Thursday, 31 December 2009

Jeziorki, 2009 - another view

As I did at the end of 2008, I shall leave the last post of the year to my neighbour, Grażyna, who snapped these pics of Jeziorki.

Above: January. Ducks on the icy pond, ul. Pozytywki.

Above: February, winter in Jeziorki, as it should be; still, snowy, heavy wet snow on the trees.

Above: early spring, Jeziorki, misty sunrise.

Above: still summer. The pond on ul. Sztajerki, mid-September. Within two and half years, the S2 Warsaw Southern Bypass will be running to the north of this quiet spot.

Less than a month later: this year, the first snow came early, 14 October 2009. Above: ul. Trombity in the snow; vines and tyre tracks.

Above: flowers in the October snow. Below: farewell to 2009 - fireworks between ul. Karczunkowska and ul. Trombity.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Miserable grey London

To misquote Dr Johnson; "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of over-priced, over-crowded public transport, throngs of vacant shoppers and miserable weather". My children are evidently not tired of London, dragging me out to see the Capital once again. There was no plan; "failing to plan is planning to fail", reminded Moni. Indeed. We just drifted, from Ealing Broadway to Oxford Circus, thence to HMV (£3 for popular DVDs, £15 for the long tail), a selection of clothes shops with 70% off the tat they couldn't sell and full price for classic, classy stuff that stands the test of time. And it rained cold rain. Soon even my stout footwear was sodden.

Left: Just how wet it was in London.

Eddie wanted to see Fortnum & Mason's, (est. 1707) certainly a good deal posher than Harrods. The place was full of people like us - curious tourists from abroad, buying nothing. Running a business like this must be galling; in effect its a free museum of posh shopping thronged by sightseers getting in the way of the retail.

Picture quiz for my Polish readers: name this impressive central London edifice (right).

Piccadilly: we take a turn off mainstreet, away from cacophony and into the lesser-known thoroughfares of London town, headed towards Bond Street (via Savile Row and Jermyn Street). Thence by Central Line to Holborn, to gravitate towards Covent Garden.

Left: The back of the Lamb and Flag pub, Conduit St, seen from Lazenby Court. The real klimat of London is not in its jammed-up main roads but the thousands of narrow passageways, full of the atmosphere of bygone days, when this was City of Empire. The essence of Victorian London is to be found by looking up, above the garish shop frontages, and by exploring deeper than merely treading the tourist routes.

As we walked in the rain, we speculated upon what would happen if one were to superimpose central Warsaw on central London - would the one get lost within the other? See for yourself (above). The heart of Warsaw, centred on the Palace of Culture, taking in everything from the Łazienki Palace to the south-east to the Old Town in the north-east, out to Plac Zawiszy in the west, would fit into an area of London bounded by Victoria Station, Regent's Park and Holland Park. And notice also how much less densely built up Warsaw is - more greenery between the buildings.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Snow in England this Christmas

Our regular route from Manchester to Duffield takes us over some beautiful scenery - the Peak District and Derby Dales. Today, on Christmas Day, the route was as beautiful as it possibly could be. Below: Higher Hallsteads, near Dove Holes.

Clear blue sky, crisp snow, hardly any traffic. (All photos by Moni.)

The route runs through Stockport, Disley, Dove Holes, Buxton, Bakewell, Matlock, Matlock Bath and Belper.

The road was free of snow (which in any case was melting), and I did not feel unduly worried about driving on normal ('summer') tyres. On the dual carriageway stretch (below) only one of the two lanes in each direction had been cleared.

Derbyshire is one of the cradles of industrialisation. Every now and then, one encounters some feat of Victorian engineering, still in use after a century and half.

Below: A former chapel, des res for those with gothic tastes.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Washing the snow away

It is hard to believe, when you wake up and it's -10C outside, that within the space of a mere 12 hours the temperature will shoot up to +4C and that rain will pour down. Yet the forecasters were 100% right this time. Yesterday evening it began to rain, and it's rained all night. After four days where the temperature did not exceed -10C, the big thaw has arrived. Lifting fears that we would be unable to get to the UK for Xmas.

The Internet is a wonderful thing. I discover that yesterday's flight chaos at London Luton has eased, with the early flights from Poland coming in a few minutes ahead of schedule. I also find out that the snows which covered much of England yesterday are being washed away by rain, as they are here in Warsaw. No chance, then, of being trapped on a snowy motorway in stationary traffic (in England there's no such thing as winter tyres, so a spoonful of snow and traffic slides to a halt). It also means I can leave heavy-duty winter clothing behind and dress, as usual, for extreme drizzle, which is likely to accompany us for the next few days in England.

Right: Bedraggled jackdaw on the cherry tree in our garden. It been sitting here for a few minutes, shaking itself off, a flurry of feather and water. Looking thoroughly disgruntled, it eyed the fields with some hope that the retreating snows will reveal to eat.

Below: We fly into London Luton - and hey! look! snow! Never seen this before - flying into a snowbound England - even at Xmas.

Bedfordshire in the snow! Our hire car was covered in eight inches of the stuff when we picked it up at the airport. Of course, when it was returned, the eagle-eyed attendant discovered a minute scratch on the bonnet. Worth having fully comp insurance on your hire car in England in winter - plus they don't come with winter tyres!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Poland's worst railway station

Must be W-wa Zachodnia. Poland's Clapham Junction, with trains local, suburban, regional, national and international passing through. W-wa Zachodnia sports a seemingly random collection of platforms, with a complete lack of travel information provided to passengers at platform level. No indicator boards, no timetables. No clocks on the suburban platforms. No one to tell you if you are in the right place, if your train is on time. W-wa Centralna's not perfect, but it is far, far advanced to this dump when it comes to passenger facilities and information. Even W-wa Smródmieście has indicator boards informing you of delays, at platform level, and access to ticket validating machines. And an English-language Wikipedia page.

Above: Only the woman with the mobile phone gives away the scene's date to post-communist times. This station is absolutely dreadful, avoid travelling from it or changing trains here at all costs. Unless you are fascinated by Poland in the communist era. Come here for a taste of what the Old System was like. Polish national railway museum? Here it is! One early '80s vintage railway station, in working condition (just), preserved in aspic.

To find out when your train is coming, you need to descend into the single tunnel linking all seven platforms. There, in the gloom, you will find (separate) timetables for PKP, SKM, WKD and KM trains. In tiny weeny writing; I need to take my reading glasses out to discover when (and from which platform) my train is. And then check that there isn't a supplementary timetable, somewhere else along the dark tunnel, which tells you that the main timetable has actually been replaced by this one.
Platform numeration at W-wa Zachodnia:
Platform (Peron) 1 (WKD)
Track (Tor) 1, track 2

Platform 2
Track 20, track 22 (with me so far?)

Platform 3
Track 23, track 21

Platform 4

Track 8, track 25 (this is where it gets complicated)

Platform 5
Track 4, track 6

Platform 6
Track 1, track 2 (OK...?)

Platform 7
Track 5, track 3 (Logical?)

Platform 9¾ can't be far away. The true anorak might make sense of PKP's passenger-hostile track numeration system, but for the average traveller, this is hell. The number of times I've been caught out, having to dive into the tunnel to find out from which platform and at which time my train is due, only to find it's come and gone - it fills me with fury at the sheer unreformability of this particular station. Today I had to change here for Jeziorki and found myself sitting by an elderly couple who'd boarded this Radom-bound train thinking it will get them to Kielce. Their journey home will be interesting.

Down in the tunnel that links tracks 1, 2, 20, 22, 23, 21, 8, 25, 4, 6, 1, 2, 5 and 3 (in that order), you will be able to find stalls selling months-old magazines that have come off sale-or-return, and made their way via unofficial channels to a secondary market, where they are sold for a fraction of their cover price. Another reason why publishing is a particularly unrewarding business in Poland (state TV dumping airtime prices being the other one). Down here you'll also find down here real hardcore żul hangouts, like Bar na Luzie, where beer is still 3 zlotys a half-litre. The stench of burnt casseine, onions and kebab fat mingle with those of the unwashed.

And this train is for...? To be honest, I never did find out. It pulled in unannounced, no timetable on platform, it pulled out. Not Jeziorki-bound, anyway.
As it happened, today was an unusual day. Thieves stole overhead power lines on the Radom line between Warka and Radom. This happens from time to time (like when Eddie and I were headed for the Bieszczady with our bikes on holiday a few years back).

Monday, 21 December 2009

Evening photography, Powiśle

You can find a tripod anywhere if you look. Above: View along ul. Rozbrat taken from the top of a parking meter (with the snow brushed off first). Half-second exposure. Below: office building on ul. Kruczkowskiego, taken from top of fence, one second exposure. Both too long to hand-hold, even with vibration reduction lens (an eighth is the longest I can get away with with lens zoomed out to 18mm).

Although I use the generic term 'Powiśle' for the part of Warsaw where I work, strictly speaking it should really be Solec, being the part of Powiśle south of the main railway bridge. A part of Warsaw that's quite magical to me.

Weather warming up - from a frosty -14C this morning to a mere -2C while I was returning home this evening.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Google Earth updates Jeziorki

In the last few weeks or so, Google Earth has updated the map of south-west Warsaw to one dated 23 July 2009, replacing the earlier one from 24 June 2008.

A neat feature in later releases of Google Earth is the time slider; you can replace the latest image of Jeziorki with ones from 2008, 2007, 2003 and 2002. Below: Our house April 2002 (left) and July 2009 (right). Main difference is vegetation flourishing in garden. Two fruit trees have been cut down in the field to the right.

The biggest changes in and around Jeziorki, visible from space, are the development of the 'Elka' (S2 southern Warsaw bypass and the S79 linking it to ul. Sasanki) and the destruction of the rampa na kruszywa (torn down in 2008, the developer who was going to build a large estate of houses and flats here clearly in trouble).

Copy and paste these coordinates into the Google Earth search box for the Rampa (52° 6'24.15"N, 20°59'47.47"E) and Węzeł Lotnisko ( 52° 8'19.68"N, 20°59'18.85"E). The roadworks are particularly visible as a sandy-colour scar running north-south and east-west across our corner of Warsaw.

Also of interest, across ul. Puławska in the Las Kabacki forest, is the crash site of LOT Flight 5055 ( 52° 6'47.04"N, 21° 2'44.67"E) on 7 May 1987. In the 2002 shot, the scars of the crash (some 360 metres long by 50 metres wide) are clearly visible. In the most recent photo, it's visible, but only just.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Progress on S79 - for how long?

Above: View of the S79 between the airport junction with the S2 (Węzeł Lotnisko) and the viaduct at ul. Poleczki. Looks like some asphalt is down already, if not the final top surface. In the distance, diggers are busy working. However, local media suggest that if Warsaw's roads department cannot close the top end of ul. Wirażowa to traffic, then the road builder, Teerag-Asdag, cannot continue with work on the stretch between W-wa Okęcie station and ul. Sasanki to the north.

Until that impasse is resolved, and with work slowing down because of the weather (daytime high today was -11.4C) a chance to walk along the road and see how things are progressing. Above: What was ul. Wirażowa, looking south. To the right will be the S79, to the left, the Warsaw to Radom railway line.

Above: Looking north. To the left the course of the S79, beyond it Runway 15/33 of Okęcie airport. Drivers headed this way in future would have a great view of take offs and landings, although I suspect there will be screens placed alongside the airport to prevent such distractions.

Above: View looking south from the Poleczki viaduct. Work is still happening here, albeit at a slower tempo than during last week, when I observed no fewer than ten excavators digging away while on the train between W-wa Dawidy and W-wa Okęcie. The bus in the centre of the pic is full of workers warming themselves.

On, then, by bus from Poleczki to Puławska, to where the S2 will cross over it. Below: This is ul. Chodzonego, looking east towards Puławska. The S2 will run to the right, between where I'm standing and the railway line to the Metro depot, which crosses over Puławska in the mid-background (yellow bridge just visible). Some large-diameter pipework is waiting to be installed.

Below: The pillars for the viaduct carrying ul. Poloneza over the railway line and over the S2. It's a quarter past three and not a soul on the building site. I want to see the viaduct put up here as quickly as possible as this my route from home to Platan Park most mornings.

I walk over 11km today, getting home half an hour after sunset. My winter clothing and footwear pass the test.

Winter on the tracks

Heading north to see what's happening on the 'Elka' - the L-shaped road being the S79 down from Sasanki to the south of the airport, then across to Puławska - I walk alongside the railway tracks.

Above: Osóbka southbound for Radom. The nearest (unelectrified) track is the one that runs from Okęcie sidings to Siekierki power station, used a few times a day by coal trains.

Above: Somewhere between the crossings at ul. Baletowa and ul. Karnawał. Right: Signals at the approach to the Okęcie sidings.

All along the line where open fields adjoin the tracks, I note that the snow-drift fences have not been put up. They should act as a barrier in case of heavy snowfall and strong winds; they're still stacked up by the trackside (below).

A trio of diesel locos used for hauling coal, an SM42-714 (left) heading two SM48s with different pattern cabs (SM48-117 in the middle, SM48-087 at the end).

Winter garden

Snow that fell over night has been blown by the north-easterly wind into a number of drifts across the garden and drive. Like a stationary wave, the drifts curl and overhang, unlike a sand dune, which is made of non-adhering particles.

The drifts would reach a peak depth of around one foot (30cm), whereas on other parts of the lawn blades of grass would be showing through thin snow.

Snow that had settled on top of the bottle used as a mole deterrent and marker (the moles have not yet dared stage a return to our lawn) has been blown into the shape of a Smurf's hat.

Since Thursday morning the temperature by day or night has not exceeded -10C.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Roads work today as rails let me down

Ah! dawns like these. Yesterday the roads let me down, today, I shall let the train take the strain. Set off from home, along ul. Karczunkowska... not a bus in sight. But the roads are clear of snow, the ploughs and the gritters have been working hard overnight to ensure black asphalt. But note also complete lack of pavements on Karczunkowska, cleared of snow or otherwise.

On the edges of the roads we have breja - frozen muddy snow slush; even with salt and grit on the roads it will not melt. The temperature was -13C when I took these pics. (Daytime high again was -11C.) With temperatures this low, breja does not even melt inside buses.

On the road to Jeziorki, this scene fills me with that old familiarity of things from beyond my childhood experience. Scandinavia or the USA in the 1940s/50s? Looking at the pic, I find it precisely satisfies the sense of what I saw and felt at the time.

I arrive at W-wa Jeziorki station in good time for the 09:06 into town. I wait in the cold for around half an hour for a train that would never come. The lady at the level crossing gatehouse tells me that the first train to Warsaw is expected around 11:30. Fortunately there's a bus at hand to take me to Wilanowska and the Metro.

Across the road from my office, I snap this snow-covered Fiat 125P ('Duży Fiat'). The design dates back to 1967. On my way home tonight the Radom train arrives a mere five minutes late and arrives at Jeziorki with another five minute delay. Getting back to normal, in other words.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Proper winter hits Warsaw

At last - snow. Leave the house at ten past seven, way before sunrise, then the dreadful Puławska. The snow ploughs were not out in force today; commute times were multiples of the usual crawl. But once at the Metro, things worked out fine. To Politechnika where I find an obliging number 35 tram coming along (way behind its scheduled time, but ideal for me).

And onwards, on foot, down ul. Górnośląska towards the office. (Right) I pass the archetypal Polish podwórko (courtyard) in a kamienica (tenement), pop in and take a snap. Early attempts at sweeping a corridor through the snow prove to be futile, as it keeps on falling all day long. The place looks a bit shabby; it's just around the corner from the Sejm (parliament) buildings. You'd not find anything like this around Westminster.

Then off to a meeting in town. Delayed by half an hour because the lawyer I'm meeting is stuck in traffic - no problem. I take the 171 bus. One every ten minutes - but not today. Look at the crowd at the bus stop. Leaving this behind, I walk to Rondo De Gaulle'a where I catch a tram (rail transport runs so much better).

En route to Al. Jerozolimskie and the tram stop, I walk through Park Śmigłego Ridza (below), where the gritters and snow-clearers are working hard to make the pedestrian's life easier. Daytime high, by the way, is -11C. Cool, eh?

Outside the Warsaw Financial Center I witness the ultimate in cycling madness. Fixed wheel courier bike, no brakes, no gears, no lock (an amateur bike thief would crash in seconds on this thing!), skinny tyres.

Returning to the office, I take the quickest route - tram. The snow does not hold them up. Just gone three, and it's getting dark. Although the shortest day is still to come, we've already had the earliest sunset a few days back.

I swap tram for bus and get snarled up in a monster gridlock on Pl. Trzech Krzyży. The 171 bus is an elderly Ikarus; it stinks of fumes (carbon monoxide levels dangerously high); the condensation from passengers' breath has frozen on the inside of the windows. Not something often seen in the UK! I rub a little hole in the ice and snap a jeweller's shop (below).

And home... Puławska was utterly awful today. At 22:30 I picked Moni up from the Metro, and the road was still one solid jam.