Two Trees

The sun is out constantly, the air is hot and humid.  Sometimes I struggle to believe I’m still in Northern Europe, this weather is a far cry from what I was so used to in Scotland.  Thunderstorms roll in most nights, which aren’t usually that unwelcome, as they clear and refresh the muggy air.  32-34’C average the last few days, BRILLIANT!

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Day 79 – 81, Warsaw, March 28th – 30th 2012

Tea 80, Loads of Yunnan Green Superior for study support!, the apartment, Warsaw

Tea 81, Sencha Sakura, the magic teapot (above), Warsaw

Day 79, well, what happened on this day?  I guess not a great deal, we did go and pick Marta’s coat up from the dry cleaners and then wandered around in the sunshine, it was a little windy today so much of our time was spent trying to avoid the wind tunnels between buildings.  We wandered around Jana Pawla for a while visiting the places we didn’t manage to go to the night before, the little tea shop, which is a bit expensive, then into the XX1 gallery to see the show that is on at the minute, although I think it might be shut now.  ‘Transfusion’ by Pavel Novak, apparently the Polish version of a super common name such as my own!  He had presented a few paintings alongside a sculptural glass installation of clear glass heart casts.  The work looked good in the space, especially with the sun beating through the window, glistening from and through the glass casts.  They weren’t exactly presented perfectly in the space though, somewhat ‘plonked’ on the end of white poles.  The press release seemed to say they should appear to be floating at heart level, but they weren’t floating.

Day 80, Thursday, we didn’t really leave until late, later than we had intended really.  Marta was studying for a job interview most of the day, I did pop to Galleria Mokotow for a short while to buy some eye moisturizer stuff from the pharmacy, as I had managed to lose my other one somewhere between Torun and Warsaw.  When we did eventually leave we headed straight to central and to a photo development shop where we dropped off Marta’s first ever medium format Holga film!  That was very exciting, and they had it ready in an hour, which amazed me, stuff like that in the UK usually takes about 2 weeks!  While we waited we went back to Zacheta, to see the newly installed sculptural installation show called ‘New Sculpture?’.  The show is good, I’m glad I got to see the other spaces in this gallery.  There were various large scale works by a number of artists including Martin Boyce (giving me a sentimental thought of Glasgow) and  Mai-Thu Perret, as well as others.  We wandered around in there for a while, attracting various suspicious glances from the guards.  The security guards in Poland are pretty hardcore, even more so in the health and beauty stores, Rossman’s is the worst, they may as well handcuff you as you walk through the door, and don’t even think about going in for a simple browse, not unless you are a massive fan of the serial voyeur!

Show seen we headed back outside, then had a whistlestop run around the old town to try to find a shop we had been to before that sells a great almond cake, we found the shop but sadly no almond cake!  Then we had to rush back to the photo shop to collect the film, but not without a quick diversion to the donut place on Chmielna to fulfill our sweet cravings.  We were both quite excited about the Holga results.  We really didn’t know what to expect, especially as the film that Marta had bought was such a cheap one that we didn’t even know if we had put it in around the right way to begin with!  But we were not disappointed!  The results were very pleasing, though we both realised that we had been a bit foolish, Marta had been using the different colours of the flash when she had taken the photos.  But it turned out we had both totally forgotten the film was black and white!  Needless to say coloured flashes are utterly pointless in this case!  Two of the photos are below, so I must credit Marta for them!

Day 81, the last day of employment for Marta!  And also a job interview for her too!  She had headed for this very early in the morning, I just about remembered to wake up and wish her good luck, before crashing back into sleep again.  When I eventually awoke I spent some time on the computer before deciding to head into town.  This was made a little difficult, I had been locked in!  Marta had accidentally taken the keys with her to work.  I sent her a message asking where they were, she looked in her bag and there they were.  Luckily she managed to get permission from her work to come back and free me.  Once that fiasco was sorted I went into town and walked around the shops for a while.  The biggest thing on my mind was (and is) a hunt for this camera, a DIY lomo (yes, Marta’s Holga experience has inspired me).  But this is a little different, one you build yourself from total scratch and that uses standard 35mm film.  It’s called a DIY Recesky Twin Lens Reflex (or TLR), and looks like it could be good fun.  I spent a lot of time searching around in the camera and gadget and toy shops, but to no avail.  I think I am going to have to buy it online when I am in Berlin, the problem is the delivery times, but I will still keep looking for the next few days I think.

After the fruitless search I went and met Marta outside her work.  She arrived carrying a load of stuff including some leftover cake from her goodbye cake collection and a goodbye present she had been bought, the fantastic teapot you can see above.  The cups are double-walled to keep the tea warm for longer!  A really great present, in my opinion!  We christened it with some Sencha Sakura, a floral, delicately flavoured tea (she had been bought this as well as some Chinese Sencha and two flower teas).  The tea was good, delicate and green, a very good sencha, and the flavoured aspect was very well balanced and didn’t take away from the tea too much!


Day 61, Krakow, March 10th 2012

Tea 61, 20 Year old Pu Erh, Herbaciarnia, Krakow

So, the 10th.  What I did on this day may come as a surprise to many of you, but I actually decided to return to Warsaw.  I have decided that I will attempt to stay in Warsaw for a little while. My next intended stop is the Ukraine, and after a bit of deliberation I decided the weather was still too cold there for me, and that I still wasn’t done with Warsaw, so I decided to come back, sit out the cold weather a while longer and get to know Warsaw a bit more.  This all hinges on finding somewhere cheap and easy to stay at for a month or so, but will probably be the case.

The morning was spent getting my stuff together, and then I went with Marta (Malgorzata’s flatmate, not Warsaw Marta), to the art school to have a look around the studios and see what their system is like (not the sort of system I agree with at all), and we talked about art and our passions and intentions with it for a while.  Then I went to town and to this tea house called Herbaciarnia.  This is tucked down a small staircase off of Florianska street in the old town that leads to the main square.  It was an amazing find.  The place is in the basement and the vaulted ceiling is bear brick and a bit like the little tea house under the church in Warsaw.  I ordered a tea, a 20 year old Pu Erh tea.  This was a great choice, it was a really amazing tea, one you could feel working, the warm glow you get in your cheeks and the tingle up your spine.  It was a really amazing, meditative tea.  Really wonderful.  A while spent there until it got a bit cold from all the people coming in and out of the door.  I paid, left the building, went to a milk bar for some simple but satisfying soup and salad and then went to the bus station, which it took me ages to find, getting lost in the train station because of all the construction work going on.  Then I got on the bus and headed back to Warsaw!


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 52, Warsaw, March 1st 2012

Tea 52: Not tea, Hot Chocolate with Rum! Original Wedel Chocolate Cafe, Warsaw

So, I know that the Brits are famous for talking about the weather, but please forgive me this once.. Three seasons in as many days!??!?!  Today was grey, drizzly and dull.  The sunshine of yesterday was long forgotten and positively autumnal weather has taken over!  The day before yesterday was winter, yesterday was summer, and today autumn, when is spring going to arrive!?!?!??!

Ehem….moving on… Because of today’s greyness I didn’t really have much incentive to leave the apartment, so I stayed in and did some work for a few hours and then at around 2:30 I left, I ate lunch in the flat in an attempt to reduce my costs and then caught the tram into town.  I got of a stop or two before Centralny today and walked East, past various forms of architecture, new, old, decaying and decayed and found my way to Marszalkowska, the main traffic street in this part of the city.  I just sort of wandered for a while, the drizzle hitting my face despite the umbrella.  Eventually I found my way to Raster, one of the more independent and contemporary galleries in town.  It is hidden a little way along Wspolna Street, number 63.  They are currently showing a piece by Michał Budny called Zywica.  He had spent some time installing the piece, playing with different compositions and designs of the space and has landed with a superbly minimal and interesting work.  Sheets of polythene hang silently from the walls, a plastic covered square piece sits above the lintel like a clock, the noisy door opening and closing with a bang and screech.  It was a work I couldn’t quite get hold of to begin with, I think because I have seen so many noisy and chaotic pieces lately, but I spent some time in the work and it began to evolve, and the atmosphere developed over time, people entering and leaving the space, the receptionists light keyboard tapping, the temperature.

After some time in the space I left and went back into the grey, drizzly day.  The space seemed to reflect the grey, muffled silences that the drizzle creates in the city.  I walked for a while back north east, towards the palm tree and the old town.  After more little derives along streets and window shopping I headed to Zacheta, the contemporary art gallery for another attempt at getting in for the free thursdays (last week the gallery was shut).  This week I did manage to get in, but only to see the new exhibition ‘7 Rooms’, by Rafał Milach.  This is photography and stories of Russians born during the USSR period and their opinions and experiences comparing then to now.  The show is fairly documentary, and does exactly what it says on the tin.  The photographs are varied and some do have a great deal of beauty in them.  The rest of the gallery would seem to still be shut.  I presume they have a permanent collection, but there is a cordon up across the staircase and beady-eyed guards making sure no one makes it up.  There is basically no information to say what exactly is going on though, so I can’t say when or even if the permanent collection will be back on show…

That done I decided I needed a sit down, I thought there might have been a cafe in the gallery but alas there is not.  So I headed for the old town, walked past a cafe that looked OK but carried on in the hopes of a cozier looking place, but this never happened, so I came around in a loop and went back to the first place I had spotted.  I took a seat and ordered a hot ginger, lemon and honey drink and sat and wrote on the back of a press release, trying to figure out the next step of my journey.  A little while later, at around 6:45 I met up with Marta and we wandered to yet another part of Warsaw that I had still not discovered.  This is the old Jewish district.  There is one street that still has some of the old buildings that date back to before the war, and are still potted with bullet holes and some still have their old shop signs.  The street, which is now ghostly and silent was once the bustling heart of the district and is now in ruins.  The buildings had been left as some sort of document of the past, and also because of anyones reluctance to renovate, it seem that now there is some kind of work going on, one side of the street is blocked off by steel fencing and there is a crane and building materials dotted about.  This place is also where they apparantly filmed The Pianist, the film about a Jewish man who managed to evade capture by hiding out in the Warsaw Ghetto.  We went into a little cafe that sits on the end of one of the buildings, somehow managing to survive in the crumbling tenement block.  Called Cafe Prozna (on Prozna street), this is a nice little place with wooden tables and chairs, though very modern in style.  We ate some food, Marta had a sorrel soup whilst I had a tasty quiche with salad.  I enjoyed the food though Marta wasn’t very impressed with her soup.

We then went for a walk in the dark, but multicoloured city lights, ending up in the original Wedel chocolate cafe.  The walls are decorated with paintings and old photos, the building itself is capped with a big illuminated Wedel sign, so it is pretty hard to miss.  I decided that it was dark enough and cold enough to justify having a hot chocolate with rum, whilst Marta had the traditional chocolate.  She has lived in Warsaw for basically two years and this was her first time here!!!  CRAZY!  It is a nice little place, and the chocolate is really great.  There was a very good helping of rum in mine and it did the perfect job, chocolate high with a rum filled edge…  We sat there for a while chatting and talking about what Marta will do now she has resigned from her job and then we decided to walk around the city some more.

The drizzle had abated a little and we walked back towards Nowy Swiat.  Then further East to outside of the Chopin Museum (today was his birthday and there are various things happening, many that seem to involve carrying around Polish flags…)  The building is all lit up at night, like most of the famous and big buildings in the city.  From there we walked across a footbridge and down a staircase and then down onto Dobra Street where we walked South towards the railway and tram bridge (Poniatowski Bridge), then along the side of this bridge, up the staircase and back into the city centre.  We caught a tram home and got in around 11pm.


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!


Day 42, Warsaw, February 20th 2012

Tea 42: Green Rooibos ‘African Sun’, Marta and Ania’s Apartment, Warsaw.

PHEWWW!!!  Finally got the internet to work on my computer!  At long long long last!  Hopefully this will mean my postings will be back on schedule!  So, yes, today (or yesterday)…

I didn’t actually leave the apartment until really really late in the end.  And I managed to miss most of the sunshine!  That was a bit of a shame, but I think I needed the rest.  EVENTUALLY I made it to the Metro and took the train to Centrum.  I came back above ground and tried to figure out which direction was the right direction.  I took a punt and ended up going down Marszalkowska, heading South, and eventually back to the tube station I had gotten off the day before.  At least I had figured out some geography and not gotten totally lost!  After find myself back where I had started the day before I decided I would head to the Royal Park, Lazienkowsky.  The long Aleje Ujazdowskie, is lined with big embassy buildings and other parks.  It is quite a spectacular road.  I wandered down the road, popped into another park, paths thick with ice, slowly beginning to melt, a small hole in the ice acting and looking a lot like a bath just the right size for a duck.  Birds scrambled about for scraps of bread recently left by some kind samaritan.

Making it to Lazienkowsky I was first met by a huge sculpture of Chopin.  This is a really amazing looking sculpture, Chopin sitting beneath a stylized Willow tree.  Walking around the rear of the sculpture you realise you are at the top of a high mound of land, with one steep side leading down to the rest of the park.  I slowly scaled the slippery path down to the main area of the park.  A rather treacherous journey!  The park is huge, full of buildings for various purposes, cafes, amphitheaters, museums.  Ducks, and peacocks.  One wandered up to me, probably trying to figure out if I had anything it would like to eat, unfortunately I did not.  There was also a really beautiful Mandarin Duck and his partner.  I’ve never seen one of these up close before and he was very impressive. It was now approaching 5 and I had arranged to meet Marta after work and go for something to eat.  I wandered back out of the park.  Along the long embassy road again and back towards the Stary Mokotow district.

I met Marta outside of her work building and we walked past a lovely church lit up in the early evening light.  We then hopped onto a Metro train for one stop, jumped off again and found this little schizophrenic Chinese restaurant (the ceiling is covered in fake Grape Vines, suggesting it was once an Italian place.  We ordered some food, I had some Soy Noodles with vegetables and shrimps.    It was tasty, but much like the Baltic Countries I have visited, the Polish do not do much spice!  We ate our food and had a rather long and fruitless wait in a Post Office whilst Marta tried to track down a parcel that she was expecting, then it was time to head home.