Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Pavements for Karczunkowska and other development matters

No sight along ul. Karczunkowska could warm my heart more than the laying of a pavement from the security-printing works, PWPW, all the way down to ul. Sarabandy. This 270-metre long portion of civilised life cuts out the messiest, muddiest and most dangerous stretch of pedestrians' walk from Trombity to the bus stop on Puławska. After years of complaining and frustration, at last the slabs are being laid.

Left: here it is! Lovely! Looking west along Karczunkowska. Note the margin between the asphalt and the paving slabs - inlaid with gravel, will grass one day naturally grow between the stone chips? I hope so!

Meanwhile, at the other end of the road, Karczunkowska has been furnished with a temporary pavement stretching from the new platform at W-wa Jeziorki station to the temporary bus stop on the corner of ul. Nawłocka. Will this finally get paving slabs? If not, it may well turn into a pot-holed muddy track before the end of spring.

This leaves the longest stretch, between Nawłocka and PWPW, without a pavement, but at least there is hope as all of a sudden something has stirred.

The big project to build the pavement all the way from Puławska through to Warsaw's border near Zgorzała and Zamienie has been put on hold for budgetary reasons. It was to have been initiated by Warsaw's roads department (Zarząd Dróg Miejskich) rather than by Ursynów town hall, as Karczunkowska is a Droga Powiatowa (a road of greater than-merely-local-importance). The 2.4km stretch was to have been furnished with a cycle path and widened accordingly.

Left: looking east along ul. Karczunkowska. With this project no longer a realistic prospect, local residents' anger at the lack of pavement prompted the Ursynów district authorities to take matters in their own hands.

Last December, they built an 80m-long stretch of pavement from ul. Sarabandy to the bus stop on the corner of Karczunkowska and Puławska (this project was voted number one in the 2015 participatory budget exercise). Now they have built on. It still leaves 1km between PWPW and ul. Nawłocka.

Meanwhile, (thanks Dr Marcin) news from the other end of Karczunkowska is that the level crossing gate-keeper's hut will not be pulled down immediately, but has been given a two-week stay of execution.

The road has been closed to traffic - there are still chancers who reckon the no entry, road closed, diversions in force signs don't actually apply to them. But generally, the road is excitingly quiet  (below).

Momentous times in Jeziorki!

This time last year:
Gold Train update (the hope! the expectations!)

This time This time last year:
Changes to Poland's road traffic laws

This time three years ago:
Poland post the Rubbish Revolution

This time four years ago:
Poland's most beautiful street

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

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

This time eight years ago:
Summer Sunday in the city

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

Sunday, 28 August 2016

More Sandomierz photos

Like Edinburgh, the visual beauty of Sandomierz's architecture requires more than one post to cover. [Here's a link to the first post, from yesterday.] Below: looking towards the Old Town square from ul. Mariacka.

Below: the Church of St Michael the Archangel on ul. Żeromskiego. The building to the right on Powale Górne is a new build; Google Streetview imagery from 2013 shows it still under construction. Sandomierz cares about keeping the architecture unified. Note too lack of graffiti.

Left: golden cobblestones along ul. Bartolona, leading down towards the Podwale. Note the massive brick buttresses holding up the walls.

Below: the Bishops' Palace on ul. Mariacka, the road that leads from the Old Town square to the castle, passing the cathedral on the way.

Below: the colonnaded passage in front of the post office, the Opatowska gate is visible in the distance.

Left: under a perfect azure sky, lit by strong late-August sun, the colours of the houses on the Old Town market square are most impressive. There's a similarity with Warsaw's Starówka, though the buildings are lower, two-three storey structures on the square, and one-two storey structures on the streets running off it.

Below: an ice cream and waffle stand on ul Gen. Michała Sokolnickiego

Below: looking down Sokolnickiego towards the Old Town market square.

Sandomierz, I will be back!

This time last year:
All aboard the Gold Train rush

This time five years ago:
Dominicans at large, Służew

This time six years ago:
Late summer moods, Jeziorki

This time seven years ago:
The next one hundred years

This time eight years ago:
"What do we want? Early retirement!
When do we want it? NOW!"

This time nine years ago:
Twilight of Warsaw's greenhouse economy

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Sandomierz - another outstanding Polish town to see

I rate towns and cities the following way: there are places that are so excellent that I could see myself retiring there. Then there are places to spend a long time living and working. Next up, somewhere to spend a holiday. Then the town or city that's worth a long weekend. Then the town or city that makes it worth breaking a journey to visit and see the sights. Then there's various shades of 'don't bother'.

Sandomierz, which I've now visited four times, is quite simply an amazing historical town, it keeps getting better with each visit, as though the local authorities know what they need to do to continually improve it as a draw. Today, I'd rate Sandomierz as long weekend-plus. The town itself has plenty to see, and the surrounding countryside - especially on a weekend like this one - is quite beautiful.

I arrived at the castle at noon to chair a panel at a trade conference aimed at the region's fruit and veg growers. After the conference, I had time to explore the town. Below: from the castle, the view of the Cathedral Basilica of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, built in 1360.

Below: the interior of the cathedral. Twelve gory paintings (one for each month) depict the deaths of Christian martyrs, blood spewing, severed heads; things to distract from lengthy sermons.

Below: the vicarage, across the road from the cathedral. Very much an ecclesiastical town, many priests, monks and nuns are to be seen.

The Brama Opatowska is the gate at the northern end of the town. This Gothic structure dates back to the second half of the 14th Century, built by King Kazimierz III the Great. He's the builder-king that came to power when Poland was largely built of plants and left it built of brick. This was one of four main gates and the only one to survive to this day.

If amber is the tourist take-home in Gdańsk, here in Sandomierz it's striped flint (or banded flint), a rare stone that is to be found in abundance in this region of Poland. Many workshops and souvenir stores sell all manner of jewelry, cuff-links, tie pins and the like featuring this stone set in silver.

Below: the Old Town square, beautifully remonted since my last visit to Sandomierz in January 2006. Back then it was grey and crumbling; today, it is vibrant and appealing. EU (and Swiss) funds have been put to good use.

Below: I stayed at the Aparthotel strategically located on the Old Town square, with an excellent and comfortable room overlooking the back, away from the noise. Price for apartment: 280 złotys, £56 (Wow! suddenly Poland starts looking pricy when comparing with a weak pound!)  Only disappointment with the hotel was the breakfast (see further down).

Left: this Old Town wicket gate (furta miejska), is the one surviving of the two built. This, the Dominican wicket, is known as the ear (not eye) of the needle. Steep steps lead down to the Podwale; the Bistro Podwale offers good food and a great range of craft beers and ciders including my favourite Polish cider - Cydr Ignaców.

Below: plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants in and around the Old Town. Prices lower than Warsaw, higher than Zamość (half-litre of local beer, 8 złotys).

Below: Sandomierz's town hall stands in the middle of the Old Town square. Like the cathedral and the gates, it is Gothic and dates back to the second half of the 14th Century, although the white tower was added on in the 17th Century.

Below: looking southeast from the steps of the Basztowy hotel. Across the Vistula lies Tarnobrzeg and in the distance, Rzeszów.

After the slap-up dinner of local produce laid on by the organisers, my colleagues from our Kraków office set off for home (Sandomierz is a three-hour drive from Warsaw, a three-hour drive from Kraków). Below: a night-time view of the castle.

This morning I slept until half past eight, had breakfast (poor! powdered coffee, no fruit juice, no fruit, no salad - just bread, butter, ham and cheese) and decided to spend more time looking around Sandomierz. Below: the Town Hall, lit by strong morning sunlight.

Left: I've not seen these before in other tourist hot-spots. Sandomierz has a fleet of these Chinese-made electric powered replicas of the Ford Model 'T' to convey tourists on guided tours of the town silently and aesthetically. Full marks to Rariro (Guangzhou) Vehicle Co Ltd for making these. There's a global market for such heritage vehicles. Faux they may be, but they are so much more fitting than golf carts.

Below: the old town of Sandomierz stands on a hill rising 40m to 50m over the Vistula river. Every now and then, you can catch a glimpse of the river and the plains beyond.

Below: this could be Tuscany. This beautiful town is quintessentially European in its history, culture and architecture.

Below: half past ten, time to set off back to Warsaw on my motorbike. The fine way. To Zawichost, by ferry across the Vistula, thence via Annopol, Puławy, Wilga and Góra Kalwaria home.

If you've not been - go! You will not be disappointed by Sandomierz. Finally, a thank-you to Tomek from our Kraków office, who schooled here and showed us round with the expert knowledge of a local.

[I took so many interesting photos I needed to put together another post to accommodate them all - click here for more Sandometer!]

This time two years ago:
Food hygiene and lies as Russian foreign policy tools

This time three years ago:
Asphalt for ul. Poloneza (to Krasnowolska at least)

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Planes and trains on pedestals and plinths

The Soviet Union and the countries of the Soviet Bloc produced vast fleets of combat aircraft in the belief that they could overcome the West by sheer force of numbers. Luckily for civilisation, this did not happen. By the early 1980s, numerical inferiority was more than made up for by superior avionics and computer-guided weapons systems (as seen over the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon in 1982, when Israeli F-15s and F-16s shot 100 Syrian MiGs out of the skies for no Israeli losses).

By the end of the decade, the Cold War was over, the the former Soviet Bloc, Poland included, was left with thousands of unwanted jet fighters. Some had long found new uses, such as this Lim-2, a Polish licence-built MiG 15 Fagot (below). Placed on a pedestal in Warka, it serves as a war memorial, dating back to 23 August 1969. [The 30th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, but I'm sure that's not what the communists wanted to achieve by this act. Or did they...?]

Below: a bit of Photoshoppery and the MiG 15 takes to the air.

Below: no Photoshop involved (other than anticlockwise rotation). All I'll say is that this Ty2 Kreigslok locomotive is a well-known landmark in Wrocław.

Below: in much scruffier state, this Lim-5 (Polish licence-built MiG 17 Fresco) graces a square in Nowe Miasto nad Pilicą. The pedestal is covered with advertising bills.

Below: a MiG 21 Faceplate standing in a field on the western edge of the village of Nowa Brzeżnica on the DK42. Neither the aircraft, nor the house in the background, are present in the Google Street View imagery from September 2013.

Below: at Broniszew, on the S7 between Białobrzegi and Grójec heading north towards Warsaw, at the petrol station and Scottish restaurant, stands a Sukhoi Su-22 Fitter, a variable-geometry ground-attack fighter. Still in service (as of 2016) with the Polish Air Force.

Below: A plane that's closer to my heart - the Polish- designed and built Iskra jet trainer. Fifty years ago, on holiday in Poland, I stuck together a 1/72 scale plastic model of the PZL TS-11 Iskra (I can still smell the glue now!) Today, half a century on, the Iskra is still flying, the aircraft used by the Polish Air Force's Biało-Czerwone Iskry aerobatic team. This one is on a plinth in Łask, 30km south-west of Łódź, now home to the F-16s of Poland's 10th Tactical Squadron.

Below: bonus pic for rail enthusiasts: a nicely preserved Px48 narrow-gauge steam engine with period carriage, in Przaska, further west along the DK42. The Google Street View imagery from September 2013 shows the loco in light grey primer, minus its headlamps!

There's another Px48, though not so nice, and without a carriage, in Zduńska Wola (DK14, ul Łaska, just past the railway viaduct heading west).

UPDATE 2018:

Below: another TS-11 Iskra, this one on a plinth by the fire station in Klwów, on the DK48, eastern Łódzkie voivodship. In the colours of the Biało-Czerwone Iskry team, it bears an inscription commemorating the death of F/Lt Antoni Kłosiński, who died in an air crash in Swanbourne, Buckinghamshire, in 1943. He was born in Kadż, a village 4km south of Klwów.

Below: another MiG-21 Fishbed, parked outside the Hotel Kosmonauta near Wrocław Airport. The hotel should be of interest to aerospace fans, as it has lots of interesting exhibits around the reception area and in the grounds.


This wonderfully posed TS11 Iska sits with a pedestal rammed up its orifice in Zamość, commemorating the air force technical school [Techniczna Szkoła Wojsk Lotniczych] there between 1944 (!) and 1995.

This time four years ago:
Twilight, ul. Karczunkowska

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

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

This time nine years ago:
Jeziorki - late August cultivation

Sunday, 21 August 2016

That's it - Karczunkowska's closed.

As promised, I was there with my camera to capture for local posterity the moment the last train passed the level crossing at W-wa Jeziorki. At two minutes past midnight, running nine minutes late, the train from Radom to W-wa Wschodnia crossed ul. Karczunkowska...

...and for the very last time the barriers were raised to let a vehicle through, a van carrying the barriers that would be erected to close the roads off to traffic. More on this in a moment.

I had a chat with the level crossing keeper, who said that the hut would still be manned until Monday, with the barriers permanently lowered. On Monday, a team from PKP PLK, the rail infrastructure operator, will come and remove all the viable equipment (some of which can be seen in the two shots below taken from both side windows).

The shots have the flavour of an O. Winston Link photo - all that's missing is a Norfork & Western freight train hauled by a massive steam engine hammering through. By Monday, all that will be left here will be an empty shell, to be demolished as it stands directly in the path of the viaduct.

I met Dr Marcin, who was distressed that ul. Buszycka and ul. Nawłocka had both been completely closed off by the road-builders' barriers. Now, given that ul. Buszycka is a cul-de-sac, this would have meant its inhabitants would have had their cars stranded. Below: the barriers in place. To get your car into ul. Buszycka would have meant dismantling this barrier as well as the one at the entrance to Buszycka itself (next turning on the right). A number of local residents were none too happy with this arrangement.

By the cold light of day, however, common sense had prevailed; the barriers at the mouths of ul. Buszycka and Nawłocka had been completely taken down and left to lie by the side of the road. The barrier across Karczunkowska had been partially dismantled, allowing access to Buszycka. If you click to enlarge this photo, you will see the level crossing barriers are down; they will remain down until finally removed. You can also make out on the right the path the new pavement will take - from ul. Nawłocka all the way to the station, all 380m of it. Progress!

Below: the temporary bus loop off the access road to Biedronka. The 209 is waiting to depart. Biedronka will suffer a massive drop in turnover, as few shoppers from Zgorzała, Zamienie and Dawidy Bankowe will do the 10km detour to come here. Commuters passing through will shop elsewhere on their diverted drive home,

While Jeziorki will lose the 715 and 319 buses, the number of 209s running in rush hours will rise from two to three and there will also be two L39s an hour throughout the day, although they will turn south onto ul. Puławska, requiring a clumsy change to catch a bus towards town.

The biggest question is: how long before the viaduct is completed and open? As I wrote, it took three years and two months to complete the viaduct carrying ul. Poloneza over the S2 expressway. But this is a more important road. Word from Ursynów town hall is that ul. Karczunkowska will reopen on 24 December ["W związku z przebudową trakcji na skrzyżowaniu z ul. Karczunkowską przejazd zostanie zamknięty od godziny 20.00 w dniu  20 sierpnia br. do dnia 24 grudnia br."] No mention in that sentence of the viaduct being opened - just that the overhead power lines will be in place by Christmas.

As usual with road closures, there are two types. Both are advertised with adequate signage. One type is hermetic - like on Baletowa or Krasickiego. You will not pass. Turn your car around and go back. The detour may be 10km long. But you cannot avoid it. The other type looks like the first - except you can drive right through, unhindered, slowing down for a bit of rough road surface. Because you can't tell until you get right up to the closure, there were many motorists driving up ul. Karczunkowska (2km ) to see there's no way across, then driving back (2km).

This time last year:
What happened to Poland's Amish?

This time two years ago:
PKP publishes plans for upgrade of Warsaw-Radom line

This time three years ago:
World's largest ship calls in at Gdańsk

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

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

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

This time nine years ago:
By bike to Czachówek again

Friday, 19 August 2016

Warsaw remembers the PAST-a building capture

The Warsaw Uprising lasted 63 days, so for the duration there are many individual commemorations. Today I attended the 72nd anniversary of the capture by AK soldiers of the PAST-a building on ul. Zielna (conveniently next door to my office). Built before the WW1 by a Swedish telephone company that was later to become known globally as Ericsson, the building was the highest in Warsaw until the Prudential building was completed in 1934. The telephone company became Polska Akcyjna Spółka Telefoniczna (PAST) in 1922, and the building was colloquially known as PAST-a, as it is to this day (ask any taxi driver).

During the German occupation of Warsaw, the PAST-a building played a vital role, as the main west-east telephone lines linking the eastern front to Berlin passed through its cellars (a cross-section through the bundle of cables, several feet in diametre, is still present). Because of its importance, it was the scene of fierce battles throughout the Uprising.

The final, successful, assault on the PAST-a building (below) began at 03:00 on 20 August 1944. Mines were set off blowing open two openings through which AK soldiers entered the building, while a fire-pump, converted into a flame-thrower, was used to set fire to the upper stories. Twelve hours later, the Germans surrendered, the Poles took 115 soldiers prisoner. Having captured the building, the heroic AK soldiers held it right to the very end of the Uprising.
The AK unit that seized PAST-a, Batalion Kilinski, was led by Henryk "Leliwa" Roycewicz. A plaque in his honour was unveiled today. By coincidence, Colonel Roycewicz was an Olympic horseman, winning a silver medal at the 1936 Berlin games. So it was apt to have a squadron of Polish cavalry from 1939 present at today's event - and what an impression they made!

Left: Ułani (uhlans), light cavalry played an important role in the September campaign.

It must be remembered that Poland held out against the Germans longer than the French, and the Polish cavalrymen did not charge German tanks - a myth invented by an Italian journalist and perpetuated to this day. They were, however, successful in harassing German artillery which was then largely horse-drawn.

Below: lances raised, the crimson colours harking back to the Napoleonic era, the cavalrymen were indeed a stirring sight, mounted on their magnificent horses.

Below: outside the PAST-a building for today's commemoration which included the unveiling of the Henryk Roycewicz plaque and laying of wreaths. There were several veterans present.

Below: the wreaths are laid. Time for photographs and to move into the courtyard.

Inside, a ten-piece band, below, dressed in period costume, played the songs of the wartime years, the occupation, the uprising, and its aftermath. Very moving, a beautiful performance.

Below: with Peter Chudy (right) is Andrzej Szacurdalski, who fought in the battle as a 17 year-old boy. He recalls this very courtyard from the Uprising, and told us several insightful anecdotes. One was that because of his time spent in the countryside, he had learned to shoot, unlike most of the boys in the battalion, who'd get knocked over by the recoil when they first fired a gun.

There was a chance to chat to several veterans, all of whom had fascinating tales to tell, each adding a bit more detail to the the overall picture; history not so much written by the victors as by the survivors. The voices of the dwindling band of fighters will be accorded more importance with the passing years.