Big business in Poland, part five

Monday morning, they were still registering people for the conference. The buses taking participants to the conference location weren’t scheduled to leave until 11:00am. We enjoyed a late breakfast with many, many American soldiers, government employees, and contractors like Bill. It seemed a little like organized chaos as the Sofitel’s staff handled all of the people trying to get breakfast at the same time. The staff didn’t have me in the system, so Bill had to fix that issue. We then took advantage of the late start by taking a walk to the nearest Zabka.

These were EVERYWHERE!

Zabka is a kind of mini market. They are ubiquitous in Wroclaw. I saw at least one, sometimes two, on every street. We used the one that was right on the square, which was just a block from our hotel; however, if we’d wanted to, we could have used one even closer than that! It reminded me of the time Bill and I went to Seattle back in 2005 and saw two Starbucks within spitting distance of each other.

We went into the Zabka because I thought I needed feminine hygiene supplies. I thought we’d need to go to an Apoteka (Apotheke/drug store) but it turned out the tiny Zabka store has a little bit of everything. There were just two aisles in the store on the square, yet they had fresh fruits, cat food, and liquor for sale, as well as the sanitary napkins I needed. Regarding those napkins– they had a couple of choices. I could have purchased the familiar Always pads, but I opted for a Polish brand. This morning, when I finally needed them for real, I noticed this description on the label.

Apparently, the Polish like their sanitary pads to have the healing properties of Tilia flowers. Fortunately, I don’t itch or burn “down there”.
We also bought a bottle of genuine Zubrovka (zoo-broov-ka)– “bison grass vodka” at the Zabka. The bison vodka available outside of Poland is usually artificially flavored, but this is the “real stuff” with a blade of grass in it. The grass is sourced from the Białowieża Forest, hand-picked and dried under natural conditions.

This vodka has an unusual flavor, but the real version with a blade of bison grass in it is illegal to sell in Germany and the United States, because the grass contains coumarin, a blood thinner. You’d have to drink many liters of the vodka before coumarin would affect you, but that doesn’t stop bureaucrats from outlawing it. They know what’s best for us…

Anyway, Zubrovka is available with grass or artificially flavored without grass. The artificially flavored kind is what I have seen sold in the US and Germany. The Zabka had both varieties, so we bought some “mit Gras”. The shopkeeper didn’t speak English and reverted to German when we requested the booze. Much to my amazement, I understood him before Bill did! We bought genuine bison grass vodka for the first time in November 2008, which was the last time we were in Poland. I could probably take it or leave it, but we like the real stuff whenever we can access it. People often chill it and drink it mixed with apple juice.

Monday was the first day of my individual quest for eating establishments. I ended up going for Georgian food again, but this time at a place called Chinkalnia. Like U Gruzina, this is yet another Georgian food restaurant chain in Poland. It was a bit different than U Gruzina. Located in the middle of the main square, the outlet I went to had more of an old school decor. Wines by the glass were not available; instead, those who wanted wine had to buy it by the bottle. I probably could have drunk the whole bottle on Monday, given how chilly and rainy Monday’s weather was. Instead, I opted for beer. I tried a Ukrainian draft beer that was pretty unimpressive, and then moved on to the Georgian beers they had, a lager and a dark beer. Both were much better than the draft beer and surprisingly decent.

I also had a pork stew called chanakhi. It was served in a small clay pot and topped with garlic. I had never had it before and mostly enjoyed it, although it tasted like they might have microwaved it. Some parts of the stew were hotter than others. I noticed other guests enjoying chinkali and khatchapouri and kind of wished I’d gone for the khatchapouri, although the pork stew, with its potatoes, carrots, and Georgian spices was filling and tasty. I also enjoyed the friendly Polish waiter, who said he’d been to Georgia on vacation.

This was a pretty reasonably priced lunch. I think I spent about 60 Zloty before the tip. Then I walked back to the hotel in the rain and took a nice nap. The weather was perfect for it.

For dinner, Bill and I had Italian food at a place called O Sole Mio. We hadn’t planned to eat Italian food, but we kind of got roped in by the lady standing at the door, inviting people inside. Bill had lasagne, which was very good. I had grilled salmon and two sides– huge portions of spinach with Parmesan cheese and baked potatoes. I was picturing one or two potatoes, but they brought out a whole trough of them!

Our waitress was very young and cute, and just like every other server and cab driver we ran into during this trip, she spoke excellent English. Really, I am very impressed by how proficient most everyone was with English. I think they may even have the Germans beat in that department. It’s a stark contrast to 11 years ago, when most of the Polish people we met didn’t speak any English at all. But then, we were in the countryside, rather than a charming, tourist friendly city like Wroclaw. Older Polish people don’t speak English as much as the younger ones do, but they do tend to speak German. Since Bill can speak some German and I can understand it and speak a few words, that’s also helpful.

On Monday, I also got some photos from the inside of St. Elizabeth’s Church and many of the 600 gnomes scattered around Wroclaw. I will write about that in the next post!


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