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!

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Day 32 & 33, Pärnu – Riga & Jelgava, February 10th / 11th 2012

Tea 33: Green tea with Ginger and Lemon, Silva, Jelgava.

(Tea 32: Estonian Herbal tea, Liis & Ivo’s Apartment, Pärnu)

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…