Day 58, Krakow, March 7th 2012

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.

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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!


Day 29, Tartu, February 7th 2012

Tea 29: Cactus-Fig Green Tea, a cafe, Tartu.

So, a belated post once more.  Had a night out last night, which seems to be becoming a theme with the day before I leave a place, and  I’m quite enjoying that.

Yesterday I met up with Emily, another couch surfer who is currently taking a similar route to me, though with a one or two day time difference.  I met her first at a meal and couch surfing event in Tallinn, and then said I would give her a little guided tour of Tartu, because, after two days here, I’m pretty much an expert…(of the town centre anyway).  We met in the town square at mid-day then went to Tartu’s main church to have a look around and because Emily had heard there was some music being played there.  It turned out to be a short organ rehearsal / recital.  The church is quite interesting, mostly for it’s sparseness.  It’s gone through a lot in it’s time.  Left to go to rack and ruin, burning down, all the usual.  It has only really recently been restored, and it looks as though they still have work to do.  I think it is the 2000 or so terracotta heads and sculptures that are getting the most attention.  They have all been hand sculpted and fired.  Many of the figures are unknown, and are thought to be representations of the residents of Tartu at the time of the church’s building.

After that we went back to the apartment where Emily dropped her stuff and then we sat for a while to warm up and have a cup of tea.  Then it was back into town.  We went around the newer end of town for a while, visiting various food markets that we had hoped would be vibrant and colourful and exciting, but they are all pretty simple and normal.  Local markets for local people! By the time we had done that it was about 2pm and I was getting hungry, so we went back into the old town and visited a simple, inexpensive cafe for soup, and then tea and some chocolate…. of course.  The tea was another variety of Cactus tea, this time Cactus-Fig Green Tea.  It was nicer than the last Cactus tea I tried, a bit more delicate and smooth.

After a while chatting and sitting about, a bit of people watching too, we went for a walk.  I finally managed to find the sacrificial stone and we wandered mostly around bits I’ve seen in the past few days. One new thing was the Handicrafts guild building, basically a building with studios for glass making, pottery, hat making, dolls.  All sorts of little things.  In the summer time this place is much more vibrant I am told, with street stalls and activities in the pretty courtyard at the rear of the building.  After cooling down considerably yet again, we went to Werner cafe, my second visit.  We sat there for a couple of hours until around 6 when we were meant to meet up with a couple of other people active in the couch surfing community here.  Unfortunately they were both running a little late, so we decided to go BACK to Werner cafe once again and wait for them there, and also to buy some food.  I went for a lovely seafood ristotto, just the right size portion and a good mix of seafoods.  Tasty.  When the two others had arrived we sat a chatted for a while, before moving on to a bar.  I don’t know the name of the place, but it was a shot bar, and we arrived in time for the happy hour, 25% off all shots.  So we got a few different cocktail mixed shots and the night began.  After happy hour was over we moved on to another bar, Möku.  This is the smallest bar in Tartu, down in a small basement space, it had a good atmosphere and some nice beers on sale.  I went for a good Estonian Chocolate Porter.  It was very good, though not to the liking of the others it seemed.  After that we then headed to THE bar in Tartu, according to one of our group.  This seems to be the sort of student bar, with various deals on beers and, usually a pretty buzzing atmosphere.  Unfortunately this was a Tuesday night, in the winter, and still before midnight.  But it was a good laugh none-the-less and we sat over one last beer chatting and laughing until we all decided that it was getting late, more travel for me today, work for one and Uni for the other.  It was a good night though, and good to meet some more new people.