Eleventh month in Warsaw: 1st January – 7th February

Return to Potato Point is horrifyingly close. It’s hard to believe I’m launching (have launched, since this post is running late) into the last of my twelve months in Warsaw. It’s been a cold month, although I was bed-bound for the coldest of the days. I only see -20° out the window, and the ice floes on the Wisła through J’s lens, and I feel vaguely deprived. A good fall of snow lingers enough for plenty of sledding for the bold-hearted (and slipping for this geriatric: my snow boots are only good for so much, although they are still one of my favourite Warsaw acquisitions.) The other geriatric defies death, riding his apple down a steep slope in a way that has his children shutting their eyes in horror. 

An unexpected pleasure is a brief return to my professional life. I write a short piece about blokes and reading to kids for a friend who has a webpage directed at men who want to get more involved with their children. This writing is hardly academic, but it requires some of the pleasureable disciplines of the past. I have a brief fling with note-making as I read about lyrebird dance, the emotional life of birds, listicles,and Lady Ryder of Warsaw: a desperate attempt to glue what I read into my memory.

On a far more somber note, American tanks return to Poland: J sees a couple on the back of monstrous trucks when he is out walking. And we finally register the fact that Warsaw is suffering from extreme air pollution, to the point where you can smell the toxicity and often end the day with a sore throat.

Visits from family

Mid-month, my son arrives from Australia, wearing board shorts as promised. He’s a great uncle, reading and sledding with the 4 year olds, and relishing after school apple-riding.

He’s just in time to welcome my granddaughter who also arrives underclad, but flings on a pink dressing-gown for the taxi ride home.

On her second night here, en route to see the Christmas lights, I manage to lose her on the bus. She doesn’t get off when I do: I get back on and walk up and down the aisle with increasing anxiety and no sign of her. I retrace our journey frantically. I know she doesn’t have a Warsaw phone yet, but I have given her our address and she has our phone numbers. This reassures me. My daughter joins me for the search, and we are beginning to panic when we get a phone call saying she’s back home. 

When we hear her full account we realise how resourceless she in fact was: she loses her phone and therefore has no contact numbers, no addresses: she also left her wallet at home, so no money. How does she deal with this? Miraculous ingenuity! She manages to leap the language barrier somehow and gets a taxi driver as far as the Christmas decoration bus. At that point, the pair of them look at Google earth and she recognises a Starbucks, and then the facade of our apartment block. She races upstairs for money to pay the taxi and feels triumphant. I am awed by her enterprise and wrung out by the thought of what could have been.


On New Year’s Eve, I stay with Maja and Jaś while their parents celebrate. I read them the requisite stories and then switch the light out for story-telling. I begin with Jason and the Golden Fleece, and as we develop the storyline together we accumulate volcanos, lush tropical jungle, the building of a raft to accommodate the golden sheep, a paddock full of golden sheep to be his friends, and goodness knows what else. They fall happily asleep and later I have a grandstand view of street fireworks. 

It’s not only babcia who is housebound this month: Maja and Jaś get chicken pox, first her and then him, so we have a few weeks of their company. They don’t see a doctor: all the doctors at their practice are sick too. My addiction to Netflix is justified when we discover “Puffin Rock“, a beautiful and informative series with good characters and plenty of non-scary action. We watch it together in afternoon downtime, although I do doze sometimes. 

For most of the month there is snow for sledding in Park Morskie Oko. The twins ride the sled to preschool, with J the willing engine. After school it’s time for apples, which Maja drives like a natural. Often we stay out till dark, now around 5 pm. One afternoon the cousins build a snowman.

Grandparents day is celebrated with a performance at preschool. I watch in delight as Jaś and Maja dance and recite with the rest of their group: at other performances they’ve scowled (her) and gazed around in a daze (him), but they’re full participants this time. I join them for morning tea where I try to distract Maja from crawling round between grandparental legs being a dog, and struggle to communicate with their other grandparents.

Encounters with their developing language are a real pleasure. Jaś is a particular fan of rhyme, and recognises its absence in Grandpa J’s toothbrushing song. Maja loves sounding out words and writing them down with her very individual phonetic spelling. My favourite is “ELefant klosd” on her zoo sheet, when I ask if you can ride an elephant at the Warsaw zoo. We envisage a queue waiting and she writes the sign so people will go away and look at something else.

On a freezing day my daughter suggests I take Maja to Grycan for an ice cream while she takes Jaś to the doctor. I treasure this first outing alone with my most beloved junior granddaughter, although she’s cold before we’ve even left home and the thought of an ice cream seems like insanity. Jaś and mummy join us on the way home from the doctor.

Out and about

I make a few attempts to photograph the Christmas lights, but the plan to document every street in the heart of Warsaw flounders when I succumb to yet another northern hemisphere cold. It also causes me to miss “Persona”, a dance performance for which I’d booked, and National Theatre Live “King Lear”, also pre-booked. I do manage to see the Met perform “Romeo and Juliet”, a rare outing with my daughter.

I manage finally to visit the 18th century theatre in Łazienki’s old Orangery and spend an enjoyable time with modern art in Ujadowskie Palace. To my huge delight my son and granddaughter accompany me to Chopin in the old kitchen of the castle, and my granddaughter surprises me by saying she knows and likes Chopin’s music. So we visit his heart, and one of his musical benches. We spend an afternoon in the Jewish cemetery, a highlight till later experiences nudge it down the list. We weekend in Kraków and, finally, brave Auschwitz.

Small triumphs

I buy very satisfactory snow boots; organise a lipwax; get keys cut for the visitors; sort out a pension dilemma with the help of a virtual receptionist; register my phone; and find Kraków accommodation.

Back home

There is a death: J’s Auntie Lorna, a feisty 95. There is a birth, my great niece Hannah Katherine.

My Mt Tamborine family take up residence at Potato Point for the summer holidays. My grandson finds mates there: my daughter-in-law and my resident son paint the deck. There is plenty of surfing. My son arrives with a long list of necessary home maintenance, an unwelcome reminder of the responsibilities of home ownership.

My beloved workmate and friend retires from a toxic workplace and I’m excited at the prospect of her future: travel; contract work; painting; and who knows what else?

Once again I miss a Bodalla exhibition of one of my favourite local artists, and an Australia Day concert at the Four Winds site, an afternoon of surf rock, pop, traditional and indie folk, blues, tango, samba, Americana, reggae, alternative country, and African rhythms: both of these are part of ongoing programs. There are things to go home for, apart from clean air.

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Encore …

… but not just from me! After the comments on my Playing around post I asked people to fiddle with my original photo to see what else could happen to it. Here’s the original as a reminder.

Gilly, who recommended Nik, took up my challenge to play around with my original photo from the back end of Castle Square

Film efex faded

Fine art high key

Pale and structured  (definitely my absolute favourite!)

Sue at WordsVisual also joined in

Even I had another go, cropping more and cropping differently, so I only had the rooftops.

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To the mountains

We head off for a week in Zakopane: my daughter, Maja and Jaś, my son and my granddaughter. We catch the midnight train.

Waiting on Warsaw station: 11 pm

Our Zakopane house …

Not the whole house: it contains four apartments. Mountains tower in the background, unseen on the first day because of low fog. As it warms up the icicles on branches melt before I can photograph them successfully.

Zakopane architecture 

I’m charmed by the wooden houses, the chunky wooden poles, and the carved detail. I take one solitary walk to shop, and make the most of it. Usually I’m watching my footing and two children who aren’t always willing to walk, and worrying about not paying enough attention to my visiting granddaughter.


Up the top

Three times we climb higher, only once on our legs. That day is a day for lessons: Maja and Jaś have their first skiing lesson, and Hugo and Tahlia a snowboarding session. I make my way fumble-footed and hesitant through snow and ice, and snap at my most beloved senior granddaughter when she informs me my beanie is on back to front, the least of my worries as I try to force a small foot into a ski boot. I’m well outside my comfort zone and also very aware that my daughter is struggling with five dependents. Her husband is still in Warsaw, kept there by the pressure of work.

The day of the cable car is an experience in crowds and queues. We rise to 1959 metres, changing cars for the last steep haul. The ski slope looks horrendous and my daughter tell me that years ago she went down it on her third day of skiiing, crying bitterly all the way. Suddenly the slope is blotted out by fog. It’s cold, and we retreat to the restaurant and hot chocolate. I’m learning the power of babcia-shoving to achive a desired place, and I have a wonderful view of the rugged landscape as we descend: pine trees, rich with amber cones; slumps of snow on black rocks; smaller trees just poking up; and most enticing, a gentle ski trail through the forest.

The day of the little train is much easier. The twins are eager walkers for once and we maintain a pace, albeit slow, entertained by stilt walkers. We don’t go so high, and the path at the top is edged by stalls selling gloves, hats, grilled cheese, wooden toys, and fairy floss. A little wooden church draws the eye to gentler parts of the landscape.

Walking with a teenager

On our last morning my most beloved senior granddaughter inveigles me into a walk. We enter the Strążyska Valley in the Tatra National Park, an easy walk with my crampons. The path wanders between snow-ładen trees, deep snow banks, and grottos with iced leaves; and crosses a creek with frills of ice and a smaller frozen tributary. Ahead are steep mountains covered in snow that is beginning to slip.

Waiting for the Warsaw train

After a number of changes in plan, we all manage to book on the same afternoon train back to Warsaw. The wait begins with a visit to the Zakopane Aquatic Centre. 

The twins aren’t impressed by the lack of space on the train, and have a few bouts of very vocal rage on the seven-hour trip. I’m in a compartment with Tahlia and we talk about family, friends and film. She wants to be a director and begins her university studies next week. She talks of her admiration for Tarantino and for parkour films. 

Home at last, I almost relax and regale J with tales of our week away till past midnight

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Explosive Exploration of the Denakil

This gallery contains 16 photos.

Originally posted on Raïsa Mirza:
The Denakil Depression in North Eastern Ethiopia is one of the hottest places in the world. It is also a hotspot of geological activity where three tectonic plates are pushing against each other forming…

Gallery | 6 Comments

A family excursion to Kraków 

A mixed bag of blood relations – uncle, son, cousins, daughter, grandmother, mother, grandchildren, adding up to a total of six – made its way to Kraków, through a snowy rural landscape. Kraków was bleak and grey after rain: it boasts the worst air pollution in Poland, and in Europe. People were wearing masks in the street, and one man was even wearing a mask reminiscent of gas masks in WW2. We ventured out unmasked.

Our sightseeing agenda was largely determined by 4 year olds: pigeon-chasing in the square; watching the Kraków dragon spout flames; sitting in a cosy cafe while they ignored a rich rosol, coloured in at the little table thoughtfully provided and investigated the dragon mural and the large floppy dragon in the corner. I took a brief solitary walk, and visited Auschwitz – Birkenau with my son and granddaughter. I won’t write about that because there are no words.

(Tap on any photo in this collage to activate a slide show.)

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Miscellanea 9

This was posted in haste when I realised I had less than 1GB storage on my iPad, and embarked on a frantic deletion program before trips to Kraków and Zakopane.

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The Jewish cemetery under snow

My granddaughter enjoys visiting cemeteries, so we return to the Jewish cemetery in the afternoon of a sunny day. I tend not to do much in the afternoon, and I realise what I’m missing as the 2 pm light slants onto the snow that is often in untrodden ankle-deep drifts and across the tottering tombstones. I’m easy on my feet when I hear that loud satisfying “crunch” respond to each step I take.

The cemetery is picturesque and records a Jewish history stretching back long before the Holocaust. But within minutes I’m reminded of that horror by the symbolic family grave just inside the gate.

Once I’m amongst the old graves I feel free to enjoy their decaying beauty with the same pleasure I feel in the Nerrigundah graveyard, or the Moruya graveyard, or old roadside graveyards in the Australian outback. I acknowledge death and lives past, and enjoy the way other people acknowledge these things.

For previous visits to different parts of the Jewish cemetery, see here.

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Shadows in the snow

I’m slowly learning the vagaries of snow. If it crunches it’s unlikely to be slippery. If it’s slippery and I fail to pay close attention, penguin-waddle, raise my feet, and move hunched over and at as sprightly a pace as I can manage, I fall ignominiously over. I fall once. My son lifts me bodily to my feet, holding me in a firm clinch until I stabilise. One of the park semi-vagrants comes over to help. All those younger than me, including J who is fit and not yet 70, run and frolic and glide without a tumble in sight.

Since my family began arriving last Wednesday the days have been sunny. Once I’m out in the snow I’m captivated by the light and the snow shadows. But I make sure I’m standing on a salted and sanded footpath before I shift my attention to photography.

Any advice about the safe navigation of ice would be most welcome!

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An 18th century theatre

On a perfect sunny day, the antithesis of grey Sunday when I last walked through Łazienki, I made my rugged-up way along slightly icy paths to check out the theatre in the old Orangery. This time it was open, and Thursday’s free day to boot.

The Old Orangery was built between 1785and 1788 for King Stanisław August. The Royal Theatre is one of the few surviving authentic eighteenth-century court theatres in Europe.

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Surfer in Warsaw

Thursday was specially special this week. My Potato Point son arrived in Warsaw on Wednesday – wearing board shorts. His visit was something I’d never have predicted: leaving the surf in summer? Not a chance I would’ve said.

He did have warmer clothes with him, which he put on for the walk down to preschool in -7° sunshine.

This post is linked to Paula’s Thursday’s Special where the theme is Wintery. If you feel the need to chill have a look at other contributions here.

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