Sunday, 28 July 2013

A car with character

I was delighted when the car hire firm Easirent offered me a Fiat 500 as a car in the cheapest economy price range. In the past, they'd rented me a Hyundai I10, a dull little vehicle with the charisma of a squashed cornflake box. Despite the manager's attempt to upgrade me to a Hyundai I20 as a token of appreciation for being a multiple return customer, I stuck to my guns and held on to the Fiat.

What a lovely car - once behind the wheel, I felt an immediate affection for the cheeky little vehicle, a feeling I'd never experienced before sitting in the driving seat of a hire car. For taking two people plus their baggage and the occasional third passenger, the Fiat 500 is ideal. It comes into its own on narrow streets, supermarket car parks and winding Welsh roads.

Below: here we are in Derbyshire, outside my brother's house. Plenty of room to squeeze in and out!

Below: 134 miles further south, outside my parents' house in West Ealing, London. Motorway driving in the Fiat 500 entirely comfortable.

Below: on a moonlit night, outside Hut 6, Penrhos, North Wales. The ideal holiday hire car if there's not more than two of you. Fuel consumption - average 50 miles to the gallon (5.6l/100km). This is the 1.2 litre engined version. The 900cc Twin Air is more frugal, though I suspect it may be not as comfortable on motorways.

The Fiat 500 has stop-start ignition - disconcerting at first as the engine just dies at traffic lights. As soon as you floor the clutch, it returns immediately to life, having just saved you fuel that would have burnt needlessly while idling. Another feature that came in handy was the air-con (once I figured out how to point the nozzles so my knuckles wouldn't freeze to the steering wheel). The panoramic roof was a bonus while driving through Snowdonia.

I love the dashboard. The rev-counter needle is coaxial to the speedo needle; with an engine this quiet, you can end up driving at motorway speeds without noticing that you're in third. Keep an eye on the rev-counter to ensure that it's somewhere clockwise of the speedo needle.

And another good thing about the Fiat 500 - it's made in Poland (Tychy, actually). Fitting then, that after the long drive to my parents' house in London from Duffield, I refreshed myself with a Tyskie beer - also from Tychy.

[UPDATE] Spotted today - there's zero road tax to pay on the Fiat 500 in the UK because the CO2 emissions don't exceed 100g/km.

This time last year:
Llanbedrog Beach and a farewell to North Wales

This time two years ago:
To the Polish seaside, by night train

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

This time four years ago:
An introduction to fine British cheefef

This time six years ago:
Over the Peaks by bus

Friday, 26 July 2013

Scaling the highest peak in Wales

Yr Wyddfa (or if you insist on being an English-language imperialist, Snowdon) is the highest peak in Wales, 1,085m above sea level. It's also the highest peak in the UK minus Scotland, so if the Scots vote for independence next year, Ben Nevis (1,344m) will no longer claim that distinction.

Said to be Britain's busiest mountain, it does get crowded as you reach the summit, but that's helped by the fact that a train can take the laziest of people to the very top. Having been up Giewont, I can say it's a long way from that level of crowdedness.

Eddie and I left the car at Rhyd Ddu station car park [pron. 'Ryd Thee'] and walked up the Rhyd Ddu path to the summit, and walked down the less-challenging Snowdon Ranger path. We were hoping to catch the Welsh Highland Railway back to Rhyd Ddu, but the 16:40 service doesn't run on a Friday, so we walked back from Snowdon Ranger.

It took us two and half hours to get to the top from the car park. Much of the walk was straight forward, but here and there we needed the aid of our hands to scramble up some of the steeper parts of the track. From the bottom we could not see the summit, as it was wreathed by clouds. As we ascended, the clouds blew past, yielding a view of the top (below).

Below: along the way, we see some mountain goats. The one on the left is gazing at the shadow of his head on a rock. In the distance, the Llanberis path, longest but easiest way up (I cycled up that way in 1991).

It's quite an unusual experience to behold a large aircraft flying below you while you're standing on terra firma. We spot an RAF Hercules C-130K Hercules weaving between the mountain tops.

Below: looking up at the summit, it appears to be teeming with humans. Just below the summit, the restaurant and mountain railway centre, opened in 2006.

Below: the view from the very top. Very busy. Everyone's taking selfies with their iPhones and uploading to Instagram. Signum temporis!

Below: the Snowdon Mountain Railway, steam hauled for this trip. Loco No. 2, Enid, pushes the single carriage up the rack-and-pinion tracks. It is wonderful that this little railway is still in regular use after 117 years.

Below: looking down the track toward Llanberis and the island of Anglesey beyond. We didn't have perfect meteorological conditions; they were good enough to see much of North Wales, but there was no sign of Ireland, the Isle of Man or indeed Scotland. It is said that on a clear day the line of sight from the top of Yr Wyddfa extends 140 miles (215 km).

The views from the climb captivate. We had the optimal day for climbing; dry, not too hot, with a light wind to wick away the sweat. This is my third ascent of the peak, the first for over twenty years. Eddie was a star, utterly tireless.

This time last year:
Beaches of the north coast of the Llyn Peninsula

This time two years ago:
The Accursed Soldiers - a short story

This time three years ago:
Driving impressions of the Toyota Yaris
[Three years on - still no imperfections to report whatsoever]

This time five years ago:
Poland's dry summer

This time six years ago:
The UK's wettest summer ever

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Porth Ceiriad - another super-fine Llyn beach

Just when we thought we'd found the perfect beach - we find another. Porth Ceiriad, south of Abersoch on the south-east coast of the Llyn Peninsula came up trumps, aided by the weather. Just as the BBC had forecast, the rain-lashed morning gave way to a glorious afternoon of beautiful sunshine. And with the wind coming in off St George's Channel, not unbearable hot either.

So then - gaze upon this beach all ye who fry on the Med, penned in like cattle amid the jostling humanity - this is the beach-goer's ideal.

Below: rock formations jutting out into the sea, accessible at low tide, with many caves and rock-pools to explore.

Below: one slight minus - thousands of jellyfish washed up on the shore at the northern end of the beach, which is pebbly and lacking the fine sands found on Porthoer or Towyn...

Below: smooth igneous rock outcrops, polished by millennia of tides. Hardly anyone about at this, the southern end of the beach (literally five people).

Below: the southern end of the beach has sand rather than pebbles. Lovely to run on barefoot. The tide was just beginning to turn. Time to return to the main beach...

Below: it's five o'clock, we've been on the beach for over five hours, time to bid farewell to Porth Ceriad and to set off in search of fish and chips. With mushy peas. And pickled onions. And tins of cold Vimto.

Farewell indeed to the Welsh seaside, for tomorrow my brother and his family return to Derbyshire, while Eddie and I will tackle Wales' highest peak, Yr Wyddfa. Or Snowdon to language-imperialists.

This time last year:
We do like to be beside the seaside (yes, 365 days ago on the Llyn's beaches!)

My review of Ryszard Kapuściński's Heban

This time two years ago:
Jeziorki sunset, late July

This time five years ago:
Jeziorki sunset, after the storm

This time six years ago:
Rural suburbias - the ideal place to live?

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A new beach discovered

In the 16 times I've holidayed in the Llyn Peninsula (over the past 22 summers), and yet I've never visited Towyn Beach, an absolutely delightful sandy bay, secluded and sheltered from wind and high seas. My brother and his wife Jane discovered Towyn on an earlier trip here, and today, with the wind in the south-west, we decided to spend several hours on this beautiful beach - the epitome of what a British beach should be.

Located on the north coast of the Llyn Peninsula, Towyn is neither signposted nor promoted; access is via a kilometre-long sheep track (below) that winds down from the headland. No asphalt, no easy way down.

Below: as one turns the corner, the path opens up a new vista on a calm bay, absolutely perfect for sunbathing, paddling, making sandcastles or (if you can brave the cold), swimming. Incidentally, don't tell me the Baltic's cold if you've not swum off the coast of Wales.

Below: and here we are - a hidden gem of a beach. The kind John Betjeman recalled from his childhood holidays in Cornwall. Smaller though (even) less populous than Porthoer that we visited three days ago, Towyn offers similar pleasures. The sand is smooth and clean, inviting me to run across it at full speed in the joy of being alive.

Left: view from the opposite hillside. We parked our things nearer to this end of the beach. Shortly after we arrived and changed into our swimwear, the heavens opened, and a short shower lashed down soaking everything. Less hardy souls rushed for the (distant) car park.

We braved it out, shivering under sodden beach-towels; our fortitude was rewarded when the rain cloud passed yielding to lovely sunshine which lasted the whole of the afternoon.

Below: sadly, it's time to leave - Eddie and Cousin Hoavis wait for the stragglers as we head back to the cars, with tanned skins, hair full of sand, damp clothes and spirits full of the joy at having spent a long afternoon on the Great British Coast at its very finest.

This time three years ago:
On being motivated

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Up an old familiar mountain

"Why not", asked my brother after tea, "why not climb Carn Fadryn and watch the sun setting from it summit?" A capital idea. Carn Fadryn, the highest peak on the western end of the Llyn Peninsula is not a particularly challenging climb, but the view from the top on a clear, sunny day is certainly Most rewarding.

Over the years, I've climbed Carn Fadryn in many different weather conditions including dense fog, howling winds and heavy rain, so an evening ascent in beautiful sunlight and 20C warmth was entirely blissful.

Below: there's a car park by the chapel on the west side of Carn Fadryn; up a short footpath to a wooden gate, and the walk begins in earnest. It's not a direct assault upon the summit, rather a roundabout path that starts off gentle and gets steeper and stonier as you near the peaks.

It's hard not to get distracted by the view as you ascend. Below: the village of Garnfadryn from the southern slopes of Carn Fadryn. Long evening shadows play across parched fields.

Near the top, the views are stunning. Below: looking eastward, along the backbone of the Llyn Peninsula, towards its highest peak, Yr Eifl.

Below: from the summit, looking north-west towards the Irish Sea. Being up here at this time of day is a rewarding, mystical experience.

Below: the last time I was up here was in the summer of 2007. Since then, the triangulation point has been re-painted. We found a geocache box up here, to which we added some Polish coinage and some signatures to the notebook.

A splendid escapade, a wonderful walk, a great experience. So good to be up here again.

This time last year:
More from Penrhos

Monday, 22 July 2013

Mediterranean climes in North Wales

Portmeirion is the kind of place that deserves to be visited again and again. Never mind its starring role in Patrick McGoohan's cult TV series The Prisoner - this amazing creation is a marvel, testament to the vision and tenacity of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. The architect worked for over half a century to build an Italianate village on the North Wales coast.

Today, we can see Chinese copies of Venice, London and other European capitals - but what makes Portmeirion unique is that it was conceived soon after the First World War. I've visited the village eight or nine times, each visit is a great experience, each one offers new glimpses and vistas.

Like last year, I was here with Eddie and Cousin Hoavis; we spent a long day at Portmeirion. Below: Eddie strides towards the Council Building.

Below: the post Portmeirion Hotel, which consists of the buildings in this picture, as well as many dotted around the village itself.

Below: yet another folly - non-functioning lighthouse overlooking the estuary

Below: the smaller of two fountains that grace the village. Note the light-blue on white colour scheme.

Below: a cannon guards the approaches from the sea.

Below: general view of Portmeirion from the Gazebo feature up on an opposite hillside

This time last year:
Beach day, Llyn Peninsula

This time two years ago:
Down with cars in city centres!

This time three years ago:
8am and 26C already

Sunday, 21 July 2013

North Wales in the sun

Back to Penrhos with Eddie, in the midst of a heatwave - a rarity for drizzle-drenched Britain. For once no floods, no storm-lashed coasts. Eddie and I gazed out on the familiar barracks under an unfamiliar azure sky, as crystalline and pure as those that grace Warsaw for much of the summer.

We arrived yesterday - exactly one year after our previous arrival (click on the This time last year section for more about the magic of Penrhos). Today we met up with my brother and his family staying in Morfa Nefyn, just across the Llyn Pensinsula. Making the most of the sunshine, we spent most of the day on the beach at Porthoer (Whistling Sands in English).

Below - that wonderful moment, that first glimpse of the sea from the path leading down to the beach from the National Trust car park (four quid for the day). Our hire car for the holiday a marvellously wonderful little Fiat 500; an absolute delight to drive.

Below: sun, sea and sand, hardly anyone about, and a very pleasant 25C. An idyll.

Below: some thin cloud blew over the sky, but was burnt back soon enough. Surprisingly, after two weeks of hot summer sun, the water in the bay was still too cold for comfortable bathing. Much colder than the Baltic at this time of year! Can anyone identify this cloud formation (looking like mashed potatoes)?

Below: early afternoon, and the beach is quite busy. Incidentally, observing the sunbathers, I notice that these days it's very easy to affect being middle class in Britain - simply don't get a tattoo.

Fingers crossed for more weather like this - infinitely nicer than roasting on the Med. Then back to my brother's for a slap-up dinner after which we watched the finale of the Tour de France; a second British rider wins for a second year in a row. Great news for cycling in Britain - bike sales will pick up, more people will cycle to work, more cycle paths, better for health... a virtuous circle.

This time last year:
Back at Penrhos

This time three years ago:
A farewell to Dobra

Monday, 15 July 2013

From shouted slogans to practical policies

Remi Adekoya's blog post from last Tuesday about the rise of nationalism in Poland as a response to the economic slowdown offers a sobering reflection to those PO supporters who complacently believe that there's no electoral alternative to the current government.

I can feel a rise in disgruntlement from the nationalist right, and a fainter echo of it from the far left. One way or another, young people are feeling the pinch as employers are slowing down recruitment. Resentment of worsening social and economic conditions leads to extremist politics. However, I feel that other than isolated incidents of politically-incited or racist violence, Poland will not see any Iron Cross, Gold Dawn, National Front or Nationalist Party springing up. The haters are simply too thick to organise and continue to form splinter groups and sub-splinter groups based around some would-be fuhrer or other.

More importantly PiS is far too adept at seeing off competition from its right - look at what happened to LPR, look at the political wilderness that Marek Jurek and Artur Zawisza and other PiS splitters are in.

Similarly, there's no danger from the left. SLD (Stalin-Lenin-Dno) under multiple-turncoat and arch hypocrite Leszek Miller lacks leadership or direction, while Palikot's Movement lacks substance and regular motions. [While he was leader of the opposition, Miller called on Premier Buzek to resign once the latter's popularity ratings fell to 43%. But when he became premier himself, and his own popularity rating fell to a mere 8% popularity, Miller clung on to power and finally had to be tossed aside by President Kwaśniewski. Then Miller, educated at the Moscow University of Marxism-Leninism, left SLD and joined that band of crooks and sexists Samoobrona, only to return to SLD after Samoobrona collapsed.]

So - PO's competition comes from PiS, which has been leading in the polls by 4-6 percentage points for a few months now. But PiS has no one to form a coalition with except PSL, who'll happily jump into bed with anyone if it means clinging on their jobs for their boys.

Stalemate looms on the political scene. A referendum to oust Warsaw's mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz is a side-show (the real election's in a year's time so why not wait). Next year's local government elections will coincide with the European Parliamentary elections, the latter being a good excuse for a protest vote and to get some weirdos into Brussels/Strasbourg. 2015 will be the big year, with Polish presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled.

In the meanwhile, various grunty noises will be heard from left and right of the ruling coalition. Noises of xenophobia, noises of populism, of  noises of intolerance - ugly noises that have little leverage on the machinery of state.

Slogans calling for Polish media or banks or swimming-pools to be placed into the hands of Poles are as absurd as ones calling for equality of pay and full employment. What legislation - what supporting regulations (all needing to be compliant with EU Directives - unless you wish to withdraw from the EU) has to be in place to make such slogans a reality?

Let's say you are really extremist and wish to bring down the Polish State. With what do you plan to replace it? Locally-convened workers' and peasants' councils? Syndicalist cooperatives? What would you do to those who don't support your unplanned plans? And who'd ensure that in the midst of all this chaos, water-treatment plants continue working, petrol stations remain ready to tank up your car and the cash-machines of the newly-nationalised banks keep divvying up banknotes?

The complexity of the modern nation state is so great that it acts as an effective barrier to lunacy and extremism. Seizure of a properly functioning state by an individual or a gang is extraordinarily difficult. Weak states, however, can be seized and held by those determined to do so - for ideological or venal reasons.

But returning to the Polish State - its dense network of naczelnicy, dyrektorzy, podsekretarze and sekretarze stanu form a buffer preventing political parties' wilder promises from ever becoming a reality. The sad truth is, of course, that they also prevent wise, well-considered policy from ever becoming a reality too.

And here's the real challenge for PO. If Tusk's party is to win an unprecedented third term of office in 2015, it must be forced - by its supporters and by that part of the electorate who considers the alternatives to be unthinkable - to get its act together and to start reforming.

If little progress is seen by 2015, voter apathy might let PiS regain power... Based on past experience, that's not a pleasant prospect, citizens!

Today, Donald Tusk's greatest danger is complacency, and, as I wrote yesterday, there's no good Polish word for 'complacency'. Nor is there one for 'sustainable' (no, it's not zrównoważony), but that's for another post.

Finally, let me direct you to an upbeat piece about the Polish economy from the Financial Times.

This time last year:
Who should pay for railways?
[A good question to pose would-be politicians]

This time three years ago:
Grunwald - the big picture

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

This time six years ago:
The summer sublime

Sunday, 14 July 2013

On guard against complacency

"Because it turned out for me before, it will turn out for me again". We are by our nature condemned to a life-long struggle against laziness. Generally, those nearer the top of the human hierarchy are generally less lazy than those near the bottom of the heap. 'Generally', because intelligence, drive and luck have a huge part to play too in how successful we become.

Complacency is an interesting sub-set of laziness and deserves deeper consideration. The word 'complacency' does not translate well into Polish. 'Zadowolenie z siebie, samozadowolenie,' means rather 'being pleased with oneself, rather than that state of lazy, couldn't-be-botheredness. [As Wiktionary says, the word 'complacency' suggests a lack of awareness of upcoming trouble, which the Polish word samozadowolenie fails to convey. Stanisławski goes as far as including 'w spokoju ducha and błogo in his list of Polish terms for complacent/ly. The first means 'in a peaceful spirit', the second, 'blissful' - which both entirely fail to convey the correct meaning.]

We do something once. We put in a lot of effort, we take care to ensure that all aspects are covered. It's a success! We do it again; this time, because we've prior experience of having done it right the first time, we put in slightly less effort, guessing that maybe this bit of effort is unnecessary or that bit of effort takes too much time. We get away with it. We do it a third time; this time, we're overly nonchalant; because it's worked twice for us, we discount the risk of failure. Blithely, in a cavalier fashion, we cut more corners than is prudent; the unthinkable happens. Not that it wasn't unthinkable; we just didn't think it through. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Jakoś mi się to uda is no way to approach significant events.

Actions repeated, if accomplished with thought, can end up being done with less effort and with greater effect. The more frequently a business person flies, the more likely they are to miss their flight. 'Udało mi się ostatni raz, tym razem też mi się uda...' Gate closed.

The most organised people I know run their entire lives, work and home, via a series of check-lists. Me, I do this in the office (though only when the work's piling up) and I'll write a short check-list of things to take when going away. I'll also prepare a shopping list when setting off for the weekly shop. But I don't prepare check-lists as often as I should do.

A procedural approach to the important events is important... but when does one find one's overstepped the balance and becomes overly concerned and stressed that things are not falling into place as planned? Intensive or extensive? Jack of all trades or master of one? I've always counted myself as the former, though with age, I'm gaining more proficiency across a wider spectrum of skills and areas of interest. If there's a danger in this, it is that I lose focus on what's Most important.

In a world where more and more distractions appear, tempting us from our course (so often at work I'll start off googling this or checking that fact on Wikipedia and before long find myself on the BBC website checking the latest news, then reading the magazine articles), we need to concentrate more on staying focused and on singling out that which is significant, applying ALL our attention to it, and ignoring the distractions.

When I was a child, my father would often tell me off for trzymanie wielu srok za ogon ('holding too many magpies by the tail'); a lesson I'd do well to learn. FOCUS, Mr Dembinski... Focus, and keep it FRESH.

There are things we can check, plan for, anticipate form contingencies. Other things come from out of the blue; they can work for us or against us.

And that, dear Reader, is the role of luck. If you are experiencing a run of good luck, be aware of it, be thankful for it, be appreciative of it - and don't count on good luck to cover up your complacency.

This time last year:
Ready but not open - footbridge over Puławska

This time two years ago:
Dusk along the Vistula

This time three years ago:
Mediterranean Kraków

This time four years ago:
Around Wisełka, Most Łazienkowski, Wilanowska by night

This time five years ago:
Summer storms

This time six years ago:
Golden time of day

Saturday, 13 July 2013

S2 update

Work on building the S2 Southern Warsaw Bypass (Południowa Obwodnica Warszawyofficially started on 16 September 2009, while preparatory ground-clearing work began early in 2009. The original aim was to have the S2 connecting the A2 motorway (from Berlin) connected up to ul. Puławska by June 2012, in time for the UEFA 2012 football championships. This slipped to August 2012, then to the end of March 2013...

Now a faint memory, the football's come and gone, while the S2 is still a building site, 13 months on. The currently quoted official date for connecting motorway to Puławska is 'this autumn', which means any time up to 20 December. So a mere 18 months of lateness.

In the meanwhile, I had the chance last week to gaze on the Cosmopolitan building (ul. Twarda 2/4) from the 28th floor (of 32) of the Warsaw Financial Center on ul. Emilii Plater, and admire the speed with which this 160m-high tower is nearing completion.

Yesterday evening, the south-bound lanes of Puławska were being closed. The road is being narrowed. This morning two of the three were re-opened, running to the east of the central pillars of the S2's viaduct flying over Puławska. The north-bound carriageway has also been narrowed from three lanes to two. I predict total traffic chaos on Monday morning's rush hour (and evening too). While traffic is noticeably lighter because of the holidays, it's nothing like the two-thirds reduction needed to make this function normally.

The narrowing of Puławska from six lanes to four over the duration of the roadworks has been a nagging nightmare for people living south of here from the past few years. Praise to the builders for having been able to keep all six lanes open for so long. But the work of connecting the S2 to Puławska via four slip-roads means that road-users (and that includes bus passengers and even cyclists) will now face major inconvenience and delay.

How long will this go on for? Can the builders working for Austrian contractor Porr (which took over Teerag-Asdag - the Austrian firm that initially won the contract to build the S2) finish this junction and restore six-lane working by 1 September? And what are the chances of the whole project (including the S79 from Węzeł Lotnisko up to Sasanki) being ready this year?

In the meanwhile, yesterday's Gazeta Stołeczna disclosed that the section of the S2 from the A2 junction at Konotopa and Al. Krakowska is very nearly ready. Not this weekend - maybe next... If so, this will make the road journey from Jeziorki to Łódź much, much more convenient for us. Cutting across along ul. Baletowa via Dawidy and Raszyn to Krakowska, northbound towards town for a short while, then wszmyk! and we're on the S2.

This should be doable by the time Moni returns to Łódź for the autumn term and the start of her third year at film school.

This time last year:
Progress on S2 bypass - photos from the air

This time three years ago:
Up Śnieżnica

This time six years ago:
July continues glum (2007 - a rainy summer)

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Cruisers, low-riders and choppers

The bicycle has become the most fashionable way of getting around town. With summer here, there's little excuse not to get on two wheels and take in Warsaw. The Veturilo urban bike hire scheme has proved wildly popular - there's a marked increase in bicycle sales (new and used), and being on two human-powered wheels is increasing seen as healthy, ecological and trendy.

Mainstream hipsterism has settled on the fixie as mount of choice; minimalism, lightness of weight, commitment - swiftness, instinct and fluidity at the expense of comfort. Fixed gear, single speed, one (or in extreme cases no) brake, a light frame designed for the track. I've written about these over the past four years.

Today, we witness a new cycle culture taking root in Warsaw - that of the beach cruiser. This is the antithesis of the fixie. Based on 1930s,'40s and '50s American designs, beach cruisers are slow, heavy, laid-back, comfortable rides, with big fat tyres (up to 3 inches/75mm separating rim from road), sprung mattress saddles. The aesthetic comes from motorcycles of the era; these bikes being more for show than for go.

Earlier this season I noticed a new bike shop (PlumBike, ul. Puławska 67/69), which sells nothing but retro-style beach cruisers, painted your way. A quick Google of Warsaw bike shops suggests there are other shops that sell this (and other non-mainstream) category of bicycle.

Below: here are some beach cruisers out in force in Park Skaryszewski. Unlike snooty Łazienki, there's no bike ban here, just proof that cyclists and pedestrians can mingle happily (as long as the former take it easy and don't treat the latter as moving slalom poles).

Although the ladies tended to be more conventionally mounted (on equally hip Amsterdamki - lady-framed roadsters from Holland), the chaps are riding some gorgeous machinery.

Below: Yes - that white one. Hard to ignore! It's so Gothic, it looks like Toruń Cathedral on wheels. Super-long wheelbase necessitated by the low-set back saddle position, long, swept-back handlbars whitewall tyres on huge rims - a work of art (but don't try getting more than 20km/h out of it). Click to enlarge - it's worth admiring all the details.

The cruisers take to the wide paths of Skaryszak, mixing it slow'n'easy with pedestrians. These are members of Warsaw Bratz, a group of cyclists who revel in all manifestations of cruiser style.

As the cruisers headed off in the direction of the National Stadium, I wondered whether my five bicycles are indeed enough, and whether something beach-cruisery wouldn't make for fine summer time leisurely riding... (Some interesting designs here!)

After a few minutes thought, I dispel the notion. To use a bike like this the way it was intended, one needs to live in the city centre, not on the fringes. Pumping swiftly up and down Puławska all the way from Jeziorki and back, I need a bike that's fast and focused. Cruisers look gorgeous, but they need dedicated cycle tracks and a leisure destination at the end of the ride.

Update, Sunday 7 July: Here's another one! This beautiful example of a stretch cruiser was snapped on Most Siekierkowski bridge. Note how far back the rider sits - the lower riding position means lower air resistance. At 30kmh, 80% of a rider's effort goes into overcoming air resistance on an upright bike.

A wide, well-paved boulevard, connected to cycle paths at the Stegny and Gocław ends; on a sunny Sunday evening, a cyclists' mecca. Show and go!

This time three years ago:
Gone is the threat of Państwo Smoleńskie

This time five years ago:
Bike ride to Święty Krzyż

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Along mirror'd canyons

Rondo ONZ, named after the institution that first set global standards for the roundabout or rondo in 1946, is one of those places where Warsaw looks convincingly modern. Always a pleasure to be invited to a meeting at Rondo 1, my favourite skyscraper in Our City, even if only to a floor half-way up.The views, on a day like today, always reward. And from ground level too! Below: More high-rises are on their way, one replacing the 1990s Mercure hotel (centre background) and another soon to replace the Ilbau building rising above the left-hand side of the photo. The building where the cranes are will not, however, grow much taller.

The building stands atop the new station, Rondo ONZ, on the second line of the Warsaw Metro, now due to open sometime before hell freezes over.

Meanwhile, I'm forgetting what ul. Świętokrzyska was like when filled with pedestrians, buses and cars. I feel sympathy for the shopkeepers and restaurateurs struggling to keep their businesses open despite dramatically reduced footfall.

Below: the view from the 12th floor, looking eastward along ul. Świętokrzyska. Click to enlarge. No tweaking  in Photoshop, just the use of a polarising filter on 10-24mm zoom lens.

Below: shot from the back of a tram heading south down Al. Niepodległości, towers from left to right: Złota 44; Oxford Tower (Elektrim II); LIM tower (Marriott) and the Palace of Culture. A strange perspective, given how close Złota 44 is from the Palace of Culture.

This time two years ago:
Mad about Marmite

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

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

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

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

In the highways and the hedges

Today - an optimal day for cycling. I managed 50.65km today between meetings, lunch and home. And on the way, took time to stop off and photograph the beauty of the wildflowers that grow alongside Warsaw's minor roads and byways.

Below: poppies (mak) along the edge of a wheatfield, ul. Poloneza, this morning. Pause, dismount, snap, mount, continue.

Below: thistles (osty) on ul. Sztajerki this morning. Look upon these photos, ye motorised commuters, feel the texture of reality! Realise what you're missing out on in life!

Below: wild chicory in flower (cykoria podróżnik) along the side of ul. Hołubcowa this morning. A beautiful day, almost cloudless. Thanks to AdtheLad for correct identification!

Below: Corncockle (kąkol - sounds similar enough to 'cockle' to make me suspect it's a loanword - but in which direction?). Photographed this afternoon on Kępa Oborska. To the left, Wał Zawadowski, the flood defence wall on the Vistula's left bank. Thank you to Ania for identifying these flowers.

Below: daisies (stokrotki) this afternoon in Okrzeszyn, between the Vistula and Powsin. This is the ox-eye daisy, which is tall, not to be confused with the lawn daisy, which is short.

Tomorrow's looking like a fine day too. More cycle commuting is required; 'while the sun shines, you'd better make hay'. Summer's finery must be savoured in full.

Update, 8 July: not just out in the sticks, but in town too. Above: the corner of ul. Puławska and Domaniewska. The beautiful summer weather abides with us. To the right, a cycle path starts here, going into town, though stopping short at the junction of ul. Dolna. Can anyone identify the yellow daisy-like flowers (they're about 50cm tall...)

This time last year:
How Warsaw's public transport authority communicates with passengers

This time two years ago:
Farewell to separate alcohol tills at Polish supermarkets

This time three years ago:
Twin turboprop cargo planes at Okęcie

This time four years ago:
To the countryside, Czachówek

This time six years ago:
Why I feel freer in Poland than in the UK

This time six years ago:
Stormy summer night