Smolensk anniversary

On my way to get some breakfast after dropping Zosia at ballet I came across the early signs of public and media gathering outside the Presidential palace for the anniversary of the Smolensk tragedy. Actually there were far more police and barricades than anything else.

Outside the Palace, April 9

Embryonic media frenzy

Photos taken with iPhone 4. Click for larger version..

Given the extreme public interest in this tragic event, it can only be seen as a massive failure on the part of the Polish authorities that 12 months after the event 2/3 of Poles (that’s around 26 million people) still don’t think they have a proper explanation of what happened. What’s more, they don’t think they will ever get one.

Why is the truth being kept from us? Does it really take more than 12 months to come to some logical conclusions? Do they really not know what happened or do they just not want to tell anyone what it is?

Strangely enough, I watched a programme called “Aircrash Confidential” on Sky, Discovery Channel, the other evening that covered Smolensk and they came to a very clear conclusion – the pilots were put under pressure by at least two other voices in the cockpit to ignore the safety warnings (airport & instruments) and land the plane. They also concluded that the pilots, being military men, were far more likely to follow orders than to do the right thing.

Surely we should know who these people putting pressure on the pilots were, shouldn’t we? Given that they are at least partially responsible for over 90 deaths.

So, if you want answers don’t look to the Polish government, watch Discovery Channel!

“Defenders of the Cross” (my arse!)

Okay, enough is enough!

Today there were demonstrations, at times violent, outside the Presidential Palace in Warsaw where people had gathered to prevent the wooden cross that had been erected there at the time of the Smolensk tragedy from being moved elsewhere. It had already been agreed by the church, scouts (who erected it) and the future President that whilst the location was appropriate at the time of spontaneous grieving it was not appropriate now and therefore should be moved to a religious place and not left outside the home of a (supposedly) non-religious head of state. The plan was to take it on a pilgrimage to Częstochowa and then back to Warsaw to St Anne’s church, close to the Palace.

The demonstrators, no doubt encouraged by idiotic statements by opposition party PiS MPs, insisted that the cross should stay, that that location was “chosen by the people”. Some even want the whole Presidential Palace to be turned into a shrine in the memory of Lech Kaczyński. The confrontation between demonstrators and police grew increasingly violent until a Presidential spokesman confirmed that wimps run the administration by saying the cross will stay where it is until further notice. Kaczyński Lovers 2 – 0 Rest of Poland.

Kaczyński strikes again!

I was prepared to let this all rest. I was prepared not to wonder too much about what role Jarosław’s brother, or his henchmen at his bidding, had in his own death and that of so many others. I was prepared to let this sick farce run its course, to put tombs in Wawel and all the other nonsense that has happened and is happening so prematurely before any of us plebs are even allowed a grain of truth about what actually happened….but this is the last straw for me. This is bullsh*t on such a level as to be laughable. Now I want full disclosure, I want an investigation so damned deep and painful that everyone wishes they’d never been within a thousand kilometers of anything remotely involved with Smolensk. I want every single conspiracy theory investigated. I want every possible piece of evidence put on full public display. I want to know what they were saying in that cockpit. I want to know why they might have been saying it, on who’s authority they were saying it. If the Russian tower was at fault, I want to know that. Equally if it was the KGB or a Russian fog making machine or the CIA or Bin Laden or Gargamel. If not, I want to know that too. I want a thousand people working day and night and spending billions until the raw, hard, rotten truth is exposed, wide-open, blown apart and sod the bloody consequences.

If it turns out that there is “reasonable doubt” about any blame being attributed to Lech “Land this plane now dammit!” Kaczyński, then I’d like APPROPRIATE measures to be taken to commemorate him. I’d like a committee to be formed to decide properly, without any heat of the moment, spur of the moment, Smolensk tragedy, political, religious pressure on them, what exactly is an appropriate from Poland as an entire nation to this man as a dead President. A tomb here, a plaque there, a cross elsewhere, whatever it is but it needs to be to something this nation as a whole, the majority of the 38 million, not just Kaczyński fans, will find to be an appropriate response to what happened and to the people who died.

If it turns out otherwise, that people on the plane were to blame or at least contributed then I want that to be fully acknowledged and for equally appropriate action to be taken against them, whoever they may be. I want the history books to tell the truth. No more lies. Tell it like it is. Don’t let this fester because it will only get worse.

Most of all, I’d like to see a proper memorial to all the others who died on the plane. Those entirely blameless servants of Poland whose deaths have so unfortunately become entangled in this religio-political nonsense and whose memories appear, to those not personally involved, to have been relegated to the second class cabin by the relentless lobbying and eulogising on behalf of Kaczyński as if he was so much more worthy than anyone else just because he held the title of President.

I want religion to get the bloody hell out of politics once and for all. The two don’t mix, never have, never will, against the laws of nature. Poland is rubbish at even trying to mix them. The bloody Turks with 20 zillion Muslims and half a dozen “Europeans” do a better job of it than Poland does! Just look at today’s fiasco. The church were only too willing to jump in a while back and declare Wawel as being an appropriate burial place. They contributed to the decision to move the cross to St. Anne’s but today, when the sh*t hit the fan, what was their comment – “Nothing to do with us, it’s a political issue!”. Chickens! Bugger off back to your collection trays and leave the politicians to run the country.

Most of all, I want J. Kaczyński to GET OVER IT!!!!!!! You ran a crap government. You lost the Presidential race. Your brother died, that’s sad but let’s wait until we have some reason why that happened before we turn him into the next Mother Teresa shall we? There might be other nasty skeletons in your cupboard, who knows, who cares, just go away. I’m tired of you taking the moral high ground, making like the people, the country, justice, God is on your side in everything you decide you’d like to happen. I’m sick of the way you pretend to be trying to “unite” things when all you really want to do is get your own way even if it means destroying the country in the process. Where were you today, by the way? Conspicuously absent I see. I would have thought that a man like you, a man for the people of the people with the backing of commoners and clergy alike would be exactly the right man to make an appearance and tell your supporters out there on the streets to calm down. To prevent them getting pepper sprayed, arrested and beaten on your behalf. They were calling for you, Jarosław. Where were you? Even later, even now it might be appropriate to settle this mess. You’re probably the only man who can do it you know. Where are you, eh? Nowhere to be seen, that’s where! Probably sitting somewhere watching the telly with a big smile on your face. Or am I being unreasonable? You are divisive man who has done more to spoil this country in the time I’ve been here than anyone else has, by a very long margin, so please, it is time to give it a rest, go away, leave us in peace. You had a good run at it, you and your brother and it nearly worked. Take what you can and get out before it turns nasty because if today’s incident has annoyed me this much just think how much it’s annoyed people who really matter!

And you know what? Even if everything I’m saying is complete bollocks, even if you are actually a genuinely great guy, the only true protector of Poland, the problem you have is that I and a whole lot of proper Polish people (because let’s face it I really don’t count), don’t think you are. Ask yourself, why is that?

As for the limp-wristed pathetic excuse for a government cum President, I suggest you watch a few videos from the Thatcher era. She was a cow but she had bigger gonads than all of you guys put together. If a decision’s been made to move the cross, then move the damn thing! Don’t back down the minute a few sandal-wearers or mohair berets start shouting at you. Are you men or mice? You won the elections, you have the right to do this, it looks like the right thing to do to perhaps at least 75% of the population so go ahead and finish the job for heaven’s sake. What are you hoping for, to sneak in at 03:00 and do it while nobody is looking? We walked past at about 21:30 this evening after having dinner nearby and there was still a crowd there then, along with the poor sods who have to stand by for TVN and TVP, so any dead of night action is unlikely to be an easy way out. You’ve chickened out of a sad but necessary conflict, I’ll tell you now, one day you’re going to regret what you did today. Or rather what you didn’t do.

Sorry to go on but I really have had enough now. I needed to get this off my chest.

Warsaw -Institutional racism leads to violent death of Nigerian?

I confess, I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen and now, sadly, it has.

Last Sunday, the police carried out a “routine inspection” of what used to be the “Russian Bazaar” in the Praga district of Warsaw and ended up shooting dead a Nigerian called Maxwell Itoyi. Today there is a protest march in Warsaw in the name of “Solidarity against racism and police violence”. The Police say they did nothing wrong and have several of their kind injured as proof this was not a one-sided affair. Many others, including eye witnesses, disagree and see this as the unjustified shooting of an innocent man just because he was black.

The bazaar used to occupy the area that is now the construction site for the new National Stadium. The new stadium will be the jewel in the crown of Poland’s venues when it hosts the 2012 European Football Championships and will be visited by many thousands of visiting foreign fans. It is reasonable to assume that the government would not wish to have these visitors’ impression of Poland spoiled by an encounter with what has always been a slightly dodgy bazaar and so it is also reasonable to assume that there is an agenda to move, close or seriously upgrade this bazaar before the visitors arrive. I suspect the action last Sunday was at least partly connected with that agenda.

I’ve wandered around the Russian Bazaar a few times myself, in the old days when it was inside the old stadium. Despite being warned about it, nothing bad happened during my shopping for illegal software, beaver-skin hat and replica NKVD uniform but I did notice on latter trips the growing presence of Nigerians using their often slightly over-aggressive sales techniques. This is not unique to Warsaw of course, you can find the same people selling slightly different goods (although the African masks and carved giraffes are always part of it) anywhere in the world. Last year we encountered them in Pisa, Italy.

African bazaar Pisa

The year before that on the beach in Marbella, Spain. No, I don’t have a thing about photographing Nigerian salesmen, I just take too many photos so I usually have at least one of what I’m looking for!

Marbella Nigerians

So, we have a few of the ingredients for trouble already in place – a lot of black people being slightly pushy in a dodgy part of town that the city would like to clean up. What was missing, until last Sunday, was an over zealous and armed police force with little experience of all the issues that hang around the term “racism” and make the lives of anyone in the position of having to manage such situations pretty much impossible. Given that the few Nigerians in the Russian Bazaar probably account for a significant percentage of all blacks in Poland, it might be perfectly reasonable to assume that the Nigerians are far more widely travelled and experienced in the unwritten rules of racism than are the Polish police force. This might have worked to Maxwell’s disadvantage. I mean, in the UK after so many years of accusations of racism and accidental shootings a British policeman would have to be pushed almost to the point of his own death before he’d dream of shooting a black man, or indeed a person of any colour that’s not milky white. The Polish police force has absolutely no experience of these things and is therefore just starting to understand the additional consequences involved shooting a black person as opposed to shooting anyone else, which might be summarised as “guilty of a racist attack until proven innocent”.

At times like this it is hard to know exactly what to believe. The people on Maxwell’s side claim he was a wonderful guy who would never dream of causing any trouble. The police say otherwise and claim there have been increasing incidents of violence against the Police (presumably perpetrated by Nigerians in the bazaar). Experience suggests to me that both may well be right and that Maxwell was just a very unfortunate victim of circumstance. There probably are some dodgy Nigerians in the bazaar who might push things either because that’s just the way they are or because they don’t like the police interrupting their legal/illegal trading or because they know the race/minority thing is on their side. Equally, there probably are policemen who are racist and who are tired of having to accept violent and provocative behaviour from the Nigerian ‘gangs’ and who would welcome the opportunity to open fire. It is therefore entirely understandable that an incident such as last Sunday could and would take place and also that the frequency of such incidents is bound to increase.

For the moment, the attitude of the citizens not directly involved appears to be one of coming down firmly on the side of Maxwell and his friends. This might be because of a general mistrust of the police, a knowledge that Maxwell was innocent or a general wish to side with a downtrodden minority who have such wonderful reggae music and like to smoke ganja. Who knows? What will be interesting to see is how public attitude might change as and when the impact of immigration and the number of black faces on the streets starts to have a much more significant impact on everyday life outside of the Russian Bazaar than it does right now.

I don’t know about you but I DO want an effective police force in Poland, one that can deal with nasty people who might otherwise make my life difficult or dangerous whether they be black, white or yellow, Nigerian, British or Vietnamese. I’m also fair minded enough to recognise the impossible situation they find themselves in when it comes to using firearms. The only occasions on which a shooting is immediately justified is when they hit either Osama Bin Laden or a nutter offloading a semi-automatic in the school playground, anything less that that and they’re in trouble. However, if having an effective police force means they carry out routine inspections of bazaars armed to the teeth then they had better make damned sure the police officers are better trained with the use of weapons and/or better psychologically selected for the job than they are now because I wouldn’t want anyone I know to be the next innocent (and dead) victim of bad policing.

As Poland is now at the beginning of this particular journey I think we also have the chance to get the balance on racial issues such as this correct before it goes too far. I’m not alone in thinking the pendulum in the UK has swung too far in the direction of favouring racial minorities against all common sense and to the point where there is strong positive discrimination for them and against the main body of white Christians in the population. People, the police especially, have to work with one hand tied behind their backs when dealing with minorities for fear of the “race card” being played and them getting into a lot of unnecessary trouble. The case of Ali Dizaei of the UK’s Metropolitan Police Force is a good one for Poles to read and try to avoid the nurturing of institutional anti-racism.

Maxwell might have been the first, but he certainly won’t be the last.

Złota 44 – still nothing happening

I last posted an update in November last year when I reported that bugger all is going on. Nothing much has changed but I was sent this update on the situation with the company who were developing it, Orco, which is worth reading for those who are interested in progress. I assume this was originally published elsewhere but I don’t have information as to where or when that was.

Orco repayment plan approved
EUROPE The Paris commercial court has approved the repayment plan for developer Orco Property Group. This will enable the company to restart investment. Since March 200, Orco has been subject to the sauvegarde procedure, which was twice been extended and is designed to facilitate financial restructuring. However, some creditors do not agree to the restructuring plan as drawn up. The decision allows the of 100 pct reimbursement of claims against the company (about EUR 1.5 bln of debt) over the next 10 years. This does not mean unfreezing the company’s flagship project – the Złota 44 apartment tower in Warsaw. Its fate will likely be determined by the Supreme Administrative Court on June 24th, on reinstating the building permit for the project. Up until then, none of the apartments can be sold. By the time construction work was halted, 90 of the 251 apartments available had been sold, and another 30 reserved. The company is in the initial phase of the preparation of new housing projects in Poland –  in Józefosław (the company has already planning permission, but is amending the project to be better suit the realities of today’s market), Kraków and Szczecin; but under the sauvegarde procedure, funds for such investment cannot be allocated without the consent of the court. In Warsaw, the company has other projects that are available for sale: Klonowa Aleja  in Targówek (now half sold to home buyers), Mokotowska 59 (put into use last year, with only the last apartments now available) and Feliz Residence on ul. Figiel, which has been completed, with about 30 pct of the homes still remaining). Orco Property Group had a EUR 250.6 mln consolidated net loss attributed to the equity holders of the parent company in 2009 and a EUR 390.6 mln loss a year earlier.

The one where we nearly got flooded.

Poland is going through its almost annual round of spring floods, this year appears to be rather worse than usual and is being tagged as “Poland’s worst natural disaster”. Not that anyone gives a damn apart from Polish news channels who are understandably covering it non-stop. Go to the BBC website right now and it does not appear on the front page, nor does it appear on the ‘News – Europe’ page, not even in the lowly ‘More from Europe’ section at the bottom. If you search the BBC for ‘Poland floods’ you get news stories from 2001 – this is worse than 2001 – but who cares, not the BBC obviously?!

At times like this, people fall into three broad groups:

  1. Those who are in no danger and are watching the news
  2. Those who have been flooded and are making the news
  3. Those who are somewhere in the middle – watching the news with great interest whilst hoping not to become newsworthy themselves.

We fall into the third category.

As the crow flies there can’t be many people living closer to the Wisła (Vistula) than we are. There was a couple interviewed on TVN24 yesterday who lived right on the riverbank in somewhere like Włocławek. The reporter said rather stupidly, “Well, you live too close to the river!”, which prompted the wife being interviewed to immediately blame the grandparents! LOL. After them we’re the next closest to the river as the picture below will demonstrate.

Wisla home1

Extent of the flood

There is nothing other than trees and bushes between us and the Wisła, nothing except a dyke (levee, wał) and thank God that’s there because without it our home is 100% certain to be underwater right now. The red splodge is our home. You can see where the river usually flows and the blue hatched area shows how far the river has now spread. Eeeek! The brown stripe in the bottom right is where they are building the new bridge. The only thing holding the water back now is the dyke. The good news is that the water is only at the lower level of the dyke and it is not fast moving nor putting any serious pressure on it. The water is extremely placid and the only action we can see is in response to the overall water level of the river. If the water level rises, it creeps very slowly a little higher up the dike and then sits there doing nothing very exciting.

The main criteria being used to judge how dramatic this event is are the height the river water has reached and how long it will last. There was a lot of newstalk about the “fala kumulacja”, which I think is translated as “flood wave”, the important factors being how high and how long it is. The flood wave reached Warsaw on Thursday and we were assured the high point would be at around 21:00 that night – the height would be maximum 7.8m and it would be very long. The alarm point for the height of the river is 6.5m. In the end their computer models proved extremely accurate about the height of the wave, which did reach 7.8m exactly at noon today. What they were completely useless at predicting was the time the worst point would be reached and the length of the wave. The first prediction was for the flood wave to arrive at 21:00 on Thursday and last a few hours. They then changed their minds every few hours until their predictions were overtaken by reality. In actual fact there was a gradual build up from an initial 5.35m about midday Thursday, past the alarm point and on to the peak of 7.8m at noon today, just shy of the ‘Critical level’ of 8.0m at which point all hell would have broken loose. The length of the wave has changed from being a few hours to at least four days – Friday to Monday. At last count they expect the river to drop below the alarm point on Tuesday at 08:00, personally I think it will be earlier than that. The level is currently about 7.6m.

With only a cycle path between us and an awful lot of water you can understand why we have been checking the level of the water very regularly since 21:00 on Thursday. This evening was the first time we noticed it doing anything other than getting closer. It is now in a very slow retreat.

With the river being so wide and with few well defined edges or landmarks it is very hard to visualise the increasing level of water. You know the river is high but it’s hard to say just how high. For this reason, TVN24 picked a spot on the river bank next to the Gdanski bridge and trained their cameras on some graffiti. They’ve been there ever since!

TV Crew

GDZIE JEST OLA?

On Thursday at midday you could clearly read “gdzie jest” (my pictures were taken on Thursday night around 23:00) and by today the water level had reached into the bottom of the white “Go” splodge. That rise in itself is not particularly impressive but here’s the comparison between normal river and Thursday night:

Wisła at normal level

Wisła on Thursday night

Locally, here at home our only measuring aids were to firstly to track the water’s progress up a track that leads from our place down to the river and in the later stages to see how how it was coming up the dyke wall. These pictures should give you a better idea what I’m talking about:

Firemen on the dyke, our home on the left, river on the right.

Water level as seen from top of dyke on Friday

Water level as seen from top of dyke on Saturday

New wetlands!

One of the fringe benefits of nearly getting flooded has been close encounters with strange wildlife. There are obviously a lot of confused fish but more exotically late on Thursday night we came face to face with a rather large wild boar who was out grazing on the dyke and yesterday we had a beaver swimming around in the water shown in the pictures above. If the pictures available via Google Earth are to be believed, beavers have been felling trees on the spit of land shown under the blue hatching in the top picture, no doubt homeless beavers now.

The frogs/toads in the lake on our estate have been going frantic recently, screaming their heads off. This flood was all part of their plan to remove the humans and take over Młociny. Their brothers in the south of the country caused this problem purely so that Młociny could be flooded and return the land to the frog/toad kingdom. Since they realised it is probably not going to work out as they planned, the two different tribes have been at each others throats something rotten.

In the end I think that despite our living so close to the river we’ve been saved by a few factors:

  • Water doesn’t care how close you are to it it just worries about gravity, flow, resistance….
  • We are at a relatively high elevation. Before we had any flooding there would have been major problems at the zoo, Mariensztat (downriver) & Łomianki (upriver) as a minimum, which might have eased the pressure on us anyway.
  • We are on the gentle side of the river. You can see from the topography that the water on our side is slow moving with the main flow being on the other side. This means the water that has reached us is very placid and not likely to hassle the dike too much.
  • The water didn’t get over 7.8m high. I actually think we could have managed the ‘critical level’ of 8.0m but at 8.5m we’d have been getting out of Dodge.
  • Somebody had the foresight to build a wał (dyke).

Of course, try telling any of this to my mother-in-law and you’re on a hiding to nothing. The lady has been watching too much news and is totally convinced that no matter what I say this water is going to defy the laws of physics, jump over the dike and kill us all. She’s been like a bi-hourly alarm clock that calls you up and lists all the bad things that can and probably will happen to us at any moment, most likely while we are asleep. This isn’t normal water, this is killer zombie flood-water, a whole different ball game! Anyway, it’s been made clear that if we all die horrible deaths it is entirely my fault, so nothing new there then.

Dear Polish government. Enough is enough my friends. It’s all very well getting your wellies on and sploshing around shaking everyone’s hand and looking concerned but this flooding has gone too far, too often. Stopping this from happening is not rocket science, just go visit any other country and look at the large scale construction that has been done (often with EU money) to divert, control or contain flood water so that things like this don’t happen every year. I’m certain that your government has already been presented with various schemes of how to fix it and has the means to find the funding so why are you not doing anything about it? It could well be that the fact the international press are ignoring this is because you don’t seem to care too much about it yourselves. But then this is just another one of those annoying “big jobs” like a decent road system, well kept hospitals, well paid public service workers and so on that you’d prefer to ignore or leave for someone else to deal with because they cost a fortune and won’t win you votes.

It is time this country started taking stuff like this seriously. Took a long term view and made some tough decisions that whilst they might not be popular, are the right thing to do. It’s a rusty ship with holes in the hull and all the government keep doing is painting it and putting plasters over the holes. Not good enough, this country deserves better leadership than that and these thousands of people whose lives have been damaged by this flood should be demanding to know why this has happened and when it’s going to end. Actually they should hire some American lawyers and lodge a stupendously massive claim for compensation.

My Polish Street: Przyjaciół

I’ve lived in three places since I’ve been in Poland, gradually moving further out each time. My first apartment was smack-bang in the centre of the Embassy district on a street called “Przyjaciół”, the big red X on the map below (click to enlarge).

I moved into this apartment after having lived in the Sheraton Hotel for many months and not knowing Warsaw as well as I do now, I chose something in an area I was familiar with. As you might have guessed the company was paying for accommodation at the time, I was, I hate to say it, an “expat” in the full sense of the word. I lived alone, rent-free, a stone’s throw from the British Embassy on Aleja Róż and I mixed with other foreign types in the ‘Some Place Else’ bar in the Sheraton hotel or one of the few other places popular with ex-pats at the time – Irish bar on Tamka, Barbados disco near the theatre and so on. When there was a sporting event I watched in the Embassy bar or in the apartment once I got Sky TV set up properly.

The only photo I have of the interior.

Don’t let the photo mislead you about the amount of furniture I had. The bedroom (off to the left) had a cruddy Ikea mattress on the floor, the kitchen (to the right) had one tiny table just big enough for two small people and that was about it!

I had viewed numerous more spacious options including, I remember, a place on ul. Długa close to the old town but I finally decided on Przyjaciół because it ‘felt right’. Took me a while to get the pronunciation worked out though!

“Where do you live?”

“Pea-Choo”

At around 60 m2 it was plenty big enough for me and I liked the area. It was only after having signed the contract that everyone started telling me how “posh” the street was and I suppose, looking back on it, it was. After M moved in towards the end of my stay there she started pointing out the various celebs that lived in the street and opened my eyes to the shoulders I’d been rubbing with. For me it was just a conveniently located and quiet street, thanks to the dead-end blocked by the Sobanski palace (Ujazdowskie 13).

My old apartment block. (Didn’t have silly parking meters back then)

The rent was a staggering $4,000 a month, might even have been $4,500. At the time that was around 15,000 PLN a mind-blowingly massive amount. Looking at offers on domiporta.pl today I see I can get an equivalent apartment on the same street for only 4,000 PLN/month! There is nothing even close to the price we were paying back then, the largest on offer today is 134 m2 for 10,000 PLN/month. The reason for the stupid rent was supply and demand. In those days, Warsaw was awash with mostly American entrepreneurs trying to get rich quick. None of the foreigners really took the zloty seriously or had a good grasp on values, especially exchange rates, everything was dollar based. There was a serious shortage of properties available for both living space or for office use, indeed most companies operated out of villas at the time. This meant the landlords could make the most of the situation and rents were ridiculous. The first crisis of confidence in Central Europe came soon enough though, all the cowboys left town and as more new stock was added to the housing and office market, rents plummeted. How times have changed.

This was a fine apartment though, especially at the weekends. Back then, Warsaw gave a great impression of a ghost town at the weekend, particularly in the summer, so I could wander peacefully around town, visit Łazienki or Ujazdowskie parks or the slightly longer walk down the Royal Route to the old town and back again. There was after all very little else to do. Shopping wise, there was no Galleria Mokotów and therefore no Arkadia, Wola Park or any other decent shopping area either. The best on offer was a pretty ropey ‘Promenada’ across the river, an even worse ‘Panorama’ heading down towards Wilanów or a growing selection of identical French hypermarkets all selling the same junk. Food shopping was a drag with me experimenting in assorted tin-shed skleps until I eventually found the original Mini Europa on Bonifraterska. The place was and still is a rip-off of major proportions but they had things you could not find anywhere else. The only other shop I can recall visiting regularly was a place that sold CDs on Plac Zbawiciela, long since turned into another ‘trendy’ eatery/cafe.

Despite being a short street, I always managed to find a parking space on Przyjaciół. With my first car, a bright red Opel Astra (bez klima!), it was easy because it was so short and such rubbish that I didn’t care how badly I parked it. These were the days before Opel thought they were the next Mercedes. The next car was a Renault Laguna kombi seen below waiting for the ferry near to Kazimierz Dolny. This car is famous for being able to get all the way up the windy and steep road to Morskie Oko in thick February snow without chains and without incident!

The Laguna

The Laguna was harder to park but more importantly it was pitched at just the right level for the times – nice enough but not that nice that it would be stolen. Funny story from those days – the company imported a new managing director from the good old US of A. His name was Mike but he was more of a “Chuck Spank” type and having spent his entire life being Mr Corporate America you could not imagine a fish further away from water as was he in Warsaw. He insisted, against plenty of good advice, that he wanted a big-ass Volvo as his company car. He waited months for the thing to arrive. Two weeks after he took delivery he was held up in the street and the car was stolen. He insisted on another one and guess what, the same thing happened again only this time it was the “I’ll bump gently into the back of your car and invite you round the back to take a look while my mate jumps in and drives your car away” trick. His entire time in Warsaw was a catalogue of things like that. He eventually gave up trying to “blend” and went back to Florida from where I’m sure he’s been telling tales of how bad Warsaw is ever since. Once more, how times have changed.

Przyjaciół had its fair share of weird folk but the best was ‘cat lady’. As with all such streets there was an ever growing population of wild cats living in the basements or wherever they could find shelter. Cat lady would venture out every day and place about a thousand containers along the wall at the end of the street, all kinds of things from Tupperware boxes to old tins to recycled ice-cream packets and all full of cat food, left-overs or milk. Cats would come from miles around for their daily nosh. For all I know she’s still doing it.

I left Przyjaciół for two reasons, firstly because I had to start paying the rent myself (known in the trade as “going local”) and secondly because I was now with M full time and we wanted a place that was ‘ours’. And so it was we moved to Gwiażdzista, of which more in the next post.

Independence Day photos

Our nod in the direction of independence today was a visit to the exhibition called “Wojenne rozstania”, which is held inside the university library. It chronicles the lives of various families that were forcibly relocated thanks to the ever changing moods and allegiances of that time. Some of the journeys are quite incredible.

Following that, and safely after all the pomp and circumstance had died down we wandered around the town. It was cold, dark (considering it was only 16:00), wet and windy. Not the ideal conditions for photography but I took the G9 along anyway.

Flying the flag

Parisian kiosk

Family admiring the Canaletto

One of my favourite views of Warsaw, across Piłsudski square

And rather ironically, given the yawning gap between Polish and British sense of pride in their nation, the only Union Jack was a broken umbrella laying with the trash!