Friday morning was a grey affair, an early peek from behind the curtains revealed not the winter wonderland that I had hoped for, given that it was snowing when I had gone to bed; the snow had continued but is was a wet snow so cars and trees had gathered a nice coating but on the tarmac and stonework of the hotel car park it wasn’t laying. I brewed myself a cup of hotel coffee and laid in bed for a while, flicking through the channels on the TV (there’s a song in there, somewhere…).
I performed my ablutions, got dressed and went to get some breakfast; as I pulled the room door closed behind me I heard a murmur of voices from along the corridor; I was on the ground floor and the restaurant was behind reception off of the end of this corridor. Then I remembered the dozens of bags and suitcases that I had encountered the previous evening. I walked into reception, all of the luggage was still there, moreover the restaurant seemed to be packed to capacity. Hmmm… Luckily I’d had a filling meal yesterday evening; I’d forgo the pleasures of jostling with that lot to try to find a space in the restaurant this morning.
Somewhere to keep Unicorns
I went back to my room and had another cup of coffee and a play on t’internet; I had my tablet with me, I also had a pack of sticking plasters, just in case. Tablet, no, it wasn’t an iPad or an “i” anything; I have a peculiar aversion to those things branded “i”, don’t ask me why, I just don’t like ’em. The first time I’d visited Poland I’d brought my laptop with me, a great 17″ screen hulk of a thing in its bag. I also brought it the second time but after that I decided that lugging that thing around was not the thing to be doing, a “tablet” was acquired, it’s nowhere near as good as a laptop but I can access my email and surf, at a pinch, and it plays me music when I’m tired.
Erelong I was out on the street; it was still snowing, just. I walked along to the new tram stop by the junction of Piotrkowska and Piłsudskiego. Its official name is Piotrkowska Centrum, it’s not on Piotrkowska but it is fairly Centrum, the locals call it „Stajnia Jednorożców” (The) Unicorn’s Stable (“The” in brackets because as you know there is no definite or indeed indefinite article article in Polish), it’s all white arches and colours. Hmmm, that didn’t really describe it did it? Here’s a picture I took back in January:
Ulica Piotrkowska is a long street; from Piłsudskiego which it bisects, it goes south a long way and it goes north a long way; when I got there I walked north. After a couple of hundred yards, (or metres if you prefer) Piotrkowska becomes, in essence, a pedestrian precinct bothered only by the occasional car, taxi and delivery truck and a small fleet of those curious pseudo-bicycle-rickshaws, the ones with a covered seat at the front and some guy pedalling away like billy-o at the back.
It was as I have already noted, a grey day, the precipitation was somewhere between snow and drizzle and it was cold, I had my hat crammed firmly on my head and pulled down over my ears. Today was a public holiday in Poland, National Independence Day and just about every lamppost along Piotrkowska bore the national flag. National Independence Day celebrates the re-unification of Poland as a sovereign country in 1918 after having been partitioned for 123 years by the Kingdom of Prussia, the Habsburg Empire and the Russian Empire. I’ve read about the long and often tortuous history of this country, quite different from the story of the UK; for many years and at different times Poland didn’t even exist as a country but the people prevailed. You’ve got to admire (I certainly do) a nation that takes the kind of crap handed out to it by others (including to a small extent the UK) and yet still pulls through, gets to its feet and carries on.
It’s a national holiday, most of the shops, restaurants and cafes are closed, well, they are at this hour, so I walked up a largely deserted street, there were a few people out and about but most, if they’ve any sense will be indoors somewhere and frankly, I don’t blame them. I, however, had a mission, an objective; I was going to the old market square. Back in the warmer days of summer, there was a thing, an installation, art.
Let me start again, a few months back there was erected in the market square, four metal pylons and between the pylons hundreds of coloured ribbons were suspended from steel cables. I only saw photographs but it must have been quite a sight in the flesh, as it were. I knew that the display/installation wasn’t there anymore but I wanted to go and see where it was, yeah, I know, but that’s just the way that I am.
On the way I made a detour, leaving Piotrkowska and walking along to Łódzki Dom Kultury, the venue for tonight’s concert, and on to look at the railway station that is being constructed across the road. It’s not a new station, it’s an old station but it has been razed and rebuilt. I couldn’t really get near the station as it was still a building site but it was certainly looking impressive.
I returned to my original course and eventually I reached Plac Wolności at the end of Piotrkowska, it’s a crossroads, a roundabout with a statue of Tadeusz Kościuszko on a large island at its centre; available directions are, left, right or straight ahead. I went straight on, sort of; the pavement of course follows the circular route around the island. The road above Plac Wolności is called Nowomiejska and in spite of its translating roughly as “New Town”, the buildings here look a little the worse for wear. Soon I was standing at a pedestrian crossing, waiting for the green man to make an appearance. On the other side of the road/tramway/road is a small park, Park Staromiejska, which translates as “Old Town”. Nowomiejska slices through Park Staromiejska cutting it into roughly one third to the left and two thirds to the right. The Park, nestling in a corner of the intersection between two major thoroughfares, provides a welcome patch of green relief against the streets of the city, only it snowed last night and in spite of the wet nature of the morning’s precipitation, the green is still surprisingly white.
City or town?
City or town? The Polish language seems to be bereft of the distinction between city and town; large conurbations are all “Miasto” which seems to mean “place”. You can imagine the confusion that this would cause in Blighty, the sort of social upheaval that this would imply. Oxford tarred with the same naming brush as Watford or Northampton? Oh no, that would never do.
On the far side of Park Staromiejska lies the old market square, my goal. The square is empty save for three teenage girls and four large steel pylons with a network of cables strung between them. The teenage girls appear to be holding some sort of impromptu meeting, one is carrying a pennant on a short staff; maybe it’s something to do with it being Independence Day. The four steel pylons are keeping their own counsel, standing mute against the grey of the day. As I said, I knew that there was nothing here but I wanted to see where something had been.
Stary Rynek, the old market square in Łódź is not a grand affair like that in Kraków or Poznań or even Warsaw, it is a very, almost utilitarian affair, fitting perhaps given its origins, after World War 2 the Soviets demolished all of the original buildings and rebuilt the whole place in the Socialist Realist style. It’s a bit bleak but functional.
Objective reached I turned about and walked back into Park Staromiejska, the snow was laying on the grassy and in the branches of the trees, this was a small slice of winter wonderland, I stopped to take a few photographs and then re-traced my path back to Piotrkowska. Upon reaching Plac Wolności I decided to visit the island at the centre of the roundabout. The statue of Tadeusz Kościuszko isn’t the original one, the original was erected in 1930 and blown-up by the Nazis in 1939 because Tadeusz is a national hero, a veteran of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth’s unsuccessful struggles against Russia and Prussia. He also fought for the colonials in the American Revolution, an interesting guy. No, this statue dates from 1960 but interestingly enough was re-created by the original sculptor.
Standing at the foot of Tadeusz on his obelisk I looked down Piotrkowska which gently rose into the distance, it traverses a small, I won’t say hill, but the ground does rise slightly then dips away. Today it disappeared into a grey mist.
There were more people about now, cafés and restaurants were opening, I had walked a fair bit and was now feeling a tad peckish. I made for a pizzeria I knew towards the bottom end of the top section of Piotrkowska. I’ve been taken to task by one of my polish friends, all in a very good natured way, for eating “foreign” food whilst in Poland but I fancied pizza so pizza I would have. The restaurant was empty apart from a couple at one table and a lone chap, at another. I chose a table in the window so that I could “people watch” inside and out. Scanning the menu I decided on calzone pizza, and a cup of hot chocolate, the cold had got to me, even through my thick coat, hat and gloves. I ordered my choice and the waitress informed me that it would take about fifty minutes…
Fifty minutes? Did I hear that right? Ah well, I had nothing else pressing to do, It was warm here so I sat in my window and watched Łódź walking past, taking the occasional sip of my hot chocolate. Oh my, the hot chocolate; I don’t think I’ve ever tasted any drink as good as that hot chocolate was. It was thick, and delicious; I had visions of it solidifying inside me. In the end my calzone pizza only took about thirty minutes, at around the twenty minute mark there was a lot of activity at the back of the place and an unfeasibly large amount of pizzas in boxes were crammed into insulated bags, carried out to a waiting car and driven off into the distance. That’ll’ve be the reason for the wait then.
There was a food emporium in Maghull on Merseyside, “Central Cuisine” it was called; in the past I had occasion to avail myself of their wares, and chief amongst my choice had been their calzone pizza, which comes if you so desire with rice, or chips, or half and half. In the south of England we tend to think of ourselves as slightly superior to the rest of the country, not me personally you understand but other more northerly denizens perceive us soft southerners as thinking so. However, where is the avant-garde, freethinking, modern food outlet in the south that offers rice or chips or half and half? Give me a northern chippy any day of the week.
Having seen calzone on the menu in the pizzeria in Łódź my mind went back to the calzone pizzas I had enjoyed from Central Cuisine, so I ordered calzone. But, this is Poland, they do “foreign” food here but it all has a Polish twist, which is not a bad thing. My pizza arrived; it was huge and very tasty. The menu had had a choice of two sizes, large and very large, I had opted for the large and it seemed to be, very large. Goodness knows how big the very large one would have been. I tucked-in.
A slow walk south and then west brought me back to my hotel, time to put my feet up for a while before tonight’s concert. By now it was mid-afternoon and it was getting towards dusk. I had been asked by a couple of friends who would also be at the concert later to bring them some “good English tea” so before I left England I’d stocked-up on Twinings Assam and Breakfast Tea and some Waitrose Kenyan. I changed into a concert t-shirt, bagged-up the tea and went back out into the cold. It’s about a 15-20 minute walk from my hotel to the concert venue; it’s a route that I know quite well now, having done it a number of times. I went in and presented my ticket, left my coat in the cloakroom and went upstairs to the venue’s café/restaurant/bar.
It’s always great and daunting in equal measures to meet-up with this crazy, wonderful gang of people. I was spotted as I walked in through the open doorway and much hugging, cheek-kissing and back-slapping ensued. I ordered a beer from the bar and waited for people to regain their seats then sought out Ola and Bartek, the recipients of the tea.
After the concert everyone was back upstairs for the Afterparty; at one point I was sitting on a couch with two luminaries of Polish Progressive Rock, Ryszard Kramarski and Jerzy Antczak. Ryszard is the keyboard player and leader of the band Millenium and Jerzy, now a solo artist, was guitar player and leader of the band Albion, both bands are on my favourites list. There is talk on the rumour mill that Albion will get back together, now that’s a concert that I’d pay good money to see. Ryszard was quizzing me as to my favourite Polish bands, “Well” I said, feeling rather ambushed, “apart from you and Jerzy here…” Oh man, what could I say? Anyway, I think I gave all the right answers.
It was nice to know that I wasn’t the only foreigner in ŁDK that evening; a Hungarian chap who was living and working in Łódź had seen the event advertised and popped in to see what it was all about, needless to say, he spoke good English, and Polish, putting my attempts at Polish to shame. He joined us at the Afterparty, giving an account of his wanderings and tucking into slices of cake.
It was well after midnight, well after 2 a.m. I think when I got back to my hotel room. The snow which had turned to sleet then very fine mist had stopped altogether. I turned out the light and fell into a deep sleep.