Bumpy road to the Holy Land

When I traveled around New Zealand three years ago, I had this habit to write about new places I visited as soon as possible, while everything was fresh. This post was drafted in Tiberias, at the beginning of my visit in Israel, but later the schedule was too tight and in the evenings I was too tired to write anything, so I was just making short notes and going through photos from that day. This post will have more words, while the rest of them will probably be photo stories.

One year ago, exactly to the date, I went to Israel with an organised group, because I was too afraid to go on my own in that part of the world, well, at least for the first time. The trip was organized by my old Hebrew teacher (I used to study at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Warsaw), so I trusted her and I knew it would be an interesting and very informative trip not only in Biblical facts, but also in sipping the cultural background. The meeting point was the airport in Warsaw, so I had to go to Poland first. I decided to go a few days earlier to spend weekend at my parents’ in Masuria and then go to Warsaw.

I had a plane to catch from London-Luton on Friday, 31st January in the afternoon. Usually, trains from my nearest train station to the city centre went every 3-6 minutes. When I got there, I found out that trains were every 20 min that day. I started to panic and there was no announcement why they were so late. I took a bus to Wimbledon hoping that trains would stop more often at a bigger station. How unpleasantly surprised I was when I discovered that the problem was in Wimbledon! There was a fire near the tracks and trains were delayed, redirected or cancelled.

Luckily, trains did go to Victoria and I managed to get there early enough to get on coach to the airport, which even arrived 17 min before the scheduled time. I had a plenty of time to drink hot chocolate after the amount of stress I had been through. I didn’t know then, that it wasn’t over yet. When we got on the plane and took our seats and every hand luggage was in the compartments, a crew member announced that one of the passengers decided not to fly with us and wanted to leave the plane. So, we had to take all our luggage out, put them on our laps and they had to check if everything of that person was unloaded. When we finally got back to our seats, the plane started getting ready to take off. We were already speeding up on the runway when suddenly the pilot pressed the breaks and we stopped. Wind? Rain? We were told it was a ‘technical problem’. After waiting 15 min for the breaks to cool down, we took the second attempt to take off from a different runway, which was successful this time. Later I found out that it was because of a puddle on the first runway and our plane was too big to drive through it.

We arrived in Gdansk with one hour delay. It was a real winter in Poland and for a van, which was waiting for me and other passengers from London in a temperature below zero it was too long. As a result its batteries died. We had to wait hoping the drivers would be able to recharge them from a different car of the same company. After one hour sitting in a cold car we were finally ready to go. I got home by midnight without any more adventures. Never the less, I started to believe I was dragging a bad luck with me and it was all my fault.

On Sunday afternoon, I went to Warsaw, spent some time with my sister and her boyfriend and in the evening they dropped me off at the airport. I had no problems with checking in and baggage control and I found my group by the gate easily. After recognizing some familiar faces and getting to know new people, I told them about my adventures from Friday. Everyone was cheering me up, when I told them my concerns about my luck. Their opinion changed and they started to look at me differently wondering if I was really a Jonah, when we found out few minutes later that the plane we were going to go broke down and LOT – Polish Airlines would give another plane, but it was smaller and 9 people from our group could go that evening and the rest of the group – 22 people were asked to stay over night in Marriott Hotel near the airport and go the next day with ELAL – Israeli airlines. My ex-teacher and organizer of that trip said it was the first time that something like that happened to her. I could only tell, ‘I told you so’ and wonder if I should risk and continue my journey.

I was in the group that stuck in Warsaw. On the next day, after delicious breakfast we all went back to the airport, but this time everyone individually was sort of interrogated by an ELAL staff member before checking in, then after being approved, we got our boarding passes and our luggage went through a detailed scan, including opening the suitcases, getting out all the electronic devices, cameras etc. Everything was examined. I had heard many stories about that, so I was prepared and understanding. Besides, if not in Warsaw, then we would have been checked at the Israeli airport after the arrival.

It seemed like it was taking ages, but we managed to get on board on time. The flight was pleasant, but I was surprised they showed ‘Captain Philips’ with Tom Hanks. The film was good, but I wouldn’t expect waching a film about hijicking a boat or any other mean of transport on a plane to the Middle East. It made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

We left Poland after 10am, flew for about 4 hours, but because of the time difference, when we arrived in Tel Aviv and joined the rest of the group and our Israeli tour guide it was already 4pm. We had our first hotel booked in Tiberias, 150km from Tel Aviv, so all we did was just got on the coach and went to Tiberias. I was mad and dissapointed. I had hoped we would be able to catch up on lost time, but it was impossible. The first day, when we had scheduled travelling along the coast and the visits to Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Caesarea, Haifa, Mount Caramel, Nazareth and Cana was gone. The beginning of the trip was horrible and I felt I was the only person to be blamed for.

The only comfort I had after the return from the trip, was when I made a complaint to the LOT and I got a complete refund for the plane tickets, €400, but still, I would rather see those places we missed, than the money I got. I don’t know when will be the next time I go to Israel again.

The Guitar Festival in Szczytno, Poland

Initially, I was supposed to come back to London on Saturday. I even had a plane ticket. But my friend, who is a musician and was about to release his debut album, said that he was going to have an album release concert on that Saturday as part of the Guitar Festival in our home town. Luckily, Ryanair came through, because they changed the airport I was to depart from, so I cancelled my ticket, got my money back and then bought a new ticket for Sunday. And so, right after seeing Poluzjanci in Warsaw on Friday, the next day we were all three in a car to Szczytno.

We came late to the concert, so they gave us the seats in the front row.
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Photo by Marek Zawrotny. See more photos from that evening.

We were right on time for my friend to take the stage. The blue light was a killer to my camera, so sometimes you barely see him, but I hope you’ll enjoy his music. If you do, you can buy his whole album from his website.


One very annoying thing was, and I can even hear it in those videos, that the official photographer was allowed to take photos through out the whole concert and it was so distracting. Not only the noise of the shutter, but he was walking from one side to the other and if you were sitting in the first front rows, he was destroying the whole atmosphere. A big fail.

My friend wasn’t the only one who played that evening. He also invited a very promising young guitarist, Piotr Szumlas…

…and the star of the evening, Jon Gomm! It was his only concert in Poland and I couldn’t believe he came to our little town. I saw that that my other friend was recording official videos, so didn’t film anything from Jon’s performance. Unfortunately, nothing has been posted online from that show since then, so here’s a video from Gomm’s YouTube channel, a song he performed in Szczytno and is available on his new CD, which he was selling weeks before its release in the UK.

My sister’s boyfriend loved his performance so much that he went straight after it to buy the CD. That was a pretty good score – out of three shows we went together, he liked two. My sis liked them all.

On Sunday morning my tour ended when I went back to London to my regular ordered days.

12 October

Poluzjanci at Palladium, Warszawa

Polucjanci, Palladium

Poluzjanci were one of my favourite Polish bands back in my twenties, but I hadn’t had the chance to see them live when I was still in Poland. What a great coincidence that was, when I saw they were performing just two days after Dylan and in the same place as him. Again, I went with my sister and her boyfriend. Poluzjanci’s songs are mostly about love and all that romantic stuff, so me and my sis loved the show while for B. there was too much sugar and he couldn’t wait until the concert was over. He couldn’t stand the vocalist (who was pretty handsome) and he hated him even more when my sister told B. he sometimes looked like him. LOL.

After the concert, Jola said she finally got the sense of living in Warsaw. This was a cool place to be and we were cool, because we were there. We were sitting in the 3rd row, behind us there was sitting Tatiana Okupnik, an ex-vocalist of Blue Cafe, another cool Polish band (by the way, my ex-housemate said she used to be in his old band as well) and she sits on the Polish X Factor jury and just a few seats to the centre, there was sitting Aleksandra Kwasniewska, the daughter of ex-President of Poland. She’s actually the vocalist’s wife, so her presence was justified.

Enough about the audience and gossips. Back to what was happening on stage. Poluzjanci played a lot of new songs, but I was waiting for the ones from their first album, which I love the most. Sorry they’re in Polish, but I hope you’ll enjoy them anyway.

One of the fun moments was, when at one point, the drummer sat down behind a mini drum kit and the bass player took out a home made bass guitar. How it sounded, you can check out in this video.

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As I had said, I liked the concert and it was worth the wait. But it wasn’t the only thing I was enjoying that weekend that I had to wait for quite a few years… t.b.c.

11 October, 2013

Warsaw / Warszawa, Poland

A month after my last post, I’m writing about what happened on the next day. The fact that I’m back blogging is a good sign, because since February I didn’t have a week when I didn’t stress out over anything. Now my days have settled down and I can finally catch up on my Internet stuff.

Just recently, I came up with this idea to see the capitals of Europe. I don’t know how I’m going to do that, whether it’s going to be one trip through Europe or if I should divide Europe into parts and see them in a few tours or take plenty of 2-3 day trips, every time to a different city. I’ll have to do some research.

In the meantime, I can already tick the capital of Poland off. Even though I had lived there for 8 years, every time I visit it now, I see the city in a different way. I miss Warsaw, but I think I miss it from my student years. The capital keeps changing and yet it saves its own character. My regular place I usually go to is E. Wedel’s Chocolate Lounges. I haven’t found anything like that here in London. It’s a great place to meet up and catch up with friends while having a wide variety of thick hot chocolate to drink. And this is what I did on the next day afternoon and then in the evening we took a stroll along Krakowskie Przedmiescie and Old Town. I noticed there were many milkbars with cheap, but very delicious home-made food – something I was missing years ago.

On Friday, the weather was beautiful and perfect to admire famous golden Polish autumn in The Park and Palace of King Jan III’s at Wilanów. Before the sunset, my sister and me headed to Praga quarter to have dinner at my friend’s restaurant Himalayamomo which specializes in Nepalese and Tibetan cuisine and then we went to the city centre, to the very same venue as two days before to see another concert… t.b.c.

10-11 October, 2013

Yeah, Yeah – Dylan Moran at Palladium, Warszawa

My apologies for this longer break: first the trip to Israel in February, then soon after that an emergency trip to Poland in family matters and now I’ve just taken up a third job, so not much time for life and posting about it.

My last entry was about how sick I was at Fat Freddy’s Drop concert. I lost about 3 kg during that time, but don’t worry, got them back when I felt better. I had to get back to form pretty quickly. The concert was on Saturday and on Wednesday the week after I flew to Poland to see Dylan Moran and go to two other concerts and all that I was to do in four days.

Wait… going to Poland to see an Irish comedian? Wouldn’t it be easier to see him in London or Ireland (he actually lives in Scotland)? Well, no, because he was touring Europe outside of the UK.

Since I saw his cult comedy show “Black Books”, I really wanted to see Dylan live and as soon as I saw he was coming to Warsaw, I bought tickets for my sister, her boyfriend and myself. That Wednesday was a crazy day. I worked from 5 to 9am in my shop, then went straight to the Luton airport to catch my plane to Warsaw. No delays there, luckily, so I landed at 5:40pm. Dylan’s show was at 7:30pm in the city centre. Plan A was, that first I would go to my sister’s, leave luggage and go together to the show, but she missed the last bus to the airport to pick me up (public transport in Warsaw is not that easy as here), I didn’t have any bus to her place, so we decided to meet up at the venue. I got on the next bus to the centre, but just as we managed to reach the first stop, one of the passengers had an epilepsy attack. Don’t get me wrong, I felt for that girl, one of my closest family members suffers from epilepsy, but it sucks when something like that happens when you’re in a hurry. The bus driver called an ambulance, told the rest of us that the course was cancelled, so we all had to wait for the next bus. To cut the story short, I got to the venue about 5-10 minutes before the show started.

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Dylan Moran was absolutely amazing. He quickly got our love when he showed appreciation for coming to see his stand-up, even though he couldn’t speak Polish, apart from few words. Then he made some jokes that Poles like travelling and making coffee in the West and he also showed he knew what was on the recent news in the media (Polish Catholic priest named Michalik blamed children, who didn’t get enough love at home for pushing priests to pedophilia, which was a good joke on its own).

The whole 90 min show was a lough out loud delight. Someone uploaded an audio of the whole thing, so if you find some time, have a listen. Or rather, you must listen!

I was wondering if I could see anyone famous in the audience and I did. There was Hubert Urbanski, a guy who hosts “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” Polish edition. He was much taller than I had thought he was! That was a nice welcome back to Warszawa.

9th October

360 degrees

This is the view from the roof of my block of flats back in my home town. I filmed it in September. Next time, I want to film something similar but from the clock tower at Town Hall. The view will be much more interesting: Teutonic Knights castle ruins, two lakes, main roundabout which you can’t see in this video.

family reunion

Hey… sorry about this short break in updates, but I watched Breaking Bad, the whole show on Netflix and got hooked so bad that I spent most of my days just watching one episode after another until the final one. The show is perfect, my mind is still digesting it and emotions need some time to recover, but it’s time to move on. There are a few things I want to write about before this year is over, because I want to start the new year with no drafts behind.

I saw Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra on Thursday and on Sunday I was already on the plane to Poland. My mum’s dad’s side of the family decided to organise a family reunion and since most of them are complete strangers to me whom I had never seen before in my life, I wasn’t really into it. The meeting was over the next weekend in another town. The original plan was that my parents would go and I’d stay at home and look after my cats. However, since my sister was already in Poland and it turned out that my brother would be able to come as well, they persuaded me to go together, leaving my dad’s friend to look after my pets.

In the end, I enjoyed my time in Różan and Perzanowo in Mazovia region where my grandfather came from. It was good to see people I vaguely remembered from my childhood but had never met them in my adulthood and meet their children and grandchildren. But most of all, I was happy I could spend some time with my closest family again as if it was Christmas.

Dymin, Kashubia region, Poland

The Black Seeds concert was on the eve of my flight to Poland just for a weekend. I didn’t even see anyone from my family then. I went to talk about my trip to New Zealand to about 120 young people at a youth camp organized by a Christian “Voice of the Gospel” Foundation. My friend talked me into it. When I was still in NZ two years ago, he started mentioning this idea, but I didn’t want to hear anything about kids and camps then. After I got back, it was a too sensitive matter to talk about. The memories were too fresh and I was getting emotional. But after two years, my friend decided to organize a camp themed “The journey of your life” and invited me to tell something about my journey.

Even though I booked my plane ticket in May and had plenty of time to make a presentation, I was a horrible procrastinator and finished it when I was already at the campsite about 6 hours before presenting it. I didn’t sleep much and of course I wasn’t 80% happy with my performance, but the response was amazing. Some people came over to ask about the band played during the slideshow (it was Supernatural by The Phoenix Foundation), others asked about the price of plane tickets or other practical questions.

I really enjoyed my stay there, even though it was short or maybe because of that. All the troubles of running a youth camp weren’t of my concern, because I was a guest speaker and that felt very comfortable. Besides, the weather was beautiful, food tasted like home made, I could talk only about NZ without watching people rolling their eyes, because they were the first who asked about it, so I call it a perfect weekend and a great short holiday in my overworked summer.

The camp was in a small village called Dymin in Kashubia (Kaszuby) area which is west of Gdansk in north Poland.

the end of 2012

The last two months of 2012 weren’t particularly exciting. In the second half of November, I went to Poland to spend my birthday with my parents. We went for dinner to a restaurant which took part in Kuchenne Rewolucje reality show, which is the Polish version Britain’s Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and America’s Kitchen Nightmares. The restaurant is close to my home town and there was a lot of buzz around it in local newspapers, so I wanted to see what it was all about. The food was delicious and we were already full after starters! I really recommend it. It’s name’s Karczma Lesniczanka and it’s an inn, so you can stay there overnight if you’re not from the neighbourhood.

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For the whole December I was in the Christmasy mood, because of decorations in my cafe where I worked, the music playing on and customers being friendly and kind. I didn’t even mind that I would have to stay in London during holidays, because the shop was closed only for Christmas Day. Only one person from the staff could take a few days off and it wasn’t me (later that person who got time off got sick while on holiday and delayed her return plus one more team member got sick as well and it made the rest of the team lives miserable during the Christmas season which made me start thinking about quitting that job).

My sister and friends went to Poland for Christmas, so in the second half of December I moved to my friends’ apartment to house-sit and look after my sister’s cats. I spent Christmas Eve with my housemates where I rent my room. We had a little piece of Polish Christmas on our table and it was delicious, but the rest of my time this was my asylum. Don’t feel sorry for me, because I really enjoyed this quiet time after busy days at work. Is there anything more relaxing than having a cat sleeping next to you on your big desk?

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At the end of December, my sister came back and we spent the New Year’s Eve at our friends’ in Farnborough, near London. I had an amazing time. After late dinner we set up a bonfire and at midnight we watched something like Chinese lamps flying up in the air in the distance.

On the next day I had to be back at work. With a small hangover, big staff shortage with so many customers (it was mental! never seen that shop so busy since I had started working there) and my manager panicking and really not helping with his behaviour, somehow I managed to survive that day, but then I decided to change my job. When my sister had told me that they may need more staff in her shop during the next big exhibition at the Royal Academy, I was hesitating, because I felt comfortable at PAUL. But after that New Year’s Day, I was ready to go.

The RA shop job was only weekend gigs till April and I was hoping that I would be able to work at PAUL during week days (I did like working there and the people after all) and have weekends off. My manager didn’t agree for this kind of deal with me, so I decided to take a risk, leave PAUL, start working just at weekends and find something part-time in the meantime. At the end of January, I started working for the RA and at the beginning of February, I left my cafe.

And that’s how I finally reached 2013 in my blog updates and new chapters of my journey. Time to open champagne! 😀

Fat Freddy’s Drop in Ostróda, Poland

I knew I was going to get distracted in May. My favourite New Zealand band, The Phoenix Foundation was touring the UK and Europe and their tour occupied my mind and took my free time. I saw them a few times and I’ll try to write about it sooner than next year. 😉

My last post finished with watching the Olympics Opening Ceremony in a pub with some friends and I also said that I didn’t stay in London during the Games. Next day, I took the plane to Poland. My parents were celebrating their 40th anniversary of their wedding and it was more important than any Kiwi House or sports event. And it was more special day than Christmas, because I don’t remember when was the last time when my parents, my brother and sister (and even their partners), and me sat down at a Christmas table together. But that day on 29th July 2012 we did.

Most of my holiday in Poland I spent visiting friends in Warsaw and Białystok. But the reason why I’m writing today is that another New Zealand band, Fat Freddy’s Drop released their new album “Blackbird” today and last year at the end of my Polish holiday, on 12th August, I saw them live at the Reggae Festival in Ostróda.

To be honest, I’m a little disappointed with the new album, because I heard their new songs already a year ago live and they sounded amazing. Maybe that’s the power of a live performance, it’s got more… ‘flesh’. The studio album is a bit… boring, too electric, not enough funky. I love their previous albums, so maybe Blackbird needs more time to grow on me.

FFD Ostroda

The show in Ostróda was a thrilling experience. They were the last act playing at the Festival and were scheduled to start at 1am. Luckily, I had a cousin living close by. He just gave me the keys to his flat and told me to come back whenever I wanted.

The night was cold, even though it was the middle of the summer holiday! We were getting impatient. When the last band before FFD finished and the stage was set up and ready, the most bizarre thing happened. The organizers of the festival came on stage and started congratulating each other and giving presents and diplomas etc. to each other.

Toby in his Travel Blog on the official website of FFD was very kind right after the show. He wrote in Chopper’s Travel Log Euro #2 on 14/08/12,

After that [Berlin] we drove to Ostroda in the eastern reaches of Poland. It was a long bus ride, but we landed in a lakeside holiday resort for a few hours before the show. Ate some beautiful pierogi and slurped a few local beers before hitting the festival. Caught some great live stuff from Rod Taylor and huge soundsystem shows from Channel One & Aba Shanti – both were incredible btw. Had a great show in Poland again, drank some vodka with locals and then hit the buses again.

A few months later, this is how he remembers the Ostróda experience in an interview for GrooveGuide,

One of their more interesting recent gigs was in East Poland, where they headlined a 100,000-plus reggae festival featuring many Jamaican roots acts. It took over 40 hours in the bus from the UK to get there, taking turns to drive and navigate. Then, after arriving with minutes to spare before showtime, the gig was halted for nearly two hours while the crew and organisers were presented with certificates and tokens of appreciation.
“It’s the first time a gig has been delayed for a prize giving for the crew!” he exclaims. And so they should.

Maybe it wasn’t two hours, but still, if you drag down such a fine, world class band from the other side of Europe, you don’t keep them waiting for half an hour, because people in charge of the festival have to give each other prezzies. So embarrassing!

Anyway, chilly summer night turned hot when FFD finally took the stage. I have goosebumps watching these videos. You’d have to be there to experience the full Fat Freddy’s Drop effect. Plus I was really really happy and still couldn’t believe they were there, in Ostróda, so close to my home town!

Silver and Gold

Blackbird

They’re back in Europe and I’m hoping to see them live again tomorrow, if I get lucky. They’re playing at Rough Trade East an in-store show and if I’m not able to get a wristband, I already bought a ticket for their concert here in London in October. Oh, and they’re livestreaming their Wednesday sold out show on their YouTube channel. Always some kind of comfort after not getting the ticket to that show.