Bella Italia

So here  we are again in beautiful Roncofreddo, Emilia-Romagna, Italy.

The journey down followed the usual route. Day one was a long drive out of Poland, across Czech and almost all the way across Austria, stopping in Klagenfurt for the night. Day two roughly half the distance, 500km, out of Austria, through the Dolomites down to Udine and then across to Venice, Bologna and down close to Rimini before turning right and up into the hills.

It was a case of third time lucky. The first year we had a smashed windscreen. The second year we had a massive delay in Brno and a buggered alternator. This year, so far at least, the journey has been trouble free with no delays and a car that was a joy to drive. Award for bad roads goes again to Czech. They are in ever worsening condition and the amount of roadworks on the motorways is ridiculous. The award for angry drivers goes to Austria. Either they don’t like Polish people (or Polish registration plates at least) or my driving was worsening as we got closer to the end of a long journey but it was the only place I had two people gesticulating at me to suggest they would be happier if I were not on the road. Fuck them!

Here’s Zosia enjoying our first breakfast before she headed off to the pool.

  

Smyk

Just a quick post to wake up the blog before the new “holiday season” kicks off.

We were in town on the day of the Uprising anniversary and I snapped a couple of photos. Firstly of the Smyk building being simultaneously demolished and preserved and then of the crowds on Nowy Swiat. 

The Smyk building is on Jerozolimskie and an iconic Warsaw landmark. Fifteen years ago it was in a mess but still operated as a rambling Smyk store – kids clothes, toys and equipment. Then it stopped operating and finally someone is fixing the place up.

Nowy Swiat one of the main streets in Warsaw, on the “royal route” from the old town to the park. Closed to traffic except for buses and taxis it is where Warszawians might go to be seen taking a stroll. Not really a good street for shops as it is full of cafes and restaurants. It was really busy on this day because of the crowds following the Uprising commemorations. 

I have now finally worked out how to a) air drop between phone and pad b) find draft posts to finish them off and c) upload pictures smaller than original size in this new fangled WordPress app. So here we go!

   
 

Winter holiday

Staying for a week close to Krynica-Zdroj. Hotel is out of town, up a hill, past any other signs of life, past the streetlights, in the woods at 750m above sea level. The only sound is a distant but sinister chainsaw.

Three pictures around the hotel and one from the main pijalnia (drinking hall) in town where one can enjoy a variety of disgusting but healthy drinking waters.

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Additional picture of the view from our balcony.

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Brace yourselves!

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Zosia had her braces fitted yesterday which was, apparently, a very exciting thing for a nearly 12 year old to do. Her teeth are in pretty good shape generally but a little shuffling is required and so for 18-24 months she will wear these braces.

After that is done there is a gadget she wears on her head at night for a while to move her lower jaw outwards just a little. Then there’s the question of removing the wisdom teeth and a few other bits and bobs so by 2018 or so her jaws and everything attached to them should be up to proper Hollywood standards.

I’m more than happy to pay what is needed to keep my family’s teeth in significantly better condition than my own, mine being something of a lost cause thanks to the state of 1960-70’s British dentistry and dentists. This happiness did not stop me letting out a slight whimper when the orthodontist finally exposed me to the full extent of the bill. I’m sure it is good value compared to the USA, UK or wherever but it still seems like an awful lot of wonga. She is worth it, of course!

Tale of Christmas

The carrot and star anise puree was behaving more like an indoor firework than a vegetable dish to accompany the mandatory brussels sprouts. It had taken a long time to heat up because it was focusing all the heat I gave it on the core of the gloop where it was attempting nuclear fusion. A popular activity with all orange masses. So it was that, despite its unthreatening demeanour, when I removed the glass lid it to give it a stir it spat a blob of superheated orange puree into the air which then described a graceful arc before landing on the overworked and frankly rather stressed out index finger of my right hand where it burned its way through at least eight layers of skin before I got it under the tap.

“Daddy, your turkey is looking very burnt.” was also something of a low point despite having an unburnt goose in the next-door oven. I needed meat for 12 hungry people (at least that was the original brief) and a 5.3kg goose was not going to be enough, hence the 4.5kg turkey. Cooking the turkey in the steam oven promised to be a great idea until the water tank failed mid roast. I pulled the tank out to fill it up and the plug thingy was hanging out on a spring. Something had broken and it wouldn’t hold water so the second half was just hot air and a bit too much of it. Beneath the blackened exterior there was some good meat but there’s no getting away from it, it was not what I’d hoped for. First time I’ve cooked a turkey so it was a bit of an experiment. Will be better next time, if there is a next time.

The goose fared better but after hours of roasting the plump, firm, proud bird that had entered the oven had taken on a slumped and beaten attitude and had been screaming “Okay, I give in!” for at least 30 minutes.

Brussels turned out well, as did the spuds roast in the goose fat and also, surprisingly, the stuffing which had been lovingly prepared using minced meat, cranberries soaked in port, fresh cooked chestnuts (impossible to peel), breadcrumbs and spices.

The birds both rested for the whole time it took to cook the roast spuds and stuffing, about 40-50 minutes, and I was surprised how well they held up. The importance of resting meat is something I’m starting to appreciate more and worry about less.

After a day and a half of preparation and cooking the eating itself took perhaps 20 minutes and maybe half of it was actually consumed. The ravenous teenage boy was not there because he was at home sick. Numerous others were at least partly sick or generally not hungry and one guest had turned vegetarian since we last saw her although she did suspend her sentence to try some of the meat, God bless her! I enjoy cooking a Christmas dinner and there was much praise but I have to say that I do understand why so many people just don’t bother anymore. It is a ridiculous amount of work to provide a gigantic meal at a time when most people just aren’t that hungry. Next year I’m doing something simple like beef bourguignon and mash followed by christmas pud. I can do the whole thing a day ahead of time and on the day I only need to warm it up and mash some spuds.

It was babcia who delivered the coup de grace to Christmas day at our place. We’d rolled in our awning on the terrace weeks ago to protect it from the winter weather. It’s been annoying not being able to use it on the sunny days but better than leaving it out and getting it covered in snow and ice. Mid festivities, babcia decides to pop out for a smoke and rolls out the awning to protect her from the light drizzle, which, before there’s any chance of drying it out and rolling it back in turns into a proper downpour followed by snow and then by freezing temperatures. It’s still out now, frozen stiff and sagging from the weight of snow laying on it. Brilliant!@#$%! Next year I’m removing the handle.

The day before, Christmas Eve had been the Polish version held at B-I-L’s place. A bible reading, wafer breaking, felicitations, the bloody stupid carp, pierogi with cabbage, herrings, vegetable salad….. I waited until we got home and it was after midnight to have myself some proper food, a ham and mustard sandwich!

Boxing day – leftovers followed by Christmas pudding with brandy cream sauce.

Pictures – babcia and kids posing in front of B-I-L’s tree, our table for twelve in preparation, winter balcony views.

London – Street scenes and views

In the last of this London photo series is a collection of views and street scenes taken while walking around with the family as well as from the 40th floor of the Cheesegrater (Leadenhall Building), which was part of my two day business conference. Unfortunately, it was early morning on a miserable day so the views could have been better. It was fun getting up to the 40th floor though. The glass lifts hang off the back, straight side, and travel at 6 m/s which is slower than their maximum speed but plenty fast enough. Similarly to the Eiffel Tower, the higher you go the less there seems to be holding the lifts up!

Other things depicted in the photos are:

The Golden Hinde, a galleon in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world between 1577 and 1580 bringing riches back to Queen Elizabeth I. He attacked and captured a Spanish galleon off the coast of Ecuador and seized six tons of treasure, which was enough for the Queen to pay off all her foreign debt and have plenty to spare. Drake was knighted and every investor in the voyage had a massive return. It is such a small ship, displacement of 100 tons, it is hard to imagine such a voyage.

A tour of Westminster Palace, Houses of Parliament. Highly recommended.

Clink Street. Originally this part of London was not the best place to hang around and was full of prisons, brothels and other such places. The use by Londoners of the word clink to mean jail comes from here, as in “Where’s Pistorius?” “He’s in the clink!”.

SantaCon 2014. Seems to be an excuse to get drunk while dressed as Santa, or an elf.

Southwark Cathedral has been a place of worship for over 1,000 years. We need to go back here as it was a lovely place but we only passed through. Had to negotiate with two officials to be allowed to take two photos without paying for a pass.

 

 

London – The Globe and The Marquee Club

The penultimate London post features two very different venues for entertaining the folks.

The Globe Theatre is where many of Shakespeare’s plays were first performed. Built in 1599 from the timbers brought across the river from an older theatre, burnt down in 1613 and rebuilt with a tiled instead of thatched roof. Finally closed in 1642 because of a puritan administration and then demolished in 1644 to make way for housing. Skip forward to around 1970 when Sam Wanamaker founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust, the beginning of the re-emergence of the theatre on a site a few hundred yards away from the original location on the south bank of the Thames.

We took a tour, which was short but fun. Unfortunately could not take pictures inside because, we were told, some children were rehearsing. They weren’t children and whatever they were rehearsing was crap anyway but still, no pictures. The exhibition is also worth seeing, even without the tour.

If you walk a short distance around the back towards Southwark bridge you can easily find the original sites of the Globe, now under a block of listed Georgian flats and the Rose theatre, which predates the Globe.

The Marquee Club must be London’s equivalent of New York’s CBGB, a small shitty place that was home to tons of great music. It opened in 1958 on Oxford street as a venue for jazz and skiffle acts. Its most famous period, and the one during which I visited many times, was between 1964-1988 when it was at 90 Wardour Street, Soho. My pictures show it as it is today, converted into swanky Soho Loft apartments, the only sign it was ever a famous music venue being the blue plaque about Keith Moon playing there with The Who in the 60’s.

Aside from the fact he’s dead and was a nutter I have no idea why they singled out Moon for the plaque. The 60’s saw Alexis Korner, Cyril Davies, Chris Barber, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, The Who, King Crimson, Yes, Jethro Tull, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Pink Floyd as well as The Manish Boys featuring David Bowie and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac who gave their first performance there in 1967.

The 70’s saw a leaning towards punk acts like The Boys, Eddie and the Hot Rods,The Stranglers, Generation X, London, The Police, XTC, Skrewdriver, The Sinceros, Buzzcocks, the early Adam & the Ants, The Jam, Joy Division, The Sound and The Cure amongst many others.

In the 80’s it became popular with British Heavy Metal bands including Def Leppard and Iron Maiden as well as Marillion and many others.

Aside from any of the more famous names, two gigs I remember as being a whole lot of fun were by these bands:

Nine Below Zero

Eddie and the Hot Rods

It looks like both bands are still going strong. Good for them!

Here are the photos: