Day 57, Krakow, March 6th 2012

Tea 57, Japanese Green Tea, with Cherry, Lemon and Honey, The apartment, Krakow

So, today was my first day in Krakow.  The cold has returned a bit today, which is a shame as I had begun to get used to the warmth again!  Hopefully this little cold snap won’t last too long, though looking at the weather that is happening in what will hopefully be my next stop (the Ukraine), maybe it should stay so I can get used to being cold again.

I woke up, first time, at around 8 today.  The sun was pouring in through the window, the bright blue sky up above giving more illusion of a warm summers day.  One of the people I am staying with (another Marta, not to be confused with Marta from Warsaw) made me a cup of tea, a dose of Chocolate Cake Pu Erh tea.  She then left for university, which resulted in me promptly falling back to sleep and not waking up for another two hours!  So, second attempt at being awake, and this was much more successful.  I topped my tea up with some hot water, luckily I had removed the tea-ball before I had fallen back to sleep so it wasn’t too well steeped.  Then me and my host Malgorzata sat at the table with some breakfast and some more tea, this time a cup of power tea (the one I bought all that time ago in Copenhagen), we sat and chatted about art, art schools (she is studying at the Krakow Academy of Art), art students, painting, Marina Abramovic, Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, Guy Debord.  Loads of stuff.  It was nice to have a good long conversation about these artists and philosophers that I’ve not had much chance to talk about for quite a while.  She seems to be going through a similar time at art school as I did, especially in my third year, the year she is currently in.

A couple of hours later we decided we should probably head out into the town.  Marta had called and asked if we wanted to meet her in a cafeteria that is part of the Music school, so we jumped on the tram and took it to the old town.  We wandered around a little, trying to find the place.  Old Town is one of those ones that is pretty easy to get turned around in and we had gone slightly the wrong way, but a quick phone call later and we were back on track.  We went into the Music school building and took the lift up to the top floor, where the canteen / restaurant is.  This little place has got an amazing view!  Both side of this floor are glass and offer a wonderful panoramic view of the entire city, one downside is that if, like me, you are a non-smoker, then one side is for smokers and the other not, so you only get one choice of city view.  But it is great!  The food is good quality too, like most student places it’s good value and good portion sizes.  I ate Zapiekanka ziemniaczana, a kind of potato based lasagne-style thing.  It was pretty tasty, cheese, potato, some sort of sauce, beetroot, salad.

After that, and by this time it was after 3pm, Malgorzata and I left Marta, who was preparing for a presentation she had to give in English later that day.  On the way out I went to the loo.  This was in the basement of the building, and there were loads of people practicing every kind of orchestral instrument imaginable.  A trombone, tuba, violins.  Then, walking into the actual toilet I was greeted by a lad practicing his clarinet, he was all set up with stool and music stand and everything and seemed very content there!  Rather surreal if you ask me!

We left the building then went separate ways, I was on the hunt for the tourist information, to raid their free maps and info.  Walking in the sunshine was lovely, the rays soaking into my skin making me feel nicely content.

Map found and I went for a little aimless wander around the city, a little while spent in the old town.  The obstacle-course of tourists leading me to the decision to head outside of the city walls (!) and explore the less touristy bits of the city.  My first impressions of Krakow are that it is a very different place to Warsaw.  I think this may be due to the huge focus on the old town that there is in Krakow, it is the heart of the city.  In Warsaw it is more of a part of the city than THE city.

I left the old town out of the western side and walked down a little street that could have been Karmelicka street.  A mixture of buildings, old and older, all with various bits of facia and / or concrete falling or chipped off of them.  I kept on walking around, heading north and then east.  I ended up in a little market area, fruit, cakes, bread spread across tables, people with brilliant faces and great characters.  They were beginning to shut down their stalls, and pack up there things, so this was only a short visit, I will try to have another look around on another day.

I then made it onto Plac Matejki, a large monument to Grunwaldi dominates the street.  I turned right back towards the old town.  I wandered through the park area that surrounds the town wall, soaking up the last few rays of sunshine as the sun began to fall below the level of the buildings.  Then I followed the wall east, popped into the Galeria Krakowska to go to the supermarket, came out and did another little loop around a few of the narrow streets.  Then back to the town wall and I followed this around and then began to follow the tram lines until I made it to the river, the sun was totally down now and it was getting dark and cold, but I stayed for a while a took some photos of the river and the helium balloon that goes up and down all day long, giving views of the city.  Then I got the tram for about 3 stops and came back to the flat.

I sat for a while, catching up with all the belated postings I owe you all, then Malgorzata and Marta came home.  Malgorzata made me a lovely cup of Green Tea with cherry (my bag from Warsaw) with added lemon and honey to try to fight off my cold and slightly sore throat.  Then Marta made a great hot chocolate for herself and Malgorzata, and which I tried a very small cup of, despite the risk of congestion I couldn’t really resist!


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 45, Warsaw, February 24th 2012

Tea 45: Pu Erh Chocolate Cake, Marta’s Apartment, Warsaw.

First things first, but it seems I have forgotten how to count and have managed to add a day onto my travels as if by magic, so the last three posts have been updated with the correct travel day.

So, Pu Erh Chocolate Cake tea.  This tea is very unusual, as if you probably couldn’t guess that anyway.  Pu Erh tea, for those of you who do not know, is a partially fermented tea, and with a very unusual flavour, rather aquired I would say, but once you are into it I’m sure you will enjoy it’s complexity.  This one is reasonably smooth for a Pu Erh, not too much bitterness or dustiness.  The chocolate element is very interesting, similar to the chocolate tea I had in Helsinki.  The tea itself is very dark and thick, like the colour of black treacle.  It is intriguing and I can’t make up my mind about it, I feel I need to experiment with it some more, maybe with sweetness and with different steepings.

Today I didn’t go into the city centre until the late afternoon, the morning was spent catching up with life, finishing off some bits and bobs for an artist residency program myself and another are running in the summer, which will actually be in Poland, albeit a completely different part of the country to where I am now, and the two do definitely feel a world apart! And resting my oh so tired legs from the previous days marathon walk…!

Eventually making it out of the house I was walking towards the Metro station thinking to myself, ‘the pavement is very wet’.  Puddles everywhere!  But then I realised that all the snow had melted!  The grass was back, albeit very muddy, but it was grass, which it feels as though I haven’t seen in over a month!  I made it to the Metro, bought a 20minute ticket and was about to validate it through the barrier when I noticed that there were trains sitting at both platforms, and neither were moving… I waited a few more seconds to see if their doors would slide shut but they didn’t and then an announcement came over the tanoy, which I can only presume said the Metro was not operational, as everyone began to leave the station.  I left and found the Bus stop, as did basically everyone who had been in the metro station.  Eventually the bus arrived, already loaded with people our stop must have basically trebled the number of people.  Sardines in a can is not an appropriate metaphor, but it’s the best there is!  The next problem… the bus follows the same route as the Metro, meaning it stopped at all the metro stops into town.  And being as the entire Metro was down, every stop had a massive crowd waiting for a bus, many of which still thought it possible to get themselves onto the bus… click HERE for a scene that is very similar…

Eventually we got into town, me with my arms directly over my head for the entire journey until Warszawa Centralny, where everyone got off except for about 5 people!  I stayed on until Zacheta, where I was meant to meet Marta.  We were intending to visit the Zachęta Narodowa Galeria Sztuki, or contemporary art gallery.  Unfortunately though this was shut today because they are currently installing a new show.  So, I took out the map and found some other places nearby that we could go to.  We first tried to find a little place called Galeria Kolonie, but we failed at this task, I think it might be in an office building, but we couldn’t seem to find it unfortunately.  Then we stopped off at a little place that sells traditional Polish doughnuts, this is a little window out onto the street.  A lady stands and serves you, whilst in the background the kitchen is a hive of doughnut baking activity.  I chose a chocolate and cherry one as well as a more traditional Rose Marmalade one.  They were warm, sweet and utterly delicious!  I scoffed them down much too fast, but they were SO good!  We then decided to look for another gallery space, this time on the opposite side of the Palace of Science and Culture.

We wandered through the neon and traffic light filled streets to the Palace which was lit up in the darkening sky.  Wandering around looking at the sculpture that adorn it’s walls, there is a little ice rink set up on one side for those of you who enjoy a little bit of skating.  The building is all divided into different sides, youth centres, sporty bits, cultural parts and of course science.  On the other side of the building we crossed a Zebra-Crossing designed to look like the keys on a piano and then turned left down a little street with a large neon announcing ‘MUZEUM’.  This is the Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej w Warszawie, sort of.  The museum doesn’t actually exist yet.  It is currently in construction phase, and is planned to be opened in 2014.  This space is a temporary space for small shows and examples of the work they hold.  And currently they are actually running a KINOMUZEUM, a free cinema showcasing many new films.  They opened with the premiere of Steve McQueen‘s Shame, we managed to see a new film by Miranda July called The Future.  I’m not a big one for reviewing films, but needless to say we were both glad we had stuck around.  I can’t totally make my mind up about how I feel about the characters, at some times they were infuriating, whilst at others very sweet.  If you like Miranda July films definitely see it, it also reminded me a bit of The Science of Sleep, a film I love, so if you like that then you should see this too (though it’s not so good).  Anyway, I suppose that was a bit of a review.

The film finished and we headed back out into the night, the air had turned a bit chilly and a slightly icy wind was billowing up the gaps between the skyscrapers.  We got a tram that took us directly home, cooked some tasty food for our now angrily rumbling tums and eventually went to sleep.


Day 44, Warsaw, February 22nd 2012

Tea 44: Dark Hot Chocolate, Wedel Cafe, Warsaw.

Ok, Ok!  Sorry, but Hot Chocolate over takes tea today, even though I promised you all a review of the Pu Erh Chocolate Cake tea.  Apologies… Not really, never apologise about hot chocolate!

Today was a huge day of walking, I’ve no idea of how far I walked, but it was FAR!  I left the flat, which is in the south of the city and wanted to head to this graveyard I had read about, and Evangelical place, in the North West of the city.  This walk took me about an hour or so I think.  Walking along the wide Woloska Street.  Glass fronted buildings mixed in with unfinished constructions, mechanics, petrol stations.  Trams buzzing up and down and cars hurtling past, the gentle rain fall melting the piles of snow into huge puddles, forcing you to walk in a zigzag up the street.  I eventually reached a little park ‘Pole Mokotowskie‘, wandered around the icy patches and the puddles, a few people were walking their dogs, some taking their lives in their hands cycling over the ice.  I walked through and found myself by a huge main road.  Cars rushing past and the spray from the rain and melting snow going everywhere.  I crossed the road and went through a little area of houses and woodland, a bit like some bits of Brighton in some way.  The area is called Filtry and seems quite pretty and a bit artsy in places.  finding my way through the small streets I got back onto another main road, Towarowa, this was a long long road, with loads of traffic and more mixed up buildings of various ages and uses.  The low clouds obscuring the tops of various sky scrapers that dominate the sky line, the hazy rain fall softening the traffic noise and making everything seem grey and dark.

Eventually I made it to the graveyard.  Although the first few gates I tried were locked, I almost gave up, thinking I had wasted my time walking all that way, but then I found the proper main entrance.  The graves and tombs in this place are really crazy, so many of them squeezed into such a small place, but so many of them being huge structures.  The amount of money and design that must have been poured into these things is totally unimaginable, it made me think that maybe whoever got buried there must of just left their fortune to their own grave!  One tomb, which was just for one person, not even a family tomb like many, could have easily house a family of four!  There is a great mixture though, some being very dour and sad with skulls and crossbones or weeping angels, others more unique and celebratory, a stone carved loosely into the image of a man and woman kissing, a great blue wave and a simple dry stone cave.  I wandered for another 45 minutes or so; weaving in and out of the graves, gawking at the sheer expenditure in the place, something I find pretty incomprehensible: except the case for the potential of it all being the dead party’s last laugh.

Walking back East towards the town centre, along Zyntia and Nowolipie, then South onto Al. Jana Pawła II, I found a largish food market called Hala Mirowska.  Fruit, veg, chicken, sausage, cake, all you could ever really want I suppose, if you looked hard enough.  There were some great characters in there, dour faced women hunched over cauliflowers, merry butchers whistling and having a little dance whilst wielding their hatchet over chunks of meat.

Back onto Al. Jana Pawła II and I came across a small gallery called Galleria XX1.  It was nice to be a little independent art space again, it feels like a while since I have seen something fresh and new.  The show has various red and black constructions floating about in the space, one wall is covered by a huge black and white print of an old fighter plane wing, with more of the strange objects superimposed onto the image.  There is another small space in the back of the gallery, which had an object installation, tall, human-scale grey structures.  Looking something like a small, metallic henge.  I couldn’t really figure out what they were made of, but metal and construction foam seemed to be involved.  Back out onto the street again I decided I wanted to warm up a bit with a drink.  So I headed to the Wedel cafe in the dreaded shopping centre.  One more thing to add to the good reasons for their existence, the other being free use of the toilets…

I ordered the dark hot chocolate, Gorzka (meaning exactly that).  The chocolate was rich and bitter, really great.  You have to drink it using the little spoon provided unless you want to get you face covered in rapidly solidifying chocolate… It was pretty good, not too cheap, but worth it!  Warmed up and a small chocolate high beginning in my cheeks I wandered around a little more.  Then I walked back to Mokotowska, the area Marta works and met her after she had finished work.

We went for some food in a ‘Milk bar’, the place most Polish will go to eat, traditionally frequented by the poor or homeless these places are dotted throughout the city and are going through something of a renaissance.  Called Bambino Bar, on Krucza Street, the food is good value, satisfying and traditional.  We ordered from a little man behind a screen who handed us our receipt which we then handed to a woman through a kitchen hatch, who takes it and a little while later passes our food to us through the same hatch.  We sat with our food and ate it up.  I had barley ‘grits’, what the British would call ‘Pearls’ (to make it sound more appetizing and to charge more for it probably), a piece of broccoli (basically half of one ‘bulb[?]’), and some Pierogi Ruski (the Russian variety stuffed with cottage cheese and potato).  These pierogi were MUCH better than the ones we had from the little touristy place in the old town.  I would recommend going to a Milk Bar over that place any day.

We left the bar and then got on a old tram from the 60’s back home.  But first via the post office, Marta had finally tracked down her parcel, which turns out to be a Holga Camera, she is very excited about getting it up and running, but first she needs to get batteries for the flash to work!  We were going to go back into town to see the city in the darkness, but I’ve totally tired myself out!


Day 38, Kaunas, February 16th 2012

Tea 38:  Green Mint tea, Lina’s Apartment, Kaunas

My hosts have made me so welcome it’s really great. Lina and her husband Anglis (this is probably spelt awfully wrong, but will check tomorrow…) made me a great breakfast of traditional porridge like stuff, but this one was made with barley grits, there was also bread and cheese and yoghurt.  Lovely.  We then headed out into the town centre.  Today, luckily enough, is one of Lithuania‘s Independence Days.  This one commemorates the first independence of 1918.  There was a parade with flag-bearers and little brass bands, and then a in the centre of town there was a big stage set up with traditional songs being sung, the national anthem, flags everywhere and people dressed in military uniform or traditional Lithuanian dress.  Some of the material pattern of the skirts is quite similar in design to that of the Scottish Tartans, and this Scottish link seemed to be a theme of the day today.  Anglis is currently thinking about applying to study a Masters at Glasgow School of Art, where I studied.  People were often buried in mounds much like the Scottish ones, and even sometimes with cairns or structures built on top.  There is a type of Bull, now extinct that makes up part of the Kaunas Flag, which, it would seem may be similar to the Highland Cattle in some ways, though this is just a presumption.  Even tonight we ended up playing cards with some pack advertising a Scottish Whisky!

Anyway, during the events of the morning we popped into the war museum, which although free today, is mostly shut as they are currently renovating / restoring many of the exhibits, it won’t be fully open again until the summer.  We then went towards the Kaunas Picture Gallery, which houses various works, but what I am most interested in seeing is the Jurgis Mačiūnas FLUXUS cabinet.  Alas this was also shut until the afternoon, partly due to the festivities, but also because today the award for artist of 2011 was being presented.  I will try to go back tomorrow and check it out properly.

A few days ago it was Lina’s Birthday and so today many of her family were coming to celebrate and get together over food and drink.  We popped into the supermarket, bought some stuff then headed back to the flat to prepare some food.  I made sandwiches, nice and traditional Salmon and Cucumber triangle classics!  whilst they others tidied the flat up for the arrival of the parents.  They all soon started to arrive and we began to gather around the table, a buffet style spread was set up and everyone helped themselves.  The atmosphere was lovely, the sun was shining through the beautiful wide SW facing windows and everyone was having lots of laughs.  We ate, and drank for, basically, hours!  We then started to play a board game called DIXIT.  For her birthday Lina’s mum had made her the game, which looked to have taken a lot of work as there are many cards involved and lots of little elements.  I won’t try to explain the game as it will probably take ages and not make any sense, but it was good fun, and I think my team came second out of six, so not a bad result!  We then had some tea and coffee, Anglis’s Dad had brought some of his home mixed tea, a good home grown mint, mixed with a little Green tea. It was lovely, delicate mint flavour, and the perfect after dinner drink, especially with the extreme gluttony that had just taken place!

By around 7 or 8 people started to leave.  We tidied up a bit then headed to a bar called Kultura, part of the same gallery I mentioned before, and therefore somewhat obviously or maybe ironically named!  We sat over a beer for a while, listening to an ‘interesting’ choice of music selected by the DJ, and apparantly one of the best Architects in Kaunas / Lithuania.  Though apparently traditional, yet modern songs, the choices were not quite right for the bar, with lots of very mellow, not depressing, but relaxing tracks.  But we kind of wanted to dance a little, even if just on our seats.  We spent a while there, I drank a nice, unfiltered Vilnius Beer, which was golden, slightly cloudy and smelt strongly of honey.  Very tasty!  We came home and relaxed for a while, a couple of games of cards, and now I’m in bed…


Day 35, Riga, February 13th 2012

Tea 35:  Green Tea, Black Magic Cafe, Riga.

Today was a bit of a grey day, in many senses.  The clouds were low and heavily laden, though not snowing.  I didn’t leave the flat until later today, around lunch time.  Instead of going directly into town I decided to head south to the river.  I found my way there, walking past old wooden buildings, barely habitable in some cases, but definitely still in use.  The little park I found, called Maskavas darzs, was simple and peaceful, old women walking in twos slowly supporting each other across the the snow and ice covered paths, people walking their dogs, a few children playing.  The usual park type stuff.  I made it to the riverside, the huge Riga Radio and TV Tower looming up in front of me from across the river.  This is apparently the second tallest structure in the EU and the tallest in the Baltic Countries, though I don’t know whether this wikipedia entry is in time with The Shard, so it could be the third…  It is sort of peachy pink in colour and is like the old images of radio towers beaming out signals you got in the 60’s and 70’s.  It started broadcasting in 1986, so it must have beamed out some very interesting stuff in it’s early life, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Latvian occupation.

I wandered along the riverside / motorway towards the town centre, passing car showrooms, shopping centres, and eventually into town by the Academy of Sciences Building, or as it apparently nicknamed ‘Stalin‘s Birthday Cake’, potentially in reference to it being built on a cemetery.  The building is pretty impressive, but for some reason I haven’t taken a photograph of it yet…

I carried on along the riverside, past more industrial feeling areas, decaying buildings and car mechanics until I made it up to Riga Castle, the original castle of the old town, and now the President’s workplace.  I went back into the old town, more aimless wandering.  The weather, though grey, was much warmer today and so wandering was much more comfortable.  My head was full of thoughts today, so I couldn’t seem to concentrate so much on the touristy things, preferring instead to lose myself in my own brain, thinking about teas, the next few bits of travel, consideration for how and where I go.

After a while I spotted this little cafe that seemed promising from the outside.  It’s window display drawing me in.  This is the Black Magic Cafe / Bar.  I entered and three ladies in traditional dress were at the counter.  It was a bit of a surprise, from the outside this little place looks just like a small independent place, but it turns out it is the centre for the ‘Black Magic Balsam’.  A traditional Latvian liquor.  I should have realised what I was walking into, after all the shop is named after the stuff, but I’d walked in semi-blindly, still lost in my thoughts.  I ordered a pot of Green Tea and a ‘chocolate cupcake’.  What I got was a pot of simple, loose leaf Green Tea, nothing special, a nice enough flavour with the sort of seaweedyness that I enjoy.  A little disappointing.  But if the Green Tea was a little disappointing then the Chocolate Cupcake was definitely a complete anticlimax.  What I got was, to be blunt, not a ‘cupcake’, as can be seen in the picture above, I got some ‘cake’.  And the chocolate part of the chocolate cupcake was basically just the occasional chocolate chip.  Needless to say that the cake was not what it was billed to be, so much so that I even asked the waitress whether it was the right cake at all; her reply was short and blunt telling me that yes, that was the ‘cupcake’.  She had been abrupt when I first entered the cafe, but seeing as she was dressed up in ‘traditional’ costume I thought that it was going to be the same idea as in the Krug Inn in Estonia, a medieval sharp and blunt act, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case.  Maybe it was just my mood…

I do not know what it is about Riga, but I just can’t get into the place.  It just doesn’t feel like my sort of place.  I have been trying to like Riga, but I came to the conclusion today that if you have to try to like a place you are probably never going to like it.  I’m sorry Riga, it’s nothing personal, I just don’t think you are the place for me.  Maybe you can prove me wrong on my last day… it is Valentine’s Day after all…


Tea 34, Riga, February 12th 2012

Tea 34:  Milk Oolong, Aspara Tea House, Riga

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.