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Wednesday, 28 January 2015

325: Exploring London

Yesterday I went to London - to visit my sister and then my son. I had a great day, more of that in a minute. Firstly, a petty annoyance. The station car park meters click over from rush hour rate (£5.80) to off-peak rate (£3.30) at 10.00 exactly. The fast train to London leaves at 10.01. It is impossible to park after 10.00 and then race to catch the train one minute later. I was hoping the train might be a little late - how ironic is that  - but no. So I had a coffee in the station buffet and waited for the slow train at 10.34. That train seems to call at every station between here and London.
In fact I probably should have arrived earlier, stopped being miserly, paid the extra, and caught the fast off-peak train. I had forgotten about London Bridge. Most of London Bridge station is closed for most of this year for major reconstruction so I had to route via Charing Cross. Never mind, I still got to Blackheath for just before 1 p.m., as arranged and agreed. We had a nice lunch, and a natter, and I headed off back into London to buy some Polish zlotties and spend some quality time with my son.

Some days earlier we had signed up for a hidden city "treasure" hunt. (without the treasure!) Pay £25 and "they" send you a series of cryptic clues to your mobile and you have to find your way from one location to the next. Clue 5, for example, said "Bound Basinghall Street. Just beyong a secret society's avenue seek a spire to your right to spy five faces facing you. Who has a pleased puss?" Great fun working out all the clues and doing it as a team. Our team name was "one man and his dad". I'd like to say we were the fastest team on record and went straight to the top of the leader board. But I can't. We struggled over one of the clues and incurred a couple of time penalties asking for hints. At the end (after 15 clues) we felt we had earned our drink. We started in daylight and finished in the dark as the photos show. It was nice to learn a little more about this particular part of London  (in and around the city). Also my first time over the millennium bridge.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

324: Krakow

Last weekend I went to Krakow. Almost five hours to get there on Polski bus and half that to come back on an Inter City express train. Polski bus much cheaper, train much faster. To have gone there and back by bus would have sapped the will to live so it was a very wise choice to come back by train.
I had booked into the 4* Amadeus hotel for the Saturday night but when I arrived I was told they were fully booked so they had upgraded me to the Holiday Inn. Very nice too. I can, and do, appreciate 4* and 5* hotels from a comfort point of view but the prices in the bars and restaurants make the eyes water a bit. Still, you only live once!
I enjoyed my visit to Krakow very much. I would like to make the comparison that as Brugge is to Belgium so Krakow is to Poland. They are both jewels in a tourist's crown.
Here are a few pics to mark the occasion.

Is there a town anywhere in Europe that doesn't have figures like these coming out for a look around every hour or so!

Time for lunch. Polish pierogi. in a cafe dedicated to music. Instruments and sheet music everywhere.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

323: Whoops!

Not been here two weeks yet and already I have incurred the wrath of the authorities. I took the liberty of crossing the road while the little man was showing red. Mr Plod sprang out of nowhere and explained to me, in perfect English, the error of my ways. He gave me the choice of accepting his award of 100 zlotties (about £20) or appearing in court tomorrow. If I chose the second option they would very kindly accommodate me for the night in one of their little rooms. Needless to say I chose the first option. We walked to his police car where he wrote me out a ticket. He offered to translate it for me but I think the language of these tickets is fairly standard. I wanted to just give him the 100 and not bother with the ticket but I didn't dare offer in case it was misconstrued as a bribe and I might have got into even deeper water.
So there we are. I am a criminal in Poland. These traffic lights are everywhere and they seem to take for ever to change to green. The stark choice before me is either to wait, like most other people do, (and now I know why they do!) or to look around more carefully before stepping out.
It's been one of those days really. Talking about water, during my last lesson I spilt some water on the touch pad of my laptop and now there is no functionality to move the cursor. I hope it will return once everything dries out. It will save me carting a mouse all over town.
Last weekend I had a recce for this week's lessons and came across this Christmas tree on the edge of the old town. Wonder if it's late, or early?

Saturday, 10 January 2015

322: Warsaw - first impressions

I've been in Warsaw for a week. Time for a quick narrative blog while I'm waiting for my coq au vin to cook. I'll have to keep checking the oven every few minutes as I am roasting some potatoes in some Olive Oil and I always worry that the oil may overheat and catch fire. As I understand it different oils and fats catch light at different temperatures. Wouldn't it be easier if manufacturers wrote the highest safe temperature on their products. It would certainly save me a few grey  hairs. If anybody has any tips do please let me know.

It would be wrong of me to start making comparisons between Russians and Poles so I won't go there but I would like to recount one or two 'adventures' I've had during the week. I flew into Warsaw Chopin airport last Saturday afternoon and took the train to Warsaw and then a taxi to my pre-booked hotel. At 11.00 on Sunday morning the brother of the Estate Agent and an interpreter turned up at the hotel to show me around some flats they had selected for me.

I wouldn't say I fell in love with, but I certainly very much liked, the first place we went to see. Rather than stop the viewings I thought I would just carry on and look at the others they had chosen. So that I could compare what was available. But of course, my powers of recall and observation being what they are, by the time we got to the 5th flat I had almost forgotten what was in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th. I decided to go back and look at the 1st flat again and that is the one I chose.

I was able to move in the very next day as credit checks haven't reached Poland yet. Not that I would have failed them but they do take time to carry out and I only had 2 nights booked in the hotel.
The flat is inside a gated compound on the North West edge of town so the first things was to write down the access code. Imagine bowling up in the middle of winter having forgotten the code to get in. Nightmare scenario. It's the last station on the metro which is handy because then you'll always get a seat (on the way in at least). It takes 15 minutes on the metro to get to the town centre. This compares very favourably, time-wise, with the Moscow metro where I could spend several hours a day underground. 

This time difference is due to the relative size of the cities. Moscow has 13 million (registered) inhabitants and Warsaw has 2 million. Stupidly I thought that would mean fewer people on the streets and a quieter city. Not so. If the city is 6 times smaller then there are fewer people but they are spread over a much smaller area. So there are Poles in whichever direction you turn! Not just North and South. They seem to enjoy forming queues at the drop of a hat. I had to wait 30 minutes in the city transport services office before I was given my Warsaw City card (which allows me to buy cheaper, 30-day, or 90-day, fares by presenting this card to the ticket machine and feeding it money). And as for the queues in the supermarkets - in Moscow I had developed the habit of abandoning my trolley and finding another shop with fewer people. Here I'm not sure I could find another shop with fewer people. I tell a lie, there are plenty of 'corner shop' type establishments but the food is, of course, a little more expensive. I will have to find the optimum time to visit the local Lidl, which is almost next door.

Dinner is ready. A big sigh of relief that I haven't set the place on fire. Part II of the blog in a few minutes. For those of you who aren't already bored silly by this meandering tale of life in a foreign land.

As a teacher who has some lessons over Skype, being without Internet access is a big problem for me. The Internet Provider UPC started promising internet from Monday afternoon. Tuesday was a public holiday here (Epiphany) so they are excused but I had to wait in on Wednesday and Thursday for the technician not to show up. I was finally connected to the world on Friday morning.

An amusing incident yesterday when I went into a phone shop to ask them to cut my new Polish SIM card to convert it into a micro SIM that would fit into my new 3-SIM phone. It was so embarrassing when he simply pushed the SIM card out and it instantly became a micro SIM. Oh well, you can't win 'em all.

The flat has very little in the way of "essentials" so I've been busy shopping during the week. The trouble with being car less (as opposed to careless) is that you can only take what you can carry on the metro on each trip. So separate trips to buy a TV/Monitor, a printer/scanner and, more mundanely, an iron and ironing board.

Went for my first run of the year this morning. Look to your laurels Morag. Unfortunately, 21 minutes "on the legs", as my old mate Adrian used to say, is still a long way short of the hour and ten minutes needed for the Ramsey 10K. But it's a start.

For those of you who know me well, let me just add that I'm heading for an overdue AF day today. Nearly there.

Apologies for the verbosity. I got carried away.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

321: A tale of two cities

First London, where I spent most of Friday bonding with my daughter. (Gareth's turn next time!?) We had a great time: we visited HMS Belfast, declined a visit to the Tower of London because of the enormous queues, lunched (at great expense, but hey, what the heck) at a Brasserie nearby and then had a nice leisurely stroll along the Thames riverside walk.
I apologise for the quality of some of the photos. Some donkey forgot to take the blue cellophane off the lens on his new 3-SIM card phone until being gently reminded. Hey ho!

And now, courtesy of British Airways, on to Warsaw where the next chapter of my life can begin....

Currently ensconced in the Mercure Grand hotel, while I find somewhere to live, breakfast was on the 10th floor with some nice views of Warsaw. A capital of some 2,000,000 people as opposed to over 13,000,000 in Moscow.