Sunday, 30 August 2015

Outdoor gym

The first outdoor gym I spotted was the set of equipment next to Multikino Ursynów, in mid-2014. The second, which I not only glanced at, but also I tried out was the one in Ursus, on Easter Sunday this year (despite the chill). The third, which I grew fond of, was on a hill in Szczawno-Zdrój (back at times when the area was not famous).
The fourth one, I have been doing my best to use at least once a week, is next to the pond in Mysiadło. Photo by Kurier Południowy.

It has been here for almost a year. Locals were urging a very active councillor from Mysiadło to lobby for some exercising facilities near the pond. The very area, though located in the vicinity of lots of dwelling, has been infamous for being a hangout for local fans of alcoholic beverages, including those under age. With the appearance of some infrastructure, i.e. new benches, rubbish bins, the gym; after cleaning up the pond and tidying up the surrounding area, better days have come for the place. Local drunkards still sometimes hang around there, but the place is now often full of young parents walking or playing with their offspring, local pensioners and anglers.

The cost of the gym has not burnt a hole in gmina Lesznowola’s budget – for mere 25 thousand zlotys a few machines have been installed and to my surprise, they have not been vandalised. The facilities are in fact solid and have been solidly attached to the ground, so it would take months of workout to build up muscles strong enough to wreck or spoil them.

I typically go there each Sunday morning. Saturday mornings are reserved for swimming pool, so Sunday is ideal. I prefer the early hours, i.e. around 8 a.m., since odds of not having to wait until another community member gets off a piece of equipment are lower. Plus in the very hot August as we have experienced this year, 9 a.m. was often the last hour when temperature was bearable. Despite the small hour, however, I usually was not the only one to use it. The  morning-time users are generally older than me (from their 30s up to their approximately 70s), both females and males. Some stop over here during the morning jogging, some get off their bikes, take a few minutes of exercise and continue the ride, some come with their dogs and while a dog runs around, they work out. I don’t know how about later hours, but maybe youngsters also attend it.

Advantages, apart from the most obvious, namely that one works out – proximity, free usage and being in the open air, meaning one can also catch precious sunrays.

Drawbacks – scarcity of equipment (less than ten pieces) and no possibility to set the “heaviness” of the machines – either you strain too little or too much.

The outdoor gyms falls into the general trend of local authorities encouraging residents to keep fit. Cycling paths, sport fields (not only football pitches), swimming pools, outdoor gyms – having all of this around mobilises at least some sofa-ridden layabouts to move their arses and do something about their body. Just like investment in education theoretically should prevent structural unemployment, investments in citizens’ fitness should yield savings on health-care and elderly-care spending. The progress in medicine has already lengthened our lives considerably, now is the time to fend for the comfort of living, or to make it precise, to defer the moment it decreases as a result of ageing.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

A little more comfort in the neighbourhood

Ul. Mleczarska, whose reconstruction has been tracked on PES since late 2014 (most recently in late May 2015) has finally been opened. The completion deadline of 30 June 2015 has actually been met, since in the last days of June the street was virtually ready (and passable), but the official opening on 6 August was for no apparent reason outshined by another ceremony.

Looking north from the intersection of ul. Mleczarska, ul. Słoneczna and ul. Sękocińska. All photos taken on 20 August around 7 p.m. Holiday period this year reached its peak in August and traffic remains sparse. Sun illuminates the road and fields in Stara Iwiczna, turned yellow due to shortage of precipitation

The railway crossing with the Siekierki single-track line was built in June, as one of the last parts of the whole development. Looking west, towards the sun, about to set in an hour. In the distance, left to the track, a playing field in Stara Iwiczna, built under the high-voltage electricity wires…

As part of the reconstruc- tion, slopes up to the level crossing have been flattened and lengthened. In July the terrain west to ul. Mleczarska occupied for months by huge earth-mounds, was also levelled. Finally one also knows the plots are a private property (though not fenced off). The owner of this land virtually sleeps on money. I have not checked the zoning plans for the area, yet location-wise the spot is perfect both for residential development and for services. The only drawback is the vicinity of the rail track. Although trains do not run here often, but while heavy sets of wagons with coal trundle, folks in the nearby dwellings presumably experience a little earthquake.

The roundabout at the intersection with ul. Energetyczna. Sizeable, splendid, yet lanes are narrow enough to force drivers to slow down to no more than 30 kmph. Nevertheless, the traffic solutions applied, namely separate lanes for right-turns, smooth the traffic out, especially if we bear in mind Poles still tend to get confused when they approach a roundabout.

Civilisation has crept in. Compare the pics to the right to a series of snaps from roughly the same places taken in June 2011. Everything has fallen into place. Motorists have a decent road (I would argue speed bumps could be flatter), pedestrians a safe pavement, cyclists their riding path.

Once ul. Mleczarska was officially opened, another roadworks crew stepped in to revamp ul. Raszyńska in Piaseczno. Works kicked off all of the sudden on 8 August and 12 calendar days after that the street changed beyond recognition. New asphalt, no potholes, decent pavement. The intensity of infrastructure works could imply local elections are to be held this autumn…

Some finishing works will be done next weeks, lanes will need to be marked out, water drainage roadside ditches will need to be reinforced with concrete panels and I wonder whether speed bumps will be put in here. The signage reminds of the previous ones. I drove there 40 kmph and despite flat tarmack and considerable width of the road, the speed did not seem safe. Too many cars coming in and out of properties by the street, too many reckless cyclists and pedestrians trespassing onto the road without taking a trouble to look whether a vehicle is coming to make the customary urban area speed limit of 50 kmph suitable here. We could do with more discipline among all groups of traffic participants…

I only fear four years will not be enough for the government of PiS to lift my neighbourhood out of ruins.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Taxpayer beware

Taxpayer, beware

Not that recently one of regional tax office branches boasted about soaring tax collection rates, as a result of simplifying the language in which letters to taxpayers are written. Plain Polish works miracles, yet workings of tax administration as a whole still could do with some improvements.

I have not expected to receive any letter from the tax office. Since I earned my first money in 2007 until last week, I had not got any, yet on Monday I found this in the letterbox…

In principle, you could argue whether it is written in plain Polish. For me the missive is generally comprehensive, although I had to read it twice to get the message. It could have been shortened, I suppose, cause brevity as a rule adds clarity.

Before filing the tax return I double-checked it, especially personal data and tax calculations, yet as it turned out, I missed one thing – after putting KRS (national register of legal entities) number I failed to write the amount of tax I wished to be transferred to a beneficiary (charity, foundation, etc). I don’t know why, I thought it was obvious, if I wish to donate 1%, it is 1%. The situation proves you might wish to donate less than 1% and must specify the exact amount even if the don’t wish to make any haircuts…

A quick glance at webpages dedicated to tax accounting does not give the answer how exactly to clear the issue, but the letter instructs clearly not to tamper with 1% donations. In order to find out how to get the amendment right I call the contact person in the tax office the next day. The lady informs me I need to submit: 1) an amended tax return, 2) a written justification why the amendment is being on made (on a special form) and lets me know I may not now write the correct amount to be donated to a beneficiary, since after 30 April it is too late, so the only way to straighten things out is to fill the two fields (KRS number and amount) blank.

OK, I screwed it up, lesson learnt, apologies to the ones not better off. Since I filed the tax returns in person, I need to make the correction personally as well. The tax office is opened from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., so has exactly the same opening hours as my “usual” working hours, hence the most reasonable way to visit it is to decide to turn up to work later. I pick up the documents and when in the office, I go exactly to the room of the person who sent me the letter to me. She checks the amendment forms, says it is OK, enters it into the system, I am about to leave and…

…I am stopped in my tracks. “Sir will not leave now, sir has not filed sir’s personal income tax return for 2013”. “What the f**k?”, I think. I turn back and argue this must be an error. The lady insists the computer sees all my tax returns, except the one for fiscal 2013… I kindly ask the lady not to write relevant summons (with threats of severe fines for shirking the duty of tax accounting) and promise to return in half an hours with relevant documents confirming I am clear with the tax office.

I rush to the car, at home I quickly find two documents which confirm I entitled the Employer do fill the tax return (PIT-12) on my behalf and the very return (PIT-40) sent to the tax office by the Employer. I copy the documents in case the tax officials want to keep it, grab them and drive back to the tax office.

The lady greets me with lovely smile on her face. “I found it”, she exclaims, “your accounts have been done by your employer, the Employer”, she says. “Indeed”, I sigh…

The whole story actual looks to have brought no benefits – wasted paper, waster time of clerks from the tax office, my wasted time, my unnecessary stress. Water to the mill of a ruthless bureaucratic machine… The tax office branch in Piaseczno has a splendid new building I had a chance to sightsee. The modernity of the edifice could however go together with smart work done inside it…

Sunday, 9 August 2015

A trip to Lower Silesia

Probably each region of Poland has its unique climate, yet only the Lower Silesia can boast about unrepeatable style, architecture, landscape and… has something that beckons. One of the reasons why I find the region so compelling is that it contains lots of intact (or destructed, yet recently splendidly restored) heritage of the Germans who’d ruled it for centuries, until 1945. Part of Lower Silesia, including capital of the region, Wroclove, have been destroyed during the march of the Soviet Army towards Berlin at the end of WW2, yet the areas south-west of Strzegom and Legnica shunned the fate of becoming battlefields. Most residents of those areas were driven away to Germany shortly after the war, leaving the whole cities and villages to flowing in settlers from central Poland and pre-WW2 eastern lands incorporated into the Soviet Union.

Whenever an opportunity to visit these places crops up, I do my utmost to seize it. Last such occasion was during the last weekend, which I extended by two days to make the trip economical time-wise and petrol-wise. Incidentally it must not pass unnoticed since the new S8 expressway linking Łódź and Wrocław was opened in November 2014, duration of a door-to-door journey by car has shortened to some 5 hours (including 15-minutes stopover and assuming driving at reasonable speed).

I had my lodgings in Szczawno-Zdrój, a Post-German sanatorium resort, which fulfils the role same role in Poland. To the right, a cure-water drinking house, in its Post-Prussian character, decently renovated.

Two types of tourist can generally be run across in Szczawno-Zdrój: either elderly inpatients from numerous sanatoria or young couples with small children. For both groups the town might be appealing, since those not fond of crowds, a plague of many Polish holiday resorts will find here peace of mind and few fellow tourists roaming around. To the right – a pedestrian precinct on early Saturday afternoon.

To the right – a snap from a nearby look-out tower erected on a small, yet steep hill. At first glance the panorama of Szczawno-Zdrój reveals its post-German history. I’m fond of this architecture. Note also the contrast between refurbished streets and how run-down some houses are. Although it’s not that bad here…

To the right – Dom Zdrojowy, the former Grand Hotel, luxurious spa built by Germans more than 100 years ago. Sadly, the standard of the edifice has little changed since then. The ground floor of the building serves as canteen for roughly 1,500 inpatients of this and other nearby sanatoria (two shifts for each meal), three upper floors offer accommodation for inpatients sent here under health insurance scheme. Standard room – 10 sqm for three persons, common bathroom for several rooms. Standard up-to-the-mark for young travellers searching for cheap hostel, not for people in their 60s or 70s coming here for three weeks to recharge batteries.

Wałbrzych, the core city of this part of Lower Silesia. Once seven black coal mines have been the key employers in the city. Today all mines have been closed, one fulfils a role of mining museum, and Special Economic Zones brining in foreign investors are meant to stem the migration out of the city and reduce unemployment. To the right, the town hall square in the very centre of the city. Sunday, before midday. Not a living soul around.

The beautifully renovated market square also is desolated. Area near the fountains is the hangout for local drunkards and for rowdy under-age hooligans. Searching for an open café in the vicinity on Sunday? I asked some locals strolling with their child in a pram, if there was any opened. They stared at me with disbelief and replied there was none, since no one would come there so there was no point in opening.

A peek from the market square between the buildings lays bare the penury of what is hidden between splendidly restored façades on the market square. A perfect illustration to the conflict whether Poland is in ruins or not. You can selectively pick out several examples of places which definitely are not in ruins and places which are in ruins; sometimes worlds apart means less than 100 metres away, as in this example.

And actually most parts of old Wałbrzych (I have not visited the areas where the city sprawled after 1945) look like this. An empty, depressing place, and to boot not the one in which one feels safe in broad daylight. I was slightly afraid to leave my car on Mazovian plates on the street in the centre of Wałbrzych, not because keeping the car there was genuinely dangerous, but because number plates revealed where its owner came from, a region which could be disliked by locals.

Świdnica, unknown even to most Poles, home to notable sights. The market square in the shape typical for Post-German areas, rectangle-shaped and with town hall building in the middle of it. The character of the place brings to mind Gdansk, Poznan and Berlin, while you stay in small town in Lower Silesia in which a famous flea market is held once a year.

Kościół Pokoju, put on Unesco list of heritage buildings, is a must-see destination in Świdnica. Erected in the seventeenth century has undergone thorough renovation in the last 10 years. There a few such places in Europe, hence it is particularly worth preserving.

Inside the church is even more breath-taking. Oddly enough, most visitors inside were Germans, who happen to visit the lost fatherland and appreciate the heritage left here much more by Poles. Or maybe are just more eager to fork out 10 PLN for the entrance fee.

Historically the evangelic church “competed” with the cathedral located within a walking distance from it. The church is open to visitors and nearby facilities are the head office of Kuria Świdnicka. What immediately catches one’s sight are expensive cars (they could be parked next to corporate fleet of the New Factory and you would not distinguish between the two) and anti-abortion posters.

In terms of timing, I was fortunate to venture there when weather was perfect – except for the last day, temperature barely above +20C and sunny or slightly overcast. What ensued later was the heat wave which will definitely go down in the history of meteorology in Poland as one of the longest and most intense. August 2015 stands a chance of being the warmest month in the history of Poland, beating July 2006 (average temperature in Warsaw: +23.5C). The heat wave will deserve a separate posting, due when it draws to a close (I hope it comes to an end soon, but weather forecasts leave little hope for day-time highs below +30C until 20 August).