Monday, 29 April 2013

Regrets at the departure of Mr Gowin from the justice ministry

Premier Tusk's mid-term blues get worse. Sacking one of the three most critical ministers in his government, Mr Tusk will have lost a lot of latent support. Jarosław Gowin may not have seen eye-to-eye with the PO rank and file, but he was a doer, an achiever, someone with a mission to reform.

Poland's number one problem is not Smolensk, in-vitro fertilisation or gay marriage - it is slimming down and reforming its bloated and inefficient public administration. Poland's public debt and deficit could be significantly reduced if the numbers employed at central and local government level matched those found in well-functioning EU member states - and if those working were as efficient as public servants in those countries.

It should be something that unites left and right, conservative and socialist, libertarian and collectivist - the desire to see a well-functioning public administration, one that serves the public rather than itself.

And yet, over the 23 years of democracy in Poland, no government has managed to get to grips with the rent-seekers, working at their bureaucratic travails at an exceedingly slow pace, acting as a handbrake on an otherwise vigorous economy.

It is, as Depeche Mode observed 30 years ago, a competitive world. Most governments around the globe are conducting reforms - some quicker, some slower; but with an eye on foreign direct investment, which generally means jobs, innovation, technology transfer and a move upward on the ladder of value-added.

The World Bank has over the years looked at how easy it is to do business around the world. Doing Business, which ranks 185 countries on ten criteria, has in its most recent report (published in October 2012), cited Poland as the world's fastest reforming country. Yes! (Read the following sentence out loud. It is from the World Bank.)

Key findings:
  • Poland was the global top improver in the past year. 

How can this be, you ponder?

Poland jumped 19 places up the rankings from 74th to 55th in terms of ease of doing business. OK, so the UK's number seven in the world and number two in the EU behind Denmark, but a 19-place jump is a great achievement. Keep reforming at this pace and Poland will have made it to 36th this year, 17th the year after and will be vying for the best place to do business anywhere on earth by 2015. But we all know that won't happen...

Let's look at why Poland did so well last year.

Is it because it's so easy to obtain planning permission? No. In this category, Poland is 161st (out of 185 countries remember) and slipped four places compared to the previous survey. Is it because it's so easy to hook up your business to mains electricity? Not here either (Poland is 137th, and down a shameful seven places).

No - the answer's here - again I cite the World Bank:
[Poland] enhanced the ease of doing business through four institutional or regulatory reforms, making it easier to register property [up 25 places], pay taxes [up 10 places], enforce contracts [up 28 places], and resolve insolvency [up 54 places]. 
Step forward the ministers who are making it happen. Taxes - that's Jacek Rostowski. But the remaining three criteria - where Poland made the biggest progress - fell under the remit of Cambridge scholarship student Mr Gowin. The first justice minister in democratic Poland not to have been a lawyer, who said he'd take an axe, not a scalpel, to the court system. And now he's gone. The judges and court administrators can breathe a sigh of relief tonight - and return to the quiet life in the morning.

And why? Because of a tiff about in-vitro and gay weddings. Which in the Big Scheme of Things don't matter anywhere near as much as getting a decently functioning court system for the country.

Tusk's government, I fear, will drift, directionless, into the next elections (due autumn 2015).

This time four years ago:
The cycle-to-work season starts

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Spring in full flood, Jeziorki

The rain forecast for today came as predicted ('s computer model is getting increasingly accurate), with some heavy downpours overnight. It kept raining all morning; by the early evening it was dry enough to put on my wellies and go for a walk to see how the new retention ponds had coped with the rainfall. Below: a short (13 second) film from the top of the heap of soil on the east side of the main pond, panning from north to south. To the left, ul. Dumki. I hope this hill I'm standing on will be retained once the work's complete, though I doubt it. It does offer a good view.

I wonder if the total area of the pond now exceeds Gocław's Balaton? Until the area shows up on Google Maps/Google Earth, it's hard to tell...

I'm worried that the new flood alleviation project may not be up to the task. Some of the surrounding fields had water in the lower-lying parts; more drainage ditches may be needed and the retention ponds deepened.

Further on up ul. Dumki, on the section between the new flood defence works, the central part of the reed-beds have been left untouched. This is home to thousands of black-headed gulls (mewy śmieszki). When roosting as they do in large numbers, they can be heard half a kilometre away; approaching the reed-beds is like approaching a football stadium full of roaring fans. From up close, it's deafening (below)!

I'm glad this part of the area between ul. Dumki and Trombity has been left in its existing state as it is a rare natural habitat for Warsaw, a haven for wildlife and place to get away from urban reality.

Below: the sky is full of gulls screeching aggressively at the human intruder (me). The occasional individual takes a swoop in my direction as though to warn me away from their nesting area.

Below: the field at the junction of ul. Trombity and ul. Kórnicka, with the railway line behind me. The bottom end of this field, usually planted with potatoes, is flooded again, despite the recent amelioration work. More drainage ditches are needed around here if these fields are to stay productive after heavy rainfall.

Just before sunset, the clouds passed, as the weather forecast said they would. The blossom on these fruit trees is picked out by the rays of the evening sun.

Spring is finally here in Jeziorki, we've waited since late-October.

This time two years ago:
I need a new laptop. But which one?

This time four years ago:
In search of the sublime aesthetic

This time five year ago:
Ducks in Ogród Saski

This time six years ago:
Should I stay or should I go?

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Toyah's latest book reviewed

First, a disclosure; I have know the author and blogger Krzysztof Osiejuk since the summer of 1996; we met on holiday with our families in Penrhos, North Wales and became firm friends - Krzysztof has introduced me to much excellent music and great movies, and many's the single malt whisky we've enjoyed together while watching outstanding films or just chatting about life. Sadly, the Smolensk disaster has left a major division between us, much as it has within Polish society as a whole. For Krzysztof, it was the deliberate assassination of President Lech Kaczyński; for me, an accident that resulted from sloppy procedures in the air and on the ground. I fear that this new status quo will remain for years to come.

Anyway, on with the narrative. Krzysztof's first book, O siedmiokilogramowym liściu i inne historie, written under the Toyah pseudonym, is a collection of his pre-Smolensk blog posts, written during the glory days when he was Polityka's political blogger of the year (2009). Sadly, the posts are not dated, which would have been useful to future historians. Because this is the pre-Smolensk, there's less rancour, a lighter tone; those early years of PiS in parliamentary opposition with a PiS president in office now seen strangely exotic.

Toyah's second book, Twój pierwszy elementarz, written in the style of an ABC primer, was written after April 2010. Essentially, it stands as a who's who of Polish politics and blogging (even I get an entry!); with everyone neatly categorised into nasi ('ours') or else as tools of 'the system' (system), witting or otherwise. Many famous Poles, we learn, are or have been agents (of Moscow, of the security services, of the system) or are (as in my case), 'lemmings' (lemingi), who passively accept today's reality. An excellent guide to the works of the PiS mindset.

Krzysztof's first book published under his own name is Marki, dolary, banany i biusztonosz marki Triumph, is a much-needed first hand account of Poland's transition from communism to what we have today. An autobiography that moves from childhood and adolescence in Katowice (or indeed Stalinogród, which is what the city was called when Krzysztof was born), through his student days, Martial Law and the political and economic transformation to today's Poland - which he doesn't much care for.

Cover art by Marek Kamieński
For those of my readers who did not experience daily life in Poland under communism, a time of "endless waiting," he recalls, this book makes for an educational, and indeed entertaining, read. In particular the relationship between the citizen and the authorities, and the consumer and the market. Two anecdotes from the book merit recounting in full.

One was a taxi ride from Katowice to Sosnowiec. As his taxi was approaching the destination, the driver recognised a militia-man (milicjant) at traffic lights and began chatting to him. The militia-man got into the front passenger seat and continued the conversation with the driver in the stationary car, who was ignoring his passenger as the taxi-meter continued to spin. Krzysztof did not dare butt in to remind the driver that he was still in the car. After a while, the militia-man turned around to Krzysztof and announced that he didn't like his hair-cut. Krzysztof maintained a polite tongue, explained why he was going to Sosnowiec (to register for his studies), but was noted down anyway. The taxi ride turned out to be extremely expensive - and there was nothing - nothing at all - that he could do about it.

The other concerns his first job. He was directed to work at the Zenit department store in Katowice as a junior radio and TV sales assistant. This was in the mid-1970s, when Edward Gierek was First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party, and sought to buy popularity by borrowing money from the West and spending it on the production of consumer goods, to create the illusion of prosperity. Krzysztof recalls, however, that none, literally none, of the radios (Śnieżka and Jubilat brand) worked. It was a similar case with televisions, but unlike the radios, there was demand for TVs. When anyone wanted to buy one, it would be plugged into the mains - and would not function. It was repacked, put into a store-room, and when the store-room was full, men from the Unitra factory would turn up, fix them, and place a sticker on each one saying 'Pre-sale repair' (naprawa przedsprzedażna).

As a citizen, as a consumer, in PRL you had next to no rights whatsoever. And yet if things were so bad back then, why is everything today so bad? There is a note of nostalgia running through the book, in particular to his childhood; Krzysztof was blessed with wonderful parents. And to times when you could spend blissful hours with friends, listening to music, talking about life, drinking, smoking, not worrying about the future.

Harbingers of the transformation to come - the introduction of democracy and the free market - were Krzysztof's journeys to 1980s West Germany, and for him the smell of fresh products. For me, my memories of trips to communist Poland are also connected with smell - the aroma of cheap newsprint by a Ruch kiosk, the smoke from Sport and Popularne cigarettes, that tantalising blend of damp, disinfectant and stale cooking smells of a tenement staircase

A note of mortality creeps in every now and then - so many of Krzysztof's friends have passed on; far more than would have been the case for a similar age cohort in the west. Better healthcare, healthier lifestyles, more to live for. And that sense of injustice - the children of the old communists went on to achieve wealth, those that fought for freedom live in relative poverty.

Marki, dolary, banany i biusztonosz marki Triumph is a worthwhile read for those interested in recent Polish history; an eyewitness testimony to bygone times that have changed beyond recognition in less than a quarter of a century. [It is available online for a mere 30 złotys or six quid plus postage] There is room in the English language for accounts of day-to-day life before, during and after transformation from communism to market democracy; I'm sure these will help future generations understand better this particular moment in human history, and its early 21st-century fallout.

I learn from the book that Krzysztof reckons he's got another three books inside him. I look forward to reading them all!

This time last year:
The Shard changes London's skyline

This time two years ago:
In praise of Warsaw's trams

This time three years ago:
Plans for the railway line to Radom
[three years on: what's changed?]

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Kestrel on the roof

Looking out of my window, from my desk, I espied this compact bird of prey on the roof of the neighbouring tenement (kamienica). Turns out it's a common kestrel (pustułka zwyczajna). In the background, the towers of St. Saviour's church (kościół Św. Zbawiciela) on Pl. Zabawiciela.

A migratory bird in this part of Europe; I've not seen it here before since moving to this office in late autumn.

This has been the week where the miracle of spring, that powerful explosion of nature, has made itself Most felt. For the past three days, I've sauntered home from work in broad daylight, wearing nothing more than a suit. Today, the top temperature expected is 23C. Leaves are appearing on trees almost overnight; the sun is rising earlier with each day (quarter past five this morning), and setting later with each day (ten to eight this evening). And to think, there was still plentiful snow on the ground just three weeks ago!

This really is the best time of the year for me - full of optimism, brightness and the prospect of long, summer days ahead.

This time last year:
Britain shivers: 6C to 8C in late April

This time two years ago:
Miracle on the Vistula: Spring explodes across Warsaw

This time three years ago:
Collapsing footbridge over Puławska

This time four years ago:
Four-engined jets at 30,000 ft

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Kaczyński's ignorance, deceit or folly?

I chanced across an interview with opposition leader Jarosław Kaczyński in Monday's Polska The Times, and found myself angered by two paragraphs about the economy, which I feel I need to comment. Here's the original Polish text, below:
Sytuacja w kraju jest w niewielkim tylko stopniu związanym z kryzysem międzynarodowym. Stan naszej gospodarki to jest efekt wyjątkowo złego sposobu rządzenia. Tak fatalnego, jak po roku 1989, jeszcze w Polsce nie było.
I'll translate as faithfully as possible into English (please offer improvements if you feel they are needed)...
"The situation in the country is only to a small degree linked to the international crisis. The condition of our economy is the result of extremely poor governance. So awful, as has not been seen in Poland since 1989."
What I find galling in this quote is the selectiveness of memory, the poor understanding of cause and effect in economics, and above all - the crass populism of the fellow.

Having sat through dozens of macroeconomic presentations by renowned economists, I can tell Mr Kaczyński that it would be a complete oddball, an absolute outlier - a crank indeed - who would categorically state that Poland's current economic slowdown has little to do with the global financial crisis. Though Poland's large domestic market insulates its economy better than smaller countries with a larger share of GDP generated by exports, Polish manufacturing sector is strongly dependent on the condition of European markets.

If we look at a country that Mr Kaczyński considers to be properly governed - Hungary - we will see that economic conditions are worse than in Poland. (Latest published data used; unemployment measure here is from Eurostat, which strips out the economically active who claim jobless benefits and is more comparable between the two countries.)

GDP growth Unemployment Inflation
Poland +1.1% (Q4 2012) 10.6% (Feb '13, Eurostat) 2.1% (Mar '13)
Hungary -4.7% (Q4 2012) 11.2% (Jan '13, Eurostat) 4.0% (Feb '13)

The situation in Poland is indeed the worst it's been for many years, but certainly not the worst since 1989. Let's track these three key indicators to previous low points in Poland's post-transformation economic history...

GDP growth Unemployment Inflation
Q1 2013 +1.1% (Q4 2012) 10.6% (Feb '13, Eurostat) 2.1% (Mar '13)
Q3 2002 +1.6% (Q3 2002) 20.2% (Aug '02, Eurostat) 2.8% (Aug '02, Eurostat)
Q1 1991 -7.0% (Q4 '91, GUS) 12.2% (Dec '91,GUS) 60.4% (Dec '91, GUS)

Things have, on aggregate been far worse. As to charges of macroeconomic mismanagement - yes, there's now little doubt that that Poland's independent monetary policy committee had been too hawkish in bumping up base rates in 2011-2012, jacking them up by 125 basis points from January 2011 to May 2012 (high water mark: 4.75%). By how much a more dove-like approach to monetary policy might have boosted GDP growth is a moot point - BUT THE IMPORTANT THING IS THAT POLAND HAS AN INDEPENDENT CENTRAL BANK - unlike Hungary.

The economic situation is not comfortable. The current government has squandered many chances to use its popular mandate to make necessary reforms to the way the Polish state and administration functions. From poor infrastructure (despite last year's frantic pre-Euro dash) to inefficient government offices, things could have been done better.

But I doubt if PiS in power would have seen things through any better. The friends of the Big State, rozdawnictwo (redistribution) and micro-management of matters economic, PiS in power today would be falling over themselves to blame the global economic crisis for people's woes, much as their ideological brethren in Budapest are doing.

This time last year:
The British electrical plug and socket reigns supreme

This time two years ago:
Easter, and the end of Lent

This time three years ago:
That Icelandic volcano (anyone remember what it was called?)

This time four years ago:
Views of Historic Toruń

This time five years ago:
One swallow does not a summer make

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The ever-growing demand for Park+Ride facilities

Well, here we are - Warszafka Jeziorki station, indeed. Late morning rush-hour (I'm catching the 8:36 to town to get me to a press conference) and the grassy verges - for here, there are no pavements - are packed with stationary automobiles.

Before my train pulls in, I count over 70 of them, around the junction of ul. Karczunkowska and Gogolińska. This is a record. When I first commented upon the new phenomenon of dziki parking ('wild', 'spontaneous', 'unplanned' parking) around W-wa Jeziorki station, back in October 2008, I counted a dozen or so cars. Three years on, in October 2011, it was up to 50. A year and half later, it's 70+; this growth rate has become unsustainable - space is running out. Unless you're prepared to walk a fair distance to the station platform.

Above: cars parked where they may. Behind me and to my right, across the tracks - more cars. Better that they rest here, than clog up the roads into town.

Left: the new station sign. I prefer the old one (scroll to the foot of this page).

Below: there's over 70 cars - but just two bicycles. The weather's perfect - why not more bikes? They are relatively safe - shackled to steel barriers right under the watchful eye of the level-crossing keeper.

It would not, however, be too much to ask PKP PLK or whatever spółka spun off from PKP now runs the nation's stations to put up some bicycle racks here. I'm sure that several of those 70 car drivers could consider cycling here rather than burning up fossil fuel to carry their persons to the railway station. At this time of year - with increasingly accurate, computer-modelled weather forecasts - there's really little excuse for not using the bike (or indeed walking, as I did today) for short-distance intermodal commuting.

Will there ever be proper P+R (or in Polish PiJ) at Jeziorki? The official plans have been shelved; the money that was ear-marked for P+R facilities here could be spent buying dozens of buses instead. Four articulated buses can carry as many passengers as a large multi-story P+R.

Cluttered grass verges in Jeziorki are a small price to pay for commuters leaving their cars far away from the city centre.

This time last year:
Cycle-friendly London

This time two years ago:
The end of the Azure Week

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Completely in the dark

Many people find enjoyment from spending 90 minutes in a darkened room watching a movie. But what about spending 90 minutes in five totally darkened rooms watching... nothing at all?

A brilliant viewpoint-changing exhibition, one that's somehow been missed by the mainstream media, has been on in Warsaw since December 2011. I went last week, and it's still with me.

Niewidzialna Wystawa (Invisible Exhibition) is on at the Millennium Plaza (the so-called Toi-Toi building near Pl. Zawiszy). It is about sensory deprivation - for an hour and half, you are deprived of the sense of sight. You enter the world of the blind person. It is quite extraordinary.

Small groups of up to eight people are led into total darkness. That's 'total' as in now glowing wrist-watches, no mobile phones, no light sources of whatever description allowed in. The curtain closes behind you; you will see nothing for the next 90 minutes. Your other senses will take over.

There are five rooms. We've been sworn to secrecy - I can't tell you what exactly is in them, except to say that the first is an ordinary house, the second is a street, the third an art gallery, the fourth a forester's lodge, the fifth - a wooded glade. With your hands, you feel your way around. You discover familiar surroundings in an entirely new way.

One of the rooms in the exhibition. Can't remember which one, though.
In the first room, I felt a mounting sense of unease. Would I be able to cope for the full 90 minutes? People around me were discovering things at the edges of the first room - I was holding back my anxiety. There was among us a girl, aged six or seven, named Ania (as it happened one of three Anias in the group), was the first to get accustomed to the dark; she was joyously calling out the names of things as she identified them. Her cheerful voice reassured me; as we moved into the second room - a street - I began feeling more comfortable.

We followed the beckoning calls of our guide, as she let us confidently from one room to another. As we started getting used to our new surroundings, the adults started slowly returning to themselves, even cracking the occasional good-natured joke.

My greatest fear was for my shins. The shins are particularly sensitive; walking into furniture or barriers can be painful. Groping around in a ceaseless search for points of reference, for textures, shapes, beginnings of things, ends of things, trying to make sense of what your fingers contact; it becomes a challenge - though a tiring one.

As we moved around the exhibition, one profound insight occurred to me - if there's one thing worse than being blind - it's being alone.

Bring loose change. There's the opportunity to buy mineral water, chocolate bars and snacks - but you have to find the right money, hand it over to the guide, check you've got the right change, and take your purchase. Little Ania bought a bottle of mineral water, which to everyone's surprise, she correctly identified as Kropla Beskidu. "By the shape of the bottle", she explained.

Our guide warned us that we were getting close to the end of the exhibition, and that we'd soon be entering the world of light once again. She asked us to blink rapidly, so that our irises would get accustomed to normal daylight. As we emerged into the foyer, I realised that the girl who had so authoritatively and so confidently led us through the darkness was herself blind. And then little Ania asked "Can I stop blinking now?"

There was time to see an exhibition about Braille (a textbook for a blind schoolchild takes up six times as many pages as one for a sighted child, a Braille typewriter has but six keys and a space-bar), there was a Braille globe, various household gadgets for the blind (from speaking wristwatches to apple peelers) and other educational and entertainment aids. All very humbling, when one considers how much more effort a visually impaired person is forced to make in order to live and learn as the rest of us do.

This is an exhibition not to be missed. Apart from the valuable social message, it gives one the chance to immerse oneself in a world in which one sense needs to be supplanted by the other four (or five if you believe in six). "Go and see it", I wrote summing up. But indeed, there's nothing to see. Which makes this exhibition unique - literally once in a lifetime. Tickets are cinema-priced; 21 złotys weekdays, 25 złotys weekends, with student, pensioner, child and family discounts. Niewidzialna Wystawa is open all week from 12:00 to 20:00, with the last group going in at 18:45. On Thursdays and Sundays it opens two hours earlier (at 10:00).

This time last year:
New engine on the coal train

This time two years ago
High time to leave the car at home

This time three years ago:
The answer to urban commuting

This time six years ago:
Far away across the fields

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Lighter long lens

I have recently bought a new lens, a 55-300mm Nikkor zoom, which partially replaces the 18-200mm zoom which broke just before Christmas. My lens armoury is now the following: 10-24mm zoom (ultra-wide angle, for cityscapes, panoramas, interiors), an 18-55mm zoom with vibration reduction (standard, everyday use, and night shooting down to 1/3 sec. hand-held) and now this 55-300mm zoom for telephotography on the go. (Plus my legacy manual-focus Nikkors: 55mm f3.5 macro, 105mm f1.8 and 28mm f2.8)

What about my existing 80-400mm lens? Still useful? A question I'll answer in this blog...

The 80-400mm zoom is a magnificent and huge piece of glass designed for FX sensor (full-frame) Nikons. It's a bit dated now, originally appearing in 2001, and has been replaced by a newer 80-400mm optic that's faster focusing (the old one's autofocus is slow) though heavier.

Now, the D3200 being a budget Nikon DSLR, does not have an internal lens auto-focusing motor, so the 80-400mm is incompatible with it. The 55-300mm lens doesn't need an internal AF motor.

I bought the 55-300mm on the premise that the D3200, with its 24 million pixel sensor, will allow a digital zoom that's bigger than the image you'll get from the D80, with its 12 million pixel sensor. The saving in weight was my main consideration. The D80/80-400mm combo weighs over 2.1kg (with strap, filter and hood), while the D3200/55-300mm combo weighs over 1.1kg (with strap, filter and hood). The difference is the equivalent weight of two full half-litre beer cans. Having that round one's neck for any length of time is noticeable.

Below: the D80/80-400mm is left, the D3200/55-300mm is right. Look at the massive size difference - and this is with both lenses zoomed right back to their shortest length.

That's some difference! Now, let's compare the images the two lenses produce. Can the smaller lens really give better performance on a larger sensor than the bigger lens on a smaller sensor?

Below: shot from my bedroom window, unPhotoshopped images from the two combos. Both images shot at 1/200sec at f5.6. Both cameras set at 100 ISO, image optimised at 'vivid'. Both JPEG images compressed to 57% of original file size.

D3200 with 55-300mm lens zoomed to 300mm

D80 with 80-400mm lens zoomed to 400mm
OK - so that's the full frame, as you can see, the 400mm lens gets closer to the subject. But bear in mind that the bigger sensor of the D3200 gives you an image that's 6,016 pixels wide and 4,000 pixels high. The D80's sensor gives you an image that's just 3,872 pixels wide and 2,592 pixels high. In other words, one and half times larger in both directions. The image of a 300mm lens can be expanded on the D3200's sensor to the equivalent of 450mm on the D80's sensor... in theory, at least - but how do the images compare when blow up to full size? Here's how:

D3200 with 55-300mm lens zoomed to 300mm, crop from 100% enlargement

D80 with 80-400mm lens zoomed to 400mm, crop from 100% enlargement
To my eye, the D3200/55-300mm combo wins in terms of detail (just) but the D80/80-400mm combo offers better contrast and colour saturation. But both can be tweaked digitally.

So. For walking and cycling, the new 55-300mm is a winner. Almost a kilo lighter than the old combo, it delivers a comparable degree of zoom when magnified. What will I do with the old combo then? Probably time to sell. Along with my old film Leica rangefinders (M2, M3, M6).

This time last year:
Warsaw's grand Central Station

This time three years ago:
Making sense of Polish politics

Friday, 19 April 2013

70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

National and city flags were out today to mark the 70th (Yes! Just 70!) anniversary of the beginning of the uprising in the Jewish Ghetto. The First Warsaw Uprising; an uprising doomed to failure from the outset, yet glorious in retrospect. Glorious in that people who knew they had been marked for death decided to stand up and fight and hit back at their execrably evil oppressors and hurt them. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest revolt by Jews in WW2. I ask all my readers to take the time to read the Wikipedia pages about the Ghetto and its Uprising.

The inhumanity of the Nazis - the barbarism displayed by German soldiers who were sent into the Ghetto to take the lives of scores of thousands of human lives - is absolutely unspeakable.

On 19 April 1943, the day before the Nazis were due enter the Ghetto to liquidate it (the date was set as 20 April, Hitler's birthday) Jewish fighters rose up, knowing the alternative to struggle was deportation and death. Between a quarter and a third of a million Jews imprisoned in the Ghetto had already been sent to extermination camps in the previous round of deportations the previous summer.

The Germans had been planning to finally liquidate the Ghetto, deport the remaining 70,000 Jews to extermination camps, and raze the Ghetto to the ground.

The fight was totally one-sided; for every Nazi soldier killed, over 1,000 Jews died. Those that survived were deported and exterminated anyway.

Unimaginable in our day - just a few decades later. As a part of the Holocaust, it is the shame the German nation will have to live with for centuries. Let us never forget it.

Click here for the English-language pages of the website commemorating the Ghetto Uprising. And click here for BBC coverage of the commemorations. The 70th Anniversary of the start of the rising was marked by the opening of a new museum in Warsaw - the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. I shall be visiting it shortly.

Pokój ich cieniom.

This time last year:
Tarkovsky's Stalker: a zone of my own

This time two years ago:
Warsaw's big billboards

This time four years ago:
Pace of development falters

This time six years ago:
Strange days indeed

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A hare in Wyczółki

So there I was, waiting for the 165 bus from Osmańska to Metro Wilanowska, when a hare rushes past on the other side of the street. Fortunately, I had my new 55-300mm lens on my camera, and was well placed to catch the hare's antics on pixel.

Below: the hare, for whatever reason, was heading towards town, northbound up ul. Osmańska, a street that begins in fields, passes the DHL terminal and ends on ul. Poleczki, a busy dual carriageway. We are barely five and a quarter miles (8.5km) south the very centre of Warsaw - in London terms, the equivalent distance of Streatham from Centre Point.

Below: the hare, realising the futility of continuing northbound into the face of heavy traffic, stops in mid-stride, turns around a full 180 degrees and heads back the way it came.

Below: a lovely shot as the hare proceeds along the access road leading out of Poleczki Business Park. Note the hare's ever-changing gait, its pricked-up ears and its coat, which still shows remnants of winter colouration. Click to enlarge - it's a treat!

Below: a sudden turn of speed, to get out of the way of an oncoming truck, then the hare slows down to a trot as the danger passes. Its mad dash hither and yon has attracted the attention of everyone at the bus stop. The hare saunters back to the relative safety of the grass between ul. Osmańska and Zatorze, disappearing from view just as the 165 bus arrives.

I feel a sense of gratitude for having seen it, and for being ready for it with my camera and the right lens.

This time last year:
Warsaw by night

This time two years ago:
Tales of the Riverbank

This time three years ago:
Okęcie before the funerals

This time four years ago:
At the General's house

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Pregnant cats should not climb trees

Moni's cat that came from Łódź to become a permanent part of the household is pregnant. Liluś eats more, spends more time resting on rugs or radiators and is less frisky. However, that other call of nature - the imperative to ascend trees - proved stronger than the maternal instinct. She spent all night up this silver birch. But by morning the thought of a full cat bowl prompted her to make a cautious descent into my waiting arms.

Being a tortoiseshell-and-white tabby, her offsprings' colour will be determined by gender. Only the females will acquire tortoiseshell colouration; Lila's male kittens are more likely to reflect the father's coat. Five or six weeks to go...

This time last year:
TPSA turns Orange

This time two years ago:

This time three years ago:
Volcano shuts down aviation over NW Europe

This time four years ago:
Large, charismatic fowl

This time five years ago:
Antonov An-26 in the twilight of its career

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Bicycle shake-down day

At last! Two weeks after the clocks went forward, a week after the majority of the snow disappeared, time to buy some WD40 and put the bikes on the road. Starting with the Holdsworth Triath Elan, I get ready for the season with a 36 km warm-up ride across the river. In contrast to the excellent cycle paths from Wyścigi that stretch eastwards right across to Rembertów, ul. Puławska is still missing decent cycle facilities. City authorities take note!

How my posterior (and other muscles - notably shin and thighs) will feel tomorrow is a matter of some worry; will I be walking with a rolling, waddling gait?

In the sports shops, great business as millions of Poles shake off winter cobwebs to buy Nordic walking sticks, bicycle pumps, volleyballs, running shoes and tennis racquets. Not a minute too soon. Winter has been long, so spring will be three weeks shorter this year. May it be warm and sunny.

Below: the Vistula is high; the meltwater from downstream has raised the water level, though it's not judged to be dangerous. View from Most Siekierkowski bridge, lens at 18mm (wide)

Below: on the return leg, from more or less the same spot, with the lens zoomed to 55mm (modestly telephoto). Skyline of Our City with evening colours warm upon the face of the waters.

More about cycling in and around Warsaw in coming weeks and months.

This time last year:
40 years on - Roxy Music's first two albums

This time three years ago:
Twenty years, ten months, six days

This time five years ago:
Swans still in Jeziorki

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The ups and downs of the onset of spring

At long last spring. The temperature soared to 16.6C this afternoon - T-shirt weather almost - and then fell back to 12.8C as the first storm cloud of the season made its presence felt over Warsaw and heavy rain poured down on our wet fields. Below: dark clouds gather; across town it's raining already; thunder is rumbling incessantly - unusual weather for mid-April.

Watching and waiting for spring to gather strength is like watching over a sickly infant and willing it to get healthier; spring has been late coming this winter, and jokes like 'it'll soon be warm enough to walk in flip-flops over the snow' have rung true!

Vestigial snow in the garden, the last we'll see until late autumn, I hope. It's five and half months since the first snow of this (long) winter fell (27 October 2012); is is indeed possible for Warsaw 'to have snow for half the year'. Possible, but  unlikely. This winter was longer and snowier than usual, though not a particularly cold one. I'm waiting for Student SGH to post his annual winter almanac on Politics, Economy, Society - (see winter timelines for last winter and the winter before that.)

UPDATE: Student SGH has just posted his detailed day-by-day account of this long and strange winter, invaluable documentation in an age where weather takes on a political dimension - this is how it was in 2012-2013 in Warsaw.

This time last year:
Pigeon infestation by Dworzec Centralny

This time three years ago:
Fertile grounds for conspiracy theorists

This time five years ago:
Magnolia in bloom, Ealing

What a lot of rubbish

Suddenly it's spring. This time last week, there was snow on the ground. Today as I write it's sunny, +16C. At this time year, a middle-aged man's thoughts turn to cleaning the garage, so with Eddie, we sorted out the rubbish that has been accumulating over the snowy months. We segregate waste into paper, cardboard, tins (steel and aluminium), plastic and glass. There's money to be had for the first four categories. Filling the back of the Yaris, we set off for the Punkt Skupu Surówców Wtórnych (recycling point) on ul. Cynamonowa, where the rubbish shown below earned us 14.61zł. Not bad, given that I'd have had to have paid 36zł to have it taken away, so I'm 40zł up on the deal.

But things are changing, and surprisingly for Poland, not for the better.

A new law has been passed, ill-considered and poorly drafted, the result of which means that instead of households making their own arrangements with private companies, they will be forced to pay 89zł to the local authority to take their rubbish away.

For us, this is an extra monthly outgoing of 53zł. Our rubbish is collected by a Piaseczno-based company, Eko-Standard, every other week. They collect everything that can't be recycled or composted. Typically this is mixed waste, contaminated with uncompostable food scraps, Tetrapak cartons (a laminate of card, aluminium and plastic), and in total is about one quarter of our refuse.

The authorities explain the new law as being a) the product of EU Directives aimed at limiting landfill as a form of waste disposal and b) stopping Pan Heniek and Pan Ziutek dumping their household waste in the forests. The new law does neither, it flies in the face of common sense and needs radical re-drafting before coming into force on 1 July.

Listen here to the debate last night in the Ursynów town hall (in Polish). The authorities have tried hard to spin the new law in positive light, but the people of Ursynów are having none of it.

The changes in the law are unfair to those householders who've been playing by the rules and unfair to private-sector companies that have invested in facilities for waste segregation. Fight to preserve the status quo brothers and sisters!

This time last year:
Painting the Forum Orange

This time four years ago:
That's what I like about the North

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Warszawa 1935 - must-see for all Warsaw lovers

For my father, Bohdan Dembiński, who at that time was 12 years old, living on ul. Filtrowa, in Warsaw's Ochota district.

Not a long film, running time a mere 18 minutes, but a long time coming, the much-heralded Warszawa 1935 is required viewing for anyone with an interest in Our City. [Polish Wikipedia page about the film here.] It's a long way from perfection, but it does makes for fascinating viewing - the first animated computer-graphic recreation of Warsaw before the devastation that visited it from 1939-45. The level of detail is extraordinarily high and the overall impression is breathtaking.

Over the film, which aims to show the glory of Warsaw in 1935 (and a beautiful city it was too), hangs a looming sense of martyrdom and impending doom. The music is  Wojciech Kilar-style 'generic Polish film score'. Some lively tunes by Mieczysław Fogg or other popular entertainers of the day would have been preferable. I question the authenticity of the number of cars (especially luxury and sports cars) on Warsaw's streets; though the trams, buses and horse-drawn cabs feel right compared to photos from the era. (I'm looking through an album of photos of pre-war Warsaw and can see only a handful of cars.)

Do take a look (if you've not yet been) at the trailer...

Here's the second official trailer from the film that gives a good flavour of the whole...

What could have been done better? It's all too easy to criticise, but these comments are meant in a helpful spirit. In the film, buildings' windows reflect a uniform light; in reality some would have curtains, other nets; some would be dark, some lit - different colour lamp-shades - this is what makes a city look inhabited. And at street level - more fruit and veg stalls, more bakeries, cobblers, furriers, ironmongers; passers-by, shoppers, people hurrying, lingering, carrying, chatting. This would use up even greater amounts of computing power, but is what would make the film even more effective. As it is, to render the animated 3D film, the producers had to use the supercomputers in Poland's National Centre for Nuclear Research in Świerk.

I believe the producers of the film should make the source-code public so that over the years, enthusiasts of 3D modelling can polish the virtual city to greater levels of realism. The amount of work that's gone into it already is immense, but still to render the scenes with even greater levels of accuracy. As old photos come to light, revealing new textures and detail, I hope to see an ever-more accurate depiction of Warsaw. The 3D model should be released as walk-through software, allowing users to download the virtual city to their hard drives so that they can move virtually at will along Warsaw's streets.

Worth looking at  Miasto ruin (City of Ruins), the shorter 3D computer-graphic recreation of Warsaw as it looked in 1945.

In the meanwhile, if you have an interest in Poland, in Warsaw, in history, this all-too-brief film is worth seeing - I shall certainly be buying it when it comes out on DVD, to savour slowly on the small screen.

Finally - colour footage of Warsaw just before the outbreak of war.

I hope the release of Warszawa 1935 will inspire a new generation of Varsovians to take a deeper interest in the history of Our City, and that digital technologies will be used to create ever more life-life historical depictions of what Warsaw was like before it was barbarically destroyed.

This time last year:
Cats and awareness

This time three years ago:
Why did this happen?

This time two years ago:
Britain's grey squirrels turning red

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Veturilo - waiting for the snow to go

This time last week, the snow was falling thick and fast; the only people out and about on two wheels were couriers riding fixies (below - for the ultimate in control of one's bike - no brakes to get clogged up with wet snow, just the chain connecting the rider's legs to a fixed rear hub).

Below: Warsaw's Veturilo public bicycle sharing system was meant to have re-started on 1 March. And here we are - Wednesday 3 April and the racks are still standing empty. Too much snow! This is Pl. Unii Lubelskiej, the cycle hire station being less than 100m from my office. Will come in handy once the snow's finally disappeared!

Left: Friday 5 April, and the Veturilo (the Esperanto word for 'vehicle')  bikes begin to appear. Here they are outside Stokłosy Metro station. Although the pavement on this stretch of Al. KEN is clear of snow, there's still enough of the white stuff on the ground to dissuade all but the hardiest of cyclists from mounting their bikes.

Below: Sunday 7 April, 11 am, outside the Marriott Hotel, Al. Jerozolimskie. Snow still predominates in city centre ground cover. Not a single bike taken out for a spin. In my experience, cycling while there's thick snow around is a recipe for a nasty tumble.

Below: the same bike station, looking towards ul. Emilii Plater. Snow as far as the eye can see.

It's now Tuesday evening as I write; the past three days have seen daytime highs of 6C to 8C; the snow is retreating because of the warmth of the sun rather than being washed away by rain. This is good. Soon it will be OK to get back on two wheels. And high time to test Warsaw's answer to the Boris Bike.

This time last year:
Progress on the S2/S79 (12 months later, neither road is finished)

This time two years ago:
Literary flavours of the PRL - Janusz Głowacki's Z głowy

This time three years ago:
Television - the Drug of the Nation

This time four years ago:
Needs and wants and economics

This time five years ago:
On the Road from Łódź

This time six years ago:
Aerial views of the ground

Monday, 8 April 2013

Remembering Margaret Thatcher

The defining politician of my life in England (1957-97); a prime minister who believed what she was doing was right, and stuck to her guns. A conviction politician, not one (like so many after her in the UK, in Poland - in any political system) who bends with the wind.

Casting my mind back to that spring day in 1979 when she became Britain's first female prime minister, I remember thinking that the Tories will be in power for a long, long time. And indeed they were - under her leadership (three election victories) to 1990, and under John Major's (a further Tory election victory) through to May 1997.

Margaret Thatcher changed the way I - and millions of others - thought about the role of the State. Like a household, the government should be solvent, spending less money that it brings in. A state should do the minimum - protect the citizen against threats internal (crime, ill-health, ignorance) and external (foreign aggression), and leave the private sector to get on with as much of the rest as possible. A slim bureaucracy.

I've pondered long and hard over how conservatism differs between the UK and Poland (here and here) and have come up with the following explanation. There has to be something worth conserving. Britain's magnificent economic history - driven by private initiative and the steam engine, created wealth that was passed on from generation to generation. It was preserved in good measure by social trust (a gentleman's word being his bond - the essence of free trade), politeness and fair play. This is worth conserving. Anything worth conserving in the system concocted by Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin and imposed on Poland by Stalin's Red Army?

Rather than point readers to various obituaries, I'd prefer to let her own words speak for themselves. So please - take time to read her most famous quotes here on Wikiquotes.

Polish conservatives are all for conserving national traditions, the importance of religion, the role of the family - shared values with UK and indeed US conservatives - but many of their economic views would bring about an apoplectic rush in Mrs Thatcher. A Big State, handing out money skimmed from hard-working entrepreneurial individuals and redistributed to those less willing to take responsibility for their own economic well-being, had no place in her conservatism.

If I were to define Thatcherism it is the notion that the wealth of nations is built by millions of hard-working, thrifty and entrepreneurial individuals rather than by the State. Famously misquoted as saying 'there's no such thing as society', she was an individualist not a collectivist. The notion of Solidarity - people supporting one another - was only of interest to her in the context of a trade union movement poised to bring down communism. She would have no truck with tax-and-spend top-down redistributionism. The Good Samaritan could only do good work if he had his own money with which to do it.

Is there anyone of her stature here in Poland? The only person who I've met and who suffuses me with the same feeling that here is a conviction politician in Jarosław Gowin. A social conservative who's bent on taking on the Big State, the vested interests of rent-seeking professional corporations and bureaucrats.

It will be very interesting to see how Margaret Thatcher's passing will be reflected in the PiSite media - in particular with regard to her stance regarding the trade unions and her policy of privatisation.

This time three years ago:
Katyń as genocide

This time four years ago:
Blazing bus, Trasa Łazienkowska

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Sunshine and snow, April

At long last - some sunshine. It's been well over a week since Warsaw last enjoyed sunshine - and much longer than that since the temperature has been well into positive figures. And as soon as it happens - out come the crowds. And where more popular than Łazienki park. By early afternoon, the thermometer at Warsaw University's Physics Institute read +8C; nowhere near t-shirt weather, but for a city so starved for sunlight and warmth, a wonderful outcome.

Although there was an anomalous snowfall on the evening of 3 May 2011, (and one-off snowfalls on 13 April 1997 and 9 April 2001), I cannot recall persistent snow lying on the ground this long into April in past years.

Above: the recently restored Temple of Diana overlooking the Vistula escarpment. Below: the main avenue crossing the park, linking the entrances on ul. Gagarina on the south side to Agricola on the north side.

Below: Varsovians took the park in vast numbers, mostly dressed sensibly given the snow. Footwear, though, still needed to be stout and waterproof; although the main pathways were clear of snow, many of the lesser ones were a muddy, slushy morass and leather shoes were quickly soaked through.

Below: the controversial vista overlooking the Belvedere palace; the Pl. Unii Lubelskiej office and retail development now looks down over the president's residence, perched atop the Vistula escarpment. The new development stands a full half-kilometre behind the palace.

Below: the new orangery, now home to the Belvedere restaurant, one of Warsaw's poshest. A single peacock graced the façade where usually gaggles of the species strut around.

Left: the west side of southern façade of the Palace on the Water, with iced-over canal. Turning through 180 degrees, one would have observed crowds of sunbathers, still dressed in heavy winter coats, extending their faces into the warm afternoon sun.

Indeed, wherever there was a bench, people were taking the opportunity to catch some rays (below). With a bit of luck within a week it will be t-shirt weather, and once again, that miracle of returning life will make itself felt in Our City.

Time to appreciate a beautiful afternoon, made the more so by the long wait for spring sunshine this year.

This time last year:
Shopping habits in the wake of Lidl's opening

This time two years ago:
In vino veritas

This time three years ago:
Are we getting more intelligent?

This time four years ago:
Lenten recipe No. 6

This time five years ago:
Coal trains, Konstancin-Jeziorna

This time six years ago:
Jeziorki from the air

Friday, 5 April 2013

Dziadzio Bohdan's 90 today!

A great day, a day for celebration. My father, Bohdan Dembiński, reaches the grand old age of 90 today - which is amazing, given what he has lived through - German invasion of Poland, the four-year Nazi occupation of Warsaw, 63 days of the Warsaw Uprising, seven months in prisoner-of-war camp Stalag X-B. Time to thank the Lord for good luck and good genes. Time to be truly grateful.

My father has always been an active man, never one to lounge in front of the telly watching football, beer in hand. The garden calls, there's always work to be done. And a healthy diet... breakfast of porridge oats with ground walnuts and half a banana, and a glass or two or red wine of an evening. And loving companionship - my parents live for one another, as is visible from the photo below. Combined age - 175 years!

Sto lat, Dziadzio, and then some more! (I'm thinking Henry Allingham and Harry Patch). Given the fact that my father is as hale and hearty as he was five years ago, mentally on tip-top form and not using a walking stick, the prognosis is good! And let's also raise a glass to Britain's National Health Service - much to be thankful for here too.

Above: more than half a life time ago - my father, then aged 41, with my brother, one and half; August 1964, Isle of Wight. Below: my father, aged 41, with my brother, two and half, August 1965, Seaford, East Sussex.

While in London last month, my father showed me a hand-written copy of his baptismal certificate, originally dated 8 April 1923. There was some confusion as to whether he was born on 5 March (date on baptismal certificate) or 5 April; my paternal grandmother recalls the date of birth as 5 April - not something a mother would ever forget in a hurry.

There's another error on the copy of the certificate (made in 1957 in the parish of All Saints, ul. Grzybowska 3-5); it spells out in letters my grandparents' address at the time my father was born as 'ul. Łucka, number one thousand, one hundred and fifty five'. Now, ul. Łucka before the war, as it does today, runs from ul. Żelazna to ul. Towarowa, and the numbers on the odd side range from one to 25. The number '1155' is clearly '1/55', Łucka 1 flat 55 (Łucka 11 was the Ostrowski Brothers' factory making horse-drawn carriages before the war). Today, Łucka 1 is a brick-built post-war factory that replaced the tenement that stood there previously.

UPDATE AUGUST 2017: Thanks to reader Alojzy, the mystery of the address is settled. The number '1155' is the numer hipoteczny - mortgage number - of the property, which corresponds with Łucka 16.

My grandfather, Tomasz Dembiński, worked for PKO (which happens to be the institution I bank with), and in 1926, he was allocated a flat in a new building on ul. Filtrowa in Warsaw's Ochota district, where my aunt and her family live to this day.

It gives me great pride that  I live and work, that my children schooled, in the city where my father was born. I feel a sense of continuity regained after more than half a century's hiatus.

This time last year:
An independent Scotland - what if?

This time two years ago:
Królikarnia - Warsaw's 'rabbit house'

This time five years ago:
Happy 85th, Dziadzio Bohdan!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Trams in the snow

It was another snowy day in Warsaw, anomalous weather for early April. But unlike some other European capitals I could mention, no traffic chaos, no  stranded motorists, no broken-down public transport systems. In fact, at work no one even mentioned the snow, other than in reference to a wish for winter to end and for spring to burst forth. Out in the streets, it was business as usual. Below: snow clearing, corner of Al. Ujazdowskie and ul. Piękna.

Below: a northbound 16 makes its way up Al. Niepodległości. Now the 13N trams have disappeared from regular passenger-carrying services, the square-cut Konstal 105N trams are the oldest in the fleet, some dating back to the early 1980s. They have a high-floor design, making them inconvenient to get in and out of.

Below: two trams pass on ul. Marszałkowska between Pl. Unii Lubelskiej and Pl. Zbawiciela. On the left a south-bound 18, on the right a north-bound 35. This stretch of Marszałkowska is one-way for road traffic (two lanes heading north into the city centre) but trams run in both directions.

Below: looking west along Al. Jerozolimskie, traffic moving smoothly. On the left a Konstal 105N2, a modernised version of the 105N; still high-floored and slab-sided, but with updated electronics and new-style cab. Behind it a PESA Swing, the latest additions to Warsaw's tram fleet (from 2010). We should be getting many more during the course of this year, replacing some of the oldest 105Ns.

The PESA Swing is low-floor, articulated so one can walk through its entire length. Definitely the tram of the future, well-liked by passengers. Below: a Swing stands at Nowowiejska tram stop on Al. Niepodległości.

Left: a Most unusual sight! Captured from the 30th floor of the Rondo ONZ 1 building, through falling snow, a retired 13N tram coupled to a 1925-vintage Linke-Hofmann Lw, make their way northward up Al. Jana Pawła II. The sign on the front of the leading tram says 'Przejazd techniczny' - technical journey. (Can any reader come up with a better translation?)

Above and below: lack of snow on the roof of the Lw tram suggests it was garaged overnight. The trams are travelling over the diverted track that passes the underground construction work on the second Metro line.

This time last year:
Will the A2 motorway be finished for the football?

This time two years ago:
Old-school retail experience: PRL-flavoured carrot juice

This time three years ago:
Easter Sunday - Lent's over

This time four years ago:
Węzeł Lotnisko - site cleared - ready for construction work

This time five years ago:
Classic Polish automobile - the Polski Fiat 125P

This time six years ago:
Jeziorki in Google Earth

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

O, Karczunkowska, where is thy pavement?

At times like this (indeed at any time between late October and now), ul. Karczunkowska is no street for pedestrians. You are forced to choose between walking along the asphalt, or sinking ankle-deep in snow or (worse) slush or (even worse) mud. Being able to move freely about things are just about bearable - but for an elderly person or one pushing a pushchair or pram, walking along Karczunkowska is an extremely dangerous endeavour. The other evening, walking home from PKP W-wa Jeziorki station, an oncoming car forced me to leap clear into the muddy verge, dirtying my shoes and trousers. Why do citizens of the capital of the EU's sixth-largest member state have to endure such indignities and such danger?

If you want to see the whole experience of what it's like to walk along Karczunkowska from Puławska up to the borders of Warsaw, 2.2km away, I recommend watching Jeziorak's film - a raw and intense documentary that portrays the deeply unpleasant experience of being a pedestrian in winter on this road.

The film, with Polish commentary, portrays the lack of civilised conditions with which we locals have to contend on a daily basis. Below: the guy rushing for the bus, back to oncoming traffic, is taking a risk, but he has crossed the road legally at the pedestrian crossing.

This is an intolerable state of affairs that cannot be allowed to go on for much longer. The local authorities have postponed plans to widen the road (at huge cost), and are not prepared to make a more modest investment in order to improve pedestrians' safety.

This time last year:
Architectural detail from Edinburgh

This time two years ago:
Spring explodes in Jeziorki
(+18C! Today it's around zero and snowing!)

This time three years ago:
Along the way for Warsaw's southern bypass

This time four years ago:
Quintessential Warsaw vista

This time five years ago:
Jeziorki on Google Earth