Saturday, 28 April 2007

London

"Are you thinking of returning to London?"

"Are you in Poland for good?"
Answers to these frequently asked questions are, respectively, "No" and "Yes".

Poland might be a long way from being the perfect place to live, but its moving in the right direction. It's getting better, year by year. The country and its people are becoming more self-confident.

Britain, on the other hand, is in decline. Every trip I make to London confirms this view.

UPDATE APRIL 2011. Four years on, and one global recession later, I'm even more convinced that what I wrote here is absolutely correct

UPDATE APRIL 2016. Eight years on, Poland has an unelected autocratic ruler hell-bent on demolishing the nation's advances of the past quarter century. He will fail. Poland abides. I might be spending more time in London with my 93 year-old father, but my long-term future remains in Poland.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Orchard


A small orchard, half way along ul. Trombity. The fence in the foreground and the ploughed field gives this scene local flavour. Trees still in bloom.

Spirit of Place

Is it just encroaching twilight time that puts me in reflective frame of mind? I feel I've been here before - but that this is not Poland. Is this Kentucky in the 1930s? I see this old farmhouse from our kitchen window. It triggers strong atavistic resurgences - all around is so familiar, yet not associated with anything I remember.

Spirit of place abounds. The land, the light, the sounds and smells; there's nothing of England here. These are sublime moments when the mind becomes detached from the physical, and consciousness transcends time and place.

Far away across the fields

Nine miles away from these fields rises the Warsaw skyline. Where once but one tower would be visible - Stalin's gift to the people of Warsaw, the Palace of Culture - today, several skyscrapers challenge its dominance. From right to left: Palace of Culture, Marriott Hotel (LIM Centrum), Elektrim Tower, Intercontinental Hotel and Warsaw Financial Center. These five skyscrapers are only 800 yards apart.

Above: the same five towers photographed at 5:20 am from the 26th floor of the Novotel Centrum. From right to left: Palace of Culture, Intercontinental Hotel, Warsaw Financial Center; First left: Elektrim Tower, second left: Marriott Hotel

I could not resist this tight crop on the Palace of Culture and the Interconti and WFC behind. Just like out of Koyaanisqatsi!

Heavy lift over Jeziorki



For the last few weeks, a Volga-Dniepr Antonov An-124 (above) has been visiting Okecie on a daily basis. Here's RA 82074 coming in to land. Note the undercarriage - no less than 28 wheels! This is one of the world's largest aircraft. Only the six-engined Antonov An-225 and the Airbus A380 (yet to enter service) are larger.

A less regular, though not infrequent guest, is the C-17 Globemaster III (top). This one belongs to the 437th Airlift Wing, based at Charleston, South Carolina. USAF aircraft visiting Okecie tend to be transport types.

Pheasant heaven

Jeziorki is noted for its pheasants. Indeed, pheasants descended from those kept by the King of Poland range wide across southern Warsaw. They breed in spring and early summer; the characteristic trumpety mating call of the males is often heard at this time of year.

Walking around Jeziorki, one can sometimes startle pheasants in the long grass, which then fly up with a great bustle of flapping wings and with much squawking. They do not fly far - just far enough to get out of your way.

Foxes can be seen stalking pheasants in the scrub and long grass, otherwise the birds have no predators and lived undisturbed.

This magnificent male pheasant was photographed from my bedroom window.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

There's something about a sunset...


Artists have ever been fascinated by the setting sun. Film-makers call the half-hour before, and the half-hour after sunset 'magic hour'. There's a quality to the light that creates a sublime atmosphere, a mood of joyful contemplation. More shots at twilight will appear on these pages before too long.


(Sun sets over the tracks, ul. Kórnicka)

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Strange Days Indeed



Never in all my life have I seen a sky like this. I dashed outside to catch as many shots as possible before sunset. What caused these strange cloud formations? What do they... mean?
[update 19 April: Thanks to http://www.cloudappreciationsociety.org, I discover that these are mammatus clouds. Click here for pics of some excellent ones.)

Apple blossom time

Late April and the fruit trees are all in blossom. Dramatically lit by the evening sun against a brooding sky is an apple tree in our garden. Shadows of the fence fall across the lawn. Wednesday 18 April was a cold day in Warsaw (+6C by the evening).

It is announced today that Poland and Ukraine will jointly host the EUFA 2012 football finals. This should mean a speeding-up of infrastructure work to get connecting roads, railways, hotels and of course stadiums ready on time.

Map of the area

A composite of two maps in 1:10,000 scale showing the whole of ul. Trombity. The relevant maps, published by Glowny Geodeta Kraju are Warszawa - Nowe Jeziorki (N-34-139-C-a-3, covering the eastern side) and Lesznowola (N-34-138-D-b-4, covering the western side). Both date from 2002. Our house appears on this map. Several more have sprung up since these maps were printed.

Down the right hand side runs ul. Pulawska, three lanes in each direction, linking Warsaw and nearby Piaseczno.

Compare to the Google Earth image (3 April entry).

Monday, 16 April 2007

Towards the 'Rampa'



Looking down a narrow strip field running parallel to ul. Nawlocka, an unpaved street at right angles from ul. Trombity, towards the rampa na kruszywo, an aggregate ramp, where trains carrying gravel, sand and aggregate dump their loads. Trucks turn up to transport the stuff to building sites across Warsaw. The ramp is visible in the distance, rising 12.5 metres above ground level.


Here's the ramp looking north towards ul. Trombity. The main railway line is to the left of this picture. There's empty space beween the sleepers, allowing aggregate to tumble out of the hopper wagons and into heaps on the ground below, from which it's loaded onto trucks.
There's an extensive set of sidings, dating back to the time when the ramp was in regular use. Today, trains visit the ramp once a month or less.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Antonov An-26 in the twilight of its career

In service with the Polish Air Force since 1972, the Antonov An-26 light transport aircraft is due for retirement next year. Five are currently in service. Note the three tones of green-over-sand camouflage scheme; the undersides are painted olive. Not visible in this shot are the dirty streaks of smoke that the polluting engines leave behind, something this plane has in common with other Soviet-era transports used by the Polish Air Force, the Tu-154M and Yak-40.

Below is a CASA C-295, of which the eight are currently in service in the light transport role, with two more on order. They will eventually replace the Antonovs.

Two weeks on from the sowing


The field was sown on Saturday 31 March. Today, Sunday 15 April, the crop is clearly visible. Will it be oats again? A gang of jackdaws settles on the field and forages for insects. The birds are all marching together in the same direction, along the furrows made by the plough.

Here hare here

This hare (lepus europaeus) was startled by our progress across the field and tore away towards the marshes. There may be one or two families of hares living in and around ul. Trombity, they're quite a rare sight. Note the cantering gait and the erect ears. Hares are noticeably bigger than rabbits.

Roadkill

Two squashed toads (bufo bufo) on ul. Trombity. Not as many this year as in previous years, when our street was quite literally carpeted with flattened amphibians. Frog and toad populations seem to be related to the wetness of the previous summer.

Warsaw weather patterns

In 2005, Warsaw enjoyed over 2,250 hours of sunshine. It's not a city usually associated with fine weather, but should be. Weather patterns are quite unlike those that affect the UK. "Sunshine and showers" are a rarity. What we get more often are periods of stable weather punctuated with several days of cloud and rain. Since the start of spring 2007, Warsaw's had ten days of unbroken sunshine followed by six days of generally cold and damp weather, followed by four days of unbroken sunshine.

Weather stability makes for mood stability. There's nothing more uplifting than a sunny day, sunny from dawn till dusk. In winter, crisp cold days with blue skies over white fields and trees covered in frost, are just as beautiful as gloriously sunny days in May or June.

Still, the farmers need the rain, our lawn needs the rain. But compared to damp Manchester, where moss grows on Victorian stone, or generally overcast London, Warsaw is climatically superior. And - records show - Warsaw is sunnier than most other Polish cities.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Rare visitor to Okecie



While getting dressed this morning at 06:40 I heard the roar of jet engines that were much louder than the loudest usual visitor to Okecie. With zoom set to 200mm I looked out to see El-Al Boeing 747-400 (4X ELC for you EPWA spottaz). The plane, I learned, was carrying young Jewish participants in this year's March of the Living (Marsz Żywych) which takes place in Auschwitz starting on 16 April.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Aerial views of the ground

Two more photos from the archive, taken in August 2005 from a Boeing 737 on finals to Warsaw Okecie airport. The first shows the southern end of ul. Trombity, the second the northern end. You can see the proximity of the flight path to the street. Image quality compromised by airliner's double-glazed perspex window.

The second aerial pic clearly shows the row of 16 poplars and the railway line, on which a six-car EN57 set in the old orange-and-red livery is heading towards Warsaw. Beyond the track and the fields is the Action warehouse; behind it stands the village of Zamienie (and in the trees at the top of the pic the old vaccine factory); in the top right can be seen houses from the village of Dawidy Bankowe

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Trombity sunsets

Because Mazowsze is a flat and featureless plain, the sun rises from and sets into the very rim of the earth's horizon. The changing seasons can thus be observed. In winter, sunrises and sunsets occur to the south, in summer, much further north. This sunset photo was taken on ul. Trombity two weeks after the Vernal (or spring) Equinox, that night when all people on earth experience 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. As such, the sun is setting just north of due west.

The 'Elektryczka' or 'Osóbka'

Most frequently seen train between Warszawa Jeziorki and Warsaw Central is the Warszawa Wschodnia - Radom all stations, which is served by EN57 electric multiple units (EMUs). They come in a number of colour schemes, which makes them interesting. Here's a blue-and-yellow 'osóbka' three-car unit, heading to Warsaw from Radom.

Encouragingly, graffiti has been removed from nearly all trains, many have been refitted (they used to be in a ghastly state). Once they would trundle about with the doors stuck in the open position, with one out of six neon lights working to dimly illuminate the compartments, drunks lolling about and seat upholstery ripped or reeking of urine.

Things are generally better today. In their new green, white and yellow Regional Railways livery (Koleje Mazowieckie, below), the EN57s look much more inviting for tourists wishing to travel around Mazowsze by train.



From the far end of the street


Easter Saturday 2007 had been a cold, overcast and windy day. But an hour or so before sunset, the cloud front moved south, leaving the early April sun low in the sky. This view of ul. Trombity was taken from the very end of the street, where it meets the unpaved dirt track that is ul. Kornicka. This is the closest point to the railway line.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Free range rooster

This splendid rooster (above) lives across the road from us. This morning (Easter Saturday, 2007) he was out for a walk along ul. Trombity with his five hens. Free range or what?

Sixteen poplars

A row of sixteen mature poplar trees stands at the northern end of ul. Trombity, a landmark visible from the air and from the railway. Beyond the trees lies fallow agricultural land.

UPDATE: 7 April 2007 - that charming trailer to the right of the pic has been moved. It had stood there for some while and gave the place a certain delipadated rustic air... Here's a final shot of it - it will be missed.

Friday, 6 April 2007

From the archives...


An old photo taken in late December 2004, taken out of the window of a plane that has just taken off from Okecie. The southern end of ul. Trombity is clearly visible, as is ul. Karczunkowska, which runs from the top right to the bottom right of the picture.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Jeziorki in Google Earth

For all you Google Earth users, here's a satellite snapshot of the Jeziorki area. Ul. Trombity is marked in yellow. Incidentally, a trombita is a type of Polish alpenhorn, used by highland folk to communicate from one mountainside to another. Many streets round this area are named after musical instruments and dances, while on the other side of ul. Pulawska (the main thoroughfare running down the right-hand side of the screenshot), streets are named after birds. Note latitude and longitude coordinates in the bottom left corner.

Immediately visible from the picture is the agricultural nature of Jeriorki, with a patchwork of narrow arable fields interspersed with clusters of new housing development.

The Google Earth image was taken in early spring 2002; our house is shown but the garden is bare soil (it was planted in the summer).

Coal train sidings, Okęcie


The Warsaw-Radom railway line runs close to ul. Trombity; at the north end of the street, the line is less than 100 yards away. An electrified dual-track line takes passenger and goods traffic south out of Warsaw, and running parallel to it is a single, unelectrified freight line that serves Warsaw's power station in Siekierki. Coal from the Silesian fields is delivered in 40-wagon trains to the sidings at Okecie, just north of Jeziorki. These trains are hauled by state-owned PKP electric engines; from Okecie to Siekierki, via an intermediary goods yard at Konstancin-Jeziorna, private-sector diesel power takes over.

Soviet-built 'Gagarins' (ST44s) or 'Tamaras' (TEM2s) take the long coal trains down the line, past W-wa Dawidy, W-wa Jeziorki (my particular stretch of rail), on past Nowa Iwiczna, where the single line curves away from the electrified main line. Through the industrial northern edges of Piaseczno passes the line, before reaching Konstancin-Jeziorna. There's a change of motive power, and the final 14 kilometers takes the trains to the power station. In summer the trains are shorter and run less often, in winter, sometimes a second engine is needed to haul the load.

Above is a shot taken from the southern end of the Okecie marshalling yard. You can see the front of a 'Tamara' (blue and yellow loco), to its left is a full coal train, to its right is an empty rake of wagons. On the far right is a Rumanian-built ST43 'Rumun' loco. Okecie airport is to the left of the frame.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Okecie airport, our near neighbour

"Warsaw Tower, this is Brussels Airlines Delta Juliet Oscar, inbound to land"... (BAE Systems Avro 146 RJ85)

We're less than three miles from the threshold of Warsaw Okecie Airport's Runway 33. With prevailing winds from the north west, planes coming into land at Okecie frequently fly over Jeziorki, coming in over ul. Sarabandy, crossing ul. Baletowa, then over ul. Jeziorki, before finally crossing ul. Karnawal and going 'over the fence' to touch down on the runway.

As the planes' engines are on low thrust for landing, they're not too noisy. They're noisier when taking off to the south and flying over Jeziorki. But this happens less often than the landings.

Above: Tupolev Tu-154M of the Polish Air Force, VIP transport for Poland's president and premier. One of the many interesting aircraft we often see above Jeziorki

The presence of the airport is a factor slowing down urban development in this part of Warsaw. The local authorities and the airport have drawn up zoning plans preventing the construction of high-rise buildings, although these plans are nebulous and legally disputed.

Talk of building a second runway parallel to the current main runway (15-33) to replace the shorter north west-south east runway (11-29) adds to the uncertainty. If built, the flightpath for new runway 33L will run directly over ul. Trombity. Still, it's a trade-off. Personally, I'd rather have more aircraft overhead than a rapid urbanisation of our street. I don't know if the farmers owning land round here would agree; their land prices would tumble if a blanket ban on new building were to be imposed.

Of course we'd rather have more planes flying overhead - we are EPWA spottaz! Incidentally, no one calls it 'Frederic Chopin Airport' - always 'Okęcie' (pron. ohKENCHyeah).

Wetlands

Right: The wetlands between the far end of ul. Trombity, ul. Dumki and ul. Kórnicka. A rare natural environment within the city limits of the capital of the EU's sixth-largest member state. Local residents toss bottles, old furniture, household waste and old building materials out on this land. It needs to be protected.

Across Jeziorki runs a network of drainage ditches which take water off the fields and channels it down towards the marshes. This is the lowest-lying land in the neighbourhood. The wetlands are all less than 99m above sea level; the southern end of ul. Trombity, where we live, is at least four metres higher.

Today, Monday 2 April 2007. Another cloudless day. Since the beginning of spring, Warsaw's had 118 hours of sunshine (broken only by two overcast hours on Saturday 31 March). Are we in for another long, dry summer?

The Good Seed on the Land


There's still a lot of agriculture cheek-by-jowl with modern housing. The view from my window on the morning of Saturday, 31 March 2007. For another successive year, the field is being sown. What will it be? Oats again...?

This farm land is worth, literally, millions. If the local farmers sold up to developers, the interest they would receive on the capital would be far greater than the revenue gained from selling a few fields' worth of crop. Yet they hang on; watching the property prices, watching land prices, watching the local authority's zoning plans. Today, their land is worth €20 a metre, more than four times that with building permission. In ten years time, who knows what it'll be worth? So they hang on, farming their oats, cabbage, carrots, potatoes as they have done for generations.

I hope they continue doing so. I grew up and lived most of my life in the densely built-up suburbs of West London, a similar distance from the city centre. So I treasure the diversity of our street. Long may we live among farmers!

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Wet at the end

Towards the north end of ul. Trombity are marshy wetlands, full of reeds. In spring, the croaking of frogs can be heard a mile away. This is also the habitat of black-headed gulls, which are even noisier. Moorhens can also be seen. During hot, dry summers, the marsh can evaporate (as happened in 2005 and 2006).

Superimposed on the Google Earth map below is an outline of Jeziorki's marshy area. The wetlands' extent is largest in early spring. Within a few weeks of the onset of warm weather, the water level visibly falls.

Warszawa Jeziorki

Ul. Trombity is one of Warsaw's more fascinating streets. More than one mile/1.6km long, it is full of contrast - new houses, old houses, farmyard animals, wildlife, wetlands; airliners fly over it, trains trundle past it - there's so much to see. The end of ul. Trombity is less than seven and half miles from the very centre of Warsaw (junction of ul. Marszalkowska and al. Jerozolimskie), and yet the neighbourhood has a distinctly rural air. The street is located in the Warsaw district of Ursynów, though on the other side of the busy ul. Puławska. This area, Jeziorki, is a far cry from the blocks of high-density housing usually associated with Ursynów.