Sunday, 30 March 2008

Swans pay us a visit

A rare sight in the Jeziorki wetlands - a pair of swans flew in today. How long will they stay? Plenty of ducks, moorhens and black-headed gulls about too. Eddie's friend Wojtek says he saw a pair of herons earlier today. It's all happening bird-wise, spring is beginning to assert itself.

A week on and the swans are still here. I hope they stay a while.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Early spring dusk

The clocks go back tonight. Those commentators who say that time change serves no purpose are doubly wrong. I'm fed up of being woken up by the sun rising at quarter past five. Quarter past six is more reasonable. Secondly, the longer evening (sun setting at seven pm) means I can cycle to and from work in daylight, and that I can go for walks or bike rides after returning home in the evening. Indeed, I believe that the time change should happen a month earlier - in late February, rather than the last Saturday of March. The clocks go back two months before the winter solstice (last weekend of October), yet go forward three months after winter solstice. This assymetry should be corrected. This would give the impression of spring coming earlier - something we all need in the Northern Hemisphere. Anyone else in favour of an putting clocks forward in late February?

After a beautiful dawn with clear skies, the clouds rolled in bringing a day's rain. Above: The tram terminus on al. Krakowskie. (Click here for the same view in mid-summer.) The skies cleared just before dusk, giving me an opportunity to visit the end of ul. Trombity with my camera and wellies. Below: A TEM-2 diesel loco hauls a coal train towards Siekierki.

Today's rain meant the wetlands are wetter than ever, the water level was higher than the tops of my wellies even at the edges, so I got wet socks. The bullfrogs are back (the sound of someone blowing over the top of a quart flagon). I saw two hares, though they moved so quickly I didn't manage to catch a clear shot.

I'm grateful for the fact that this piece of land at the end of our road is still wild, unspoilt save for the odd litter-dumps, and not a municipal leisure facility with car parks, footpaths, rangers, noticeboards, signposts, viewing platforms and byelaws.

In post-Lent mode, I find I have a massive appetite for Asiatic food. Today, I had Vietnamese fried beef noodle soup (the Asia Tasty on ul. Ptasia). Yesterday I had sushi (the Kobe on ul. Puławska). On Thursday I had dim-sum (the Tokyo on ul. Dobra). On Wednesday more fried beef noodle soup. My Lenten diet obviously lacked some nutritional elements that my organism sorely needs and I'm now making it up big time!

Thursday, 27 March 2008

This MUST be the last snow of this winter!?

I woke up this morning (quarter past five and light already) to the sight of more snow. It had been just below zero all night and the wet snow was sticking to vertical surfaces. The sky was clear though. I set off early for a breakfast meeting in Warsaw's Nowe Miasto (next to the Old Town). Between Ratusz-Arsenał Metro station and my destination, I strolled throught the Ogród Krasińskich (below). Quarter past seven and no one around.

On via ul. Freta (below), which links the Old Town (Stare Miasto) with Nowe Miasto. Warsaw's still deserted at this hour. The temperature climbs above zero. The snow is not destined to last. By the time I get home, it's +8C and all traces of snow have disappeared out in Jeziorki. Will this finally be the last of this winter's snow?

Below: Nowe Miasto - the square. Finally, signs of life. It's twenty to eight. The paucity of cars in the square helps the composition, as does the woman in the red jacket. St Kazimierz's Church was the site of tragic loss of life during the Warsaw Uprising. I must say I do love Warsaw; I have taken this city to heart.

Supplementary: This was indeed the last snow of the winter.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Lent - a summing up

Seven weeks after I started my 17th annual Lenten fast, three days after Easter Sunday, time for a summary. I gave up meat, dairy products, fish; caffeine (coffee and tea), alcohol, salt snacks, fast food, sugar, confectionary, cake. Weight down by seven pounds/half a stone/three and a bit kilo.

Blood pressure down (I suspect as a result from not salting my food) from 142/93 to 133/89. Pulse down from 102 to 70. One whole inch off from round the middle. I feel calmer. My desk at work is tidy.

I've gone back to my usual foods and drink, but will persevere with the salt ban. Too readily have I reached for the salt cellar without checking the salinity of what I'm about to eat. Having got used to the taste of less-salted food, I'll stick to that. I did not miss meat much, so will eat it sparingly in future. Giving up TV was no problem at all. Music and film I did miss and will continue to indulge myself.

Exercise - did 150 sit-ups today (two lots of 75) and will stick to this too, and indeed started doing press-ups (two lots of seven today). This seems to give results in the long term - as long as one is systematic about it.

The fate of urban wetlands?

Is this the inevitable fate of the wetlands at the end of ul. Trombity? This is Paradise Fields wetlands, Greenford, Middlesex ( 51°32'39.08"N, 0°20'29.23"W). A mile or so from our London house, eight miles from Marble Arch. Packaged as a "leisure facility" for coachloads of bored school children. On our visit, Moni, Eddie and I were outnumbered by uniformed council Rangers on patrol, each sporting a pair of binoculars and wellies. Viewing platforms, fenced off from the water, enable visitors to safely participate in the wetlands experience. Footpaths prevent footwear from becoming muddy. Byelaws (below) prevent you from doing everything except fly-tipping and dumping litter (the one thing that detracts from our Jeziorki wetlands paradise.

Let's hope that our low, low council rates in Jeziorki (30 quid a year) stops anyone in the Town Hall from having any right-on ideas about civilising our reedbeds.

I find it quite amazing that Polish is becoming the London Borough of Ealing's second official language!

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Snowy Easter in England

Early Easter and late snow affected England too. A country where a White Christmas is a rarity, snow in late-March is an extremely unusual sight. On Easter Saturday, Manchester was visited by hailstones (above). And on Easter Sunday, after having been to a two-hour Resurrection Vigil mass, we awoke to see snow.

Right: A folk carving of a Pensive Christ (Chrystus Frasobliwy) on Easter Day.

Lent is over. Back to meat, cheese, fish, coffee, wine etc etc. The long fast has ended, cleansing the body, strengthening the Will. Final weight on Easter Sunday, 11 st 3lb. Half a stone taken off. Three and half bags of sugar. 130 sit-ups (two lots of 65) - I will continue with the exercise regime as it has shaved an inch off round my middle.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Snowstorm on the first day of spring

We've temporarily moved offices from Powiśle, a quiet part of Warsaw near the river and Łazienki Park, to al. Jana Pawła II (above) right in the heart of the central business district. This morning, arriving at work, I was caught up in a sudden snowstorm entirely out of place for late March. Snows do happen late (13 April 1997 is one I recall); many Poles remember May Day parades in short sleeved shirts and snow flurries. Harry Secombe once sang: "If I ruled the world, every day would be the first day of spring". No thanks. Neither do I wish it could be Christmas every day. Now, 18 May would be nice...

Right: The view looking south along al. Jana Pawła II, on the corner of ul. Grzybowska. In the distance, the Rondo ONZ I skyscraper. This part of Warsaw is getting very high-rise. Across Grzybowska, behind the Westin hotel, another tall building is emerging from behind the scaffolding.

The meaning of Equinox

Today, at 05:48 GMT (06:48 here in Warsaw), is the moment of the Vernal (or Spring) Equinox. At that time, the sun crosses the Equator, and will from now on be shining over the Northern Hemisphere. This is the astronomical beginning of spring. Equinox (from the Latin, 'equal night') means that all over the world, the day is 12 hours long, and the night is 12 hours long (roughly, of course - the earth's curvature does mean that dusks are shorter at the Equator than at the Poles). From today right up to September 22 at 16:44 GMT, we'll have more day than night in the Northern Hemisphere. Today the sun rises just before quarter to six in the morning and sets at quarter to six in the evening. And winter is officially over.

Notice on the map above the red star shape over the Indian Ocean. That's the sun crossing the Equator. And note the rectangular shape of daylight falling on the globe. This map is available here. Below: The view from my study at Equinox. "It may be zero degrees, but in my heart it's spring".

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Spring, what spring?

We emerged onto al. Niepodległości amid a dense flurry of snowflakes. It was like a Hollywood Christmas - but without the merry crowds hurrying along with their gaily-wrapped presents and seasonal greetings. Sleet and wet snow made the pavements treacherous. But what happened to spring? This time last week it was +15C in Łódź - beautifully sunny - and today this. We're getting close to Equinox, today is 11 hours 58 minutes long. Easter is around the corner. But spring feels like an eternity away. The cold is expected to last all week. On Friday morning we fly to the UK for Easter - will our flight be delayed because of weather? What will the weather be like in England?

Below: View from Moni's window, Wednesday morning, 19 March. Spring still feels like an eternity away.

Six weeks into Lent

Forty-two days gone, four to go... Weight down to at 11 st 4lbs/72kg. Body Mass Index 22.7 (comfortably within limits of healthy weight for adult). Sit-ups now up to 120 per day (two lots of 60). One whole inch off trimmed off the stomach. Moni comments that my Lent has been more about me and less about God. I fear she may be right - too much self-centred focus on diet, strenghtening the Will, cleansing the body, getting fit - and not enough about the spiritual side of Lent. There's always next year - my 18th Lent in a row.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Wetlands: waiting for the spring

More rain throughout much of last week, so the water level in the wetlands at the end of ul. Trombity is higher than ever. The place is waterlogged (below). Compare this with how it looked two months ago; the resting place of the dead fox (last photo in that sequence) is also under water.

One difference from a week ago - the black-headed gulls are returning. Not yet in huge numbers, but their distinct crackling, screeching sound is audible from hundreds of metres away. Right: Almost there: A black-headed gull perches on a railway pantograph gantry close to the reed marshes.

I crossed the tracks to hear another familiar avian returnee - a skylark in song high above the fields.

Digging up Dawidowska

Nearly half a year has gone by since the diggers moved in to start connecting ul. Nawłocka, ul. Orfeusza, ul. Achillesa, ul. Buszczyka and ul. Dawidowska to the town drains. Progress has been painfully slow. Since last week, this trench has been extended about 30 yards (25 metres). For the normal pedestrian, access from ul. Buszczyka to ul. Nawłocka has been entirely cut off - unless you don't mind scaling mountains of soil or clambering over the digger.

But the inconvenience is worth it. Our szambo (septic tank) emptying bill is now around 80 quid a month. There's still no official confirmation that our end of ul Trombity will be next for hooking up with the drainage system that runs down ul. Karczunkowska.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

To Warsaw in style, at a leisurely pace

I turned up to Łódź Fabryczna station and discovered to my delight that I'd be returning to Warsaw in a brand-new train (above). Note the contrast with the elderly EN-57 stock to its right. Any hopes of a speedy return home were dashed by a quick glance at the timetable; two hours and 24 minutes to cover the 85 miles. That's an average speed of just 35 miles an hour! The distance between Warsaw and Łódz is the same as that between London and Rugby. The West Coast Main Line service would cover that distance in a mere 50 minutes - back in the 1970s!

Once the track has been modernised and adapted for higher speeds, we are promised (by 2010) that the journey time will be reduced to 60 minutes. Until then, anyone travelling between the two cities has a choice between two and half hours by rail or a similar time by road.

At least the train is smart, and with clean toilets. And an LED indicator telling you that you're averaging 30 miles an hour.

UPDATE October 2008 - Łódź-W-Wa Zachodnia journey time cut to 1hr 24mins. That LED now reads 125km/h much of the way.

Łódź - a rapidly-improving city

I was in Łódź (pron. WOOdzh) yesterday on business; between meetings and my train home I had time to look around. Łódź is Poland's second-largest city (but third-largest agglomeration). Since my first visit here in 1999, the city has made huge strides from a post-industrial wasteland. Unemployment has fallen from over 18% to less than 8%. Huge investments from multinationals such as Procter & Gamble, Bosch-Siemens, Gillette and Indesit have set up factories in the special economic zone. Low-cost flights operate from the city's airport bringing western Europe's labour markets and tourists closer. Europe's largest post-industrial retail development, Manufaktura, has given a boost to services, while ul. Piotrkowska (above) continues its reign as the world's longest shopping street (five km/three miles, twice as long as London's Oxford Street).

Ul. Piotrkowska is characterised by sumptuous palaces (mostly built in the Secessionist style in the late 19th/early 20th centuries), behind which stood grim textile factories. Many have been renovated, and now house shops, restaurants, clubs and offices.

Here's one of the palaces (left), standing on the corner of ul. Piotrkowska and ul. Tuwima (named after the poet who wrote Lokomotywa). Like most of Łódź's industrialists and artists, Julian Tuwim was Jewish - the city had a thriving Jewish community, devastated during the war (300,000 died). Below: another beautifully-restored palace fronting on ul. Piotrkowska.

But take a few steps away from the main drag, and the city takes on a different appearance; shabbier, run-down, poorer. The factories that used to churn out textiles, making Łódź Poland's Manchester, have long closed down, leaving brick shells currently put to other use.

Right: The yellow sign to the left of the photo advertises 'cheap clothes', like many shops in the city where you can buy used Western clothing by the kilo. The scores of side-streets and courtyards off Piotrkowska offer interesting sights and shopping experiences.

Property prices in Łódź are around half of what they are in Warsaw; I saw flats advertised for 4,300 zlotys - 5,000 /sq.m - so an average sized flat could be had for 40,000 quid. Having said that, prices have doubled in the past four years in GBP terms - but there are still bargains around.

Buyers with an interest in historic kamienice (tenements) can still find gems worth renovating. The building (left) is fascinating, yet with some sensitive work done to it, can be turned into something priceless. Some replaced tiles, a new balcony, lick of paint, make good...

The style would be called art nouveau in western Europe, but it shows definite tendencies towards Art Deco, though this is a good two decades early. That head at the top foreshadows the famous Wembley Lions.

Łódź is also internationally famous for its film school and studios. Earlier this year, a UK/Polish/Norwegian production, Peter and the Wolf, won an Oscar for best animated film short. The film is set to Prokofiev's music. And here is that Oscar, on display in Łódź, along with the protagonist and several other characters and elements from the set, all displayed under heavy security in Łódź, where the film was shot (the Se-ma-for studio).

Close to the main station, Łódź Fabryczna, is the city's Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox church, beautifully restored. The colours came up beautifully in the late afternoon sunlight. The building is a reminder of the fact that prior to WWI, Łódź was the westernmost outpost of the Russian Empire. Warsaw had one of these franchises too, much, much bigger, on what is now pl. Piłsudskiego; it was torn down in the 1920s.

Old school Łódź

This is how much of Łódź looked just a few years ago (above). With the exception of the city's main drag, ul. Piotrkowska, the rest of the place was an utter dump. As an American once told me, "This is what most of my fellow countrymen imagine all of Poland to be like - drab, post-industrial decay". While central Warsaw has one street like this (ul. Próżna), downtown Łódź still has block after block of crumbling tenements.

Below: More old-schoolery. This is a communist era "advert" (like, people had a choice) for Pewex, as it says above the logo, the "Enterprise for Internal Export". This was indeed an oxymoronic business that officially fleeced Poles of the hard currency they weren't supposed to have anyway. Pewex shops were always full of Marlboro, Johnny Walker, Levis, Metaxa, Heineken, Lego sets - "luxury goods" that were unavailable in ordinary shops. It's been many years since they went out of business, this mural is a faded reminder of a bright spot in an otherwise drab existence in People's Poland.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Five weeks into Lent

Thirty five days gone, 11 to go... Weight constant at 11 st 6lbs/72.8kg. Dried fruit in the office not a good idea, hence no more weight loss. Too much sugar. Very fed up of soya-based food. Had a large plate of soya mush in gooey sauce with stodgy rice and typical Polish surówka at Greenway in Łódź. Can't say I liked it, but at least I stuck to my Lenten diet. Food discovery of the week - avocado with Dijon mustard. Sit-ups now up to 110 per day (two lots of 55). Getting towards the end. Looking forward to the final measuring up. Still feeling good inside!

Another sight that presages spring's arrival

Driving to Łódź today, I spotted this gaggle of migrating geese overhead. It has long fascinated me as to why they keep this 'V' formation and how the lead goose comes to be selected. This article has the answer to the first question - it's to do with aerodynamics (akin to cyclists following in one another's slipstream). One goose may not make a summer, but a large flock like this suggests that spring is on its way. The temperature nudged +14C today - a record so far this year.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Poland's labour market woes

I'm speaking at a Government-sponsored conference tomorrow about the problems facing Poland's labour market. We've recently reached a tipping point. Three factors have coincided to turn an employers' market into an employees' market in just a few short years. In 2001/2 you needed good contacts to find a job. Today, employers need similarly good contacts to find workers.

Firstly - migration. Around 1.6m Poles have left Poland to work in the labour-starved economies of western Europe, the UK and Ireland being the main ones. These are the people Poland needs - the young, dynamic and open to the world. Fed up with 20% joblessness and bullying bosses, once the door to EU labour markets was flung open, hundreds of thousands of Poles voted with their feet.

Secondly - a booming economy. Those that stayed, however, have tended to prosper. Average wages are up 11.5% in the year to January 2008, consumer confidence is at an all time high - consumer spending up by nearly 20% in fourth quarter of 2007. Companies are investing heavily too. EU funds (all €67 billion of them!), a construction boom fuelled not least by the EURO 2012 football finals, and record foreign direct investment have all helped create 1.2 million new jobs in 2007.

Thirdly - and I think this factor is insufficiently understood by commentators - demographics. As the above graph I made using GUS (Poland's central statistical office) data shows, Poland's rising demographic trend has peaked with record numbers of young people entering the labour market in recent years. You'll notice that ever since economic transformation began in 1989/90, each year for the next 19 years, the number of school and university leavers has been successively rising. For employers - great times. But those great times have ended.

Every year for the next 20 years, the number of young people entering the labour market will fall by and average of 17,000 a year. Things will get really bad in the mid-late 2020s, when the smallest age cohort - today's five year olds - start looking for work. There's only 350,000 of them - nearly half the number of today's 25 year-olds. And all this will happen when the peak of the post-war baby boom hits retirement age.

What are the answers? I can see some around me already. For the last three weeks, the check-out ladies at Auchan were (I suspect) Ukrainian. I could tell by the accent and their name badges. I'm sure their monthly earnings are far less than the 4,600 zlotys that's the current Warsaw average. Other solutions will require costly policy measures. A few weeks ago, Gazeta Wyborcza stated that only one in four of Poland's over-55s is currently working. The report said that it costs the government 8,000 zlotys to get an unemployed person over 55 back into work - if that person has higher education. If not - the cost is a staggering 22,000 zlotys. I'm sure the private sector could do this for less!

Another solution is to look at the structure of unemployment. On paper, Poland's unemployment is currently 11.7% - the highest in the EU. Yet Warsaw, Poznan and the Tri-City have unemployment below 3%. (London's unemployment rate is nearly three time higher than Warsaw's!) Wrocław, Kraków and Katowice have unemployment between 4% and 5%. And in all of these cities, unemployment continues to fall, while the national average climbs. Click here for latest unemployment figures across Poland. The map above is based on these figures, broken down by sub-region. This clearly shows that Mazowsze, ostensibly the wealthiest Polish province, consists of rich Warsaw, its well-off hinterlands, and three sub-regions with high levels of social deprevation.

Radom a mere 60 miles from Warsaw, with 22.5% of its population registered as unemployed. Poland’s unemployment blackspot, the Szydlowieckie district (poviat) south-east of Radom, has 34% joblessness. The Ciechanów-Płock sub-region, north of Warsaw, has 17% unemployment, peaking at over 20% in three of its poviats. As stated in this article, it would be good for the outlying sub-regions of Mazowsze to be split from the capital, otherwise they risk missing out on getting their fair share of EU structural funds because of the province's overall wealth - all attributed to the success of Warsaw's economy.

Approaching spring getting ever nearer

The pace of spring's onset is accelerating. Sights not visible a few days ago are now becoming commonplace. Despite the light overcast, today's warmer than yesterday (+11.3C max). Today I set off with Moni along the unadopted land that lies between ul. Trombity and ul. Dumki to find the frog pond we visited shortly after moving to Jeziorki six years ago. The pond has since dried up, whether this is more efficient drainage, side-effects of new building or global warming I'd not like to speculate on. (Left:) Willows are all in flower, catkins - a symbol of Easter in Poland - are now appearing everywhere.

Frogs - Moni spotted a couple today, the first ones of the year. She's very observant, besides the frogs, she also spotted an old perfume bottle (once washed, it will end up in my objets trouves cabinet), and a Czechoslovakian imitation Swiss Army knife.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Ul. Karnawał and the Metro's link to the world

A single track heads off from the sidings by ul. Zatorze. This is the line that joins the Warsaw Metro to Europe's rail network. The line crosses ul. Karnawał (above), ul. Hołubcowa, ul. Oberka and ul. Poloneza (all level crossings), before bridging ul. Puławska, then disappearing into the Las Kabacki forest, and then entering the Metro Depot at Kabaty. The line is extremely rarely used (I've seen just two works railcars on this line in over ten years living in the area). Over this line has travelled all all the rolling stock in use on the Warsaw Metro today. The line also forms the border between Jeziorki to the south and Grabów to the north.

Wetlands in late winter

I strolled down to the end of ul. Trombity in my wellies to check out the wetlands at their wettest. Water levels are high, too high to wade. So I skirt round the shoreline towards ul. Dumki. No sign of frogs or gulls. I did see a hare - so big, at first sight I thought it was a deer. It was too quick for me to shoot. I saw it in the same place that I caught it last spring. Below: Looking across the reedbeds; houses on ul. Dumki in the distance.

Towards Okęcie again

Eddie and I covered over 10.5 miles (nearly 17km) today on our first bicycle trip of the year. We crossed the tracks at ul. Karnawał, I caught some interesting rail movement. A Tamara stands ready to haul a full coal train to Siekierki (right), while a Gagar (ST1099) and SM42 1150 run light coupled together.

Intimations of spring (3)

Just as I thought that spring was still a long way off, I spotted these flowers in the garden. The sunshine prompted me not only to take a short walk this morning, but also to go for the year's first bike ride with Eddie. We rode to Okęcie airport and back, crossing the new viaduct. Although temperatures did not quite hit double digits (+9.8C high today), it was most pleasant.

Last of the winter snow?

In our garden this morning to photograph the final remnants of the snow that fell on Wednesday morning (right and below). Other than the evergreens and a solitary willow, trees in the garden are not showing signs of bursting into leaf yet. The przednówek drags on and on.

By this afternoon, the temperature is expected to get into double digits. This should prompt nature to speed up the onset of spring.

That, I hope, is that. While snow in large amounts is natural and fun, it's rightful place is in December and January. We may still be getting snow into late April, although I'd prefer to see the back of it. If it does return, it'd most likely be another light dusting. When this lot melts, I'd be delighted not to see any more until late November.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Another light dusting

Rather than having a proper winter this year, we've been getting the odd dusting of snow that last a day or two. Winters are getting warmer. The temperature is above zero, having dipped below for only a few nocturnal hours. Above: The end of ul. Trombity where it meets ul. Kórnicka, early this morning. By mid-afternoon the snow had all disappeared in town, but in Jeziorki was still lying wet on the grass when I got home .

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Four weeks into Lent

Twenty eight days gone, 18 to go... Lost another pound, so I'm down to 11 st 6lbs/72.8kg. Finally worked out how to make tasty soya burgers (fry two at a time on sunflower oil, lots of onion, chilli pepper, one clove of garlic, serve between three slices of fried bread cut to a round shape in the style of a Big Mac.) The sugary dried cranberries have been replaced by naturally sweet dried cherries (which the whole office is going mad for). Seedless white grapes are in season at the moment, so I'm devouring kilos of them. Sit-ups increased to 100 per day (two lots of 50). Generally feeling in good form with two and half weeks to go.

Got thinking about Ramadan - 28 days of not eating or drinking during daylight hours. I would not like to do that. Going without water for so long is unhealthy. And given that Muslims use a lunar calendar, Ramadan is a very movable feast. The month of fasting moves forward by 11 days every year. Bearable in midwinter in the northern hemisphere, when there's eight hours of daylight or less, Ramadan would be difficult to observe in midsummer north of the Arctic Circle!

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Dramatic sunset

Photographed ten minutes before sunset from the attic window, today's sunset was quite magnificent (click on photo to enlarge). The strong westerly gales ensured the weather was continually changing, sunlight one moment, squally showers the next. Trees in foreground the same ones photographed this time last week (see entry for Sunday 24 February, bottom photo).

A bigger splash

Hurricane Emma had blown itself out by the time the weather system reached Warsaw; we had winds gusting to 70 kmh overnight, but the rain has slowed. Yesterday while driving I found that ul. Baletowa had flooded completely on the notorious stretch between ul. Sarabandy and ul. Farbiarska. Ever has it been so - I remember getting soaked here in the summer of 1999 while cycling home this way. While most drivers, thinking about the electrics under the bonnet, would drive slowly through the flood, this guy just went for it. Good thing there were no pedestrians or cyclists in the way!

Tourist trail through Jeziorki

Anyone familiar with Poland's mountains will know what a szlak turystyczny is. A recommended tourist trail marked with coloured lines (usually red, blue, black, green or yellow) on a white background. These are found painted on trees, posts etc.

Warsaw has scores of these heading out of the city to rural parts, dating back to the days when jolly workers from their state-owned zakłady pracy would set off on jolly hikes on their one free day a week to take in some fresh air.

One such trail passes Jeziorki on its way from W-wa Dawidy PKP station to the Las Kabacki forest and then on through Klarysew to Ciszyca bus station. Officially numbered MZ-5142-z, it's 16.4km long. Here's a full list of all szlaki turystyczne in Mazowsze province. There's more than a hundred in all, with a total distance of over 2,700 km. Administered by the PTTK, quaintly translated as the "Polish Tourist Country Lovers Society" (I'd go for "Polish Tourism and Sightseeing Association" myself), a body set up in Stalinist days as a kind of communist version of the Ramblers' Association.

Above: Tourist trail markers along ul. Dumki and the footpath linking it to ul. Sarabandy. Part of this stretch that runs through Jeziorki is visible from my bedroom window. Every now and then the trail falls foul of local landowners wanting to block it. Once, walking home I found a few metres of police tape stretched across the path. More recently, a building plot with a new house on it cut into the trail and the landowners on the other side blocked off the detour that hikers were making around the plot with logs. This situation has now been resolved and a little wooden gate now stands here.

SUPPLEMENTARY: A week later I'm came this way to find the gate chained and padlocked shut. I scrambled over without too much effort, but I think that blocking public rights of way like this is not on. Indeed, it's probably an offence against the Ustawa (Law) of 18 January 1996 on Physical Culture, which sets out all the Rozporządzenia (enabling regulations) regarding the marking and maintenance of szlaki turystyczne.

SUPPLEMENTARY 2: I've discovered another szlak turystyczny in Jeziorki! This one (MZ-5143-c) runs 9.9km from Pyry to Powsin, again through the Las Kabacki forest. This sign (right) is on ul. Jeziorki.

The Rozporządzenia to the Ustawa say that szlak turystyczny markers should be painted (in oil paint) 10cm high by 15cm wide, white-colour-white, and should be no more than 50m apart, from each one you should see one in front of you and one behind you (assuming clear visibility).