Even with hours of walking and too many honey meads, I still managed to squeeze in some sketching in Stockholm. Below are a handful of things I drew up while basking in the Scandinavian spring.
I’m goin’ to Gamla Stan,
Only got twenty kronor in my pocket,
I, I, I’m huntin’, lookin’ for a Semla,
Stockholm’s f*cking awesome
Well, the last day is done – only 9 more hours before I leave the land of the $20 hamburger. I swear, I burned through my money so fast here, it’s fortunate I was only on my own for 3 days. Next time I decide to come to Scandinavia, I’ll take out a bank loan first. Despite the weakness of the dollar, it’s still been a great experience.
Speaking of the weakness of the dollar, today was my souvenir shopping day. I only have really two people to shop for not counting myself, but it was still hard. There’s so much cheesy crap out there you don’t want to buy. Of course, I had little problem finding something for ME – how could I possibly leave Scandinavia without a pair of clogs? These basically attached themselves to my feet when I stepped into the store and refused to come off until I promised to take them with me.
Shopping can be pretty overwhelming here, truth be told. Like any big city, there are tons of stores and shopping complexes. I went in and out of all of them without finding anything much (well, much I could afford – there’s tons of cool stuff here). I did manage to snap a picture of a life size Hagrid effigy though, made entirely of LEGOs.
My original intention today wasn’t only to shop. I really meant to get to the National Museum to see the 19th century art, but the damn place was closed. None of the promotional brochures mentioned that little fact, so I didn’t know it until I showed up. They’re renovating and won’t be opening again (and then in a temporary space) until June. Disappointed, I went on down the road to the Modern museum, although modern art really isn’t my thing. They were having a show of work by an abstract painter named Hilma Af Klint. She was active in the early part of the 20th century and her work was pretty freaking amazing.
Why did I not know about her? I venture most people don’t which goes to show again, how skewed art history is. All that abstract art made me hungry so I walked back toward the Kungstragarden and grabbed the only thing you can eat in Stockholm for under $10.
That kept me going for another round of shopping. I went back to the Gamla Stan and ended up walking all the way through it toward Sodermalm (where, if I was big on Stieg Larsson’s Millenium series, I would probably have been looking for literary references). Along the way I saw many buskers, generally funky-looking street kids belting out one American song or another. Guess who kicked all of their skinny little butts? THIS guy.
He doesn’t look like much, but he was belting out an incredibly soulful version of the Kings of Leon song, “Somebody”. I was honestly shocked at how good he was and gave him some money.
I was far more impressed with the street singer than I was by this ridiculous shop. Yes, it means what you think it means.
I was also pleased to see the Swedes have good taste in video games. Go Tomb Raider!
Too soon the day was basically over – shops here close up between 4 and 6 o’clock which was just as well since I was sick of fighting the crowds. The Gamla Stan is the main tourist area and holy crap, it was packed. I never vacation during the high season and so being here now during prime time reminded why that is. The narrow streets of the Old Town were shoulder-to-shoulder and it was very clear to me that no matter where people are from, when they’re on vacation with their families, their brains effectively shut off.
You wouldn’t believe the number of people standing open-mouthed blocking an already-crowded street or looking at maps in doorways to shops or changing direction suddenly and elbowing you in the ribs. It’s just not all that much fun to be in a beautiful, historic place when there are thousands of crabby parents and children maniacally eating ice cream and buying plastic viking helmets and forcing themselves to have a good time.
Squeezing out of the crowded Gamla Stan streets, I went near the water to an outdoor bar and hung out sketching a while. It too was packed, but once I was in my seat, it was pretty nice. I wish it was my job to do that every day.
This seagull likes the idea too.
On the way back to the hotel, all that good feeling was blown when I couldn’t figure out where I was. I thought I took the right train, but when I emerged I was somewhere I didn’t recognize and by then the beer I’d drunk by the water wanted out. I walked and walked and consulted my map repeatedly and still didn’t know where the hell I was or which way I was going. I had to wee so badly I decided it was worth a $25 entree if I could just use the restroom so I swerved into the nearest place – a Thai restaurant. It was boiling hot inside and the pad thai was unsurprisingly bland but ah well. It was better than wetting myself on the street.
Funny thing though – I walked a bit more after eating and realized in short order, that I was a mere couple of blocks from my hotel. Next time I come to Stockholm I’m bringing a compass.
Well, in 9 hours I have to get up and catch a 6:25 flight to Amsterdam. I’ll be happy to see the hubster and the pups but Stockholm’s been a gracious mistress. The main reason I say that, aside from the city’s beauty and history, is its people. I’ve had nothing but polite service here and strangers everywhere have been helpful and kind to me. It’s almost enough to restore my faith in people. Well…not entirely, but it certainly helps.
The second day of nonstop walking and I’m definitely feeling it. I might actually need a hip replacement after this trip.
Today I decided to go to Skansen, an outdoor museum featuring old Scandinavian buildings from as far back as the 1300′s. It reminded me of Greenfield Village in Michigan. It was a really big place, with not only the buildings set up in different farmsteads and villages, but with a small zoo with native Scandinavian animals. It’s pretty incredible what the Swedish people have managed to make out of wood. Imagine how much time cladding this building would take.
The place was crawling with kids. What with the cotton candy and the popcorn and the candied nuts, it was kind of like Disneyland but with lots more snacks made of moose meat. I spent a few hours there and then determined to squeeze some more history in, went to the Swedish History Museum to look at the Viking relics.
They have a large collection there; the exhibits are nicely done and I took a lot of reference pictures. One of the strangest things they had on display was this reliquary that was said to contain part of the arm bone of St. Brigitta. It looks like something Goldfinger would have made for himself if he lost an arm. Either that or C-3PO’s spare.
After the museum, I walked through the Ostermalm area and spotted this sign for a rare Swedish treat…
A couple blocks down, I spotted this strange tableau. What happened here? Did the crowd get nasty when the Apple store opened late? The thing had been set on fire.
Seven full hours of walking and I’m utterly beat. I’m seriously considering finding a bus tour or something tomorrow, just so I can spend a few hours off my feet.
Yeah, it’s not easy to top the Abba Museum and I didn’t manage to. A nice woman on the tram had recommended I go to the Rosendals area and so I did but honestly, I wasn’t that excited by it.
It was like a big gardeny area next to a place where an artsy Swedish prince created a retreat for himself. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t that memorable. It was kind of like any big open space with patchy grass and tall trees. I did enjoy seeing one of Rodin’s “Thinkers” hanging out in the garden.
I rode the tram back to town, wrestled again with the subway system and then ended up walking blocks and blocks to my hotel. I really needed a coffee by then so I went to a place around the corner from my hotel called “Espresso House”. All I wanted was a normal cup of coffee and since lattes were again nearly $6 I was thinking a coffee would be cheaper like it is in the ‘States. The girl at the counter poured me one of the worst, most stale, hardly-even-hot cups of coffee I’ve ever had and it was still $5.50!! I know, I know. I keep bitching about the prices but geez – I thought Paris was expensive! I’ll never complain about San Francisco prices again.
I swore I would go back to my room to do some research before going out looking for some dinner and I did but I discovered that for people in Stockholm, $14 per plate of food is considered cheap. Most restaurants – not even nice ones – want $16-25 per plate and as far as I can tell, it’s literally impossible to get something like say, a $4 burrito. I can’t imagine how people afford to live here unless proportionally, their pay is so much more than ours is in the U.S. I was hungry enough finally to give up the search for cheap eats and went to a modest little Italian joint nearby (after all the reindeer and fish and cream sauce and mayo I was ready for a change).
It wasn’t bad food and wasn’t a bad value considering they gave me a big piece of cheesy bread with my pasta (guess no one’s told them you don’t usually get bread with pasta) and a heaping bowl of cole slaw. I’m supposing that’s the local taste imposing itself on the Italian theme? Never in my life have I been given cole slaw with pasta.
After that, my night was so boring, I got stuck wandering around a grocery store. That’s where I encountered these. I love the name. It’s like they couldn’t be bothered coming up with something catchy and were like “eff it – let’s call ‘em Snack Balls.”
Today was the first day I had all to myself and I took full advantage of it. I slept in, then went to my new hotel, then took myself out walking all over the city. My new hotel is in Vasastan, which is totally modern (well, mostly – some buildings look old but it’s very contemporary and commercial). I took the train – btw, the subway stations are nutty. They’re themed and the raw rock is painted in different ways. This picture sucks but it does demonstrate the De Chirico-esque theme of one of the stations.
[Btw, I've ridden subways in Chicago, NYC, San Francisco, Washington D.C., London, Munich, Paris, Portland, and Busan, South Korea and none of them are as confusing as the subway is in Stockholm. The subway signs don't tell you which areas of the city you're going to and every other map I looked at also seemed to be missing some critical piece of information that would have helped me to cross-reference the city's layout with the subway lines. I can only attribute this craziness to this nation's Viking ancestors who didn't use maps and instead used to navigate the seas using nothing but the sun and their memories. The entire transit system was seriously pissing me off.]
Anyway, eventually I got to an area recommended to me by one of the Paradox people for its cherry blossoms and even though I come from a place that holds a cherry blossom festival every year, it was still kinda cool.
This area used to be the royal gardens – as in, closed to peasantish, low-born oafs like you and me. Queen Cristina had a summer house just off this area – eventually nobles were allowed to walk around the gardens and then in the late 1800′s, the gardens were thrown wide and the whole public was let in. Personally, I would have drawn the line at TGI Fridays.
One of the most memorable features of this open space (for me anyway) was this public restroom. I loved that this old guy felt perfectly at ease taking a leak with the door not all the way shut behind him, in a crowded public place, in a toilet with eyeballs painted on the outside of it. Yeah, I took a picture of an old guy draining the lizard. What of it?
After soaking up the cherry blossoms, I caught a tram to the Vasa Museum, a place dedicated to the display of a 17th century Swedish royal ship that sank the day it was launched. It took a tremendous amount of work to raise it, but raise it they did. Look at this thing! You can’t get a sense of it without being right next to it. It’s huuuuuuge.
The museum’s full of other exhibits too, skeletons of the dead and relics rescued from the ship. It’s pretty amazing. The only baffling thing was this picture of Schwarzennegger as Conan the Barbarian they had hanging on the wall. What that had to do with Swedish royalty or the Vasa, I don’t know.
Mid-way through the museum I ran out of energy and had to grab a bite at the museum’s cafe. Everything being equally expensive and equally unfamiliar, I chose this – a beef brisket sandwich on seed bread with root vegetables. I was down with the beef brisket but the nearly raw carrot/turnip like stuff it had on it was a bit odd. I’ve come to realize the Swedes have very mild taste. Nothing they eat tastes like much of anything and this sandwich was predictably blah. Good thing I had some lingonberry juice to wash it down with.
Next to the Vasa Museum is the Nordisk Museum where they show all kinds of Swedish cultural stuff. In front of its entrance I saw this poster of Strindberg and had to take a selfie. I think I’m doing a fair impression of Helium.
After the Vasa Museum I’d meant to go to the history museum to see the Viking artifacts but then I was reminded that the Abba museum was nearby! It just opened yesterday and frankly, I’m amazed there hasn’t been an Abba museum way before this, considering they’re such a big Swedish deal. It’s located about 10 minutes walking from the Vasa and so although the tickets were scandalously over-priced, I went in.
The costumes were awesome. These on the other hand, scared the shit out of me.
In addition to Abba, the museum also celebrates other memorable Swedish talent such as Europe and Yngwie Malmsteen.
All in all, the museum is pretty nice and has some interesting interactive exhibits – I think though, it’s a bit chaotic with so much noise and stuff going on and so much to read. If you have the audio tour (which I did) it’s even worse. Top that off with an admission fee that’s beyond ridiculous and you wonder how long the place will last. Ah well. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I guess.
As I write this, my eyes are once again blurred and my thoughts fuzzied (is that a word?) by drink. We had a long time before dinner and I filled the time with two beers, then when we got to our awesome dinner location I availed myself again, this time with mead and cinnamon schnapps. Should make for an interesting blog post – or perhaps, an unintelligible one.
We had another round of Europa Universalis today, starting at 10 am. I woke at 6:00 with a pounding headache (I learned later I was one of the more fortunate attendees. Some of them didn’t sleep at all and instead wandered the streets like little lost grand-strategizing souls). I went down to the lobby, threw back some plain yogurt and coffee, then tossed back a couple of migraine-strength headache pills and went back to bed. I couldn’t really sleep, but I did at least manage to doze uncomfortably until 9:30.
Against my every instinct, I roused myself and made it to the venue in time and I’m glad I did. Despite some issues with instability, we had another interesting gaming day fraught with political intrigue, rampant warfare and random comet sightings.
We ended early and went to a nearby bar that happens to be on a boat – a place called Flyt. There we had beers and conversation while some of us nearly passed out as lack of sleep caught up to us. I tried this beer colorfully called “Hell”. It really wasn’t that bad.
We went to dinner around 7:30 or so at a place called Sjatte Tunnan (which we were told is pronounced Shyotteh TooNAHN). They’re probably playing up the viking thing for tourists but it was still really cool. The mead was flowing and the meat was plentiful, and here and there the night was punctuated by a Swedish drinking song. And yes, it really was this dark.
One of the developers was intent on me trying a unique Swedish candy – salty liquorice. He jogged off and came back with a couple of different kinds, which several of us were keen on trying. The one with the monkey on it is like a piece of slightly sweet rubber with a half inch salt coating on it. The other is like a Werther’s original – if Satan had made it. OK, not really -the latter was actually pretty good. It’s a hard candy that tastes a bit like pepper with an ultra-salty center. When you chew it, the salty/pepper taste combines with a kind of mildly sweet black liquorice flavor that’s more appealing than it sounds.
At 11 pm half the crew was still going strong but I was fading. I got to participate in a traditional Swedish toast (a number of times) where everyone says “Skaal” while raising their drinks, but as fun as it was, I just don’t have the stamina for late night drinking anymore. I bid some new friends a fond but goofy farewell (one dev named Jakob had a fantastic booming voice perfect for Swedish drinking songs), and headed for the good old Lord Nelson hotel. Tomorrow begins the strictly tourist leg of my trip. I plan to start it by sleeping in. Take THAT, 4:40 am sunrise!!
Whoa. The air here is super-dry. I wouldn’t have expected that from a city of islands surrounded by water, but so it is and my nasal passages are protesting it.
This morning Paradox Interactive sent taxis for everyone and took us to their Stockholm studios.
While waiting for my taxi, I had to smile as this 10 yr old kid walked by, talking intensely on the phone. What’s this tiny hipster doing early morning in the Gamla Stan, hissing into a cell phone and wearing orange pants? Swedish mysteries…
Another Swedish mystery – how Paradox gets any work done with the gorgeous view they have from the windows of their office high above the city.
They graciously gave us a tour of their offices and showed us the little-known passage to their branch office – “Paradox North”, otherwise known as the stairway to Valhalla.
After the office visit, we were taken to the Royal Armory for the multiplayer event. It’s hard to imagine a cooler environment to play a grand strategy game in, seriously.
We settled in around game stations, everyone assigned to a specific nation, and thus began our all day game-a-thon. What with all the smack-talking going on at the start, I figured I (as the exploratory but small country of Portugal) would be handily crushed, but the gracious ruler of neighboring Castile cut me a break. I still can’t discuss the game as yet – embargo still applies – but let’s just say it was an entertaining and illuminating day rounded out by a short tour of some of the armory’s exhibits.
The armory’s been a museum since the 1600′s – it’s a beautiful stone and brick building and it’s really amazing that what’s on show has been there so long. Especially the horse that belonged to one of the Swedish kings. I thought it was just a bit of fake taxidermy cooked up for the exhibit but no, it’s the actual horse he was riding when he was killed in battle. Guess the king’s retinue had the presence of mind hundreds of years ago, to stuff it for posterity. More impressive though than the stuffed horse, at least to me as a novice costumer, was the royal clothing on display. Beautiful silk and velvet outfits worn by the various members of the royal family that would have taken countless hours to create.
Post-history lesson, we walked to a nearby restaurant, Fem Sma Hus. I wanted to steal this door – it had to be eight inches thick – and replace the door to my apartment with it. You can’t tell by the photo, but that door handle was the size of a small cantaloupe.
The restaurant was just what I like – dark, cave-like, lots of atmosphere.
There I once again had reindeer for dinner (this time with lingonberries). I was especially taken with the gorgeous wallpaper in the restroom. Yeah, I was taking pictures in the toilet. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Tired as I was, after dinner I was talked into walking to a nearby bar and having one last drink. I really should be sociable more often because I had some great conversations with the people I’ve met at the event. Unfortunately, after three Imperial Stouts, I was pretty out of it. I made it back to my room though, and made the mistake of trying to check my email. I ended up sending a link to this silly travelogue to people I’m supposed to have a professional relationship with. Oops! Let that be a lesson to you kids – never drink and email.
Bone tired. I managed a three hour nap on my plank-sized bed, then stumbled out into the twilight to look for food. The concierge recommended a place that looked awesome but it cost something like $80 to eat there. I, foolish girl, thought I was doing well by going to a pub near the hotel (most restaurants are closed Sunday evening. Go figure.) but again, walking back to the hotel, I realized I’d paid like, $50 for dinner! Holy schmoly. I’ve decided – for the rest of the journey, I’m going to look for prices in the realm of 100 SEK for individual meals. No more! This six-to-one conversion is really confusing me.
Anyway, I went out during the “magic hour” and took a few snaps:
Aah…the universal language of geek.
Obviously, the Swedish people have Kim Kardashian’s number.
The view from a bridge near the Gamla Stan. Gorgeous!
Needing to go back to my room and study up on Europa Universalis IV, I decided to just eat at a pub near my hotel. A place called Pickwick. The wait staff was really nice but I’d forgotten what it was like to eat when people are blowing clouds of cigarette smoke in your face. Even outdoors it was rough. I decided to try some Scandinavian fare and ordered some reindeer in cream sauce:
–which I hate to say, reminded me a lot of my dad’s old army recipe for S.O.S. I made matters worse by ordering another heavy cream dish, namely “Johannsen’s Surprise”.
- a horrible photo. This dish is a creamy gratin type of potato thing with herring. It was good but far too rich, especially after the reindeer soaked in mayo I’d eaten moments before. The surprise I think refers to the herring, but as I mentioned, the real surprise was paying $50 for dinner. =/
I’m back in my room now, studying up for tomorrow. I bought myself dessert at a sweet shop – this amazing marshmallow/chocolate/coconut thing, some “LOKA” (their motto is “LOKA Likes Old School!”) sparkling water in Lemon Pie flavor, and a chocolate caramel thing called unappetizingly, “Plopp”. I saw a whole display of them at the airport and had to try one.
This month I had the unexpected good fortune to receive an invitation to travel to Stockholm, Sweden. The Universe must have been listening because I’m busily researching a few Scandinavian things for a creative project and so the timing couldn’t be better. Still, I’m here first and foremost to preview a strategy game called Europa Universalis IV, a game which is intimidatingly deep and asks players to do nothing less than run an entire country (or countries) for a span of 300 years. There’s an embargo on the information about the game for a while yet, so that’s all I have to say about that–for now, anyway.
What I can talk about is my experience as a tourist in Sweden. I flew Dutch Airlines, which while not as fancy as Korean Airlines, was impressive if only because I got to fly on the biggest plane I’ve ever been on, one of those double-decker 747s. The flight was unbelievably easy (funny, considering every time I fly to New Mexico I get delayed or stuck in the airport for 4-24 hours) and I got a 30 minute look at the Netherlands while switching planes in Amsterdam. This is all I saw really, as I ran to the departure gate for my plane to Sweden: a blur of people drinking tea while sitting in giant tea cups.
The jog to catch my plane turned out to be considerably more restful than the 2 hour flight to Stockholm, thanks to these people.
I swear, these two Chatty Cathies never stopped talking the entire two hour flight. Never. EVER.
Even so, I reiterate, the flight was smooth and drama-free and I got into Stockholm at noon. Well, 3 am by my body’s clock and man, is my body telling me it’s 3 am. I took a cab to the Gamla Stan (the Old Town) and unfortunately, when I arrived at my hotel, the room still wasn’t ready. Having little choice, I dropped my luggage off with the hotel concierge and took my bleary-eyed self out into the cobblestone streets. The Old Town is both beautiful and exceedingly tourist trappy – right away I was enticed by the many ice cream and chocolate shops and nonplussed by things such as this:
There’s all kinds of kitschy gnome/troll and viking junk for sale here and I think it was some kind of holiday – or at least a game day – since the royal guards were parading around in front of the palace:
…and there were lots of these guys sitting around swilling beer. Many of them had bright red, Ronald McDonald wigs on. Well, I said I wanted Vikings – I’ve got Vikings.
I started to run out of steam walking around, as cool as the area is, so I came back to the hotel. Here I’ve encountered the tiniest room I’ve ever stayed in, even smaller than the one in Paris with the wall-mounted nightstands. My hotel is the Lord Nelson and it’s full of nautical memorabilia. What’s hilarious is that it’s totally like being on a boat, everything’s so small. I laughed when I opened the door to my room – when I lie down on the bed, my feet are nearly out in the hall.
The bathroom is even tinier – I have to wedge my knees in under the sink in order to use the toilet. Ah well – it does make brushing your teeth really convenient.
In a way, it’s kind of romantic, like I’m an urchin out of a Charles Dickens novel who’s run away to sea. I mean, how many people (on land anyway) can say their door has a port hole on it? Tonight I plan to sit in the creaky old desk chair and hunker down over the weensy little desk by the light of a flickering candle and pretend I’m Jim Hawkins.
Oh! I almost forgot – two other things I saw this afternoon before my eyes started slamming shut. First, a Hello Kitty drink that accurately reflects the state of my vision right now:
I’m debating whether or not to try since the Hello Kitty pink hot chocolate from a while back was utterly horrible. Second – I got to pose for a picture with one of the locals. I guess if he’s “Troll”, that means I’m Tomtar.
Anyway, I am completely exhausted right now. I have to take a nap or I won’t be conscious enough to eat dinner. I need to do some research and see if I can find anything in this area that isn’t designed to serve up crappy, overpriced food to unwitting tourists. (and yes, I already made a big mistake in the over-paying arena. I bought a double scoop ice cream cone and was half way through it before I realized I’d just paid $7 for it. Sigh…) I gotta find the energy to study up on my Europa Universalis IV – big day tomorrow!
After the pie debacle and with the sun waning, we walked to the nearest bus stop, intending to round the day out with a trip to Fabric Depot on 122nd Street. A woman who looked like a red-headed Virginia Madsen (who incidentally, I believe is a seriously underrated actress. How the HELL is she related to Michael Madsen?)
…and her small daughter were there waiting and as we stood there, a guy rode woozily up on a bike and started the most bizarre conversation with her.
He asked her if she was alright, then tried to get her to listen to the music on his headphones (I’m sure she loved having someone else’s greeby earbuds in her face), then tried multiple times to get handshakes and/or fist-bumps, all the while repeating, “I’m being for real.” Oy vey. It totally reminded me of that weird E3 encounter I had with the two dudes who kept offering to “smoke me out”.
Anyway, he left without doing anything more so we weren’t forced to ignore our natural disinclination for fighting and physical activity of all kinds in order to help her. We got to Fabric Depot after a bus ride full of interesting characters—a woman with a chihuahua wearing a heart sweater (the dog, not the woman), a hobo version of Hunter S. Thompson wearing rose-colored aviator glasses and a woman carrying a big bag of garbage (I am totally not joking).
From the outside, Fabric Depot looked fantastic and it was, admittedly, pretty big.
Still, I was ultimately disappointed because everything was basically retail with so-called “sale” prices on it and half the place was “Wholesale only”. I did score some nice trims in the clearance room and a handful of affordable buttons, but the remnant selection was pathetic for a store of that volume, and they had almost no discount buttons. The women who worked there were weird too. I wonder why so often, the women who work in fabric stores are so surly? Does the part of the brain that makes people friendly and courteous get coated by inhaled lint?
Post-fabric frenzy, we got back on the train and rode it to the hotel where we took advantage of the free cocktail hour they hold every day at 5 in the lobby sitting room. There was no place to sit so I sipped a weak cider and bourbon and Nick threw down an IPA. I’d hoped someone might move after a bit but everyone’s butts were glued to the velvet settees and no one was budging. We decided since we’d had no lunch we’d shoot the moon and have Italian food for dinner so we walked a few blocks to a place called Piazza Italia.
It was casual and warm—well, the atmosphere was, not the service. We were greeted by a grumpy Italian man who told us to wait so we stood in the miniscule entry, dodging wait staff until he went outside and came back in. He seemed by looking at the reservation listings, to think he could squeeze us in since he motioned us to a small table near the deli counter under a flat screen TV set to an Italian variety show.
The place was festooned with Italian signs and Italian bicycling jerseys and Italian tschotchkes of all kinds. The staff kinda walked around shouting to one another in Italian (do they really do that on a daily basis, or was it a kitschy act put on for our benefit??). Our waiter was a sly-looking young man who when I asked what they had to drink aside from wine said, “We have a-grape juice.” Hardy har. I should have known once we didn’t order wine, that we wouldn’t see his smirking face again. Someone else brought our entrees (which were quite tasty, btw) while he stood at the bar chatting nonstop with other waiters so we had to entertain ourselves. Thank god for Italian TV, am I right?
We watched performances by Italian celebrities we’d never heard of and tried our best to tune out the couple at the table next to us who could have walked right off the set of Portlandia. I seriously wanted to punch the V-neck-sweater-wearing dude half of the couple right in the face. Oh wait, I almost forgot! The Italian TV show also featured an unexpected appearance by Mick Hucknall from Simply Red who as he ages is looking more and more like Carrot Top’s grandmother, poor bastard.
He stood on stage and gamely attempted to sing the three hits he had more than 20 years ago, wearing dark sunglasses for no good reason—unless maybe it was to hide from the fact that he hasn’t had a hit in 20 years.
We had to ask a different waitress for the check and she was visibly bugged, whereupon some other woman of indeterminate job description came up and asked if we wanted dessert or coffee. We said no, so she left and the smarmiest waiter in the world came back and asked again if we wanted dessert or coffee. Nick gave him his card and he took it and came back, leaving the check indifferently on the table. I tried to get Nick to leave him a 10% tip but Nick’s convinced that last time we indicated our displeasure at bad service with a small tip, his debit card was used for fraudulent charges. Don’t you just love rewarding bad behavior?
Probably the most interesting part of the visit to Piazza Italia was the restroom which boasted two extra chairs set in perfect coffee klatch position, right next to the toilet. Evacuation in Italy must be a very social event.
Anyway, we ended things by heading to Bailey’s Tap Room, which Nick had noticed the night before. It was less atmospheric, but had some interesting bottled choices. I tried a Uinta beer called Sea Legs that had an almost wine-y taste to it, and Nick had a couple of other choices while I tried to draw the patrons on a small sketch book I bought at Powell’s. It wasn’t easy to concentrate, what with this idiotic couple sitting next to me. I’m fairly sure they were on a date since the girl was so giggly and drunk and the guy had this earnest, listening expression on his face that said he was thinking, “Is she drunk enough to have sex with me yet?”
Now we’re back in the room and all next door is quiet. That means either the loud talkers have checked out, or they’re planning on getting in at 3 am and driving me totally batshit. Better get some shuteye. Tomorrow – distillery tour!