Friday, 28 November 2008

From the archives

Rooting around the hard disk of my laptop, I found something I'd suspected had been deleted long ago - photos of the rampa in action, taken on 9 September 2006 on my old Nokia 6300 with its rather poor 1.3 megapixel camera. Above: An SM48 diesel loco first pulls the train from the sidings in the direction of Mysiadło, then reverses up the ramp, pushing a rake of 12 aggregate wagons ahead of it.

Above: The train standing on the ramp. Here, the wagons are emptied, the aggregate falls in heaps on the ground some 12 metres below. Below: The loco on the ramp - picture taken by holding the mobile phone camera onto 20x magnification binoculars with elastic bands for some extreme telephoto effects (extremely bad optics too!). Still, the ironwork is clearly visible.

Below: We were lucky to catch the train, having disgorged its load, making its way back down the ramp. It heads the empty rake of wagons towards the buffers by Mysiadło, stops, then reverses to the sidings near W-wa Jeziorki station. Here, it runs around the train to take it back onto the main line.

Below: The last photo I'd ever get to take of the rampa na kruszywa in action. It would be used (rarely) into the spring of 2007, then traffic would cease for ever. Now the rampa and the sidings are gone.

Right: The points leading from the sidings where wagons would wait to be taken up the ramp. All gone. There'll be a road here soon.

Note the purple hue present in the central area of the photos taken with this first-generation mobile phone camera, replaced last October with a 5 mp Nokia N95 (much, much better).

This time last year:
Red sky at night - what does it mean in Poland?

Rampa again, different perspective

Thanks to Jeziorki local Marcin Daniecki, who managed to get these photographs of the rampa in the final phase of demolition. A sad end to a rare piece of railway infrastructure, an environmentally sound way of getting bulk building materials (sand, gravel, aggregate) into a city without the need for fleets of trucks. These pics from 31 October.

Sic transit gloria mundi. A once-proud investment, serving the community's aggregate needs, reduced to the status of a junkyard.

And given the current financial climate, I wonder whether the developers have the cashflow to put up hundreds of new houses here to housebuyers struggling to get their homeloans approved. Or, having spent big money levelling the rampa with the ground, will the developers be left with a large building site and no money to put anything up on it?

We shall see.

The last of the ironwork disappeared by mid-October, since then, the pillars have had to be demolished. The pics left and above were taken on October 2.

Below: preparing the ground for new construction. This is where the sidings once ran.

This time last year:
Inbound to land, through fog and night
Homeward commute with deszcz ze śniegiem
Thoughts on Dad Rock, genre that will not go away
Christmas, Christ's Mass, Xmas or Yule?

Recycling for fun and profit

Monday, 24 November 2008

Rat run absurdity

As I reached the end of ul. Trombity this morning, I came across this dreadful sight - a half-kilometre jam stretching all the way down Kórnicka from Trombity to ul. Baletowa. I knew that paving over this dirt track would turn an entirely ignored rural byway, once known only to Jeziorki locals, into a rat-run used by those out-of-towners seeking an alternative to ul. Puławska. Never did I imagine it could get this bad. It took five minutes to get from ul. Trombity (from where this photo was taken) to ul. Baletowa (at the top of the picture).

And in their desperate attempts to jump a few cars ahead at this traffic jam, some frustrated drivers race down MY road (at double the speed limit which is 30 km/h or 20 mph), trying to overtake other cars between the speed bumps.


What's the answer? Traffic lights at the end of Kórnicka? They'll change from red to green all day long, despite the fact that this route is only used in the morning rush hour. No sense in installing lights for an hour a day. No room (old houses) to build a roundabout at the junction of ul. Kórnicka and Baletowa. Maybe a manned barrier at the south end of Trombity...

Guard: Where is Sir from?
Me: I live on ul. Trombity.
Guard: Where is Sir heading?
Me: Platan Park, top end of ul. Poloneza. 100% local.
Guard (raising barrier, saluting smartly): Sir may pass.

Guard: Where is Sir from?
Driver: I'm from Piaseczno.
Guard: Where is Sir heading?
Driver: The very centre of Warsaw.
Guard: Sir will have to turn around and go back the way Sir came.

This of course is unfeasible in a democracy. More sensible is for PKP to put on more trains from Piaseczno to Warsaw. The journey (which takes and hour and half by car, two hours by bus) takes a mere 35 minutes by train. But there are only four trains to town during the morning peak. Putting on ten or 15 trains, and building a Park and Ride facility would help diffuse the morning mayhem on the back roads between Piaseczno and Warsaw.

Another solution: The same scene (below), 25 and half hours later. Leave home at 09:30, journey to centre of Warsaw takes 45 mins not hour and half. Leave office at 19:00, journey home also significantly shorter.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Still here, the snow

So it didn't disappear overnight. View from my window, this morning. Temperature hit +1C at lunchtime before plunging away to -0.3C at nightfall. So it should still be here in the morning.

UPDATE: The first snow of winter '08-'09 was all gone by the morning of Thursday 27 November.

This time last year:
Jeziorki sunrise, a neighbour's perspective

Saturday, 22 November 2008

First snow, winter 2008-09

It snowed overnight, for the first time this year. As the Polish saying goes, 'first snow is shy snow', so I doubt if this lot will be hanging around for long. Above: view from my bedroom early this morning.

While in London, I acquired the use of an 80-400mm Nikkor lens for evaluation purposes (though something tells me I'll be parting with cash for it!). For the purposes of aviation and wildlife photography. Full test to come, but here are some early snaps. Below: Filling the frame at 400mm (600mm equivalent on my DX format Nikon D80) is LOT's Boeing 767-300ER (SP-LPB) coming in to land at Okęcie through a flurry of snow.

Below: Another shot from the balcony - houses on ul. Sarabandy in the weak late autumn sunlight, snow on the rooftops. Houses I'd not noticed before through shorter lenses! This lens has twice the focal length at maximum telephoto of my usual 18-200mm zoom.

What will this winter be like (mirrors thought: what will the economic downturn be like)? Short and mild? Long and harsh? Short but harsh? Long but mild?

Friday, 21 November 2008

Observations from England

Just back from five days in England. On Sunday I flew in to Liverpool Airport then made my way across the Pennines, then down to London, taking in Haydock Park Racecource and Doncaster Airport along the way. And not once - staying three nights in hotels, taking numerous buses and taxis and eating fast food all the way - did I come across a single Polish barman, chambermaid, driver or waitress. Until I got to London, where the streets seem as full of Polish migrants as they did last summer.

Me [to barman at The Green, Shepherd's Bush, immediately detecting his Polish accent]:
Where is Sir from?
Barman: Toruń
Me: How long has Sir been in London?
Barman: Three years.
Me: Has Sir any plans to go home?
Barman: No. What for?

Toruń, as it happens, has had a dramatic fall in unemployment over the past three years (it's now significantly lower than London's. Toruń: 5.4% and falling. London: 6.8% and rising). But people get stuck in a groove while economic change happens around then.

From Shepherd's Bush Market on the Hammersmith and City Line (top) onwards to St Pancras to catch the train to Luton Airport. A nice shot taken shortly after sunset.

This time last year:
Krakow in early snow
Winterreisen and escapism
Let progress march, though not through my back yard

Saturday, 15 November 2008

The last of the Rampa

This is probably the last photo you will see on this blog of what was once the rampa na kruszywa. The steel structure went a couple of weeks ago, since then, Jeziorki has resounded to the distant repetitive knocking of the pneumatic hammers taking down the concrete piers. Six have gone, eight remain. I'm still none the wiser as to what will happen on this site once it's all been levelled with the ground.

Above: A higher resolution photo than that currently on Google Earth is available on the Warsaw city map server, dated summer 2005. I've aligned it north facing left, east facing top, to fit. Ul. Karczunkowska is on the left, the bus loop bottom left, just above W-wa Jeziorki station. This map only stretches as far south as Warsaw's border.

This time last year:
Jeziorki spared high-density development thanks to airport zoning

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Roadworks are proceeding

Much roadbuilding activity is going on across the tracks from Jeziorki. Ul. Gogolińska has been tarmacked (at least at the Karczunkowska end, by the station). Below: Gogolińska, W-wa Jeziorki station beyond, ersatz Park and Ride by the side of the road. The remains of the dismantled rampa na kruszywa is just visible across the tracks.

The new asphalt currently reachs a mere half-mile (750m) from the main road. Below: Where the asphalt ends. This would be the southern border of Warsaw. A long way off in the distance (foreshortened by the zoom lens) is the new estate across the tracks from Mysiadło. If the asphalt is to get extended there and beyond to Nowa Iwiczna, then it will bring several more hundred cars down Karczunkowska every morning, forming an alternative route into Warsaw for those car commuters, hemmed in by ul. Puławska's notorious jams.

The tarmacking of ul. Gogolińska has been greeted by the appearance of new-style blue-and-red street names, according to the norms of the MSI system.

What else is new? The almost-complete Polne Maki housing estate in Dawidy Bankowe has been linked to the main road running through the village by brand new asphalt. Beyond, the road from Łady (pron. "Wuddy") to Falenty has been re-surfaced (this time last year it was unspeakably awful).

Most interestingly, work seems to have begun on the S7 (Puławska Bis), with the road linking Zgorzała with Zamienie and Dawidy Bankowe being re-laid. Above: Looking west from Zgorzała towards Zamienie. Traffic had been held up at this red light for over 20 minutes.

Above: Looking east from Zamienie towards Zgorzała. Between the points where the two photos were taken is where the S7 will end up - the road linking Gdansk and Warsaw to the south. This will no doubt take several years, but at least a start is being made.
This time last year:
First snow
Work starts on new road to Okęcie

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

To Lepiarzówka, again

A dilemma facing anyone with a desire to travel and limited spare time is this: See as many new places as you can, in the knowledge that not every one of them will have that magic 'something' - or return to a place you know has got it. Risk vs. certainty.

With the long Independence Day weekend looming, I decided to revisit a place that Moni and I had been to with our friends Krzysztof and his daughter Zosia in May 2007. Zagroda Lepiarzówka is superbly located, right at the top of a twisty dirt track climbing a mountainside, a stone's throw from the Czech border. And with views like the one below, looking down on Szarotka, a village on the Polish side.

Now that we're in Schengen, as long as we have ID with us, we can wander across into the Czech Republic and back again at will, and not just at the border crossing points. Below: Looking down towards the town of Jablunkov across the border.

Zagroda Lepiarzówka itself is a wonderful place (external view below). The restaurant and bar, heated and lit by a large log fire in a stone fireplace that dominates the room which is entirely made from wooden beams, carved in the local style. The menu is heavy on fatty pork, pickled cabbage and potato dumplings (a must-try here are kluski soszowskie, a local delicacy - potato flour dough encasing tiny cuts of finely chopped bacon with onion, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried. Just the thing to set you up for long walks in the mountains. With hot sauerkraut, pork shoulder or black pudding (kaszok).

Because of limited daylight (its dark at half past four), we would not go as far into the Czech Republic as we would have liked. Below: Quarter to four and the sun is sinking fast, casting an unearthly red glow on the soil. We have half an hour's walking to make it back into Poland before darkness falls.

What we did see was reminiscent of the old days; a gone-to-seed Pioneers' Hotel (below) that would make a superb location for a low-budget remake of The Shining, a beer-and-dumplings restaurant with adjacent poorly-stocked grocery store ('Closed Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays'). A place in this condition in Poland would be unthinkable; if left empty it would be vandalised and stripped bare in days - but in any case it would be sold off and put (with the help of EU money) to good use, like Jodłowy Dwór in the Świętokrzyskie hills that Eddie and I visited in July, another old communist-era tourist asset.

But the Czechs we met along our way were friendly, genuinely helpful, good-humoured, though slightly comical to the cosmopolitan eye. Certainly a nicer lot of people than the few Slovaks Eddie and I encountered in August. And what struck me was that the Czechs we met all understood and spoke some Polish, and accepted Polish currency, which made life in Schengen all the more comfortable. Below. The fellow on the left was very helpful in talking us through our options of getting to our destination. The chap on the right was on his way back from picking mushrooms (note full basket and rucksack with empty beer bottles).

We were blessed with four days of remarkably beautiful weather for mid-November, clear skies much of the time and temperature up to +17C. We made two ascents of Wielki Stożek (954m), the last half kilometer of climb being quite gruelling, even for our teenage daughters who had to rest every few minutes. Below: The hard climb starts here; even harder to descend. Note the border marker; I'm on the Polish side, the signs on the other side are in Czech.

At the top of Wielki Stożek (Velky Stoźek in Czech), there is a mountain shelter and restaurant, dating back to the 1920s. In the inner hall, there's a wall map (below) from communist days, notable for its depiction of our southern neighbours (CSSR - Czecho-Slovak Socialist Republic) as a terra incognita - no towns, villages, roads, tourist tracks - nothing. Simple message: do not stray across the border. The shelter restaurant is good on mountain food - cabbage soup, pierogi, fried liver, mulled beer, hot chocolate with rum.

This time last year:
My father's house
Across the fields to Falenty
Sowing with as many oxen as he shall have yoked in the plough
It's Independence Day
Another new house for Jeziorki

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

A town called Tunel

All trains headed to Krakow from Warsaw and the north have to pass through a station called Tunel (tunnel). It's called Tunel because, well, it has a tunnel in it ( 50°25'49.00"N, 19°59'21.78"E). This shows how rare railway tunnels are in Poland, mainly because Poland is too flat to merit much in the way of tunnels. The 750m (half-mile) long tunnel was built by the Austrio-Hungarian Empire for the railway line Krakow to Warsaw (then within the Russian Empire). Just on the Austrian side of the border with the Russian Empire, the tunnel was a strategic gateway to the south, and was built with the possibility of being blown up in the eventuality of war (which of course broke out in 1914).

Imagine living here and being stopped by the police. "Gdzie Pan mieszka?" "W Tunelu". Hello, slammer!

Barack Obama: ripples across the pond

I arrived at Warszawa Centralna from W-wa Jeziorki at 6:20am, changing trains on my way to Krakow. The TV screens around the station were all showing the same image: Barack Obama's victory speech. I popped into the Scottish Restaurant for some breakfast, and returning to the platforms to await my Krakow-bound train, the image on the TV was the same. The newspapers were still without a verdict: "OBAMA/McCAIN: (delete as appropriate)" was Gazeta Wyborcza's headline this morning. At the Scottish Restaurant, I heard the following dialogue:

Manager [to 'crew member']: Wiemy kto wygrał amerykańskie wybory?
(Do we know who won the American elections?)
Crew member: Tak. (Yes.)
Manager: No to kto? (Well, who?)
Crew member: Ten murzyn. (That negro.)

The crew member, female, early 20s, most probably a student, delivered the line in an entirely matter-of-fact, 'that's just the way it is' manner, devoid of malice, but devoid of thought. It struck me that Poland's probably 40 years behind the US and UK in terms of race relations, for the simple reason that the country is 99% ethnically homogenous.

This time last year:
Culex Pipiens out in force
"Well, I can picture the cheese"

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Okęcie to remain 'Warsaw's only airport'

The one thing that protects Jeziorki from being over-developed with housing is the airport. Thanks to the zone limiting construction under the approaches on either side of its two runways, blocks of flats (and the masses of cars that come with them) will not encroach on Jeziorki.

This annoys the old residents, whose agricultural land must... remain agricultural, or else sold in small, unprofitable, parcels to individuals wishing to erect their own detached house. But for those who haven't got land to sell, the noise associated with the airport is a tiny price to pay for living in a low-density suburb.

On Friday, the Minister of Infrastructure announced that Okęcie airport would remain Warsaw's only airport for some time to come. Plans to build a new airport, between Warsaw and Łódź, have formally been ditched. The Ministry has deemed it unnecessary and uneconomic. The notion of turning the former airforce base at Modlin into an airport for low-cost flights is still on the cards, but reading between the lines, I can't see any great enthusiasm for the project. And it's being protested on environmental grounds. Personally, I think it won't work, as the cost of getting there by taxi at 4am to check in for an early flight to London would be twice the price of the airline ticket.

Okęcie recently had its 10 millionth passenger passing through this year. But traffic growth is slowing. Will another runway be necessary? Airport authorities say that with better air and ground traffic management, it won't.

I for one have no objections to aircraft flying over our house. More air traffic? Bring it on. There's something quite splendid about the sight. Below: An ATR-72, shortly after take off, heading west. Photo taken from our attic window.

This time last year:
All Souls' Day - Poland's cemetary season continues
All Saints' Day - Poland's cemetary season

Autumnal perfection in Jeziorki