Sunday, 28 September 2008

Autumn gold, Zamienie changes

This is more like it! Weather-wise, it's such a lovely day. Fourth day in a row with clear blue skies, in the afternoon at least. Temperature +16C. We all set off en famille for a walk, when we bump into by Darek and Ewa, old friends from London with a place in North Wales, who are now on the verge of a return to Poland. Their new Warsaw house will be just up the road from us, in nearby Grabów. Above: ripening pumpkins at the far end of ul. Trombity.

The walk extended towards Zamienie, where changes are happening fast. The vaccine factory buildings have been demolished, leaving just a handful of buildings still standing, including the fire station and the admin block. The boiler house, labs and stables have all gone. Meanwhile work on the new estate to the north of Zamienie, Polne Maki, is rushing ahead, a showhouse is now open to potential customers. Above: The view from Zamienie looking west towards Zgorzała. Click on the label 'Zamienie' below to see how things were.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Well-shot pheasants

Across the tracks, just off ul. Kórnicka, I could hear some pheasants in the undergrowth. Moving towards them, they obligingly broke cover and blam blam blam blam! I potted some for your visual delectation. Above: a hen pheasant, below, a cock pheasant. Unlike our other large birds - swans, herons or storks, the pheasants do not fly south for the winter. They're not good flyers anyhow, and once out of danger, they'll glide into some nearby cover.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Surreal twilight, ul. Karczunkowska

Yesterday evening, Moni and I returned together from town by bus. I took a hand-held shot of Moni on the corner of ul. Karczunkowska and Trombity. While the surreal twilight colours - the mix of artificial lighting and dusk sky - created a wonderfully atmospheric ambience, the camera shake was too much. So we returned, with Eddie this time, and tripod, to take it again. The old photo's been taken down and replaced by this one - 25 second exposure at f22.

Below: There's a road-maintenance depot further along ul. Karczunkowska. In the evenings, there's always a lot of heavy plant returning from the day's work - moving at about 20kmph. The slow shutter speed makes the excavator look like it's going much faster!

Cleaning Rondo 1

My favourite modern building in Warsaw, Rondo 1, is getting a clean from the outside. Window cleaning in Britain is associated with George Formby or Robin Asquith, but this is somewhat more serious. Rondo 1 is 40 stories high; these guys require the skills of commandos or alpinists to do this job; not for the faint-hearted. I recently heard of a lady who worked in this building; she had a good job with a large law firm, but she couldn't stand the building - vertigo, lifts that left your stomach on the ground floor; she's now working for another international law firm, though one with offices nearer street level.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Give me sunshine

After the best part of two weeks of utterly dismal weather, damp and unseasonably cold, the sun emerged today and stayed out all day. And the night was clear. The relief was massive. We've all been fed up with those mid-November blues at this time of year. Above: Al. Jerozolimskie in front of the Polonia Palace Hotel, facing the Palace of Culture.

There must be a better way (3)

Today being the day of our monthly business mixer, I took public transport into town. Ul. Puławska was as awful as ever (above). The 709 bus took 33 minutes from ul. Karczunkowska to Wilanowska metro station, a distance of less than 8km (five miles). Average speed - 15 kmph or 9 mph. On the way home (at half past ten at night, little traffic), the same distance took 20 minutes, or 24 kmph/ 16 mph.

There's talk right now about creating a bus lane down the length of ul. Puławska. It would have the effect of speeding up buses into town in the morning and out of town in the evening peak. It would save 13 minutes or so off my journey by bus - but by confining three lanes of car traffic into two, it would clog up ul Puławska by half as much again. (Look at the above picture and imagine this load of traffic crushed into two lanes. Now, if the authorities' response would be to double the number of buses - then fine, many people could be tempted to ride them into town. The buses are currently packed solid at rush hours as it is.

This leads planners (if such indeed exist in the City of Warsaw) to wrestle with classic game theory. Create bus lanes and increase frequency of buses, and yes, some drivers will give up their cars and take to the buses to avoid the worse traffic jams. But once enough motorists do so, pressure on road space will ease, so some bus users will return to their cars. And another less-than-optimal equilibrium will be reached. If the city authorities paint bus lanes down Puławska without dramatically increasing the number of buses to use them, then they deserve to be turfed out of office.

Monday, 22 September 2008

It's official - summer's over... NOW

At 15:44 Greenwich Mean Time, 16:44 British Summer Time, 17:44 Central European Time, the sun crossed the equator and headed south for the winter (look at the time at the bottom of this post!). This is the equinox again; the astronomical end of summer and beginning of autumn. As with the spring equinox, we can see on the above map of the world that the day is 12 hours and the night 12 hours everywhere on earth today (more or less, given our planet's curvature).

Compare today with the spring equinox, six months ago, and with summer solstice, three months ago.

For the next six months, the northern hemisphere will have more darkness than daylight. A depressing thought. I can already feel that my appetite has sharply increased during the past two dismal (weatherwise at least) weeks. As soon as I've finished one huge slap-up meal I feel ready for another. A biological signal that the coming winter will be a harsh one?

My wife meanwhile is forsaking fruit for cake. A sure sign we're going to be putting on the fat. But then that's what Lent is all about - cleansing the body of all those unnecessary toxins and losing the weight piled on over winter. And, of course, for contemplating the hereafter.

This time last year:
Last sunrise of summer, first sunset of autumn
Potato harvest time, Jeziorki
On the road to Łuków
Parcels at twilight
March of Progress

Friday, 19 September 2008

He stopped the sun and moved the earth

The charm of the Jagiellonian University's Collegium Novum, setting for conference that I attended today. Arriving in good time before the event starts, I get a chance to admire the Aula. Ah now! What's this? (below). Don't I know this from somewhere?

If you're Polish, you'll be extremely familiar with the above image. This is Mikołaj Kopernik by Jan Matejko. The original is in this room (top right). I photographed it using my wonderful Nikkor 18-200mm lens, at 60mm, wide open (f5), at three-quarters of a second exposure, with my arms bracing the lens on the back of a chair, 800 ISO, noise reduction on. The Vibration Reduction does its bit - but notice the pincushion distortion. The image is untweaked in Photoshop to give you an idea of colour rendition. No flash - a mixture of natural daylight and tungsten lighting.

More Unwonted Adlestroppery

A repeating loop of events like in Groundhog Day; drive to work see crash, take train to Kraków, get delayed. This time by an hour (gets worse each time), this time the Adlestrop incident was
at Łuczyce. Our train stood still as the sun set; passengers hanging out of the windows smoking a crafty fag, watching and waiting. At last a Warsaw-bound express passed us, and minutes later we moved on. Three times we had such a 20 minute delay. PKP should come clean and put these delays into the official timetable while the tracks north of Krakow are being repaired.

Last year I travelled from Madrid to Seville by the Spanish Alta Velocidad Espanola (AVE) train. The train covered the 470 km from the Spanish capital to Seville in 2 hrs 20 mins, averaging 200km/h. The 300 km from Warsaw to Krakow took 4 hours yesterday. 75km/h.

This time last year:

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Today's smashes

Today's drive to work marred by two accidents - a three-car shunt on Puławska as it crosses Dolina Służewiecka, then a mile or so further on a bike-vs-car crash on the corner of Puławska and Domaniewska.

Monday, 15 September 2008

There must be a better way (2)

Another Monday driving into work. My, the traffic's worse than ever. This usually means a crash. And yes, here's one on the corner of ul. Sobieskiego and Beethovena.

Above and below: Two taxis collided at the junction of Żwirki i Wigury and 17 Stycznia. From the wreckage it looked like more cars were involved. I wonder how many people rushing to the airport (down the one and only artery available to passengers heading there from Warsaw) missed their flight; Żwirki i Wigury was jammed up solid.

When I worked in London, I cycled to work in Central London (nearly) every day for nine years, and I might have seen three motor accidents in all that time. In Warsaw, this is an everyday occurrence. This says it all about the quality of Warsaw's roads and drivers.

My wife's had enough and has started driving to the nearest Metro station, leaving her car there, taking the Metro into town and walking to her office. It takes 20 minutes longer each way, but she says its less stressful and the walk does her good.

This time last year:
Communting down Warsaw's unpaved roads leads to this.
In praise of the silver birch

Sunday, 14 September 2008

First apple

What's that splash of red on our apple tree? Why, it's an apple. Indeed the very first one on the tree, planted five years ago. While our garden has proved fruitful, with lots of blackberries (turned into delicious smoothies by my wife, blended with raspberries and blueberries), sour cherries, white raspberries and wild strawberries, our apple tree has not, until now, borne any fruit. So it's a pleasure to see at least one apple on it.

This is, in any event, a bumper year for Polish apples; prices have fallen to the point where many growers are not bothering to pick them. The price for industrial apple (for juice) is 10 grosze a kilo - literally a penny a pound.

Colleagues in the office bring delicious apples in from their family działki, with the right balance of crispness, sweetness and acidity. The unsprayed apples might have blemishes and be an odd size, but are tastier than the standardised hypermarket bought apples. I await with interest what our first apple will taste like!

Ukrainian visitor to Okęcie

Above: A Ukrainian Air Force Antonov An-30 coming into land at Okęcie. The aerial survey version of the widely-built An-24 is distinguishable by its extensively glazed nose and the raised cockpit position above the fuselage. Like most passenger airports, the bulk of traffic at Okęcie is composed of vanilla-flavoured Boeing 737s and Airbus 320s, seasoned with ATR-42s and -72s. So it's interesting to get a rare visitor from the east.

This particular aircraft is taking part in the Open Skies programme, under which the air forces on either side of the former Iron Curtain can overfly the territories of their former adversaries to promote openness. It seems from the OSCE website pages about Open Skies that the Ukrainian Air Force surveys German territory, so it's possible that this aircraft is refuelling on its way out or home.


Below: A Bulgarian Open Skies An-30 has been flying into and around Warsaw these past few weeks. Here it is taking off from Okęcie, 12:50 CET.

A better photo showing the same plane landing, this time in Germany, here.

The Rampa and the ski-jump

Curious as to what had happened at the rampa na kruszywa on ul. Karczunkowska over the summer, I strolled over with my trusty Nikon D80 with 18-200mm lens. To my surprise, the rest of the embankment had been dismantled, and all that was left was the loading ramp itself, isolated on the Mazovian plain, looking like a cross between a beached landing craft and a pontoon bridge from nowhere to nowhere.

Note the sandy nature of the soil south of Warsaw, and the thousands of tyres on the site still awaiting removal. I wonder what the scrap value of an old tyre is.

Will the rampa be dismantled? Well, it occupies what's fast becoming prime development land, and there must be hundreds of tons of scrap metal up there, but then again Warsaw has even more bizarre examples of redundant architecture just standing there for decades.

Take for example the ski-jump in Mokotów (below), which I visited in the afternoon. Built in 1953, it was closed forever in 1989, a chunk removed from the top to prevent unauthorised jumps. So for nearly 20 years, this prime piece of development land has just stood here, useless.

I guess residents of the area (Pod skocznią - 'Under the ski-jump') consider it a local landmark, but its very existance is testament to Poland's very mixed up approach to urban planning and development. Next weekend, weather permitting, I hope to visit another useless leftover structure, the 13km of motorway near Bolimów that was to have been part of the Berlin to Moscow route built in time for the Moscow Olympics in 1980. All that happened was that a two-lane motorway appeared in the middle of nowhere, a lost highway with unfinished viaducts spanning country streams, now overgrown with grass, bushes and trees.

This time last year:
Spiders' webs and sunshine
Week before equinox

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Early, cold, start to autumn

Gloomy, cold, damp, unpleasant. At six this morning the temperature outside was +5C; by midday, when I went out to do the weekly shop, it had climbed to +8.5C. Given that last Sunday we were sweltering in +30C heat, this is some sharp drop in temperature. This time last year, the weather was warmer and dryer. We're forced into sweaters and slippers. I bought a new pair yesterday in Krakow (in the underground passage between the Planty and the station). This pattern of góralskie (mountain folk) slippers is ubiquitous in Poland, priced the same in Zakopane as in Gdańsk, and sold alongside oscypki, the smoked ewes' milk cheese, and other folk artifacts.

This is my fifth pair since arriving in Poland. They are supremely comfortable and warm, just the thing to slip your feet into on a cold winter's night. But inflation is making itself felt; the adult-sized ones used to be 20 złotys a pair, now they are 30 zł; in sterling terms it's a rise from three quid to seven. And - for the first time since early spring - we had a sauna to warm our bones. And - for the first time since early spring - we've had to put the central heating on for an hour to take the chill from the air.

On his blog 20 east, Scatts opines that Poland has but two seasons, 'green' and 'grey'. If so, we've just slipped from the one to the other, not to re-emerge until early April. A distressing thought. I rather think Poland has six seasons, except this year we've skipped one. We're now gone from high summer to that grey, chilly, pre-frost period missing the babie lato or Indian summer/golden autumn along the way. The pre-frost period usually lasts from mid-October to early December and is followed by Winter Proper. Characterised by below-freezing temperatures and snow, Winter Proper (which seems to get shorter and less intense each year) is followed by przednówek, that dead, drear, season when there's no longer much chance of snow settling but there's still no sign of new life. The suddenly, in early April, spring kicks in. Short and intense, it melds seemlessly into high summer (dry at first in May and June, wetter in July and August). Last year, September was generally warm and fine, babie lato continued into mid-October.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Kraków scenes

Krakow, one of Poland's greatest tourist draws, is a bit disfunctional at present. The entire city's being dug up, which means that getting around it is a nightmare. It took me as long to walk the 2.7 km from the Hotel Qubus back to the railway station as it took by taxi the other way. Here we have ul. Starowiślna, closed to traffic, closed to trams. A local troublemaker is being removed. "I've only had a few ales, officer..." "GET IN THE BACK OF THE VAN!" Krakow's Straz Miejska should remove the aggressively drunk beggars panhandling in the passage between the Galeria Krakowska shopping mall and the railway station.

Above: More digging on ul. Starowiślna. Good to see JCB making the most of Poland's (slow and rather delayed) infrastructure boom. Note also contemporary Polish young men's hairstyles: very short or extremely short.

The strong zloty has had a negative impact on the tourist season in Krakow this year, with hotels reporting a marked drop in visitor numbers; this is also affecting international business tourism. A pint (568 ml) of beer in an average London pub is now cheaper than 500 ml of beer in a Krakow bar on the old town square, which at 12 zł is around three quid.

Almost gone, but from time to time one stumbles upon them; advertising for old communist-era brands painted on walls. Here we have a series of ads for Eldom products. The name 'ELDOM' comes from 'Elektryczny' and 'Dom' (house), ie, electrical household goods. To my surprise, the brand's still alive, and doing quite well, having branched out from vacuum cleaners, sewing machines and tumble-dryers. Eldom has wisely diversified into hair crimpers, curlers and clippers, sweater shavers (yes!) and food dehydrators.

See also Pewex ad painted on wall in Łódź.

I feel guilty for portraying Krakow in a less-than-favourable light, so do have a look my other posts from this city (click on 'Kraków' tag below).

My own Polish Adlestrop

Or - where my Krakow-bound express train stopped Unwontedly. This is Włoszczowa Północna, like Adlestrop, in the middle of nowhere. But while Adlestrop is famous for the eponymously-named station in Edward Thomas's quintessentially English poem, Włoszczowa Płn is famous for being the station opened at a cost of 1.2 million zlotys by Polish politician Przemysław Edgar "Gosiu" Gosiewski to serve his constituency. It is the only passenger station on the CMK main line from Warsaw to the south.

It usually serves a handful of Włoszczowites headed for Kraków and an even smaller number of Varsovians eager for an early morning taste of small-town Poland. The cost to the rest of us is that this train, the Ernest Malinowski, which back in 2005 used to take 2 hrs 40 mins to get from Warszawa Centralna to Kraków Głowny, now takes 2hrs and 55 mins. Train-loads of people have had 15 minutes of their lives stolen for the sake of pork-barrel politics. I'm glad to report that Mr Gosiu is no longer in power (having enjoyed his few minutes in the sun as Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland).

Our train this morning broke down at Włoszczowa, and while it was being fixed, we waited here, in the fog, for it to be mended. It was, but we arrived 45 minutes late in Krakow.

Above: The conductor waits for the signal to depart. The platform is empty. As ever.

This time last year:
Here come the planes

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Late summer sun

After two days of rain, two days of sun. Autumn is less than a fortnight away. This is classic Polish 'babie lato', mature vegetation, cobwebs in the fields, languorous morning moods. Above: The view from our balcony out on the fields. Below, close-up of the morning light on the golden, dew-covered grassland behind our house.

There must be a better way.

Above: Ten to seven, Tuesday evening, looking north up ul. Puławska. Still solid. Southbound, it's solid like this right the way to dormatory town Piaseczno seven kilometres away. Jeziorki's nearer to Warsaw's centre, but still four km south of this spot. Heavy, heavy traffic. An easy way to burn two hours of your day. What's the alternative? Well, here's a thought. While Puławska's chock-a-block, the railway line (below) linking the Warsaw Metro's depot at Kabaty to the outside world at Okęcie stands idle. How about a light rail shuttle between W-wa Okęcie station and Ursynów? If it can take 400 cars off the road, it's worth it. Just eight round trips a day, four in the morning, four in the evening...

Each year, urban road traffic gets denser and denser as Poland gets richer. Jacek Majchrowski, mayor of Krakow, said that during his first, four-year term of office, the number of cars registered in the city grew by 40%. What worries me is not just the cars registered in Warsaw, but the large volume that will be registered in surrounding towns and villages as the new housing developments are completed. How many more cars will the new 15-floor Sand City Towers (in Piaseczno - get it?) apartment building throw onto ul. Puławska each morning?

UPDATE, OCTOBER 2008: To the left of the railway line in the picture above will be where the S2 Warsaw southern bypass expressway will run. It will cross Puławska to the north of the bridge from which I took the top picture.

UPDATE, MARCH 2009: The trees in the picture have been cut down. The path of the express way will run to the right of the railway track.

This time last year:
Roadworks and detours, ul. Puławska
Objets trouves on the line
Zgorzała contrasts

Take the coal train
Ul. Kórnicka gets paved

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Recycling time rolls round again

It's been over two months since I last visited the recycling bins in Nowy Podolszyn, but then we've been away a lot. Still, time to time to clear out the garage and to address one's conscience to issues of Consumerism. Heaps and heaps of plastic in different colours, glass bottles (158 of them!), paper and cardboard - all needing to be sorted. And time to see just what exactly a Polish suburban middle class family spends its money on and how much waste it creates.

In terms of plastics, mineral water bottles (1.5l) create most waste, along with yogurt cartons. Brands - Cisowianka is our preferred water, Zott's Yogobella, Smakija desserts, Grycan ice cream and Piątnica cottage cheese top the plastics, while in terms of glass Marwit's Owocudo smoothie bottles predominate along with Tarczyn orange juice and Pilsner Urquell empties.

All clean and sorted, we take them and place them in the right bins. We are doing Our Bit (we hope). But there are still reasons to express doubts about all this recycling stuff. I mean our parents never did any of this when we were small... But then things weren't as over-packaged as they are today.

Take a look at the Auchan hypermarket plastic bag (bottom right). You will not see its likes again. A few months ago, Auchan replaced branded bags with anonymous white ones, so that the retailer could avoid having ecological fingers pointed at it as a Polluter of the Landscape. A few weeks ago, the anonymous white bags were again replaced, this time by green, biodegradable ones, which (it says on them) will degrade totally in 24 months when in contact with the air.

Now, I'm a bit cynical here. The old ones, if recycled properly, could be turned into flowerpots or fleecy tops. Will the new "green ones"? I wouldn't want flowerpots or fleecy tops made of a material that will biodegrade in the atmosphere. Plus, the implication is, that if buried in landfill sites, they'll not biodegrade anyway as air doesn't get to them. So really, all the hypermarket is doing is avoiding the PR shame of having its branded bags hanging off trees and in bushes (in the UK these are known as "witches' knickers").

Green consumerism is in its infancy. We're getting fooled left right and centre and don't know it.

Friday, 5 September 2008

General aviation heaven

Some like fast jets. Others like large airliners. Me, my favourite planes are piston engined, tail-dragging designs that date back to the 1930s-1950s. I was delighted to receive an invite to the 15th anniversary celebrations of Przegląd Lotniczy - Aviation Revue, Poland's leading general aviation magazine, at the private airfield near Konstancin (beyond Gassy). Located here: 52° 04'38.70"N, 21°11'0.41"E, the aeroclub has an 800m grass runway and a hangar for 20 light aircraft.

Above: Ah now! Here comes my favourite biplane, an Antonov An-2. This example, Polish PZL-built SP-KMZ, belongs to the Lubuskie Aeroklub and today was used to haul two parachutists up to a decent height before they made their display jump. The An-2 is among the most widely produced aircraft of all time, with over 20,000 produced between 1947 and 2003 in the USSR, China and Poland (where the majority was built). Despite its archaic appearance, the An-2 is an extremely rugged and reliable design with amazing short-field take off and landing characteristics.

Above: An upside down pass along the runway from an Extra 300 piloted by Robert Kowalik, eight times Polish aerobatics champion. This plane is designed uncompromisingly for aerobatic flight. Right: The Extra 300 executed an amazing series of manouevres. Here; the pilot dives towards the ground while spinning like a corkscrew. The plane seemed to be on the verge of being out of control, yet the pilot always manages to recover.

Above: A Steen Super Skybolt piloted by Marek Szufa, another excellent display.

Below: More interesting stuff in the hangar; a Tiger Moth commemorating Polish pilots' participation in the RAF during WW2 (though the overall yellow scheme was pre-war). The De Havilland DH82 Tiger Moth was the principal basic trainer with the RAF throughout the war.

Also of note in the hangar, a TS-8 Bies trainer (Polish design similar in configuration to the North American T-28 Trojan), a Yakovlev Yak-52 trainer, several Cessnas and other more modern types. Outside the hanger, a spread of modern general aviation types; one beauty that caught my eye was this Diamond TwinStar below.

Below: Another of my favourite planes - the Polish designed PZL-104 Wilga, which has excellent short take off and landing characteristics. No longer in production, the Wilga is an aeroclub workhorse used for glider towing and carrying parachutists.

And finally - the oldest aircraft in the air today, a CSS-13 (Polish licence-built Polikarpov Po-2). The predecessor of the An-2, the legendary kukuruzhnik was built in even larger numbers and used in many roles, including night bomber during the Korean War.

An excellent day out, the event was incredibly well organised, a great time was had by all. Just about anyone in Poland owning an aeroplane was here, a spirit of shared enthusiasm was evident. Fans of balloons, parachutes, gliders, hang gliders, microlights - all were present today. And we were lucky with the weather, setting off for Konstancin, it was raining. I got home, swapped car for bicycle, and by the time I'd reached the airfield, the weather was perfect for VFR flight.

This time last year:
Burnt by the Sun