Saturday, 31 August 2013

Poland post the Rubbish Revolution

The implementation of Poland's new law on municipal waste has gone far more smoothly than any commentator (including myself) could have hoped for. Well, at least in this corner of Warsaw. It's been a month and half now, and - other than the price hike - I cannot grumble.

As it turns out, the same company that used to collect our rubbish (Eko Standard) is continuing to do so after winning the tender to service Jeziorki and western Ursynów. At the same time, Ekon*, a association that provides work for disabled and disadvantaged people, is backing up Eko Standard by collecting clean recyclables. And across in Ursynów on ul. Cynamonowa, the recycling point (Wtórmax) still pays cash for paper, cardboard, steel tins, aluminium cans - and now - PET bottles.

So waste collection now looks like this. Non-compostable dirty waste gets collected every Wednesday by Eko Standard (acting now on behalf of the district of Ursynów); clean glass (green bag), and other low-grade recyclables (red bag) are collected by Ekon on Mondays, and every few weeks or so I drive to Cynamonowa to sell the higher-value recyclables. Today, I got 17.70zł for a small car-load of paper, cardboard and metal.

I asked the people at Wtórmax whether the introduction of the new system of collecting municipal waste has impacted on the fragile dynamic of the recycling market. "Not in the least", was the surprising reply. Pan Heniek and Pan Ziutek still come over with hand-carts full of rusting iron-work of dubious provenance or sacks of crushed beer cans, while to my great surprise Wtórmax has started paying 15 grosze per kilo of PET bottles (the kind used for mineral water and soft drinks). Why surprise? I'd heard from a reputable source in the waste industry than across Germany Remondis is sitting on warehouses stacked up to the roof with PET bottles. So if there's an oversupply of this material, why have Polish recyclers started offering money for it?

For the record: today's prices at Wtórmax: PET bottles: 15gr/kg; Cardboard: 15gr/kg; newspapers and magazines: 20gr/kg; steel tins: 65gr/kg; aluminium cans: 3zł/kg.

Back to the government's Rubbish Revolution - I'm now paying 60zł a month to have our rubbish collected; in the old days, I was paying 38zł a month. Take away the revenue from selling the high-value recyclables (say 8zł/month) and the result is 52zł up from 30zł, which is an increase of 73%. The reason is that it's now statutorily collected weekly rather than fortnightly - whether we need it or not.

Extrapolated across the entire Polish economy, the July hike in municipal waste collection prices has fed into our inflation figures. If June's inflation rate was 0.2%, July's has leapt to 1.1%. And most of that rise in inflation, according to Poland's central statistical office GUS, was due to the implementation of the new rubbish law.

If the new law results in there being less rubbish dumped in Poland's forests, byways and hedges - it will be a price worth paying. If the brudas community still believes that it is socially acceptable to dump bags of household waste along ul. Dumki, then stronger measures will be needed. I'm all in favour of installing stocks in front of Ursynów's town hall and pelting miscreants who dispose of their rubbish in antisocial ways with rotten eggs and tomatoes. Like whoever left a fridge on ul. Kórnicka, or half a ton of building waste on ul. Holubcowa. And let me, who is without environmental sin, cast the first tomato.

The purpose of the new law was to tidy up Poland's towns and cities by placing responsibility on the municipal authorities to ensure household waste is properly disposed of. Prior to 19 July 2013, responsibility fell on the individual householder. The down-side of the old system was that half-a-dozen or so different waste-collection companies could serve a single street.

*It was a school visit that Moni made to Ekon many years ago when she was in gimnazjum that persuaded her to persuade me to start segregating rubbish with an eye to recycling as much of it as possible. Ekon does sterling work for society and for the environment. Had it not been for Ekon's involvement in waste collection in Ursynów, householders would be paying 89zł a month (as originally planned) rather than the actual 60zł.

This time last year:
Poland's most beautiful street

This time two years ago:
Getting to grips with phrasal verbs

This time four years ago:
What Putin wrote about Molotov-Ribbentrop

This time five years ago:
Summer Sunday in the city

This time six years ago:
Last bike-ride to work of the summer

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Poloneza - asphalt at last!

A lovely surprise when I cycled to work on Monday morning - lo and behold the promises made by Ursynów mayor Piotr Guział have been fulfilled, and ahead of time. At last there is asphalt on the 240-metre long stretch of road between the new viaduct carrying ul. Poloneza over the S2 Southern Warsaw By-pass and ul. Ludwinowska. At last it will be possible to drive or cycle over this bit in all weathers without fear of being bogged down axle-deep in mud.

Below: looking north from Ludwinowska, Monday morning. Click to enlarge; you will see many vehicles using this road. Some are using Poloneza as an alternative route to jammed-up ul. Puławska, but I guess the majority of the drivers work around ul. Poleczki, the new Business Park, or Platan Park, or the DHL depot, or the new office developments of Służewiec.

Below: looking south from the viaduct towards Ludwinowska in the distance. Four lanes go down into one-and-half; the newly asphalted section is not very wide. Still, traffic tends to flow north in the morning rush hour, south in the evening, so no great problem. Speed bumps here will be useful in slowing down the sad maniac element.

But there's more. Mr Guział has promised to asphalt the 1km-stretch of ul. Poloneza north of ul. Krasnowolska, passing the Grabów cemetery and linking up with the civilised stretch at the north end of Poloneza by Platan Park. This will happen next year, presumably before the local government elections.

Before Mr Guział gets to smug, let me remind him about the 1km stretch of ul. Hołubcowa between ul. Poloneza and Sztajerki (below). This bit, next to W-wa Dawidy railway station, is an utter disgrace. Behold. Puddles spanning the width of the road, rubbish and building waste unceremoniously dumped, a stretch of public road, well within Warsaw's (and Ursynów's) boundaries, that is totally impassable to all but pedestrians in wellington boots or heavy-duty off-road vehicles. This, Mr Guział, is a bloody disgrace and deserves attention before you stand for re-election. Before long, the viaduct carrying Hołubcowa over the S2 will be ready, but as with the Poloneza viaduct until now, it will be connected to the outside world by muddy dirt-tracks.

More good news for cyclists, in another part of town: one of the three north-bound lanes of ul. Spacerowa, between Gagarina and Goworka has been turned into a cycle path (below). This is a steep and laborious stretch up the Vistula escarpment which is a part of my regular journey from the TokFM studios to my office. Not having to jostle with cars makes the half-kilometre climb safer and more pleasant.

This time last year:
A welcome splash of colour to a drab car park

This time two years ago:
To Hel and back in 36 hours

This time four years ago:
Honing the Art of the Written Word

This time five years ago:
Of castles, dams and brass bands

Monday, 26 August 2013

More photos from Radom Air Show 2013

Royal Netherlands Air Force AH-64 Apache and F-16: Most unusual to see a fast jet so close to a helicopter in flight.

Familiar planform of MiG-21; I made a model of this plane over 40 years ago; this Romanian example is expected to remain in service until 2017. First flight? 1955 (this version, based on the -PF, in 1961).

Tiger on the tail: artistic embellishment on a Czech Air Force JAS-39 Gripen
The Baltic Bees - Latvia's aerobatic team, flying Czech-built Aero L-39 Albatros trainers

French Air Force Eurocopter EC-725 Caracal, a contender for Poland's medium-lift helicopter. Last week's fatal crash involving a Eurocopter EC-225 in the North Sea (the fifth such accident in five years involving a Eurocopter product) surely won't help.

The Dutch AH-64 turns upside down (remarkable for a helicopter!) after deploying flares

The new-style London Routemaster drew a great deal of interest from the Radom crowd, estimated to be between 80,000 and 100,000 strong. Inside the bus, my collection of model aircraft...

It was satisfying to see so much interest in my collection of model aircraft representing RAF types flown by Polish squadrons in WW2. "Like displaying a stamp collection at a Miss World contest". 

Another half-century airframe: this is a German Navy P-3C Orion - this type made its first flight in 1959 and has been in service since 1961. It is based on the civilian Lockheed Electra, which ceased flying passengers in the early 1970s.

Polish Air Force Lockheed C-130E Hercules. Next August, this type will be celebrating 60 years since its first flight. This is like going to an air show in 1966 and seeing aircraft still in regular military use that first took to the air well before the outbreak of WW1.

Polish Air Force PZL SW-4s in formation

A lovely plane - the Polish designed and built TS-8 Bies, powered by a Polish designed and built engine. This basic trainer was comparable to the North American T-28 Trojan in terms of its configuration, though slightly smaller and with a less-powerful engine.
This time two years ago:
Poles - stretch your facial muscles!

Photos from Radom Air Show 2013

Croatian Air Force aerobatic team, Krila Oluje, flying Pilatus PC9s

Finnish Air Force aerobatic team, Midnight Hawks, flying BAE Hawks

This Italian C27J Spartan gave an unbelievable performance for such a portly plane, including looping the loop

Polish Air Force aerobatic team, Orlik, flying PZL-130 Orliks

Swiss precision: the Patrouille Suisse, flying Northrop F-5 Tigers

Polish Air Force aerobatic team, Biało-czerwone Iskry ('red-and-white sparks'), flying PZL TS-11 Iskras. Like the F-5, an airframe that's more than half a century old.

The Polish Orliks in full complement

My personal favourite, the Red Bull Chance-Vought F4U-4 Corsair

Smoke and flares: a Royal Netherlands Air Force Lockheed Martin F-16

A pair of swing-wing Sukhoi Su-22 Fitters belonging to the Polish Air Force demonstrate the plane's variable geometry.

Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 Flanker passes under a commercial Airbus A380 flying over Radom.

The Ukrainian Flanker flies upside down with its undercarriage extended. 
This time last year:
Twilight on ul. Karczunkowska

This time three years ago:
First hints of autumn in the air

This time five years ago:
Slovakia - we were not impressed

This time six years ago:
Jeziorki - late August cultivation

Friday, 23 August 2013

Radom Air Show taster

This morning I got myself into the Most exclusive day of Central Europe's greatest air show - the dress rehearsal day. Blending in with the technical crews setting up this great feast of aviations, I busied myself setting up a display of my scale models of RAF aircraft flown by Polish squadrons in WW2. (In case you're going, head for the big red London double-decker, the new Routemaster, and take a peek inside). This is part of the GREAT campaign, in which the bus visits key places and events around Poland and Central Europe to promote British innovation, enterprise, culture and tourism.

Below, left: display cabinet featuring 25 models representing the Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancasters, Wellingtons, Mosquitos, Beaufighters, Defiants, as well as other types, that Polish pilots flew from 1940 to 1946. The point I'm making here within this modern London bus in the centre of Poland is that there is that Poles contributed in a very significant way to the Allied victory in the air war against Nazi Germany, flying British-made aircraft.

A petrol station, somewhere outside Radom. A new-style Routemaster (two staircases, three sets of doors) attracted plenty of interest as it headed for the airfield. As we escorted the bus towards the air base, passers-by were reaching for their mobile phones to photograph it. Once at the show, it proved a huge draw; even after the PA announced that the show was closing and everyone should head for the exit, people were still pouring through the bus. Worth noting that other than a tourist bus or two in Warsaw, double-deckers are a rarity in Poland.

But the real action will be in the air. Below: Eurofighter Typhoons were among the fast jets that took to the skies over Radom today, along with F-16s, MiG 29s, Su-22s, Gripens, Tornados and Rafales. VERY loud! PLUS - many trainer types, transport types and helicopters - the sky was full of noise and action.

Below: exciting as modern fast jets are, my own preferences are for warbirds of an earlier era. Below: a Taylorcraft Auster AOP5, representing one flown by 663 (Polish) Squadron. AOP = Air Observation Post; these planes would fly low and slow over enemy artillery positions; the unarmed pilots would radio back their exact location. An extremely dangerous job. This privately-owned AOP5 is beautifully restored and belongs to a group of enthusiasts who commemorate Polish pilots' contribution to the RAF's war effort in WW2.

Below: another of my favourite warbirds, the Chance-Vought F4U Corsair, a mainstay of US Naval and Marine aviation during the Pacific and Korean Wars. Big and brutal, it was a powerful fight and ground-attack aircraft. Energy drink manufacturer Red Bull has done a great job in keeping many magnificent aircraft of the '40s and '50s flying.

Below: An RAF BAE Systems Hawk trainer. A regular summer holiday sight for me as Hawks from RAF Valley on the Welsh island of Anglesey train over the Llyn Peninsula.I hope the Polish air force will buy these planes to train its future fast-jet pilots on.

There will be more, far more from the Radom Air Show on Sunday night. I'm sure I'll catch many fine shots of interesting aircraft types engaged in.

Left: a French air force Eurocopter EC725 Caracal, winching troops from the ground. Eurocopter, Sikorsky and AgustaWestland are all looking to sell their helicopters to the Polish armed forces. I'm rooting for AgustaWestland for patriotic reasons.

I've not been to the Radom Air Show since 2005; after spending the day setting up my display I only got to see a fraction of what's on show here, so I look forward to seeing it all, this time as a spectator.

This time last year:
Restricting passenger movement and safety

This time two years ago:
Seasonal fruit - eat it in bulk, while you can!

This time four years ago:
Russia-Polish 'unification', 1939-style

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

World's largest ship calls into Gdańsk on its first commercial voyage

Imagine a standard, 20-foot container, the basic unit of today's containerised logistics. Now imagine a hundred of them. Now, imagine a thousand of them. Still managing to hold them all in your imagination? Now multiply the thousand by 18. Yes, 18,000 twenty-foot unit equivalents - that's how many containers will fit into the largest ship on earth. The first of 20 vessels, collectively called the Triple-E Class, has just completed its maiden commercial voyage from the Far East, calling into Gdańsk today.

The Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller docked at the Deepwater Container Terminal in what was a significant demonstration of Poland's new-found capability as a global logistics hub. I wrote about DCT Gdańsk last year; the port continues to grow apace, and now that the local customs and sanitary-epidemiology inspectors have pledged to be more helpful, there's no reason why Gdańsk can't challenge Hamburg and Rotterdam as a major player in container trans-shipment.

The visit of the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller was a big event. As she approached Gdańsk, a veritable flotilla of ships and boats of all shapes and sizes sailed out to greet her (ships are still referred to as 'she' in English!). Below, from left: a fire-boat plays its hose; the guided-missile frigate ORP Kościuszko and the sailing vessel, the Dar Młodzieży are among the dozens of craft to escort the huge visitor to Gdańsk.

Sunlight plays a crucial role in the photography of sailing ships! Below: a broadside view of the Dar Młodzieży, just outside the harbour

Below: full frontal view of the world's biggest ship. Count the containers - 22 across. And she's already berthed in Rotterdam and Hamburg along the way, so what's left is a long way from a full load.

Below: in the harbour, being shunted towards the dock by a quartet of tugs, one of which is visible in this shot.

Below: there's huge media interest in the event. Like the arrival in Wrocław of the first Pendolino train, or the arrival at Okęcie of LOT's first Dreamliner, the crowds came out in large numbers, with many spectators viewing the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller from beaches on either side of the container terminal.

This was not a courtesy visit; those containers are full of goods. Before long, the huge cranes started unloading the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller. Question is, will Polish exporters make the most of the chance of a direct sea-route to the Far East to start reducing Poland's trade deficit with that part of the world?

A great day for the Polish economy. The state treasury will collect taxes and tariffs on the goods passing through this port - money that otherwise would have gone to Germany or Holland. And the jobs are here in Poland too. DCT Gdańsk is expanding; a second terminal will soon be built; before long, Gdańsk will be able to handle several ships of this size simultaneously, great news for Gdańsk, Pomorze and Poland.

Measuring Progress online and in the real world

The appearance of sewerage construction crew at the end of ul. Trombity has prompted me to think about Progress with a big-P. Over my 16 years in Poland, I've witnessed a tremendous amount of the stuff. Generally, Progress, big, civilisation-shifting progress, has improved the lives of most citizens – dramatically. But thinking about Poland in the late-1990s and today, I'd say that the bulk of those life-enhancing improvements have taken place in the virtual field, and only the minority can be categorised as progress delivered by physical infrastructure.

The biggest single improvement to my life was the introduction of online banking some ten years ago. Having to go and stand in a long queue at a physical branch of my bank, at least twice a month, was a huge imposition on my time and liberty. I can't remember the last time I visited my bank in person – it was probably several years ago. Today it takes less than one minute to make my mortgage payment, rather than an hour (including travel time to and from bank plus queueing).

Improvements roll out all the time, big and small. Want to know what's the weather tomorrow? Watch television? How 20th Century. I open and I have a computerised forecast for the next 60 hours, a forecast generated no more than six hours ago, which is more precise geographically and more accurate meteorologically than any hand-waving generalisation of a TV weather presenter. What's more, Warsaw University of Technology's Institute of Physics recently added a storm monitor to its home page. Very useful in summer to see which way those deluges are moving.

Bus and train timetables – I can see not only when my bus is due, but also, in the case of trains, whether they are running on time (a green tick by the train shows it is). I hope that Warsaw's public transport authority ZTM adds this excellent feature to its otherwise first-rate online timetable soon.

[PS: I would like here to note my protest at the dismissal of Leszek Ruta as the head of ZTM last month – pure political expediency – Mr Ruta improved Warsaw's public transport vastly over his watch.]

In terms of wish-lists, one technological advance I'd like to see is transponders that give traffic-light priority to approaching buses and (in particular) trams. There's nothing technologically new in this; it would speed up surface travel by public transport to speeds getting closer to those enjoyed by the Metro.

Big Infrastructure is the test of the efficiency of the state. The Polish state is poor at delivering it quickly and cheaply. The laughable progress of Poland's motorway construction compares poorly to that of Germany (where a kilometre of road costs half a much to build as in its low-labour-cost eastern neighbour). But information technology offers quick – and cheap – wins.

I'd rather travel on a clanky old bus knowing it will come on time and deliver my quickly to my destination than to wait for a super-duper brand-new bus, uncertain of its arrival time and knowing it will bog down in a monstrous traffic jam and take hours to arrive.

So here we are, in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Thirteen. What Big Progress will touch our lives over the next decade or so?

Look at your wallet. Stuffed with banknotes, credit cards, loyalty cards, ID, pushing out the pocket of your otherwise svelte trousers. Bit by bit, this will all migrate to your mobile phone. RFID. Radio Frequency ID. In a chip. Yes, driving licence and passport/dowód – though, as this is handled by the state, it will take longer. Your mobile phone as payment instrument, that can vouch for who you are and what you have paid for (public transport), what your blood group is, your access rights to your workplace...

Convenience? Yes... but at a price. I feel that most of us will lazily accept that trade-off.

This time two years ago:
Raymond's Treasure - a short story

This time three years ago:
Now an urban legend: Kebab factory under W-wa Centralna

This time four years ago:
It was twenty years ago today

This time five years ago:
By bike to Czachówek again

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The sewers are on their way, hurray!

After 11 years, six months and 17 days, there is tangible evidence that ul. Trombity (well, our end of it anyway) will be finally be connected to the town drains. I feel civilised at last - civilised in the original meaning of the word. An urban man, who will be able to enjoy the benefits of living in the capital city of the sixth-largest member state of the wealthiest economic and political bloc in the world.

Currently we are paying 235zł to empty our septic tank, on average twice a month. The cost of a sewer-pipe running right up to our house (including the engineering and actual digging) will be around 7,000zł, so this is an investment that will pay for itself very quickly.

How long will the work last? To build a sewer-pipe running along Trombity all the way to no. 22, with lateral pipes running off the main one... This will mean the road outside our house will be dug up for months. The houses further along Trombity will not be connected, because there's not the natural slope for the waste-water to flow down; a small pumping station is needed. Because no one volunteered to give up a few square metres of their land to house this essential piece of infrastructure, residents further along Trombity will go on forking out hundreds of złotys a month every month for the foreseeable future.

Above: The road will be closed for months. There are five no-through-road signs from ul. Baletowa all the way to the actual site of the sewer-digging. I was amazed by the driver of a white Opel Astra estate, who drove past all five signs, driving all the way up to construction site, before realising that the only option was the turn around and go back. The mentality of jakoś się uda ('somehow, one will make it') very much on display, Smoleńsk-style.

Above and below: A visual memo to all drivers using ul. Trombity as a short-cut. The junction with Karczunkowska is closed, totally and absolutely. To cyclists and pedestrians too.

There is a short-cut, down ul. Nawłocka, though I fear that as soon as the rains come, the unasphalted stretch will turn into a quagmire which will claim all but the stoutest of off-road vehicles.

A small shiver of schadenfreude runs through me as I think of the hundreds of rat-runners whose morning forays through the back-roads of Jeziorki will be thwarted by this engineering scheme.

This time last year:
An evening walk along ul. Żmijewska

This time two years ago:
A stroll through Pole Mokotowskie

This time three years ago:
A Serious Man reviewed (still my favourite film of all time ever)

This time four years ago:
Funny old cars, 1989

This time five years ago:
The Beskid Wyspowy

This time six years ago:
Another summer storm

Monday, 19 August 2013

Szczęśliwice visited for the first time

In my 16 years in Warsaw, I've never been to this part of town despite it being famous for its man-made hill, rising some 44 metres above the city's ambient altitude. After a meeting on ul. Włodarzewska, I headed into town through the Park Szczęśliwicki, and very glad I am to have taken to detour.

Włodarzewska and the surrounding area did not impress me - a narrow, busy street with narrow pavements, off which run smaller streets with names like ul. Usypiskowa (lit. Tip Street or Dump Street). But around half way down Włodarzewska, which runs from ul. Grójecka to Al. Jerozolimskie in furthest Ochota, you will find a pleasing park with a pleasing lake, across which you will find a hill rising above the flat Mazovian landscape.

The hill began as a tip for the rubble from the post-war ruins of Warsaw, to which later was added regular municipal waste; the spoil-heap grew to 138m (rising 32m above the level of the lake seen in the foreground).

I made my way up to the top, cutting across the paths that spiral up the hill. Nordic walking seems increasingly popular in Warsaw, and not only among the elderly... its health benefits are manifold.

Up at the top. A strange vista, like the Berlin Wall perched on a suburban hillside. Down below, in the distance, the sound of construction - lots of new apartment blocks being built, well located for the park and close to Al. Jerozolimskie railway stations and bus stops. But the way to the summit is sealed off from the curious visitor by high fences and concrete walls.

Below: the artificial ski-slope offers a 224-metre run at an 11-degree angle, in effect a blue run. All this familiar-looking ski infrastructure looks out of place in Poland's capital in summer - or indeed in winter.

Below: a LOT Polish Airlines Boeing 767 takes off from Okęcie airport over the stationary chair lifts of Szczęśliwice. The highest point of the ski run is 152m above sea level, 44m above the land on which this artificial hill was built.

Below: here's the area in Google Earth; you can see the green of the ski-slope, the surrounding lakes, and, to the upper left, the Tsarist fort. I feel a fort post needs to be written, as Warsaw is ringed by these objects that predate the First World War, and Fort Modlin was recently sold for 18m zlotys (€4.2m).

This time last year:
On the road from Dobra, again

This time two years ago:
August storm, ul. Targowa

This time three years ago:
Warsaw Central's secret underground kebab factory

This time four years ago:
Cheap holidays in other people's misery

This time five years ago:
Steam welcomes us to Dobra

This time six years ago:
New houses appear in the fields by Zgorzała