Sunday, 31 July 2011

Getting ready for 'W'-hour flypast

Dropping Eddie off at Okęcie today, I spotted this Polish Air Force Hercules C-130E transport plane (serial no. 1501, below) on the military apron. It is being prepared for tomorrow's commemorations of the 67th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. If you click to enlarge, you'll see by the front door of the plane, a black and white photograph of some Home Army (AK) soldiers.

According to press reports, at 'W'-hour (17:00), the plane will fly at a height of 600m above Warsaw, parallel to ul. Marszałkowska, from Pl. Konstytucji to the Ogród Krasińskich park, dropping leaflets. The Hercules will be escorted by smaller aircraft.

This time last year:
A century of Polish scouting

This time two years ago:
The Warsaw they fought and died for?

This time four years ago:
Stained glass, rainbows and memory

More about travelling by Polish night trains

The Polish night train experience demands a spirit of adventure from anyone prepared to put up with the hardships, especially during the summer holiday season

There are three forms of night train accommodation. You can (as I did) buy a basic ticket, which entitles you to no more than your seat. If you are unlucky, and you board an overcrowded train - as is standard on Fridays in summer, you won't even have a seat. You will stand all the way, or sit on your suitcases in the corridor. Standing up for nine hours - all night long - is not pleasant. Booking a 1st class ticket gives you six people rather than eight to the compartment, the higher price means that fewer people are likely to go for it, so it's likely that there won't be a full complement of six in your compartment. First class from Warsaw to Międzyzdroje costs 99 złotys as opposed to 66.

To ensure you get a seat in a TLK train (TLK does not do 2nd class seat reservations, unlike InterCity), you need to board at the station from which the train departs. West- and southbound trains start at W-wa Wschodnia, while east- and northbound trains start at W-wa Zachodnia. So for example, the train that took Moni to Gdańsk this morning started from Zachodnia, while my train for Międzyzdroje started from Wschodnia. If you don't get on at the first station, your chances of a seat diminish. Fridays are the worst day to travel; almost all the seats are taken. My Thursday night train was looser; three other passengers in my compartment (for eight); at Poznań one got off so I could stretch out across all four seats. On long journeys, however, you can expect to be woken up several times by ticket inspectors.

Next up from a seat is the kuszetka (couchette). In a compartment, there are six bunk beds, three on one side, three on the other side, of a narrow passage, and a step ladder to reach the middle and top bunks. For a 25.50 złotys supplement, you are assured a lie-down and you'll not be bothered by the guard once you're in your compartment (he'll wake you up ten minutes before reaching your destination). There are no sheets or blankets; you are expected to take off your shoes and lie down in your clothes, covered with a jacket or coat. The couchette and sleeper carriages are sealed off from the rest of the train, for the passengers' security. And the toilets are cleaner than in the normal carriages, especially after nine hours of travel.

The most luxurious form is the sleeper carriage (wagon sypialny). The compartments are for two or three people; bedding is provided. You need a second class ticket plus an supplementary payment of 70 złotys (three-person compartment) or 130 złotys (two-person compartment) per person for the wagon sypialny. This pushes up the price of a return trip to the seaside quite considerably; I think the kuszetka is the optimal price/comfort trade-off.

Above: waiting for the night train to Warsaw at Międzyzdroje, Friday evening. The 20:56 to Warsaw is the last train of the day from this station; the platform is crammed with people heading home. It is not going to be a comfortable night.

Międzyzdroje impressions

The weather was indeed er... bracing; everything that had led me to expect. Being new to the Polish seaside, one thing that struck me was the architecture - which led to the immediate reflection that before 1939, Poland's Baltic coastline was a mere 140km (85 miles) of which the Hel peninsula was a large portion. The rest was German (plus of course the Free City of Danzig/Gdańsk); hence the Germanic architecture.

Above: Looking up ul. Pomorska from Promenada Gwiazd. Does this not remind readers familiar with England of the bay-windowed gentility of Torquay, Eastbourne or Bournemouth? Before the war, Międzyzdroje was German Misdroy.

The recently built pier extends 350m into the sea; entrance is free, but you must pass an arcade full of fast food and machines that go 'ding'. The beach is admirably sandy and stretches on for ever in both directions. I can recommend two places to eat, the Hotel Slavia (soup, main course and a glass of wine for 15 zlotys - around £3.30) and the Café Melba (coffee, cakes, excellent music - James Brown, Duke Ellington, Gladys Knight, tasteful décor).

Above: no rush for the sun loungers today. Międzyzdroje's Hotel Amber Baltic attracts many German tourists from just across the border. Accommodation ranges from a few posh hotels via some communist-era domy wypoczynkowe such as the Slavia that offer good value for money to a vast number of privately-let rooms and guest houses. However, at this time of year, it's very hard to find something last minute.

No problem in finding somewhere decent to eat - plenty of competition, so shop around before sitting down to lunch or coffee to avoid paying too much. Above: A patisserie (cukiernia) that would not look out of place in Cornwall or North Wales.

Returning to the weather - there are no guarantees of sunshine on the Baltic just because it happens to be summer. Take a warm sweatshirt or two and some waterproofs. And - if you have small children in tow, Plans 'B', 'C' and 'D' are needed in case of prolonged and heavy rainfall during which lazing on the beach is not an option. Kite-surfing is popular on the Polish Baltic when the waves are rough and the wind's high.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Poland's Baltic coast as a holiday destination

In my 14 years living in Poland, I've been to the Polish seaside just twice. The first time was in 2006. Kołobrzeg. It was 26 September; 26C in the late afternoon. I'd just been to a business seminar we'd organised in Koszalin, and with two colleagues from the office, we decided to go to the beach before heading back to Warsaw. Late September and the weather was gorgeous. Not a cloud in the sky; the beach was almost devoid of tourists. We were walking along the water's edge wearing our suits with shoes and socks off and rolled-up trousers; people who passed us took us for Jehovah's Witnesses and gave us wide birth.

Yesterday, I turned up off the night train in Międzyzdroje; it's late July and as it turned out, it would be raining heavily for Most of the day.

Lesson 1 about the Polish Baltic - you cannot be sure about the weather. Unlike the Med.

The concept of taking a night train there and back, allowing a full day to explore a portion of coast is a particularly fruitful one for the curious traveller. You can gain a vast amount by travelling this way. The train becomes both a means of travel and a place to stay the night in one inexpensive ticket; you concentrate your time on experiencing the destination. [I will post separately about Polish night trains.]

So then. I arrive at Międzyzdroje on Friday morning off the night train from Warsaw (departs W-wa Wschodnia 22:28), and the first thing I must do is to go down to the sea again - that atavist urge of the aquatic ape to smell the tang of the salt spray.

Above: the beach, looking towards the pier (molo). The weather is sufficiently bad to keep the holidaymakers off the sands. One thing that struck me was that the amplitude of the tide here on the southern shores of the Baltic is very small - only a few dozen metres between high tide and low tide. Not the hundreds of metres you'd get around the British Isles. [Incidentally, there's no Polish word for 'tide'. Stanisławski and Getionary both give the word pływ, but that's the first time I've ever heard of it. There's przypływ ('tide coming in') and odpływ ('tide going out'), but how would you say 'the tide's turning'?

Above: large, brown sea gulls, a common gull in the foreground. Anyone know what these are? Does anyone know whether sea birds, like humans, are happier when the sun is out? Do they feel joy on a bright day, in contrast to the ordinariness of an overcast day with rain and wind?

Above: looking east from the end of the pier. The heights above the town, Kawcza Góra, reaching over 60 metres above sea level, are a part of the Woliński national park. Below: view from the top of Kawcza Góra; through the trees you can just make out the sandy beach; on the horizon to the left, former East Germany (click to enlarge image).

Up here, you can smell smoke from the fish-smoking sheds down at beach level. The trawlers (Polish: kutry) bring in the catch; it is gutted and smoked in situ; a plethora of beach-side kiosks and bars offer smoked fish to eat on the spot or to take away. Below: a fish smoking enterprise. At beach-level, the smoke is overpowering. Even up on Kawcza Góra, the smell of the smoke is still strong, like standing in close proximity to a bonfire.

The fish are brought in by trawlers; there are far fewer of them today than when Poland joined the EU. Brussels has been buying the fishermen off, scrapping the trawlers and implementing quotas to ensure that the Baltic retains sustainable fishing. Below: a Polish trawler that brings the fish that supply the restaurants that feed the holidaymaker. Note: at this stage, the weather is so bad that I'm unable to clear the lens of raindrops and condensation before the next shot.

Below: the old communist-era trawler infrastructure is still there, resting and rusting.

Where there are trawlers and trawlermen, there are those in peril on the sea. In the old days, there was a lifeboat station here. This old place (below) is now a bar; the Germanic architecture strikes me and puts me in mind of a favourite old novel of mine that I've read several times - Erskine Childers' Riddle of the Sands. Imagine if you will a building like this on one of the Friesian Islands, sometime very early in the 20th Century...

And here. Gothic-on-Sea; look at the brickwork and copper roofing. A close-up view betrays electrics and electronics; transponders, satellite TV and mobile phone aerials, lightning conductors, burglar alarms and Christmas lights, as well as weather vanes and ornamental finials.

The commercial side of Międzyzdroje - tomorrow (and more on Polish night trains).

This time four years ago:
Stained glass, rainbows and floods

Thursday, 28 July 2011

March of the Hipsters

This is PKP W-Wa Powiśle station, designed by Arseniusz Romanowicz in 1954 - a splendid and iconically Warsaw piece of architecture. This being my local station for work, I've blogged it before (notably here). The old low-level ticket office is now the hippest place in Warsaw, when the capital's hipsters meet up before taking on the town. Above: here's a long-exposure photo taken of a group of hipsters who've just got off an east-bound train on their way down the platform towards the klubokawiarnia.

Moni (a hipster herself - for only true hipsters deny their hipsterness) points out that there's a Facebook page called Polska hipsterem narodów (Poland, hipster among nations). Quite right. An antidote to Państwo Smoleńskie.

I must go down to the sea again - by night train

Here's the crazy idea. What's the lowest possible price for which in can dip my toes in the sea? Tanie Linie Kolejowe (Cheap Railway Lines) will take you from Warsaw to anywhere in Poland by night train for a mere 66 zł. To make the most of this offer, I've bought a return ticket to Międzyzdroje, just ten miles from the German border.

Two nights on a train and one entire day by the seaside. My train leaves Warsaw this evening at half past ten and arrives at Międzyzdroje at half past seven in the morning and departs for Warsaw tomorrow just before nine pm, to arrive in Warsaw at around six am. So I spend 132 zł (less than thirty quid) to get to the seaside and back, and nothing for accommodation. This is not a gig for light sleepers, dear reader! (Click here to read about my most recent night train excursion.)

After having bought the tickets, I discover that the weather by the seaside will be less than clement (click image above for detailed forecast for tomorrow in Międzyzdroje). Still, the idea is not to sunbathe but to feel the bracing sea wind and spray, and to commune with a maritime environment, something I've not done since August 2007 (details here and here).

This time last year:
Accounting for the past - 20 years on from PRL's fall

This time two years ago:
Some news for lovers of fine British cheefef

This time four years ago:
Over the Peaks by bus

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Accursed Soldiers - Part II

At the door stood Major Jakub Sztajnberg of the district Public Security office. No one with him... Kłyś looked at Kowalik. "Was this a trap?" - each man pondered alone. They both released the safety catch on their pistols. Antoni ordered them to put their guns down in a sharp but quiet voice. "He's on our side - " he said. Sztajnberg took his cap off and entered the house. He looked at the two strangers and immediately judged who they were. He showed no signs of fear.

Antoni beckoned the major to sit down. He didn't offer him a drink. "What can I do for you, Panie majorze?"

"Panie Antoni - I've come to say goodbye. I'm leaving Poland," said Sztajnberg. "I can't tell you about our plans, but... this situation is not right. The communists have lied to us; I'm fed up pretending to cooperate with these butchers. We're off to Israel - that's me and a couple of other Jewish colleagues hiding within party structures. We're off tomorrow - you'll no doubt read some lies about us in next week's papers. But before I go, Panie Antoni, I wanted to thank you for hiding my people from the Nazis; your courage and kindness will never be forgotten. However, I've come to warn you that a major military operation is being planned by the security forces in these parts..."

He looked over at Kłyś and Kowalik, taking measure of them by their appearance. "Tell me, Panowie, why are you holding out? What will you have achieved? You're wasting away. This is not the place from which to hurt the regime; you'll not do anything for your Poland."

Kłyś replied "I just want you - them - to know that they can't get away with it - "

Sztajnberg said "Today things are very, very bad. They'll not get better for a long time. You won't change the course of history by hiding out in the forest."

Kowalik joined in: "Me - I've got nothing to go back to. Family land's been confiscated; family's all dead. My unit's home to me. I'll keep on at it."

Kłyś backed him up. "It's a matter of honour; I'll not bow to the godless Red barbarian!"

"Neither will I," said Sztajnberg, "which is why I'm planning on leaving. It's a way out that lets me live according to my conscience." Kłyś said bitterly: "I have no other country but this one. Our legitimate government's in London; I can't serve from it here, nor there..."

Antoni spoke. "London?" he said bitterly. "What our ministers know of our reality from sitting in cafes in London? I can't really see any sense it holding out any longer. There's no point of any more sacrifice. Time to get out, leave the forest. I can provide clothing and temporary shelter for your men, Panie Kapitanie. Then move - quickly - move west to the regained territories - lower Silesia; I can put you in touch with people who'll fabricate cover stories for all of you."

Sztajnberg said: "The security forces are planning to comb through the forest in two, three weeks time - certainly before the trees come into leaf. They'll be using dogs, flame-throwers, aircraft, helicopters - the 'reactionary bandits' won't have a chance. Get out now while you can."

Two nights later, Captain Kłyś moved his soldiers out of the bunker. The took everything they could and sealed the entrances to their hideout with brambles, soil and leaves. Then they marched smartly in single file down the hillside and made their way to Antoni's barn. They stayed there until the next evening and then, after final farewells, moved off one by one into the dark to begin new lives.

Three days later Kłyś read about a Zionist gang that seized a military transport plane from an airbase near Wrocław and flew it to West Germany.

Kłyś was arrested in May 1951 in Wałbrzych (formerly Waldenburg); he was trying to get a job in the coal mines; something was not right in his CV. He was turned over to the security apparatus, interrogated and tortured, and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to 10 years imprisonment after Stalin's death; he was released in 1957. He could not settle down in communist society. After numerous minor brushes with the authorities he took his life in January 1961. The rest of his unit fared better; working in factories or on collective farms, they managed to keep their heads down and lived through the worst of the oppression.

The last 'accursed soldier', Józef Franczak, was killed in a firefight with the communist authorities in October 1963.

This time two years ago:
Flashback trigger

This time four years ago:
First factory

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Accursed Soldiers - a short story

Captain Józef Kłyś beckoned to Corporal Władysław Kowalik to leave the bunker with him and take a walk, share a cigarette, talk about the unit's morale and what to do next. The war had been over for nearly five years, but their small partisan group was still hiding out in the woods south of Janów Lubelski and mounting increasingly sporadic attacks against the communists who'd been running Poland since the end of the German occupation.

Captain Kłyś asked Kowalik to open the heavy wooden trapdoor. It was still cold outside, but they could feel winter was coming to an end. March 1950. Snowdrops were emerging here and there; spring could be felt in the south-easterly wind. Below ground the rest of the unit - 13 men and two women - were clearing up after a meal of cabbage soup with gristly sausage and dried mushrooms, some black bread, all washed down with fresh milk. It was smoky and dark down there; the soldiers were regularly coughing and scratching at lice-bites with dirty finger nails.

Kłyś and Kowalik forced their way through dense scrub that surrounded the entrance to their solid and well-hidden bunker, which had been built during the German occupation. The dry brambles tore at their threadbare uniforms that they'd been wearing for the best part of a decade. Reaching a track that led to a clearing, they reached the edge of the forest. Across a field lay the Janów Lubelski to Nisko road. After observing it for a while, the two men moved forward, keeping low.

They made their way towards Antoni's house. The last man out there in the 'real world' that could be trusted. A wise man; he had no family to be blackmailed, a former Home Army soldier, a devout Catholic, clever enough to keep out of trouble with the communist authorities.

Antoni made the token gesture of offering his guests bimber - moonshine. He knew they'd refuse. Captain Kłyś had heard of a nearby Home Army unit wiped out by the security forces while drinking the health of a newly-wed soldier. "Thank you, Panie Antoni, I need to keep sharp."

"So, what brings you here today?" asked Antoni, a middle-aged man, lean and limping.

"I need your advice, I trust you like a brother." replied Kłyś. "What should I do? We've barely got enough ammunition to mount another raid on a train or on a militia outpost. We can survive in the forests indefinitely, but is that the point?"

Antoni looked down at the wooden table. "What are your orders?" he asked quietly.

"Orders. For nine years, I followed orders," said Kłyś. For the past three, I've not been getting any new ones; the last order was to keep fighting until Poland is free."

Kowalik, who had up to now been silent and had secretly been hoping for a glass of bimber and another cigarette, chipped in: "Don't let your hope fade, Panie Kapitanie. Any day now, the Americans will come. They'll drop an atomic bomb on Stalin. We'll get our freedom back, we must be ready for that day. To lead a rising. Kick the communists out. And their lickspittle toadies - all those traitors who joined their cause; they'll hang."

Antoni stared at the men. "The Americans... won't come," he said. "Today, the West cares only about getting rich. I listen to Radio Free Europe - they mean well, but between the lines, they can't take responsibility for provoking a slaughter on the scale of the Warsaw Uprising"

Kłyś replied: "The boys in the bunker are slowly losing faith in the fight; they stay on because there's no alternative for them. All those past amnesties proved to be a trap. Bullet in the back of the head or Siberia. No one trusts them."

Antoni stood up and walked up to the window, looking for any signs of movement outside. "They have morally corrupted a heroic nation. Everyone's forced to make compromises. Sign this or your children won't get educated. Join the party or stay poor. At least you and your men are outside of all that. Morally pure, uncontaminated, unbroken."

Kłyś considered his options. "We could stay hidden and continue hitting the communists until our ammunition runs out. We strike far from our base. Whenever we make an attack - like that one on the railway line to Chełm - they come looking for us. One day, they might encircle us, like they did to our boys in the Świętokrzyskie hills. Or we could leave the forest and try to get back into society, and fight back as civilians; organising passive resistance to the communist occupiers."

"It's not easy," opined Kowalik " - we've got five missing years in our papers. What do we pretend we did since the war ended?"

"Join a monastery," joked Antoni, "while there are still some left."

There was a knock at the door. Kłyś and Kowalik reached for their weapons.

This time last year:
An owner's review of the new Toyota Yaris after three months

This time three years ago:
Through the wetlands on foot (yes! a dry summer!)

This time four years ago:
Summer 2007 in England: 'Wettest since records began'

Monday, 25 July 2011

Another Jeziorki sunset

It's that time of day again... After two hours of sitting by the computer translating legal texts into English, I need to stretch my legs. The sun is setting (25 minutes earlier than on the longest day); by 20:40, I ought to be by the tracks to catch the magic. Out with the bicycle. At the end of the road, I await the moment when that vast thermonuclear reaction that give us life, 93 million miles distant, touches the horizon.

Above: the Radom train passes the setting sun. Time to contemplate the Eternal, and our place within it. I wish I were by the sea...

"I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying."

[Sea Fever, John Masefield, 1902]

It's been four years since my toes last dipped in the sea...

This time last year:
Biological roots of determination?

This time two years ago:
Another summer sunset

This time four years ago:
Rural suburbias: ideal place to live?

Friday, 22 July 2011

Down with cars in city centres.

This was going to be a mere comment on the Paddy's latest post at Pozdrowienia z Ursynowa, but I could soon see that there's more that needs to be said on this subject - what it means to be urban, and how the car is the enemy of urban life.

While travelling by tram today to a lesson, I looked over a babcia's shoulder and saw an article in a women's health'n'gossip magazine that travelling by public transport does one a power of good. Running for buses keeps you fit, whereas sitting in a car and using it to drive your idle carcass 200m to the bakery or florist will turn you into an obese blob.

This article immediately reminded me of a daily chart from the Economist website, which shows how the further Americans drive, the fatter they get (see article and graph here). In 1995, the average American drove 11,600 miles; in 2010 it was 13,700 miles. In 1995, 16% of Americans were obese, in 2010, it was 28%. Obviously other factors are in play, but the correlation is telling.

My own observations from Warsaw is that city centre people, with access to good public transport, are slimmer than exurbanites from Grójec, Izabelin or Magdalenka, who have poor public transport links to Warsaw and are condemned to driving. After spending three-four hours each day in a car, these people are too whacked to do any exercise after getting home.

But if there's one thing worse than long-distance commuting by car, it's short-distance one-per-car commuting. People from Mokotów or Ochota who drive to work each day in Śródmieście are contributing massively to urban congestion and the degeneration of quality of life it brings. There is an alternative - yet company cars, subsidised (or free) fuel and free parking spaces lull such folk into thinking there isn't. Socially-responsible corporations should fine-tune their company car policies to encourage use of public transport or bicycles among employees living close enough to their workplace to do so.

My recommendation for your company car: a Trabant (with 1.1l. VW Polo engine). Offer these to corporate drivers who really need to drive, and the majority will chose to take the tram.

My pet hate is great big gas-guzzling, road-space consuming SUVs used to ferry a single (typically portly) gentleman around town. The gentleman has a primitive belief that such a display of projects his wealth and power so that lesser homo sapiens, driving small cars or using public transport, cycling or walking, are somehow impressed, in awe of his Porsche Cayenne or Audi Q7. They are not. If you cling on to such beliefs, move to Moscow, Minsk or Kiev, where arrogance still cuts some ice.

As Poland moves west, it shall become more like Copenhagen, London or Amsterdam and less like centres of primitivism further to the east.

Take up your quarterly season ticket or cycle to work, you shall be lean, fit and progressive!

This time last year:
Hot in the city

This time four years ago:
At my parents'

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The heavens opened

Nawalnica (nuh vow NEE tsa); a squall, a downburst, a gale; a tremendous opening up of the skies; fierce winds accompanied by torrential rains. The build-up was rapid with the sky darkening against an evening sun. This was storm-front Otto approaching. Temperatures fell by 5C in as many minutes as the heavens opened. The south-west of Warsaw caught the worst of it. The centre was all right; heavy rain, but no hold-ups.

Getting home this evening was problematic; a 20 minute bus journey took 1 hour and 20 minutes. The reason: Dolinka Służewiecka was under water. When my bus finally reached the deepest parts, it felt like a river-boat cruise rather than a ride down one of Warsaw's main arterial roads. Compare the shot (below) of a car wash on Dolinka with this pic taken in more typical conditions.

Info (in Polish) about today's storm here. Okęcie airport was closed for 45 minutes, several tram lines were cut, but the Metro kept on running. Returning home this evening, I found the street lights were out, but electricity had been restored to our estate.

Holiday culture campaign

The use/misuse of public money is always a sensitive issue particularly in these fiscally-constrained times. Alongside the so-called 'information' billboards posted by PiS and SLD ("Electioneering? Heavens forfend!") a spate of ads from Poland's Ministry of Culture and National Heritage have popped up in the past week, urging Poles to 'take culture on vacation' (weź kulturę na wakacje), be it a woman taking a book on her seaside holiday, or a man taking his guitar into the mountains.

Very worthy - may the campaign indeed have the desired effect; may the billboards get through to a wider target audience than those who read or play music all year round. But I do have some slight niggles; how much taxpayers' money has the Ministry spent on this campaign? Will more holidaymakers load up with a stack of paperbacks before setting off for the beach than would otherwise have been the case?

Niggles excepted, I like this campaign - I can't imagine such billboards in the UK (even in the good times); I guess it would be construed as slightly condescending. Having blasted through a couple of hundred pages of John Steinbeck's East of Eden while in Dobra the other week, the billboard certainly resonates positively with me.

André Gide, anybody?

This time last year:
Last pics from last year's Dobra holiday

This time two years ago:
Conservatism, UK and Polish-style

This time three years ago:
Wheat and development

This time four years ago:
Beautiful July sunrise

Monday, 18 July 2011

Along the Vistula's right bank, heading north

I mentioned (here) the new footpath/cyclepath opened earlier this season by the city authorities. Sunday - beautiful weather at last after a week where it rained every day - was a good time to check it out from its southern end (it starts north of the Most Łazienkowski bridge just past the Wisełka rowing club) and continues along the Vistula as far as Most Grota-Roweckiego bridge. Below: an urban beach, to the north of Most Poniatowskiego, near the new stadium.

The route crosses under five of Warsaw's seven (soon to be eight) bridges. Left: approaching Most Śląsko-Dąbrowski. The quality of the path is generally very good - I was expecting that after a week of heavy rains (July is Warsaw's wettest month), the paths would be sodden with water - not a bit of it. Mr Engineer has taken care to it that the path would adequately drain off all surface water. A good surface to ride over.

Below: the combined footpath/cyclepath is not designed for high-speed bike riding; it can be quite congested around the central area between Most Poniatowskiego and Śląsko-Dąbrowski bridges, especially on sunny weekends.

Right: towards the northern end of the cycle path: in the distance, we can see the chimneys and buildings of the Żerań power station, across the road that is carried across the Vistula by the Grota-Roweckiego bridge, where the path officially ends. Beautiful riverbank meadowland; flowers, butterflies, dragonflies, no mosquitoes, midges or horseflies, and not wet. A felicitous spot to take a break.

Below: the city transport authority ZTM, operates the 'river tram' (seen mid-stream) and a ferry that runs parallel to the Most Łazienkowski. Information for river tram here and for ferries here. Note - the services are capricious and may be called off at a moment's notice.

This time last year:
Grunwald and Europe: the big picture

This time three years ago:
"Take me right back to the track, Jack"

This time four years ago:
Vrots love

Friday, 15 July 2011

Whole lot of fussin'*

A word that come in in three lessons this week, a word that's so naturally English, that's so commonly used in all its forms - and yet a direct translation is missing in Polish. When incidents of 'linguistic white spaces' are noticed, I look for cultural differences.

So then. "To fuss", "to make a fuss", "fussy", "fussiness". Dictionaries offer a wide palate of Polish words, yet none capture the essence of the word "fuss".

Stanisławski: "Fuss. s. 1. zamieszanie, wrzawa, hałas, awantura, historia, podniecenie. 2. krzątanina, zachody, zabiegi, to make a fuss of somebody nadskakiwać komuś, kręcić się koło kogoś 3. ceremonie 4. denerwowanie się drobiazgami. II vi 1. awanturować się, z/robić zamieszanie 2. krzątać się; być zaaferowanym; podniecać się (drobiazgami itp.) 3. zabiegać (over somebody, something koło kogoś, czegoś); denerwować, się (about something czymś) III vt 1. niepokoićl pot. zawracać głowę (somebody komuś) 2. denerwować. Fussy adj. fussier, fussiest 1. grymaśny; kapryśny; rozkaprysznony; zrzędny 2. drobiazgo; to be fussy robić trudności 3. ruchliwy 4. denerwujący 5. (o ubiorze, stylu) wyszukany; przeładowany ozdobami

As a child, I was a fussy eater. At primary school, I would dread having to eat school dinners. [note: not school lunches, though school dinners were indeed served at lunchtime]. There would usually be a fuss between the dinner lady and myself, pushing gristle around my plate. Relaying this at home to my mother, she'd escalate the issue, upgrading it from a fuss to an awantura (a word of Italianate origin, sharing the same root as the English word 'adventure').

In England, one can make a fuss about getting short-changed in a shop. It's not impolite to do so. What would you do w polskim sklepie if pani ekspedientka gave you one zloty change instead of two? Would this be described as a fuss, or robienie trudności/ wrzawy/ historii/ awantury?

How would you translate into Polish: "A group of parents were fussing around their children before the school play" or "my boss is very fussy when it comes to protocol"? In the latter, the word drobiazgowy has a pejorative sense that's missing in English.

Over to you, dear bilingual readers - how would translate fuss and fussy without inflating the issue or getting pejorative about the subject?

A very useful English language resource that reader AdTheLad has posted me is Bill Bryson's Troublesome Words. (Link to this book online on Google Books here)

*The title of this post comes from James Brown and the JB's excellent song I'm Payin' Taxes, But What Am I Buyin'? - "A whole lot of fussin' and everybody's cussin' " Given Mr Brown's history of troubles with the US Inland Revenue Service, in this context, it's clearly an awantura.

This time last year:
Mediterranean Kraków

This time two years ago:
Warsaw's in-between places

This time three years ago:
Plans for Nowa Iwiczna and Mysiadło

This time four years ago:
Golden Time of Day

Industrial dusk by the Vistula

The evening brought a succession of thunderclouds punctuated by spells of sharp sunshine. Once the sun had set, the sky turned a gorgeous orangey-pink, reflecting off the wet asphalt and railway tracks that run along the Vistula's left bank by Siekierki power station. Click on photo to enlarge.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Midsummer evening, Jeziorki

Moni and I go for a short evening walk around Jeziorki. Perfect weather and light.

Above: barn on ul. Trombity, by our house. The oats are ripening and will have been harvested within the next four weeks, by which time they will have turned golden in colour.

Above: flooded woodland on ul. Dumki; as last year, the surface of the water has become covered with algae in bloom. And the far end of Dumki, as it was last year, is still under water, so we are forced to detour through farmland across to ul. Baletowa.

Left: as we approach our house, crossing the field from ul. Sarabandy, a Polish Air Force YAK-40 from the 36th Special Aviation Regiment flies overhead. Moni is surprised that they're still flying. This one is 32 years old (which actually is not that old in modern aircraft terms). We ponder on how the Smolensk catastrophe still looms large in everyday life in Poland.

This time last year:
Feininger in Kraków

This time two years ago:
Agricultural notes from Jeziorki

This time three years ago:
Stormy Sunday - lightning photos

This time four years ago:
Peacocks wow tourists in Łazienki Park

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Maddening Łopień

It's not the highest mountain of the Beskid Wyspowy - but it's the closest to our base in Dobra, so we've walked up, around, over, and by Łopień (968m above sea level) more than any other mountain. The trouble is, it's nigh-impossible to navigate. I've yet to make it up from the bottom to the top and down again as I'd like to. Once again today we got lost on Łopień.

Above: from left: Zosia, Sabina and Eddie. We've set off along the green tourist trail (zielony szlak turystyczny) that runs from the DK 28 in Dobra. All looks straightforward here.

Left: Still easy going - the waymarks are clearly displayed, the path winds ever higher. But once we reach the top of this plateau, we're lost. Which way is Jurków? There is actually no marked trail down. One choice is a getting down to Śmigły-Rydz pass - but we don't want to go there. Too far back to Dobra. So, reluctantly, we decide to come back exactly the same way we came up (not something I like doing).

At the top, we meet a hiker looking for the caves that run under the top of the plateau. We know they're there - but they are not signed properly. I think that a handheld GPS is the only real answer to conquering Łopień.

Above: We spend some time looking around the plateau for the vantage point. In the distance - Mogielica - which Eddie and I visited yesterday. The vantage point at the top of Łopień is there, I've been there before - it's just that this time we can't find it.

This time last year:
From the bottom to the top

This time two years ago:
Polish regulatory absurdities

This time three years ago:
The meaning of Alignment

This time four years ago:
Joy, pain, sunshine, rain

Friday, 8 July 2011

The Call of Mogielica

If there's a 'must climb' peak in the Beskid Wyspowy, it must be Mogielica (1,171m above sea level). From the north, there are two routes; the green szlak turistyczny (tourist trail) from Smigly-Rydz pass, and the blue route, which starts from Jurków, the village to the south of Dobra. Eddie and I set off from Jurków at 10:15 and by 12:00 we were at the summit. Eddie has the knack of complaining like mad but in the end proving himself a trooper and setting a cracking pace from the bottom to the top. His endurance amazes me; all on literally one slice of dry white toast and a mug of cocoa.

At the top there's an observation tower (the base of it visible in the shot below); Eddie gets three-quarters of the way to the top of the tower, then his courage gives out. So close and yet so far! I make it to the top (not a place for those afraid of heights) to reward readers with this view (looking east) taken on my Nikon D80 (top) - and yet, somehow, the snap taken on my Nokia N6700 Classic (above, looking north) has some qualities that make it worth sharing too.

Below: On the way down. Note - Eddie's neither carrying a rucksack, nor water, nor a camera and long lens. Dad is doing all of that. We get to the bottom and call in for refreshments at a place called Baranówka, a new thatched log-cabin style karczma that I can certainly recommend. Generous portions, most reasonable prices. Some pierogi, chips, ogórki malosolne, a beer and a coke (six quid) and we're off from Jurków back to Dobra on foot. The lady serving us at Baranówka is impressed that we made it to the top and back down again in three and half hours.

This time last year:
Off to Dobra

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Down the line from Mszana Dolna

Greetings, dear readers, from Dobra (my tenth visit here in three years). Weather has finally improved after six days of heavy rain - the sunshine is very, very welcome. So today, leaving Eddie with Sabina back at base, I set off by bus to Kasina Wielka, and from there I walked the six kilometres to Mszana Dolna along the Transwersalka, the railway built by the Austro-Hungarian empire (of which this part of Poland was once a part) for strategic reasons.

As I posted here, the Transwersalka was the so-called transversal route built by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 1880s to defend it (then) northern borders against Russia. Walking these tracks made me ponder Poland's history, especially in the light of the recent death of Otto von Habsburg at the splendid age of 98, the last successor to the throne of Austro-Hungary.

Austro-Hungary! What a strange entity! How difficult for the anglophone world to grasp the concept! A royal family that once ruled Spain managed to make their way across Europe to rule in effect peoples of a dozen or so different nations, glue the whole thing together and keep it going for half a century!

The entire idea is just so bizarre... In England, there was Alfred the Great burning the cakes, 1066 and all that, the Tudors and Stuarts, a great global empire on which the sun has only just set. However, here, in Central Europe, the territory belonged to a divinely-appointed gang of Spaniards-cum-Austrians, who managed to fight or negotiate their way to a huge multicultural empire stretching from the borders of Switzerland to the Balkans and across to Ukraine, taking in Kraków and the southern fifth ofPoland (the Austrian partition).

Now, much as I can appreciate the merits of the Transwersalka as a cycle path (easy gradients, stunning scenery, great tourist attraction), I know full well that once the tracks have been ripped up, they'll never return. Steam-hauled rail excursions are very popular and are a great stimulus to local tourism.

It's good to see that the line is still intact, but on the other hand, not enough is being done with it, especially in light of its history. I'd love to see this line brought back to full use - even if it meant I couldn't walk it any longer.

Above: the line crosses the Droga Krajowa 28, which rises towards the Głuszowiec pass, to the south of Śnieżnica, the peak visible to the left.

Above: the river Słomka running behind the main road in Dobra, before it joins the Mszanka. In the distance, Luboń Wielki rises above Rabka.

Above: Mszana Dolna station. The same architectural style as the station buildings at Dobra and at Kasina Wielka.

Right: Mszana Dolna, the church viewed from the main road. I waited for a bus back to Dobra - the local mini-buses are regular and cheap. Unbridled competition between bus companies mean that the timetables are ripped down or sprayed over by rivals. Sad - it helps none of the companies competing on the route.

It feels good to be back in Dobra, a place that's become so familiar to me, part of my DNA almost.

I can really recommend a stay here: Gospodarstwo Agroturystyczna Zofia Nowak 'Dobra Chata' (tel: +48 18 333 0117); you'll find it on Facebook.

This time last year:
Gone is the threat of Państwo Smoleńskie

This time two years ago:
Get on your bike and RIDE!

This time three years ago:
Moles in my own garden

This time four years ago:
Lublin and the Road

Monday, 4 July 2011

Marmite XO makes it to Warsaw

I wrote recently about Marmite, the 'love-it-or-hate-it' spread that most British children grew up on. Mr N. Marsh of Kent asked whether I'd tried Marmite XO (the Extra Old, fully matured, full strength version). Not having been Kingdom-side since Christmas, I hadn't. Now, I have. Kuchnie Świata have started selling it (45 zlotys or £10.00 for a 250g jar). Right: Eddie anticipating his first taste of the stuff. The mark-up is ferocious; Tesco in the UK charges £3.99 for the same product.

Still, the question is - how good is it? Worth the premium? (in the UK, 'standard' or 'classic' in marketing-speak Marmite costs £2.68 for 250g). Well, in a blind tasting, both Dad and Lad could tell the difference - the XO was sharper, tangier, more mmmhhyyyy*... than the original.

Forty-five zeds a bit steep however; £3.99 is a fair price - I guess there's some arbitraging to be done all you frequent UK-PL flyers... If you love Marmite, you'll not be disappointed by the XO version.

Below: for all my Polish readers unaware of the savoury brown spread - here's Moni (16 years ago) on the Marmite. A reaction shot. Note elbow embedded in a second slice of toast. The growing-up spread indeed.

A propos of Moni, for those I've not shared the news with yet, she made it into Łódź Film School, something of which I'm inordinately proud.

* I have it on the highest authority that it's three 'm's, two 'h's and four 'ys'.

This time last year:
Komorowski wins second round of Presidential elections?

This time two years ago:
A beautiful summer dusk in Jeziorki

This time three years ago:
Classic cars, London and Warsaw