Macarons and Lightning, very, very frightening (and tasty too!)

Try reading that title to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen….

So, Marta had never had Macarons/Macaroons before, and we came across this little stall in a shopping centre that was selling them, so I decided to get some as a little treat.  Previously she thought they were some sort of wafer with a flavoured centre, but despite my attempts to explain them I couldn’t quite describe them properly.  I guess you really do just need to taste them to find out.  These ones from the company Le Roy & Louis (maybe an attempt at ‘poshing up’ the name Leroy?!?!)  were pretty good, nice amount of crunch on the outside with a good squidgy centre.  The Pistachio and the Chocolate were the best, the other two (Raspberry and Blackcurrant) were also good, but I think the Pistachio and Chocolate are a bit more classic.  We munched them down with gusto when we got home, alongside a nice cup of Sencha Sakura tea.

That night there was the most spectacular thunderstorm, I have literally never seen or heard anything like it before.  The amount of lightning strikes was just amazing, the whole sky was lighting up like a strobe in a smokey nightclub.  It was just amazing.  We went to the top floor of the apartment block, 10 stories up and watched the three storm formations circle around us.  Despite the number (literally hundreds) of strikes it is surprisingly hard to take a photograph of the lightning.  It took me the best part of 700 photos to get just three shots of the lightning, and only one of those was really something special.  They are all below.

Enjoy!

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Day 77 & 78, Warsaw, March 26th & 27th 2012

Tea 78: Turkish Coffee & Green Tea with Mint, Cafe Adi, Warsaw.

So, monday was a bit of a write off, the only reason I left the flat was to go and do a bit of food shopping and come back again.  So, not much to talk about there, and no photos either I’m afraid.

Straight onto Tuesday then, and a bit more eventful.  I started the day with a little trip to Raclawicka again, to show Marta the little second-hand bike shop and to wander around in the sunshine.  It was a beautiful day with loads of sunshine, though a bit windy.  After a while walking around there, into a second hand shop where Marta bought a lovely red hooded coat with black toggles for a bargain price, we started to head towards town.  We popped into a little photo shop to see if they develop medium format film, Marta recently invested in a Holga and has used her first roll of film!  She also got her photo taken for her US Visa application.  The place was tiny and dark and smelt like many decades worth of cigarette smoke had seeped into the walls.  The guy looked like he has propped up the counter for his entire life too.

Back out into the daylight I had a sudden craving for an ice cream, the bright sunlight stirring that primal ice cream eating monster inside us all!  A chocolate Magnum made it into my stomach in double quick time, and we carried on walking.  We walked through Pole Mokotowskie, and then into the city centre, on the hunt for a launderette for Marta’s new coat.  We didn’t manage to find a reasonably priced one before making it to Central Station, where we stood in a queue for ages and I bought a ticket to my next destination, Berlin next monday.

Ticket bought and we intended to get a tram up to the old town and to stop for a coffee in the cafe where I had the great Turkish Coffee, cafe Adi.  All the trams were totally packed though, so after attempting to get onboard 3 we decided we would just make the most of the sunshine and walk.  We did so and made it to the cafe whilst the sun was still streaming through the open window.  It was so warm and lovely in there, and the turkish coffee was really good again.  The place started to suddenly get really really full of well dressed pensioners, who were probably waiting for a show at the theatre across the road.  We had finished our drinks so we decided to leave.

We then continued our walk, it was still sunny and quite warm so we walked up to the huge monument to the Polish Resistance and the funny multicoloured Pegasus’s ( Pegasuses?  Pegasi??  ) that sit outside of the national library and the supreme court.

Then we headed West and ended up on Jana Pawla, where we managed to find a cheap launderette for the coat.  We left it there and carried on our walk, south now and back towards the city centre, we stopped off in a few shops in search of some Ciechan Honey Beer, which seems to be in short supply at the minute.  Unsuccessful we headed back to the Metro at central, at the minute and until the end of April part of the Metro is shut down so you can only get as far as Central from the stations south and only from Ratusz Arsenal north.  You have to get a tram or bus between Central and Ratusz Arsenal at the minute.  But this didn’t really affect us, just meant a slightly longer walk, we bought some chocolate covered raisins to sustain ourselves!

Back home via the Marc Pol store, where we successfully got some honey beer, though not Ciechan, but another brand, we ate some food and drank some beer and then the clock decided it was high time we headed for the sack!


Day 39, Kaunas, February 17th 2012

Tea 39: More Hot Chocolate instead of tea!, Chocolaterie, Kaunas Old Town

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!