Saturday, 31 January 2009

Poland: Is there a crisis going on?

The media are going bonkers - is there really an economic crisis? Unemployment - surely the best measure of how an economy is delivering - has indeed nudged up, but from 8.8% to 9.5%.

But it's not the 20.4% it was back in 2004 - when the economy was growing by an annualised rate of 6%!

Much of the gloom is media generated.

This headline from last Tuesday’s Gazeta Wyborcza-cor-wot-a-scorcza really annoyed me: “POLACY KUPUJĄ MNIEJ” (”Poles are buying less”).

I read on. December’s consumer spending was 6.6% UP on December 2007. So in fact, Poles are buying MORE.

BUT, the article continues, consumer spending growth in the first half of 2008 was galloping along at 15% - 20% year on year.


Economic illiteracy worthy of Gnash Dziennik’s chief leader-writer, and typical of media coverage of this so-called ‘economic crisis’.

Where are the good news stories? 1,000 new jobs from Hewlett Packard's shared service centre in Wrocław? The 1,700 new jobs from Thomson Reuters' research centre in Gdynia? Dell moving all of its European manufacturing from Limerick to Łódź? Associated British Foods building a second factory in Nowa Sól? Cadbury's opening Europe's largest chewing gum factory in Opolskie? Fiat's thrifty, trendy 500 (built in Tychy) selling so well the factory's output rose by 80% last year?

The USA shed 65,000 jobs in one day last week. Britain has seen registered unemployment rise by 212,000 in the third quarter of 2008. Poland has also seen unemployment rise during this same period (Oct-Dec). By 11,600. Some difference!

It took me over two hours to do the weekly shop this morning. The car park was packed solid at half past nine, the aisles were immobile with trolleys, the queues to the checkouts (all 63 of them) were almost as long as they were before Christmas.

Things may not be as rosy as they were a year ago. But this is not a kryzys.

Growth is slowing. That's it. Banks are not stopping clients from making withdrawals. Petrol stations are still delivering petrol. Staff are getting paid (public and private sector). Inflation in under control. So why are the media trying to scare everybody into a panic?

This time last year:
From the family archives
Taking off from Okęcie
Air-to-air photos from Europe's crowded skies

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

A pavement for ul. Karczunkowska?

Walking to the station this morning, I observed strange signs made in fluourescent pink paint and fat-nibbed marker pen made along the length of ul. Karczunkowska (above). I surmise that this means surveyors are marking out the road for widening or for putting down pavement. Having ruined a suit last November as I evaded a truck heading for me while walking along the roadway en route to the station, I can say this is an absolute priority. It may tempt more people from Jeziorki to walk up the road and catch a train. One less reason not to.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

General Mud claims ul. Poloneza

On my way to Platan Park for my first meeting of the day, driving the direct route, from my house via the notorious ul. Poloneza. I got as far as ul. Ludwinowska and could go no further. Ahead of me were cars axle-deep in mud. Fortunately help was close at hand, as construction plant was in use just around the corner (Ludwinowska is being re-asphalted). The driver of the red Corolla above has just been hauled out of the morass by the digger. Two other vehicles in a similar predicament had just been freed (or had got themselves out). And remember - this is just over six miles from the very epicentre of Warsaw. Imagine such a scene in Chiswick, London W4.

I had to detour via ul. Puławska, less crowded because of the half-term holidays, but still an extra 20 minutes on my journey time! I fear Poloneza will be a no-go zone for several weeks yet.

Above: Friday morning - General Winter takes over from General Mud. A brief freeze and the mud is (just about) hard enough to drive over. By the evening, the snow was gone.

This time last year:
Similar weather - snow comes, snow goes
Similar weather - snow goes, snow comes

Monday, 26 January 2009

More questions than answers at the Rampa site

Another fascinating set of photos from fellow Jeziorki archivist Marcin Daniecki, taken on Monday 26 January on the Rampa site. It shows work in full swing, and prompts many questions.

For instance: What will happen at the south end of the site - the bit that's in Mysiadło, which is Gmina Lesznowola rather than Warsaw? The rampa site is like an upside-down letter 'h', the long thin bit pointed south. This part of the site (seen above), where the reversing track ran down to end at a set of buffers, is some 500m long and 40m wide. Is this an integral part of the site? Are any buildings planned here? As there's no earthwork screen, if there will be anything built here, it won't necessarily be housing. There's talk of a health centre, nursury school...

Plenty of hardware on site. To my untutored eye, the latticework structures in front of the crane look like those earth spreaders used to hold open trenches while pipes are being layed. Wide diameter waste water pipes leading to the main sewer completed two years ago running the length of ul. Karczunkowska?

The pointsman's hut. This is where the guy who set the points taking aggregate trains off the main line would hang out. Does it still belong to PKP? Or is it part of the site acquired by Spanish developer Sando Inmobiliaria? Will it be demolished?

Busy busy busy. In case you heard there's an economic crisis affecting the real estate sector. But wait! No less than seven trucks are at hand to remove soil from the site. How long before the cash runs out?

And what will happen to the west side of the site - to the west of the current scrap yard on ul. Karczunkowska? Has this part also been bought up? The tracks have gone - will they be replaced by tarmac?

This time last year:
Old-school shopping in Warsaw
Warsaw architecture: La Belle Epoque
Polish Air Force CASA plane crash in Mirosławiec

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Dobra and The Road

As I wrote in summer, there's something about Dobra. The klimat immediately triggered flashbacks, familiar feelings of somewhere I knew well but where I've never been. The Droga Krakowa (national road) 28 gave me that feeling very strongly, whether walking along it or listening to the occasional vehicle on it as I lay awake in our guest house. Right: DK28 running through Dobra, looking east.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Skiing in the Beskid Wyspowy

Could one ask for a better slope for one's return to skiing after eight years, accompanied by two children aged 12 and 13? The photo above was taken just before midday on Friday, 23 January. Eddie is just about visible before the bend in the piste, Sabina a little way behind. No one else in view! The piste was perfectly prepared (just a touch icy on our first few runs), by the afternoon conditions were absolutely ideal. Very, very few people. This is the advantage of Poland's staggered half-term system, whereby only a quarter of Poland found itself on holiday this week.

The Beskid Wyspowy, being virtually unknown to Warsaw-based skiers, was the place to be (while Zakopane and surrounding resorts in the Tatras) were packed. By the way, the photo shows well why the region is so named (the Island Beskids) - the peaks stick out above the fog like islands out of the sea.

This one-run slope, for those interested, is at Kasina Wielka, and goes up Śnieżnica (just over 1,000m at the summit, though the run starts at 900m). The run is an easy red, 1.4km long, broad and evenly sloped. Click here for virtual 360 degree views of the piste (from bottom to top). Criticisms - well, only the one slope, so zero variety. The lift pass, 50 zlotys for five hours (around 11 quid) seems expensive compared to Alpine resorts with a multiplicity of runs. And height. Although the word 'mountain' suggests a steeply-sloped hill with a definable peak and a height of over 600m above sea level, I would add the following definition. "A mountain is land mass situated sufficiently high that any winter precipitation falls on it as snow, not as rain'.

There's nothing more miserable for skiers than skiing in rain. That's what we did on Wednesday afternoon, we came off the slope an hour early. It reminded me of my previous ski trip in Poland, to Szczyrk in 2000, when it rained so intensively that my ski-suit was sodden and my expensive Minolta TC-1 camera broke (and put me off Poland for skiing for years). However, the other days of excellent, uncrowded skiing on Śnieżyca more than made up for a few rainy runs on Wednesday. I recommend Śnieżyca for intermediate-level family skiing.

Right: Two happy young skiers - Sabina and Eddie. Photo taken at two pm - still the slope remains almost empty. Ideal to get one's form back. Remember: weight on ze down'eel ski, face ze bottom of ze slope wiz your shoulders, press ze shinbones on ze front of ze boots, bend ze knees, plant ze pole, pivot around eet, compression - extention, swing-swing-swing! By Friday I was doing it right, remembering all those lessons from years gone by.

This time last year:
Moni's milestone - 15th birthday

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Roztopy - the big melt

Weather during our stay in the Beskid Wyspowy was a patchwork of sunshine and overcast. The latter was accompanied by low cloud, mist or rain. Temperatures were above zero, so the heavy snowfalls of the previous week were starting to melt. On Thursday I went for a 17km walk from Dobra to catch the atmosphere of mountain roztopy. The Nikon D80 withstood five hours' exposure to drizzle, light rain and temperatures of +1C to +5C, the battery level fell from 50% to 36% in that time.

My journey took me to the mountain pass at Gruszowiec (height 660m), between Ćwiliń and Śnieżnica (below). On either side, the peaks were shrouded in mist.

By the time I started climbing Śnieżnica and gaining altitude, the drizzle turned to light snow, which made for nicer walk. It would be this snow that we'd be skiing on the next day when the clouds parted to reveal ideal skiing conditions once again.

The building on the right is a truckstop restaurant (Bar Pod Cyckiem, which I won't bother translating!) For 8 złotys (less than two quid) I had a large bowl of sour cabbage soup thick with potatoes and kiełbasa (sausage), several slices of bread and half a litre of mulled beer (piwo grzane) which set me up for the 12km walk ahead of me.

Above: The river Łososina in Dobra. The river, which was mostly covered with ice when we arrived last Saturday, was now fully melting, the last slithers of ice visible near its swollen banks.

This time last year:
The year's most depressing day - official

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Pieniny in winter

To the east of the high Tatra mountains are the Pieniny. (Pennines - Apenines - Pieniny - some common root word?) Driving back from Czorsztyn on Tuesday, we spotted this view, which merited a pop with the 80-400mm Nikkor. This is the peak of Trzy Korony (Three Crowns), one of the highest peaks on the Polish side of this range. And yes, there are people on the top. Some stunning views from the top on Google Earth, though not for vertigo sufferers.

The road back took us through some wintery wonderland, pine trees in snow, light frost, empty road. Zigzag, Oregon?

This time last year:
Wetlands in a wet winter
Jeziorki scarecrows
Halfway from Olsztyn to Kraków

Monday, 19 January 2009

World's largest airliners over Poland

Though not an aircraft that is likely to be setting down at any Polish airport anytime soon, the Airbus A380 is a regular visitor to Polish skies. All three airlines that fly this type - Singapore, Emirates and Qantas, all overfly Poland. To catch them, all you need is a long, long, lens, a cloudless day - and to be at the right place at the right time.

Below: Emirates Airbus A380 at 38,000ft over Mazowsze, photographed from Jeziorki on 11 January, headed for Dubai from New York (click to enlarge).

Below: A Qantas A380 over Małopolska (pic taken in Dobra on 18 January 2008, the second day of scheduled flights from London to Sydney). In both cases, I could see with the naked eye that the four-engined airliner was an A380 (fatter fuselage than either the Boeing 747 or Airbus A340), and had enough time to change lens and use the Nikkor 80-400mm zoom. Next purchase - a two-times extender. [I learn that teleconverters don't work with this particular lens]

If these pics appeal, there's an excellent Polish website,, run by some guys down in Jasło and Bochnia, in south-eastern Poland. Using high-powered optics, they take photos of planes at great altitudes - even satellites in orbit!

This pic - taken from Bochnia a day earlier, of the same plane making the inaugural flight to Sydney - show what these guys are capable of. Bochnia is some 30km north of Dobra, plus the lens used was three times longer than this one.

This time last year:
Getting ready for Lent

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Into the trees

Day one in Dobra was for breaking in gently - no mad rush for the slopes, just getting used to being in the mountains in winter. Perfect day for a walk up Łopień, the nearest peak. The children's desire for pizza overcame my personal quest to reach the top of the mountain, so we started heading down towards Jurków.

Sabina, Eddie and I were making our way through the trees, when I thought I could hear the wind whistling. But no! It was the sound of hymns sung from the church at Jurków. Quite a magic moment, especially since we were so deep in the forest that we could still see no signs of civilisation - just animal tracks.

The skies cleared, the sun emerged, the world was quite beautiful, sunlight glinting off the snow.

But we were still a long way from the warmth of a restaurant.

Out of the trees. The snow has drifted deep in the fields on the lower slopes of Łopień. Eddie was complaining of wet jeans; however two giant 32cm pizzas did the trick, providing more than enough calories for the journey back to Dobra.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Jeziorki backroads in midwinter

Between ul. Trombity and ul. Sarabandy runs an untarmacked road (long may it stay that way!), ul. Dumki. Few houses, many trees, abandoned fields, farm buildings and orchards, and at the far end, to the left, the marshy, reed-filled wetlands.

A place for solitary walks, rural atmosphere, contemplation and peace. And yet so close to central Warsaw.

The road here is too narrow, too rutted, too muddy when it rains, to be passable by motorised traffic. I once had to divert this way when ul. Trombity was blocked by a fallen tree; ul. Dumki is extremely difficult to negotiate as part of an everyday journey to work. Good. Long may it stay unused by commuters.

Eddie and I are off for a week's skiing in Dobra, so no new posts until 25 January.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Zielona Góra

Grunberg before the war, Zielona Góra is one of those cities that because of its Germanic architecture has a different look-and-feel to Polish cities further east. With 125,000 population, it's small for a provincial capital, a job it shares with Gorzów Wielkopolski further north. At the time of the local government reforms in 1999, I questioned the need for a Lubuskie province; historically, Zielona Góra has been part of Lower Silesia (Dolny Śląsk/Niederschliesien) while Gorzów, as second part of the name suggests, lies within Wielkopolskie as a historical region.

Above and below: The old town square in Zielona Góra. The town is low-rise and spread out over a large area for its small population.

Flashbacks to the old days

I journeyed yesterday to Zielona Góra, probably the least-known Polish city in the least-known part of Poland (Lubuskie province). I boarded the EuroCity express from Warsaw to Poznań, changing there for a pospieszny (misnomer: the word in Polish means 'hurrying' train, this 80 mile journey took two and half hours). Shortly after leaving Poznań, I was jolted out of whatever reverie I was in by the sight of a real, live, working, scheduled service, steam train. Below: my first glimpse of Zielona Góra from my hotel room, early this morning. Gulp! Some kind of time warp! I've woken up in 1979! Solidarity and Marshal Law have yet to happen! (must buy some shares in that American computer start-up, Microsoft)

This time last year:
Wintery visit to Kraków
Kicking coffee in the run-up to Lent
Just before dawn, Ursynów
Trundling Tamara, Jeziorki
Pastel sunrise, Jeziorki
Frosty morning, Jeziorki
Gasping for a coffee

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Most Poniatowskiego

Looking at this time of year like a fairy tale castle rather than a key bit of Warsaw's transport infrastructure, this is my favourite bridge over the Vistula. Blown up twice, rebuilt twice, the Poniatowski bridge and the area around it has a unique atmosphere, a blend of industrial revolution meets high renaissance (only the Dom Luis cast iron arch bridge over the River Douro in Oporto, Portugal, beats it from among bridges I've seen, but then I've not been to Brooklyn).

Beyond the Poniatowski bridge is a parallel railway bridge, and at its western end W-wa Powiśle station. It's here I'm heading, to catch the train home to W-wa Jeziorki.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Optimal way into work?

It's a one kilometre, 12 minute walk from home to W-wa Jeziorki station. (A pavement along ul. Karczunkowska would be helpful, though. Two months ago, I was forced off the roadway by a truck while walking to the station in the dark; I slipped, ripping the knee of the trousers of my best suit)

The journey to W-wa Powiśle (nearest station to my office) took 39 minutes. Ten minutes of that was waiting to clear the points outside W-wa Zachodnia, where trains from the south, south-west, west and north-west all converge on the city. Still, what's that to traffic jams?

And the lovely walk at the other end, through the Rydz-Śmigły park (above) to the office, takes another 15 minutes. Around an hour. No stress, no worries, environmentally friendly. As long as the train is on time.

Above: a view of the Palace of Culture from the platform of W-wa Zachodnia, where I had to change trains this evening (to do with the double decker trains that don't fit the tunnel).

Commuting by train (when I don't have any morning meetings at Platan Park to make) seems easy. But PKP being PKP, there are issues.

One concerns ticket validation. On Warsaw buses, trams and Metro, the ZTM network, you need to validate your ticket. Easy - there are plenty of kasowniki - ticket validating machines - to hand. Simply insert your ticket, and out it comes, validated.

Now, Warsaw suburban lines, run by PKP subsidiary, Koleje Mazowieckie (KM), accept ZTM period tickets (one day or longer). But KM does not provide any ticket validating machines on its trains or stations. Any ZTM ticket needs to be pre-validated elsewhere before it is valid on KM trains (getting this so far?). So this evening, there I was, with an unvalidated ticket in my hand, forced to get onto a bus for one stop, just to use its ticket validating machine to validate a ticket so I could use it on a KM train home! Does that many any sense, readers?

This time last year:
Rampa swansong - we shall not see its likes again
It was warmer then than it is this year

Monday, 12 January 2009

Progress along ul. Baletowa

Roadworks along ul. Baletowa have been recently completed (although the diversion signs are still in place). "Balay Street", as we call it, is becoming zoned for light industrial use, and is now lined with small factories, workshops, offices and depots. Residential streets (ul. Jeziorki, Sarabandy) and mixed-use streets (ul. Farbiarska) branch off from it. The new, smooth asphalt should mean that this stretch of Baletowa is no longer under water whenever there's heavier rain.

Busy though it be, ul. Baletowa lacks three things. Firstly, a bus route. This is because further down (between ul. Farbiarska and ul. Gajdy), there's a pinch caused by landowners not wanting to sell their plots so the road could be widened. Two buses cannot pass at this point, so no bus route. Secondly, no left turn onto ul. Puławska - so traffic is diverted down ul. Sporna, at the end of which there are lights enabling traffic to turn left onto the town-bound lanes of Puławska. Thirdly - despite the volume of traffic on Baletowa, day and night (this is the main thoroughfare between Ursynów and Raszyn), there's no level crossing at the railway line. Not even lights to warn of oncoming trains, which have to slow down to almost walking pace as they approach the busy road. I wonder how long before a fatal accident takes place here forcing PKP to erect barriers (like the ones at the very lightly used crossing on ul. Karnawał, a kilometre or so north).

Above: Looking north from ul. Sporna shows just how 'mixed use' Pyry has become. We used to live on ul. Gajdy for over four years, moving out in early 2002. My wife remarked yesterday that Pyry's gone downhill since, mainly due to the increased presence of industry and commerce in what was once a district of garden plots (działki) and detached houses.

This time last year
Warm! +8C

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Sunny, snowy Jeziorki

A glorious day emerged from a dull dawn, time to grab the camera and get out and about. Above: Just across the railway line, looking towards Zgorzała. Note the texture of the snow.

The snow has grown an icy crust; this is not the virgin powder of a few days ago. If the Inuit have 16 words for snow, surely the Poles should at least have four; today's snow, like sugary icing on a meringue pie, is quite different from last week's soft, freshly-fallen snow. May I suggest lukiernica? Right: trees and drainage ditch on ul. Karczunkowska, near W-wa Jeziorki station.

Above: At the pedestrian level crossing, the footpath at the end of ul. Kórnicka. A classic Jeziorki view. An osóbka from Radom bound for W-wa Wschodnia, between Jeziorki and Dawidy.

Above: An express (pośpieszny) headed for Kraków from Suwałki.

This time last year:
Eddie's giant soap bubble

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Fieldfare in midwinter

I spotted this bird in our garden from the ground floor study - this is somewhat rarer than the brown-all-over common-or-garden thrush. The grey head and speckled belly struck me as unusual.

Thanks to reader Mis for identifying the bird as a kwiczoł - fieldfare - which according to Wikipedia is a migratory bird that normally winters in the south.

And a propos of our garden, two molehills appeared overnight, great brown heaps of soil on the virgin snow. This being midwinter, I'm not going to be reeling out the hose to flush the vermin out. I hope there'll not be too much more mole activity before the spring (!).

Winter itself is turning miserable, with temperatures rising above zero. It's still a long, long, long time until spring arrives in this part of Europe. I hope for another freeze (never mind the gas bill!)

UPDATE: 16 January and there are now five molehills on the back lawn.

This time last year:
Kraków beckons once more
Melting snow, disappearing winter

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Winter drivetime, Jeziorki North

Above: The scene just after sunrise on ul. Poloneza, between ul. Ludwinowska and the metro link spur. This is Jeziorki Północne. The road is as passable as it gets - packed snow has filled the biggest potholes and a hard frost keeps the whole thing together. No mud, no dust. As long as you have winter tyres, you'll make it OK. The convoy of vehicles puts me in mind of the ice road across Lake Ladoga that kept supplies running into Leningrad during its WW2 siege. Below: Towards the top end of ul. Poloneza, as it runs through Grabów, just before it reaches Platan Park and ul. Poleczki. The weather is still great - today we had a daytime high of -8C, clear blue skies and plenty of fresh snow all around.

This time last year:
Warsaw well prepared for winter
Spring comes early to Poland?
Another visit to Kraków

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Winter in its finery

This is what it's all about. First thing this morning and -19C on the car thermometer. No wind at all. Dry air, clear sky. If this be winter, may every day be like this through to mid-March! Right: The end of ul. Trombity. Trees on the footpath between ul. Kórnicka and the railway track. To think we're less than eight miles from the very centre of Warsaw!

The trees just across the road from us. Shortly after sunrise this morning. I hope this weather lasts until the weekend - the need to photograph such beauty is great.

The gas bill arrives next month.

This time last year:
Snow fences keep trains running

Monday, 5 January 2009

This Charming Man

Here's Aleksander Kosterski in front of his first Christmas tree, nine and half months old. Button-bright, inquisitive, confident and affectionate, I predict that this little fellow will go far. Here he is again, aged three weeks.

Aleksander was fascinated by my camera. Flash! Snap! I turn it round - and there's a little picture on the back. Each time I took a photo, he beckoned to me to show him the result. I'd turn it to face him, he'd point and gurgle.

This time last year:
Five departures from Okęcie

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Zamienie in winter

Zamienie - the story so far. Back in communist days, there was a factory here manufacturing vaccines. It closed in 2004. Above: the guarded entry to the complex, today owned by Biomed Warszawa Sp. z o.o.

Before the war, Zamienie was a manor house, with many outbuildings. Most of these remain, situated to the left of the roadway above (view looking east; in the distance the Action warehouse). To the right, fence posts show where the closed-off manufacturing facility was.

Above: This is where the vaccine production buildings were, long, single-story blocks. At the far end of this complex were stables complete with haylofts, where cattle was kept. Is this usual practice for a vaccine plant? The buildings are gone, Biomed last month auctioned two plots of land (details here in Polish) in Zamienie. One, 1,710 sq m., had a starting price of 185 zł per square metre (43 quid), the second plot, of 1,272 sq m., was cheaper at 144 zł per square metre (36 quid). Did Biomed find a buyer, I wonder? If so, what are the chances something will get built here in the near future?

Above: The fire station. Tyre tracks in the snow suggest that at least the right-hand bay is still in regular use. Behind the building is a mobile phone mast.

Above: One of the manor house's outbuildings. Beyond it, a small pond. Past that and to the fields beyond, where the landscape is rapidly changing.

Having passed through Zamienie, one comes across the Osiedle Polnych Maków ('Poppies of the Fields') estate. A development of 36 terraced houses. As yet, all are empty, 29 still for sale. The credit crunch may slow down the pace at which people move in, but I'm sure that before too long, this terrace (one of two currently completed) will have gardens full of trees, bespoke fencing and cars in the drive. Behind these houses - fields, stretching on to Dawidy Bankowe and Łady (pron. "wuddy"). The houses are being sold for 855,000 zł - 988,000 zł (200K - 230K quid). Interesting to see how quickly they'll go - and for how much.