Friday, July 31, 2009

Russian "Breakfast"

Technically, this was a mid-afternoon picnic. But since it was the first thing we had eaten that day I think it qualifies as a breakfast, and you know what, goshdarnit, I want to write about it, and it’s my blog. So there.

After a couple weeks of Polish hotel breakfasts, we were glad to finally be on our own. We had gotten tipped off to a good market just one metro stop away from the lavish apartments we were staying in. We arrived at the market

rolling about 8 deep, and immediately split up shopping duties into basic food groups. I took charge of cheeses, and bought a kind of creamy, mild swiss type thingy, and an object that looked like 100 thin strips of leather, braided together and tied in a knot. When we tried it later, it turned out to be a delicious salty, smoky sheep’s(?) cheese. Which just goes to prove my rule of thumb; when traveling, ALWAYS EAT THE THING THAT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE FOOD. It’s bound to either be disgusting or taste pretty good.

L. bought some Greek style yogurt, also on a tip, that turned out to be about 30% fat. Also a hit. We got some local honey from a lady who kept insisting we all try a little spoonful of each of her many kinds of honey. Both charming and delicious. Some dried sausages, of course, some bread, little cookies and cherries. And pickles. I think we each spent under 300 rubles (roughly ten bucks) for a feast that would wind up lasting us two days.

The plan was to head to the river, catch a ferry to Peterhof, (Peter the Great’s summer getaway on the Gulf of Finland), walk around a little amongst the opulent fountains, and find a little picnic spot.

Well, after getting losing half the group, realizing we didn’t have any silverware, and eating half the smoked leather cheese, we got on the boat. That’s where we first noticed that anything sort of touristy in St, Petersburg has two prices; one for Russians, and one about ten times that amount for foreigners. Not having even the faintest hope of scamming the system, we reluctantly paid the 400 rubles. The ride was lovely, especially the approach to the palace, its golden roof glistening in the sun. The ferry deposits you on a little dock, where you are given two options, pay 300 rubles (50 rubles Russian price) to get into the gardens, or pay 400 rubles to turn around and go back. What happens if you don’t have any cash, I don’t know. Barnacle duty, I guess.

Well, we walked around a bit among the fountains


Until we found a suitable picnic spot, not too flashy,

and set up shop. What followed was a fifteen minute feeding frenzy of which I remember very little, only flailing arms, bodies circling the park bench on which we had laid our goods, and sausages being ripped apart with fingernails. Once we reached our gustatory orgasm, we descended gently into the arms of cherries with incredibly fatty yogurt. My favorite thing was to take two cherries (preferably joined) and dip one in the yogurt, one in the honey, and place them simultaneously in my mouth.

I was roundly mocked for this.

But I am not ashamed.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Polish Hotel Breakfast

Based on a survey of upwards of two (okay, three, actually, if you must know) different breakfasts, a sort of “industry standard” seemed to emerge. Wet eggs in an unwarmed warming pan, some uncomfortable looking hot dogs, good bread, totally decent cheese and salami, pickles, tomatoes and cucumbers, maybe a radish, served with choice of Nescafe or Lipton, and assorted crappy juices. Then there are usually a few “variable items.” At the Hotel Katowice (God forgive the sinners who designed, built, currently staff, and hesitate to destroy it) this meant cat food floating in what S. says I generously called “aspic,” and eggs slathered in mayonnaise. The eggs were pretty good, I thought, but the cat food aspic thing was absolutely revolting. The gelatinous texture failed to distract the mouth from the taste of offal within. At the Royal Hotel in Krakow there was a boiled vegetables and mayonnaise salad , a fairly common Polish dish (I go nuts for this stuff, have ever since I was a child; the pattern that seems to be emerging here is that I love mayonnaise). Thinking back to last year, this standard seemed to apply in Romania as well, where the “variable item” at the Hotel Agape in Cluj-Napoca was a Greek salad with the worst of all possible “feta” cheeses. In fact, it was only in the context of the salad that I would have thought to guess it was feta they were shooting for. Taken alone, I would have guessed “salty white cardboard.” Corn flakes and/or muesli are always provided as an “out” for the cowardly or nutritionally inclined.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


In response to anxiety over the long time between blog posts, I must inform you, dear reader, that I am on sabbatical in Eastern Europe. Rest assured, I am collecting stories and images, and will begin backfilling upon my return on July 21st. In the mean time, please enjoy the new user profile photo.