Thursday, August 26, 2010

The very best of the best of Warsaw! #10

Ok! Sorry again. I have once again fallen far behind here.
However, I will do like Milli Vanilli and "Blame it on the rain".
Yes, the summer has officially ended and the rains have arrived. Booo!!! Absolutely, you are right. I now should, in theory, have more time to do this, well, yes and no. Liverpool have been playing in the EPL and the Europa League, so I have been busy crying a lot and yelling at the screen. Whilst maintaining the normal cycle of cooking, eating and trying to do some research into new camera additions.... all of that, and I have still been able to incorporate being lazy.

So I will start from number ten of the list of the Polish people's best things in Warsaw:

#10 Old Praga

Praga is "the other side" when it comes to Warsaw. It is the Right or East Bank. As some of you know, Warsaw is divded by the Wisła (Vistula) which runs from the South of Poland through to the North ending in the not so salty Baltic Sea. Praga is also the Polish name for Prague (capital of the Czech Republic), which can be confusing, but on the whole has been better preserved than the more central part of Warsaw, much as the Czech capital has. The reason being the Germans couldn't destroy it in WWII, as the Russians had already arrived when they (the Germans) decided to destroy the Western side as part of their retribution for the Warsaw Uprising.
Praga is where the new national stadium is, the zoo, and the next big point of the new metro system. So it is all go here.

Praga, now, is the closest link to what once Warsaw was. It has been the setting of movies such as Polanski's classic "The Pianist". This is because it has many old buildings and some really pretty areas.

This said it balances by being Warsaw's real working class suburbs, much more so than anything on the other side of the river. So, even though the houses and buildings are prettier and older, it isn't as expensive as you might think.

Ząbkowska street is the central to "old Praga" and one of the nicest places to stroll and look at the buildings and "the way Warsaw was". On this street you will see many of the buildings and their internal courtyards that typified Warsaw pre war. Of course there are larger things like Koneser, an old Vodka factory that is now more arts focused as you can see with the Amy Winehouse carving here above.

I like Praga and think it is well worth a look, just watch your wallet, as there are always stories of hoods and pickpockets. As in many inner city working class neighbourhoods.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The very best of the best of Warsaw! Right?

Sorry all readers, I have been rather slack!!

Anywho….. A while ago I was thinking, yes hard to believe I know, but I was wondering about travel and tourism in Warsaw. It stemmed from an article I read, I think it was in the Independent or Lonely Planet, and they both suggested that this summer was one of the top ten locations to visit was Warsaw. First I chuckled as it has no beaches, no fancy towers and no great festivals to speak of. There is a river, wild as it is, there is a Palace of Culture in the middle of town, and they did have a Europride march this year for the first time. However, there was one reason that stood out according to the article. There was Chopin. It is a celebration year of him this year.

Then I thought, what else is there here in Warsaw? I have been here nearly a year and a half and I know what I love. However, I certainly am an odd tourist, it took me at least 9 separate trips to mainland Europe to ever go to Berlin and Paris. So, with me being untypical, I pondered what could my students do to help me know more. Sounds strange doesn't it? A teacher asking his students for knowledge! I am sure that people would say

"Excuse me, are you meant to be giving, confirming and sharing knowledge?", to which I might respond;

"Well, indeed, that is what I believe I am doing. I am allowing you to convey your knowledge on a given topic and correcting you when wrong".

No doubt, they would roll their eyes and agree. Sounds a lot like when "experts" say, "tell me what you know, and I will tell you how wrong you are", maybe not in so many words but probably more delicately.

I continued this "experiment" in the social confines of my classrooms for a week or two, so as to enable as many of my students involved as possible. So the survey, although limited to a few people who want to learn or improve their English in a couple of different companies, is balanced and relatively diversified in the sense that it is from people from Warsaw and from other cities around Poland.

I asked them the question “If you had a person from outside of Warsaw visit you, where would you take them?”

So here is my top ten:

1) Koło Sunday Antique Bazaar (If we can get out of bed after drinking with our guests on Saturday night this is the best fun in Wawa, probably also because most Poles never go!)

2) University of Warsaw Library (a great view soon to be greater with the Copernicus centre!)

3) Chimielna (for a Pączki)

4) Wedel (to bathe in chocolate)

5) Old town and confines (nice to give a history lesson and see how Wawa looked pre WWII)

6) Uprising Museum (if they like history and interactive museums)

7) Old Praga (if they don’t have anything valuable)

8) Hale Mirowskie (a nice market to stroll through and it is a nice starting point for a walk in Wola see next one)

9) Wola Ghetto (To talk about the ghetto and see glimpses of buildings and history)

10) The “Centre” (Although there is no true centre, I mean a stroll around the Palac of Kulture, a look at the beautiful Central Station, and its fancy brother the Złoty Terasy shopping complex)

Now then, in the next few days, I will write up a compilation of my students top ten’s and a few selected other locations that I find interesting.

What are yours for people from or who have visited Warsaw?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cheese and honey

Well, searching through the old laptop to try and clean up and make some space I found some photos from earlier this year that I hadn't put up! Hopeless, I know. Sorry.

So these are from earlier in the year, when my 'adopted' cousin Darren and his lovely Margie popped into Wawa after they had spent some time in the South of the country around Krakow and Auschwitz. After being in such pretty cities as Krakow and Berlin, coming to Warsaw is certainly somewhat of a shock. As they say, if you can survive your first viewing of Warsaw, you can survive a lifetime. Especially when you come from the Central Train Station. To me, the station itself really isn't that unattractive, however if you ask a Varsavian, you will most likely find they loathe it in no uncertain terms. People say the design is horrible, but it isn't so much that, it is just poorly organised inside. The hallways are filled with take away stalls and the heavy smell of fried food and melted cheese is hard to escape.

The colour scheme, although a mix of grey, black and darker grey, really could be polished up and buffed into something that resembles sleek and modern design. I think if you gave me 50 strong men with crowbars, some big bins, a number of high pressure hoses and some decent lighting, I could make the station into a really nice, welcoming and warming place, where the homeless wouldn't want to stay drinking cheap vodka, maybe they would change to Italian red wine instead, and the new coffee shops wouldn't look out of place. Oh well, that is another subject for another day.

So we had some guests come and visit. They unfortunately got the worst of the weather, it was raining most of the days they were here, and as soon as they left we had 4 weeks of rain free, stifling heat. So alas the weather wasn't a big display for them.

We thought it would also be nice to give them a taste of something else very traditional. Here in Poland, alcohol is a big part of history and tradition. Although men will brag how they drink loads and loads, like in every country in the world, but here they do have a rich history of warming beverages. Hot spiced beer and wine, cherry liqueurs, and then this family. The honey based family. This drink is Krupnik, it is basically a honey vodka. I do like it especially on a cold and wet day.

It appears that Darren and Margie are a little hesistant, probably because Marty and I were smiling so much. They must have thought it was a joke or something.

You will be happy to know that they survived and actually thought it to be rather pleasant. I keep thinking about making some Krupnik or maybe even some mead, but it can take at least a year to make good mead, and well, I am not that patient when it comes to alcohol. We will see.

Back to our city guests, well we started by giving them a tour from the train station to their apartment on the best eating street in Warsaw. Yes, you guessed it. Chmielna St, home of my favourite hot donuts! yum! So on the way through, they were forced into having two each. We tried to show them a little of Warsaw's highlights, Old town, the university library, CK Oberza, Nowy Swiat and most of the "downtown" areas. We took them to eat traditional food, and Pierogi dumplings. It seems they might have liked it as they ended up staying longer than they had expected. Which is a good sign.

We got them to try some of one of the growing number of Polish Cheese on the EU Food Heritage List. Oscypek a regional smoked cheese from the Southern Highlands is great with Cranberry Sauce, here Marty gave up a cheesy grin to match the cheese.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

And now for something completely different.

I know this blog is supposed to be about Warsaw and I do tend to get distracted often, sorry, but once again I am going to get a little off track again.

Since being in Warsaw I have been able to read more, take more photos (of different things), eat a wide variety of things as well as smell, see, hear and feel differently. One thing that has happened due to all this cerebral, some would say cereal if referring to my brains, excitement and stimulation is that I have been a little more creative. Not so much with photography which would be the most obvious of things, either that or cooking I guess. No, it has been more in "artistic" ways. I have tried to paint, and please let me emphasise the word try here. I have also taken my free time between classes to try my hand, quite literally, to writing. I have written a short children's story about a fictional creature that created the Germanic Umlaut. I will release that to the world at a later date when I can figure out a good way to illustrate it. As let's face it children's books are doubled in fun with pictures!

The one story I have finished, apart from the editing process, is called Mr. Frost; here is a brief extract:

" “The weather had been sub zero but not to that extent”, many had thought. It had been the constant topic of conversation at The Peak and Trough. Many in there were talking of this the coldest winter, where the owner/barman and ex-Athletic goalkeeper from ages sixteen to fiftysix, listened to his clients. From his job and his long time living in the town, he had accumulated a lot of knowledge and information. This latest gossip and conversation was certainly making him grin.

“What d’ya make of it all Keep?” As a bar keeper and goal keeper the nickname had been sure to stick, where as his real name, Gary Winterbottom, was probably more apt to the current weather that the town had been experiencing.

“This world moves in mysterious ways”, he would reply being as non-comical as possible. Of course, Keep had his own suspicions, suspicions which would later turn out to be correct. However, it not being his nature to really divulge his thoughts on many such topics, he would keep retain these thoughts for his own pleasure. It has been honestly hard to get him to talk about idle gossip unless of course it was about football or beer. The only things he voiced his opinion on and normally with strong authority and passion. "

Ok, so I won't be winning a pulitzer prize, nor any prize at all. But what I thought I would do is let you all know about it. It's nearly finished from the first edit and I thought if any of you actually wanted to read it then just send me an email ( to let me know. Then I can send it through and you can give me some feedback, it would be nice. Marty thinks it is a fun story, but then again, she has to say that!

Do you think living away from home makes you more creative? Leah Hyslop does here. Kind of makes you wonder how is best to stimulate the ol' noggin. Any ideas will be taken on board :)