Friday, 20 September 2019

Fixing a hole

I’ve not been very productive on the blogging front since my return from Poland, even though there’s lots of things I’d like to write about. Not all of the ideas that are buzzing around in my head are related to my  visit to Krakow either, as there’s plenty of things occurring back home, it’s just a simple case of not having had the time.

It’s not work this time that is the problem, but rather a case of making hay whilst the sun shines, whilst at the same time taking advantage of the glorious September sunshine we’ve been enjoying. To elaborate. My garden shed is in urgent need of re-roofing, so the fine weather we’ve been blessed with, is ideal for such outdoor DIY projects. Consequently, since my return from Poland, it’s  been a real case of making use of every available daylight hour outside of work.

However, as DIY tasks often do, the renewal of the shed roof is taking longer than anticipated. I had to remove the old boards first, as they’d rotted through in places, but with rusty nails and screws to remove, this hasn’t proved an easy task.

This is the second time I’ve had to do this, the previous occasion being 13 or so years ago. The replacement roof lasted well until a storm earlier this year ripped much of the felt off.  This exposed the rot that had set in underneath. Neglecting to clear all the dead leaves out from the gutters, was the primary cause of this, as their presence had allowed water to accumulate and casing the damp to spread upwards, underneath the felt. It was only when the protective covering was removed that the true extent of  the rot was revealed.

The garden shed we inherited when we moved into our current property, 25 years ago, is quite a structure. For a start it’s much taller than it needs to be, and the height is compounded by the shed being several feet off the ground on concrete blocks.

As I said the shed came with the property, and whilst I have enhanced it over the years, replacing the roof involves working at height. Now I’m not a huge fan of working off a ladder, but with son Matthew helping me, you have to ask why it’s me up the ladder rather than him? 

After all, such tasks should be easier for someone in their late twenties than they are for a person like me in their mid-sixties. Matthew claims he is scared of heights, but doesn’t consider that I’m not keen on being up a ladder either, but someone has to see the job through, and by working most of last weekend, and every evening this week, the old roofing sheets have been removed and the new ones are in place. Now it’s just a question of  renewing the felt.

I must admit I’ll be glad when the job’s done, so I can get back to writing and other enjoyable pursuits, such as beer drinking, but with the weather due to break this coming Sunday, it’s been a race against time.

I gave the shed a miss tonight (Friday), as I’d literally run out of steam. This is not unusual for the end of the working week, but this particular one has been exceptionally hectic. With a key member of my staff on holiday, our monthly management meeting to prepare for, visitors across from Japan and attempting to secure a Russian-speaking interpreter for an audit we’ve got coming up next month, I was glad to close the door on the garden and retreat to the comfort of my home office and bash out this piece of trivia.

Normal service should be resumed early next week!

"Fixing a Hole" is the fifth track on the Beatles seminal album "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," released in May 1967; the so-called "summer of love."  It's quite a catchy number, but at the same time quite an annoying one. I'm sure most people of my generation will know it. 

It seemed an appropriate title, even though there was more than one hole in my shed roof!

Monday, 16 September 2019

A tribute to Poland

Poland is a country I’d wanted to visit for some considerable time, so towards the end of last month (August), I finally took the bull by the horns, booked a return flight, selected a suitable hotel and the weekend before last, set off for a short three night visit.

The southern city of Krakow was always going to be my destination of choice, given its long and illustrious history, and the fact that it escaped relatively intact from the devastation of World War II.

No nation endured the suffering that Poland did for much of the 20th Century, as after re-emerging as a proud, independent nation in 1918, just twenty years later the country was invaded by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. After the former attacked from the west, the latter piled in its forces from the east; the two dictatorships dividing up the country between them.

A brutal six-year occupation then followed, during which around 6 million Polish citizens perished – nearly one-fifth of country's population. Over 90% of these deaths were non-military in nature. Around half of the number killed were Polish Jews,  as  Poland at the time was home to one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe.

Following the end of hostilities in 1945, Poland’s borders were shifted westwards on the order of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. The shift in boundaries allowed Stalin to keep hold of the eastern part of Poland, which Soviet forces had originally occupied in 1939. Over 2 million Polish inhabitants of this region were forcibly expelled

At the same time the Poland’s western border became the line of the  Oder-Neisse rivers, which meant the annexation of a slice of eastern Germany. This included the provinces of Pomerania, Eastern Brandenburg and Silesia, and involved the expulsion of around 8 million ethnic Germans.  This shift in boundaries, is said to have involved the forced migration of around 20 million people, most of whom were Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, and Jews.

I’ve always felt an affinity with the Poles, especially as in 1939, Britain went to war with Germany, to try and assist them.  It was a symbolic and largely futile gesture as there was little Britain and her ally France, could do to assist the Poland, but the UK did provide a home for the Polish Government in exile, and attempted to act as the nation’s guarantor as World War II drew to a close.

In the end these guarantees came to nothing, as the British Government was powerless against Stalin and the all-conquering Red Army. Poland came under Soviet influence, and with the installation of a repressive, communist government, the country’s suffering continued for a further 45 years.

It wasn’t until the emergence of the Solidarity movement, and the collapse of the country’s socialist government, that Poland’s citizens finally regained their freedom and took their place on the world stage. In 2004 the country became a member of the European Union and has benefited enormously, both economically and socially from joining the EU. It does make one wonder then, why narrow-minded individuals in the UK are desperately trying to force us out of the world’s largest trading bloc.

So for the above reasons, and several more personal ones, I wanted to visit Poland to say sorry to its people for appearing to have abandoned them, both during and after WWII, but also to thank them for the enormous contribution made by Polish servicemen during that conflict, both on land and in the air – and in particular during the Battle of Britain.  

First night in Krakow

As in many parts of the world, the “craft beer” scene is flourishing in Poland; well it’s certainly thriving in Krakow, as I discovered on my recent visit. Admittedly I did go looking for it – after all what else is a dedicated beer-lover supposed to do? But I’m sure that even without my active involvement, I would have stumbled across some craft beer at some time during my stay in the city.

Sunday evening marked my first night in Krakow. I was tired after getting up early to ensure I made it to the airport in time for my flight, and with the usual weekend engineering works affecting rail journeys, my journey to Gatwick took longer than it would normally have done.

My flight was on time, and touched down at Krakow’s John Paul II Airport in brilliant sunshine. I found engineering works affecting rail travel in Poland as well, which meant a rail-replacement bus into the city centre. I was fine with this as I was travelling light, with just “hand baggage,” so  was able to sit next to the window and enjoy the views of rural Poland, as we gradually approached the suburbs of Krakow.

It was a relatively short walk from the main railway station to my hotel, so after checking in and freshening up a bit, I headed into the old town. This again was just a short walk, up through one of the pleasant, tree-shaded green areas surrounding the old town. For the history buffs amongst you, these areas of parkland, follow the site of the medieval walls which once surrounded the city.

It wasn’t long before I reached the central market square known as Rynek Glówny, where I halted a while to take in the scene along with capturing some of the architecture on my camera. The square reminded me of Prague’s old town square, especially the area around Týn Church, and the sight of dozens of people, sitting out under sunshades eating and drinking, reminded me I’d only had a cheese and ham baguette since breakfast.

It was time to head off in search of both food and drink, but as the market square is more of a rectangle, with a funnel-shaped section at the southern entrance, I got quite disoriented. I was heading for C.K. Browar; Krakow’s oldest brew-pub, but for reasons outlined above I was not only looking at the map from the  wrong angle, I also failed to realise that the establishment was the other side of Planty Park – see above.

Instead I found myself at the House of Beer, tucked away in the heart of the old town. Fortunately this legendary bar was not overly crowded, at 7pm, but even so I failed to find an empty table and this meant I would have to sit at the bar. I discovered that the place was self-service anyway, and perfectly OK to eat at the bar as well as drink, so after ordering what turned out to be an excellent pulled-pork burger with fries - not very Polish according to some of my work colleagues who hail from Poland, but I remain unrepentant, I chose a beer from the extensive list.

Although House of Beer boasts that it stocks 150 different beers, most of them are bottled, so by sticking to the list of 12 draught beers available, I was able to narrow the choice down extensively.  If I was being disloyal to the country’s cuisine – albeit unknowingly, at least most of the draught beers were brewed in Poland.

I’ve mislaid my beer notes at this particular moment, but I do recall drinking two of the American style IPAs on the list – both half litres, before finishing with a small (300ml) glass of Blackberry Stout. The latter was shockingly sour, but surprisingly  refreshing. It reminded me of a Belgian Kriek, in terms of both flavour and tartness, and was a good beer to finish on.

With the inner man satisfied, I decided to call it a day. I was in need of my bed, so I headed off in a southerly direction, skirting the still busy Rynek Glówny Square, and made my way back to the hotel. It was only 9pm, but despite the darkness I felt quite safe walking through the park. The only real danger seemed to be from people whizzing up from behind on electric scooters – a means of transport which seemed to be all the rage in Krakow.

It wasn’t long after wards that I was tucked up in bed and dropping off to sleep after what, of me, had been a busy and rather tiring day.

Footnote: I found my way to C.K. Browar two days later. I wasn’t over-impressed. It was lunchtime and the place was virtually empty. Furthermore it smelt of drains – possibly something to do with its underground location. If I have time, I will elaborate in a later post. 

Friday, 13 September 2019

Do your homework prior to departure

I had to adjust the layout slightly, of the two previous posts – the ones I composed whilst away, and added to the blog, by means of my phone. The view on the small screen is of necessity different, and whilst everything looked fine on my Samsung, when I logged in on my desk-top PC at home, it was patently obvious there were too many photos, which in turn highlighted the paucity of text and there being too much white space.

I’ve  carried out an edit on both posts now, which probably took longer than composing and adding the originals, but I have standards to maintain, don’t you know, and I didn’t want the spontaneity of a quick morning’s work, to be spoiled by a sloppy layout.

This brings me on to the post I began writing, the night before I went away. I didn’t have time to finish it, but I wanted to bring reader’s attention to the tricky subject of choosing which pubs and bars are likely to appeal the most, when visiting a new town or city for the first time. If it’s a completely new country, then there’s a further dilemma, as there’s no baseline to guide or point you in the right direction.

When your time in a new location is limited, like mine was, there’s often the temptation to cram in as much as possible, but this is not always a good thing. (More meaning less and all that!) I therefore adopt an open minded approach, but one that implies a note of caution.  I certainly like to give those establishments which deliberately target tourists, a wide berth and I also avoid places owned by large conglomerates or multi-national brewers.

I tend to steer clear too of bars owned by the likes of Brew Dog, Stone Brewing or Mikkeller, mainly because they are slowly spreading their way all over the globe, stifling competition and drawing sales away from struggling local, small-scale brewers. I’ve nothing against beers from the aforementioned companies, or their beers; it’s just that when I’m away I much prefer to drink something more local, with more provenance, and a beer which will remind me of the location I am visiting.

So even though I’ve come across outlets owned by these two companies, in  locations where you might least expect them, I find it quite disconcerting to be drinking say a Brew Dog in Barcelona or a Mikkeller in Reykjavik. If I want to enjoy a beer from one or more of these renowned brewers, I will do it on their home turf, and not in a foreign location. I realise it’s all perception, but Brew Dog seems to taste far better back home and so does Stone in the United States along with Mikkeller in Copenhagen.

Returning to the subject in question, I used a couple of online sources whilst researching  my trip, the best and most reliable one proving to be Krakow - Local Life. Several of the outlets listed, also turned up on either the Insight Guide to Krakow, I purchased, prior to my departure, or the free, Krakow in your pocket City Guide, handed to me when I checked into my hotel.

I’m sure other readers will have their own proven method(s) of sniffing out the best drinking establishments when visiting new locations, both at home and abroad, and I would be interested in people’s feedback on this.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Farewell to Krakow

Today my short break in Krakow comes to an end, and I will shortly be checking out of my hotel and heading to the airpor.

I've packed a lot into my three day stay, although I did avoid the obvious tours of the Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz. There are companies all over the city offering trips to these popular tourist destinations and most hotels, including the one I'm staying in, will arrange a visit, should you so desire.

I have my own reasons for not wishing to visit Auschwitz, which I'll explain in a later post, and whilst a trip down a mine would once have appealed to a younger me, there have been too many incidents in recent years of people becoming trapped underground.

Instead I've done plenty of sightseeing in this wonderfully preserved, cosmopolitan city and walked my little legs off.

Krakow reminds me very much of Prague (one of my favourite cities), except that it is much more compact and easier to get around on foot.

I will definitely be back and might even tempt Mrs PBT's to accompany me. I'm sure the city would also appeal to young Mr Bailey. That's all for now, as I've got some last minute shopping to do and a flight to catch.

ps. This is my second post by phone. It's much easier than I thought, so providing there's a decent internet connection,  similarly brief articles may become a regular feature of future trips.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

An unexpected surprise

I've never tried publishing a post before from my phone, but it's 7.30 in the morning here in Krakow and I'm just contemplating dragging myself out of bed, so I thought I'd give it a try.

There will be plenty to read about this lovely old city, with its virtually intact 19th Century (or older ), centre when I get back, but for now let's just say it's great for wandering around, admiring the architecture and just soaking up the atmosphere.

 Beer-wise craft has made its presence felt in Poland, and I've already  enjoyed some excellent, locally brewed examples, but yesterday lunchtime, exasperated to find that several of the places I'd picked in the former Jewish quarter didn't open until 4pm, I succumbed to big brand beer, and was really glad I did.

I'd already walked past the Wrega - Polish Pub & Gallery and after a morning spent walking around the impressive Wawel Castle complex, followed by a sobering, and rather haunting look around Kazimierz's Jewish cemetery, I was in need of somewhere to sit down, along with a glass of beer plus something to eat.

Wrega was advertising beers from Zywiec - one of Poland's large breweries, but I noticed the presence of  a porter on the menu. I found an occupied table in the shady courtyard garden and ordered myself a glass along with a dish of Polish spinach and cheese pancakes.

The Zywiec Porter when it came, was excellent; dark, full-bodied and with just the right amount of residual bitterness. In short, it was a very satisfying beer. The pancakes too were just right for a lunch that was filling, but not too heavy.

I stayed an hour or so at Wrega, enjoying the food, the beer, the ambience and the sun, just making it back to the hotel before the inevitable thunderstorm.

Well it's a couple of hours later now and I'm up, washed, dressed and been down to breakfast. It feels a little chilly outside but I'll stick with my original plan of wearing shorts as I head back up into the old town for some more exploring and sightseeing.

I'll also be looking out for a few more beery surprises.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Friday in Tonbridge

Friday is always a good day to take of from work. Not only is it the end of the week, but coming before Saturday, it adds an extra day to the weekend. A three day weekend is definitely something I could get used to, but without an unlimited supply of annual leave, there is the obvious danger of running out of days to take off.

The motto of course, is to use annual leave wisely, and make sure it is used for something useful or enjoyable and preferably both!  Friday was such a day, and with my imminent short trip to Poland on Sunday, there were a few things I needed to sort out, along with some last minute shopping.

There was another purpose behind my extended weekend, and that was to conduct some official business which, due to its nature, can only be carried out on a weekday. The business I am referring to, was something Mrs PBT’s and I had been putting off for ages, despite it being something we both knew needed doing.

To elaborate; with both of us approaching our mid-sixties we thought it high time we made a will. The need for such a document was brought home to me 20 months ago, when my nearest and dearest was fighting for her life in an intensive care bed. Prior to her being admitted to the ICU, son Matthew and I had been left waiting in a room whilst the emergency team stabilised her. It was real touch and go, or at least it seemed so to us as the hours ticked by, and during that time our lack of foresight in having drawn up a will really hit home.

Fortunately things came good in the end, although it took an extended period of hospitalisation and rehabilitation before Mrs PBT’s made a full recovery. During this period, and with other more pressing concerns on my mind, our lack of said document once again was put on the back-burner.

I don’t know what it was that prompted me, apart from perhaps a desire to take Friday off, but earlier last week, I phoned the firm of solicitors we have used in the past, and made an appointment. The solicitor we consulted went  through the whole process with us, and will now draw up the will on our behalf. We will then have to check everything through, before returning to his office so he can witness us signing this important legal document. 

It was all far more straight forward than we had both supposed, and left us asking ourselves, why the hell hadn’t we done this before? We took the opportunity afterwards to do the weekend food shopping, so as to leave Saturday free for “fun stuff," like a trip to the coast, or something similar.

Shopping meant a drive over to Sevenoaks, but when we got back I still had a number of errands to complete. These ranged from collecting a prescription from the pharmacist, purchasing an Advanced Train Ticket for my journey to Gatwick on Sunday and last, but not least, getting myself a guidebook to Krakow. Talk about last minute dot com!

I therefore headed down into Tonbridge, on foot. It’s a while since I spent a bit of time looking around my adopted home-town, so after completing the bulk of the above tasks I decided to see what was happening on the local pub scene.

I’ll kick off with the biggest piece of news first, which is the work being done to restore the historic Ivy House pub.  This attractive old tile-hung building is one of the oldest buildings in Tonbridge, with parts dating back to the 15th Century. It has been closed for the past 18 months, after its previous owners "Kent Inns of Distinction,” failed to make a go of running it as a gastro-pub, cum-restaurant.

Last November, it was bought by a new owner with a proven track record of running a successful pub. Planning permission was necessary before the renovation and improvement work could get underway, but things seem to be progressing at a pace now, as I noticed whilst driving past the other day.

As I was in that part of town, I stopped by to take a few photos, before carrying on for a short distance along the High Street, to Fuggles Beer Café. It’s been quite a while since I last called in, so I stepped inside to see what was on offer. It was mid-afternoon, so the place was quite quiet, but I noticed  saw a fellow CAMRA member sitting there, with his two dogs, whilst nursing a pint.

I acknowledged him before making my way to the bar, where two beers in particular,  caught my eye. One was Plateau, from Burning Sky, whilst the other was Do It Together,” a Mango Tea Pale Ale from Moor Beer Co. The barman said the latter was fresh on, so I went for that one first, despite its 5.2% ABV. The beer was every bit as good as you’d expect from Moor Beer, with that hint of mango referred to in the name, and was worthy of a 3.5 NBSS.

I sat down and joined my friend, who filled me in on the latest local CAMRA news. He confirmed that the construction work I’d noticed at the back of the Ivy House was, as I’d thought, the new toilet block.  Neither of us know when the pub is going to re-open, but this side of Christmas is looking quite likely. I will wait before revealing the identity of the new owners, although if you really want to know, it is mentioned on WhatPub.

I left Fuggles at the same time as my CAMRA friend, and headed over to Mr Books, Tonbridge’s long established independent bookshop. The shop changed hands a couple of years ago, following the move of founder, Mark Richardson (the MR in the shop’s name), back to his native Lincolnshire. As well as running the shop, Mark also wrote his own blog, starting at a similar time to my own (2008).

Mark’s effort was titled Tonbridge Blog, and featured news and views about Tonbridge, ranging from major issues to the odd quirky ones and, as with all blogs, readers were encouraged to post comments and thoughts of their own on the topic in question. The shop appears to be doing well, with the new owners having opened the place out, removing the slightly claustrophobic feel of being hemmed in by stacks of tall book shelves.

Unfortunately for me, my quest for a second-hand travel guide to Krakow proved fruitless, so after having been in virtually every charity and second-hand bookshop in Tonbridge, I had to resort to one of the big boys, and pay full-price. I left Mr Books and headed back down the High Street, to WH Smith.

Definitely one for another day, but with a significant amount of money having been spent on restoring this attractive late-Victorian building, combined with its prominent position overlooking the River Medway, just off the  town’s “Big Bridge,”  Verdigris is a worthy and very welcome addition to Tonbridge’s burgeoning hospitality scene.

On way passed the former Castle Hotel, now trading as upmarket restaurant, called Verdigris. The establishment is the creation of top chef, Scott Goss who has made quite a name for himself after working with Gary Rhodes. I’m sure Mrs PBT’s knows a lot more about him than I do, especially after he appeared on the BBC’s Great British Menu, but what I can say is Scott has a policy of using locally sourced, sustainable, free-range,  organic ingredients, wherever possible. Whether that floats your boat or not, I don’t know, but reviews on Trip Advisor are generally glowing.

Although a little pricey, the breakfast menu at Verdigris looks appealing, especially as it features smoked-haddock kedgeree. I might have to give it a try one Sunday morning. I’ve also discovered that you can just pop in for a casual drink, if desired, and seeing as it one of the few local stockists of Hofmeister lager, this again sounds tempting.

Today (Saturday), as referenced above, we had our trip to the seaside. I drove the family down to Dungeness, for an excellent lunch of fish and chips at the Pilot Inn, which overlooks the beach. Not only was the food top notch, but the B17 "house beer," from Romney Marsh Brewery was in fine fettle as well.

The weather didn’t quite turn out as forecast, as there were some heavy showers, but our route across the Weald of Kent, and then on to Romney Marsh was the perfect reminder of how lucky we are to live in this scenic corner of the south east. We returned via Camber and Rye, thereby taking in part of Sussex on our way home.