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Saturday, 31 December 2016

381: Crimbo limbo

The urban dictionary entry for Crimbo Limbo says "The period after Christmas Day and before New Year's Eve, mainly spent sitting down and eating leftovers. Many find it extremely dull."
I must confess I don't find it dull at all. It's been a long long time since I was bored and could say I had nothing to do.
My Crimbo Limbo is being spent in Golspie, in the North of Scotland. In between eating too much and drinking too much I have found time for a few walks to enjoy the beautiful Highland scenery - if not the Highland weather. Here is a picture taken at what the locals call  "the big burn". Those of my family who walk included it as part of a 4-mile trek around the village.

The 'children', who were up for a few days, have gone home and back to their busy lifestyles. Peace and tranquility has descended for the last day of the year. Hogmanay will pass quietly in this household.

At the end of November I went to Amsterdam for a few days to soak up the culture. I found it a very nice city with lots to see and do. I managed to visit quite a few interesting places, including the famous red light district. I hasten to add I was only looking in through the windows, not looking out. I read afterwards that the 'going rate' for 'standard' services is 50 euros for 15 minutes. Unfortunately I ran out of time and didn't manage to sample the wares in the 'coffee shops'. Maybe next time. Here are a few of the pictures I took.

My video clip is of the Red Army Choir singing the Volga Boat song. In memory of the Russian plane that crashed into the Black Sea earlier this week. I understand that many musicians perished. May their souls rest in peace.

Happy New Year to my few loyal readers.
С новым годом
szczęśliwego Nowego Roku

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

380: Lublinianka - NOT Lubianka

Haven't written a blog for six weeks or more so thought it was time to put that right. Last weekend I took a train from Warsaw to Lublin, a small but pleasant town some 180 km to the South East of Warsaw. I stayed, and chilled, in the very nice 4* hotel Lublinianka. Lunch prices were commensurate with a 4* hotel but, luckily, there was a 4*(!) McDonalds almost next door.
Don't confuse the name of the hotel with the Lubianka - the infamous and notorious KGB centre on Dzerzhinsky Square in Moscow. I enjoyed my stay in Lublinianka, I would most certainly not enjoy a stay in the Lubianka. Can you guess which one is which from the first two photographs?
On a more depressing note (can anything be more depressing than talking about the Lubianka?) I have just heard that my tenants have finally vacated my parents' old house and left it in a gopping condition. Nice! At least they will know not to ask me for a reference for any future moves. I have decided to sell the property (it is in Ramsey) - renting is too much trouble!

Remembrance is very important here in Poland

In case anybody on the planet hasn't heard, Leonard Cohen's name can be added to the list of those who have shuffled off their mortal coil this year - and what a year it has been for celebrities. Here is one of my all time favourites:

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

379: An iron curtain has descended.....

The Polish language is rich in what to us are unusual consonant combinations. Take the place where I am at the moment for example – Szczecin. Sz is pronounced 'sh' and cz is pronounced 'ch'. So shchechin. I'm reminded, obliquely, of the old schweppes 'shh.. you know who' series of adverts that graced our television screens back in the sixties.

When that nice Mr Churchill made his famous speech about an iron curtain descending, from Stettin in the North to Trieste in the South, in the Spring of 1946 he wasn't quite right as by that time it was part of Poland and he should have said Szczecin but instead he said Stettin (from when it was part of Germany) which is much easier to pronounce.

I arrived here on Saturday after a 55 minute flight from Warsaw in a propeller-driven Dash 8Q owned by LOT the Polish national carrier. Once in the air there was just time for them to dish out a chocolate biscuit and a cup of water before we were starting our descent. 

The city itself is quite large (the 7th largest in Poland) and is a major port despite being more than 50 miles from the Baltic. There is the obligatory 'old town' to visit and a few more cultural jewels besides.

The brewery where I went for dinner last night, where else, had its restaurant in the cellar – don't they all – and the tables were clustered around a large dance floor. It soon became evident that this was some kind of dance club or school. Experts male and female were giving instruction to their partners and they had different partners for each dance. I thought, for an instant, that I had stumbled onto the set of 'Strictly come dancing'. How would I know, I've never watched Strictly and probably wouldn't admit to it if I had. 

On Monday I headed off to the Baltic coast. I took a minibus to a place called Świnoejscie (another tongue twister) which apparently means a place of exit for pigs! (or, more likely, it is the place where the river Świno flows into the Baltic). Not too many kilometres to the East, past Gdynia and Gdansk, is the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and the headquarters of their Baltic fleet. But that's another story for another day.

On the way North the bus stopped briefly at a place called Wolin. Hereabouts there is a large nature reserve where wild bison roam free. And here's me thinking that a bison was where hofficers washed their hands. Boom-boom.

The minibus finally stopped at a ferry terminus and once I had collected myself and glanced at the large map that was there I realized that the major part of the town was on the other side of the river. There is a free ferry that joins the two parts of the town. There are two boats and they cross mid-stream.
There are no rules for pedestrians but between the hours of 0400 and 2200 only local vehicles with ZSW registration can cross. Anybody else wanting to cross with a car must wait until the middle of the night! 5 minutes or so on the ferry and I had landed on the other side and disembarked.

From there a bit of a trek to the Baltic itself to gaze at the vast expanse of water and from there an even longer trek along a wide promenade and then footpath/cycle path to reach the border between Poland and Germany. It was a beautiful bright sunny day and along the promenade there were dozens if not hundreds of benches and most of them occupied with (mostly elderly) Poles and Germans relaxing in the sun. There were also hundreds of cyclists. On the Polish side there is a large Radisson hotel being put up almost on the beach (with perhaps not the same regard for 'elf and safety as we have as you can see a worker on the outside of the third floor).

Standing on the border between Poland and Germany brought back memories of the 70s and 80s when I was able to stand at, but not on, the border between West and East Germany and look across to see how the other half lived (existed).

It's Tuesday and I'm on the train back to Warsaw. I love train travel, especially on modern European Inter-City trains. Nicer than ours in so many respects. Off the top of my head I can think of: cheaper, faster, free and reliable wi-fi on board, more comfortable with more leg-room and,usually, more punctual. Still, we as a nation voted for Brexit! No trolls please.
Too long for a blog. Congratulations if you have made it this far!
A musical video clip to finish - it has to be "trains and boats and planes" since I've been on all three since Saturday.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

378: Monkey business

Monkey business. Mass noun. Informal. It means mischievous or deceitful behaviour.
I chose to have my blog title with the word monkey in it because yesterday evening, on the way to the shops for provisions, I saw a man with a pet monkey on a long lead. The monkey was up a tree eating leaves, as they do. It was just so unexpected. The things you see as you travel the world.

Last weekend I went to Olsztyn, about 2½ hours away by train. It is the beginning of the Polish Masurian lakes and has a big lake of its own. I stayed in a nice 2* hotel called pod zamkiem (under the castle). It had eccentric architecture and decor and they layed a nice table for breakfast. My little room was up in the attic so I had to be careful not to bang my head. I enjoyed Olsztyn very much: the lake, the old town and the new town. Of course many of the old towns in Poland are not old at all, having been razed to the ground by either German or Soviet soldiers. I read that in Olsztyn 40% of the town was destroyed. It's so difficult to imagine, and less than 100 years ago. Unfortunately we can't even say, oh well, that was then and wars don't happen any more. 'cos they do.

And, just to finish.....

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

377: Eilean Dubh

Being a language teacher I sometimes try and introduce a language element into my blogs. I forgot to mention that last week I was forever telling the Welsh speakers that the Welsh for Good Morning was the same as the Russian for beard (bore da = борода). This week I am in Scotland and the title of the blog is in Scots Gaelic. It means "The Black Isle". I went for a walk there yesterday with an old and valued friend. I say old because I've known him, on and off, for almost 44 years. I decided I was neither physically nor mentally fit enough to attempt a Munro during this particular visit to Scotland so we settled for a coastal walk along the Black Isle instead.
It's not an island but a peninsula to the North of Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands.
We reached it from the North, on a tiny 2-vehicle ferry which took 10 minutes to cross the Firth between Nigg and Cromarty. To get my little Astra and an estate car on we were marshalled that close to each other that you couldn't have squeezed a fag-paper between us. This was no conventional Ro-Ro ferry but a drive on and reverse off - both manoeuvres being conducted very sedately and under the expert guidance of the 'loadmaster'.
We drove to Fortrose (pronounced forTROSE)and topped up with coffee and cake before setting off to walk the short distance to Avoch (pronounced Och- the a and v are silent!) and back again.
After lunch, a locally sourced crab salad, we went for another walk but this time in a different direction.

Somewhat stupidly, because it had been dry in the morning, we thought we would leave our waterproof jackets in the car. This turned out to be an unwise thing to do as there was a light rain on the walk back along the coast from Rosemarkie to Fortrose. Lady Luck was looking down on us - the really heavy stair-rod rain only came from the heavens as we were driving home.
Two things worthy of note on the walk back: the first happened when we saw a family on the beach. The man was using a metal detector and we could hear it beeping every few yards to indicate the 'treasure' buried under the sand. His wife and daughter were being very patient with him - I can't really imagine metal detecting being much of a spectator sport. As well as that there was a view, across the water, of Fort George. It brought back memories for me as I was stationed there in the early seventies - a bleak and windswept place. It is still in use today as a military barracks.

what a shame I was driving!

To finish off, a wee song about a drunken Scot and what he wears, or doesn't wear, under his kilt!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

376: (North) Wales in a week

Having flown back to England on Friday evening and allowed myself Saturday to unpack and repack we set off for Wales on Sunday heading for a family-run hotel (the Kensington) facing the seafront in the seaside town of Llandudno. It was to be our base for the next 5 nights. Every day, apart from Wednesday, which was a 'free' day, there was a coach ride to different areas of North Wales where heritage railways were running. We were then treated to train rides, with steam locomotives, of differing lengths. On Tuesday there was also a short 45-minute trip on a horse-drawn barge. The tour company organising the holiday is called Rail Discoveries and they laid on an efficient tour manager and a rather loquacious coach driver who, whilst being very knowledgeable about North Wales, 'occasionally'  allowed his remarks to overstep the bounds of what should and should not be said in public - especially with a coach full of people from various backgrounds. One of the passengers halfheartedly suggested a sweepstake to guess how many different ethnic/social groups the driver could offend in one trip.  

A few pictures from the holiday, starting with a map of Wales on the tea towel that I won in a raffle on Thursday night during a charity concert  themed on "the good old days". I almost never win things in raffles (mostly because I never buy any tickets!) and almost forgot to check the numbers. 

Also included in the package was a trip to Portmeirion, the village created by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, where the '60s television series The Prisoner was filmed. Whilst there I came across, and helped to demolish, the biggest cheeseboard I have ever seen in my short life. 

All in all, a very enjoyable and relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of Warsaw. Now two weeks in Scotland and then back to the day job.