Monday, 22 September 2008


Unfortunately this is what I will remember Albania for the most.

Albania. Two weeks. Four days in transit on three different trains to get there. 300 euros each. Down the coast. Through the mountains. Hitchhiking. Buses. Walking. Taxis. Boat. Arse end of Europe. Little asphalt. Domesticated animals strutting through streets. Garbage management system – none. Unless you count the burning of rubbish in the evening by the side of the road. First private car to be owned 1990. Until then Hoxha the dictator allowed only state owned vehicles. Hence the lack of roads. And road rules. Car of choice – 1980 Mercedes, the toughest sucker out there to survive Albania’s dirt tracks. Aggressive development. Resort towns popping up with horrid speed. No planning. The sea is crystal and beautiful. Coastline chaotic, packed, uninviting. Freelance camping the go! Mind the turds on the beach. And a week’s worth of rotting nappies and watermelon. The fish is delicious though. And tomatoes taste like tomatoes. They do good coffee too. That’s the ‘Italian’ in them. People are wonderful and hospitable. They still scratch their heads and ask in amazement ‘so why did you come to Albania’? The mountains are stunning as are the villages wedged in between them. Especially at night. When you can’t see the mess. The village roof tops are made out of stone. The fortresses grand. The one rail line is slower than the slowest mini-bus on a dirt track. We did 60ks in 6 hours once. We were still patient then. Ohrid Lake is mind-blowing. 300 metres deep in its deepest part. It is known for its koran fish, the most expensive on the menu (a whole 8 euros). It tastes like a more dignified trout. Nobody goes fishing with a rod. Too deep. The lake is translucent. You can see the bottom even when you’re on a dingy and far out. Interesting since all the sewage flows into it. The beer is served in chilled beer mugs. A wonderful treat, since the days are always furnace hot.

after a 6hr train delay we missed out connection to Montenegro. So ended up in Belgrade. We bribed a Serbian train conductor
to get us a free sleeper. He did. For twice the amount sleepers usually go for. The compartment was the official blanket and pillow storage space of the train. It took us half an hour to move the stuff elsewhere before we could go to sleep.

intimate, cozy, relaxing. We sunbathed standing.

days of searching later we found this secluded spot. Shared it with two Hungarians. Nice boys. Beautiful water.

Trusty mover. Town of Gjiokaster.

stone rooftops. Fortress on hill. Gjiokaster.

Ksamil. Village down south. Apart from the smell and feasting on garbage cows, a nice spot.

Donkey chariots faster than rail. "Shite" means 'for sale'.

Ochrid lake. The owner of the hotel we stayed in took us out on his dingy. For fun. He had nothing else to do.
My favourite place in Albania.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

post this

I have a love-hate relationship with two government institutions in Poland: PKP (Polish rail) and the Poczta Polska (post office). The latter provides me with plenty of amusement, created by its mind boggling archaic ways. Sweet post ladies provide you with string for extra parcel strength, entertain you with their chatter and bleached-blond perms and complain about their wages (one of the lowest in Poland). Despite constant plans and postal policies little is being done to reform the institution. God forbid privatisation! You still cannot make payments either by way of credit card or eftpost (yup – cash only please), but then again there is some news of a mechanised letter sorting system being introduced to the mailing room. Also the postman no longer needs to wear a postman uniform. Idea is to make them inconspicuous. Too many muggings for pension cash envelopes apparently. No, the post bag doesn’t give him away. Nor that load of letters he is carrying in his hand.

By far the most entertaining aspect of the Polish post however, is the ‘post shop’. It is filled with wonderful elements that you would never even think of buying at a post office. Sanitary pads anyone? How’s about washing powder? What about a candle lantern for your grandmother’s grave? You would like a hard cardboard envelope for that CD you want to send? No sorry. Try the stationery shop down the road.

for those who may have sticky fingers, a glass cabinet with key has been installed

Wednesday, 30 July 2008


Meet my new hero. My love affair with the Ukrainian is over. I ride the German now.

Friday, 27 June 2008


There is a tiny village some 70ks east of Krakow. There isn’t much there except that its locals are super happy. People walk around with smiles on their heads and talk to you in their streets when they see you are visiting. Quite strange for Poland. Here people usually drop their gaze when you look straight at them. If you smile their way, they tend to think you are an idiot (that doesn’t dissuade me though – I am on a crusade to make Poles more pleasant – the Push for Pleasant Poles campaign). But not in Zalipie. There is a skipping vibe about the place. Maybe it has something to do with this:




The women of Zalipie have been painting and decorating their houses for about 60 years now. Just for kicks. Every year there is a competition for the best folk decorated wall. We were there the weekend before the competition began. The place is beautiful. And all the women so proud. 

Am writing this on Tina's Mac so have no idea why this is underlined.

Wimbledon news: Tipsarevic kicked Roddick's arse yesterday. It was brilliant. Groaning Shazza is out too. It was wonderful to see. Silly slurry.

Monday, 16 June 2008

springing it up...

Spring hoard. Cucumber, baby potatoes, young garlic, cherries, strawberries, dill.
And a new colander from the market.

It’s been a while. During my slack-arse blogging period I began to convince myself that Poland stopped being novel and therefore there was no longer a need for me to write about it. But who was I kidding? It is enough that it is strawberry season and that in itself deserves a bloody post. These delicious beauties are at $2 a kilo! A kilo!! People are shitting their pants literally during this short-lived period (strawberry season only lasts a couple of weeks). I went to my local veggies market and overheard two vendors chatting. I was buying cherries and bent down to repack my backpack in order to catch every word. It went something like this:

Vendor 1 (bleached curly hair, socks and flip flops, a bum-bag):

You know Stasia (short for Stanislawa), I ate about one and a half kilos of strawberries yesterday for dinner.

Stasia (brown curly hair, normal looking shoes, a bum-bag):

Big deal. We’ve all been doing it.

Vendor 1: Yes. But afterwards I drank a litre of buttermilk!

Stasia: Oh no! (o jej!)

Vendor 1: I was glued to the bog for the whole evening! (chuckles with pleasure)

Stasia: Well you deserve the runs for that you silly duck!

Indeed. Never eat an abundance of fruit followed by a fermented beverage. Nor drink water with cherries. The result is strikingly similar.

a whole lot of strawberry love - I made jam

Incidentally it is also cucumber season.
I have begun the pickling process. Garlic, salt, wild dill.
Clay pickling pot, Christmas present from my mum. I asked for it.

No comment. I didn't even make the damn thing.

I just ate it. (Efforts courtesy of Michal's mum).

Monday, 7 April 2008

Zabłocie (Beyond the Mud)

We spent this Sunday town-based. We ate a hardy meal at the local Bar Mleczny (ala diner) on Grodzka (the quintessential cheap homemade food stop that prices its food on how much it weighs). I had the Ukrainian borsch (barszcz ukrainski), a rissole with stewed carrots and peas (duszona marchewka) for a main, which was all washed down with freshly squeezed carrot juice (sok z marchwi). My nails have been giving me grief lately. Michal had żurek (a soup made out of fermented bread things – don’t ask – it is tangy and very tasty), and the Hungarian hash-browns (placki ziemniaczane po węgiersku), a salad made out of three types of cabbage (red, white and sauerkrauted) and celery root, also followed with freshly squeezed carrot juice and an apple cake (szarlotka).

Filled with the required starches and vitamins (hidden deeply amongst all the boiled crap) we headed off on our bikes exploring Zabłocie. This is an industrial area of Krakow on the river which is being gentrified. The old mills and bread factories are being converted into lofts. But the speed with which it is all happening is hardly mindblowing, so the area was suitably grey and depressing. What I noticed though is that the commies used to take trees into account when erecting factory zones. This was definitely a plus, since the horrible architecture is nicely covered by big oaks and pines. It is a pity that the developers of new business parks are not as green orientated when it comes to camouflaging their ugly concrete slabs.

After five hours on the bikes, with arses sore a plenty (first riding of the season does that), we popped the bikes on the tram and went home.

This Trabant was photographed for its excellent leather bonnet straps. How secure!

Marketing at its most imaginative: “Cheap coal” followed by the telephone number.

This truck is always parked on Starowiślna. Wonder what the owner does during the summer time...

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

winter v spring v winter

We made a trip to the Baltic sea the other week. It was still winter then. This is the only time I like the Polish sea-side. Mainly because it is not inflated by plastic pink floaties, sardine-like conditions of orange-tanned bodies segregated by their “parawany” (cloth and stick structures resembling wind breakers to keep in as much heat as possible), and the condensed amount of urine that is released by hordes of ‘swimming enthusiasts’ who battle for a spare piece of water to waddle in. In contrast, the winter time by the sea is calm, peopleless and somehow charming. We walked for ages and skidded stones on the flat, calm water. Turns out my mum is quite the skimmer (or ‘duck’ chucker – as it is called in Polish). She also shrieks like a 12 year old when she’s kicking arse. I think her record was 12 skims. Then we ate smoked herring. Then my dad bought 2 kilos of fresh herrings to take home to smoke himself.

Baltic sea with the Jaskies

This is a 'kutra' - old fishing boat. I got told off for taking photos of the fishermen.
Turns out there is some illegal labour going on there. And the boys are on the dole.
Social security workers have already come around sniffing.
Fraudulent buggers.

Then we went skiing. In spring. It was sunny but there was still plenty of snow. The conditions were rad. We ate sweaty fried Slovak cheese and drank a lot of their beer. Then we found out from the ski hire dude that Michal’s surname means “pot/weed” in Slovak.

Strbskie Pleso, Slovakia - High Tatras

And now it really is spring and I even had bare feet and my slip on shoes. But then the temperature fell by about 8 degrees and I was left looking like a 'tard on the street wondering whether the Biedronka at Nowy Sacz sold any cheap socks.

Most importantly though, I had to post something. It’s been a month. And people are announcing their engagements in the comments section! I am thrilled for the lucky Libby and Hugh couple. Because they both rule. Congratulations!

Monday, 3 March 2008

the grass is pretty green here

I thought coming back to Australia would make my gut churn at having left it in the first place. I thought I would get to my second week of the holiday and I would start sending abusive text messages to Michal yelling at him for making me leave the great city I once called home. I even had a back-up plan. We could rent out our place in Krakow, I could get a dead-beat junior legal job somewhere, we would apply for residency for Michal and we would find a nice tidy little number in Newtown to live in. Missing my parents, well, I would just have to get over it. But it turned out that I didn’t need a back up plan at all. I missed Poland. I missed everything about it. I missed the winter and the fact that I couldn’t go skiing. I missed the anticipation of the season changing, I missed the normal bread, I missed the chaos I could usually whine about, I missed our small apartment, our friends in their stable and ordinary (in a good way) relationships. I missed the politics and wondered what the Tusk government was up. I also missed the fact that the Slavs do not have the need to harp on about things that, considering, are relatively normal. Ordinary tasks like sewing a bag or making a home improvement in Oz require an audience and usually some applause. Perhaps a blog entry or two (guilty). The Slavs however, treat such occurrences as just another thing that is done.

What I did realise in Sydney though is that by living in Krakow I would never live in place with beautiful surroundings. I would never have an amazing view, or a lush gathering of trees, or a perfect terrace with a barbie set up and ready to go or a beach to stroll to. I would never have a park free from dog poo and neighbours who would be environmentally conscious (we are the only people in our block of flats who recycle). I would never have the experience of wealthy public institutions that know how to spend their money wisely. I wouldn’t have an abundance of fresh air and a bush I could get lost in. I would never be close to a harbour or own a dingy. I would never have an array of glorious wog food and would always have to rely on my own cooking skills and forever replicate.

Most importantly though, I would not have my friends and family close to me. The reality is that some of the most important people will always remain far away. And this sucks and will continue to do so. If it wasn’t for Tim and Edd getting hitched, Michal and I would have never made the trip out, and thanks to them I was able to replenish some of the desperately needed cuzes/mates juices. Thanks cobbers!

And by staying in Poland I would never feel as confident as I do in Australia. The informality, the language, the ability to joke, to scathe, to be humoured, to dish out and be able to take it, are all extremely important factors that remain within the Aussie half of me. I ravished in the pleasure of being around people for six weeks, who could take the micky out of one another, not get offended, and retaliate with equal bite. I was around newly met people with whom in a span of 15 minutes I could feel comfortable with. God how much I have missed that! I wish the Slavs could take themselves less seriously, deflate their pomp, and loosen up a few notches.

But this trip has made the ‘grass is always greener’ syndrome blare a little less loudly in my ears. Calmed me somewhat. What makes Poland win in the end is its lack of bullshit, the frankness of the people, and problems that are real affecting everyday living. Not wank created for the sake of conversation. It helps to be in a country that is so homogenous, where everyone speaks the same language and understands each social gesture. No layer of artificiality or ‘tolerance’ dialogue required from above to keep people communicating. They just do, naturally. Poland wins because the family unit is the all-important factor upon which everything is based. And this makes me feel safe, content and in complete agreement.

My gut gets excited with every new development here, with every new road that is built, with every politician that is found guilty of corruption and thrown in the slammer. I am bloody lucky to be living in a country that is going through some of the most spectacular changes in its history and it is nice to see it all happen just outside my window. Poland is the bomb. This is where I want to stay.

buster with poo bag attached to leash - c'mon Polaks! LEARN!!!!

Kukus and Anetka, my excellent cousins. The eye of the storm at Bronte beach.

We survived.

out on Ben's dingy. 38 metres deep. Out past Manly. This sucker was not eaten.

Friday, 8 February 2008

crooked apology

I have been in Oz for the last four weeks now. Three of those weeks were spent in Melbourne at the Australian Open. I did not have regular access to the internet whilst working, and now I seem to be drinking too much beer and hanging with too many friends and cousins to have time to write posts. Besides my camera got lost/or stolen on Australia Day in the pub, so my two weeks of tennis banter in picture format went down the shithole. I did, however, get an earful today from Michal about neglecting the blog. And now I feel bad. I promise to update sufficiently one of these upcoming days, as soon as I grasp these MacBooks that everyone seems to have here. Edd and Tim have been very generous and have lent me their snap-shot camera number, so I now have no excuse.

Being back is good, weird, fun, lonely, better, comfortable, easy, familiar, with that little bit of something missing. Sydney is green, clean, organised, with plenty of weirdos, with horrible traffic and distances that shit me. Apartments are more spacious, nicer, with good views, clean air and better furniture and pretty landscaping. Bike riding is still a relatively new trend that needs to be discussed by most, including morning radio stations. Wog food is delicious and I have eaten little outside of the Asian/Indian/seafood or steak variety. Beer is bad and gives you mad hangovers.

My mates and family are for life. It appears that it matters little if I disappear for a long while. We all fall back on track immediately. I am very happy to see that all my closest friends are content.

I miss Michal.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

from my carp to your carp

Have been away all of this week. I am over-fed and tired from all the eating, sitting, family relationing, and eating. But it has indeed been a good festive season. I even ate carp. It has to be the most disgusting fish in the whole wide world, but for some reason the Poles love it AND it is THE MAIN Christmas dish on the Christmas Eve supper table. Bleh. My dad scored these two beauties from my uncle who happens to have a carpy type of pond. These were young and not for mass-sale in supermarkets, but kept for the sheer joy of simply having carp in one’s back yard. Why? The fish bloody stinks, has massive bones, is ugly and tastes like shit. I know that they do not cause environmental damage here in Poland like they do in the rivers of Oz, since here they are a native fish, but somehow I cannot get over the fact that they are indeed a swimming rat with fins. And here’s something more bizarre – you’re meant to keep a few dry carp scales and put them in your wallet for good luck. No thank you. Anyway, all good Poles buy their Christmas carp live, stick it in their bathtubs for a day, and then well – slaughter them in the laundry. Michal had the honours (mainly because my dad is a whimp). Supermarkets have massive plastic pools set up in the fish section with a lady who has a net and who fishes out a carp of your choosing for you! Imagine that! I’ll have one swimming fish and a mooing piece of beef please.

As much as I hate the slimy carp buggers, I felt sorry for their miserable fate – and crumbled some milk biscuits into the bathtub for their pleasure. Little did I know that carp do not eat in winter. Like bears they sort of hibernate and wait for the ice to crack before they dig their dirty slimy fishy lips out of the muddy river floor and start feeding again.

note the floating bits of biscuit - their last meal on death row –

convicted for being the most horrible fish on the planet

a slice of rude head please!

I should have turned on the spa vents for their amusement.

And since we're all getting over Christmas...Polish door-knocking carol singers anyone? If you are expecting a little choir with angelic voices and the one daggy baritone in a woollen hat holding a candle, you would indeed be mistaken. Carol door-knockers in Poland don’t actually sing (or do very rarely). They come in teams usually made up of the local village kids, get dressed up in costume and perform mini plays, involving the grim reaper, a king being sleighed and some general material out of old peasant or bible stories. They come into your home, entertain the guests (usually on Christmas Day – since the Poles celebrate Christmas Eve), wish you good tidings for the New Year, then collect money and goodies from each home they visit. These carol boys came to my uncle’s place. Their costumes were pretty good, but the acting was a little wooden.

And so, in the spirit of the carol non-singing boys, may your New Year be a Happy one!