Saturday, June 30, 2012

Chinese Lanterns in Lazienki

For the month of June, Aleja Chinska (China Avenue) has been bedecked with Chinese lanterns.  For nearly the whole length of Aleja Chinska, a pathway in Lazienki Krolewskie, Chinese lanterns hang from poles and are lit by CFCs to bring a little bit of Beijing to Warsaw.  The lanterns are funded by a donation from a state-owned Chinese mining company, Minmetals, and KGHM, a Polish copper and silver mining company.  Interestingly enough, LOT has also announced direct flights to Beijing from Warsaw, though how connected these are I don't know.  I just know that lanterns come about from the Chinese-Polish Economic Forum that wrapped up in Beijing last year.
The lanterns are lit daily in June, from 9:00 PM-11:00 PM, and on weekends throughout the rest of the summer.  There were also some shows and such in the amphitheater, but I didn't make it to those.

The lanterns along Aleja Chinska.

They mix it up sometimes.

A Chinese fish.

A view of the circle at the center of Aleja Chinska
Aleja Chinska (Note: 'aleja' can mean 'avenue' or 'boulevard', so I just went with 'avenue') is a wide walking path on the west side of the pond in Lazienki Park.  The stroll is rather pleasant, and the added ambiance of the 'lanterns' is nice (there are no flames here, just electricity).  Security personnel dressed in suits walk up and down the aleja as well, making sure that no one is foolish enough to try to grab himself a souvenir.  At mid-length of the aleja, a circular path, ringed by different lanterns charms, creates a nice place to stop and take a rest on the benches dotting the circumference.  A littler father on, a bridge is decorated with paper figures (little paper statues that are lit up), that are rather cartoony, but cute.  It'd be a really nice way to end a date, really.  It's the perfect walk walk on a warm night and while eating some ice cream.

One of the paper figures on the bridge.

A lantern with the moon in the background (through the trees).

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New Metro Line Work on Swietokrzyska

Work on the second metro line in Warsaw is well underway.  Swietokrzyska has been closed down and turned into a construction site.  Every so often, they'll also close the Swietokrzyska stop, effectively splitting the metro line into two.  A Z bus is then used to take the long way around the Palac Kultury i Nauki, linking Metro Centrum to Metro Ratusz Arsenal.  It can turn a simple trip to the other side of the city in a 2X long affair.

The construction site at night.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Euro 2012: Poland-Russia

As we all know by now the game ended in a 1-1 draw.  It was also the site of massive protests.
Watching the game atop the metro station. 

The riot police lining up in case of trouble.

At the metro entrance of the strefa kibica, trouble has started and security is starting to crack down.

Inside the strefa kibica most everyone is calm and watching the game.

The police clear the area outside the entrance.

Burning the Russian flag. 
No need for porta-potties!  The wall serves just well enough.

The line clearing the street. 
The palace all lit up.

Cheering from atop the metro.

This guy don't give a fuck.  He's picking up crushed cans for cash.

Ale Jerozolimskie full of people.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Euro 2012: The Cost

As the UEFA Euro 2012 tournament opens and soccer madness grips everyone in patriotic fervor, there are already calls and questions on whether the games were actually worth it to Poland and Ukraine.  (By the way, the games opened yesterday with a 1-1 tie between Poland and Greece.  Russia stomped the Czechs (think 1968 style) 4-1.)  Several articles—a couple are here and here—bring up the enormous cost of the games as well as citing precedents, namely Greece with the 2004 Athens Olympics, but also the Euro 2004 Portugal games.
First off, cost: it's widely claimed that Poland spent $25 billion dollars getting ready for the games.  That's a staggering amount, no doubt, and one should look a little more closely at it.  The real cost was in infrastructure improvements, ($15 billion on roads alone), whilst the cost of the four stadiums (construction and renovation) amounts to something around $1.5 billion.  There are also other costs, such as: security (not just providing security, but also the cost of arrests and trials.  Notably, inmates were moved from host cities to jails in other cities to make room for expected arrests.  Many judges were put on standby to handle the increase in prosecutions as well), building the strefa kibica (fan zone), clean up, etc.  But these are paltry sums compared to the overall total.  Poland spent more than Ukraine, but then again, it did have access to EU money.
The claim that Poland spent $25 billion preparing is ludicrous and wrong.  Much of that money is EU money that was flowed in Poland to help rebuild its decaying infrastructure.  All the projects were already earmarked before Poland even made its bid for the games.  Now, the tournament probably increased the priority of certain projects—the case in point being the semi-notorious A2 Berlin-Warsaw highway.  It gained notoriety for: A) Having the Chinese contractor be kicked out because it failed to pay its sub-contractors.  B) Being opened when still incomplete for the Euro 2012, and will have to be closed afterwards to finish it up (an extra layer of pavement is needed on a good-sized portion).  But the A2 highway wasn't built for the games, it was going to be built anyway, and probably on the same schedule.  The second metro line has as much to do with the Euro 2012 as do the new trams in Lodz, Krakow, and just about everywhere else (cities that are not hosting the games, but renovated their tram lines).  It has not been noticed much, but Poland has also been using EU funds to build small, rural roads (this will be covered in a future post).
That's not to say the games did cause infrastructure and other projects to be done.  There are, but not what everyone thinks.  The real cost that can be directly attributed to the games was building the stadiums, and it's quite shocking to see the main contractor file for bankruptcy protection.  There was a big push to beautify the cities before the games came, and it shows.  Renovations the rail stations, finished just in time, have turned the dank platforms and corridors into hallways of light.  Warszawa Centralna's transformation has eased travel through there and really updated it as a gateway into the city.  Speaking of gateways, it may have been planned long ago, but the recent opening of the SKM line to the airport is sure to be a boon for travelers.
Infrastructure has received much of the attention, but the stadiums themselves have attracted their fair share of criticism.  Most barbs are aimed at the National Stadium in Warsaw.  The high cost of the structure, at almost 2 billion zlotys, has dropped some jaws.  Critics say that it'll turn into a white elephant, a costly building to maintain and will be under utilized.  The Polish National team doesn't have a long schedule to ensure that paying fans will be packing the stands every week, but events have already been scheduled.  From concerts to the Polish Bowl (I think I'll attend that), the building is a prime venue.  It has to compete will the Sluzewiec racetrack (hippodrome) and the Bemowo airport for such events like concerts and music festivals.  Other stadiums have taken the fashionable thing and sold their naming rights to offset the cost of construction and operation.  (Note:  Ironically, when the Polish National Team recently played Andorra, they played at the Pepsi Arena, home Legia Warszawa, and not in the National Stadium, which was under UEFA control.)

Now that we have spent so much time harping on the cost, let's look at the gains.  Poland is betting on two things to recoup the cost of the games: an increase in tourism (not just the short-term spike, but also long term), and an increase in investment.  Tackling the second hope first, Poland is trying to show that it can execute big projects on time, plus show off its shiny new roads and rails.  An influx of foreign capital will cause the ever-growing forest of stationary cranes standing above halted construction projects to finally move once more.  The first hope is for an increase of tourism, on which Europe is increasingly becoming reliant (think Greece and Portugal).  Poland wants to show that they're not all racist anti-semites, regardless of what the BBC aired.  The increase of tourists during the games is a given, and they'll spend big, buying all sorts of bric-a-brac and crap in the form of Euro 2012 souvenirs.  As for the future, Poland hasn't showcased its crown jewels (read: Krakow), here, but the hosting cities are known to be beautiful, Wroclaw and Gdansk in particular.

While the games are costly, the cost isn't so high as is reported.  Most of the work done was financed with EU help, but there were also smaller contributions, such as the EEA and Norway grants.  The great part of the infrastructure improvements were already set forth and would have happened anyway.  What we're seeing is a developed economy rapidly modernize, closing the gap in deficiencies, and increasing its debt.  This happens all the time with developing economies, and is now going on in China (all eyes are on them).  The question is whether the EU money will continue to flow, especially as other countries are one-by-one seeking bailouts.  The spigot could be turned off and Poland could be left with a mess of half-finished projects and join the sad graveyard of countries who were too ambitious in their hopes to host major international competitions.
What will the future be and what will the games leave as their legacy?  I don't know and no one does, but they have served a purpose to strengthen national pride and open Poland to the rest of Europe.  Whether the gamble that they'll increase tourism and investment will pay off, that's something we'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Obligatory Post About "Koko Euro Spoko"

As the Euro2012 bears down on us—the opening match merely a day away—I feel compelled to mention the Euro2012 anthem for Poland, "Koko Euro Spoko"by Jarzebina.  Translating to something like Bawk (or cluck) Euro Cool (Note: koko is the Polish word for the sound a chicken makes), the song was voted the winner of "Hit Bialo-Czerwonych" (Hit of the Red-Whites) in a live concert.  The song itself seems to be a semi-disco polo song with lyrics about the Euro2012 tournament, of course playing to nationalist feelings (it's cheering on the Polish National Team.)  It has all the expected imagery: red and white, eagles, balls flying high.  The song immediately led to a mass facepalming from just about everyone who wasn't at the concert voting for it.

Those are traditional folk outfits.  They're not dressed as nuns.  But also fucking check out the guitarists rock out on this one.

Many feel that it's an enormous embarrassment for Poland to choose a cheesy song like this: but they're really missing the point.  The worst part of the song is the lyrics, which are pretty lame; however, most foreigners won't understand the lyrics.  The same works in reverse when trying to tell non-Poles about how great Pan Tadeusz is (the plot is super-lame; one reads it for the language, which is lost upon non-Polish speakers.)
Not all are detractors though.  Some find the lyrics and tune pretty catchy (I myself have annoyed more than one co-worker with my incessant singing of "Ciesza sie Polacy!  Cieszy Ukrainia!"  (Note:  I'm not endorsing this song or admitting that it's good, it merely entered into my rotation of songs to sing out loud for the Euro2012 duration.)
The last I heard, they were not going to perform this for the opening match.

Awwww shit, son!  It's the remix!

This is not the first folk song inspired by soccer.  Maryla Rodowicz also performed for the 1974 World Cup, in which Poland placed third.

All I can say is that I can't wait to see if this is submitted for the Eurovision contest.  Won't that bring down the house.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Muzeum Techniki

Until very recently, there was a Museum of Technology in the Palac Kultury i Nauki.  It closed on the 19th of May (the Night of the Museums).  I had never been there, I'm ashamed to say, even though I'm a big technology buff.  So, I decided to hit it up during its last day of operation.
The exterior matches the rest of the PKiN, but has a gigantic propeller and some other technological scraps lying about.  I was kind of excited.  I was anticipating mind-blowing exhibits, the type that would make me giddy to return to school.

The entrance.
It was reasonably priced at 6zl for a bilet ulgowny (reduced-price ticket for students).  The museum itself is worth the 6zl, but it's easy to see why it didn't make enough money to stay open.  The Centrum Kopernik in Powisle is flashy, new, and interactive.  This one is static and badly in need of an update.  That's not to say it was bad, but it wasn't exactly impressive.  It's like an Eyewitness book, but in 3D and worse captions.  They do have a large collection of old phones, sewing machines, computers they probably picked up at some yard sale (or got from school the donated all its moded hardware), and replicas and mockups of various rockets and flying machines.  It was a good two hours burned to wander through a section of the Palac I had never seen (and a reminder that the PKiN is actually pretty friggan huge).  There were some nice exhibits on the iron and coal industries and their histories in Poland.  It does help give a basic idea about how technology has evolved over time (especially in the 20th century).  It did make me feel old being able to point out several devices that I had used in the not-too-distant past (no Apple II though.)  Their display on photography was lacking (there was almost nothing, like four cameras), but they did have a bitchin' Canon XL.

How 'Mary' helped Grandma

The cities that could be broadcasting radio

Strange relics from the '80s and '90s

This was a not a display, but a curators desk (or a 'living' display).  No joke.

Like a VW Bug, only crappier.  There was a joke about crumple zones–zones that crumple up to absorb energy during a collision.  This car's crumple zones are the trunk and the engine bay (notice that the engine is within the passenger compartment).
It's sad to think that a museum like this will close its doors, but I'm honest when I'm saying that it was no great loss.  I'm hoping some other museum will open its doors soon there (it's such a great location). But, more likely, it'll turn into some cafe with a gym attached or a nightclub or something.  The collection can easily be sold on Allegro (Poland's eBay) and reap a tidy little amount of money for people hungering for nostalgia, or other museums of technology in sadder shapes than this one.  I'm comforted that the Centrum Kopernik still has long lines and rave reviews.  It's yet another museum I haven't been to, but I'll make it there, don't worry.

A 'certified' wallet elephant.
Well, that's about it for the Museum of Technology.