Monday, 30 July 2018

Karczunkowska viaduct taking shape

The past month has seen rapid progress on the viaduct. The eastern on-ramp is under construction, at a cracking pace. The massive mountain of earth piled up between Karczunkowska and the back of Biedronka is shrinking as it is scooped away and taken to build up the ramp. Between two rising concrete retaining walls, the earth is piled into place then tamped down with a plate compactor . After three weeks, it is about halfway there, growing from day to day. The entire character of Jeziorki is rapidly changing.

At this pace, I’d guess the basic structure of the viaduct will be ready by the end of October; then the roadway needs to be laid, asphalt, kerbstones, pavements, street lighting, road markings, stairs, bus stops, wheelchair lifts – the finishing touches take the longest. Despite the current pace, I cannot see the entire construction process being complete this year; with a fair wind, spring 2019 should see it ready.

Below: view along Karczunkowska looking west. The incline begins to rise up towards the viaduct.

Below: view along Kaczunkowska from the tracks looking east.

Left: the retaining wall, close to the junction of ul. Buszycka. Note the interlocking concrete segments and behind them thousands of cubic metres of soil.

Below: view of the viaduct from the platform of W-wa Jeziorki, the coal train line in the foreground. Note the provisional pedestrian crossing; it is unlikely such a convenient facility will be allowed to remain after the work is finished - despite the scarcity of traffic on this line towards Siekierki power station.

Below: the bus loop takes shape, around the bend in the road of the re-profiled ul. Gogolińska.

Below: scaffolding being dismantled around the flight of concrete steps leading down from the viaduct towards ul. Goglińska and the bus loop. A Radom-bound train passes beneath.

There is a hurry to get the road done. By spring of next year, work on the S7 from Węzeł Okęcie down to Grójec should kick off; I guess that the closure of ul. Baletowa where the expressway will pass over on a viaduct will mean traffic re-routed along Karczunkowska. By then, it will have to be 100% ready.

Bonus shot: "The highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive..."

This time last year:
My father's return to Warsaw, 2017

This time two years ago:
My father's first visit to Warsaw in 40 years

This time three years ago:
What's worse - unemployment, or a badly-paid job?

This time four years ago:
A return to Liverpool

This time six years ago:
Too good to last (anyone remember OLT Express airline?)

This time seven years ago:
Poland's Baltic coast as a holiday destination

This time nine years ago:
The Warsaw they fought and died for?

This time 11 years ago:
Floods, rainbows and hope

Friday, 27 July 2018

Total Eclipse of the Moon - Warsaw

One for the record - today's Total Eclipse of the Moon was quite splendid, yet a subtle phenomenon compared to a solar eclipse (which I last witnessed in Warsaw in 1999). At around 21:15 local time, moonlight was but a slither of white on the top-right, as the earth's shadow advanced across the moon's face. By 21:35, the eclipse was full, the moon red, lit only by the rays of the sun diffracted through the earth's atmosphere.

From a photography point of view, on a night when the moon's luminance is greatly diminished compared to a normal full moon, the single-lens reflex (SLR) design beats the mirrorless camera totally. The SLR lets you watch the events unfold, naturally, through the lens. My mirrorless CoolPix P900 was worse than useless here; not enough light to focus. My Nikon D3300, with Nikkor 80-400mm lens (used to take the above pic) was much better. Photo info: 1/5 sec (on tripod, VR off), f5.6, 11400 ISO, manual metering and focus. Much better (technically) photos will no doubt appear, but I like this juxtaposition of the aircraft and the eclipsed moon.

Below: (almost) back to normal; the Earth's shadow swept across the moon from left to right; here, the last few minutes of the eclipse, shortly after midnight. Photo info: 1/125 sec, f11, 100 ISO. In other words, the normal full moon is around 14 times brighter than when it's under the Earth's shadow.

Next total eclipse, 21 January, 2019. Across North America and the UK, partial over Poland

This time two years ago:
'Others' vs. 'Our others'

This time three year:
Reducing inequality in Polish society

This time five years ago:
Llanbedrog beach

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

This time  eight years ago:
Driving impressions of the Toyota Yaris
[The car continues to be totally, 100% faultless eight years on.]

This time ten years ago:
Poland's dry summer

This time 11 years ago:
The UK's wettest summer ever

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Foreign exchange - don't get diddled

Back in the dark days of communism, tourists from the West could change their deutschmarks, dollars, francs and pounds from shady men standing outside hotels whispering czyndżmani czydżmani ('change money change money'). The rates were good. In August 1976, I remember the official exchange rate for the pound was 68 złotys (you had to change a given number of pounds for every day's stay in Poland in order to get your visa), but the black market offered 200. This made a holiday in Poland laughably cheap - were there any consumer goods to be had. Beer? "Nie było, nie ma, nie będzie." ('There wasn't any, there isn't any, there won't be any'). Even so, every now and then, you'd find something that zlotys could buy and have a reasonably good time (sadly at the expense of Polish citizens, who had to endure the privations of day-to-day life under communism).

As communism collapsed and the free market took over, currency exchange shops began popping up across Poland, and the cinkciarze (money-changers) moved off the pavements into actual premises. Below: a currency exchange on the Polish-German border, August 1989. These became known as kantory (plural - the singular being kantor). By the early 1990s, even the smallest Polish towns had several. Warsaw had kantory every 200m, it seemed at the time.

In today's world of mobile banking, smartphone apps and FinTech, is there still a place for the traditional bureau de change? Companies like OneMoneyMail (trading as SamiSwoi) and TransferWise have revolutionised money transfer, by undercutting the commission fees and high spreads that traditional operators such as Western Union or high-street banks would charge. But for holidaymaking, the long-distance electronic transfer of money into a difference currency makes little sense.

Ever since the fall in the value of the pound caused by the outcome of the Brexit referendum, the British media has been full of stories of tourists paying more than one pound for one euro at airport bureaux de change. Anyone who changes money at the rates offered at airports is a prime dupe. I pass these bureaux de change at airports and there's never, ever, anyone in front of them actually changing money. "POLISH ZLOTY: We sell at 4.09 to the pound, we buy at 5.59 to the pound." Seeing a spread as laughably massive as that causes anyone with an ounce of sense to walk briskly by. The current rate for the euro is €1.13 to the pound, so to be getting less than a euro for a pound, the bureau de change must be charging at least a 15% fee. Stuff 'em. In fact, why do they bother? Why does IFC pay sky-high rent on prime airport retail space just for its staff to watch thousands of passengers walk briskly by every hour?

If you are travelling to Poland, keep your money with you until you get into town. Avoid the kantory at railway stations (spreads of 10 to 15 grosze either way, far less than airports, but still steep) and look for those in less obvious places. Google Maps is useful. Be fully aware of the exact spot rate for the zloty (for your dollars, euros or pounds), which you can check in real time on

As I write these words, the pound buys 4.84 zlotys. A good kantor should offer you a three-grosz spread - that is it will sell you 4.81 złotys for your pound, and will buy your złotys at 4.87 for a pound. My local kantor (Tavex on ul. Świętokrzyska) is very competitive, transparent and technologically cutting-edge. I recently changed £220 there at a rate of 4.823, when the spot rate was 4.845, so a 2.2gr spread. Word gets round, this particular kantor is popular and sometimes there will be queues, but then low-margin, high-volume businesses make more profit than the high-margin, low-volume businesses we see at airports. Another kantor offering good rates is Redar, in the subway passage under Rondo Dmowskiego (on the east side), below. You can see two good signs - one, a queue of people outside, and two, a digital price list showing a two-grosz spread either way on the euro (and two-and-half grosz spread on the pound).

Changing your money wisely means you can make your holiday money go further in Poland; avoid the airport bureaux de change and the kantory at the main railway stations, use your smartphone to locate a good kantor (with a four- or five-star user rating). Most taxis and buses in Warsaw (at least) will take credit or debit cards; the Uber and MyTaxi apps work here - head into town and buy your zlotys at a good rate. Remember that your British (or American/Canadian/Australian) bank will tend to overcharge you on exchange rates on credit/debit card transactions, so it's better to change cash into cash and use złotys for your purchases in Poland for the best outcome.

As I come to the end of writing this post, the zloty has fallen to 4.83 to the pound... If you're travelling abroad this summer, keep watching the money markets!

Any other recommendations? Where to change money, which places to avoid?

This time three years ago:
Defining my Sublime Aesthetic

This time five years ago:
Porth Ceiriad on the Llyn Peninsula

This time seven years ago:
Jeziorki sunset, late July

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

This time 11 years ago:
Rural suburbias - the ideal place to live?

Sunday, 22 July 2018

A tale of two orchards

This year - like 2016 and 2014 - will be a bumper year for Polish apple growers. Great news for consumers - better produce at lower prices, more apple juice (pressed, not from concentrate), more cider (despite Polish government's insistence on excise bands and an advertising ban). But growers are likely to protest. There have already been two large protests in Warsaw from potato growers and soft fruit and berry growers; the scale of Poland's apple growing industry is such that as more and more produce reaches the markets, the price will plummet and the pain will be felt.

It will be felt in different ways by different growers. Down by my działka in Jakubowizna, the neighbourhood is crammed with orchards. And there's a huge difference between them.

Some orchards are modern, like the one below, with rows of trees spaced so that a narrow tractor can drive between them. Rows held upright along concrete posts, trees pruned so that pickers can easily get at all the fruit. Pesticides sparingly used (on the basis of computerised measurement of pests and optimal dosing). The orchards are fenced off to prevent theft and malicious intruders. The owners of such orchards spend the evenings learning online about market trends and prices from portalspoż or from producers of agri-food supplies (everything from seeds to tractor-trailers).

Some orchards are almost wild, overgrown, trees bearing apples speckled with blight, unfenced and yet fecund; who will pick these apples? Pickers can afford to be picky - why work here when the modern orchard across the road offers a better and safer working environment? Reminder - the Grójec poviat (district) has the lowest rural unemployment anywhere in Poland. Last October, registered unemployment was 2.2% (compared to 2.1% for booming Warsaw). My guess is that these gone-to-seed orchards will either be harvested by their elderly owners or will be left unharvested.

I feel sorry for the farmers who've done the right thing - they've invested in modern methods, they understand the market, and yet over-supply this coming autumn will mean that they will not be able to get a good price for their quality product. The farmer who has failed to invest, who has no bank loans to pay off, will be faced with the decision to harvest the apples and take them to the local punkt skupu (collection/purchase point) for a derisory sum (10 grosze a kilo I've seen!) as jabłko przemysłowe ('industrial apple', destined for processing) or let them fall off the trees and rot.

It is all about the marketing. Not putting premium apples and selling them in five-kilo bags, but in trays of four (ideally eco-friendly trays). Looking for novel varieties, or resurrecting old varieties, bypassed in the rush to standardisation. Several years ago, not-from-concentrate pressed (NFC) apple juice found its way into three- and five-litre boxes containing vacuum-filled bags. This solution, introduced in the 1980s as a way to market cheap Spanish wines, created an entire new market segment.

Last week, I bought one of these (left), a two-and-half litre (with an extra 250ml for free) presentation of NFC apple juice in a stand-alone bag, which dispenses with the need for the cardboard box. Innovation helps by creating new demand, but at the end of the day there's only so many apples we can eat and so much apple juice and cider we can drink in a day. Poland needs to step up its apple exports.

With the Russian market subject to sanctions, Poland's apple growers need to find new markets. India is a good example. India? you ask. Did you know the largest source of apples exported to India comes from the US and is subject to 10% duty? And that the Indian government has reacted to Trump's tariffs by raising the duty to 25%? Wow! What a market for Polish apples! But are growers ready? Is the transport infrastructure there? Do they understand the Indian market?

Remember this: Poland is the world's number three apple producer. Only China and the US produce more apples than Poland - and the US is not that far ahead. Poland is the world's number two apple exporter (by quantity) after China - but when ranked by value of those exports, Poland is only eighth. American apples are six times more valuable than Polish ones!

Yet Polish apples are superb. They have the right balance of sweetness and acidity and close texture. The climate is ideal, with plenty of late-summer/early-autumn sunshine and early frosts. What's needed is a marketing push. Anyone around in the UK in the 1970s will remember the 'Le Crunch' TV ad campaign for French Golden Delicious apples ('delicious' they are not). The campaign was so effective that France is the number one exporter of apples to the UK to this day (followed by South Africa, Chile, New Zealand and the US). Where's Poland?

While waiting for this season's apples (the first are being harvested now), I'm gorging myself on berries. On Friday, I bought half a kilo of finest blackcurrant (no tiddlers or weeds) for two and half złoty (5zł/kg). That's 50p a pound more or less. That's ridiculously cheap. The farmer's probably getting 1.50zł a kilo - and it's notoriously difficult to pick blackcurrants. (Poland's the world's second largest producer of currants after Russia.) Stats from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) - website tables here, browse around, it's addictive!

This time last year:
My 20 years in Poland
(hey! It's another anniversary - 21 today!)

This time two years ago:
PiS, Brexit, Trump and cognitive bias

This time five years ago:
Portmeirion, revisited, again

This time six years ago:
Beach day, Llyn Peninsula

This time sevenyears ago:
Down with cars in city centres!

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

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Ahead of the S7 extension - Dawidy

Work will begin in the early winter, beginning with site clearance. The extension of the S7 from Węzeł Lotnisko, south of Okęcie airport, down to Grójec, will be the biggest infrastructure project to affect Jeziorki since the Warsaw-Radom railway line was built in the early 1930s. With a viaduct taking the S7 and service roads over ul. Baletowa and an intersection between Jeziorki and Zamienie, the new expressway will profoundly affect the character of the neighbourhood.

Today I took a stroll down to where the S7 will meet the existing S79 - the expressway that spurs off from the S2 and heads north towards town. Below: the southern end of the S79. In the distance, the Warsaw Trade Centre (left) and Warsaw Spire (right). The concrete barriers are to discourage nocturnal motorsports on the unused rump end of the S79; the junction with the S2 was opened in 2013 and this asphalt has sat here unused, except by rubber-burning petrol heads, since.

Below: looking south from the end of the S79 towards Dawidy. The S7 extension will swing right, away from the Warsaw-Radom railway line, visible to the left of this shot.

Below: fragment from the official plans for the S7. The red line shows the end of the existing asphalt (see above). This map has north to the left, the railway line at the top, the S7 running left-right, and the spur roads connecting the S79 and S7 to the S2 curving off towards the bottom. Click to enlarge.

Below: over the tracks by air - a Boeing 737 comes into land. One of many Turkish charters I saw flying in this evening. Peak tourist season.

Below: the next section from the official plans for the S7, where it will cross ul. Baletowa, in Dawidy. This is still within Warsaw's administrative borders. Note the shaded red blocks - these are buildings scheduled for demolition. There's around 25 of them - houses, barns, garages, outbuildings. The expressway will go right through them. This map has north to the left, the railway line at the top, the S7 running left-right, and ul Baletowa crossing diagonally. Click to enlarge.

Below: at this point, the S7 will cross over ul. Baletowa. The house to the left, the houses in the distance, will all have to be knocked down.

Below: nearer the railway line, this house will be spared, but it will be overshadowed by the embankment carrying the S7 over Baletowa.

Below: looking towards Zamienie. The S7 and its western service road will skirt through the left hand side of this field; this is probably the final harvest here. In the distance, the Action S.A. warehouse - Action is Poland's largest IT distributor.

Below: looking towards Dawidy Bankowe and Zamienie, a horizon of cranes. These fields will not be affected directly, but the skylarks, lapwings and marsh harriers will probably move elsewhere.

This time last year:
2017 participatory budget for Jeziorki - winners and losers

This time four years ago:
The Second Summer of Cider

This time five years ago:
North Wales in the sun

This time six years ago:
Back at Penrhos

This time eight years ago:
A farewell to Dobra

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

New Nikons on the way!

Very excited by news that Nikon,  my camera-maker of choice, is about to release new models. Thanks to my neighbour Tomek for flagging up the impending release of the CoolPix P1000 superzoom with an amazing 24-3000mm (equivalent) lens. If its predecessor was impressive in the superzoom stakes with its 24-2000mm (equivalent) lens, the new beast will get you closer still to that wildlife, planes at cruising altitude, moon and distant objects. This will be an extreme piece of kit.

However... with such a narrow field of view when zoomed right out, it becomes tricky to hand-hold (despite the five-stop vibration reduction giving the sharpness of 1/3000th of a second shutter speed at 1/125th sec). Hunting around the sky or the pond for your subject can be frustrating at 2000mm (like trying to spot the moon with a straw held to your eye), let alone at 3000mm.

The other major downside of the P1000 is its size and weight; it weighs 1.4kg (compared to the 900g of the P900) and is longer, wider and taller. Having that extra half-kilo around your neck for any length of time becomes tiresome.

At the end of the day, both camera share the same tiny sensor (see this post for a comparison of Nikon sensors and what that means for image quality). Wide angle shots taken with superzooms are generally poor in terms of dynamic range - the bigger the sensor, the better it performs in low-light and with wide-angle lenses. Having said that, on a bright, sunny day, the results at the long end of the zoom are little short of miraculous, and the alternative (having to drag around real 3000mm lens for a full-frame sensored camera or a 2000mm lens for an APS-C sensored camera) is a task for weightlifters.

I think for my needs, I shall stick with the P900. With it, I've taken my best bird photos; for walks around Jeziorki's lakes on sunny days, it is unbeatable. I don't think that extra zooming ability compensates for the P1000's extra weight.

Below: photograph of today's half moon. Nikon CoolPix P900, lens at 357mm (2000mm equivalent), 1/160 sec, no tripod, f6.5, ISO 400. Quite amazing really. With the P1000, you'll be 50% closer to the moon, the ability to shoot .RAW means you'll be able to pull more detail out of the highlights (and shadows). More a demonstration of what's possible than anything arty or sciency.

On to the next Nikons due to appear soon. These I have been waiting for ever since I tested the Fuji X100; digital mirrorless cameras with full-frame sensors and interchangeable lenses. It's been a long wait! (blog post from last September here).

Rumoured to be called Nikon's Z-series cameras, these will dispense with the flip-up mirror arrangement of single-lens reflex cameras (such as my Nikon D3300). This makes - in theory, anyway - the camera smaller and lighter. Going back to the era of film cameras, this is visible in the size and weight of the Leica M-series rangefinder camera and the much bulkier professional Nikon and Canon SLR models. The Leica M is more discrete, happier in a street-photography environment than great big SLRs with motordrives and huge lenses.

Because there's no mirror in a rangefinder/mirrorless camera, the lenses can be placed nearer the film/sensor and thus be designed smaller and lighter. The promise of a smaller body and smaller lens is appealing to someone like me who can spend many hours walking with a camera hanging from the neck. Plus - the 'step up' to full-frame means higher image quality, more rewarding photos. I greatly enjoy using my Nikon CoolPix A mirrorless camera - it's compact and has a great lens - but the new cameras will have interchangeable lenses and a full-frame sensor. However - if it's too heavy - I'll not buy. Body and standard kit zoom lens together should weigh no more than 900g.

There are said to be two Z-series Nikons at launch; one will have a 45 megapixel sensor, the second a more-modest 24 MP sensor. I'd go the whole hog and spend the extra on the better-specced model, despite the price; it will have professional-quality robustness and should last for ages, plus (through a converter) it will be able to take all my old 35mm Nikkor lenses (28mm, 105mm f1.8, 55mm macro, 135mm and 35-70mm zoom). I'm looking forward to more news!

I have been reviewing my digital photos from the last few years and regret not having taken more using the .RAW format option. This allows you to extract more detail from the shadow and highlight areas of the photo than is possible in the compressed .jpg format. While .jpg is more than adequate for blogging, the quality is suboptimal for making large prints and really getting the most from the photo. I started shooting .RAW and .jpg (each snap gives two files) last September. This takes up more space on the memory card and more space on my desktop computer and back-up hard drive, but it is really worth it, especially when using the latest versions of Adobe Photoshop. Sadly, the Nikon CoolPix P900 does not have a .RAW option (the new P1000 does, but this won't swing my decision not to buy).

This time six years ago:
Work continues on S2, going under the railway lines

This time seven years ago:
Stand Easy! - a short story

This time ten years ago:
God Save The Queen - I mean it, Ma'am

This time 11 years ago:
Legoland, Dawidy Poduchowne

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Hala Gwardia, Hala Mirowska

Having written about Koszyki last Friday, it's time to write about the other two surviving enclosed markets of Warsaw - Hala Mirowska and Hala Gwardii, also built around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The two buildings can be treated as one complex, they are separated by a market square (built over with small shops in the 1960s) but were architecturally identical originally.

Part of Śródmieście Północ, the two buildings lie between al. Jana Pawła II and ul. Ptasia, which leads towards ul. Marszałkowska. Below: the eastern end of Hala Gwardii, currently undergoing external restoration. Inside, it's been turned into an organic and regional food bazaar (closed this evening). Between 2002 and 2005 I worked just around the corner from here, on ul. Zimna, so I knew these buildings well. Hala Gwardii has changed in terms of the retail experience, Hala Mirowska retains that old-school feel. The Vietnamese restaurant, Asia Tasty (that does the best pho in town) is still there, on the corner nearest the camera). Inside Hala Gwardii I could espy a craft ale shop.

Below: looking at the western end of Hala Gwardii. In communist times, a sports centre, with a focus on boxing. The 1953 European Amateur Boxing Championships took place here, two months after Stalin shuffled off this mortal coil. (Poland came first in the medals table; England fourth).

Below: the eastern entrance of Hala Mirowska, which has had an external facelift, though internally is pretty much as I remember it in 2004. The contrast between the two buildings is stark; one has been immaculately restored - the other has shrubs growing out of its upper stories.

Below: the western entrance of Hala Mirowska, somewhat spoilt by an incongruous modernist box shoved onto the elevation. The 1960s annex could not clash more with the neo-romanesque original. The pavement along the east side of al. Jana Pawła II from Park Mirowski to ul. Elektoralna is packed with flower stalls. Incidentally, the Warsaw district of Mirów from which Hala Mirowska gets its name was itself named after Gen. William Mier McDuff (1680-1758), the Scottish creator of the Polish royal cavalry guards regiment, which had its barracks and stables on this site.

Below: inside Hala Mirowska. The ground floor is dominated by a Społem supermarket - Poland's answer to the Co-op; nothing amazing but all the essentials and a few luxuries are here. Surrounding the Społem are lots of old-school retailers selling all kinds of goods and services including wicker baskets and traditional tablecloths.

Below: the northern elevation of Hala Mirowska; the brickwork and iron-and-glass ceiling very much of its time; I am minded of Covent Garden, Smithfields and Billingsgate, the great covered markets of Victorian London.

The war did not spare Hala Mirowska and Hala Gwardii; both were severely damaged. Below: a fragment of wall left unrestored, with bullet holes in the brickwork. It was here, against these very walls, on 7-8 August 1944 that the Germans massacred 510 civilians. The buildings themselves were bombed and burned.

Restored in 2011, Hala Mirowska still caters for Warsaw's older, less well-off residents, while Hala Gwardii contains an offer aimed at a more youthful and wealthier clientele, though sadly it was closed this evening. Worth a visit - not just for the shopping, but for the architecture and history.

This time last year:
Four stations between Piaseczno and Czachówek

This time four years ago:
A tragedy foretold [Putin's masacre of 280 civilians over East Ukraine]

Monday, 16 July 2018

New bus stop for Karczunkowska

Summer is the time for minor tweaks to Warsaw's public transport system, new routes introduced, roadworks, trasy zmienione - yesterday Jeziorki got a brand new bus stop. Well, two - one in each direction. Named Pozytywki for the road that branches off ul. Karczunkowska between the two. Pozytywki 01 is for services towards ul. Puławska and Ursynów (calling at Metro Stokłosy on the way), while Pozytywki 02 is for services towards PKP Jeziorki.

Below: a westbound 209 bus pulls away from Pozytywki 02, heading for the temporary loop by Biedronka (once the viaduct over the railway line is complete, the bus loop will be moved to the other side of the tracks). As you can see, the bus stop sign is provisional, and there's no bus shelter here.

Left: Pozytywki 01. The siting of  these two stops is intended for people working at the new Totalbud  Karczunkowska business park, as well as for the state security printing works, PWPW. A good location, as up till now, people wanting to use public transport would either have to walk between 350m and half a kilometre from existing bus stops.

Note lack of bus stop name on the temporary sign. The in-bus announcements also fail to mention its name: 'Następny przystanek" - ... [silence]. Soon after: "Następny przystanek - Karczunkowska". Wonder when this will change.

Too many people drive to PWPW. They leave their cars littered along the grass verges and pavements; at least they can no longer claim that they must drive to work because the bus stops are too far away.

The screenshot from Google Earth (below) shows the location of the new stops in relation to the Trombity and Karczunkowska stops. Click to enlarge - you can see just how necessary the new stops are, by two large zakłady pracy (the word 'workplace' is inadequate here!).

The ZTM website as of yesterday includes the new bus stop on the timetables (below) for route 209 (the L39 currently terminates on Puławska, by bus stop Karczunkowska 01 - hopefully just for the summer). Incidentally, the numbers by the names of the bus stops are... the numbers of the bus stops, and not the number of minutes between each stop. The bizarre one is PKP Jeziorki 53, I guess the '53' denotes a temporary/provisional stop.

The online timetable also shows bus times from the two new stops, as you can see, three buses an hour during the peaks - although bear in mind it's the summer; by autumn there will be more. And, no doubt, by the time the viaduct's ready, there will be more buses serving Karczunkowska.

Below: ZTM's public transport map of Warsaw (which now covers from Nadarzyn in the south-west to Tłuszcz in the north-east and from Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki in the north-west to Celestynów in the south-east) includes the city's latest bus stop - Pozytywki. Very impressive that it's so up to date!

So - Warsaw's public transport continues to get better and better. Now to tempt those idle fossil-fuel guzzlers out of their cars and into the buses!

This time six years ago:
Who should pay for railways?
[Interesting stuff about America's advanced electric railway line over the Rockies - built over 100 years ago!]

This time eight years ago:
Grunwald - the big picture

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

This time 11 years ago:
The summer sublime

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Health, physical and spiritual

Zdrowie, to najważniejsze, goes the Polish saying, often uttered while raising toasts. Health is certainly extremely important to us - but is it the most important?

Question - would you rather swap a fit and healthy body within which sits a troubled mind, for a body, that's immobile in a wheelchair but in a serene and blissful state?

I'd argue that spiritual well-being is even more vital to our lives, to our experience of living, than good health. The sense of being connected with the universe, with the infinite, of feeling at one with the unfolding, the becoming, of the journey from Zero to One. The eternal path from the brutish to the angelic, from ignorance to awareness - the purpose, the ordination of which can be represented by our human concept of God.

It is too easy to get distracted from the spiritual journey by our base human emotions, but we must not lose sight of the deeper current that links us all, our world, our universe, as it is unfolding. There are setbacks, we forget, we are distracted. And when that happens for too long, life's meaning gets muddied. At our human level, that 'unfolding' is represented by our new discoveries, by shared wisdoms that elevate our understanding.

This active search for understanding, for a higher awareness should be constant. It is repaid in that serene and blissful state of mind, which befalls us all too rarely. Two years ago, I asked 'how much spirituality do we need?' For my church-going readers, the experience of attending a religious service ought to bring about some sense of re-connection with the beautiful mystery of the infinite. Sometimes it does - sometimes just flashes - sometimes - empty ritual. And yet we owe it to ourselves, to our spiritual well-being, to actively seek moments of deep insight through which we build that serenity which should grow with age.

Yes, we age, nominally at one day per day, one year per year and yet our perception of the passage of time is that it is accelerating ever faster away from the past. At the age of ten, a year is one-tenth of our total experience, at the age of 50 it is one-fiftieth, so a 50 year-old perceives a year as galloping by at a much faster rate than a child - and at 75 it is even faster.

Even if blessed with good health, old age is marked by a deterioration in physical form, frailty, tiredness and poorer stamina. If you have built up, over the decades, a spiritual fortitude based on an awareness of one's place within the eternal unfolding of the universe, you will be in much better spiritual shape than someone who can do little more than bemoan the passing of youth.

The biggest enemy of your health is complacency; just because you're feeling well today doesn't mean you'll be feeling well tomorrow. I am convinced that praying - willing - yourself to be well does work. Plugging your biology into the current of the universe, so to speak. For a positive, spiritual reason. Healthy = happy, happy = healthy... if you will it, it is no dream. No matter how you are today, you can guard against further deterioration by engaging the soul.

Practising meditation, focus on breathing, listening to the universe - listening to God, if you will - actively seeking awareness - this all needs to be worked on over time if you are to enjoy serenity in old age, spiritual strength with which to overcome the encroaching physical frailty. As you lie in bed, before you drop off to sleep, think about the wonder of the endless and the eternal...

This time last year:
What's new on the Warsaw-Mysiadło borders...

This time two years ago:
Four stations from Jeziorki to Czachówek

This time four years ago:
High over Eastern Ukraine

This time five years ago:
From shouted slogans to practical policy

This time seven years ago:
Who should pay for railways?

This time eight years ago:
Grunwald - the big picture

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

This time 11 years ago:
The summer sublime

Friday, 13 July 2018


Pre-war Warsaw had four large indoor markets, three of which have survived to this day. The first to have been renovated was Hala Koszyki (on ul. Koszykowa). A splendid redevelopment, turning a down-at-heel and shabby bazaar into three floors of post-industrial retail-and-restaurant space that's architecturally attractive. [You can read about the other two, Hala Gwardii and Hala Mirowska, which are next door to one another, here.]

Built between 1906 and 1909 in the Art Nouveau style (Secesja in Polish) when Warsaw was within the Tsarist Russian Empire, Hala Koszyki consisted of two wings and a central hall. Both wings have been retained. Below: the left (eastern) wing - the PRL-era shop signage is in place, above the ground-floor windows on either side of the entrance, but have nothing to do with current usage.

Below: the right (western) wing mirrors the left wing perfectly. Again, old-school shop signs have been preserved.

Below: between the two wings, set back from the street, a new façade for the main part of the building. Outside, the bars and cafes are thriving, even with a rainstorm imminent.

Immediately through the main doors, there's a long bar (below) serving all manner of drinks. It's Friday, at the end of the working week, and the place is slowly beginning to fill up. By eight pm, it will be jumping. Many cafes, bars and restaurants (casual dining and fine dining) to choose from. There are also much-needed services (a dry-cleaner), an upmarket food retailer (Piotr i Paweł) and a space for culinary demonstrations and workshops.

Below: the guts of Koszyki - a three-level arcade with lots of space for retail and catering, plus space in which to hang out. This is the first floor. 

Left: a reminder of Tsarist times - bilingual sign for a fish shop, advertising gastronomical goods, fish conserves and marinades. Beautifully preserved from over a century ago. Today, the gastronomic tradition is maintained; there's a cheese shop in the basement, although there was no Wensleydale in today.

Below: a cool bookshop on the ground floor level - buy one, get one half price.

Re-opened in October 2016, Hala Koszyki is another great example of how heritage architecture can be given a new lease of life through smart planning and excellent execution. "Build it, and they will come."

Left: on the ground floor, looking east. A plethora of small shops, cafes, ice cream parlours and bars means that no one will leave disappointed. Though there could be more British cheeses in the cheese shop. There was Stilton.

Incidentally: according to the PWN Oxford Polish dictionary, kosz = basket. Then koszyczek (diminutive) = little basket. So what's koszyk? Basket, also. I'd have have translated koszyk as little basket and koszyczek as tiny basket. So - Koszyki = (little) baskets.

This time last year:
It's just an Ilyushin (remember the plane-restaurant?)

This time three years ago:
Marathon stroll (31.5km) along the Vistula 

This time four years ago:
Complaining about the lack of a river crossing between Siekierki and Góra Kalwaria! 

This time five years ago:
S2 update (nearly ready)

This time six years ago:
Progress on S2 bypass - photos from the air

This time eight years ago:
Up Śnieżnica

This time 11 years ago:
July continues glum (2007 - a rainy summer)

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Rainy summer Warsaw moods

One I've done before, but it works well. Outside W-wa Śródmieście station, there's a puddle which has been there for years (see this post from 2014) into which falls a reflection of the Palace of Culture. Stand here and catch the commuters and tourists passing to and from the station, reflected upside down in the puddle. Rotate the image through 180 degrees... and something interesting appears!

The Palace of Culture has become a hotspot for nostalgic vehicle tours of Warsaw. You can choose between Maluchs (Fiat 126Ps), the larger Polski Fiat 125P, Jelcz ogórek buses (there's three now stationed here), the occasional Berliet 'pig snout' bus from the early '50s, and two Polish light commercial vehicles - the Nysa and the Żuk (left). Both were Polish designed and built, few are left, so it's good to see them well looked after and offering an interesting tourist experience of the past.

Below: on my way from work, the sky is brusing. I must go home at once or risk a soaking. The western entrance to W-wa Śródmieście is down the steps in the distance.

I catch a train heading to Skarżysko-Kamienna, but it's a przyspieczony (limited stop) service which doesn't stop at Jeziorki. It's a double-decker, I'm seated downstairs, I snap this shot of W-wa Zachodnia (below) on my way to W-wa Służewiec, where I change to await the slow train home.

As I arrive at W-wa Ślużewiec, the heavens open. Fortunately, there's ample space under a roofed area on the platform where I can keep dry. Left: an SKM train headed for town calls at the first station from the airport; W-wa Ślużewiec is now very well served by trains to town (eight an hour during the peak - four from the airport, two from Piaseczno and two that terminate here).

Below: a multiple exposure shot of a Polish Air Force Mi-8 VIP helicopter (the so-called 'salonka'), which was flying round in circles in the pouring rain, awaiting clearance to land at Okęcie. After four laps above Służewiec, it finally made its way to the airport.

Back in Jeziorki, still raining hard. I take a bus home, which means I'll not hit the 10,000 paces today! My Koleje Mazowieckie train below will call in at Chynów station in 28 minutes' time.

Weather in coming days looks set to remain wet and cool for the time of year - but then the soil and crops needs the water.

This time three years ago:
Marathon stroll along the Vistula

This time four years ago:
Complaining about the lack of a river crossing between Siekierki and Góra Kalwaria! 

This time five years ago:
S2 update (nearly ready, as it happened)

This time six years ago:
Progress on S2 bypass - photos from the air

This time eight years ago:
Up Śnieżnica

This time 11 years ago:
July continues glum (2007 - a rainy summer)