Saturday, 30 August 2014

Changes to Polish road traffic law as of tomorrow

More people died on Poland's roads last year than have so far died in the fighting in Eastern Ukraine. More than three times as many Poles die on Poland's roads per million citizens (87) than Brits (29) or Swedes (28). A nation is trying to wipe itself out using the motorcar. Within the EU, only Romania (92) is doing so more efficiently than Poland.

As I wrote earlier this year, things are getting better, but one way or another, 65 human lives are lost needlessly on Poland's roads each week. Nine human beings, who were alive yesterday morning, were killed on Poland's roads by the end of the day.

Below: a giant road-safety poster, five storeys high, on the side of a building on ul. Waryńskiego. The campaign, sponsored by insurer PZU, is a message to curtail social acceptance of reckless driving. "If you love (someone), say STOP to road lunatics/ madmen/ idiots/ fools/ nutters".

Speed is the main killer. This is an unpalatable fact to many, proud of their shiny new motor-cars with their powerful engines. Yet human life is far more precious than the right to charge along public highways regardless of speed limits.

More speed cameras please!

The UK experience is that the proportion of fatal road accidents in which excessive speed was the main factor has fallen from 32% to 20% over the past decade. In Poland, however, in 42% of fatal accidents, excessive speed was the main factor. Half as many again. In the UK, speed cameras have played a significant part in changing the mentality of drivers; blasting along the highways at illegal speeds is no longer socially acceptable.

The other main killer of course is alcohol, in particular in rural Poland. Just yesterday, 280 drivers were caught drink-driving. Just think how many others reached their destinations without being stopped. A hundred times more than that? 30,000 - 50,000 journeys made yesterday under the influence of alcohol?

From tomorrow, another one of Poland's trio of major contributory factors to industrial-scale road slaughter will be addressed. Pedestrians moving about rural roads in the dark. It's happened to every driver in Poland. You are driving sensibly, soberly, with total regard for speed limit. You are driving along an unlit stretch of road in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly you realise you've just missed hitting a pedestrian or cyclist by inches. Cyclists already have a duty to have their bicycles lit at night - a white light in front, a red one in the rear, augmented by a red reflector.

Yet from tomorrow, pedestrians using public roads after dark, outside of built-up areas, will have to wear some item of reflective material about their clothing, be it a badge, arm-band or sticker.

From the government's website (
The revised rule requires all pedestrians (regardless of age) to use reflective elements when they walk along roads after dusk other than in built-up areas. This does not apply only in cases where the pedestrian is walking along a pavement... Pedestrians not wearing reflective elements may get fined from 20 zlotys up to 500 złotys.
Ironically, inhabitants of Jeziorki can happily stroll up and down ul. Karczunkowska without any reflective element, wearing pitch-black jackets, darkest trousers and hats, without fear of incurring such a penalty. Because our pavement-free road lies within a built-up area.

Let's hope the new rules, which do infringe one's liberty, are followed. And finally - motorists - please stick to the speed limit.

This time three years ago:
Teasers in the Polish-English linguistic space

This time four years ago:
Summer slipping away

This time five years ago:
To the airport by bike

This time six years ago:
My translation of Tuwim's Lokomotywa

Friday, 29 August 2014

Płynie Wisła płynie from 6,500m

My 2,000th blog post, and to mark the occasion some aerial photography. Yesterday I flew to Rzeszów and back, a 38-minute hop covering a distance that would have taken at least five and half hours by train (and there's only two direct services a day from Warsaw). The flight in both directions followed the path of the Vistula, and the weather was good for photography. So then.

I flew port out, port home (A-seats on the plane's left side). On the way out, the sun was in the east, on the way back, on the west, so I was shooting into sun on both flights. Below: the two bridges at Góra Kalwaria, the first Vistula crossings south of Warsaw. I was here a few weeks ago by bike, crossing the road bridge.

Left: view from seat 17A. The plane is a 78-seat Eurolot Bombardier Q400 twin turboprop, a huge advance in terms of smoothness compared to the ATR42s and 72s it replaced. There's no discernable difference between this and a jet. The old ATRs (especially the oldest ones with four-blade props) would grind their way through the skies like a tractor with a broken gearbox.

Down below, the Vistula threads its way through the landscape, between Magnuszew and Ryczywół (lit. "Bellows the ox"). We have reached cruising altitude - 6,500m. The 07:30 flight is airborne at 07:55 and we've disembarked at Rzeszów Jasionka airport at 08:35.

Below: On the way back somewhere between Tarnobank and Sandometer - a numinous sensation. "HAVE - YOU - SEEN - THE - LIGHT?" The westering sun glances off the Vistula, under threatening clouds

Below: a massive rainstorm engulfs Warka and the Pilica valley. Again a short flight; no sooner has the captain announced that we are at cruising altitude, then he announces the start of the descent into Warsaw.

Turning in towards Warsaw, crossing the Vistula looking south, we see the river snaking its way across the plains, with numerous islands along the way.

The Polish landscape is unique and instantly recognisable from the air by its narrow ribbons of fields. From here, the plane heads west towards Czachówek, then aligns itself with the final approach over Piaseczno and Jeziorki.

An hour after flying over my house, I've passed through Frederic Okęcie airport, taken a train from the airport to W-wa Służewiec station, and from there another train to W-wa Jeziorki, and thence a 1km walk home.

This time three years ago:
Bad car day

This time four years ago:
Dragonfly summer

This time six years ago:
"What do we want?" "Early retirement!"

This time seven years ago:
Greenhouse sunset

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A state built on lies

Today four Moscow McDonalds restaurants in Moscow have been told to shut on spurious public health grounds. Have any Muscovites fallen ill as a result of eating dodgy hamburgers? Sorry - that's not the issue. Russia is drawing itself into a new cold war with the West; there's no greater icon of American culinary hegemony than McDonalds - so the Kremlin tells Russia's pliant food hygiene watchdog Rospgniepritrebgosvneshgnobnadzor to shut them down forthwith. "Round up the usual suspects". "Right away, Mr Putin."

I'm having trouble imagining Britain's Food Standards Agency being told by No.10 to close down Russian-owned restaurants in London in retaliation for Moscow's intransigence vis-a-vis the integrity of Ukrainian borders. But that's because the Food Standards Agency is not a marionette controlled by Mr Cameron, nor is it a tool to be wielded in the furtherance of foreign policy.

I'm having similar trouble imagining Poland's Sanepid closing down Babuszka restaurant on ul. Krucza (which serves excellent Siberian mutton pelmeni with cream) for sanitary reasons as an expression of Poland's solidarity with its Ukrainian neighbours. Sanepid can make up its own mind as to what constitutes a risk to public health - it does not take instructions from Mr Tusk.

Russian trucks bearing 'humanitarian aid' for the beleaguered cities of Eastern Ukraine were found by Western journalists to be army trucks hurriedly painted white. When asked why the trucks were half-empty, the Russian authorities brazenly said it was because the trucks were new, and could not carry full loads while they were running-in. The trucks then returned full of machine tools from Ukrainian factories that Russia wants to see on its side of the border.

Russia has been claiming that the soldiers fighting against the Ukrainian army are 'separatists' armed with whatever they could find in the local military depots they had seized; they are not being supplied by Russia - despite large numbers of detailed reports from Western media documenting convoys of armoured fighting vehicles and troop transporters moving across the border into Ukraine from Russia. Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov dismisses such reports as 'delusions' and 'fabrications'. He is lying into your face. And he knows it. And you know it. And his usefulness as a diplomat furthering Russia's foreign policy aims has been totally compromised.

Russian paratroopers captured by Ukrainian forces 20km inside Ukraine claim they blundered into the country by accident - they were on exercises in Russia - shurely shome mishtake. Imagine Polish paratroopers on manoeuvres in south-west Poland stumbling on foot as far as Česká Lípa, passing Nový Bor on the way, without thinking that something is a teeny-weeny bit amiss. We, the Western world, are expected to believe those lies (piled on top of all the other lies, such as 'no Russian army units took part in the annexation of Crimea' and 'Ukrainian fascists crucify Russian babies').

At least 400 Russian soldiers have died in the fighting, according to the association representing their families. Their bodies are being buried in secret, their families are told they died in mysterious circumstances while on duty in Russia. Journalists covering this story are being threatened with beatings and worse. The Kremlin should complete the lie by saying that the soldiers ate poisoned hamburgers.

Lies and camouflage are part of the same Soviet military thinking. Red Army soldiers cover themselves with patterned material to deceive the enemy; their leaders lie to deceive the enemy. This is maskirovka. The lies end up deceiving their own people until they can be made to believe that black is white. A lovely term coined by Ben Judah, mendocracy - rule based on lies - fits the Putin regime as well as it did the USSR, 1917-1991.

The Soviet Union was a state built on a lie. "Comrade - is the report true that on Red Square in Moscow, they are giving away cars?" "Well, nearly right, comrade - it's Leningrad, not Moscow; on Palace Square not Red Square - and it's bicycles rather than cars, and they're not giving them away, rather they are stealing them." Vladimir Putin, born and raised a true son of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, learned how to lie blatantly and use falsehood as a policy instrument.

Western media should note this and stick to the truth. When quoting Putin, it should use the following formulation: ' "Our budget is not falling apart at the seams. It is strained but it is balanced and completely realistic," he lied.'

Unfortunately, strong states are built on high levels of social trust, and blatant falsehoods eventually contradict themselves. Lavrov ends up looking a fool; the West no longer treats him seriously; Putin will end up the same laughing-stock among his own citizens that Brezhnev did towards the end of his reign.

"Comrade - could communism work in the Sahara?" "Yes comrade - but after a year, sand would be rationed, and after two years, it would only be available to Party members and their families."

This time last year:
Asphalt for ul. Poloneza (to Krasnowolska at least)

This time two years ago:
A welcome splash of colour to a drab car park

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

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

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

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Short diet is over - what have I gained?

An interesting experiment - never have I given up bread, potatoes, rice or pasta before. It is difficult sticking to a fish, fruit, veg (including pulses) and nut diet - no meat nor dairy products - but I did, for two weeks and two days. No alcohol either. The main purpose was to purify my body after 12 days in the UK, where the temptation offered by a galactic variety of salt snacks was too much to resist.

In terms of weight, I've shed less than a kilo (two pounds), surprisingly little given that I ate no bulking carbohydrates other than those found in chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils. And surprising because for much of the past two weeks and two days, I felt hunger gnawing away inside of me. Today's lunch, for example, a salad consisting of raw spinach leaves, tomatoes, chickpeas and grilled courgettes did not fill a hungry man, four hours after breakfast consisting of smoked wild Pacific salmon and kidney beans. Supper was a tuna and sweetcorn salad. Plus plenty of fruit throughout the day. And snacking on nothing more than surimi ('crab sticks' - the piscine equivalent of MRM bound with egg white) and walnuts.

Do I feel healthier, more alert, livelier? Not really.

The good news is that I have no dairy or gluten allergy that was hiding in the background; staying off these products has not had any noticeable effect. I do notice that quitting the sodium diacetate present in salt snack flavourings has had a beneficial psychological effect.

All in all my background health level, outside of any dietary regime, is good.

So tomorrow it's back to a usual Polish diet - quality foods, no salt snacks, no sugar (other than in fruit), no added salt, moderate alcohol intake (averaging around the 21 units a week as per NHS recommendation) and one cup of espresso coffee first thing in the morning.

Walking - I've noticed paradoxically that in summer I've been walking slightly less than in winter and spring - around 8,500 paces a day on average as opposed to 10,000 a day in the first half of the year.

And sit-ups - I overdid it on Day One and Day Two of the diet, straining my stomach muscles painfully, so I quit. FAIL. I should try to get back into it...

That's it then until Lent 2015, which starts at midnight on Wednesday, 18 February.

This time last year:
More photos from Radom Air Show

This time two years ago:
Twilight on ul. Karczunkowska

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

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

This time six years ago:
Jeziorki - late August cultivation

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Shopping for food and dietary update

Competition is a wonderful thing. Now we have a Biedronka 'under the nose', a 12-minute stroll from home, and a Lidl a similar distance away, I cannot say that I have ever been so well provided with retail opportunities in my life. But despite the newcomers, I'm still true to Auchan Piaseczno - 15 minutes from home by bicycle, five by car. The pressure on Auchan is on, and Auchan is responding admirably.

At Biedronka yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to see Lavazza Qualita d'Oro priced at under 19 złotys for 250g - around two less than Auchan was selling it for. Until I visited Auchan today - when I found that the French retailer has responded to the Portuguese retailer's challenge and dropped its price for the product to below 18 złotys.

Same story for apples. Biedronka price for a kilo of excellent Polish apples - 1.75zł. Auchan - a selection of four different varieties of Polish apples all for 1.45zł a kilo.Wherever I look, I can see that products at Auchan are more keenly priced. And there's far more variety. Biedronka has started selling cider - hurray! One type - a brand named Desire. But Auchan now has three bays, each a pallet wide, stacked with around 15 different ciders, domestic and imported. And Auchan has Browar Witnica's staggeringly good Lubuskie IPA, along with over 150 other beers. Lidl, on the other hand, has still to offer a cider among its beverages section, mainly brewed to be cheap and strong.

My recent visits to Lidl have failed to impress; there's now only a handful of things I pop into Lidl for. Its excellent tinned fish, Nixe brand - finest quality mackerel and good tuna at a good price. Unbleached, undyed toilet paper that harms neither your bottom nor the environment. Beefmaster steaks from Biernacki (Biedronka does these too) and superb kiełbasa polska surowa długodojrzewają from Balcerzak.

Biedronka counters with 15-month-old mature cheddar at 4zł less than mature Kerrygold 'cheddar' at Auchan, and a slightly broader range of food products than Lidl. And when it comes to fresh fruit and veg, Biedronka falls behind Auchan. I bought a basket of cherry tomatoes on the vine at Biedronka - they turned out to be Italian and taste-free, nowhere near as good as the organic cherry toms grown by PGO that are the mainstay of Auchan's offering.

Unless an Alma suddenly appears on Karczunkowska, my food shopping needs are well catered for; hugely better than back in 2002 when we moved to Jeziorki.

Meanwhile, a question many people have been asking since January - when will Real supermarkets be rebranded as Auchan? Last week PortalSpoż reported that the first Real to open an an Auchan did so in Opole. The rest will follow step by step as Auchan, who have taken over the Real chain from German retail groupMetro AG renegotiate rents with shopping mall operators. It will take a while before the Real in King Cross Ursynów becomes an Auchan. And just seven years ago, the same shop was a Géant, owned by French retail group Casino. Remember?

The Polish food retail scene is consolidating, but it's also moving upmarket. The growing number of small-format deli chains like Piccolo Italia or Kuchnie Świata is encouraging. Polish consumers (urban ones at least) are becoming more discerning and prepared to pay top prices for top products. The single European market is bearing fruit.

Meanwhile, I'm nearly at the end of my short, sharp post-holiday diet. Over the past two weeks, I have been eating only fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts and pulses. No bread, no potatoes, no rice, no pasta. No wheat products whatsoever. No dairy products whatsoever. No meat, no alcohol. It is hard to find variety in such a diet, but shopping at Auchan has allowed me to concoct interesting and tasty meals. I've just had for supper a large bowl of fresh prawns, fried with loads of cherry tomatoes, seasoned with garlic, provençal herbs, chilli peppers, garlic, chives and coriander. Wow. Wonderful stuff.

This has been a tough diet, though nowhere near a tough as the two-week diet that my colleague Marta and her husband Kamil recently underwent. Like mine, though without the fish, pulses, fried foods or coffee. I don't think I could cope with a diet that strict!

Back to normal on Wednesday. Plenty of excellent cheeses await (including a well-aged Pecorino Romano), and a bottle of Weston's Vintage Cider for the evening.

This time last year:
Photos from the Radom Air Show, part 1

This time two years ago:
Offloading PKP's risk at W-wa Jeziorki

This time four years ago:
Time to be stuffing yourself with fresh fruit

This time five years ago:
First notes of autumn in the air

This time seven years ago:
Large spider catches fly

Friday, 22 August 2014

Your papers are in order, Panie Dembinski

Over the summer I finally got myself legitimate in the eyes of the Polish state. Principally, this meant a) obtaining a personal ID card (dowód osobisty), and then b) swapping my UK driving licence for a Polish one.

Now that Poland has been in the EU for ten years, I found the whole process very straightforward and simple. My UK-born colleagues who went through this in the past had to endure a Kafka-style maze of unpleasantness being sent from office to office and still not sorting things out. Today it's become easy, and the people serving the citizen are efficient and friendly. (In Ursynów at least; I can't judge for other urzędy.)

Day one. Go to the Urząd Dzielnicy Ursynów, get a numerek from the ticket machine, wait in short queue. Explain my situation to nice lady at counter no. 24, who tells me precisely what documents are needed. I return a few hours later with said documents, which she says are all fine; she photocopies them, gives me back the originals. I get a nice photo done at the photo studio at the end of the open-plan first floor, and pay some money - can't even remember now how much - to the cash office downstairs. Back at counter no. 24, we go through the application form together to ensure no mistakes. The lady says I'll get an SMS from the urząd when my dowód (below) is ready for collection.

One disappointment in the whole process - the Polish state still refuses to accept me as a Dembiński, insisting that my surname is 'Dembinski' because that's what it says on my birth certificate. I can change my surname from Dembinski to Dembiński by the Polish equivalent of deed poll, but why go through all that effort for one diacritic mark. If I'm going to change my name by deed poll it should be to something dramatic like Gromosław Ångstrom von Shöck-Therapy Jnr. And yet despite there being no 'ł' in my first name on my birth certificate, the Polish state now happily accepts me as 'Michał' rather than insisting on me being 'Michal'. So there we go - that's my official name, Michał Dembinski.

Day two occurs some two weeks later, after I get an SMS saying that I can come and collect my dowód. I go. It's there, I collect it after checking that there are no mistakes. Next I get another numerek and after another short wait I'm talking to a guy at counter no. 19 about swapping my UK driving licence (below) for a Polish one. I worry that officially, a sworn translation of my licence is needed as an attachment to my application. The friendly guy says that as it's in English rather than Flemish or Herzegovinian, there is no need. I fill in a form, he photocopies my licence; again I pay some small fee in the cash office downstairs, submit another one of the photos from my dowód photo session, and I'm done. Once again, I have to await an SMS.

In the meantime, my new dowód enables me to pick up my Karta Warszawiaka hologram to stick onto my ZTM travel pass. This proves I'm a tax-paying Warsaw resident, and entitled to a 35zł discount on a quarterly contract. I've done all the form-filling online a long time ago, having a dowód makes it far easier when it comes to proving who I am and where I live. After three minutes in the ZTM customer service office by Metro Centrum, I'm out again with a hologram affixed to my Karta Miejska (below).

Day three, some ten working days after applying, I get the SMS to say my Polish driving licence (below) is ready for collection. I go, check the details on it are all correct, sign for it and leave. As simple as that. My wallet is now noticeably slimmer now that I don't have to take my passport with me everywhere as proof of identity (which in Poland, unlike the UK, one has to carry around compulsorily). And with the new driving licence, a plastic card replaces a large sheet of paper folded three times and carried in a plastic cover.

Four visits over three days spanning less than a month, a total time of around two and half hours to sort it all out. Marvellous. Miraculous, almost, thinking back to my early days in Poland where every visit to an urząd tested one's patience to the utmost - being sent from office to office, being told that this paper's wrong or that some other paper's needed - an often-futile wild goose chase organised by deeply unpleasant and officious people who believed that the citizen's place was on their knees before them.

How times change. It's demographics and EU membership, training, exposure to Western best practice and an increased level of social trust that we can thank.

The whole process has further reinforced my view that Poland is becoming an ever-nicer country to live as the years roll by.

This time two years ago:
Topiary garden by the Vistula

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

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Warsaw-Radom railway line plans for Jeziorki

A big thanks again to local tip-off from a source that can't be named - I have plans for how the railway line at Jeziorki will look after the major rebuild of the Warsaw-Radom railway line (PLK Line No.8). I've written about it many a time - how it takes longer to get to Radom by train from Warsaw today than it did 75 years ago (! True! Yes!) and about the regular fails that occur along this line (click relevant labels below to see). I first wrote about the modernisation plans for the line over four years ago!

PKP has a budget, from EU structural funds, to modernise the line. This will mean shorter journey times and (theoretically) more frequent suburban services. For W-wa Jeziorki the modernisation plans have three major implications, as well as another possible change.

The first concerns the platforms. Note on the photo (below) how the 'up' or town-bound line swings to the left so as to accommodate W-wa Jeziorki's island platform. This causes trains to slow down, and as there are island platforms at Nowa Iwiczna, W-wa Dawidy and W-wa Okęcie, replacing them with platforms straddling two parallel lines (as at W-wa Żwirki i Wigury, W-wa Rakowiec and W-wa Aleje Jerozolimskie), journey times for through trains will shorten. The 'down' (Radom-bound) line platform will be located north of ul. Karczunkowska, alongside the car repair workshop. The 'up' platform will be located between the 'up' line and the un-electrified track used by the coal trains to Siekierki power station, south of ul. Karczunkowska. The two electrified lines will run in parallel through the station.

Click on the photo to see just how rough and bumpy the track is...

...This is because of the parlous state of the trackbed. With wooden sleepers under the rails, many of which are partially or wholly rotted, or burnt (in summer, fires break out, caused by oil on the track, dry wood and sparked by either a cigarette butt thrown out of a passing train, or sunlight focused onto the sleeper by broken glass from an empty beer or vodka bottle from the same source. Below: typical sleeper, by the pedestrian level crossing on ul. Kórnicka. One bolt has disappeared, the wood beneath it rotted through. The result of the poor condition of the track is low speed limits.

The other major, major, major change will be the dismantling of the level crossing on ul. Karczunkowska, replacing it with a viaduct over the line. There will be stairs leading down to both platforms on either side of the viaduct. Below: W-wa Jeziorki station this morning. This view will, in a few years, be but a memory. A viaduct will span the tracks, the 'down' platform moved north, across the road, the 'up' platform nudged eastwards across to the other side of the 'up' line. And passengers will no longer have to cross the line in unauthorised places and vault up to reach the platform!

The third major change: the PKP Jeziorki bus loop will be moved from its current location to the east of the tracks across to where ul. Gogolińska currently meets ul. Karczunkowska. Buses from Puławska will cross over the viaduct then turn into a new slip road accessing Gogolińska and the loop. Meanwhile, the space currently occupied by the bus loop will (on the plans at least) be given over to a Park+Ride. Unless were to be a multi-storey Park+Ride, the plans show it as having space for 68 cars. Which, coincidentally, is the average number of cars parked along the muddy verges of ul. Gogolińska on the average working day. Not enough, in other words, to tempt new users from among the motorised hordes forcing their way into down up congested thoroughfares like ul. Puławska.

When will work begin? Don't know. When will it end? Three or four years after it begins, I guess.

This time last year:
World's largest ship calls in at Gdańsk

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

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

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

This time seven years ago:
By bike to Czachówek again

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Public land, private land

This sign (below) appeared on a lamp post on the corner of ul. Dumki and ul. Trombity. [For my non-Polish readers it says: 'Private property - no entry to the unauthorised'.] For my Polish readers, note the use of the word 'wjazd'. The verb 'to go' in Polish is determined by manner of going - to go on foot is iść, to go in a car or on a horse is jechać, to go in a plane is lecieć, to go in a boat (or indeed swimming) is płynąć. (Stanisławski uses over two whole pages to define 'to go' in his English-Polish dictionary.) Anyway, the noun wjazd comes from the verb jechać, to go (by car, by bus, by train, by bike, on horseback, in a carriage etc), to travel. To enter on foot (verb) is wejść, the noun is wejście - entrance (on foot). There's also zakaz wstępu - no entry by any means.

So this sign is not attempting to prohibit pedestrians, only motorists, cyclists and horse-riders. I say 'attempting' for this sign has no legal weight whatsoever. This is because it tries to impose an entry ban to vehicles on a thoroughfare (ul. Dumki) claiming that it is private property, which it is not.

To demonstrate the folly of whoever put up this sign, take a look at the official online map of the city of Warsaw, from the official website of the City of Warsaw. I've copy-pasted the relevant fragment below (click to enlarge), the junction marked with a red circle. As you can plainly see, ul. Dumki runs into ul. Kórnicka; both are officially denoted as roads. In fact any atlas of Warsaw streets will show ul. Dumki running into ul. Kórnicka. Plus the local authorities have installed in recent weeks a series of litter bins alongside the ponds both along ul. Kórnicka and ul. Dumki. If this were indeed private land, these public litter bins would not have appeared.

So what's going on? Why are local people unilaterally declaring that what is public is actually private? An attempt by individuals to seize land that doesn't belong to them, Putin-style? This is, I think, a response to the increased vehicular traffic along ul. Dumki since the flood relief scheme has been completed and the resulting lake has become an attractive place to visit (click on the labels, below). The local authorities had prepared a plan to make a nature trail and park here, but the inhabitants of Ursynów voted instead to build a new centre for the disabled, which was a more pressing need for the district. So this year and next at least, there will be no nature trail, no park - but people will come here to fish and enjoy the scenery.

More people means a greater impact. Until recently, ul. Dumki was impassable to all but the stoutest of off-road vehicles. Restored and graded, it once again take traffic - though it is not asphalted. And once motorists start using it - especially after heavy rain, once again it will become deeply rutted and unfit for use.

And the rubbish - here and there lie large bags of household or construction waste that have clearly been brought here by car or van. A ban on motorised traffic should help stop the brudasi from dumping their rubbish in this lovely part of the Polish capital.

The answer is to close off the unasphalted part (between ul. Kórnicka and where the asphalt runs out) to motor traffic (including motorbikes and quads), and make a footpath so that prams and baby buggies can easily be pushed over it, and so cyclists of all ages can use it, along with pedestrians in normal footwear.

However, this requires the decree of the district hall, lots of bureaucratic process that it would be best to postpone until some later date (ideally after the elections-after-next). So while Urząd Dzielnicy Ursynów ums and ahs, local residents have put up this sign. There's no such sign at the other end, so drivers coming up from where the asphalt ends are unaware that someone doesn't want them here.

Interestingly, Google Maps shows Dumki as petering out about a third of the way along. So GPS devices powered by Google Maps would not show this as a right of way.

So - if you wish to drive this way - be mindful of the fact that you are allowed, but you are not welcome. Walk or cycle, by all means, please.

This time last year:
Two Warsaw sunsets over water

This time four years ago:
Farewell to the old footbridge over Puławska

This time five years ago:
Let's ban cars with engines over 2.0 litres

This time seven years ago:
Ul. Kórnicka gets paved over

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Defending Poland, contributing to NATO

On a day when another unmarked, denied, convoy of armoured fighting vehicles entered eastern Ukraine from Russia, Poland's armed forces day parade had the effect of focusing the nation's mind on defence. The crowds were huge. There was no 'nutty element' selling pamphlets about conspiracy or waving banners insulting the government. This was mainstream Poland - numerous, strong. In communist days, mobilising the masses the attend May Day rallies was not easy. Today, Poles will willingly come together to commemorate significant historical events.

President Komorowski's speech (full text in Polish here) passed without any booing or negative comments. Indeed, I had not a single, minor policy quibble with with any word of the speech. After four years in office, he remains a popular and unifying head of state; I cannot see him losing the next presidential election.

I positioned myself around the half-way point of parade, on Pl. Na Rozdrożu, standing on the entrance to a pedestrian underpass to give me a slightly better vantage point. However, this meant missing out on seeing the best kit, the Leopard 2 A5s recently acquired by the Polish Army, and the Krab self-propelled howitzer. Also in the parade were detachments of American and Canadian troops, currently stationed in Poland.

The last time I attended this event, back in 2007, I was stationed nearer the Belweder palace... but there was one drawback with such a location...

Some half an hour before the parade started, the drivers of the armoured fighting vehicles standing between Pl. Na Rozdrożu and Belweder were given the order to start their engines (above). Until they got going, the tanks and self-propelled guns were pumping out clouds of fumes. Not pleasant.

The equipment standing in front of me was smaller and cleaner; the vintage tanks (see previous post) didn't start their engines until the whole modern army parade had passed. When I say 'modern' I mean 'post-war'; the Polish armed forces currently still rely for around two-thirds of their hardware on Soviet-era kit. By 2020, the proportions should be other way around, but that requires spending many billions of euros on acquisition of modern, western-designed hardware.

In the meantime - this (below) is the Osa ('wasp') anti-aircraft system. In use since the early 1970s, it is considered out of date in terms of dealing with modern military aircrafts' electronic countermeasure systems.

A large number of HUMVEEs rolled by - Poland has over 250 of these multi-purpose soft-skinned vehicles. Modern asymmetric warfare has pushed them back from the front line, where mine and ambush resistant vehicles (MRAPS) are called for. The parade included desert-painted and green-painted examples.

Below: the Czechoslovakian-built DANA self-propelled 152mm howitzer dates back to 1977. Poland's army has 111 of these unusual vehicles - unusual in that it is wheeled rather than tracked.

The Langusta ('lobster', below) is essentially a modernised, Polish-built version of the Soviet Grad multiple rocket launcher, mounted on a Jelcz truck.

Another hybrid, the Rosomak ('wolverine') armoured personnel carrier (below). The hull is a licence-made Finnish Patria APC, adapted to suit Polish requirements and fitted with an Italian turret.

Below: how do you get a 60-tonne tank over a 20-metre-wide gap? The Daglesia ('Douglas-fir', below) provides the answer - this bridgelayer is said to be the most modern in the world. Also available on caterpillar tracks.

The crowds that watched the parade drift slowly away, satisfied that Poland has the will and the wherewithal to defend itself against the type of incursion that Ukraine is currently facing. Poland has two huge pluses - it is part of NATO and part of the European Union. Poland must pay its way - at least 2% of its GDP should be spent on defence. Not a grosz less.

This time two years ago:
Balloon over Warsaw

This time four years ago:
Happiness, Polish-style

This time five years ago:
And watch the river flow...

Friday, 15 August 2014

Remembering Poland's army 1919-1939

As well as the modern fighting equipment on show today, there was a splendidly rich array of Polish military hardware from the times of the Bolshevik war of 1920 (the deciding victory in the Battle of Warsaw being celebrated today), and from the September campaign of 1939. The large number of tanks, tankettes, armoured cars, trucks, cars and motorbikes from that era left the crowds in no doubt that before the outbreak of WWII, Poland was no technologically backward nation. There was not enough of the hardware to keep out the Nazi hordes, but it was not missing. Armoured fighting vehicles, trucks and motorcycles were designed and manufactured by state-owned PZInż (Państwowe Zakłady Inżynieryjne - 'state engineering works') in Ursus. What was missing was better government policy.

Below: the 7TP ('seven-tonne Polish tank), a development of the British Vickers 6-ton tank. In production from 1935-39, better armed and armoured than the Panzer Is and Panzer IIs that were the mainstay of the Wehrmacht's armoured forces in the September campaign. It was also the first European tank equipped with a diesel engine - a far less flammable fuel than petrol. Sadly, there were too few of them in 1939 - a mere 108 examples equipped with the 37mm Bofors cannon, and a further 40 or so armed with a pair of machine guns.

Below: a pair of TKS tankettes. Armed with nothing more than a light machine gun, they were no match for the German Panzer IIs, although 575 TK-series tankettes were built, forming the bulk of Poland's armoured forces in September 1939. The tankettes were developed from the British Carden-Loyd tankette.

Below: a 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun, licence-produced in Poland towed by a C2P artillery tractor, itself based on the TKS tankette. Poland had over 350 40mm anti-aircraft guns - not enough to protect the Polish army against the scourge of the Stuka dive-bomber.

Below: an Ursus A truck towing a light anti-tank gun, one of two taking part in today's parade. The Ursus A dated back to 1928-31.

Below: a pair of Ursus wz. 34 light armoured cars. Around 90 of these were built between 1934 and 1938,

Below: a CWS limousine from the mid-1920s. CWS (Centralny Warsztat Samochodowy - 'central car workshop' was nationalised in 1928 and restructured as PZInż.

Below: some amazing history. This French-built Renault FT-17 saw action with the Polish army against the Bolsheviks in 1920, where it was captured by the Red Army, and along with three other FT tanks, was presented to the Emir of Afghanistan by the Soviets in 1923. This tank and its history was recently rediscovered; when its history was learned, the Polish government engaged in high-level diplomacy to have it returned. It was finally presented to the Polish ambassador in Kabul by the Afghan defence minister in 2012, taken to Bagram airforce base, then returned to Poland and restored to working condition. Note the tail skid to help crossing trenches. Poland still had over 100 of these in its army in 1939.

Apart from the restored FT-17, there were another two replica tanks, built for the Jerzy Hoffman film Battle of Warsaw 1920. What struck me was the three tanks moved off is how they would suddenly jerk to the left then be corrected to their forward direction. "The best tank of the first war, the worst of the second..."

Below: a Polski Fiat 508 Łazik, a field car based on the licence-built civilian version of the Fiat 508 Balila. The Polish army had around 1,500 of these in service in 1939.

Below: the Polish Sokół 1000 motorbike. Also built in Ursus by PZInż. Very similar to pre-war Harley-Davidsons in appearance.

Below: a Sokół 600 with sidecar accompanies the Sokół 1000. The 600 was a single-cylinder design.

The parade passes, the crowd moves on. Memories of Polish triumphs and disasters on the battlefield - which had the most profound impact on the way the country evolved - are embedded deep in the national psyche, and events such as this maintain that tradition.

This time two years ago:
Dworzec Zachodni ('West Wailway Shtation') before the remont

This time four years ago:
90 years ago today - Bolsheviks stopped at the gates of Warsaw

This time five years ago:

This time seven years ago:
Armed forces day parade in Warsaw

Polish Armed Forces Day - Flypast

The flypast began today's celebration of Armed Forces Day in Warsaw. Lasting less than 10 minutes, the aerial parade was a demonstration of the main types of aircraft in use by the Polish Air Force. Trainers, transports and fighters streamed overhead, along Al. Ujazdowskie.

Below: first up were the PZL TS-11 Iskra trainers in the colours of the Biało-Czerwone Iskry aerobatic team, trailing white and red smoke. The Iskra prototype first flew in 1960, and the type has been in service with the Polish Air Force for over half a century (!).

Next up came the helicopters. First to appear on the horizon was a sextet of PZL SW-4 Puszczyk ('tawny owl') light multipurpose helicopters (below). Designed and built in Poland, the SW-4 is used for training, border patrol and light transportation duties.

Below: perhaps the most menacing-looking ground-attack helicopter ever built, the Soviet Mil Mi-24 Hind saw extensive action in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In service with the Polish Army (rather than Air Force).

Now it's time for the transport aircraft. Starting with the smallest ones, below, the PZL M28 Bryza ('sea breeze'). The PZL aircraft is a development of the Soviet Antonov An-28.

Next up, a trio of CASA C-295s, below. These Spanish-built tactical transport aircraft have replaced Soviet-era Antonov An-26s.

The crowds are overflown by two (of five) ex-USAF Lockheed C-130E Hercules medium transport aircraft, flanked by two more CASA C-295s.

Below: one of the Hercs, passing directly overhead. A ubiquitous design that celebrates 60 years since its first flight in eight days' time.

Below: six PZL-130 TC II Orlik ('eaglet') trainers trailing smoke. These are based in Radom, and took part in last year's air show (click here for photos from that event).

Below: Soviet-era fast jets - a pair of Su-22 Fitters (variable geometry ground-attack fighters) fore and aft flanked appropriately by a pair of MiG-29 Flankers (multi-role fighters).

Below: one-twelfth of Poland's fleet of F-16 multi-role fighters. The presence of these aircraft plus visiting NATO fighters should hopefully act as a strong deterrent to those Russians believing that their country should regain its former empire by force.

Although there were no air-show style aerobatic displays, the sight of 48 (in total) aircraft - around a tenth of all the planes and helicopters used by the Polish Air Force, Army and Navy.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Post-holiday detox diet starts today

After nearly two weeks in the UK in which Eddie and I massively over-indulged in salt snacks (Doritos, Skips, Walkers Salt'n'Vinegar Crisps*, Monster Munch, Space Raiders, Frazzles, Scampi Fries, Hoola-Hoops, Knick-knacks etc) it is time to start eating sensibly again. My body - newly accustomed to sodium diacetate, tartrazine, sodium caseinate, maltodextrin, benzaldehyde, and other choice chemicals found in British salt snacks - needs shock therapy, followed by a swift return to a healthy Polish diet.

So - for the next two weeks, it will be nothing else other than fruit and vegetables and fish - as much as I want, but nothing else. No dairy, no wheat-based products. No confectionary, no potato-based cuisine, no rice. And no alcohol, while I'm at it. Day One was today, plenty of salad, raw carrot, guacamole (thanks Marta), Polish apples (#jedzjabłka !), tuna, mackerel, a peach, a banana, two nectarines, beans. One coffee in the morning followed by fruit tea, unsweetened fruit juice, and unflavoured, unsweetened soya milk - the nearest thing to drinking liquid cardboard. A short, sharp diet half-way between Lent and the next Lent.

It will be interesting to see whether cutting out dairy and wheat has the same magic effect on me that other middle-aged people are reporting - such as various minor ailments cured, higher energy levels and better all-round samopoczucie.

The concept is to dramatically reduce the number of food groups being eaten, see the difference, then one-by-one bring back the proscribed foods into the diet to see which ones negatively affect well-being. Day Four is apparently the hardest, but as a seasoned veteran of 24 Lents, it should be a doddle.

Back also to doing sit-ups, after a three-month laziness break. Today a mere 33 in one go, one-third of the old bare minimum number. As Eddie says of sit-ups: "I don't mind the 'sit' part, it's the 'up' I object to."

*Britain's semi-detached stance on Europe has its roots in the fact that you can't buy salt and vinegar flavour crisps on the Continent, and you can't buy paprika flavour crisps in Britain.

This time last year:
Cycle ride up and down the S2 and S79 before they open

This time two years ago:
Kraks and back in a day by train

This time three years ago:
Fountains by the New Town

This time four years ago:
Old-School Saska Kępa

This time five years ago:
The land, the light

This time six years ago:
Rainbow over Jeziorki

This time seven years ago:
Previously in Portmeirion

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Eat Polish apples, drink Polish cider

So Putin's pulled down the shutters on Polish food imports - this will hurt those Polish producers and middlemen who thought they could prosper by feeding The Bear. The embargo will reverberate across the Polish economy - GDP growth is likely to slow by a few tenths of a percentage point (outturn for 2014 more likely to be 2.9% than 3.3%), while inflation will fall - maybe even into deflationary territory - as a result of oversupply on the Polish market.

The #JedzJabłka ('eat apples') campaign across the social media is gaining traction; if you want to hit back at Putin, buy Polish apples. Poland is the world's number one exporter of apples and number two producer of apples. Outside in our garden, the apple tree is groaning with apples that come September will start falling to the ground in abundance.

As Poland begins coming to terms with an apple mountain of unprecedented proportions, media pundits have taken up my call for a massive expansion of Polish cider-making, which requires above all a change in absurd excise rules that class cider over 5% as a fruit wine, rather than as a beer equivalent. [I wrote about this last month.]

The absurdity came to a head the other day when Celtic, a Scottish foot-ball club, visited Warsaw to play against Legia, a Polish foot-ball club. Celtic is sponsored by Magners, a cider brand unavailable in Poland, containing 4.5% alcohol by volume. Legia is sponsored by Królewskie, a well-known beer brand containing 5.8% alcohol by volume. Now, because Magners is a cider and the advertising of cider - even on the shirts of visiting foot-ballers is prohibited in Poland - the Celtic players had to change their shirts to ones not bearing the brand. Beer adverts, on the other hand, are fine. And because Poles like the taste, brewers get round the ban by simply adding apple juice to beer (Redds, Warka Radler, Lech etc). This is the type of regulatory madness must be stamped out with extreme prejudice.

If Poland is to soak up the apples that Putin won't buy, it needs to be able to add value to them - by pressing them in local cider-presses and fermenting the resulting juice into high-quality cider. And advertise that cider in the same way that beer is advertised. And exported in quantity to the free world.

In the meanwhile, Polish cider sales are booming. From nearly zero in 2012, Polish consumers drank 2m litres of cider in 2013; this year sales are expected to reach 10m litres (By way of reference, British consumers drank 1,000m litres of cider last year - the UK being the world's no. 1 cider producer and consumer of cider.) And things are looking good at Auchan - the price of Weston's Old Rosie has come down from 17zł to 10zł a half-litre bottle - a benchmark of cider excellence.

Below: Polish cider (Cydr Lubelski) and Polish apples. I bought this cider because it was the only Polish brand available in Auchan today - there was Warka Perry and lots of fruity concoctions from the Baltics - plus of course Weston's Old Rosie and Weston's Vintage.

Mr Finance Minister please - get rid of the requirement for an excise band over the bottle, reduce the excise duty on all ciders to the same level as beer, and scrap the ban on cider advertising. And do so quickly, before Putin's embargo can do any lasting harm to Poland's agricultural economy. Below: the banderola, or excise band. You'll find this on cigarettes and vodka - but why-oh-why on cider? This is plain nuts.

Poland has such a huge potential when it comes to cider. It just needs the ministries to deregulate and liberalise. The market will do the rest.

Additional reading - in Polish
Countdown to Putin's fruit embargo
Poles are eating 'Freedom Apples' (and drinking cider in solidarity)
and (thanks for the link Paddy)
Cider ad ban likely to be scrapped

This time last year:
Hottest week ever (37C - that's 9C more than it was today)

This time two years ago:
Progress along the second line of the Warsaw Metro (still no sign of its impending completion as I write)

This time three years ago:
Doric arches, ul. Targowa

This time four years ago:
A place in the country, everyone's ideal

This time seven years ago:
I must go down to the sea again

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

In search of quintessential English countryside

Long have I postulated the profound difference between the English countryside and the Polish wieś. The former is where one wants to retire to, the latter where one wants to escape from. Any opportunity to visit some beautiful English countryside should be seized with delight.

The further south you go in England, the more gentle the landscape. In place of rocks, crags, cliffs, mountains, rushing streams - rolling meadowland, soft contours, meandering watercourses. The Derbyshire Dales are gentler than the Peaks, which are less craggy than the Pennines. But south of the Watford Gap*, the English countryside becomes gentler still.

On our way down from Derbyshire to London, my son Edmund and I explored some of the rural landscapes that I loved most when still living in England - south-east Warwickshire, south-west Northamptonshire, north-east Oxfordshire; where the Midlands yield gradually to the Home Counties. Villages that I visited many a time as a student - on foot or by bike, later by car; villages along the course of the old Great Central Railway as it ran south from Rugby via Woodford Halse and Brackley towards Quainton Road to become part of Metro-Land. Bounded by the M40 to the west, the M1 to the east and the M45 to the north, this is countryside with very low population density. Staverton, Catesby, Hellidon, Priors Marston, Napton-on-the-Hill. Landowners cleared the peasantry off common arable land to farm sheep more profitably, thus beginning England's destructive class distinction.

So off we went, leaving the car in Upper Catesby, in search of the quintessence of unspoilt England. Below: Eddie's trained eye scours the horizon for a glimpse of the remains of the Great Central Railway - the Catesby Viaduct lies down there, somewhere... And into the Catesby Tunnel the train used to run, until the barbarous Beeching ripped up the tracks. Since 1966 the valley no longer resounds to the steam whistle and the rush of express train headed for London from the Midlands and the North.

Below: looking down into the valley. Note how beautifully the public footpath is maintained. Private land and public right of way - clarity of ownership and purpose. For walkers, the countryside remains accessible along these ancient byways. But the history of enclosure and how the peasantry lost their right to the commons is also visible here, unlike in Poland, where you can ramble pretty much at will over the countryside (as long as you're not trampling crops).

Below: the footpath turns 90 degrees left into a nicely laid gravel path. Neatly trimmed hedgerows and clipped grass verges show that the landowner cares about the aesthetics of the property. Where will this path lead us? Let's see...

Below: on to a lovely barn; late-Victorian or Edwardian; fine brickwork. Other than one man mowing his lawn seated on a small tractor, we saw no other sign of human life this fine Sunday afternoon. Looking at the cars in the drives, the local residents are people who made their money in town and moved out to live in rural ease.

Below: a row of former almshouses, now probably each worth a third of a million pounds a piece. For who would not love to live in Lower Catesby, ten miles from the M40, even less from the M1; an hour's drive from London Town?

The church of St Mary and St Edmund, Lower Catesby - and there's Edmund, hemmed in by local sheep. Built in 1861 on the site of a church that had been here since the 14th Century. It was Sunday but the church door was locked; there was no sign saying at what time services were being held. The Anglican Church is losing sway even in its rural strongholds, as well-heeled urbanites, seeking sanctuary from the madness of city life, displace local folk.
Indeed, once in London, we watched a BBC1 TV programme called Escape to the Country, in which people seek the dream property from which to get away from it all, amid Views and a Wealth of Exposed Beams. Right: looking along the avenue of trees, the footpath leads us back up towards Catesby House, a 19th Century Jacobethan building that stands on the grounds of Catesby Priory, a Cistercian nunnery dissolved by Henry VIII in 1536.

I've written two short stories set around this magical part of England; read them here and here.

Onward then, to London, via Harrow-on-the-Hill (see post before last). And that's it for this summer's holiday.

* The Watford Gap is an important reference point in English culture. Some 100km north of Watford (an exurb of London), the Watford Gap lies along the line south of which people say 'bath' and 'grass' with a long 'a', 'luck' and 'cut' with a vowel that approximates a Polish 'a', while those to the north would say 'bath' and 'grass' with a short 'a' and 'luck' and 'cut' with a vowel approximating a Polish 'u'.

This time last year:
Behold and See - short story, Pt III

This time six years ago: This time six years ago:
Another return to Penrhos