Day 87 – 89, Berlin, April 5th -7th 2012

Tea 88, Fresh Mint Tea, Ankerklause, Berlin

Day 87, Thursday.  Today I spent the day wandering around for ages, Abigail had gone to her studio so I decided to explore the city centre.  It was one of those days of loads of inadvertent walking.  I walked back to Alexanderplatz in an, ultimately futile, attempt to find a tourist information, god knows where it is!  I should probably check the internet, but I keep on forgetting before it’s too late.  I did by a little notebook with a map in it though, so that is helpful to me.  It also makes checking maps in a more incognito fashion easier!  From Alexanderplatz I walked West and past a large area of museums and tourists.  I eventually, accidentally, made it to Checkpoint Charlie, the place was heaving with tourists carrying cameras and beggars carrying cardboard begging scripts.  I didn’t really hang around here for any time at all, the crowds of people putting me off.  There are two men standing in American Army uniform pretending to guard the checkpoint, which was one of the most tense and symbolic border crossings between East and West.

I escaped up a quieter street, which was a bit of a relief, walking past a car museum / rental place called Trabi world, the Trabi (or Trabant) was the most common car driven and produced in Eastern Germany.  This little place is filled with cars that you can hire and drive around the city.  Very old school…

A bit more of a wander, I thought I was on my way towards the Brandenberger Tor, although I never actually made it in the end, I think I did manage to walk all the way around it though!  Much more walking around in a large loop around the city before I made it back home.

That evening Sergej and I went out for some more drinks, where some of his workmates and an old friend were hanging out.  The place was so so smokey!  By the time we got home I totally stank and had to have a cold shower to get the stench of smoke out of my hair and skin.  It still surprises me that most places allow smoking anywhere in Berlin.  And it is kind of weird to see advertising for cigarettes, especially that still promote them in a life giving kind of way!

Day 88, Friday.  Today was a slow morning, Abigail and Sergej have gone away for the weekend, sort of for her birthday, which is next week.  Eventually I got up and started some work on my website, which is part of the reason for these belated, bunched up posts.  All the shops were closed today, it was Good Friday, though not the cafes and restaurants.  I met up with one of Abigail’s friends, Ulijona, and we went for a cup of tea at a cafe called Ankerklause.  This place is quite popular, and I am told, a good place for celebrity spotting (it’s apparently one of Quentin Tarantino‘s favourite places). The sun was mostly out, so we sat outside and I had a nice Fresh Mint tea and we chatted for a while about clubbing, Berlin, art, etc.  Then we both decided that we were hungry so Ulijona took me to the place she considered to have the best Falafel (I imagine there is a lot of opinions for a lot of different places!)  But it was good, I had Falafel with Halloumi and it was pretty good, and possibly better than the first place I went to, though mostly because the Halloumi had been cooked properly here.  After that Ulijona went home and I walked around trying to soak up as much sunshine as possible, though it was a little cold in the wind.  I got home and did a bit more work on my website and some more pondering about the future, which seems to be dominating a lot of my thoughts right now.

Day 89, Saturday.  So, finally!  A post that happens on the day it happened!  Today I woke up and had breakfast and then left fairly quickly, compared to usual.  However, as I got to the door and opened it, I was greeted by sleety, snowy freezing rainfall.  I decided to leave anyway, although changed my original plan (which was a walk through the Tiergarten!) and went back towards town and browsed in bookshops and found the Lomography shop which I had a little look around (Marta’s experience with the Holga has still inspired me to look for something of my own to use)  I basically did a big loop and wandered around some of the smaller streets, filled with high class galleries, and expensive shops.  Then I got back home, via the Chinese market where I bought some rice crackers and a can of Aloe Vera juice.  I sat and rested my legs for a while.  Then the sun peeped it’s head out so I went out again to try to catch it, I wandered around the remnants of a little market next to the cafe I visited yesterday, most of it had been packed away, but there were still a few stalls left.  I walked some more whilst the sun stayed up and then came back home, via the supermarket where I treated myself to some over priced Peanut butter, it was far too expensive, but I have been craving it for long enough to make it seem worth it!

Time for more work on the website.

Also, don’t forget to check out the Kickstarter Campaign, if you don’t mind.

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Day 55, Radom, March 4th 2012

Tea 55, Green tea, mystery mix, Radom.

Today was Marta’s Mum’s birthday, when we woke up she had already made another spectacular breakfast spread with all things you could think of, cheese, bread, tomato, cucumber, salad.  Loads and loads of stuff, and I was still pretty full from the indulgences on the previous day.  We sat and ate and chatted and watched the TV, which was dominated by the tragic and awful news of the train crash that has happened on the line between Warsaw and Krakow.

After a while of this we decided to head out, Marta, her mum and I, to this park area which is also home to a few galleries and loads of sculptures.  It is around 10km from Radom, and in which direction I am not too sure.  We also took the dog with us, fully intending to take her for a walk around the park too.  We arrived at this little place, which is dotted with buildings, looking a bit like a farm in lots of ways.  Everyone out of the car, including the dog and Marta and I went into the first building, a modern built gallery, to buy some tickets.  Luckily our tickets gave us access to more than one building because this first show was a bit of a disappointment.  The space is pretty interesting but it had been totally rammed with sculptural works by this one guy, which were, basically, terrible.  They looked like they were built in the 60’s, and this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if they had been.  But they were all pretty much brand new, gaudy, Francis Bacon-esque structures of painted driftwood and plaster.  It was a shame, and if there had of been even a TINY bit of critical choice in what was presented it would have been a hundred times better.  But it was just like the guy wanted to show and tell EVERYTHING!  And I know I myself am a minimalist, so usually something is always too much that nothing, but this was just stupid!

Ehem, so… moving on… We went back out into the park, Marta’s Mum had joined us half way through our tour around this first space and then we all walked to the next space, on a little tour with a lady in a brown hat who seemed pretty passionate about lots of the elements.  She explained a few of the things we could see as we walked along, and then we arrived at an old chapel, the all seeing eye staring down at us from on high.  We went inside and found an installation created by a guy and called (in Polish) Harvest.  This was a collection of ceramic figurines, made by the artist, who were, basically, Chavs / Neds / Delinquents whichever phrase you choose.  Then Marta explained to me that in Polish the word for harvest is very similar to that for something like a self destructive society.  The piece was a play on words.  This work had a lot of humour and enjoyment in it’s rather bleak subject matter, on figurine is peeing in a corner under the old alter, one is texting on a mobiule phone, others drinking in little huts and some fighting.

A little while spent in this space we left again, the lady in the hat locking the door with a huge key, had to be almost a foot long, and we continued onto another space.  This one used to be an greenhouse and so is open and full of light.  The work presented here was more interesting modern sculpture, of simply a toilet and a cement mixer.  They had, however, been covered in little squares of mirror, like on a disco-ball.  The toilet span around on its low plinth and the cement mixer was fully working, though only for a short period of time when the lady in the hat switched it on and then off again, suggesting that it may not be the most secure of creations. There were also some photos of the artist’s other creations, including a drain cover, a wheelie bin, and an original Volkwagen Beetle!  The photos were documents of when the artist puts them into real life situations and illuminates them, generally at night.

That space over we went back out into the park and headed for the main house.  This has been kept in its original condition, with its classical furniture, paintings and it’s egg cooker… so is more of a historical document than gallery space.  But it is an interesting little place with some very nice artworks and some intriguing gadgets!

Back in the car, we let the dog out for another, brief walk (she looked a little perplexed to being told to get back in the car after such a brief exit).  We then headed back towards town, Marta’s Mum dropped us off in town and we had a short walk in the sun and then went into a café/restaurant that used to be Marta’s favourite when she was younger.  We ordered a couple of juices (I decided I needed the vitamin C, I think I am getting a cold!), and a pizza to share.  It was a very good one with olives and capers and anchovies.  However it turned out to be a bit of a mistake, because on our return home it turned out Marta’s Mum had been busy in the kitchen yet again and there was another HUGE spread on the table.  Soup, potatoes, chicken, leftover goulash, more salad, and then when that had been gone over by us all there were cakes brought out!  This weekend I have been well and truly stuffed and feel like I won’t eat for a week!

After another few hours spent eating (again), it was time to head back to Warsaw with Marta’s brother.  The Clio’s heating system had been fixed so we didn’t have to drive with condensation all over the windows, but the seatbelts were still useless.  We made it back to Warsaw safely though.  Tomorrow (today) I leave for Krakow, I’m excited to be travelling again, but sad to leave Warsaw as I still think there is so much I haven’t seen!


Day 51, Warsaw, February 29th 2012

Tea 51:  Green Sencha with Prickly Pear, Orange Peel & Lemongrass, Ogrody, Old Town Warsaw

What a difference a day makes!  Today was the most gloriously sunny and beautiful day, all of yesterday’s snow had melted away and it was genuinely warm!  Today was a day filled with cafes.

The day started with a little trip around town with Ania, for her to do some errands and things like that.  We went into the old town, where Ania needed to do some photocopying for her teaching job.  whist she did that I explored the little cobbled streets and old buildings and this pretty park with the sun shining down, the back of a grand looking church towering over from the top of the hill.  After about 20minutes Ania returned and we decided to go to this cafe called Ogrody, meaning garden in Polish apparently.  The cafe is clean and modern with a nice chilled out atmosphere, in the summer time they apparently have tables and chairs out on the little square on which the cafe sits.  I had a really tasty salad and a pot of Green Sencha tea with Prickly Pear and Orange Peel and Lemongrass.  It was very good, fresh leaves in the pot smelt sweet and fruity whilst the tea itself was delicate and smooth.  After a while sitting there enjoying the sunshine we headed back into the old town, then Ania decided we should go back into the city centre to find another place that she enjoys.

We took a bus and then waited for a tram from Centrum which took us to the pretty little roundabout with the white church.  There we found another cafe that Ania really likes.  Called Charlotte it is another fairly modern place, full of young professionals and mothers-to-be.  The staff are all about 12 years old with surfer-waxed hair or bohemian looks in their eyes.  The place is very nice though, the bread is all baked fresh, you can see the bakers working away behind the counter, flour filling the air, sun rays pouring through it from the huge windows.  We sat in one of the windows, on some bar stools and watched as traffic and people milled about outside, people sitting on the terrace in the sunshine with their coffee and cigarettes.  The cafe has all of those classic cafe sounds, spoons clinking the edge of the cups as the sugar is poured in, people chatting and laughing, tearing their bread or crunching their croissant.  The sun was warm on our faces, the disbelief at the gloriousness of the day compared to yesterday still the main topic of conversation.  We sat there for a while, also stirring our coffee or crunching our croissant.  I took some photos of people through the window, of the zebra-crossing which was empty one second and the next being jam packed with people trying to cross the road.

After a while Ania had to head home so I took her to the tram stop and saw her off, then I went to wander around in the sunshine before I met up with Marta.  It is mad how much more stuff you notice when you aren’t hunched over yourself trying to keep warm.  A straight back means you can look up at all the amazing sculptures that sit atop of all the buildings, staring down at all of the people below.  I literally just walked up and down the streets, enjoying the sunshine and noticing things that I hadn’t before.  Then it was time to go and meet Marta, she resigned from her job today so wanted to go for a drink after work.

We met at her office and then walked into the centre, taking an elongated route, along Kruzca for a bit, then down onto Mokotowska and along for a while, staring in shop windows and some beautiful entrance halls to tenement apartments.  We then got onto Nowy Swiat, walked along a bit and turned off, behind the street is a little area of bars and a few boutique shops.  Mostly bars though, all decorated in different styles but more or less doing the same thing.  We picked one filled with a mix-match of old furniture and dark decor.  We ordered a pitcher of beer for a bargain happy-hour price of 15Zloty, about £3!  We sat, drank, chatted for a couple of hours or so and then we left, walked along past the Sheraton Hotel, Parliament buildings, the embassy buildings, and that area of town then I dropped Marta off at her friends apartment, where she was heading for more drinks, and I took the tram home, ate a good helping of the leftovers from yesterdays soup and some Pierogi, then sat for a while doing worky things and went to bed!


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.