Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Poznań by night, and in the morning

Arrived in Poznań on Monday evening ahead of the third leg of our HR Review 2019 roadshow. Trains from Warsaw to Poznań still not running as they should - three hours to cover 300km is a poor show. That's an average speed of 60mph (100km/h). At least there's no diversion via Gniezno any more... Anyway, the PKP InterCity train itself was fine. A long train, that split in two in Poznań, with half heading west to Berlin, the other half heading north-west to Szczecin. Both halves had dining cars, so a choice of two. Making up for all those InterCity trains without any dining facilities.

Our hotel was Apartamenty Wodna 12 (don't mix up ulica Wodna for ulica Wożna, the very next street along!), well situated for our event venue and for the old town. After an excellent Indian meal at the Taj Mahal (the price list on the menu looked identical to one in any Indian restaurant in London, except the numbers were expressed in zlotys rather than pounds), there was time for a stroll around Poznań's old town.

The weather was excellent for late October - the climate change dividend. No coats required, even at around ten pm. But long after the main holiday season has ended, the old town is quiet, many places to sit and eat.

Poznań boasts many diverse restaurants - at least three Indians to choose from. Left: the neon sign of a Mexican restaurant at the end of the street. If I hadn't been full of an Indian, a trio of tacos would have been good.

There's a graffiti problem. Poznań should wage war against it, instantly painting over tags.

Right: I do love the recently re-cobbled streets in and around the old town square. Even when bone-dry they glisten, reflecting the light, adding immensely to the atmosphere, especially at night.

Below: the old town square is full of hustlers trying to get you to eat at one of the restaurant there. I don't like them - they are a foretaste of how a nice city can get over-touristed. The hucksters and the barkers - the AUSCHWITZ - SALT MINES - SCHINDLER'S FACTORY - CHEAP! syndrome - are what turned Kraków into an old town to avoid.

Left: Poznań's basilica, former parish church, at the end of ul. Świętosławska. Well-chosen street lighting adds to the charm of the scene. [More from Poznań's old town by day in this post.]

Below: I was delighted to wake up on Tuesday and behold this sight - the rooftops and skyline of the old town with the basilica and town hall in shot.

Below: the old-town remont has extended to Plac Kolegiacki; all coming along rather well. Poznań is very much a business town, its local economy boasts the lowest unemployment anywhere in Poland (1.2% at the end of August 2019); very much worth a visit whether for business or pleasure.

This time two years ago:
West of Warsaw's central axis

This time six years ago:
Plac Unii shopping centre opens

This time eight years ago:
Visceral and Permanent, Part II 

This time nine years ago:
Autumn colours, locally

This time ten years ago:

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Homeward from the demo

One thing struck me as demonstrators started to drift away. They didn't drop their placards, banners and flags, but continued on their homeward journey proudly displaying their convictions. The shower passed, the sun came out, and tens of thousands of people dispersed, making their way towards the next Tube station but one, to avoid the biggest jams. Soon, St James's Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens were full of banner-waving pro-Europeans, open and tolerant.

Below: looking east along St. James's Park lake towards Whitehall - Dover House and the War Office building behind it. A few flags out along the footbridge. The War Office is being turned into a Raffles Hotel. By a Spanish firm for an Indian investor on behalf of a French hotel group.

Below: a few pelicans were out on the lake shore, drying their plumage after the short, sharp shower. Looking at them, I pondered how evolution can force certain species to evolve so far into one niche (in the case of the pelican, fish-eating) that they become over-specialised.

Just look at the powerful muscles (behind the eyes) required to operate that huge bill.

Below: after a long walk around London's royal parks, I turned back towards St. James's Park underground station. A mistake, as engineering works on the District and Circle Lines meant westbound trains only ran as far as South Kensington. So I returned to Ealing via Victoria, Oxford Circus and the Central Line - all full of demonstrators with EU flags, blue face paint, 'Bollocks to Brexit' stickers and assorted placards. Short aside - above St. James's Park underground station is 55 Broadway, the headquarters of London Underground. Built in the 1930s, it is an outstanding piece of architecture. TfL, the current owner, will be moving out and a luxury hotel will occupy the building instead.

This time four years ago:
Kielce - the woes of Poland's smaller cities

This time six years ago:
Wine connoisseurs or wine snobs?

This time seven years ago:
Poland's golden autumn

This time eight years ago:
Visceral and permanent - a short story

This time nine years ago:
Crushed Velvet Dusk in my City of Dreams II

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Marchin' again

Six months on from the last anti-Brexit demonstration, time to take to the streets again. Same route - Marble Arch, Park Lane, Hyde Park Corner, Pall Mall, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Westminster. Similar circumstances - on 23 March, it was seven days from the then-Brexit deadline; today it's 11 days before the third deadline for leaving the EU. We shall see.

Estimates for the numbers on this march range from the BBC's 'tens of thousands' (ridiculous, just look at the photos) to 'two million'. If the agreed number for the last march was finally reckoned to have been 1.0m to 1.1m, my own guesstimate as a participant in both would be in the 1.4m to 1.5m range.

Left: this banner is crucial in its insight: suddenly, you realise that 'nobody born this century voted for Brexit'. Yes! Of course! And yet it is precisely those born this century that would be suffering from having their wings clipped by this monumental act of folly. Those who have come of voting age this month were just 14 when the referendum happened. And during that time, some 900,000 people who voted Leave have died.
Right: literally the only anti-EU placard I saw all day. Well, there was a chap in a Nigel Farage mask sitting in the Garfunkel's by Trafalgar Square with a sign reading 'Losers! Go Home' - I think few even noticed him. However, this guy in a pixie outfit was harder to overlook. He was standing on a stepladder in the middle of Piccadilly with a sign denouncing the EU as 'the Beast of Revelation Chapter 17'. I think he just needs a friend.

Below: I like this banner as it puts Brexit into a global perspective - a power-play in which Britain is carved up between kleptocrats and plutocrats.

Policing was heavier than in March. Two helicopters were deployed this time. Yet just as in March, the demonstration was entirely peaceful.

This time last year:
Ealing and West Ealing memories

This time five years ago:
The autumn sublime in Jeziorki

This time six years ago:
Enduring Ealing - Victorian and Edwardian klimats

This time seven years ago:
Krokowa, Poland's former northern borderlands

This time 12 years ago:
Aerial photograph of Central London

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Secret warriors

Today, along with my father, I attended the funeral of Jerzy Kowalski, a former Home Army soldier who fought in the same unit as my father during the Warsaw Uprising. He was in Batalion Odwet at the start, after the failed attack on the SS barracks at Kolonia Stasica, like my father he made his way across the Pole Mokotowskie fields, crossed the Polish barricades and continued the fight with Batalion Golski in the Politechnika region, until the end of the Uprising.

Amazingly, neither of them were aware of this fact, even though they lived just a few miles apart in West London for over 70 years. Even more amazing given that Jerzy Kowalski's son Andrzej attended Polish Saturday school and Polish cubs and scouts with me for many years in the 1960s and '70s.

The funeral took place at Św. Andrzeja Boboli church in Hammersmith, my favourite Polish church in London (associations from childhood, better music). Whereas in Ealing we'd go to several different churches (POK, St Benedicts, St Matthews and latterly Windsor Road), for Poles in Acton, Chiswick and Hammersmith there was always, since the early 1960s, just the one Andrzeja Boboli. The modernist sculptures and stained-glass windows, the memorials to Poland's wartime tribulations, make it a very special church for me - far more so than Windsor Road, which I associate with the new wave of Polish migration that came since the end of communism.

The burial was a Gunnersbury cemetery, again, given the large number of Polish graves and the Katyń Memorial, a very special place for post-war Poles in London. The most poignant graves are of those Poles who'd fought in the war and died in London in the late 1980s, too early to see the restoration of Poland's independence.

Left: my father at the memorial.

A particularly intriguing part of Jerzy Kowalski's life was his post-war membership of Brygadowe Koło Młodych „Pogoń” (Pogoń Brigade Youth Circle). This secret organisation was made up of men who'd served in the Polish armed forces during WW2. Its aim was to keep combat readiness in the event of the Cold War suddenly turning hot. The thinking within the Polish Government-in-Exile in London was to create and maintain a leadership cadre, versed in Polish military practice, that would serve much as the First Brigade did as Poland fought for its independence during WW1. Drawing on the model of the Cichociemni - the Silent and Unseen - the Polish commandos in the British Special Operations Executive in WW2, Pogoń was to form the basis of a Polish airborne division incorporated in NATO's military structures in time of war.

Below: Jerzy Kowalski (second from left) with comrades from Pogoń.

Below: on manoeuvres with Pogoń; Jerzy Kowalski (second from right)

In Cold War times, the existence of such an organisation was politically embarrassing to British governments, especially the Labour ones. As a result Pogoń drilled and trained in secret. One fact that I learned at yesterday's funeral was that Jerzy Kowalski had carried out a number of parachute jumps with the French military in 1962 and 1963, earning his 'wings' (brevet Militair de Parachutiste). And all this while he was working as a chartered account with Thomson McLintock (since merged into KPMG) and the father of two small children. In the mid-70s (as a 50 year old), he completed the course to lead a company into battle. Promoted to the rank of captain, Jerzy Kowalski was ready to fight for Poland should the need have ever arisen.

The story of the Polish Government-in-Exile and its military is fascinating - those who kept faith with an independent Poland for the half-century of its occupation by the Nazis and then the communists.


This time last year:
Ideology and pragmatism

This time five years ago:
Nocturnal mists descend upon Jeziorki

This time seven years ago:
Heavy rain hits Warsaw 

This time nine years ago:
The autumn sublime in Warsaw

This time 11 years ago:
Lublin and its charm

Saturday, 12 October 2019

More from the Radom line modernisation

Ready for the big track switch next weekend! Below: checking the overhead power line between Sułkowice and Czachówek Południowy - where the newly modernised track meets the previously modernised section.

Below: the new platform 2 is ready - benches, signage, passing loop (track 4) and 'up' line (track 2). I am concerned about a seeming lack of passenger access to Jakubowizna east of the railway - at present it looks like a half-kilometre detour is need to get to the new platform! I guess passengers wanting to go home to their houses in Jakubowizna will rather jump off the platform at the far end, cross the (rarely used) loop line and scramble up the embankment than go the long way round...

The map from Google Earth shows the old path from the platform to Jakubowizna (in yellow, just short of 130m) and the way that passengers returning home to Jakubowizna are expected to go while the works progress (in red, 530m, an extra 400m, or additional five minutes walking time each way).

It will soon be farewell to the old platform (below), built in 1934 (half of it has already gone). In its place will be the new 'down' line, and where the old 'down' line is (to right of frame), the new platform will arise. Note the ballast stockpile to the far right - this has shrunk considerably; the rest will go when the second track is modernised.

The new timetable comes into force on 20 October. But the promise that one track to Radom will be modernised by then, cutting the journey time by over an hour, has come to nought. An earlier version of the new time table showed that the 22:21 service from W-wa Wschodnia that calls at W-wa Jeziorki at 23:00 will arrive in Radom, as it currently does, at 01:50, with that replacement bus service from Warka still doing its bit. Three and half hours, then, to cover the 110km from W-wa Wschodnia to Radom. Seven hours there and back, for those unfortunate enough to have commute each day.

Below: an older (optimistic) version of the new timetable (posted at W-wa Jeziorki)...

Below: the version of the new timetable posted at Chynów shows the service terminating at Radom at the same time as the old one - ten to two in the morning.


Below: savouring the mellowness of a bright, warm, autumn day - Jakubowizna, just down the road from my działka.

Below: the road between Wola Wągrodzka and Chosna. Gorgeous weather for October, the high today was 22C.

This time three years ago:
Gliwice, much nicer than I'd expected

This time six years ago:
Poland does poorly in Global AgeWatch ranking

This time seven years ago:

This time eight years ago:

This time nine years ago:

Friday, 11 October 2019


A very busy week with two separate business trips - one to Wrocław (Weds-Thurs) and a day out to Kielce (Fri). Wednesday was a flurry of activity from daybreak - meeting after meeting before catching a Dart train to Wrocław. Late lunch. Again I want to try the new smoked tofu and bulgur wheat salad from the Wars in 'bar car number three'. Again, nie ma. So I have schabowy with kapusta zasmażana and boiled spuds. Tradition trumps novelty.

Below: reflection of an inversion, Wrocław Głowny station.

Below: Wrocław's famous Most Tumski bridge (the one with the lovers' padlocks weighing it down) is undergoing remont. If you're approaching it from Ostrów Tumski, there's signage informing you of this fact and rerouting you. But if you approach the bridge from Bulwar Wyszyńskiego or from ul. Najświętszej Marii Panny, or from the riverside footpath from Plac Bema, you will find no such information. No sign at all. Really, really annoying, especially if you're in a hurry.

A historic part of Wrocław that I've never visited before is Wzgórze Partyzantów ('Partisan Heights').  This small park, between Fossa Miejska (town moat) and ul. Piotra Skargi ('Peter Complaint Street') contains a pre-war German monument to the dead soldiers of colonial wars, and an old observatory. Much of it is closed off because of the threat of collapsing old buildings; there's an spine-tingling atmosphere of dread hanging over the place... Below: a wartime bunker/air raid shelter on ul. Nowa.

Back at Wrocław Główny, on the Pendolino back to Warsaw. All goes well until the train passes Lubliniec, then it slows to a crawl. It continues at this pace for a suspiciously long time, then stops. There's an announcement - due to a derailed freight train ahead of us, we have to backtrack and make our way to Częstochowa Stradom a different way (via Kalety) to bypass the blockage. Sadly, it was dark, and I could see nothing outside the train; this would have been an interesting re-route. Anyway, result: the Pendolino arrives in Warsaw over an hour and 15 minutes late. Then home to get ready for Friday's trip.

Friday morning I wake at 04:30, and leave home just after six am to get to Wilanowska to catch the Flixbus to Kielce. FlixBus has taken over the routes that created since 2011, revolutionising the Polish long-distance bus market. Souter Holdings Polska, the company behind PolskiBus, remains in Poland as the subcontractor, delivering services for FlixBus.

The best seats are at the front, but these carry reservations; I sat at the front from Warsaw to Radom, where I had to give up my seat to passengers travelling from there towards Kraków and Zakopane.

Below: leaving Warsaw at sunrise, towards the S79 and the expressway south. Al. Wilanowska.

Below: the canyons of Mordor - ul. Marynarska. Nearly fully opened - last tweaks and it'll be a three-lane highway carving through the new-build offices of Warsaw's shared-services district. It reminds me of a newer version of London's A406 North Circular as it winds its way through Stonebridge Park, Wembley, Neasden and Brent Cross

Kielce (below) is not a stand-out, must-visit kind of place. Its population is 187,000; it covers 109 square kilometres. The Warsaw district of Ursynów, in comparison, has 151,000 inhabitants and covers 45 square kilometres.

The main Warsaw-Radom-Kielce-Kraków railway line; looking south from Kielce station.

The FlixBus from Kielce to Warsaw was 35 minutes late arriving from Kraków and arrived in Warsaw 35 minutes late. So one hour and fifty minutes of delay over two days.

Below: back in Jeziorki, photo taken on Wednesday 9 October. Two months earlier, on 8 August, this junction between ul. Karczunkowska and the temporary level crossing was closed for re-asphalting. Traffic was re-routed over the built but famously unopened viaduct for one day only while the work was done. Two months on, the road is every bit as rubbish as it was before the patch-up.

This time five years ago:

Monday, 7 October 2019

Radom line progress and promises

As of 20 October, the new 'up' line between Czachówek Południowy and Warka will begin to function, taking trains in both directions over the new track. Passengers will be able to use the new platform at Warka and the five intermediate stations, including Chynów. The newly built bridge over the river Pilica, standing next to the old one, will be opened to rail traffic; the old one will be dismantled and replaced by a second new bridge. Work on the line between Warka and Radom 

Here are some photos from Chynów, showing how the work is progressing. It's been one year and one month since it began, so some slight delay. The halfway point should have been reached a few weeks back. Still, the crews were at it all Saturday and knocked off work at 5pm on Sunday.

Below: two works trains just north of Chynów; the overhead power lines are in place and have been checked; photo taken just after the crew left on Sunday evening.

Below: Saturday evening, around half past five, a Warsaw-bound train passes overhead line inspection crew still hard at work.

Below: Saturday lunchtime, more engineering trains working along the new track. Looking north up toward Sułkowice from Chynów.

The remaining half-platforms that have served the old 'down' track in both directions will be dismantled; new platforms built on the other side of the new track that will soon be laid. New lighting, benches and signage will be installed. The new platforms will be higher, so it will be easier to step into and off the trains. A level, non-slip surface with guidance paths for the visually impaired is the new standard. Access to the stations will be wheelchair-friendly, and shelters are also planned.

Passengers will be able to use the new platforms from 20 October. By then, the trains will be running on the new track. In the next phase, work will focus on the second ('down') track, where new platforms will be built. Below: the north end of the new platform at Chynów station. An underground passage will allow passengers to get to the platforms without having to step over rails.

The modernisation of the line between Czachówek and Warka, worth 216m złotys, is 85% co-financed by the EU and will be completed in the middle of 2020.

A new 200-metre long railway bridge was built over the Pilica River. For its construction 185 tons of steel and 750 tons of concrete were used. Now the building is being painted and the pillars are being strengthened. Preparations for laying the track are underway. The new structure will weigh 2400 tons. The demolition of the second old structure will be completed by the end of September. The railway crossing over the Pilica River after the modernisation will be double-track. The new three-span structures will be adapted to the passage of heavier trains travelling at up to 160 km/h.

On the 40km section between Warka and Radom, the entire overhead power line has been removed. The traction poles and foundations are being dismantled. In Dobieszyn, Strzyżyna, Grabów nad Pilicą and Kruszyna, demolition of old platforms has started and the old track bed is being removed. Between Strzyżyna and Radom the track is being additionally strengthened.

The value of the Warka-Radom modernisation is 429m złotys, again co-financed by the EU. The works are planned to be completed in the middle of 2021. Once complete, the fastest trains will travel at 160 km/h, passengers will be using more accessible and comfortable platforms; new level crossings and traffic control equipment will ensure greater safety.

Below: Jabłkowizna - the apples that no one is bothering to pick - the 'wild orchards'. The commercial ones have mostly been harvested by now.

Bonus shots, having come into town on the early evening train from Chynów, arriving in Śródmieście after dusk. Below: Warsaw skyline, from the train, with the railway museum, the new Warszawa Główny station taking shape in the foreground, and the reflection of the conductor selling a ticket.

Below: looking west from Śródmieście, Varso tower up to the 25th floor - about halfway up to its intended height.

This time last year:
A short essay on economic patriotism

This time two years ago:
Things pass, things go, things remain the same

This time three years ago:
Feels like the U.S.A. again

This time four years ago:
In search of Wałbrzych's Gold Train

This time six years ago:
Warsaw's craft ale revolution kicks off

This time eight years ago:
Poland's president inaugurates Moni's academic year 

This time ten years ago:
Autumn evening, central Warsaw

This time 11 years ago:
Short-term future of suburban development

This time 12 years ago:
"You'll look funny when you're fifty"