. This is a little gallery inside the Palace, part of the theatre department of the building. I walked through the big heavy wooden and iron door and went to the glowing sign that said Galeria Studio. This is at the bottom of the staircase which had a cordon across it, but there were two ladies there who seemed to be a setting up some sort of cloakroom service. So I asked if the gallery was open. They didn’t speak much English, but we managed a bit of communication and she called over an older guy in a smart suit. Again more vague communication and the guy smiled and walked to the cordon, waved me over and we both stepped over it and he escorted me up the staircase, through a corridor, up another staircase and into the main gallery space. He told me to wait outside of a dark curtain. He disappeared for a few seconds and the lights to the space switched off. Walking inside the space there were two large glowing sculptures. One was of a Uterus, the other of some flying ejaculate heading in the direction of the Uterus. They were amazing sculptures. Made from smooth, solid material. The guy came over and put his hand to the material, wrapping his hand rather surreally around a little offshoot of semen…he took his hand away and was delighted by the result, a perfect shadowy print of his hand on the surface which slowly began to fade. The pieces were made from glow in the dark material, and further intensified by the use of UV lighting. The pieces are by Karol Słowik, a polish artist, and the show was rather fittingly named ‘Immaculate Conception’. It finishes in a few days, but if you are in Warsaw give it a look, and go to the gallery too. After a little while in the space I left and the guy escorted me to another part of the show, a video work by another Polish artist, Anna Niesterowicz, entitled SKRA it is a document of an old sports ground / area, no mostly derelict. She has also produced a few monoprints for the show too. The short looped video is understated and pretty effective, it doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t and is just a good honest piece of work.
That was the end of my own private, escorted view of Galeria Studio. The guy in the suit left me at the top of the stairs and I walked back down them, nodding my appreciation to the two ladies at the bottom of the staircase that had facilitated my viewing. Back out in the city I decided to get on another tram and head to the north of the city, I had read about another bike shop up on Stawki which also sells second hand bikes. So I went up and found it, there are some really lovely bikes in there, but way past any semblance of a budget I may or may not have for the purchase of a bike. Shiny chrome, a multitude of glorious powder coatings. It was nice to be near bikes again, I can’t believe it’s been so long since I last rode mine!
Outside of the shop was a great little sight, three lovely, tiny Fiat 126‘s sitting in a row, blue-red-blue. I reckon they had parked next to one another on purpose. Maybe I could drive around Europe in one of those… though I don’t think I’d fit in one very easily, not made for the 6ft 1 high people I would hazard.
Back into the city centre I wandered around some of the streets for a while, just looking at the sights and architecture. Then I ended up back at the huge palm tree on Aleje Jerozolimskie, I think I mentioned this the other day, so i’ll try to not repeat myself (an art project that stuck). From there I decided to try to find another gallery, Galeria Foksal. This is planted at the end of Foksal street (believe it or not), a street parallel to the palm tree. It’s part of the wing of a big posh looking hotel, you have to walk through a bit iron gate to get to it. The show was called Nosferatu, Dyktator Leku, (The Fearful Dictator), by Jacek Malinowski. It is predominantly one large video piece, though there are two smaller video pieces in the hallway. The video is pretty intense. The acting is good, one of those performances I wish I could get myself to do but I just stand in awe of the bravery and balls of those that can! The piece itself is fairly sensationalistic I suppose and I came out trying to figure out my opinion of the work. It is definitely well considered and theorized, but there was just something that didn’t sit right for me.
I left the gallery and walked back to the centre. I have just discovered that I have been walking about with a hole in the crotch of my jeans for god-knows how long so I decided a visit to the sale section of TK Maxx was in order. Jeans bought (these ones promise to have a ‘flexible 3D system’, hopefully equalling effective crotch stitching…) I met Marta and we got on the tram homewards.
Back home and myself Marta and Ania had a few things to eat, a bit of a chatter and then we headed out for a night in warsaw. We didn’t go crazy and just went to one place, called Reaktywacja. A place with various rooms, some for sitting, some for dancing. We sat for a while over a couple of beers then went for a bit of a dance. Ania had promised us she was going to try and get us some ‘drink sponsorship’ through her flirtations with some guys she had spotted during some ‘foreigner spotting’, a regular pastime in Warsaw I am told (jokes)! Unfortunately this didn’t work out, but we had fun dancing to some of the music (Top of the Pops themed night), we left the club/pub/bar at around 3 and got a taxi home.
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!
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.
Many apologies for a two day in one day blog… I feel genuinely guilty. Yesterday was another travel day, and so I didn’t get chance to take many photos or to document my tea, but needless to say it was another lovely Estonian Herbal tea, brewed to perfection by my wonderful Pärnu hosts. I took the bus from Pärnu to my current location, Riga, Latvia. The bus was luxury compared to the bus from Tartu to Pärnu, a good few inches of leg room beyond my knee caps, and a comfortable seat, and even some sporadic internet access. I arrived in Riga, met my new host and we went to her apartment to the East of Riga city centre. After a sit down and a little bit of relaxation we headed into Riga, myself, my host Kristine, and her flatmate Linda. We wandered around for a while, showing me a few of the sites, mostly around the old town and the Latvia Statue of Liberty / Liberty monument. We then stopped in a cafe for a coffee and a small but glorious slice of nutty, praline type cake. VERY good stuff! I had a coffee instead of a tea, mostly because I needed a caffeine boost, but also because their tea selection wasn’t up to much, doubt me if you will, but a cup of ‘Hot Love‘ tea certainly wasn’t my, well, cup of tea! We then headed back to the apartment, got some food and I went to bed.
So, day 33. Today I woke up around 9 and spent the morning Skype-ing family and doing internet stuff. By lunchtime I had finished catching up with modern life stuff and headed into the city centre. The weather was still cold, but not as bad as it has been, probably helped by being in a massively busy, bustling and somewhat polluted city. I wandered to central station then up towards the north-east of the city, just to wander around streets and get my bearings mostly but also in search of tea. Unfortunately this search was a little fruitless. I had had some suggestions but had forgotten their names and was hoping that they would jump out at me, but, today, they did not. Fingers crossed for tomorrow…
After a wander around this district, with it’s pretty little parks offering some peace from the traffic-filled streets, I went back towards the old town. More wandering around these cobbled, higgledy piggledy streets, souvenir shops and tourist trapping restaurants. Then I got a call from Linda, to meet her at central station. I headed there and met up with her and her boyfriend and we hopped on a train to a little town called Jelgava. There we met up with Kristine. The plan was to visit the Ice Sculpture Festival. This is an annual event, apparently run in tandem with a Sand Sculpture Festival in the summer months. Before we got there though we went for a tea and a bit of cake to warm up and give us a bit of energy. The weather in Jelgava was palpably colder than in Riga and it didn’t take long for us all to cool down much too much. We stopped in a little cafe / restaurant called Silva. I had a lovely cup of Green tea with fresh lemon and ginger, not an amazing tea but a great cold weather tea. I also had some kind of layered cake that tasted a little bit like a mild lemon meringue pie. Warmed up once more we headed for the festival ground. In the site are loads of ice sculptures that have been created by many different people from all over the world. There had been a judging contest and the winning one was this huge spire of ice with a figure reclining half way up the spire. It was very impressive, they all were. The time and effort stuff like that must take is unimaginable. It has to be a full time careers for some of these guys who have honed their skills so well. Seahorses, pocket watches, an amazing Chinese New Year Dragon, an Owl, a Dinosaur Skeleton, all things imaginable, and not. Wandering around we took in all we could with the cold biting heavily at our toes, a short but sweet firework display and then we decided to head back towards home. We stopped off in Silva once more to warm up and then made for the train station. We hopped on the train, got back into Riga, and the rest, as they say, is history, or the future…
P.S. You get extra pictures today to make up for the lack of yesterday’s posting…