Wednesday, 30 January 2008

From the family archive

At my parents' in London. My parents have been looking through their old photographs, and this one (right) caught their eye.

My mother, then 18 years old, receiving her teacher training diploma from General Anders, Nazareth, June 1946.

Along with her family, she was deported on 10 February 1940 from her home in Wołyń (then eastern Poland, today in Ukraine). Along with around 140,000 Polish citizens rounded up and deported that day, my mother's family was transported deep into Russia and resettled in a labour camp. My mother was 12 years old at the time.

Having left the USSR with Anders' army after the "amnesty" granted by Stalin to Poles in August 1941, my mother travelled through Iran (then Persia), via Iraq to Israel (then Palestine). She stayed in the Middle East throughout the war, studying, and arrived in Britain in 1947.

Taking off from Okecie

A lovely shot from a LOT Boeing 737, a minute or so after departure from Warsaw's Okecie. The view takes in the lakes at Rybie and Raszyn; we can see where al. Krakowska splits and Janki, where one road heads south for Krakow and the other south-west to Katowice and Wroclaw. The pancake-flat nature of Mazowsze's landscape is clearly visible.

Crowded skies over Europe

I like to fly to the UK in a south-facing window seat (during daylight hours). At 30,000 ft, above the clouds, the view is quite sublime. Flying out on Monday morning, northern Europe under ten/tenths cloud cover, the view from the plane is akin to looking out over Arctic snowfields. The skies are getting crowded. The horizon is busy with air traffic. Above: A WizzAir Airbus A320 heading for Warsaw passes us going the other way. Below: An eastbound Boeing 737 passes (at a somewhat more comfortable distance). But what's that other aircraft crossing its path?

Below: A sequence of maximally blown-up enlargements of the mystery aircraft that climbed rapidly from under our flight path and above the Boeing's one. The order in which they were taken was top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right. My guess is that the plane is either a Eurofighter Typhoon or a Dassault Rafale. The third picture (a blow-up of the photo above) shows the plane dramatically altering its angle of attack, a manoeuvre that a civil jetliner would be unable to perform.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

I spoke too soon!

Hah hah! Looks like I got it wrong. Just six hours after taking the photos in the previous post, it starts snowing. The temperature falls by 3C to +0.8C; the snow settles on the lawn and on the fields, but not on the paving or asphalt. Tomorrow I'm flying off to London for five days on business; I trust the flight will not be delayed as a result of this snowfall.

Right: Our garden from outside the kitchen window; compare to these the third and fourth shots from this post; below: garden from my bedroom window; compare to photos in previous post. (Note: I managed to stitch these two together into one panorama, impossible with those clouds!)

No sign of winter returning

Poland is said to be a country of six seasons, with both autumn and spring divided into two distinct sub-seasons. Autumn is composed of 'babie lato' or 'złota jesień' (both names denoting a continuation of warm, dry summer weather into late September and October), and then the leaves fall from the trees, the weather gets wet and sleety, the day shortens drastically, while we await the first frosts and snowfalls of winter proper. Similarly before spring proper arrives, we have a sub-season called 'przednówek' or 'przedwiośnie'; the snow and frost has gone, but there's no sign of nature bursting into life yet.

Above: The view from my room this morning. A touch of blue sky to lift the late-January gloom.

This is where our seasons have got to this year. The snows were brief and mild. Since mid-January, the daytime temperature has been well above average, indeed, I'd be surprised if this doesn't turn out to be the warmest winter in Warsaw since records began.

The blue sky in the two photos above has come and gone, greyness has rushed in. Planes coming into Okęcie are landing from over Ursynów (Runway 29), as they do when the wind is directly from the west, rather than over Jeziorki (Runway 33), when there's a prevailing north-westerly wind.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Another old-school shop in Warsaw

Across the road from Warsaw's Sheraton Hotel is a cooperative food store that goes under the Społem brand, (indeed one of over 4,000 such shops around Poland). Społem, or to give its full name, the National Supervision Union of Consumer Co-operatives (KZRSS) "Społem", is a real throw-back to the old days.

Well, there are still Co-ops in the UK, so I won't labour the anachronism point. But once upon a time, Społem was the state monopolist on all food retailing. Well do I remember entering these shops in the 1980s. All that was available was vinegar, matches, baking soda, parcel string, scouring powder, bottles of fizzy mineral water with rusty caps... er, that's it. Things changed; foreign players - Tesco, Carrefour, Real, Biedronka and dozens of others entered the Polish market, but Społem is still with us.

Let's analyse the shop front. A sign says POLECAMY MROŻONKI (WE RECOMMEND FROZEN PRODUCE). Potential customers are wooed with the come-hither slogan: WARZYWA OWOCE W CIĄGŁEJ SPRZEDAŻY (FRUIT VEGETABLES ON SALE CONTINUOUSLY). A hand-written sign announces January's key name-days; an aide memoire to persuade the local Eugeniuszes, Bogumiłas and Rajmunds (and friends thereof)* to pop in for a celebratory box of Ptasie Mleczko. This gauche lack of retail sophistication is rather nice to see these days.

There's much charm in these post-communist throwbacks; Warsaw would be a duller city without them. Click here for another old-school Warsaw shopping experience.

* These first names are almost exclusive to Poland's over-70s.

Elegant and proper

The headquarters of the Polish Federation of Scientific and Technical Associations, on Warsaw's ul. Czackiego 3/5. A beautiful example of Belle Epoque architecture, looking so fine on a sunny January day. Built 1904, rebuilt 1947. Notice the two Polish flags; above them fly black ribbons, in mourning for the 20 victims of Wednesday's air disaster.

Below: A detail from the above photo, (click on image to see it full-sized). This is a good indication of the capability of the 5 MP camera built into the Nokia N95. Resolution and colour in shade and highlight are up to the task. The N95 makes an excellent back-up go-anywhere and everywhere camera for the photoblogger - as well as serving as a mobile phone and MP3 player. It is however slow and cumbersome in use - lots of menus, long response time. Not a problem for landscapes, it does mean it's not good for spontaneous grab-shots.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Air Force tragedy

A Polish Air Force CASA C-295M transport aircraft (like the one above, photographed over our house on 21 April 2007) crashed yesterday evening while coming into land at Mirosławiec north-west Poland, two hours after taking off from Okęcie airport. All 20 men on board were killed - four Air Force crew and 16 high- and mid-ranking army officers. This is the first ever crash involving this type. When I heard the first breaking news story on the radio, I was certain that the 'transport plane' that crashed would have been an elderly Antonov An-26, and was very surprised to hear later that it was indeed a CASA. Cause as yet unknown, black box recovered. A period of official mourning has been announced.

Click here for official Polish Air Force communique (in Polish).

CZEŚĆ ICH PAMIĘĆI

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Happy birthday, Moni!

Our daughter Monika is 15 today. Unlike her brother Eddie, she shares her birthday with no famous Poles* (although reporter Ryszard Kapuściński died this day last year).

Mindful of Moni's interests in making music and movies, it's worth mentioning two other January 23rd birthdays. Huddie 'Leadbelly' Ledbetter, influential blues musician whose songs have been covered by Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Nirvana and the Beach Boys was born 115 years ago today, and Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein, born 105 years ago today.

(*I'm reminded that poet Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński was born this day. But then he blotted his copybook by writing panegyrics to Sralin)

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Blue Monday

Three years ago, Dr Cliff Arnall from the University of Cardiff, calculated an algorithm suggesting that in 2008, Monday 21 January would be the most depressing day of the year. The co-relation between dark, depressing weather, the long wait until spring arrives, post-Xmas debt, all conspire between them to lower spirits across the Northern Hemisphere. (He also worked out that the happiest day of the year is in late June.) And talking of darkness, today is a full month after the winter solstice, and there's only 45 minutes more daylight than on the shortest day. Two months to equinox, and there's still three and half hours to make up to the full 12 hours.

Back in the early 1980s, I observed a co-relation between the weather and movements on the London Stock Exchange. We had in the office an old Press Association news wire machine, printing out data all day long. When the weather was nice, the market indices had a habit of rising, and vice versa. The tendency was weak, but I'd guess that if you had to make a bet on which way the markets were moving just on the basis of weather, you'd get it right - consistently - 52 times out of 100. Add a bit of market insight to the weather data, and you could get 55 out of 100. Enough to make a small profit. If I had posited such a theory 25 years ago, I would have been accused of being a swivel-eyed, tin-foil-hat-wearing nutter; today, the link between economics and human biometerology has been noted.

Anyway, yesterday, the combination of 'Blue Monday' and dire sentiments on the financial markets led to what portal Money.pl called 'financial apocalypse'. The main Warsaw index lost 5.5% in one day, while shares in London lost 77 billion pounds in value. Less in percentage terms than Warsaw, but London's brokers are more experienced and have been through those situations when panic breaks loose, prices are in free-fall and they've already lost their clients significant chunks of their personal wealth.

In Warsaw, the fundamentals should have been good enough to keep the market afloat. Yesterday the IMF uprated Poland's GDP growth prospects for 2008 upwards from 4.2% to 5%. That really is good news. Yet the shares kept on tanking. It must have been the weather - "It rained and it rained. It rained both night and day. The people got worried; they began to cry. Lord have mercy, where can we go to now?" *

Dr Cliff should have noted that 21 January 2008 is Martin Luther King Day in the US, and that Wall Street would be closed. I watch with interest as to what will happen on the world's financial markets today. Here in Warsaw, it's still raining. Below: ul. Poloneza, submerged.

* John Lee Hooker, Tupelo

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Wetlands in a wet winter

Off to the end of the road to see how our wetlands are faring in winter. I don my pair of Barbour wellies and set off up ul. Trombity towards the boggy reed beds, unclaimed by any landowner, home to frogs and black-faced gulls and quite wild. Spoilt only by tons of dumped household and building waste (I'm in favour of stiff penalties against fly-tippers - like their rotting junk being taken to their homes and shovelled into their bedrooms and kitchens), this is an urban naturalist's paradise.

Before taking the shot (right) of the reeds, I first have to remove several polythene bread bags, an empty jam jar and several beer and vodka bottles.

By late-March, the reed beds will be full of the sound of mating frogs and toads, while overhead black-headed gulls will circle and screech.

In 2003, the summer had been so dry and so long that the reed beds dried out altogether, dry enough to walk through, and causing a population catastrophe among the local amphibians. Since then, we've had wetter summers.

The only real sign of winter in Jeziorki's wetlands could be found here at this pond, frozen solid - thick enough for me to stand on. At the edges, the ice had melted, but the middle was still entirely sound. This is puzzling, as the temperature has not dipped below zero for over a week now. Ice has disappeared from all other standing water other than a thin crust on some puddles.

Look at these photographs and ponder. They were all taken less than eight miles from the very centre of Warsaw - the Palace of Culture. Can you imagine such landscapes in West Ealing (eight miles from London's Centre Point?) Or Winchmore Hill? Or Norbury? Or Newham (all equidistant from Centre Point)? That, for a London boy, is the attraction of Jeziorki.

Above: On my travels I came across the carcass of a dead fox. It seemed to have been dead for some time. Of what did it die? Hunger, hypothermia, predator attack, road traffic accident, rabies or just old age? I expect to return in some months to find the bones picked clean. So does nature recycle itself.

Jeziorki scarecrows

Today's walk around Jeziorki was in warm weather for the time of year. The temperature was +5C, nearer early spring than mid-winter. The fields, which are usually under snow, are looking bright green. It is as if Poland has been shifted 1,000 miles west and is now under the influence of Atlantic systems, rather than Arctic and Siberian weather that usually dominates in mid-January.

However, the UK is currently suffering an even more extreme weather anomaly, with a record high temperature (+15C on 20 January in Great Malvern)

I passed a couple of scarecrows in a field between ul. Trombity and the railway line. Both seemed very expressive; the anthropomorphic headless grey blouse, rising wraith-like from the soil, seeming to shield her eyes from the light, the three bottles dangling from the arm of a crucifix, two more lying on the ground below, like a boozer's grave.


It is not for me to say whether these scarecrows are effective at keeping birds off the crop, but I must say they do add interest to the Jeziorki landscape.

The weatherman on TVN Meteo last night predicted that the rest of January would remain unseasonably warm, but that a cold snap could be expected in early February. That remains to be seen.

Halfway from Olsztyn to Kraków

The 06:45 'fast' train (pośpieszny) from Olsztyn Główny to Kraków Płaszów between W-wa Dawidy and W-wa Jeziorki. The journey takes just under ten hours and the train makes 26 stops, including four at various Warsaw stations. Nearly five hours after leaving Olsztyn, the train is still running to timetable. Anorak note: the engine is EP07-174. The EP07 is the workhorse of PKP's electric passenger services, rebuilt from the mixed-traffic EU07s in the mid-1990s. The EU07 and EP07s are to be seen right across PKP's electrified network and are based on the English Electric Class 83 loco. Below: An attempt to catch the atmosphere of Jan Lenica's illustration for Julian Tuwim's poem 'Lokomotywa'. OK, without the snow.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

More pre-Lenten thoughts

Lent is now two and half weeks away, and so I prepare. This year I intend to go more extreme in limiting my diet, with the aim of physical and spiritual renewal. Having done vegetarian last year, I shall attempt to go vegan this year. Self-denial has nothing, in my case, to do with preparation for Easter, the commemoration of the crucifixion and resurrection of Joshua bin Joseph, a khristos of Nazareth. It's to do with cleansing the body and strengthening the will. It also has signficant spiritual benefits, about which I shall blog throughout Lent.

As always, alcohol and caffeine are dropped. I've had days when my liquid intake has been nothing but caffeine and alcohol - coffee in the morning, lunchtime beer, coffee in the afternoon, beer/wine/spirits in the evening. The one balances out the other. Too much alcohol leads to a headache. And headaches are relieved by caffeine. Remove just one from the equation and problems occur. As Danny the Dealer says in Withnail and I, "Why trust one drug rather than the other". Apart from that one double espresso I drank at the Radisson hotel in Kraków last Wednesday, I've now stopped drinking coffee. Result - near-permanent low-level headache. Still drinking alcohol though - today, some Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.

I have discovered, though, that the green tea I've been drinking to gently come off caffeine is actually quite rich in the stuff, though not so rich as the two heaped tablespoons of Lavazza Crema that go into my caffetiere each morning.

A word about Lent's duration. The prescribed time is 40 days, yet it is actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The reason is that the six intervening Sundays are not days of fasting (Sundays are still celebrations of The Resurrection). I do all 46 days. It's one eighth of the year. And having done this for the past 16 Lents, I can assure my readers it's a worthwhile effort. Indeed, after the extensive libations of Yuletide, the body quite craves the quiet of Lent.

The time of year is no coincidence - historically, Christianity's main fasting period was ideally placed to occur during the hungriest time of year in the northern hemisphere; when winter stores are running low and there is still several weeks before the first fruits of the season appear.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Today's Kraków pics

Slowly Kraków is beginning to fill up with tourists. It seems to currently be a favoured destination for middle-aged English couples, although many seemed shocked by Kraków prices at today's exchange rates - one pound buys 4.72 zlotys* (and much less at the Kantor - bureau de change). A year ago, it was 5.84 - nearly one quarter more!

Right: The Mały Rynek (little market place). Below: Corner of Mały Rynek, ul. Stolarska and ul. Sienna (pron. She-EN-na, and not as per the Italian town). Midday winter sun catching the pastels nicely.

Left: The Ratusz (city hall) tower in the Rynek Główny (main market square). Behind it are the Sukiennice (cloth halls)

* It would get down to 4.04 to the pound in August.

Can't make it without coffee

Arriving in Kraków today in time for a lunchtime meeting, I was afflicted by a bastard headache. It was caused by a) not drinking enough green tea before leaving home this morning (we were all in a rush to leave), and b) falling asleep on the train with my neck in an awkward position. The headache was not in the least bit relieved by two Cokes; two aspirins reduced the pain somewhat, but it was only a double espresso that finally got rid of it! Caffeine is indeed dreadfully hard to kick. Lent starts in earnest in three weeks' time, so I shall try once more to do without coffee, switching to green and white tea, then weaning myself gently off caffeine by February 6. Why am I doing this? Find out nearer the start of Lent.

Just before dawn, Ursynów

An early start this morning, leaving home half an hour before sunrise. At the end of ul. Kórnicka as it joined ul. Baletowa, I grabbed this snap (1/3 sec exposure), not expecting it to come out. But although blurred, it does have huge character; this is The Road, USA, Jeziorki-style.

Above: the junction of ul. Poleczki and ul. Pulawska. Traffic heading into town is not yet chock-a-block; by 8 am it will be.

Above: Ursynów's main drag, al. KEN, looking for all the world like some remote Russian city within the Arctic Circle on a winter's noon. Note the cycle path (behind the green pedestrian traffic signals) - it has not been cleared of snow and ice, while the footpath next to it has been. "Makes sense," I thought. "Not really the kind of weather for cyclists" - just then...

...WHOOSH!

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Trundling Tamara

At the end of ul. Jeziorki, turn left into the footpath bit of ul. Kórnicka towards the railway tracks. This used to be a level crossing for farm traffic, now abandoned. And a good vantage point for watching the trains go by. This morning, en route for work, I was lucky enough to catch this Russian-made diesel shunter (TEM2-189) running light between W-wa Jeziorki and W-wa Dawidy. It had delivered a fully-laden coal train to the Siekierki power station. The TEM2s are heavy-duty freight haulers, and are nicknamed 'Tamaras' by Polish train spotters. They run lighter on the tracks than the older Russian-built ST44 diesel locos also seen on the Okęcie - Siekierki coal run. Trains heading north run slowly, as the approach the busy level crossing at ul. Baletowa is entirely unguarded; there's much hooting of loco whistles to warn drivers of approaching trains.

Pastel sunrise

Not so cold this morning, though still below zero. Less than quarter of an hour after the sun rose over ul. Karczunkowska, it peeked through the clouds that lined the horizon. I was drawn by the sky's muted pastel tones, which contrasted with more colourful sunrises, like this one, taken in late-November. No overnight fog, so no hoar-frost in the trees and in the hedges.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Frosty morn in Jeziorki

But only just. Night-time low was less than one degree C. below freezing, but we had some overnight fog which froze on trees, plants and grass. Photo above was taken from our front garden just after half past seven this morning; the sun has yet to appear over the horizon. Sunrise today was at 07:40, seven minutes earlier than the year's darkest morning.

Gasping for a coffee

This year, like every year since 1992, I shall be giving up caffeine for Lent*. (And alcohol, and salt snacks and chips/French fries and confectionary and carbonated soft drinks and, since last year, meat. But more on this later.) Giving up caffeine is physiologically the hardest. Doing so from one day to the next leads to massive headaches that can last over a week. So, in recent years, I've taken to quitting caffeine in gradual stages. Yesterday morning I switched the usual caffetiere of Lavazza Crema for a mug of Lipton's White Tea. A low-level headache ensued. A 200ml bottle of Coca-Cola gave some minor relief; a glass of red wine with my lunch finally did the trick.

Today, in the office, I'm suffering a slight headache, tension in the back of the neck. I've had my white tea, I'll have another, but when all around me are sipping coffees and the aroma has pervaded the office, I could really, really do with one. That's the nature of addiction. Exercising the will not to do something once a year is a tough thing to do, but it works.

* Lent starts this year on Wednesday 6 February and lasts until Easter Sunday, 23 March. More, much more on the subject of Lent in coming weeks.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Highest point in Jeziorki

The rampa na kruszywo is a great place for walks. In the UK, the whole place - ramp and sidings and land surrounding them, would be enclosed behind high fences, observed by CCTV and patrolled by security guards with dogs. (Not because there's anything here worth stealing, unless you've got a 20-ton tipper truck and need the gravel, you understand, but because of fear of litigation. This is potentially a dangerous place.) But here, you can stroll right in, scramble up the embankment and look out over Jeziorki from its highest vantage point. Below: View from the top, looking south towards Nowa Iwiczna.

Walking down the track, you get to a set of points where the train changes direction and the trucks are pushed backwards onto the ramp. As is visible from the shiny rails, the ramp is in regular use these days. Warsaw's building boom ensures that regular consignments of aggregate are brought in by train (environmentally friendlier than doing it by road). Five years ago, there was no sign of life on this little industrial spur off the main Warsaw-Radom line. Below: The ramp's sidings. Four of them (of which only one is ever used). A lot of the rails could be pulled up and sold for scrap, but then the place would lose its charm. The main line runs in the background, Warszawa Jeziorki station is behind the trees in the middle distance.

Mild spell continues, ground frost persists

Although not quite as warm as yesterday, with the daytime high hitting +5.5C, the strong sunlight made it spring-like for the third day in a row. So a good day for two walks around Jeziorki. Above: Some of the more traditional architecture on ul. Karczunkowska.

I walked across the fields to the rampa na kruszywo, crossing a frozen drainage ditch.

Now, although last night's minimum air temperature did not fall below zero (indeed at 22:30 in the centre of Warsaw it was +6C!), there was ground frost out in the suburbs.

The ditch stays in the shadow all day long, so the ice here was still thick enough to walk on (below).

However, around the corner, a few days' worth of late-afternoon sunshine managed to peek into the ditch, melting the ice and leaving three distinct layers between where the water once was (below).

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Shortest, mildest winter?

Today at half past two when the photo above was taken in our garden, the thermometer read +8C. It felt to all intents and purposes like early spring. Vegetation, however, is still firmly in winter shut-down mode. Other than the air temperature, there are no other intimations of spring's imminent arrival.

I get the feeling that this year we won't get a real, harsh dose of winter weather, like the one that visited Warsaw in January 2006, when night time temperatures plummeted to -26C. I also recall 1997 - my first year in Poland. In early February there was an unseasonable warm spell which led to the Las Kabacki forest being packed with walkers and cyclists. Mosquitoes swarmed and bit, nature came to life early. But winter returned. Indeed, there was still snow on the ground that year as late as mid-April. [And later came the floods.] I'd bet, however, that 2008 will not be like 1997.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Eddie's giant soap bubble

One for the record. While washing his hands with liquid soap (Palmolive Naturals Nourishing Odżywianie, all you bubble fans out there), Eddie discovered that this stuff has the potential to make rather large bubbles. Earlier attempts to capture this phenomenon with my mobile phone camera failed, as the Nokia N95 has extremely slow reaction times when you're trying to nab spontaneity. Nikon's D80 DSLR did the job, and the image stabiliser on the 18-200mm Nikkor lens helped keep the image steady at a full quarter of a second exposure.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Kraków beckons again

Once again on business to Kraków. I eschew the taxis from the railway station (too few and too expensive) in favour of a walk across the Old Town to get to my appointment. I have some time as the train arrived early.

Right: A classic view (if I may say so myself) of the Kościoł Mariacki seen from ul. Szpitalna. Kraków's a beautiful city any time of year.

Disappearing winter

From the train to Kraków, it looks like the end of winter; spring feels imminent, the snows are melting, the sun is out. But there's still a long time before the crocuses bloom. On January 16, two years ago, it was -23C during the day. The frost gods can yet return. Indeed, I'd be surprised if they didn't. Below: The Małopolska village of Przełaj from the train. Note the babcia in the bottom left corner of the picture.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Warsaw well prepared for snow

More evidence that Warsaw is well prepared for winter. This morning, the roads were clear of snow and traffic moved smoothly (for the first Monday after the Christ's Mass/New Year's break) after yesterday afternoon's falls. Last winter, some wag observed that Polish drivers will not be satisfied until each one has his own snow-plough driving ahead of his car at a steady 80km/h. They'll moan like hell that the city's snow-clearing services are rubbish, but yesterday evening as I ferried the children here and there around Ursynów, I could see teams of snow-ploughs, gritters, shovellers, bus stop clearers all hard at it, ensuring that Monday morning's rush hour would be as smooth as it could be. Yes, the guys do get caught out, like the time a heavy snow fall coincided with the start of a rush hour, but generally, Warsaw is well prepared for winter.

And it's not just roads but footpaths too. Above: Two mums making the most of the well-cleared and gritted paths that criss-cross the Rydz-Śmigły park between Solec and Powiśle.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Keeping the trains running

A flat country with snowy winters is a recipe for transport chaos. Snow in fields adjoining railway lines can drift across the tracks, halting trains. An effective old-tech solution is to make simple wooden screens, strategically deposit them at trackside locations, and when snow is forecast, erect them alongside the railway so that the snow piles up there rather than on the line itself. Year in, year out these screens serve their purpose and somehow they have not as yet ended up as firewood. There are two stretches of track between W-wa Dawidy and W-wa Jeziorki that are particularly prone to drifting.

Above: A southbound EN57 Elektryczka on its way to Radom from Warsaw. Below: A row of screens protects the main Warsaw - Katowice/Kraków railway line from drifts.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Five Departures from Warsaw Okęcie

With the wind in the south-east, planes taking off from Okęcie fly over our house. Although they're much higher than when landing over Jeziorki, they are noisier, since their engines are on full power (rather than the 10% thrust used on approach).

The photo above is a multiple exposure of five consecutive departures from Runway 19. The traces left by the airliners' lights look like contrails from USAAF bombers over the Third Reich.

With prevailing winds blowing from the north-west, it's more usual for planes to be landing over Jeziorki, so it's generally quieter in respect of engine noise. Having said that, with double- and triple glazing, one tends not to notice after a while.

Technical note: Each exposure was between 40-60 seconds, aperture f6.3, ISO 100, focal length 40mm (around 60mm for 35mm film equivalent).

Really cold

According to the weather station at the Warsaw Polytechnic's Physics Department, it's currently -12C, but wind chill makes it feel like -19C. I've noticed this phenomenon before; on really cold nights the barrel of the front door lock conducts cold into the house and moisture in the air freezes on it.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

When the day starts to get longer

'Na nowy rok, przybywa dnia na barani skok'. Old Polish folk saying - "In the New Year, the day gains by the leap of a ram." In other words, not a whole lot.

Today, January 2nd, the day here is Warsaw is actually over six minutes longer than December 22nd, the shortest day. It does not seem to be so, because the sunrise is now actually two minutes later than at the Winter Solstice, rising today at 07:47. Indeed, today marks the year's latest sunrise. We've gained eight minutes in the evening, which no one notices, as most people are at work at half past three anyway.

In a month's time, in early February, the day will have lengthened by an hour and half, with an extra hour's daylight in the evening (sunset at half past four), and half an hour in the morning (sunrise at quarter past seven). That still means leaving and returning home in darkness.

Positions of the sun at sunrise across the year, as seen from our house. At equinox it rises in the east; at summer solstice it rises in the north-east, while at winter solstice it rises in the south-east.

By the spring equinox (22 March), the day will be 12 hours long, having gained four hours and 22 minutes - sunrise and sunset both at quarter to six (two hours earlier and two hours 22 minutes later respectively). A few days later, the clocks go forward, one feels spring in the air. But that all seems a long, long way off. It's still dark and cold.

Winter train

[Anoraks' caption:] Polish Fablok-built diesel shunter SM42 321 hauling a single freight wagon southbound between W-wa Dawidy and W-wa Jeziorki. Most likely headed for the rampa na kruszywo, rather than for the coal siding at Konstancin-Jeziorna.

[Caption for the rest of my readers] Another light dusting of snow has fallen on Warsaw. This morning it was -5C. Past the end of ul. Trombity, where the railway line cuts ul. Kórnicka, an engine pulls a solitary wagon through a wintry landscape. The snow scene, trees and train puts me in mind of Jan Lenica's illustrations from Julian Tuwim's poem Lokomotywa - I shall make it a quest to replicate them.