Sweet false hopes… but BrewDog saved the afternoon!

A few days ago, The New York Times ran an article about Khachapuri, a popular dish made of fresh bread, cheese, and egg, in Transcaucasian countries, to include Georgia and Armenia. I lived in Armenia for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and while I can’t say I ate a lot of Khachapuri when I lived there, I’ve come to appreciate the milder versions offered outside of the country. When I lived in Armenia, the dish was made with stinky cheese, which I could not abide. When it’s made with milder cheese, it’s more delicious to me.

Anyway, when I saw the article in The New York Times, I was reminded of the times Bill and I have enjoyed Georgian food. We went to Georgian restaurants in Stuttgart and Frankfurt, as well as several in Wroclaw, Poland. The Frankfurt restaurant was a bit of a disappointment, but the ones in Stuttgart and Poland were awesome. I did a Google search and learned that much to my shock, Wiesbaden has an Armenian restaurant unsurprisingly called Ararat. I looked them up, and it appeared that they were open today. So Bill and I ventured out there to see if it was a good place to eat.

The restaurant is located in an area of Wiesbaden that is known for its Eastern European population. That’s where one can visit the Mix Markt for eastern goodies. It’s in a residential area, and probably gets lots of locals as visitors. It also looks like they host a lot of parties and such, with live music.

We approached, and the door was open. There was a young guy on the phone and a young woman. The proprietor came out and said they were closed on Sundays, even though Google and their sign said they were supposed to be open every day.

I couldn’t resist, and asked in Armenian if they were from Armenia (Hayastan), since the place also advertises Russian food. Their faces lit up as they answered yes, in Armenian, and asked if I was Armenian, too. I actually answered “no” in German, then explained in Armenian that I know some Armenian. Then I said in English “I used to live there.” What can I say? It’s been 25 years since I last had to speak Armenian on a daily basis. Anyway, I could hear them commenting and chuckling as we walked away. We’ll have to call and find out when they have regular hours. I’d love to try their horovats… or shashlik, if they prefer.

We went back to Wiesbaden and parked at the Kurhaus, then walked into town. It didn’t look like anything exciting was happening, so we headed to BrewDog, where we ate a couple of months ago. I knew they’d be open, because they don’t take a pause. It was almost 2:00pm.

We drank a couple of beers and each tried something different from the last time we visited. I had a “Cluck Norris” sandwich, which was fried chicken breast with avocado, red onion, cajun mayo, and coriander with a side of fries. Bill had a roasted chicken sourdough bowl, which was basically a big salad with pieces of chicken and a piece of toasted sourdough bread. His dish also included chilli, chia seeds, and avocado.

We enjoyed the music, and I took a few new selfies, because I was wearing makeup and the lighting was good. Plus, since it wasn’t super hot outside, I wore something besides a t-shirt and shorts. While we were sitting there, a waifish blonde girl came in and dropped off a keychain with a note. She was quick as a flash, and we watched her go in and out in a matter of a minute or so, before she went across the street and did the same at a cafe. This isn’t the first time this has happened to us. I’m not sure where she was from, but I would guess it’s an eastern nation, and this is their way of collecting money. They try to sell little trinkets to sympathetic people who are trying to eat. I don’t think she had any luck.

Below are a few photos. I didn’t manage to get any of Ararat, although I’m sure we’ll try to visit again when they’re open– after we’ve called to verify. The owner had a very kind face and seemed super friendly. But I don’t mind that we went to BrewDog, either. That’s a fun place!

I really do hope we can try Ararat. I love finding new restaurants, especially when they offer different food than what is available everywhere! And I have missed Armenia… and Armenian people!


Austria is locking down… will Germany be next?

The local news in Germany has been all abuzz about the COVID-19 situation in Austria. Fed up and frustrated by the ever increasing numbers of people falling ill with the coronavirus, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced that Austria would be locking down for at least ten days. The lockdown will apply to everyone, vaccinated or not, and it means that Austrians will be asked to work from home and non-essential shops will close. Schools will remain open for children who require face-to-face learning. The measure will apply until December 12, and then the COVID situation will be reassessed at that point to determine if there should be another ten days of lockdown.

As I read the news yesterday, I realized how lucky Bill and I are that we managed to take our recent vacation and get through all of the countries unscathed. Croatia and Slovenia are considered “high risk” areas– higher risk than Austria was– but we didn’t interact with many people at all during our time there. I think the risk is mainly because fewer people are vaccinated, but the reality is, there aren’t that many people congregating in Slovenia or Croatia at this time of year and social distancing is actually super easy. That may change as winter approaches and people want to ski, at least in Slovenia.

Austria, on the other hand, was like 2019. During our trip, it wasn’t considered a “high risk” area. Masks were only required in grocery stores, on public transportation, and in healthcare facilities. I won’t lie. It was really nice. And, in fact, Salzburg and, to a lesser extent, Wels, were sort of “alive” with people, which was a morale booster. I’m not sure if the lax masking is the reason why this surge is happening. Germany is a lot stricter about masks, but people are still getting sick here, and the hospitals are full. Personally, I don’t think the masks are going to be what saves us. What needs to happen is mass immunity, and that will come as people get vaccinated and boosted, and others manage to recover from the illness. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people may get very sick and/or die in the process. The only way to avoid the risk is by staying away from other people.

Austria has also taken the unusual step of requiring everyone to get vaccinated by February 2022. Frankly, I don’t think that’s a bad decision. It’s certainly groundbreaking. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t agree with forcing people to do things, particularly when it involves healthcare. However, communicable diseases are different. With my background in public health, I already know that there are some public health situations that require detaining people who put others at risk. On my main blog, I have written about how I think COVID-19 could eventually become an illness like tuberculosis. If you get TB and you refuse to get treated, you can and will be detained so that you don’t threaten other people. Many of us are really sick and tired of COVID-19, and the way it’s disrupting normal living. It’s also costing the world’s economies a lot in lost business, and like it or not, money matters. I don’t think people should be surprised if the rules become more draconian in an effort to get rid of the scourge.

Bavarian state premier, Markus Söder, who is a champion of the dreaded FFP2 masks for everyone, everywhere, has already declared a “de facto lockdown for the unvaccinated”. All of the Christmas markets have been cancelled, and all bars and clubs will be closed for the next three weeks. In areas where “weekly incidence rates top 1,000 per 100,000 people – restaurants, hotels, sport and culture will also close.” I believe the rules in Germany recently changed, as Angela Merkel plans to leave office. Now, they’re letting the states decide, rather than the federal government. I think I might enjoy the incoming government. I read that they’re also considering making recreational cannabis use legal. I never thought I’d see the day. I have limited experience with pot, having only tried it in The Netherlands a few years ago. But I did enjoy the experience…

I will not be the least bit surprised if other countries take a similar approach against the virus. It really sucks that this is happening, since Christmas is approaching. I do have some hope, though, because this year, at least there are vaccines. Some medications are also being developed to treat COVID-19– legitimate ones, rather than hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin. Historically speaking, pandemics always end at some point. So I continue to hold out hope that this one will end eventually… COVID-19 is a terrible illness, but it’s probably not even the worst humankind has faced, and nowadays, we have a lot more and better technology, which will continue to evolve out of necessity.

But yes… I sure am glad Bill and I managed to take our trip, enjoy ourselves, and emerge unscathed. We were very lucky. If there’s one thing COVID-19 has done for me, it’s make me a lot more appreciative of being able to travel.

Bill has been in Warsaw, Poland all this week, sadly missing our 19th anniversary at home. He brought home a few things for me last night. It would have been nice if I could have gone with him, but the COVID situation makes it dangerous. In fact, we were supposed to see James Taylor in Frankfurt in February, but he had to postpone his stop in Frankfurt until next November. With any luck, we’ll still be here and alive in November 2022. We’re supposed to see Keb’ Mo’ in May of 2022… but the tickets I bought were for a show that was supposed to happen on November 16, 2020– our 18th anniversary. So far, it’s been postponed three times. So we’ll see if we manage to see James in November 2022. I hope so. We have second row seats.

I was thinking maybe we’d go somewhere to celebrate our anniversary, now that Bill’s home… but I think we’re going to be locked down again very soon. So maybe we’ll just stay home and fuck or something. Just kidding… it’s more likely that we’ll turn on music, light a fire, and drink wine.


Weird June weather…

I thought maybe we’d go out yesterday. The weather has been nice lately, and it’s been awhile since I last had a proper outing. But then the sky opened up with rain, so we decided to stay in…

It’s sad when a Saturday is messed up by rain, but we do actually need the rain to fall. It’s been pretty dry lately. Our rain barrel was so depleted that I put in a few buckets of water from our tap. We use the rain barrel water for the plants Bill is trying to nurture into bearing fruits and vegetables, since there isn’t a spigot in the back yard (but there is one in the garage).

Bill went to the store yesterday to pick up a few things. He says the plexiglass barriers remain, but the cashiers aren’t wearing masks anymore, nor is there anyone “standing guard” to enforce wearing them among shoppers. We also got our tickets to FINALLY see Keb’ Mo’, who is scheduled to visit Germany again in November. He’s doing a show on our anniversary. I’ve been wanting to see him for ages. Hopefully, this will go on as planned and we’ll have our chance. We’ll see. At least Mainz is close to home for now.

Our landlord says he’s going to send in his work crew to check out a piece of siding that came off during a windstorm last year. He asked Bill about our plans, especially since Trump is making noises about reducing the number of troops in Germany. As far as we know, we will be here for at least another year and probably longer. On the other hand, one never knows about these things. Personally, I think Trump is full of hot air, especially right now. Our landlord also worries that we’ll leave Germany for Poland, since Trump has been building up our relations there and there had been talk of a “Fort Trump” (God help us). When we visited Poland a few months ago for Bill’s work, the landlord wondered if it was to house hunt (it wasn’t).

Honestly, I don’t know if a move to Poland would ever happen. I guess I wouldn’t be opposed to moving to Poland if it ever came down to it. Poland has been steadily improving since our first visit in 2008, and I have heard that Americans are moving there to work. But we did reassure the landlord that we like Germany very much and don’t want to move unless we have to. We didn’t want to leave Stuttgart, either, but that turned out to be a the best thing that could have happened, if only because it got us out of an abusive living situation. Our current landlord is a much better fit for us, treats us with respect, and leaves us in peace.

I’ve been reading a lot about the new rules regarding flying. To be honest, as much as I hated flying before COVID-19, I think I’ll hate it even more now. I am not on the mask wearing bandwagon. I know a lot of people think they are helpful, and wearing them is the considerate thing to do, but to be very honest, I think their effectiveness is limited, especially since many people don’t even wash their hands when they use the bathroom. I do know how masks are supposed to work, in theory. In fact, one of my degrees is in public health, so I probably know more about this subject than a lot of people do. I just think the masks are mostly more about comforting the masses than actually preventing infections. When it comes down to it, social distancing and hand washing are a lot more important, and we’re hearing much less about that because they are impossible to monitor or enforce. Simple, loose fitting masks do not stop viruses from spreading, especially when people are constantly touching and fidgeting with them, although they might slow the viruses down a bit if they are worn properly and laundered or replaced regularly.

Masks are inconvenient and uncomfortable, and the idea of being forced to wear one for hours on a plane is very unappealing to me, especially given that air travel is already unpleasant and expensive. Being glared at, judged, and harassed by strangers over the wearing of masks is also unappealing, especially given how expensive it is to fly. I will wear a mask if I have to for essential travel (say, if my mom dies while we’re in Germany or we have to move), but I will not be happy about it, even if it makes other people *feel* safer, *judge* me less, and *think* I’m more polite.

And so, this blog is probably going to be less interesting to most people for the foreseeable future. That makes me sad, since we really had a great time a couple of years ago, visiting places near Stuttgart. I enjoyed writing and taking pictures, too. Maybe I’ll get back to writing about local spots again, but I doubt we’re going to be taking as many great trips, although Bill definitely wants to. I probably won’t be updating this blog as often, either, since no one wants to read about our life at home. It was fun while it lasted.

So sad.

Speaking of things that are going away. It was announced the other day that our neighborhood restaurant, the Alt Breckenheimer Stübchen, has been forced to close. Bill and I only ate there once, in January 2019, because it was always packed and reservations were essential. Now, thanks to the coronavirus, it looks like yet another great local haunt is being forced to close its doors. This virus has really screwed things up for a lot of people. I also read that the wine stand is going to be dismantled at the end of June. That is especially tragic, since we really enjoyed attending last year, and getting to know our neighbors.

But people are trying to keep up their spirits. Kids in Hofheim and apparently other communities, according to my German friend near Stuttgart, are making painted rock snakes. Here’s a screenshot from our local group about that.

Anyway… I try to keep perspective. I’ve noticed that the kids at the local school seem happy and are still playing. Some wear masks and some don’t. I’m grateful that people where I live are sensible and reasonable about mask wearing, and don’t freak out if people leave their residence without one, since it is entirely possible to stay more than six feet away from others in our neighborhood. I also realize that this is certainly not the first or last time humans have been confronted by pandemics. They always eventually pass or become controllable. This particular pandemic has only been a thing for a few months, so people are still very scared. Some are downright panicky. That’s understandable, given the horror stories about people who have come down with COVID-19. However, I think most of us will eventually be exposed to it and most of us won’t die. Some will die, and some will be left debilitated. And hopefully, there will be some semblance of normal life and travel again at some point in the future.

We’ll see what happens. This blog has been slowly dying anyway, since we left Stuttgart and I quit promoting it and left most of the Facebook groups (which was really a smart thing to do, but that’s a rant for another day).


Ten things I learned in Wroclaw, Poland…

Here’s the usual wrap up top ten list I do after most of our trips. Enjoy…

10. Poland has come a long way in teaching English since our last visit in November 2008. Just about everyone we met while in Wroclaw spoke near fluent English. It was both impressive and humbling, since I only know a smattering of a few languages and am only fluent in English myself.

9. Georgian food appears to be popular in Poland. I was very surprised to find two Georgian chain restaurants in Wroclaw, both of which offered authentic food, Georgian wine, and Georgian beer. I wish it would catch on more in Germany, because Georgian food is delicious and their wine is even more than delicious.

8. Art is a big deal in Poland. Well, okay, I knew this and even blogged about it a few years ago. However, the creative spirit really seemed especially apparent in Wroclaw. I saw all kinds of creative touches, from fun murals in restaurants to very serious art exhibitions in city museums.

7. Poles are happy to not be communists anymore. I saw plenty of evidence that Poland is a happier place, now that it’s no longer controlled by Russia. They even have a restaurant that pokes fun of those years as it also capitalizes on capitalism.

6. Craft beer is a thing in Poland! When we visited in 2008, I was not at all impressed by the beer available. What a difference eleven years makes! Now, there are breweries making fun beers available to everyone. And since there is no “purity law” in Poland to worry about, you never know what you’ll find there.

5. Wroclaw’s parking is better than it used to be. When we visited Poland in 2008, we noticed that it was hard to park there. I spoke to the bartender at the Sofitel, and he said that many families have two cars, which makes parking a challenge. The cab driver confirmed that a lot of people have their own cars and many families have more than one. However, I noticed that there weren’t as many double parked cars in Wroclaw as there were in 2008.

4. Gnomes are everywhere in Wroclaw. Although they were in the city in 2008, we didn’t notice them. It’s probably because they weren’t as plentiful as they are now. If gnomes creep you out, like they do my friend Mary Beth, Wroclaw is not your city.

3. Wroclaw has a beautiful airport that is super easy to get in and out of. Seriously… I wasn’t happy about flying to Poland, since I wanted to shop for art, but I was impressed by the airport. It’s very modern and nice.

2. But the drive to and from the airport from the city will probably take as long as the flight back to Germany, especially during rush hour… Like I said, lots of Polish people have cars now, and they’re all on the roads. However, their “autobahn” looked really good. Poland’s economy seems to be pretty good right now, and though it remains an inexpensive place to visit, I think it’s eventually going to give Germany a run for its money as an economic powerhouse.

And finally, 1. Polish people are warm and friendly… and if they don’t speak English, they will probably speak German. Both times we’ve visited, German has come in handy. However, this last time, almost everyone we spoke to could communicate in English, and overall, they seemed friendly, warm, and welcoming. And it didn’t seem to be just because Americans are probably better tippers than most other folks are. They definitely like money and they appreciate tips, but they also are genuinely nice folks who are eager to talk about their country. I hope to go back and learn more, maybe in an area we haven’t been to yet. I would love to visit Krakow or Warsaw or both. If Trump gets his “fort” there, maybe that will be a reality someday on another one of Bill’s business trips.


Big business in Poland, part ten

At last, it was Friday… the last day of my husband’s big Polish business trip. It promised to be a weird day, since our flight didn’t leave until 7:00pm and check out at the Sofitel was at noon. Fortunately, the staff at the Sofitel granted Bill’s request for a late checkout, so we had use of the room until 3:00pm, even though the hotel was booked. As it turned out, I didn’t need the room beyond noon. The weather was nice, so I decided to walk around the main square and check out the Christmas market, which opened that day. I dropped off a bag with the hotel staff and set out on my last Polish adventure.

First, I was going to have lunch. Originally, I thought I’d go back to the Doctors’ Bar, but for some reason, they appeared to be closed on Friday. Maybe they had a special event, since it looked like it was open, but the door was locked. So then I decided to find another place, which took some time, since I couldn’t decide what I wanted. I hate eating in restaurants alone, because I feel awkward. Eventually, I ended up at a place called Steak ‘N Roll, which appeared to be a steak joint loosely modeled after the Hard Rock Cafe.

There wasn’t any rock star memorabilia on the walls or gimmicky cocktails on the menu, but they were playing rock music on the sound system as they showed unrelated muted rock videos on the monitor. The music and videos were reminiscent of Hard Rock Cafe… and, in fact, I think the music was my favorite part about the experience, which ended up being kind of disappointing.

A tall young man invited me to sit down and handed me a menu in English. I asked him for a large draft beer. He said all they had was dark beer, which was fine with me. He went to get the beer and set it down, then asked if I was ready to order food. I wasn’t, because I was having trouble deciding what I wanted. I kind of didn’t want another burger, but it was either that, a Reuben sandwich, or a steak. They had other stuff on the menu that didn’t really appeal… salads, soups, fish bowls, and such.

I wasn’t sure I wanted a steak for lunch, and didn’t know if I had enough cash, although they do accept credit cards. I don’t really care for Reubens because of the sauerkraut, which I knew would result in a very windy flight. I just wanted a sandwich, and nothing jumped out at me as especially appealing. I asked the guy for another minute or two, which seemed to put him off a bit, even though there was only one other party in the dining room.

After a couple of minutes, the waiter came back and asked for my order. I decided to have the Classic BBQ burger, which consisted of a patty with cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, BBQ sauce, and mustard seed mayonnaise. This is not really the way I like my burgers, but the only other regular burger choice was the Alamo Burger, which came with mustard seed & mayonnaise sauce, nachos, cheddar, bacon, tomato salsa, jalapeno, and lettuce. That sounded like a recipe for indigestion. Or I could have had a vegan burger, which came with goat cheese, lavender mustard, rucola, beetroot, and nuts… and that didn’t appeal to me, either. Side note: wouldn’t goat cheese render that burger non vegan?

Once I ordered, the waiter came back with a basket of grilled bread and a side of truffle spread. I’m sure a lot of people love the truffle spread and, in fact, Bill probably would have eaten all of it if he’d been with me. Unfortunately, I have a demonic hatred/phobia of mushrooms and truffles. Just having that spread near me was giving me the willies. I don’t enjoy the aroma of truffles, either, so I left the spread untouched and pushed it far away from me. I know a lot of people think this is crazy. Believe me, my life would have been so much easier if I didn’t hate fungus so much.

Finally, the burger arrived, along with a side of steak fries, which looked really good. However, just like the burger I’d had earlier in the week, the sandwich was too big to bite into. I had to cut it, which made a bit of a mess. Also, they had really slathered on a ton of the mustard seed mayonnaise, so much so that it was dripping copiously from the side in big glops. I don’t know what the deal is with mayo in parts of Europe, but I’ve found that people over here seem to love it and really load their burgers up with it.

I didn’t think the burger was as good as the one I’d had at Doctors’ Bar. The patty didn’t taste very fresh and had been molded, rather than hand shaped. The steak fries looked appealing, but had kind of a weird aftertaste, like maybe the were fried in old oil or something. As I was finishing up, the waiter asked me if I wanted dessert. They had a three items that looked appealing, but I decided I’d rather have another beer. By that point, they also had a lager, which the waiter offered. I told him I wanted another dark beer. I got up to go to the bathroom and when I came back, I found that he’d left me a small beer, even though I’d said I wanted another one and meant I’d wanted one just like the one I was drinking.

So I decided to just finish up and get out of there. I asked for the check, which the guy brought to me. The total was 61 zloty, so I put down a 100 zloty bill and asked him to bring me 30 zloty back. Instead, he brought back the whole amount and said, rather curtly, “Here’s the rest of it.” I kind of sighed and gave the guy a ten zloty note and went on my way. He did kind of smile at that. It occurred to me that he probably didn’t want the coins… who knows? The experience left me in kind of a bad mood, though. I wished I had just eaten shashlik at the stand in the Christmas market that was set up just outside. I probably would have had a better experience.

After I ate, I had a couple of hours to kill. I walked around the main square and took pictures of the Christmas market stalls I’d watched workers constructing all week. I’m glad I got to see them open before we left, although I didn’t end up buying anything. There was nothing there that I couldn’t live without and/or couldn’t buy in Germany. Still, the Christmas markets are kind of cool, and it was interesting to see one in Poland. Here are some photos.

I went back to the hotel a little bit before three and parked myself in the lobby to wait for Bill and his co-worker, who would be sharing a taxi ride to the airport. They got to the hotel at just after 3:00, and we started our journey back to Germany. Our cab driver turned out to be an older Polish guy who spoke broken English and wanted to bond over rock music.

We got in the car and he proceeded to speak to the men and ignore me. Actually, if I had been in a slightly less irritated mood, I probably would have enjoyed talking to him. He told us about how he’d grown up in Poland during the communist era and went to university when Americans weren’t friends. He studied German, because although English was available, learning it wasn’t all that encouraged. What a difference a few decades make. We ran into so many English speakers in Poland. I was shocked by the difference between 2008 and 2019.

Anyway, the guy kept listing all of his favorite English speaking rock bands… Rush (which he noted is Canadian), Metallica, Journey, and curiously, he even mentioned Blondie, but he wasn’t sure if Debbie Harry was American. He had no way of knowing that I was probably the biggest music buff in his taxi. Bill asked me about Ms. Harry’s citizenship, and I confirmed that she’s from the United States. The taxi creeped along, because Wroclaw has terrible traffic during rush hour and the roads are in the process of being expanded into two lanes. My mood was still slightly sour, mainly because I felt like a third wheel sitting there while Bill and his buddy chatted up the taxi driver.

We finally got to the super nice airport in Wroclaw, and this time, I did not get bumped from business class. I was allowed to use the lounge, but ended up hanging out with Bill and his co-worker at a restaurant. The co-worker turned out to be interesting to talk to, since he’s from Georgia and has a strong accent, but is quite liberal. We were lamenting that Trump is our president, and he told me about his plans to buy homes in different European countries and just rotate from house to house every ninety days. He’s already bought a house in Italy and is looking to buy ones in Germany and England. I’m not sure how well his plan will work, nor do I think it’s very practical, but I can understand the attraction of simply hanging out in Europe for awhile. I’m inclined to do that myself.

Our flight was okay. I was seated in 1A, which was not any more comfortable than any other seat on the small airplane, but had an empty seat next to it. I also got food, which on Lufthansa is at least somewhat edible. Actually, it wasn’t bad at all. We had some kind of guacamole like salad, hummus, panna cotta, chocolates, bread, and red wine. One thing I didn’t like about my seat, though, was that it was right next to the lavatory. At one point, a woman got up to use the toilet and neglected to close the door after herself when she was finished. I happened to be eating when this occurred, so I had a nice view of the toilet while I was chowing down on hummus.

But there was also a very kind flight attendant on board who was very solicitous to me. When I mentioned her to Bill, he knew which one I was talking about, because he’d also noticed how good she was. I’m always heartened when I run into flight attendants who are genuinely pleasant and seem concerned about giving good service as well as maintaining safety. I wish I could have seen her nametag. She’s one for whom I would send compliments to Lufthansa– a true credit to her profession.

We were quick to retrieve our luggage and on our way home before too long. Bill was smart enough to park in “business parking”, which is well worth the expense, and actually comes out cheaper than regular parking, anyway. On Saturday, Arran came back home and was delighted to be with his people again.

I wish we could have done more while we were in Wroclaw. It’s a great city, and I didn’t get to see enough of it. However, I think there could be a chance we’ll come back on our own terms, bringing our own vehicle with us so we can get out and about and try some of the city’s tourist attractions. I particularly would have loved to have sees Hydropolis, which is a museum about water near Wroclaw. And, of course, there are still some places in the area around Wroclaw that I’d like to visit, but with Bill in tow. It’s just a lot more fun to visit these places with someone else.

Next up– ten things I learned in Wroclaw, Poland.


Big business in Poland, part nine

Thursday morning was cold, rainy, and kind of depressing. It was the perfect day to visit an art gallery. Just around the corner from the Sofitel was the City Gallery promoting the works of Bronislaw Wojciech Linke, an artist who was born April 23, 1906 in the Polish community in Tartu, Estonia. From 1917 to 1919, he witnessed political turbulence; first he saw the February Revolution, then the German army fighting with the Red Army and Estonia’s struggle for independence.

In 1919, Linke, along with his father and brothers, were repatriated in Kalisz, Poland, which had been destroyed in 1914. It was one of the first cities in Poland to be decimated when World War I began. In 1914, there were 68,000 people living there. A year later, only 5,000 remained. By the end of World War I, the city had been mostly rebuilt, and most of the former inhabitants were able to return. Sadly, after the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Kalisz suffered another setback. It was annexed by the Germans and by the end of World War II, 30,000 local Jews and 20,000 local Catholics were murdered.

Linke graduated from a Gymnasium (a type of German high school for especially bright students who plan to attend university). Then he left his family and began working on perfecting his art. He studied industrial design in Krakow and painting in Warsaw. He was a graphic artist for the pre-war magazine, “Szpilki” and an illustrator for “Dziennik Ludowy”. Despite all of this, there was only one solo exhibition of his art. That was at the National Museum of Warsaw in 1963, which was the year after Linke’s death in Warsaw, Poland. Since then, with the exception of the April show at the Museum of Independence in Warsaw, there have only been small retrospectives of his work in Poland.

I was really just trying to kill some time when I stumbled on this free exhibit at the City Gallery in Wroclaw, which is running from November 8th until December 7th 2019. I’m glad I stopped in, especially since pictures can say things that words can’t… and since I don’t know Polish, art is a more effective medium anyway. Here are some photos I took of Linke’s art. As you can see, he had a lot to say about war, which he did with his art. And he wasn’t just saying it about Germany, either… Russia and the United States got a mention, too.

I spent about twenty minutes or so in the gallery. It wasn’t a particularly large exhibit, even though there was also a video presentation in Polish. I probably should have spent longer, since the helpful leaflet about Linke’s work includes more information about his history. The artist and his wife, Anna Maria, were forced to flee German occupied Warsaw in 1939 because he had been listed as an enemy of the Third Reich by the Gestapo. Adolf Hitler and his cronies weren’t fans of Linke’s work, which often depicted Hitler in caricatures and were published in the Polish and foreign press.

The Linkes escaped to Lviv, a city in Western Ukraine, then were sent to a camp in the Dubowa Village in the Republic of Chuvashnia, and then to Orsko, where Linke worked in industrial plants and painted propaganda and advertising banners. In 1946, the Linkes were repatriated in Warsaw, where Linke died on October 6, 1962. For more on Linke, click here.

After my visit to the art gallery, I decided to have lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, an American chain restaurant that specializes in typical American food and memorabilia from rock stars. I really struggled with the decision, since it’s such an American institution. I’ve only been to two other Hard Rock Cafes– the one in Oslo, Norway, and the one in Berlin. We went to the one in Oslo because it was 2009; we didn’t have much money; and the Hard Rock Cafe had one of the most economical menus in Oslo, which is a very expensive city. We went to the one in Berlin because a couple of people in Stuttgart had requested that I pick up a couple of souvenirs for them, since they’re collectors of Hard Rock merchandise. I went to the one in Wroclaw because I felt like eating something American.

As it turned out, I really enjoyed my lunch at Hard Rock Cafe Wroclaw. I ordered “twisted mac and cheese”, which was fusilli pasta with a creamy, slightly spicy cheese sauce and grilled chicken. It was served with garlic bread. I know I shouldn’t eat such carb loaded things, but it was such a nice change of pace, plus it was very comforting on such a dismal, grey day. A bonus was that I got a great view of the square, as workers were putting the finishing touches on the Christmas market being set up to begin on Friday. One thing I didn’t like, though, was that Hard Rock Cafe had kind of a lame beer and wine list… but there were plenty of fun cocktails for those who are into that sort of thing.

I did some more writing and reading during the afternoon as I waited for Bill. When he arrived well after dark at about 6:00pm, we went looking for dinner. Wroclaw is interesting, because there are three Greek restaurants located almost right next to each other. They’re all on the same side of the square. Even weirder, two of the restaurants are called Akropolis. The other is called Greco. We ate at Greco in 2008 and weren’t all that impressed with it, so we decided to visit the first of the two Akropolis restaurants. It turned out to be more like an Italian restaurant with a few Greek accents. Our waiter seemed really tired, too. I was a bit disappointed in it… but at least the inside was cute.

This is also the only restaurant that billed a service charge. I’m not sure what the charge was for, but it was about 22 Zloty. Not sure if that was the tip or what, but it seemed a bit shady. I used to work at a place that had a service charge, but it wasn’t a tip. It was used for linens.

We stopped by the hotel bar one last time to say goodbye the friendly bartender. I spotted this funny label belonging to a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, which is usually one of my favorite wines.

Next post, I’ll wrap up our last day…


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!


Big business in Poland, part four

The featured photo for this post was taken in November 2008, when Bill and I visited Wroclaw for a few hours.

I’ve now come to the part of my series in which it’s time to write about the hotel. This week, I’ve spent a lot of time at the Sofitel Wroclaw, mainly because this wasn’t a pleasure trip. Bill had a choice of several hotels that were within the per diem set by his company and would be offering transportation to his conference this week. He chose Sofitel because they were the one hotel that could offer him a double room at an acceptable rate. We have also stayed in at least one Sofitel before– it was in Luxembourg. I had a mostly good impression of that property. Now that I think about it, we also stayed at a super nice Sofitel hotel in Hamburg called the Alter Wall. That one is newer that either the one in Luxembourg and Wroclaw and it’s pretty posh.

First thing’s first. This is a “five star hotel”. But five star means something different in Europe than it does in the United States. In America, we tend to think of five star hotels as super fancy. Here in Europe, a five star hotel is not necessarily fancy; it simply offers a lot of amenities. This particular property is a bit dated and could use some upgrades, but overall, it was a decent place to spend five nights. It is not on any level on par with the Jumeirah Frankfurt, which is five star in every sense of the expression.

First off, the hotel’s location can’t be beat. It’s a mere block from Wroclaw’s impressive main square. There are several good restaurants very close to the hotel, as well as a restaurant in the hotel itself. The staff is friendly, helpful and accommodating. For instance, Bill managed to get us a late checkout, since our flight doesn’t leave until 7:00pm. I am typing this review as checkout time lingers, but am welcome to stay until 3:00pm, even though the hotel is pretty well booked for the weekend. Christmas markets start today.

As it is, I’ll probably write this review and leave the room, since it’ll be about lunchtime, anyway, and Bill is planning to pick me up at about 3:30pm. I’ll just go across the street and hit the awesome Doctor’s Bar again, drink some craft beer, and see how far I can get into one of their specials. Or maybe I’ll go to a different restaurant… I have plenty of choices, which is a nice thing. Breakfast, by the way, is pretty good. They have a large array of hot and cold items available, as well as an omelet stand. Service is friendly and professional, and they were good sports about hordes of Americans in Army uniforms descending on them at 6:30am every day this week. I was reminded of college!

This property has a spa, which I did check out, but never used. They have Balinese massage on offer, as well as a jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, and a very small gym. I actually meant to use the spa during our time here, but never got around to it.

There’s also a bar, with friendly bartenders, creatively prepared cocktails, local craft beers, and funky music. The prices in the bar are high; you can certainly drink for less money at any of the local restaurants. Nevertheless, we used the bar on several nights because it was handy and a good place to mingle with others who were at the conference.

The hotel itself is in kind of a mall… not really a proper mall, per se, but there are some offices and a couple of shops in it. Underneath the building is parking, which we didn’t use this time, although I think we did use it in 2008, when we first visited this city. I remember when we came here the first time, people were parked bumper to bumper wherever there was space. Now, they seem to have come up with other options and parking is no longer as chaotic. This time, I haven’t seen anyone double parked, like I did in 2008.

The room we rented faced the street and when the drapes were open, we could see people working in their offices. Had we been on the other side of the hall, we would have had a view of the courtyard/mall. We had a good bed, even though I still had some back problems this week which cramped my style a bit. I noticed today and yesterday that the pain was lessened. I think the mattress on the bed in our room is better than the one we have at home.

WiFi worked well, and there is also a good television that offers a couple of channels in English. I didn’t bother with the TV. There’s also a minibar and coffee/tea set up. I didn’t use the minibar, as the prices were pretty exorbitant and there’s no telling how long the stuff has been sitting there. I noticed during working hours, I could hear people in the street or on the other side of the wall, although it wasn’t an issue at night.

One main complaint I did have about this room is that the shower pretty much sucked. It’s a shower/tub combo with a glass screen that doesn’t do the best at keeping the water off of the floor. Getting hot water often took a long time, and there wasn’t much pressure from the spray nozzle. However, they did provide good toiletries from Lanvin (Paris), and they were generous with them. The housekeeper did an outstanding job getting the room cleaned early so that I came back to a fresh room in the early afternoon. If there’s one thing I dislike, it’s coming back to an unmade room at 4:00pm.

Another complaint is that the air conditioning/fan system seemed to be on by default. I could turn the fan off, only to have it come back on at some point. The air was a bit chilly/drafty, and the duvet cover was almost not enough. Fortunately, the weather in Wroclaw was very mild temperature wise. I barely needed a sweater, even though there was some rain.

Another minor grumble about this hotel is that the elevators are a bit of a pain to use. You have to use your keycard to get it to work, and although there are three of them, they take awhile and get crowded. Also, there is no restroom in the lobby, which is kind of a pain when you’re in the bar and have to pee. You have to go to the first floor.

Overall, though, I enjoyed my stay at Sofitel Wroclaw, and would consider staying again. At the same time, I look forward to flying home this evening, taking a shower with plenty of hot water and pressure, and sleeping in my own bed for as long as I want with no worries that I’ll inconvenience the housekeeping staff. In fact, I really enjoyed Wroclaw… wish I could have seen and done more, but now we have an excuse to come back on our own terms and see more of Poland. It was nice to be with Bill this week instead of sitting at home alone, and I’m grateful that we were able to make it happen and were so well accommodated by the Sofitel staff!

Here are a few pictures of our room, as seen when we first arrived on Sunday, the 17th.


Big business in Poland, part one

Hi folks. Sorry it’s been awhile since my last post, but Bill was away for most of last week and this week, we are in Wroclaw, Poland (otherwise known as Breslau to Germans). Bill and I visited Wroclaw for a few hours back in 2008. We were impressed by it then, but it’s come a long way in eleven years. In fact, Poland as a whole seems to be in better straits than back in 2008.

I hadn’t actually wanted to come with Bill on this trip, mainly because when I tag along on his business trips, I usually spend a lot of time bored. I don’t enjoy dining alone in restaurants and I’m kind of hesitant sometimes to visit local attractions by myself. I’m not sure why I’m like this, since I was single for a long time. Wroclaw is a pretty great city… It’s much underrated and you get a lot of bang for your buck here, since it’s Eastern Europe. I should probably be more adventurous, too, since so many people here speak English. Seriously, eleven years ago, Poland was NOT like this… One thing that has not changed, however, is the wonderful, whimsical artistic spirit here… so many great musicians, artists, dancers, and performance artists. We really need to spend more time in Poland if we can manage it.

Anyway… our trip began on November 16th, which was our 17th wedding anniversary. Since we had to put Arran in the “hunde pension” on Saturday anyway, we decided to spend a night in Frankfurt and have a nice dinner. I chose the Jumeirah Frankfurt Hotel, located in the big shopping district downtown. And because we’re old and don’t feel like wandering around the city, we opted to have dinner at Max On One Grillroom, which offers excellent beef, lobster, and other dishes. I was curious about this hotel chain, since it’s based in the United Arab Emirates and only has three hotels in Europe– Frankfurt, London, and Mallorca.

Before I get too cranked up with a review, I’ll just say that Jumeirah is a lovely place in Frankfurt. I booked us in a gorgeous skyline king room that offered views of the city that didn’t disappoint. Service was mostly impeccable; the food was outstanding; and we had a very nice evening at the hotel, though definitely not without a price. After we left the oasis of Jumeirah, we had to deal with the hellish Frankfurt Airport. Wroclaw is a great city and we like this week’s business hotel, the Sofitel, but it kind of pales in comparison to Jumeirah. If we can swing it again in another city, we definitely will.

I will start writing up this trip very soon… perhaps starting tomorrow or the day after. For now, I need to sleep off the beery lunch I just had at the Doctor’s Bar across the street. Like I said, Wroclaw has come a long way in the beer department since 2008. I also never knew about the 600 gnomes in this city… and I have managed to spot a bunch of them so far. Stay tuned for more in the coming days, after I’ve had a nice nap.

Part two


Poland… artist heaven!

Back in 2008, when we were still living in Germany, Bill and I decided to take a trip to honor our sixth wedding anniversary.  We had been wanting to go to Dresden, thanks to a Powerpoint presentation one of my husband’s friends sent him.  We also wanted to go to Prague.  I had found an interesting looking hotel called The Blue Beetroot while researching places to visit.

The Blue Beetroot was run by a British couple of Polish descent.  They had purchased a dilapidated barn for about $4,000 and fixed it up.  It’s now a thriving boutique hotel.  In 2008, it was still getting started and it sounded like a really neat hotel, albeit in a place called Bolaslaweic.  I didn’t know that Bolaslaweic was the pottery district in Poland, even though I owned a couple of Polish pottery pieces.

The price was right to stay at The Blue Beetroot, so I booked a couple of nights in Dresden, five nights in Poland, and a couple of nights in Prague.  What I didn’t know was that besides great pottery, Bolaslaweic was home to some great artists, notably Dariusz Milinski, a fascinating painter, and the Borowski glass factory, which is notable for its glass sculptures.  I’ve linked to the Borowski studio in Germany, but Bolaslaweic is where the factory is located and you can get your hands on some beautiful pieces at a fraction of the cost.  Below is a chameleon that I bought at the factory for about $650.  In America, it sells for over $1500.  I have two other sculptures as well– a hippo and a “gonzo” (bird).

Bill and I came home from Poland loaded down with art, including three glass sculptures and two sketches by Milinksi.  I wish we could have bought one of Milinski’s paintings, but we visited the glass factory first and spent a lot of money there.  Please click this link and look at the paintings if you’re interested in art.  His work is amazing.

We had an interesting experience in Milinski’s gallery.  His parking lot was empty and he had a big dog tied out front who seemed kind of mean.  We went inside and there was art everywhere… paintings, drawings, sketches, and sculptures.  Nothing had a pricetag.  Milinski himself wore pants made of the American flag and a ripped up t-shirt.  He looked a little like Charles Manson and spoke no English.  My husband’s rudimentary German sufficed for communication purposes.

He made us coffee, turned on some music, and watched us as we looked at his work.  I saw several paintings I wanted.  Unfortunately, he only wanted cash and we were low on cash because we had just spent a lot of money at the glass studio.  It would have required going to an ATM and there wasn’t one close to the gallery.  I saw one painting that he wanted about $600 for.  It would have been a steal, really.  We ended up leaving with a couple of drawings.  We were disappointed and I think he was, too.  If we ever get back to Bolaslaweic, we will go back and buy a couple of his paintings… if we can still afford them!

Milinski’s puppet theater
Sketches by Milinski.  All of the people depicted in his work were inspired by people he knows from his village.  Must be quite a place!

Back in November, we went to Scotland and while we were visiting Edinburgh, we stopped in an art store.  I was quickly attracted to one specific artist’s work.  It was by Matylda Konecka, yet another Polish artist.  I regret not buying a large print or two.  Instead, we purchased a small framed print that fit in our luggage.  If we ever get back to Edinburgh, I’m going back to that art store for more.  Click here for Matylda Konecka’s Web site.

When we were in Florence, we ran across a street musician playing guitar so beautifully it made me weep.  It turned out he was from Poland…  Piotr Tomaszewski is an award winning Polish guitarist who makes his living selling CDs on the streets of European cities (though according to YouTube, he seems to favor Florence).  We bought two of his CDs for 20 euros and that music was easily my favorite souvenir from Italy.

Two videos I made of our trip to Italy in 2013.  I used Piotr Tomaszewski’s music as background.
And a few years ago, Polish-American dancers Anna and Patryk were featured on America’s Got Talent and actually brought tears to my eyes.

After pondering all of this, I’m thinking we’ll have to get back to Poland and the Czech Republic at some point.  Eastern Europe is fascinating… with so much undiscovered art and music to be had at such affordable prices.  I didn’t find Poland to be the most beautiful country I had ever seen, but there is still much beauty there.  I want to explore more of it.  Poland is full of hidden beauty…  You might not necessarily see it in the scenery, though I did manage to find a couple of beautiful scenes; but you can find it in the art, music, and dances of the people.  It’s well worth a first visit and a repeat visit!

Polish landscape near Karpacz, a ski resort area…