Monday, 30 November 2009

S2 at Poloneza

Ul. Poloneza is now bisected at the railway track linking the main line with the Metro depot at Kabaty. Even pedestrian traffic is prohibited. Only the bicycle gets through!

The road was closed a month ago. A viaduct is to be built here. Ul. Poloneza is the main artery that connects my home to Platan Park, where my working day often starts. The viaduct will go over the top of both the railway track and the S2 southern Warsaw bypass (Południowa Obwodnica Warszawy or POW).

So it's gratifying to know that the road's not just closed for the sake of closing the road. Things are happening. I sneaked past on my bike for a closer look. Below: This to me looks like the welding of the metal frames for the pillars that one day soon will hold the ul. Poloneza viaduct aloft.

I can see the situation in two years time: Poloneza is reopened, as a properly tarmacked road, and half of Magdalenka and Lesznowola is going to be stuck here in a massive traffic jam. Unless Puławska Bis and/or Hołubcowa Bis will be built by then - which I doubt!

Bad news - I've just read on Skyscraper City that the Polish Highways and Motorways Authorities (GDDKiA) has just declared the tender for the stretch of road between Węzeł Lotnisko and Konotopa (the eastern end of the A2 motorway) invalid. So we may end up with the POW being an expressway linking Puławska and Ochota.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Candid photography

Once again, it was Eddie who first spotted this from the kitchen window. A very rare visitor to Okęcie indeed! This is an Ilyushin Il-76, NATO reporting name Candid. At first sight to me it looked like a giant BAE Avro RJ 146, taking off lower, slower, more noisily than the far smaller regional jetliner. Comparable in size, though slightly shorter than the C-17 Globemaster III.

This heavy lift transporter (reg. 4K AZ100) belongs to Azerbaijani Silk Way Airlines. What was it doing in Warsaw?

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Between ul. Sarabandy and Farbiarska

On the eastern edges of Jeziorki, where it meets Dąbrówka, there's a small pond ( 52° 7'14.00"N, 21° 0'34.00"E) which used to be surrounded by fields, but which is now being encroached by houses. I wonder how much longer it will be possible to walk freely across from ul. Sarabandy to ul. Farbiarska.

Once upon a time, ul. Farbiarska had little roads running off it with houses addressed A to H or A to K as suffixes to a number on Farbiarska. Today these roads have their own names - ul. Czysta, ul. Głęboka, ul. Ługi. This makes more sense. But as the plots between houses fill up, so ancient rights of way disappear. Right of way has never been as sacrosant in Poland as it is in Britain. In the UK, public footpaths yield with difficulty to the advancing tide of development. But here, where rights of way have never been clearly demarcated, they can disappear just like that. A path between ul. Dumki and ul. Sarabandy, for example, has been cut by a fence and a building plot. Your family may have used it for generations, but now it's gone.

Coming in at crazy angles

This morning, at 11:20, Eddie and I saw this WizzAir Airbus A320 (HA-LPX) approaching Runway 33 at a most strange angle. Rather than going out all the way to Czachówek and doing the wing-over there, the pilot took a short cut, making the big turn over Pyry/Dąbrówka. We watched to see whether he'd be able to line up with the approach, or be forced to do a go-around. He managed. In the background is BA Airbus A319 (G-EUPN). The BA pilot flew in po bożemu, by the book, heading out a further 12 miles south before turning in for final approach. He'd be overhead a full six minutes later. Below: The WizzAir A320 makes it.

This manouevre was also observed from Ursynów. Post (from Okęcie spotters' forum) here.

Flying short-cuts into Runway 33 is more often seen from a westerly direction. Planes will fly as close to 3km from the threshold, doing their final turn over ul. Kórnicka even. Typically, these will be Eurolot ATRs, but sometimes also LOT B737s. On 9 May this year, I filmed a LOT 767 turning in way to the north of our house - and succeeding in lining up with the runway! Short cuts are almost always flown by Polish pilots for whom Okęcie is their home airport (we don't see BA, Air France, Lufthansa or EasyJet planes doing this). The pilots based here know all the approaches well, and what they can get away with. I can't help wondering what Warsaw Tower makes of this procedure and indeed whether this is an air safety issue.

Below: not an air miss - the foreshortening effect of the 80-400mm Nikkor at full stretch brings the BA plane much closer than in reality. There was less than two seconds between the first and third exposure.

Friday, 27 November 2009

To Poznań, by train

ARRRGH! I get annoyed by PKP for many reasons, but most of all for inconsistency. Take the sale of alcohol, for example. You can't buy beer at the Wars restaurant car any more (unless it's the alcohol-free variety) on Intercity or express trains. No booze at all, of any description. But board a EuroCity train on an international route (Warsaw-Berlin, Warsaw-Budapest, Warsaw-Vienna), and in the restaurant car, also operated by Wars, you will have a choice of Russian bubbly, strong spirits, wines and a range of beers. Why? Are Poles saying to their neighbours 'we are a liberal, non-proscriptive society' while keeping their shameful secret to themselves?

Somewhere between Poznań and Warsaw

Then there's access to plugs to power your laptop. Some carriages have them in second class, between every seat. Others have none - not even in first class. And you're not allowed to use your laptop in a restaurant car. Being able to use a laptop is one of the main advantages that rail offers over road when it comes to business travel. But I can never tell whether I'll be able to plug in on a given journey. Or not.

Taking a train to Poznan means risking a bus-style open carriage. I don't like these at all, preferring traditional compartments. Some of the carriages are still like that, others are open. You can't select which one when reserving a place on the Poznan train. I like the ritual of muttering dzień dobry and do widzenia to your fellow passengers, and the odd chance of an interesting conversation (rare but they do happen).

A flat, wet, uneventful field.

On the train to Poznan yesterday, I was assigned to carriage 267, seat 42 (window). Except that a) there was no window, just a metal wall next to seat 42. And the occupant of seat 43 (aisle) had, quite properly, used the coat hook over seat 42 to hang his enormous down-filled winter coat. Plus the leg-room between seat 42 and the back of seat 38 was about eight inches. Now, I don't mind travelling like this in a low-cost airliner at 850 km/h (two hours to cross Europe), but in a train (three hours to cover 200 miles), with no window next to me, this is utterly unacceptable. So I marched off down to First Class, payed an extra 41 zlotys, and enjoyed the train journey as it should be enjoyed.

On the train back to Warsaw this morning, I was again assigned to a similarly rubbish seat in an open coach. But this time, I spent the entire 2hr 45 mins journey in the Wars buffet car. The Full English Breakfast (18 zlotys) was an utter delight. Bacon, fried eggs, sausages, grilled tomatoes - cooked for you on the train and garnished with watercress, served with eight slices of fresh Polish bread, wonderful. Wars coffee (5 zlotys) - not so good (too much robusta, not enough arabica). Lemon tea the better choice here. Overall, the buffet car on the Intercity to Warsaw is a comfortable alternative to First Class. Cheaper; fills you up too.

Block of flats in the middle of a field.

Poznań to Warsaw trains pass through a lot of places beginning with 'K'. Konin, Koło and Kutno, the main towns along the way. Kosztrzyn, Kawnice, Kramsk, Kłodawa, Krzewie and Kęczyce are also interspersed between the two cities. (Kramsk. It sounds like it's 1,000 miles west of where it should be!) The landscape is flat all the way.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Post industrial Poznań

Like Łódź, Poznań is making the most of its post industrial heritage. On Thursday night I stayed at the City Park Residence, a five-star hotel with spacious apartment rooms, built in what used to be cavalry barracks. I stayed here a year ago, soon after it was opened. At the time, the hotel was great - but there was nothing around it. Since then, a number of shops, bars and restaurants have opened, adding life to the place. More are coming on stream. I ate in the sushi bar, also within the former barracks compound - good, but pricy when compared to Warsaw sushi bars.

Kiedy ranne wstają zorze

While waiting for the 06:23 train into town (so as I could catch an onward train to Poznań), I caught this wonderful sunrise from the platform at W-wa Jeziorki. On the horizon, the lights of ul. Puławska. The words of the old Polish hymn Kiedy ranne wstają zorze sprang to mind as I observed the dawning of the day.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Silent and Unseen - in your bookshops now!

It's been a long time coming, but at long last, the English-language version of General Stefan 'Starba' Bałuk's excellent account of his World War II commando activities culminating in the Warsaw Uprising and its tragic aftermath is now available online.

It is published by Askon Wydawnictwo Naukowe and costs 80 zlotys plus postage and packing. The book's official launch will be held on 29 January, in the Concert Hall at the Royal Castle in Warsaw (12:00 - 14:00). If you wish to attend, meet the 96 year-old author and buy a signed copy from him (80 zł) in either Polish or English, please let me know - send me an e-mail ( and I'll get you an official invite. Only 80 places - so hurry.

I translated the last three chapters, covering Stefan Bałuk's  wartime adventures from outbreak of the Uprising through to his release from Stalinist prison. I agreed to do this, putting in a vast amount of work, scores of hours, because I judged his coverage of the Uprising to be among the clearest account of the ebbs and flows of this, one of the two defining battles of 20th Century Polish history.

Read more about how the English version of the book came about here, and here.

The book is a must-read for anyone interested in Poland's WWII history.

North of the city centre

Cycling back to the office from the publishers, I stopped at the traffic lights on the corner of ul. Andersa (the continuation of Marszałkowska and Puławska - Warsaw's main north-south artery) and ul. Stawki. To my left, the Intraco I building, Poland's first modern office development, eerily lit by relections of greenish clouds. Another late November day when the daytime high topped +11C. The morning, blustery with passing showers, felt decidedly spring-like!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Warsaw's woodlands in autumn

A defining feature of Warsaw is its scarp that runs parallel (though some way from) the Vistula river. Much of it is covered in greenery. Above: the path running from Al. Władysława Giżyckiego (the north side of the Królikarnia park) down to ul. Piaseczyńska. I'm on my way to the studios of Radio TokFM, where again today I'm taking part in the EKG talk show with Tadeusz Mosz (eighth time this year). Today I bemoan Poland's lack of a PPP-promoting body within the public sector. If this doesn't happen, Poland won't have any PPPs (and plop-plops will continue to flow down Polish rivers).

Last week I did this same journey, also by bike, though on the fixed wheel one. A mistake - the fixed wheel does not like steep downhills like this one! So today, the Cannondale did the job much better. Suspension, gears, fat knobbly tyres and two brakes.

Right: I'm riding home in time to catch the sun setting through the trees in the Las Kabacki forest. The leaves have all gone in this deciduous part of the forest. The paths are covered with a thick and slippery carpet of leaves. Again, the Cannondale is in its element with its grippy tyres that make light work of the twists and turns in the trail.

I'm using the new Blogger control panel. Now why can't I justify the text at the top of this para to line up with the top of the pic (right)? Looks OK in the control panel, but when I publish post, the text jumps down a line. BAH!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

November weather notes.

Last week was warm for the time of year, with daytime highs around +11C, nighttime lows no lower than +5C. Today was cooler but, like Friday, the sky was clear for much of the day. Gnats hover around outside the house, fooled by the spring-like temperatures. Last night there was a thick fog enveloping Warsaw; flights to Okęcie were diverted with nothing landing until the morning. The moles made a rather sorry attempt to disfigure our lawn, my patented method of mole-dissuasion has limited their hills to a mere two this autumn (compared to 30+ the last time we had an attack).

Last November, there was already snow on the ground, which unlike that which fell over a month ago, held on a bit. I'm told we can expect a late winter this year.

Meanwhile, the British Isles are experiencing extremely heavy rainfalls, floods and high winds.

Returning from the shops this afternoon, I caught this rather marvellous autumnal sunset over ul. Trombity. Red sky at night, shepherd's delight?

This time last year:

Friday, 20 November 2009


My fixed wheel bike is proving a useful part of my commute solution. I cycle 1.5 km from home to W-wa Jeziorki station (avoiding the muddy paths, just asphalt roads). Although the rush-hour trains are packed solid, later trains (after half past eight) offer enough space to board the compartment with the bike-hanging hooks (see this post). It's then 30 minutes to W-wa Powiśle, and then 1.6km to the office. On the return journey, I get off the train one stop early, at W-wa Dawidy, for 2.5km ride home along ul. Kórnicka and Trombity, both are quiet in the evening. The half kilometre along ul. Baletowa is not too bad (and safer than Karczunkowska) - my train going over the level crossing gives me time to get a solid head-start on all the traffic. So - total riding distance a mere 7.3km a day, but timed right, I can do home-to-office in 50 minutes.

The bike has been reconfigured with a more laid-back handlebars, giving a more comfortable riding position. I think I'll change back to the original one (built for speed and lightness). The front wheel has been rebuilt using a spare hub and a rim from an old wheel.

Why fixed? It's light, simple, nothing much to go wrong.

Buzzed by a 'Parrot'

Living under the flightpath to Warsaw Okęcie's Runway 33, I rarely get excited by the planes that fly over us one after the other. This morning was different - no fewer than eight times did this garishly painted LET L-410 fly over our house, and at low altitude.

This plane, SP-TPA, belongs to Polska Agencja Żeglugi Powietrznej (Polish Air Navigation Services Agency) and is used for calibrating radar and radio equipment at airports, in particular those used for instrument landing (ILS) and VHS omnidirectional ranging (VOR).

Nicknamed 'Papuga' (Parrot) on account of its bright colours, it is seen from time to time at Okęcie. If you see a smallish twin-prop aircraft flying around in circles low over Warsaw, you can be sure it'll be this one.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Spirit of place - but Warsaw?

Walking from meeting to meeting in Warsaw this morning, I again had two of those moments I've described before - that sudden burst of anomalous familiarity, the spirit of place moment, though not from the 'here and now'. Right: ul. Mokotowska. I see this scene, and for a second I'm transported to Scandinavia in the mid-'50s. There's quite a few places in Warsaw that do this for me; much of Powiśle and Solec near my office.

Below: al. Ujazdowskie. Edwardian London?

This phenomenon has affected me since earliest childhood. When I took up photography some 30 years ago, I initially felt that I could capture spirits of place with the camera - I quickly learned that I could not (in colour at least).

It was only when I went digital that I realised what the problem was with colour film photography. Unless you spent a fortune on film, bracketing the exposure on each shot, it was unlikely that the picture was correctly exposed (for sky? foreground? background?), or that the colours were sufficiently saturated, etc. With digital you can check instantly, and correct on the scene as necessary. And the 'digital darkroom' allows you to tweak composition, contrast, brightness, saturation, exposure - selectively as well as whole frame. This lets you get closer to what you saw and felt at the time.

I'm now much more often able to look at a photo after a while and say - "yes - this is an accurate record of my emotional response to a scene". But what this all means requires another half a lifetime of searching.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Commuter schadenfreude

Oh what joy! The rat-runners using our road so as to avoid the traffic jam on ul. Puławska are turned back by roadworks along ul. Trombity. Driver of car in foreground (below) will soon be making a U turn.

Ha ha! Turn that wasteful, unnecessary SUV around Panie, and get back into that jam where you belong. (Oh the senselessness of this type of vehicle for one-per-car-commuting!)

Coming and going down ul. Nawłocka. Little does the driver of the silver Corolla realise that he's not going to get very far! For that mud and splashing, all this driver has achieved is losing his place in the queue of cars turning left from ul. Karczunkowska onto Puławska. Ha ha!

Look at Nawłocka. There's no asphalt, no pavement. I am unable to walk to the station without getting my shoes and trousers filthy. Because the road is potholed to bits by rat-runners.

And what's the blockage? Trombity is being dug up so that water mains can be installed for those citizens further down the road than us. Pavements. Sewerage. These are also things that we could do with living within the city limits of Warsaw, the capital of the EU's sixth largest member state.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Synchronicity of shape

Arriving at W-wa Powiśle this morning, I notice that the neon lights announcing the station name, above the eastern (low-level) entrance to the station have been fixed (above). Ever since the building had been turned over to a private-sector cafe operator, the place has been more beckoning. I guess by next spring, the terrace in the foreground will be overcrowded with literary types on fixed-wheel bikes sipping their lattes. For years, nothing was going on here. At last - a small sign of urban renewal. The neons look good at night. Shades of Mel's Diner (below).

I found myself thinking of a similarly shaped station I used to use when in London. In the 1980s, I'd cycle from home in Perivale and leave my bike in the bikeshed at Hangar Lane station (below). Photo dated December 1982. By the late 1980s, the Central Line proved so unreliable I'd either ride all the way into New Oxford Street where I worked, or, from 1990 onward, in winter I'd use my fold-up Brompton bike to ride two miles to Ealing Broadway station, for an eight-minute mainline train journey to Paddington, just two and half miles from my office.

Hangar Lane station was opened in 1947; W-wa Powiśle in 1954.

And W-wa Powiśle in the snow... click here.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The days are marching

After dropping off Moni at band practice, taking the segregated waste for recycling and making lunch for Eddie and myself, I think "time for a bike ride". I look at the time and it's almost three pm. The sun now sets just after quarter to four. The river beckons.

Above: Just gone three-thirty and the sun is disappearing over the horizon. I've covered some 10km in the half-hour since leaving home, riding through the Las Kabacki forest. This wet field is in Powsin. Today and yesterday were dry, more rain is due.
Above: the village of Okrzeszyn at dusk. Home of the immortal (though now faded) graffiti: "Okrzeszyn City każdy obcy będzie bity" (Okrzeszyn city, every stranger will be beaten). The village has since gone up-market with new houses springing up everywhere.
Take me to the river. Above: The Jeziorka river, which flows into the Vistula at Obórki. Below: The Vistula at Obórki, 15km by bike from home. Time to set off before it gets too dark.

Below: Looking the other way; with the river behind me, I'm standing on the flood defence dyke and looking across at fields of Obórki. Five km beyond lies Konstancin.

Below: On the way home, I pass the church at Powsin. The children have regularly come here on pilgrimages on foot from their school. Next year this church celebrates its 600th birthday, hence the new illuminations.

It's dark by the time I reach Las Kabacki. However, I have recently bought some outstandingly good bike lights; the front one illuminates the forest like a car headlight - and runs off AA batteries!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

That Learning Moment

Something said in the train I travelled on to Kraków last week. An American boss was having a pep talk with a Polish employee, in the course of that conversation, he spoke of 'that learning moment'.

Americans have that linguistic gift of putting across into a couple of snappy words what European academics would need to pen entire monographs to communicate.

Here was a concept I immediately recognised; that singularity in time when understanding, total awareness and appreciation occur. Eureka. Lightbulb. The Penny Drops. And what has thus been learnt stays with you a lifetime. A good 'learning moment' should cause you to question your old concepts and behaviours, and improve, and in doing so, you come closer to fulfilling your potential as a human being. Which is why we are all here.

Total continuous improvement. Lifelong learning. You gain awareness, you implement, you improve, you monitor progress and feed back. Unlike a spiral spring, which rises, steadily but slowly, there's no pattern here. Long complacent stretches, then PAFF! Enlightenment! And straight up to the next level.

When I look at myself, I see can see I often plod along year after year, with the same certain assumptions, doing things the same way, approaching work the same way, getting complacent about the need to improve constantly, indeed - not really caring too much. But then I meet people that inspire me - to go up a stage to see the bigger view, a wider perpective - to learn.

The key thing here is to be able to recognise That Learning Moment when it occurs. And be able to act on it.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Autumn in Dobra

Back to the Beskid Wyspowy for some walks amid the autumnal colours. Back for to Dobra for the fifth time in a year and half, in the third season (having been in winter and in summer).

The peaks rising out of the low lying mists give the region its name - the 'Island Beskids'. Two days to do some walking. Below: The lower slopes of Łopień (962m).

Right: Looking up at the steep eastern slope of Śnieżnica (1,072m), the silver birches fiery amid the evergreen firs. The sun was in and out both days, creating a variety of subtly different autumnal moods. It did not rain.

On 14-16 October, when Poland experienced its first snowfalls this year, a whole metre fell up here, disappearing quickly. The fields, however, were still very spongy, having absorbed large amounts of water. Below: local road leading from Dobra to Jurków. Everytime I climb Łopień, I get my bearings wrong. This time was no exception.

Not much drama in this landscape; rather, it's a contemplative mood that descends as one tramps the hills around Dobra. Below: It's exactly this I had in mind when looking at the Pennines through a train window last month.

Where to stay when visiting Dobra - the ideal year-round centre for walking in the Beskid Wyspowy - Gospodarstwo Agroturystyczna Zofia Nowak (tel: +48 18 333 0117). Warm hospitality, wonderful food (in large, hill-climbing quantities), a sincere welcome. Comfortable accommodation, good value. Mention 'Jeziorki' when booking!

I've come to love this place very dearly.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Łódź rising

To Łódź on Thursday evening to speak at a conference. Courtesy of its organisers, I stayed at the Andel's Hotel (I find the apostrophe use jarring after a proper noun that's preceded by a definite article). Nevertheless, very happy was I with the place. An excellent example of post-industrial space put to good use. The former textile factory has been turned into a modern hotel, blending contemporary design into the original. Below: No longer a dark, satanic mill. The lobby area at the Andel's Hotel.

Next door to the hotel is Manufaktura, Europe's largest post-industrial retail and entertainment complex. It boasts no fewer than 43 restaurants, cafes and bars!

Right: Brickwork looking resplendent in the autumn sunshine, Manufaktura's main entrance. Sadly, I had a train to catch, so no time to pop in for a look-round.

Next door to Manufaktura is Łódź's city museum (below), yet another stunning piece of fin de siecle architecture. They don't decorate buildings like this any more!

Each time I visit Łódź I'm impressed by the pace of change. (See this post - my visit to Łódź in March 2008) Great emphasis is placed on preserving and enhancing the city's past; in the local paper there was a story about a further 15 post-industrial premises being earmarked by the city for heritage status. Another story was about the city's 100 murals (mostly ads from communist days like this one) attracting the attention of local enthusiasts who want to restore them to their former glory.

I worked out that I'd have time in hand if I walked, so I set off along ul. Piotrkowska, which as I noted earlier, is Europe's longest shopping street. More and more of its elegant facades are getting a facelift.

Łódź is clearly a city worth visiting. It's an example of how to turn around industrial decay and reinvent a city through foreign direct investment (many huge factories have popped up here recently) and services (retail and entertainment). Well worth a visit if you've not been.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A regular interchange

I often find myself here - the Al. Armii Ludowej exit of the Politechnika Metro station. From here, buses run down Trasa Łazienkowska, three stops to Rozbrat and my office. Warsaw is a city that's changing at an amazing pace, something I can clearly see when looking at old photos from ten years ago. Drab, provincial, neglected, large empty concrete spaces filled with weeds, the past decade has brought huge advances. More are still needed (sewers for Jeziorki! a pavement for ul. Karczunkowska!), not to mention a second and indeed third Metro line. But it's worth remembering that nothing in this photo would have been here 15 years ago.