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.

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Day 50, Warsaw, February 28th 2012

Tea 50:  Yunnan Green Oolong, the Apartment, Warsaw.

50 days!  A half centrury and what happens….

Winter returned today!  The snow was falling fast and fairly heavy, giving a good coating to all the freshly ice free paths and roads.  It was almost as though the first lot of snow had not disappeared at all!  I wrapped up warm and left the apartment.  The chill was back in the air, making me fear the worst for the next couple of weeks.  I hope that the winter is not coming back and that that was just winter’s last laugh before spring kicks in.  I took the tram again today, heading for Jana Pawla II street once more, in search of this vegan restaurant I had seen the other day.

Making it there I wandered up Jana Pawla for a while to work up a bit of an appetite, then wandered back down to the restaurant.  The place is called the Loving Hut, an asian food spot, with all sorts of exciting looking things on the menu.  I went for the soup that you can see below, though I have forgotten what it is called.  But it was great, filled with Tofu, Broccoli, Beans, Celery, Lemon Grass, a fake prawn, noodles, loads of things.  It was spicy and coconutty, rich and lovely.  I sat and ate it up, flicking bits of soup all over the table, it was really good, especially with the cold wintry weather going on out of the window.  I also learned that Natalie Portman, Moby, Tobey Macguire and Bryan Adams are all vegan!

Food eaten, which took me quite a while as the portion was hugely generous, I wrapped up again and went out into the wind blustered snow.  I walked down Jana Pawla II then turned left onto Solidarnosci and walked to this little area just on the outskirts of the old town, wandering around a little park, that used to be part of the grounds to a grand old mansion, which still sits at the opposite end of the park.  Ducks were desperately looking for unfrozen water to wash in, crows were diving about in the snow playing with sticks and rocks, for what purpose I don’t know, but I do think they were just playing in the snow, one kept diving into it and rolling around!

More wandering, more looking in bike shops and I decided I was getting far too cold, so I went back into the centre, bought some food to cook for dinner and then headed home.  Back home I cooked a Beetroot soup and some Pierogi for Ania and I, Marta was at Yoga class.  We sat and ate and chatted for a while, then watched an awful film, then went to sleep.  A short, snowy day today.


Day 31, Pärnu, February 9th 2012

Tea 31: Organic Pu Erh, Piccadilly Wine, Pärnu.

Coming to Pärnu was a good decision.  This little cute seaside town is very beautiful and has some similarities to a few British Seaside towns.  I woke up and got ready to head into the town centre where I was meeting Ivo, one of the guys who I am staying with, in his Wine and Chocolate Café ‘Piccadilly Wine’.  I wandered into town slowly, soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the relative warmth of -10’C, compared to the previous days -15 – 20’C.  I found myself in the small town centre; traditional wooden faced buildings lining most of the streets, and then eventually found the Café; gentle music playing into the street from the café is the best clue.  Inside is beautiful, one wall is lined with many different varieties of wine and also some teas.  Gorgeous cakes line the counter and handmade chocolates gleam out at you temptingly.  Ivo was talking to a customer so I looked around a little and then took a seat.  When the customer was gone I got up and chatted to Ivo for a while and then had a lovely cup of Organic Pu Erh Tea.  This tea is not to everyone’s taste, it is very earthy and dark and extremely complex.   The tea was rinsed first, this helps to remove some of the dustiness that can be in the tea, it is not essential to do this as most people like it this way.  But for a morning tea it helps to lighten it up a little.  I was then given a wonderful Chilli Dark Chocolate Truffle.  The chocolates in the Café are all made by Ivo’s business partner, specifically for the café and they all look amazing, and if they all taste as good as that one did then they all taste amazing too!  I spent a good hour or so chatting and drinking tea.  Then I decided to head for the seaside.

I walked through the little town, its beautiful buildings glinting with icicles, the trees lining the streets casting long, thin shadows across the perfect white snow.  I made it to the seaside where I could not actually see the sea.  For as far as my eyes could perceive the ocean was frozen, just pure white reflecting the winter sunlight, the snow fall from the previous couple of weeks unbroken and perfect.  I walked out onto the ice for a while, spying into holes in the ice, clambering over mounds of broken and then refrozen ice.  The peace and tranquillity was wonderful, that is why I am so glad I came here.  The place was just so peaceful for me, probably a stark contrast to the summertime, when this little city becomes the ‘capital’ of Estonia.  I walked along the coastline for a while, going out as far as I dared, which probably was nowhere near as far as I could have gone, the ice being so thick and solid.  The snow crunching beneath my feet and the cold, salty sea air cleansing my lungs.  I then turned off of the beach and into this little area behind the dunes and marshland.  In this area are a few sculptures, and some buildings, one of which apparently houses the Parnu mud baths.  I then decided it was about time for something to eat and so headed back into town.  Through a nice little park with birds chirping in the sunlight and flitting about between the branches of fir trees.  Back in the centre of town I found a little organic café that had been suggested to me earlier.  It is quite nice inside, a little bit like they are trying to bring the outside in with Parisian style plastic seating and small tables.  I had a nice fish soup and a cup of rooibos vanilla, which was much like any rooibos vanilla.  I sat for a while writing and watching the world go by then left and headed towards the river.  Next week will be the Parnu ice festival and at the crest of a small hill/mound by the river teams of people are currently building huge ice castles, igloos and other such sculptural works from breezeblock sized chunks of ice.  I wandered amongst the activity then out the other side where a small group of lads were doing some snowboard stunts and taking photographs using a bungee try system where three guys would run with the bungee, stretching it out and into the hands of a fourth who would then propel themselves off of a small ramp and onto the railing of a staircase currently laden with snow, whilst two others would be searching for the perfect angle to get the best photograph.  After a while standing, watching and taking a few of my own photographs, I went further up along the river to a little bridge that led to a dry dock and the Parnu Yacht Club.  More wandering and then back into the centre of town, along the opposite bank of the river.  In town I decided to buy my ticket for the bus and to warm up in shopping mall, buying a few snacky things for my bus journey.  Then I went back to the apartment.  Ivo was home when I arrived and we hung out for a while before we both then went back to his café.

Back in the café Ivo did a bit of work and I sat and wrote a little more.  Then we had a little food and a really great slice of chocolate cake, warmed up a little to make it even more wonderful, and complimented with a bit of homemade strawberry sauce.   Really, really great!  After a while we left and went back to the flat, Liis, Ivo’s wife and my official couchsurfing host came home around 9:30pm after a yoga class and we prepared her some more food, as well as another helping for ourselves.  Then we sat and watched a movie, I made all of us a hot chocolate using rice milk, and then I went to bed.  A lovely day, relaxed, peaceful, comfortable, and now I’ve sat and written this, I realise, quite full!


Day 30, Tartu – Pärnu, February 8th 2012

Tea 30: Meliss (Lemon Balm), Liis & Ivo’s loft, Parnu

Two belated posts in a row…  oops.  Yesterday was another travel day mostly.  I spent the morning packing and relaxing on the sofa in Tartu, trying to gather a bit of energy back.  A huge breakfast of chocolate pancakes and toastie sandwiches was made for me so that was really good.  So after a little bit of zombifying in front of the TV I went down to Tartu bus station bought my ticket for Parnu and left.  The bus was really full and possibly the least leg room I have ever experienced.  Luckily the bus had quite an early stop and a large chunk of the people got off at that first stop, so that was a bit better, but i still had my legs stuck out into the aisle, wedged between my rucksack and the armrest.  Traveling by bus shows you just how much of Estonia is covered by thick dense forest.  60% apparentely, it’s no wonder they burn so much of it to heat their homes.  But I am assured it is all sustainably done.  Arriving in Parnu at about 5:30pm, I was met at the bus station by Liis, who is kindly putting me up for two nights before I make for the border and into Latvia.

We went straight away to her husband’s car and the three of us drove, picked a fourth person up, and headed out into the countryside, to one of their friends houses. I had been kindly invited to join their dinner party.  A weekly occurance they pick a ‘theme’, or vegetable, that will be cooked into as many different options as possible.  Last night was one of my favourites, Sweet Potato.  We had it as salad, baked, and ‘caramelised’ crisp/chip style.  It was good food, and followed by a documentary film, The Living Matrix.  Basically this is about energy fields that may, or may not, exist around the human body, and how holistic medicine can engage with these fields to heal.  It was very interesting, though the characters and scientists were all quite extreme and intense, which can be a little off putting for some people.  If you are into, or just curious about the ideas of holistic medication, healing, acupuncture, the placebo effect, and such things it is worth a look.

We all left after the film, and headed to Liis and Ivo’s apartment, which is a roof space apartment near the centre of Parnu.  They keep insisting it is unfinished, but it is a really lovely space, nice decor, nice environment, really lovely.  I am certainly jealous, it is one of those places you always wish you could live in, and the decor you always strive for but never feel you achieve.  I’m pretty sure these two have achieved it.  It is really lovely, especially the ‘rocket stove’, which I am currently sitting on typing this.  We drank tea, ate apples from Liis’ Gran’s Garden, and chatted for a while about what I am ‘planning’ and where the two of them have travelled and what their plans are.  They seem very happy here.

So, no Parnu photos yet, but here are some more of Tartu, including the rather dazed looking face of the pig sculpture that stands outside of the Tartu meat market…