Day 54, Radom, March 3rd 2012

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.

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Day 50, Warsaw, February 28th 2012

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

50 days!  A half centrury and what happens….

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

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

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

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


Day 48, Warsaw, February 27th 2012

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!


Day 27, Tartu, February 5th 2012

Tea 27: Grenadine Tea, Cafe Truffe, Tartu

Today was my first official day in Tartu.  After a great breakfast of way too many delicious pancakes with ice-cream, nutella, and homemade apple jam, and a long time trying to prepare my mind to venture out into the cold, my host and I went for it and headed for town.  She lives just a short walk away from the ‘city centre’, or the town square.  The sun was shining down, but I now know to associate this ominously with the cold, as it means a clear sky, and a clear sky in winter means COLD!  Today, initially, felt a bit warmer than yesterday, but after a few minutes walking the inside of my nose began to freeze and I soon came to the conclusion it had all been an illusion.  And, yes, your nose freezing is reasonably painful.  We escaped into a shopping mall, where we both went simply to warm up a little, and also for me to buy myself some more toothpaste.

That task achieved we headed back out.  We walked around, through a little park area, with the most bizarre, and I must say slightly worrying sculpture by artist  Ülo Õuna, called ‘Father and Son’.  It is kind of bizarre, reading more about it reveals its, fairly obvious intentions, but still, it is a little strange.  We continued onwards, past the pretty, pastel coloured buildings, some of which are really old, including the university building, which was built around 1804.  But the university itself was established in 1632, making Tartu University one of the oldest in Northern Europe.  We went up Toome hill, towards the observatory, beneath ‘Angels Bridge’ (Inglisild), and then up and across the bridge, getting some nice views out across the city.  We then circled around the little bit of parkland, outside the old Hospital, past an ancient looking church that is made up of various functioning and ruined parts.  The great exposed red-brick built arches reaching high up over our heads, the sun shining and turning them an even richer shade of red.  We walked back around and down into the centre again and I got a few ideas of little cafes to pop into.  The city is pretty sleepy feeling, whether this is because of the weather, the winter or just because of the fact that today is a Sunday I do not know.  Tomorrow should help me find out.

We then decided it was far too cold again, and headed to Heli’s (my host)  favourite cafe, Cafe Truffe, right on the main square.  This is a nice contemporary cafe, with loads of cushions and a lovely menu, though their cheesey ambient jazz music selection was questionable.  I ordered a lovely sweet and sour Grenadine Tea, lemony, bright pink and a good hit of all things citrus.  Heli went for a Cinnamon Coffee that looked pretty good.  We also both ordered soup, Heli a Creamy Cheese Soup, whilst I had a Vietnamese Style cream soup with mushrooms, shrimp and fish.  It was very tasty, the mushrooms are flavoursome and dense, whilst the spices were perfect, and the first proper bit of spice I have had for a while.  They don’t tend to do spicy in Estonia, or Helsinki really.

After a nice long time chatting and getting fed and warm we left and more or less immediately went into the Tartu Art Museum.  This is in a small building that seems to be contending with the Leaning Tower of Pisa for worlds most falling over building.  The work on show was of good quality, much like the work in KUMU, kind of chronologically, but from the 60’s to 2010.  There is a lot of interesting and rather amusing stuff in there.  It seems as though they must be having a constant battle with the building and gravity, the leaning of the building making some of the works hang one way and on the other side they hang the other.  On the ground floor is a solo retrospective show of work by Enn Tegova, some of the paintings here must have been in storage or the dark for a long time, as the colours are still so rich they could have been painted yesterday.  Some have even been victim to a little bit of warping too, which is kind of a shame, but also quite nice that they are still being shown.  They kind of fit with the involuntary theme of the tilting building.

The sun had begun to set, the nearly full moon was shining brightly in the gently darkening blue sky and we headed home, my nose freezing once more.


Day 24, Tallinn, February 2nd 2012

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

Today had another gloriously sunshiny morning.  But yet again, the coldest day so far, I think -20 was the high today….  I left the apartment around mid-day and made for the old town again.  On my way I wandered around some of the side streets, slightly off of the beaten track and was treated to various sights of old tumble-down, but beautiful wooden and brick buildings, literally next door to huge, modern glass structures, such as the Radisson Blu hotel, and the Sokos.  The business hotels basically.  The sunlight was beautiful in these patches though, glinting off of windows and through the broken windows of the older buildings.  I carried on towards the old town, and stopped off in the little Tammsaare park again.  Today I noticed there were now quite a few ice sculptures that I am fairly sure were not there yesterday, a hedgehog, a wolf, an eagle, a knife and fork…. All sorts of things, glinting away in the low lying sunshine.

A few photographs later, and I was in the old town.  I headed straight for the tea shop I had spied yesterday.  What an amazing little tea shop, loads of excellent quality teas from all over the place.  I stood and chatted to the shop keeper and her sister for ages about tea and traveling and all things inbetween.  They were lovely people, very friendly, warm and inviting, and passionate about tea!  It is really an amazing place, called Chado it is situated on Vana-Viru, a right turn directly after the main entrance bit of the old town.  I chatted for a while and bought a cup of Qi Pao tea to go, as well as a small packet of Ginseng Oolong and a small sample of a mystery Pu Er tea they had gotten hold of, it is twelve years old, and hopefully will be amazing!  I’ve not tasted either of these two yet, but as soon as I do you will be the first to know!  I think I need to save the mystery tea for a proper occasion, with all the gear to get a proper idea of it.  If you are in this part of town, and let’s face it, who doesn’t go to old town Tallinn, make sure to give this shop a look!  There’s also a link to their website at the bottom of this page.

I took my hot cup of Qi Pao into the cold outside and began to drink.  It was really good, smooth and refreshing, with a great tannin level to make it just right in the cold air.  I’ve kept these leaves too for another few brewings.  I wandered around the old cobbled streets a while longer, trying to keep the cold out; the remnants of my tea actually froze in the cup, and the lid also froze to the cardboard!  Eventually the cold started to freeze me again and hunger started to creep in, so I decided to try and find the Krug Inn, a place recommended to me by my host Ingrid.  After a little search I found it hidden on the corner of the town hall building, a white washed building that looks like a church.  Inside is dark and extremely medieval, the only light supplied through the small translucent windows and a few candles dotted about.  The waitress was dressed to the nines in a red medieval frock and a service style to match.  She is funny and brilliant, but in a completely abrupt, some would say rude, manner.  It’s all part of the act though and if you take it in your stride you will only enjoy it!  They serve two things, Elk soup and pies, though various types of pie.  I had a steaming, hot, rich and delicious bowl of Elk soup, with a sweet, tasty carrot pie.  The food is really good, the perfect food for the cold.  If you make it there be prepared to drink from the bowl and mop up with your pie, or make sure you have packed your spoon…

After that I decided that I didn’t want to have too much time out in the freezing cold, so I made for the Museum of Occupation.  This charts basically the last century when the country of Estonia has changed hands basically three times, first the Soviet Occupation came, followed by the Nazi Germany invasion and occupation, followed once more by the Soviets taking Estonia back from the Germans.  The museum is small but has numerous objects from the whole era, as well as a number of documentary videos charting the whole process from initial occupation, through deportations, exploitations, to sovereignty and finally full independence at the fall of the Soviet Union.  If you visit here, which you really should to get a true appreciation of what the estonian people have gone through, then give it time and watch through the various documentaries, it is really enlightening and moving.  And entrance is only 2 Euros, so well worth it!  I then headed home, the snow had started to fall again and it was still bitingly cold.  I read it is only going to get worse in the coming days, and my next stop, Tartu, over the weekend, is even colder…

                       

                        CHADO