Day 117 – 119, Cologne & Nijmegen, May 6th – 8th 2012

Tea 117, Ice Tea, Nijmegen

Tea 118, Apple Ginger, Cologne

Tea 119, Lavender & Camomile, Cologne

Day 117, Sunday.  Actually managed a trip to The Netherlands!  The day was spent with lazing about and walking the dog.  We cooked a very good coconut curry, with courgette and peppers and black Soya Bean noodles. Sehr Gut!  Then in the late afternoon we headed to a town in The Netherlands (which isn’t actually so far from Cologne) called Nijmegen.  The purpose of our trip?  To go and see a band that Regina really enjoys and had bought tickets for, called Dry The River.  The gig was good, the town very very small, but there was a good atmosphere and we got some good fries with satay sauce for our pre-gig snack.  Then at the gig I went for an extremely hardcore drink choice of an Ice-Tea with a nice slice of lemon and a stirring stick!  The gig was good fun.  The band played well.  Then we headed back to Cologne.

Day 118, Monday.  A bit of a disastrous day in terms of photos.  I walked all the way to the Dom, Cologne’s Cathedral, took my camera out of my bag, switched it on to find the lovely message of ‘No Card’…. BRILLIANT!  So absolutely no photos were taken on this day, including on the Agfa because I’d chosen to leave that at the flat instead of carrying it about.  Anyway, I obviously walked to the Dom, enjoying the sunshine, then around and to the Rhein.  I sat there for a while, mostly to eat a packet of onion rings (mmm a nice nutritious lunch!), and just to sit and contemplate stuff, as you do.

Dinner was mashed potato (white and Sweet varieties), onion gravy and these crazy ‘lupin fillets’.  They are made from the seeds/peas of the Lupin plant.  They tasted kind of cakey, but worked well with our home made onion gravy.

That evening me and Regina met up with a couple of her friends and we wandered around the town in the evening as the sun was going down, with a bottle of beer in hand and some chat. It was a fun evening.

Day 119, Tuesday, also the official end of WW2, or VE day.  A bit more success in terms of carrying my camera with me at least!  I visited Melaten, a large, neat and well kept cemetery.  I wandered around it for a while, there was a funeral happening in one part.  So this made me decide not to be around snapping photos for too long so I left and went back to the area we walked around the night before.  We had seen a bike shop there that sells second hand bikes too.  I checked a couple out and will head back tomorrow for a test ride of one they were in the middle of fixing up… we’ll see…

I came home for some lunch then headed back into town, though avoiding the demonstration that was meant to be happening at a nearby mosque… (I had been told that there might be some violence, especially from the right wingers)  I just explored the quieter areas a little bit using Regina’s bike.  It was good to use one again (though the seat is too low for me and so it wasn’t the most comfortable experience!)

The evening has seen me sit on the sofa and drink tea whilst Regina carries on unpacking boxes and sorting out her bookshelves!  I also sneakily fed the dog (Lumpi) some peanut butter…

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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 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 43, Warsaw, February 21st 2012

Tea 43: Japonska Wisnia (Green Cherry), Marta and Ania’s Apartment, Warsaw.

Today was a good long day of walking and sightseeing.  I took the Metro two stops past Centrum to Ratusz Arsenal.  This is the nearest stop to the old town (I think).  I left the station and took yet another guess at what direction to go, used the sun as a reference to what way was east and west.  I made it successfully to the Old Town and hunted out a Tourist Information to raid the free maps.  The one that Marta had bought the other day is good, but is massive and really conspicuous to carry around, I much prefer one you can slip in and out of your back pocket.  I wandered to the old town square where a good tourist information is, with a good selection of maps and guides in every language imaginable, and maps and guides in hand I went back out of the old town to the tomb of the unknown soldier.  This is a ceremonial heart of memorial for all the lost soldiers in the wars and is guarded constantly by two soldiers, guns in hand, a fire burning to keep them from freezing to death.  There is a small park behind the tomb with an impressive switched off fountain and various sculptures of goddesses, Venus, Art, Justice etc etc, there are a few without titles which I found a little odd, and tried to figure out what they were but failed.  The ice was thick on the ground, still solid with no sign of it shifting any time soon.

I wandered around that part of town for a while, the huge Soviet ‘Sofitel’ hotel mirrored across the huge open, parade type, square by the more modern glass fronted building, that looks to be offices.  I headed towards the hotel to the front of another building, which turned out to be the Zachęta National Gallery of Art.  I didn’t go inside as I am planning that for thursday when, hopefully, entry will be for free.  So I turned back and went to the Old Town side of the square, by the statue of Józef Klemens Piłsudski, which stares down on it’s audience with a dour and stern look on it’s face.

I then decided to go back to the tea house I had seen.  It is a Demmers Tea House, which turns out to be an Hungarian company.  I didn’t stay to drink inside, but instead chose to look through the teas smell a couple and make a purchase.  This I did, I picked Japonska Wisnia, a delicate green tea, Sencha I think, with cherry.  The smell of cherry is quite strong, but the flavour less so, which makes the tea very interesting and a good sensation to taste.  One of those teas where you can decide what to concentrate on, smell or taste, without either of them becoming the focus.  I also bought an intriguing sounding Pu Erh Chocolate Cake tea.  This will be reviewed next I am pretty sure.  It smells great!  Purchases made using a good mix of broken English and Polish I decided to head towards the river.  I went down this looping road that is still directly in line with the tomb and the Piłsudski statue.

The road has got this great big yellow bridge over it, with two tunnels through it, traffic goes one way through one and the other through the next.  There is are big sculptures lining the bridge, a mermaid stands on top looking down onto the passers with a threatening look and wielding a sword.  Behind her a bearded man’s face looks out, I can’t totally giure out if it is meant to look like it has been chopped off of it’s body, but that is what it looks like to me…  the mermaid is the emblem of Warsaw and there are many of them dotted about over the city.  Walking beneath the bridge, a little shrine set up to something, I headed for the river.  Making it there I walked past this amazing green glass building, but one that is not brand-new.  It looks like a huge greenhouse, and I thought maybe it was a public building or museum, but I don’t think it is, I think it is just offices.  But an amazing building.  The street was lined with coaches, loads of them.  I think this is because a little further down is the Copernicus Science Centre, or Centrum Nauki Kopernik.  This is housed in a modern building, it’s facade covered by lots of bits of metal in various tones of reddish-brown.

Walking past the Science Centre and then to the corner of the street I made the decision not to cross the river today so I turned right instead, past a hodge-podge of old, middle-aged and new buildings.  One very old building still appearing to bear the scars of some battle, bullet holes peppering it’s front.  I have read that this isn’t such a rare thing to see in Warsaw, so I’m pretty sure they are relics from WW2.  I then turned left onto Dobra Street, meaning ‘Good’ Street.  In front of me was a great sight, two old grey arching bridges loomed over the road, one being seen through the arch of the other.  They both carry trains I think and are huge and heavy looking.  I walked beneath them, with a short diversion into a supermarket, and then I walked along the edge of the biggest of the two, arch after arch leading up to the city centre.  Part of the bridge looks like it was once going to be developed into something, bare concrete blocks making rooms and spaces, with concrete staircases leading between floors.  It has now been taken over by graffiti artists and skateboarders.  A strange construction, I can not imagine how it was intended to look and how it would of ever looked right sitting between the legs of the bridge.  A long, tall, covered and graffitied staircase leads back up to the main town.  At the top of the staircase is the Muzeum Wojska Polskiego, or Polish War Museum, this is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but the outside area is still open and you can freely wander amongst aircraft, tanks, vehicles, and missile launchers.  If that is your cup-of-tea.  Some of the stuff is pretty impressive and the size of some of the rocket launchers, and their rockets, is quite a scary thought…

I left the ‘war garden’ and went back to the centre of town.  I walked through Waszawa Centralna (Warsaw Central) Train Station then back out and into the big new shopping centre.  The roof of this place is the most interesting part, made up of thousands of glass triangles the roof flows like the surface of an undulating sea.  The bluish glass reflecting the sky.  That’s about all I have to say about this place, it’s a shopping centre, we all know what they are like…

It was getting quite late now so i decided that I would head back to the apartment, so I got onto the Metro at Centrum and went back.  I rested my feet for a while, managed to get the internet to work on my laptop and then went out to buy some food, I had said I would cook tonight.  Successfully find a supermarket (though not the one I was looking for), I bought some pasta, Broccoli, Chorizo, Garlic and a couple of bottles of Zubr, a Polish beer.  Back home, Ania had got back to the flat whilst I had been away so we chatted a little and I began to make food for the evening, Marta was out until around 8:30pm.

Food eaten, Beer drunk, Marta and Ania decided to make a banana-chocolate cake.  No cinnamon in the house, Marta popped out to the shop and came back with that and a couple more beers, this time a honey beer Ciechan Miodowe, another Polish made one.  Sweet and tasty, I would definitely recommend it for those of you that enjoy honey.

Beer drunk, cake eaten, a quick cup of tea and it was time to sleep again!


Day 41, Warsaw, February 19th 2012

Tea 41, Genmaicha, Same Fusy, Warsaw.

Today was my first proper day in Warsaw, well, I say proper, still didn’t leave the flat until late because I had stayed up until stupid o’clock in the morning last night chatting, my brain sleeping but my body still awake because all I had done all day long was sit on a bus.  I’ve never been so glad to see +1’C in my life!  And, for the first time since I started to travel, today it rained!  After living in Glasgow for 6 years you would think I’d dread the sight of rain, but it actually makes you miss it to some extent.  And it wasn’t too heavy so that probably helped.  The puddles were dreadful though, as the rain was melting the big piles of snow making the streets flooded with an inch or two of water in most places.

My host Marta took me into town.  We got the Metro, a small one line system that leads into the city centre.  We got off one stop before Centrum and walked around for a bit, she showed me where she works and we walked into the city centre along streets lined with a mixture of huge blocky Soviet buildings, many still with Soviet sculptures carved into them off workmen and women with children, and some of the few that survived the bombing and destruction during and after World War 2 which destroyed around 80% of the city.  We walked a little way down this huge wide street, whose name I don’t remember, but that has loads of the embassy buildings along it.  The American Embassy being clearly obvious from it’s paranoid 12 inch concrete barriers and thick black metal fencing.  We kept wandering in the snow and rain until the old town, past a view point of the new football stadium, built ready for the Euro 2012 competition, which will be held in Poland and the Ukraine.  The Warsaw castle to one side of the view and another old building to the right.  It looks quite good there somehow, but maybe it was the low lying cloud making it seem all mystical or something…

We then went deeper into the old town, the cobbled streets getting smaller and smaller until you reach the centre, which is very much like most old town squares, a big open space surrounded by attractive old buildings.  We then went down a little street and found Same Fusy and Tea House and Coffee shop. This is a funny little place, decorated in dark terracotta colours and african masks dotted about all over the place, but which was playing some CSS when we walked in, and turned out to be the whole album, an unusual choice if you ask me.  This place is pretty expensive.  I paid 22Zloty for my tea, which is around 5 Euro, so definitely not cheap, basically similar to Helsinki.  But then this is the old town, that is what tends to happen.  We sat for quite a while, the tea was a basic Genmaicha (Green Tea with Roasted Brown Rice), but it was nice, it usually is.  But nothing spectacular, and for the price, nothing special.  After that we then decided we were a bit hungry so we popped into another place and shared a plate of mixed Pierogi.  This is a traditional Polish dish of dumplings made from Wheat or spelt pastry with various fillings, many of them Veggie, which is good.  These were boiled, though in the past I have had fried ones.  They were tasty, but I find the fried ones much better, more flavoursome.

This filled us up so we decided to head home, via the city centre for Marta to buy a new map.  The city has it’s own version of Stalin’s Birthday Cake, similar to the one in Riga, but built of grey stone, not the red stone of Riga.  At night it is lit up with a rainbow of colours, making it look quite cool, and with the cloud still low, the mystical-ness came out once more.  We got on the Metro again and went home, watched a movie, and then it was time to sleep.

As you may be able to tell, these last two posts have been late, due to the internet availability here, it is likely to become the norm for a while…