Thursday, 28 February 2008

End of the line

Got to my destination and still had an hour to kill, so I walked to Siekierki power station in Augustówka, the most rural part of Warsaw's Mokotów district. So here we are, 27.4km by rail from Okęcie sidings. This is where all the coal goes. At the base of the two nearest chimneys, a south Warsaw landmark, you can see a rake of coal wagons waiting to be unloaded. Got to my meeting on time having walked seven kilometers. Did another two this evening, picking up my dear old Nissan Micra from the garage on Baletowa (replaced right-hand constant velocity joint - 250 zlotys)

Off my patch

Too early for my first meeting this morning, I took a stroll through Sadyba, a part of Mokotów district, lying south-south west of the city centre. Sadyba was built before the war as a garden suburb, with houses rather than apartments dominating. The original gas lighting is one of Sadyba's unique features. Like Żoliborz to the north of Warsaw's centre, Sadyba was a rather exlusive, "officers" suburb. Above: Pre-war housing on junction of ul. Wysowska and ul. Zdrojowa. Note gas lamp. Below: Post-war housing on ul. Klarysewska. A nice part of Warsaw, well-located for the centre (the area lies between two three-lane highways into town), but for me, insufficiently rural.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Three weeks into Lent

Twenty one days gone, 25 to go... The body's got used to the diet. Sit ups - sticking to 90 (two lots of 45 today). Weight - four pounds/two kilos gone after three weeks of rigour (down to 11 st 7 lbs/73.2 kg) - same as I weighed when I left university all those years ago.

This week I have been eating mostly spinach, dried cranberries (oh dear - the ingredients list 48% added sugar!), brazil nuts, bananas, tofu, mixed bean sprouts, mushrooms.

I confess to having listened to the whole of Across 110th Street by Bobby Womack on Radio TokFM this morning. A politician had failed to turn up on time to the studio, so they played this piece - so rare and so excellent that I could not bear to switch the radio off. Otherwise no TV, music, computer games, etc. Or alcohol, caffeine, meat, dairy products, fish, added salt, salt snacks, fast foods etc. Thursday marks the half-way point.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Intimations of spring (2)

A glorious afternoon, bearing with it the hope that springs eternal*. Time for another long walk with Eddie. Three quarters of the way down ul. Trombity, we spotted a tree that was showing the very first signs of budding leaves.

I continued looking for the entire duration of our walk for other such trees, but clearly this was a first in the neighbourhood.

To the end of Trombity, over the tracks, across the fields to Dawidy Bankowe (above). "The Banking Davids". Why the village was called that I don't know; the main Dawidy is to the north, while Dawidy Poduchowne was the old name for the bit of Dawidy on the Jeziorki side of the railway line.

On to Zgorzała via Zamienie (we discovered a rutted mud track called ul. Wrobelka linking the two villages). In Zgorzała I stop to photograph this well-know local landmark, a hand-painted sign advertising a car mechanic's workshop, bearing the image of a Ford Escort. In the days of billboard ads printed in their thousands, it's good to see the work of individual sign painters surviving the ravages of time and human capriciousness. Long may it grace Zgorzała.

Next we trudged over fields, down more muddy tracks, past the new housing estate being built in Iwiczna. Crossing the railway line again, we passed behind Mysiadło, which is also quickly filling up with new houses (below). The fallow field in the foreground is filled with wrotycz, or mugwort.

Turning left towards home, we made our way along the irregularly used line serving the aggregate ramp (rampa na kruszywo). The fine afternoon drew many Sunday strollers out, everyone entirely casual about walking along an industrial railway line (below). This view clearly shows the buffers at the far end of the track and the points for the ramp. An engine will pull the laden aggregate wagons towards the buffers, the points are switched, and the engine pushes the train backwards up the incline to the ramp.

After clambering down from the ramp, we're back in Jeziorki and making our way across the fields, I spot the Fal-Bruk road maintenance depot on ul. Karczunkowska with its large collection of roadsigns catching the late afternoon sun. I intended to get closer for a better shot, but by the time I got there, the sun's angle no longer caused such visually-interesting reflections.

Finally, just before turning into our estate, I caught a large tree full of roosting starlings on ul. Trombity, a jet flying overhead (below). Today's walk totalled over 8km.

* "The hope that springs eternal/springs right up your behind" - Ian Dury, This Is What We Find

My Nikon D80, one year on

A year ago today, I went digital, buying a Nikon D80 (above). Here are my thoughts on the camera after 12 months with it.

My first proper camera was a Leica M2 rangefinder (which I still have). Bought in 1981, this was later joined by an M3 and an M6, also still in my possession. I used a Canon F1 SLR kit at work, but this was replaced by Nikon equipment which offered sharper lenses. Since the late 1990s I’d been thinking about Going Digital. Indeed recently, I dug out a digital photography supplement to Amateur Photographer that I'd bought in 1997, singing the praises of the New Medium. The best camera of the time, offering 660,000 pixels (yes, 0.6 megapixels), was from Sony and cost well over £800.

For ten years I kept my eye on developments in digital photography. I took my first tentative steps with a Nokia 6300 mobile phone with a 1.3 MP camera built in. Double what the tip-top Sony from only eight years earlier could offer, but still nowhere near 35mm film quality. After a while, the gadgety nature of this phonecam ceased to be of interest. I needed something much, much better. But I could finally see the benefits of digital.

After ploughing through innumerable websites and photo magazines, I made an informed decision. Although a lifelong rangefinder fan (compact, discreet), I decided on a single lens reflex (SLR) camera (bulky, ostentatious); I already had several Nikon manual focus lenses (which still fit the latest digital autofocus Nikon bodies) and so I went for Nikon. The D80 SLR was the one for me. Better featured than its smaller brother the D40X, much cheaper than its semi-professional bigger brother, the D200. All have the same 10.2 MP chip. I did some price comparison – best deal in either Poland or the UK was to buy it at Dixons Duty Free at the airport, as a kit, complete with 18-135mm Nikkor zoom lens. Pricewise, this was around 1,000 zlotys cheaper than the best online deal in Poland! I paid £647 for the kit, passed on Dixon’s grotequely over-priced memory card, buying one in Poland the next day for less than half the price.

After a few weeks I bought a better lens, Nikon’s 18-200mm zoom, which as well as having the extra focal length range, also has vibration reduction, meaning you can hand-hold at longer exposures. The 18-135mm lens I sold at Warsaw’s Sunday camera fair at Stodola (now a shadow of its former glory). Two filters – an ultraviolet one that’s basically a transparent lens cap, and a circular polarising filter to accentuate blue skies – and that’s it. Here's an entire camera bag's worth of kit in one body and one lens. My old habit of staring into camera shop windows looking for what to buy next is over. (Incidentally, I do know what to buy next – an 80-400mm zoom for even longer telephoto reach, useful for aviation photos, and a Nikon D300 body, the 12.3 MP successor to the D200.)

Digital photography beats film photography on two counts: Time and Money.

Money first. Since buying the camera, I’ve taken 12,000 photos. That’s an average of 1,000 a month. That equates to 28 rolls of 36 exposure film. Buying Fuji or Kodak films, developing the negatives and having them scanned to CD (as I used to do), costs 43 zlotys or nearly 9 quid a roll. Monthly, that’s 250 quid, annually, 3,000 quid or over 14,000 zlotys! That’s how much I would have spent had I rattled off 12,000 exposures on a film camera. In other words, for a serious film photographer, going digital with a high-end camera will pay for itself in months rather than years.

Time. I go out with the camera, take 40-50 photos per shoot maybe more. I return to the house, connect camera to PC, within minutes I can have photos up on my blog. With film, I’d have to wait to Monday until the photolab was open, drive there (Plac Lubelski), park, wait in queue to drop off, wait a day or two for the job to be done, return to the photolab, wait in queue, pay, go home, slip CD into PC, then finally get to work.

Digital’s other main time-related benefit is to see what you’ve just photographed. Tricky stuff like multiple exposures, long exposures (lightning flashes, fireworks) would be purest guesswork. But with digital, you can see what you’re doing and take immediate steps to correct – too short, too long, increase or decrease ISO (sensitivity). Being able to alter sensitivity with every shot rather than altering by changing rolls of film is also incredibly useful.

So – onto the Nikon D80 review. I’d kick off by saying this is the perfect camera, with a few drawbacks. The positives are all so strong I won’t bother enumerating them, but will just list the things I don’t like.

I’ll start with the lens. I’m asking a lot of a lens to replace the entire battery of prime lenses I used to drag about with me. The 18-200mm covers the equivalent of 28mm-300mm on 35mm film cameras. That’s a huge range. Something wider – like my 21mm Super Angulon I have for my Leicas – would be nice; I’ve needed this a few times, mainly for skyscapes with rainbows and tight interiors. And longer – like the 80-400mm Nikkor zoom I mentioned above. My criticisms of Nikkor 18-200mm lens boil down to abberations – barrel and pincushion distortions and vignetting, especially at the long end. Nikon has proprietary software (Capture NX it’s called), which digitally corrects the abberations of each Nikkor lens. A partial solution, but a good one. The other criticism is that when you’re walking around with the camera over your neck or shoulder, the lens slips from ‘wide’ to ‘tele’ due to the weight of the front elements. Annoying when you lift the camera to your eye for a grab shot to discover the lens has zoomed itself out to 200mm. And after a year, the rubber grip around the zoom barrel has slackened. Otherwise, I’ll back the online reviewers who call this lens ‘a miracle’, ‘life-changing’, ‘a breakthrough’, etc.

This is the perfect all-round, general purpose lens. OK, it’s not particularly fast (f3.5 to f5.6), but the VR (vibration reduction) allows you to hand-hold down to ¼ sec at the wide end and 1/50th sec at the long end without visible motion blur.

The body. This is everything I ever dreamed of in a camera. I’d like a more solid body (the D300 has a magnesium chassis rather than the D80’s polycarbonate build), a larger screen would be nice (D300 has three inches compared to two and half on the D80). I’d like to edit my own menus (the two things I’m constantly checking/changing are battey life and ISO), and I’d like not to have to scroll far between sub-menus to find frequently-used menu items.

And a propos the battery, it’s excellent. It usually lasts a week, interspersed with three or four shoots, between charges. And after one year/12,000 exposures, the battery meter rates the battery ‘0’ on a scale of 0 to 4 where 0=new battery and 4=replace instantly.

For the first two months after buying the camera, I spent all my spare reading time poring over the manual. There’s much to learn if you want to use the camera to its full potential, especially if hitherto you’ve been using manual, mechanical film cameras with manual focus lenses.

So – summing up – this camera has brought me a vast increase in my pleasure from photography. I love it to bits. I thoroughly recommend the Nikon D80 with 18-200mm lens. Though if you have the extra cash, the Nikon D300 with 18-200mm lens would be even nicer.

My film cameras – Leica M2, M3 and M6 – have acquired thick layers of dust. Expensive classics though they may be, fine male jewelry, I no longer have any inclination to waste time and money shooting film. (One day some enterprising engineer may wish to create a digital back/base for the Leica M-series. Then they come out of mothballs.) I also have a vast library of b&w negatives, colour slides and colour negs, which one day, in my retirement, I shall scan, edit and upload the best ones.

Camera phones - the 1.3 MP Nokia 6300 has been replace by a 5 MP Nokia N95 (used to take the photo at the top of this post). Now this does the job for a pocketable, with-me-at-all-times camera for use when I'm not lugging the Nikon.

For me at least, film is dead. (Although Moni has opined that ‘film is the new vinyl’)

See also:
My Nikon D80, two years on

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Over the fence

On our way to Okęcie we passed directly under the flightpath as it crosses the railway line at ul. Karnawał. A CentralWings Boeing 737 was coming into land over our heads. Quite a sight.

Przednówek

It was a blustery day. I was awakened at 3 am by howling winds, rain horizontal on the bedroom window. By dawn the rain had ceased, but it continued windy. Eddie and I set off for a walk to the airport, the plan was to catch a suburban train back to Jeziorki. Above: Across the tracks in Dawidy, the fields were still sodden, although the past week had seen relatively low precipitation.

Above: Backroad to Okęcie. In the distance, the new bridge linking Ursynów to the airport. This is where we expect the extention of ul. Wirażowa to run eventually. A shame; I like this broad, birch-lined mud track. It continued blustery; planes coming into land were pitching and rolling.

We got to Okęcie and popped into the Terminal 1 Arrivals restaurant; Eddie had a pizza and a coke, I had an orange juice as there was nothing meat or dairy free. Onwards to the rooftop viewing terrace, which I read will soon be closed to the public. Maybe our last 'dad-and-lad' visit to one of Eddie's favourite places in town. The wind howled. Above: A LOT Boeing 737 (bottom left) touches down on Runway 33.

On our walk, we came across only one tree on which new leaves were visibly beginning to bud. This is the gloomiest time of year. I doubt if winter will return; if so, nothing more than a light dusting of snow and a day or two or frost. This is the przednówek, the time before the renewal. It drags. February is dreary. Above: the skyline as seen from platform of W-wa Okęcie station. Still an hour and a quarter before sunset. Okęcie station is a bit of a misnomer; it's well over a kilometer from the nearest terminal building and (as yet) there's no bus route between the two.

Friday, 22 February 2008

The hell that is ul. Poloneza

Just gone eight in the morning. This is ul. Poloneza, my daily route into town avoiding the jammed-up ul. Puławska. As you can see, no traffic at all. The road runs from ul. Jeziorki north to ul Poleczki, nearly three kilometres, all but the last quarter kilometre of which is entirely untarmacked. Fine when it's dry.

But when General Mud takes over from General Winter, this can be a treacherous road. The deep, wide puddles play havoc with the car's electrics, water-logged potholes with bricks at the bottom do bad things to the floorpan and tyres (two punctures this week), and long stretches of treacly mud will bring the car to a stop and bog you down entirely unless you have enough forward momentum to carry you through it. The faster you go, the bigger the mud splashes and the greater the risk of damage to the undersides. Right now, the Nissan's utterly filthy with mud and salt and oil. On days like this I yearn for spring, the sunshine, warmth and dryness.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Two weeks into Lent

Fourteen days gone, 32 to go... The caffeine withdrawal headaches have gone, as predicted, by day ten. Am getting fed up with the taste of soya protein. Coconut milk a nice discovery, as are (unsalted) macadamia nuts and dried cranberries. Not missing meat at all. Been to two events where everyone was drinking - I missed getting into the fun of things. Everyone's talking volubly, I'm struggling to keep up with the witty banter. I've consumed trace amounts of meat and fish (stock), cheese (in pesto) - that's it.

Sit ups - up to 90 today (two lots of 45). Starting to see two rows of muscle gingerly emerging from the fat. Weight - a mere pound scrubbed off after two weeks of rabbit food (down to 11 st 10 lbs/74.5kg) but there's still four and half weeks left. I continue not to listen to music nor watch any TV or movies. Sticking with it!

Flat tyre

Left the office to take my English class this evening to find a flat rear offside tyre (above). This happens to me at least once every year, but only when driving with winter tyres. For some reason, winter tyres are much more vulnerable than summer ones. Worst case was returning from a conference (of tomato growers!) in Sandomierz two years ago. It was six pm, 45 km from Warsaw and -26C when a tyre went. We hobbled to a nearby roadside hotel and pulled into the car park. In the cold, the cable to the boot gave way. The boot could not be opened. The spare tyre had to be hauled out over the back seat. The job was done, but what a struggle. This time it was easier, Daniel kindly popped out of the office to lend me a hand (below).

Now I need to find a local wulkanizator to fix the flat tyre (typical charge 20 zlotys, around four quid). There seem to be plenty about. Now where in the UK would one find a 'vulcanisator'? There's not even a word for one! You'd need to go to a Mr Tyre, Tyreland or Kingdom of Tyres where the standard response would be "Nah mate, you need to change all four. Tell you what, hundred quid the lot."

Incidentally, notice the horizontal lines on the photos. This is image noise. These snaps were taken on the Nokia N95. The EXIF file says 1/17th sec at f2.8, 800 ISO. The Nikon D80 has noise reduction software for removing this digital shortcoming.


SUPPLEMENTARY: The very next morning I took the tyre to a wulkanizator. The tyre was fixed in 12 minutes - the cost, as I rightly surmised, was 20 zloties, slightly over four quid. The chap who did it, mid fifties, black leather cap, bushy 'tache, was - and here's another one of those little differences - quite a regular Pan Heniek.

SUPPLEMENTARY 2: Friday evening, leaving the office - flat tyre no. 2. This time front nearside. A seemingly random coincidence. You can just make out the tyre brand: Semperit. There, you have been warned. A big thanks to Adam and Tessa for stopping by to help me change the wheel in double-quick time.

SUPPLEMENTARY 3: Back to the wulkanizator again - flat tyre no. 3. I'm informed that the tyre was torn horizontally and the rim badly bent. Evidently another hole on the dreaded ul. Poloneza, scene of more bangs and knocks than any other Polish road our poor Nissan's driven on. Cost of repairing tyre and rim - 35 zloties - slightly over seven quid.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Doomed snow

It could never last. The overnight snow was a welcome sight, but yesterday's weather forecasts all predicted that the weekend's cold snap would disappear quickly. By the afternoon the temperature was up to +3C; rain fell and washed the snow away. But a few shots from this morning captured some of the fleeting charm. Our Nissan needed some tinkering with the electrics (main beam doesn't work), so off first thing to the mechanics on ul. Baletowa. Under the bonnet, bit of head-scratching and diagnosis, try this, try that - et viola! the lights are working again. "How much?" I ask. "Well, nothing. But remember us when something serious breaks." You bet guys! How's that for service! After years of being ripped off by Warsaw's Nissan main dealers, the local mechanics on Baletowa are excellent.


Above: ul. Trombity at 8:00am. Thermometer reads 0C.

Although the family's all back, it's still ferie, the Polish school holidays (It's worth me reminding our UK readers that in Poland, as in most of mainland Europe, there are only two school and university terms, not three. The two-week ferie break marks the middle of the school year.) Much of Warsaw is holidaying in the mountains, increasingly abroad. Below: ul. Puławska is never this empty at 9:30am! Snow disappearing fast. It's raining.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Okęcie dusk

Boy was it cold out this evening! I drove down to Okęcie, over the cart tracks and unmade roads to the railway sidings, just under the final approach as the planes go 'over the fence', seconds before touching down. Arriving at ul. Karnawal just before sunset, I caught this Alitalia Express Embraer ERJ-170-100LR (EI-DFL) inbound to land. Incidentally, I note that ailing state carrier Alitalia is registering (or leasing) its aircraft in Ireland.

Above: I crossed the tracks in time to catch this early evening train from W-wa Wschodnia to Radom on its way between W-wa Okęcie and W-wa Dawidy. This livery - grey/silver/maroon - looks rather fetching on the EN-57, lending the air of French SNCF in the 1960s. The rear four-car set was the more frequently seen light blue and yellow.

It was getting dark - time to set up the tripod. To my left, the continual sound of bird distress calls, broadcast at twilight roosting time to scare flocks of birds away from the airport. Above: A Eurolot ATR-42 inbound to land, flies over the 12:03 Kraków-Olsztyn train passing on its way to Warsaw. It will arrive in Olsztyn at 21:03. My hands are getting cold.

It's now gone quarter past five and -4C. Above: This 30 second exposure captures the light trace of a Boeing 737 landing overhead. The battery in my trusty and generally excellent Nikon D80 does not like cold. It's not got long to go. And my hands are now very cold. Time to go home.

Incidentally Google Earth users, the above two pics were taken exactly here: 52° 8'34.12"N, 20°59'20.99"E. Switch on Panoramio and you'll see an outstanding shot taken from the same point taken by Paweł Prokop, which inspired me to come here.

The Frost Gods return

A very mild overnight snowfall. I set off for a walk after breakfast (soyaburgers - I'm beginning to dislike them). Outside, the snow was neither deep nor crisp nor even, warmed by the sun and blown across fields by a strong northerly wind. At the end of ul. Trombity, I gingerly crept down to the edge of the frozen reed beds - I could hear the ice creaking - and in went my right foot (that black patch on the right). Fortunately only up to my ankle, so I came away with dry feet. I wonder how many days of frost are needed to solidify standing water so as one can walk on it - I read once that the Vistula needs nine days at -9C for it to be safe to walk across.

The sun shone beautifully, the daytime high today was -3C. Nice winter's day - shame there wasn't more snow. Above: the north end of ul. Trombity - this could be Minnesota.

I turned left onto the unmade footpath that's ul. Kórnicka, leading to the tracks. This is my usual circuit for a weekend stroll, length around four kilometres. On the other side of the railway line is a small copse of self-sown silver birches, which looked utterly resplendent, the vertical white against the deep blue of the sky (enhanced, I must say, by a circular polarising filter).

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Changing Jeziorki skyline

The view from my north-west facing bedroom window is changing. More and more detached houses are springing up around us - as of now, the pace of change is bareable. Above: The roof starts going up on 12 February... two days later the structure is in shape (below). And what a difference a bit of sunlight makes to the scene, eh?

Two weeks on (28 Feb) and the roof's waiting for the tiles (below). Note the crossed axe-and-saw device on the right-hand bay. This is the sign that the carpenters working on this house are a team down from the Tatra mountains.

The most important thing for us is that the city authorities refused planning permission to a developer wishing to build 14 houses on the plot immediately next to ours (along the north-east facing side of our garden/drive). Reason the application failed: airport zoning.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

A week into Lent

Seven days gone, 39 to go... Living without alcohol is no problem. Caffeine withdrawal symptoms are still with me - a light headache that lingers for much of the day. Should go by Day 10. A meat-free diet is a doddle; I do miss king prawns though! (esp. fried in butter with a dash of brandy, garlic, chilli, fresh corriander...) Dairy - especially a good cheese, well that's hard work. Replacing butter with marg is a bore. No salt other than that what's already in the food. I've replaced the meat, fish, poultry and dairy products with soya protein (in various forms - soya burgers, smoked tofu) and nuts. Tons of fresh fruit (nice) and vegetables (raw carrot - horrid, but keeps hunger pains at bay). Sit ups - started with a modest 15, up to 60 today (two lots of 30). Of course I've lost not an ounce of weight, but there's still five and half weeks left.

I've not advertently listened to any pop music, watched any TV or movies.

Asceticism remains the watchword.

Railway miscellany

A quiet blogging day means I can upload a few railway pics (for the anoraks among my readers really). All taken last Saturday. Above: A Czech Railways 181-class engine hauls a coal train to Okęcie. Quite what an engine from the Czech Republic is doing up Jeziorki way? I do know that moving coal around Poland has ceased to be the monopoly of Polish state railways (PKP) and that a number of private operators such as PCC Rail are doing this work. I read on this site that the above engine (181 131-4) has been leased from CD (Ceske Drahy) to PCC Tabor Szczakowa to move coal trains from the Silesian coalfields to the sidings at Okęcie from which PCC's own diesel locos move the wagons to the Warsaw's Siekierki power station.

Above: A diesel double-header takes a full coal train to Siekierki, having just passed W-wa Dawidy station. The lead loco is PKP SM-48 087 (version of Russian-built TEM-2 for Poland), following it is a PCC Rail ST-44 1099. The latter, nicknamed 'Gagar' by Polish train spotters, has all but disappeared from Polish rails, and is seen today mostly on industrial lines such as this. Gagars have a high axle weight (a few years ago the wooden sleepers on the Okęcie-Siekierki coal line were all replaced with concrete ones), and are very thirsty of the diesel oil and chuck out clouds of dirty fumes, as is visible in the photo.

Above: A Radom-bound suburban train on its way between W-wa Dawidy and W-wa Jeziorki. This photo to me is the very quintessence of the Jeziorki's railway landscape; the flat fields, farmland, snowdrift fences, the bleakly-fecund familiar; the electric wires and gantries, sun burning through the morning fog. Note the kilometre marker on the left - we are 2.5km from Okęcie sidings.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Happy Birthday, Dziadzio Tadeusz

My father-in-law, Tadeusz Lesisz, celebrates his 90th birthday today. He was born nine months before the modern state of Poland came into existence, in Kozienice, Mazowsze (50 miles south of Warsaw). He fought in WW2 from the first day to the last, seeing action in the Battle of the Atlantic, on the Russian Convoys and on D-Day. As artillery officer on board the ORP Błyskawica, his actions coordinating anti-aircraft fire from the destroyer while in dock for a refit on the Isle of Wight in May 1942 saved the town of Cowes from Luftwaffe bombs. For this, Tadeusz Lesisz was made a Freeman of Cowes in 2002. After the war, he studied architecture in Oxford, practiced as an architect in north-west England, retiring at the age of 70. He chaired the Manchester branch of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain and the Polish Navy Association. We're all very proud of him and I'm delighted that my children share his genes.

STO LAT!

photo by Szymon Kobusiński

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Intimations of Spring (1)

This morning I thought the white blobs on the end of these willow were just frost, but once it had melted it was clear that the first buds are beginning to break through.

The Miracle is happening again.

Jeziorki in the fog

A foggy start to the day. I was up at 4:30 to deliver the children to school from where they were heading off for their winter holidays with the scouts and guides. After a brief nap, I was up to photograph Jeziorki cloaked in thick fog. Above: detached house on ul. Kaczunkowska. It looks small, but goes back quite a way from the road.

Right: A gaggle of babcias waiting for the 715 (I'd guess to take them to church, even though it's Saturday). It's worth noting that as of the beginning of this month, the 319 bus is no more; the route has been extended (it now ends at Zamienie rather than at PKP Jeziorki railway station). The route's number has changed to 809, the 800-series routes are all Monday to Friday services that extend beyond Warsaw's borders (in this case, by only two bus stops). No changes at the other end of the line, like the old 319, the 809 goes to Metro Wilanowska.

The N83 night bus still terminates at PKP Jeziorki. If it didn't, the recently-built bus terminus at Jeziorki would be redundant and have proved to be a waste of money. I suspect that's why the N83 has also not been extended the extra two stops to the terminus at Zamienie.

Above: I continued my walk through Dawidy Bankowe. Another rural house lost among the foggy fields.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Crazy motor, mister!

A regular landmark on ul. Górnośląska just around the corner from my office is this far-out groovemobile, a tribute to one man's struggle against communist-era conformity. A Skoda 110 (built some time between 1969 and 1977) stretched front and rear with plenty of stick-on doodads.

Above: Rear view. This hot-rod would have set the cat among the pigeons and wowed the ladies as it charged down the Wisłostrada. Z drogi śledzie, bo król jedzie! This vehicle has already made it onto Top Gear's website. Black-on-white numberplate with Polish flag suggests it was last registered some time between May 2000 and April 2006.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

February gloom

It's half past four on a wet day in early February. No sign of frost or snow or winter, yet it is unremittingly gloomy when there's no sunshine. This afternoon I was addressing a conference of regional development agencies in a place called Dębe, some 35 kilometers north east of Warsaw. After the event, driving back, I was struck by an overwhelming wish for it to be spring already.

More Old School Warsaw

I had time to kill before a morning meeting yesterday, so I strolled around Dolny Mokotów. The scene above instantly grabbed me as totally old school communist Warsaw - drably at odds with the new office blocks and Galeria Mokotów shopping mall just across the way (below). There's nothing here that would look out of place in 1978; the Trabant 601 with its white-on-black number plates, the metal bin painted pre-faded orange, drainpipe in pre-faded blue. When Eddie saw this pic he suggested that I try to replicate the effect of communist-era photography. He dug out an old album of Warsaw from 1968 (Warszawa Miasto i Ludzie) and we played around in Photoshop trying to tweak the pic so it matched the photos in the old album. To get that Orwochrom look, I increased saturation of yellows and cyans, and ran the picture through a grain filter. Really, I could have done with a period Praktica camera and Pancolar 50mm f1.9 lens.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

That's it, tumbler empty, Lent's kicked off

The time is 00:00. The day is Ash Wednesday. The asceticism starts here. And no Rock'n'Roll. Jazz, R&B, Soul, Pop or music other than Arvo Part's Misere and Henryk Górecki's Third Symphony. Or film. Or TV. Deny yourself... everything.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Lent begins at midnight

For the seventeenth year in a row, I shall be engaging in Lenten fasting. The purpose - strengthening Will, cleansing the Body, purifying the Soul. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. Until Easter Sunday (which this year falls on 23 March), I shall not partake of many foods and beverages that I regularly enjoy. I continue the fast across all six Sundays in Lent.

Here's the total list:
  • Alcohol (alcohol free beer - rather than merely low-alcohol beer - is OK
  • Caffeine (including black, green, white and jasmine teas). Fruit infusions are OK
  • Salt snacks (crisps, salted peanuts, tortilla chips, etc.
  • Salt (additional to what is naturally found in foodstuffs). The salt shaker is eschewed.
  • Chocolate and confectionary (other than chewing gum)
  • Biscuits and cakes
  • Butter (to be replaced by Flora Pro-Activ)
  • Fast foods of all types (chips, burgers, pizza etc, etc)
Those above are the ones I've foresaken each Lent for the past 16 years. Additionally, last year I also gave up:
  • Meat and poultry
This year, I shall be going totally vegan, giving up:
  • Cheese and other dairy products
  • Fish, seafood.
That's it. Hard task for a bon viveur such as me, but do-able. I'm not going to get obsessive about checking whether a soup is made on meat or poultry stock or whether something contains traces of animal product. But I will be carefully sticking to the above proscriptions.

What will I be eating/drinking?
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Soya-based products
  • Fruit juices
  • Fruit teas (caffeine free)
  • Vegetable soups
  • Bread and crispbreads
  • Still mineral water
  • ...Er, that's it.

For the record; I've just weighed myself; I weigh 75kg (11st 11lbs). This gives me a Body Mass Index of 23.7, as I'm 178cm (5ft 10ins) tall. A BMI of 23.7 is well within the 'normal range' (18.5 to 25). My girth at the waist is exactly 100cm (39 1/4"). Too much - I shall start doing sit-ups again. Not too many at first - will build up slowly. Blood pressure (last taken a few minutes before setting off for the airport, and a bit stressed) was 142/93, pulse 102. All too high; interesting to see if cutting out salt from my diet will lead to a reduction. I also get my blood cholesterol measured during Lent. Last year it was 194, an entirely acceptable count (below 200 is "desirable level corresponding to lower risk for heart disease").

Towards the tail-end of Yuletide or Xmas, I find myself yearning for the start of Lent. I associate it with the onset of spring. Doing Lent annually creates a natural pattern of the year, lean weeks, fat months. Both Moni and Eddie were conceived during Lent.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Viaduct to the airport

Yesterday Eddie and I went down to see the progress on the new viaduct that will open up a direct road route from Ursynów to Okęcie airport. As you see, the viaduct is ready - some finishing is needed - landscaping, traffic lights. Yet before it can open, ul. Poleczki, which links the viaduct with ul. Puławska and Ursynów beyond, has to be widened. Here progress is slower. The new viaduct will bring the airport some 10 minutes (20 minutes in peak times) closer to us.

The viaduct itself crosses no few than 14 (count 'em!) railway lines - the two mainline tracks down to Radom, Kielce and Kraków, nine tracks for the coal sidings and two more for the sand/aggregates sidings and one which eventually leads into the Warsaw Metro.

Above: View from the viaduct. Four coal-hauling electric locos stand in the sidings while a W-wa Wschodnia-bound osóbka heads towards W-wa Okęcie. The new viaduct is an excellent vantage point for both train anoraks and plane spottaz.

Below: Google Earth's current map doesn't yet show the new infrastructure. Viaduct and extensions of ul. Wirażowa shown in yellow.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Looking up over Jeziorki

A beautiful cloudless day over Jeziorki. Halfway down ul. Trombity, a pigeon loft takes exercise. By chance, a northbound Boeing 747 passes overhead at 35,000 ft. The juxtaposition of flight - white birds, white contrail - against a clear blue sky is quite stunning.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Warsaw's inadequate airport

"On bihaf ow LOT Połlysz Erlajnz, aj łud lajk tu łelkam ju tu Fryderyk Szopę Internaszonal Erport. Lokal tajm iz tłenty tu ten..." Sorry - Fryderyk Szopę what? No one - and I mean no one - calls Okęcie Airport by this name, despite it being now nearly seven years since it was ceremoniously renamed. Freddy Fright-Wig International it most certainly is not. Taxi drivers, local newspapers, employees or residents of the surrounding areas are all unanimous in sticking to the airport's old name, which dates back to before the second world war. Another case of Rondo Babka syndrome*.

The picture above, taken on my arrival in Warsaw last night, shows two buses waiting to take passengers to the terminal. The buses take us to arrivals in Terminal One for passport checks, then we walk through to Terminal Two, to pick up our baggage. Terminal Two is still unfinished, nearly two years after it was meant to have been completed (latest deadline - March 2008). Taxi drivers hate picking up passengers from the new terminal, as over-zealous police officers keep moving them on.

Since we moved to this part of Warsaw ten years ago, passenger numbers flying from Okęcie have trebled (from over three million to just over nine million), yet there's still only one road, ul. Żwirki i Wigury that leads in and out of the airport. And the same two bus routes that ever linked Warsaw to the airport - the 175 and 188 (and one night bus). A second road from the airport to Ursynów is being built; this awaits completion of the viaduct over the railway line and the widening of ul. Poloneza. This project is now three months overdue and counting. And Okęcie must be the only airport in the civilised world that cannot be accessed by rail (underground, main line or tram).

* Roundabout in northern Warsaw, officially renamed "Rondo Zgrupowania Armii Krajowej 'Radosław' ", universally still known by its old name, "Rondo Babka". While renaming streets once named after communist traitors was popular back in the 1990s, change for change's sake in the 21st century is a different issue.