Friday, 30 November 2012

Another November without snow

Over my 15 years in Poland, some snowfall usually occurs in November - usually late in the month, and usually the snow's only light. Still this year, just as last year, not a flake fell. Yes, there was some snow still remaining in the ground from the anomalous snow that fell on 27-28 October.

Looking back over old posts, one can see that a snow-free November is not that unusual. The outliers are snowy Octobers and snow-free Decembers. Having said that, snow's on the way, so no worries. Climate change, if measured by meteorological anomalies, is coming upon Poland at a slower rate than that facing the UK, which is probably why Brits are more concerned at reducing carbon than Poles.

In the meanwhile, here in Jeziorki, six million zlotys are currently being spent on improving water retention and drainage to stave off the effects of heavy snowfalls and torrential rain on the houses and fields of the neighbourhood.

This time two years ago:
Krakowskie Przedmieście in the snow

This time three years ago:
Ul. Poloneza bisected by S2 roadworks

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Street Cries of Old Poland

"Piwo! Piwo jasne! Piwo!" The magical words put me in mind of the start of long-distance train journeys in bygone Poland, uttered by a man hurrying along the corridors hawking beer to the thirsty traveller. In the old communist days, beer was almost non-existent and the guy who'd scored some bottles or cans could fetch a tidy mark-up by selling it to the captive audience on a train.

Later, in the aftermath of transformation, beer was available but banned on Polish state railways (the non-alcoholic variety being on offer in the Wars restaurant carriages). So the beer hawkers continued their trade.

These days, Wars restaurants sell beer (I like the Starodawne from Konstancin brewery), and most large railway stations will in any case have a Carrefour or generic Alkohol 24h window within walking distance.

And yet the cry of "Piwo! Piwo jasne! Piwo" is still to be heard to this very day, though not as frequently as in the late-80s and early-90s, when every train journey would begin this way. Yesterday in Warsaw, the guy was still selling as the train pulled out of Centralna; he'd jump off at Zachodnia, board an east-bound train to Wschodnia and do it again, safe in the knowledge that tickets on long-distance routes are not checked until the trains have cleared Warsaw's outermost suburbs.

A typical price  for a beer is 5zł - unchanged in years. The beer hawker buys, say, 20 500ml cans at 1.89zł each, lugs 10kg around in a shoulder bag, making 3.11zł on each transaction. I didn't see him making any sales yesterday - it is late November, after all, so this is a hard way to make a living. He runs through the corridor, not making any attempt to hard-sell to any vacillating punter. If you hear his cries, you have seconds to make your mind up and stop him.

I was surprised to see this still happening, this relic of the late '80s. It would be more in keeping with the times if he were to say "Wino! wino czerwone  lub białe gronowe! Wino wytrawne, chilijskie, kalifornijskie! australijskie! Cabernet Shiraz! Merlot! Sauvignon Blanc!" and flog Lidl's excellent 250ml mini-bottles (retail 4.99zł) for ten zlotys. A larger mark-up, less carrying - he could concentrate on client service than on low-margin low-volume business.

Suffice to say, if you were to buy a beer from one of these chaps, there'd be no chance of a paragon fiskalny let alone a faktura VAT!

This time last year:
The gorgeousness of Warsaw at dusk

This time two years ago:
I'm so glad I'm living in Warsaw

This time three years ago:
Candid photography

This time four years ago:
Archival photos of the Rampa in action

This time five years ago:
Red sky in the morning...

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Red tape and travel

To Kraków, to speak at yet another conference about PPP. I'm being paid by the organiser, by way of EU funds, so to reclaim my travel costs there and back, I need to present not just a ticket, but a VAT receipt (faktura VAT). Now, when queuing for a railway ticket, there's nothing more annoying when you're in a hurry to catch your train, to find the guy in front of you asking for a faktura VAT to go with his ticket. You know it will take an age.

So thinking of my fellow travellers behind me in the queue, I chose to buy my tickets from the main booking hall at Dworzeć Centralny (a.k.a. W-wa Centralna, or, as the English voice-over man on Warsaw buses and trams helpfully says, 'Shentroo wailway shtayshen'). Here, rather than a single queue as there are to the ticket windows in the underground passages beneath Centralna, there are two queues each serving six windows. The system is efficient and quick. The 16-person ahead of me evaporates in just eight minutes, with five of the six windows open.

It's my turn, I step forward. A sign at the window asks me to a) inform the ticket clerk if I wish to pay by credit card and b) inform the ticket clerk that I require a faktura VAT before ordering my ticket. Nice and clear. So now I make my request. "Ticket to Kraków Główny, InterCity, second class, departing Warsaw today at 16:30; return from Kraków to Warsaw, TLK, tomorrow at 20:04." And, of course, my faktura VAT. I cast an anxious eye around me, but the other four windows are functioning fine, no one can accuse me of being a zawalidroga (lit. road-blocker).

The lady behind the window is quick and efficient. Using an eraser-tipped pencil, she taps in the details of the conference organiser (company name, address, tax number) onto her computer screen.

And now, the fun starts. I have ordered four pieces of paper – my ticket there, a seat reservation, my return ticket and another seat reservation. Each one of these four pieces of paper requires THREE copies of the faktura VAT. One for my purposes (which I'll pass on to the conference organiser), one for the railway, and one for the tax-man. So that's 16 pieces of paper to print – from an ink-jet printer.

In my mind's ear, I can still here its eternal 'drrrrrrrrrrrr-drrrrrrr-drrrrrrr-drrrrrrrr-drrrr-drrrrr' as twelve individual faktury VAT are being printed. The ticket lady piles up the papers – these for me, these for her, these for the tax-man. Finally, she hands my tickets and faktury VAT, files away the others – I look at the clock – a nine whole minutes have elapsed since I stepped up to the window. Nine minutes of her time, nine minutes of my time. Is there no better way?

I look over the paperwork in my hand. Of the eight bits of paper I get (two tickets, two reservations, four faktury VAT), one is for the reservation of my seat for the TLK train back to Warsaw. It is to document 37 groszes' worth of taxation (seven pence), for a service for which I'm charged five zlotys (just under one pound). Seven pence, documented physically, on paper, three times. How many more hands and eyes and brains will check those three faktury VAT? At the offices of my conference organisers, within PKP, and by platoons of bookkeepers and tax-men, in Kraków, in Warsaw and in Brussels.

Surely, in today's world of iPhones and tablets, WiFi, NFC and RFID, PayPass, PayPal and online banking – surely, there is a more efficient way of collecting and accounting for taxes paid? In my previous job, in a multinational company that published hundreds of classified advertising papers and websites around the world, the corporate HQ people could not believe that here in Poland out of 87 employed by the firm, 31 of them worked in accounts. In countries like Sweden or Holland, where turnover was several times higher, the accounts staff numbered three or four people. In Poland, where VAT is still calculated and paid in full each month by all but the smallest businesses, it is still about the manual checking of hundreds of millions of faktury VAT, many of which are for tiddly amounts of money that wouldn't merit any paperwork whatsoever in other OECD countries.

Poland has one of the most expensive and inefficient tax systems in the EU in terms of revenues collected. Is it just about the protection of armies of bookkeepers' jobs, whose soul-destroying task is to account for evidence that tiny sums have all been duly collected? Or is it an inability of middle-ranking bureaucrats to move with the times and actively seek out and implement more efficient ways of doing things? Or is it to do with low levels of social trust? That without the policing mechanism of faktury VAT, Mr Dembinski would be hanging around railway stations, dipping into dustbins to retrieve discarded train tickets, then presenting them as his own, while meanwhile making his way to Kraków on foot, so as to diddle the conference organisers (who would then be unknowingly be diddling the tax-man)?

It is time for Jacek Rostowski, Poland's UK-born and -educated finance minister to apply some big scissors to this grotesque paper-printing and accounting machine that adds no value to the Polish economy. Time to apply the Toyota method – identify the muda (activity that adds no value) to the process and cut the costs of tax collection, with a target to get them at least to the EU average.

A campaign to streamline Poland's antiquated tax-collection system should be supported by every citizen and each political party - the only people who would lose would be the armies of faktura counters - but for the rest of the economy, it would be a dead weight removed from the nation's neck.

This time last year:
An end to an Entitlement way of thinking

This time two years ago:
West Ealing - drab and sad suburb

This time three years ago:
To Poznań by train

This time five years ago:
Late autumn drive-time

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Płock by night, Płock by day

To Płock to address yet another conference on Public-Private Partnerships. Having been most impressed by Toruń, I was keen to take a look around Płock, a historic city (pop. 125,000) which served as Poland's capital from 1079 to 1138. Situated on the Vistula, half-way from Warsaw (110km downstream ) to Toruń (100km upstream), the city benefits from its location, atop a steep and high escarpment looking down across the river.

After the day's work, time to take a stroll. I was last here in 2005 or '06 (pre-blogging days, anyhow), again at a conference, held in the building below, the town hall (ratusz), which dates back to the 1820s, and was the seat of the Polish insurgents' final parliament during the 1831 Uprising against Russia. If the style looks familiar, it is because it was designed by Jakub Kubicki, who was also responsible for the Belweder palace.

Below: looking down ul. Tumska towards the river, with two of the city's landmarks - to the right, the Castle of the Dukes of Masovia (Zamek książąt mazowieckich), built in the 14th C. as a Gothic fortification and topped off in the 18th C. with a Baroque upper tower and dome. To the right, the basilica cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Masovia, built in 1140.

Below: St. Bartholemew's church, built in 1356, rebuilt in the Baroque style, with a separate bell tower within the grounds. Like the cathedral and castle, the church overlooks the Vistula escarpment.

Below: the church, in daylight hours. Before leaving Płock for Warsaw, I take time to see more of the town. Behind the church, the ground falls away 40m in a dramatically steep slope towards the river bank.

Left: looking into a courtyard on ul. Tadeusza Kościuszki; a composition of wrought iron, plastered and unplastered brickwork and the Renaissance towers of the cathedral on the horizon.

Below: social housing (domy komunalne) overlooking ul. Mostowa in Płock. Note solid buttressing to keep the walls from sliding down the escarpment.

Below: we go down to the river, across a wide, sandy beach. The city's perched on that high escarpment to the right - and here I must mention the four-star Hotel Tumski where I stayed, an excellent location; my room on the third floor had a Most excellent view over the river. When I awoke on Friday morning, the view was misty (the Lindisfarne song Fog on the Tyne sprang to mind).

Below: looking across to the east. Across the Vistula, a granary, a small shipyard. On this side of the river, the molo (or pier) is just visible across the foreshore to the left. And in the far distance, the old bridge across the Vistula, still in use. Having such a splendid riverbank right under the historic city centre makes Płock more attractive to tourists. The waves are lapping at the shore, seagulls cry overhead.

Below: the bridge carries both roadway and a single railway track. Although the new bridge, a few km down stream, now opens the town up to road traffic much better than in the past, the lack of proper rail links is noticeable. I drove to Płock for lack of a good public transport alternative. The train journey from Jeziorki would have taken just under four hours, via W-wa Zachodnia and Kutno, an unnecessarily roundabout journey. The city needs a new rail link to Warsaw via Modlin airport, and here I wish the marshal of the Mazowsze province, Adam Struzik (who hails from Płock) good luck with his scheme to build such a rail link.

Below: Małachowianka, Poland's oldest school, dating back to 1180. The building is currently undergoing an extensive facelift, paid for out of EU funds. Famous alumni include Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Poland's first premier after communism (indeed first non-communist premier in all Central and Eastern Europe), Ignacy Mościcki, Poland's president from 1926 to 1939, and Jan Zumbach, leader of the legendary 303 Squadron. All would have gone to school via this historic front door.

Below: if you've not been to Płock, you may think of it this way, a communist-era monument to some communist in some nondescript square, not far from the gigantic petrochemical works. Indeed, this is statue to another local boy, Władysław Broniewski, who churned out panegyrics to Stalin. The statue is by Kazimierz Gustaw Zemła. And their stories tell of the complexity of Polish history. Broniewski fought against the Bolsheviks in 1920, winning a Virtuti Militari. He was arrested by the NKVD in Łwów in 1940 and held in the Lublyanka prison in Moscow, and sent to the Gulag, getting out of the USSR with Ander's army. And yet he returned to Poland to give praise to Stalin... Zemła taught at Warsaw's Fine Arts Academy, and authored communist-era monuments such as the one to the Silesian Uprising (which as a child I thought was of three grand pianos standing on their ends, with the shrouds left on). Yet after the downfall of communism, Zemła also gave us nine statues of Pope John Paul II and one to the heroes of the battle of Monte Cassino. Broniewski drank himself to death in 1962, unable to reconcile the contradictions in his life. Zemła is still alive (born in 1931).

So - there we are. Płock is Most certainly a historic city, Most certainly worth a visit.

This time last year:
Warning ahead of railway timetable change

This time two years ago:
London notes

This time three years ago:
Silent and Unseen - in your bookshops now

This time four years ago:
Frustrated by ul. Puławska - rat-run absurdity

This time five years ago:
Some thoughts on recycling

Friday, 23 November 2012

Warsaw's heroes on the walls

For my father, Bohdan, and for my daughter, Monika.

Left: an end wall of a kamienica (tenement) by Wilanowska Metro/bus station, commemorating Stanisław Grzesiuk, a noted Warsaw street musician. The street art depicts him as Syn Ulicy ('Son of the Street') with the sub-title Szemrane Piosenki ('murmured songs' or 'shady/dodgy songs'). Today's young artists have a fascination with the people who made Warsaw what it is; the characters, the lore, the slang, the unbreakable spirit. Grzesiuk, playing the banjo in the courtyards (podwórka) of Warsaw kamienice, embodied a tradition to be encountered today in the performances of Orkiestra z Chmielnej, who still play the old songs. Catch them by Metro Centrum after 11:00 most weekday mornings.

Below: an end wall of a kamienica between ul. Okrzei and Kłopotowskiego depicting four Home Army (AK) soldiers and the Polska Walczącza logo against a map of Our City and the Vistula running red, an allusion to Red Runs the Vistula, the book written by Ron Jeffery, an English PoW who escaped from the Germans and fought alongside the AK. I see in these faces of the young men the face of my father as a young man, who participated in the Warsaw Uprising from the beginning through to the bitter end. The hair styles, the faces, the clothing; each one looks familiar and brings to mind portraits of my father as a young man.

A propos of which - is it Warsaw Uprising - or Warsaw Rising? If you've not done this yet, do have a look at Google's fascinating NGram viewer. With this tool, you can track how words or phrases gain and lose popularity over the years. So I enter 'Warsaw Uprising' and 'Warsaw Rising'. And here's the result (click to enlarge):

This suggests that immediately after the event, the preferred English term for Powstanie was 'Rising', but by 1960, the term 'Uprising' had overtaken it. Why? And why the sudden spike in popularity for 'Rising' after 2000, but before Norman Davies' book Rising '44 The Battle for Warsaw was published in 2003? So - for the past half a century, Uprising has the edge on Rising in terms of the canon of published work in the English language.

This time last year:
Tax dodge or public service?

This time two years ago:
Warsaw's woodlands in autumn

This time three years ago:
Still here, the early snow

This time four years ago:
Another point of view

Monday, 19 November 2012

Shedding light on an unused road

It will be some time before the Elka finally opens, from Marynarska down to Węzeł Lotnisko and across to Puławska, with the connection from Węzeł Lotnisko across to the A2 motorway. There's much to be done on all four of the Elka's junctions (though Węzeł Okęcie is very nearly ready). Road-watchers reckon that some time in the late spring of 2013 the S79-S2 ('L'-shaped road, hence the Polish name) will be opened to traffic.

Still, that's no reason why not to spend money illuminating all this fine tarmac. Below: view from the recently opened footbridge spanning the S79 and ul. Wirażowa, that links the bus stop on ul. Narkiewicza with a footpath leading to W-wa Okęcie station. Dozens of lights switched on; towards the end of next month, they'll be burning 16 hours each day!

Below: view of the footbridge from W-wa Okęcie station. Note pile of soil in the foreground, left over from the construction work.

Below: looking down the steps that lead down from the footbridge to ul. Wirażowa and a new bus stop. What buses will run here I don't know (will the 148 and 306 be re-routed once the whole new road network finally opens?). Note EU-standard wheelchair lifts in pics below and above. The motorway builders and PKP didn't get their act together; the footbridge falls short of the station platform, necessitating a march across the railway tracks to get there.

Below: view from  the end of the platform at W-wa Okęcie. I'm resting my elbows on the handrails of the pedestrian crossing for this long exposure. The new lights of the S79 have different colour temperature from the lighting used by the railway.

Gazeta Wyborcza picked up on this story after I posted the top photo on the S2-S79 forum on Skyscraper City*. It transpires that the costs of keeping the lights switched on at night on an unopened motorway will be borne by the general contractor, Porr.

* The Polish Skyscraper City forum, you will notice, is the most active in the world in terms of people viewing and number of posts.

This time last year:
S2-S79 Elka from the air (there was still talk of it opening in time for Euro 2012!)

This time two years ago:
Fish and chips in Warsaw

This time three years ago:
Spirit of place - anomalous familiarity moments

Wade in the water, while we still can

Sunday is the day of rest on the building sites around Warsaw, and always a good opportunity to see how things are progressing. No different here on ul. Trombity, where work on ameliorating the wetlands is proceeding apace. Ponds are being cleared of reeds and deepened to serve as retention reservoirs, capable of holding larger volumes of rain water, thus protecting surrounding fields and houses from flooding.

Left: to the south of ul. Kórnicka, a series of new ponds has been created, with each one separate from the other with a wall formed from stones in wire cages. In the distance, ul. Baletowa.

I'm worried about the preservation of the central part of the wetlands; at least some of it should remain in its natural state, full of reeds, some drowned forest, plenty of bird life and water fowl. The diggers are encroaching from the north (ul. Kórnicka), the west (ul. Trombity) and east (ul. Dumki). Successive ponds are being cleared, given shape, distinct banks; trees are marked for felling. How much will be left?

Below: a new, cleared pond. Not so long ago, this stretch was full of dense reeds. Now, defined banks, a deep bed.

Below: some minor work - mainly tree felling - has been observed around this pond, between ul. Dumki and ul. Baletowa (houses on the horizon). The fields south of Baletowa will benefit from being less prone to flooding.

Below: the edge of the wetlands, east of ul. Trombity. Underfoot, the ground is spongy. The reed beds, home to swans, coots, herons and ducks, are to the left of this photo.

Below: a row of silver birches demarcate the edge of the wetlands from the fields backing off ul. Trombity. Note two trees have been marked for felling with a daub of orange paint. They look as though they are embracing one another.

Below: the wetlands proper. Here, wellington boots are barely sufficient for wading. The mud at the bottom is deep and sucks you in. A false step and your boot fills up with water. I go no further than the other side of this tree before pulling back.

Below: penetrable and yet impenetrable - the deepest fastness of the wetlands. Although I can hear distant voices, cars, trains and aircraft, I can see no signs of civilisation; I could be in the Prypet Marshes in pre-war Polesie, fishing or duck-hunting with the local Polesiuks.

I hope these central parts of the Jeziorki wetlands will remain unconquered by the excavators, untamed by the hydrologists. The works going on so far to create retention ponds will go a long way to protecting the area from floods, but a small part of this unique for Warsaw habitat should be allowed to remain.

Above: nearer to home - this path linking ul. Trombity and ul. Dumki has been closed. Two birches have been cut down and used as barriers - not the most ecologically-friendly way of denying us locals access.

This time last year:
Tusk marks beginning of his second term as premier

This time two years ago:
Rat-runner schadenfreude

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Fog hits Modlin badly

Another foggy day. I notice that there's more movement in the sky above Jeziorki, and check Flight Radar 24.Yes, indeed. Modlin's out of action (due to its lack of Instrument Landing System or ILS), and flights are being diverted to Okęcie.

Below: a Ryanair flight that's had to land at Okęcie makes an attempt to land at Modlin. It gets down to 200m (yellow line) but no lower - and at that altitude, the decision is taken to fly off. Meanwhile, to the west, over Gmina Sanniki, a WizzAir flight from Luton gets the order to divert to Okęcie. [Two screenshots from merged into one for the sake of brevity, by the way. Click to enlarge.]

I decide to take a stroll down to the airport after lunch. The fog's dreadful. I reach the level crossing just by the end of the runway before I can make any visual contact with landing aircraft. Below: with a wide-angle lens, I scan the sky in the direction of the aircraft noise - this is the best image I can get.

Below: this is an Bombardier Q400 coming in over the railway line, at first sight, I took it for an ATR 72. Enlarged photo shows (just!) wheels coming out of engine nacelles rather than from fuselage sponsons.

Below: Airbus? Embraer? Can't tell. Vertical height as it goes over the fence... 200m?

Below: here, I can tell that this is a LOT Embraer ERJ 175. The trees give an impression of scale. This plane's over the fence and approaching the end of the runway.

Below: a Dassault Falcon 7X, three-engined business jet, approaching the runway threshold.

Below: runway lighting at Okęcie; these gantries run in a line from the airport fence to the edge of the runway, a pulsing light is augmented with fog lights.

Okęcie has Category II ILS, Cat IIIC being the highest. Cat II allows for a decision height no lower than 30m (100 ft), and a runway visual range not less than 350m (1,150 ft).

This time two years ago:
Local elections - the lure of ultra-localism

This time three years ago:
Synchronicity of shape: Powiśle, California and Hanger Lane

Friday, 16 November 2012

Foggy evening on Al. Szucha

I had been hoping to leave the office earlier than I did this evening... As I was closing my laptop, it informed me that it would be installing Microsoft Windows updates - all 12 of them - before it would let me shut down for the weekend. This took a whole 20 minutes. While I was waiting for this to happen, I popped out onto the balcony with my camera to take some snaps of the foggy evening outside.

Below: looking across Al. Szucha towards Pl. Unii Lubelskiej.

Below: looking along Al. Szucha towards Pl. Na Rozdrożu. The benefits of VR (vibration reduction) are visible here - these long exposures were taken without a tripod.

Below: a shot right across the road, looking at the palace of Baron Szuch (the building in the middle with the columns).

Below: a peek out of the window on the other side of our office into the partially dilapidated courtyard (the un-plastered tenements look out over ul. Marszałkowska).

Below: the computer finally finishes installing the updates and I can finally go home. Pl. Unii Lubelskiej from street level. I must say - of the ten different addresses at which I've worked in Warsaw, this is by far and away the grandest. It's good to be here!

My first ever post on 16 November!

Along ul. Hołubcowa to work

With the move of  my client's offices to Poleczki Business Park (see previous post), I'm discovering new ways to work. This morning - on foot. Instead of walking down Poloneza to the end, I cut across along the Metro spur (the rarely-used line connecting Warsaw's Metro to the outside railway network), below. Looming out of the fog is the new viaduct being built to carry ul. Hołubcowa over the S2. It's quarter past seven and workers are already busy on the building site, along the length of the S2.

Ul. Hołubcowa is very busy at this time of the morning. Poloneza may have re-opened, but uncertainty as to whether the boggy, 240m-long dirt-track section of the road will swallow their cars before their get to the new bridge persuades most drivers to stick to Hołubcowa. Below: the crossing of the S2. My guess is that the road-builders will want to close this crossing to traffic before the viaduct is ready. This will cause huge problems to drivers; there will be no alternative but to use the treacherous ul. Poloneza.

Having passed the handful of houses at the far end of ul. Krasnowolska, I proceed through Grabów (which starts at the Metro railway line and continues as far as ul. Pląsy - a fearfully boggy track linking Poloneza and Taneczna beyond to the DHL depot on ul. Osmańska. We are less than six miles (9.5km) from the very centre of Warsaw, and yet the landscape is entirely countryside. Below: mugwort, the characteristic plant of these parts, turns black and brittle when it dies; the result looks like the fields on either side of Hołubcowa have been scorched by fire.

Below: fewer cars use the northern end of Hołubcowa, but I suspect traffic will intensify as more corporate employers move into Poleczki Business Park. Every single car that passed me was clearly marked as a company vehicle; private car owners would not risk their pride-and-joy along this road. It looks OK now, but we've have several dry days.

Near the end, out of Grabów and into Wyczółki. Hołubcowa ends abruptly on ul. Jakuba Mortkowicza; in theory Hołubcowa should join Poleczki; in practice it is cut off by the business park, and stump of road calling itself Hołubcowa runs between the buildings and out on the main road. There's even a bus stop called Hołobcowa on Poleczki, though it only serves the northernmost outpost of this 4km-long thoroughfare.

Below: barakowóz (barrack-wagon) parked up along ul. Jakuba Mortkiewicza, named after printer, publisher and co-founder of newsagent chain RUCH. Beyond the sheet-metal fencing, Poleczki Business Park, where more new office blocks will soon spring up.

Along with ul. Poloneza, ul. Hołubcowa is yet another example of a road that the city authorities have ignored despite hugely increased traffic volumes. The development of the Służewiec office district, the growth of cargo businesses (such as DHL on ul. Osmańska for one) around the airport and the suburbanisation that's occurred south of Warsaw's borders mean that these two dirt-tracks, once exclusively used for moving tractors from one field to another, have taken on a new significance for the city's traffic flows. And yet the authorities have done next to nothing to recognise this.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Łazienki's statues renovated

 Oh, how glad I am not to be stuck in Poleczki Business Park! Walking back from the British Embassy to my office today (the most direct route - quicker than public transport, a 15 minute walk), I passed the newly restored statue of King Jan III Sobieski trampling the Turk at the Battle of Vienna (read more here). Note the gilded harness on the horse.

The bridge on which the statue stands, was still closed last week, has also been restored, the stonework cleaned, and replacement steps leading down to the park laid.

Left: Can anyone tell me anything about this statue or sculpture? It stands in Łazienki park, and is not listed on this page, from the park's official website. Hercules? Androcles? Daniel? Some classical or Biblical strongman holding open the jaws of a lion...

The trees in Łazienki are almost bare now, though today we were blessed with some sunshine and blue skies.

This time four years ago:
Last of the Rampa na kruszywa

This time five years ago:
Airport zoning halts Jeziorki development

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Welcome to Lemingrad

Office moves can be a bit of a wrench, especially when to a less pleasant location than the one you've moved from. My corporate client for morning English lessons has moved one bus stop down ul. Poleczki, and while the new office is more modern and, I dare say, prestigious than the old one, it's missing something - soul.

Welcome, then, to Lemingrad; a sterile, soul-free place where the unthinking PO-voting electorate - in the mythology of the Polish right - work. The corporate hamster wheel. Though I don't share the PiSites' ideology, there is something in what they say regarding the rat-race and its participants.

So here we are, in the biurowcowe zagłębie (translated as 'office region', the phrase lacks the emotional punch the Polish phrase has).

This is no Central Business District, such as the one between Śródmieście and Wola, with modern Class A office blocks built around existing government buildings, theatres, parks, museums, restaurants, shops, cinemas and art galleries. This is a wasteland consisting of modern Class A office blocks - er, that's it.

I suppose the theory is that if you had to look out on this all day long (below), rather than have the view I have - overlooking the towers of Pl. Zbawiciela, the Palace of Culture, the National Stadium etc - you'd be more focused on your work.

Getting here's a bind. Walking from ul. Puławska's no longer an option (as it was when I was getting to ul Poloneza); the buses are few, unevenly spaced in time and overcrowded during the morning rush hour. Although the railway line passes close by, there's no station serving these blocks. PKP could place a new station 1.5km south of W-wa Okęcie. But the State Railway does not move as quickly as the market. Extending the tram line from Wyścigi to Poleczki is feasible but costly. Putting on more buses is the only real option. Note lack of official path from bus stop to the offices. People trample the grass, because architects and city authorities failed to tie up loose ends.

Put up the blocks first, rent them out, let the employees worry about getting to work. From ul. Domaniewska (where hundreds of businesses share one address - Domaniewska 41, a number that covers several office blocks named after planets, where public transport is terrible and car parking spaces non-existent after 7:30) in the north to Poleczki Business Park in the south, the Służewiec business district covers some four square kilometres of less-than-prime real estate just east of Okęcie airport, yet a long way from the centre of town.

I pity the workers who have to trudge here, day after day, deprived of culture and cuisine, working on the corporate treadmill. It's so much finer for the quality of life to work in the city centre, surrounded by what it takes for city life to be civilised. I'm glad I only have to come here for just a few hours a week.

Imagine driving here from, say, Wola or Praga, spending the whole day here, then - what do you do in the evening if you want to go to a concert in town, say - drive home, get changed and head off for Centrum?

This time two years ago:
Dream highway

This time three years ago:
The Days are Marching

This time five years ago:
First snow, 2007