Sunday, 30 March 2008
A week on and the swans are still here. I hope they stay a while.
Saturday, 29 March 2008
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Tuesday, 18 March 2008
Below: View from Moni's window, Wednesday morning, 19 March. Spring still feels like an eternity away.
Sunday, 16 March 2008
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.
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
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 35 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.
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.
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
Sunday, 9 March 2008
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.
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
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
Tuesday, 4 March 2008
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
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.
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).