E3 2014 Journal Day 4 – Ok, THERE’S the weirdness I’ve come to expect.

Thus far, E3′s been way too normal. Nothing bizarre has happened and it’s all been so humdrum I started to think something had gone seriously wrong with L.A. Well, today changed all that. Then again, maybe the craziness is my fault. I did ask for it by spending the evening pretending to be an extrovert.

As mentioned in a previous post, parties aren’t my thing. Still, I had an invite to an IGDA thing at the Figueroa hotel and I always wanted to see what it was like on the inside so I went. Well, it’s like recreation of Disney’s Aladdin. I grabbed my free drink and since I suck at mingling, I took Neil Gaiman’s advice, which loosely translated is, “if you don’t think you can do something, pretend to be someone who can.”

I approached a group of total strangers and asked to sit down at their table. All was well and I was fairly impressed with my social acumen until I knocked my drink over, soaking the table in mandarin vodka. (In my defense, the table was concave in the middle, shaped like a friggin’ coffee-table-flying-carpet)

Totally inapropos picture of apples I still have not eaten.

That seemed like a good cue to leave, so I went out into the twilight to find something to eat. I for some reason, decided to go to the historic Pantry (a greasy spoon with all the mediocrity that that implies). I ended up talking to two E3-ers while waiting for a table, and they asked me to sit with them. That’s TWICE I successfully forced myself upon strangers!

OK, while that’s unusual for me – talking to people, I mean – it’s hardly anything that could be called “weird”. Well on the way back to my hotel, I passed a bar called Monty , a place I’ve passed many a time and never stopped into. It has just the darkness I love in a bar and hey, it had a picture of Charles Bronson and a buffalo head mounted on the wall. What’s not to like? I went in and I wasn’t there for ten minutes before a young girl came in with a man roughly three times her age who looked like a dumpier version of Dr. Moe from Storage Wars Texas.

I’m sipping my beer in a dark booth when an upbeat electronica-type song comes on and this Humpty-Dumpty-shaped man with the Grecian formula-ed mustache and pants up to his armpits starts dancing like his socks are on fire. All by himself. He’s shaking and jigging and spazzing out all over, and the girl just sits there giggling. (and curse my luck, I couldn’t take a video of it because my phone was out of juice)

Highly entertaining it was, but then the guy calls me over and starts babbling about how you have to dance from the heart, and about how he went to school in Berkeley, and how I need to make a video backgammon game because he and his friends are obsessed with backgammon. I then make a huge gaffe by asking the giggling girl, “Is this your dad?”

I should have remembered this is L.A. She giggles and he goes, “This is my sweetheart!” Oops.

Seriously, she doesn’t look old enough to drink, so I try not to gawp and he goes on to tell me, “She’s famous all over town! I haven’t seen her in three weeks! She hasn’t let me see her and I want to come here but she won’t come here because her brother comes here and she doesn’t want him to see me!”

As you can imagine, I tried my best to back-pedal out of there as fast as possible, but he wasn’t having it. He decided that the girl needed my phone number so when he brings her to San Francisco, he can take me and my husband dancing. (I have to admit, his and Nick’s dance moves did have something in common – BWAH!) He then repeated the whole story about how the girl hadn’t let him see her for three weeks and I nodded and smiled and backed slowly toward the door before he could suggest we have a threesome.

So yeah. I was concerned I’d leave L.A. without anything bizarre happening, but I needn’t have worried. There’s too much weirdness in this town for that to happen. I’m just so bummed I couldn’t at least take a picture of the geriatric Don Juan busting a move. As consolation, I offer you plushies of Hello Kitty as Street Fighter’s Cammy and Guile.

E3 2014 Journal – Day 3: Unleash the hounds!

Curse you lower back, for keeping me from sleeping in! Hotel mattresses are the worst.

Today was the first day for the E3 show floor and as usual, people were willing to wait in line for 2 hours to be the first ones in. I am such a grumpy old lady, but…really? Three minutes after the doors open, the way is totally clear, thus eliminating the need to stand in line. I guess some people are so hysterical about being the first to get their hands on Oculus or Super Smash Bros, they’re willing to go to any lengths, but not me, no sir. I wouldn’t stand in line even if David Bowie made an appearance. Well OK, maybe if he was dressed as Jareth from Labyrinth.

You remind me of the babe.

Still, if I’m unwilling to stand in line for a celebrity, I’m not above squatting down for one. I was walking through the expo hall when I spied a small group of people sitting on the floor, leaning against one of the booths. One of them happened to be Mr. Sam Witwer, of Battlestar Galactica, Being Human, and (most importantly to ex-LucasArts people like me) The Force Unleashed. Before I could stop myself, I asked if I might take a picture and he was totally gracious about it.

Hangin' with Starkiller, uh huh.


It’s so great when famous people are actually people, and he was (and this is the best compliment I can pay him) a really normal guy. I was thoroughly impressed.

Not so impressive I heard, was Conan O’Brien who a colleague told me, walked through the expo hall looking annoyed at people trying to take pictures of him. Get over yourself, Conan. You’re really not that funny.

Anyway, Sam Witwer wasn’t the only handsome man I ran into. I also got to snuggle up to Octodad, who managed to keep his flailing limbs in check long enough to take a photo. Jealous, Sam?

Aside from spotting celebs, the main activity of the day was noting the marketing blitz for Insomniac Games’ wacky action game, Sunset Overdrive. This probably wins for the game I’m most interested in playing and its sledgehammer-to-the-head vibe was carried through to the giant, trash-talking balloon hovering over the foyer…

…and the decals on the ladies room mirrors.

Come six o’clock, the show floor closed and the parties began. I was invited to a few of them, but all I really wanted to do was go back to the hotel and play my 3DS. Yeah, I know. I’ll say it for you. “Dork.”

E3 2014 Journal – Day 2 “Once more unto the breach…”

If Sunday was boring, Monday definitely made up for it. With two press briefings to cover, I was busier’n a one-armed paper hanger and today feel like I was run over by a luxury shuttle bus.

The thing is, I never sleep before an early morning event. I keep waking up every forty minutes and looking at the clock, afraid I’ll oversleep. I probably managed a solid 3 hours before having to get through the most stressful day of the show and I had the eye-baggage to prove it. The walk up to the Mayfair hotel (where the shuttle buses pick up) was a blur, but along the way I witnessed someone’s brave attempt to make a Smart car look gangsta.

Yeah, I'm small bitches. So what?

One thing about staying in downtown LA – especially down W. 7th Street (AKA, Shithole Row) – there are no options for coffee, or breakfast for that matter. I tried a cup of the hotel’s free sludge (served in a weensy Dixie cup with only that horrible sand-like powder for cream) and quickly tossed it out. That was a mistake because without it, it was near impossible to swallow the sawdust-filled muffin I’d selected from the Continental items on offer.

Without coffee it looked like I was doomed to take in a lot of important info through a fuzzy, confused mental fog. Fortunately, a 7/11 appeared and I grabbed a fresh cup of coffee and some real cream and set off for the Mayfair hotel, resisting the urge to buy a mustache straw.

I hope those Slurpees have moonshine in 'em.

Microsoft was the first event of the day, and they were clearly hoping to win the prize for coolest entry tokens (or make half of us look like over-the-hill ravers).

Waiting for Phil Spencer to bomb the bass.


These stretchy little things could be programmed to light up in concert with Microsoft’s presentation, in rhythm and in different colors.

In my day, we held up lighters.

As you might expect, Microsoft’s presentation was chock-full and focused entirely on games – no direct attempt to win us over to their hardware at all. (Well, beyond repeatedly proclaiming it to be the only way to play.) Post-briefing, I had an absurdly short deadline to meet so I raced back to my hotel to finish my article. Without time for food before or after, I had to go back out to catch the shuttle to Sony’s evening press briefing. I hoped they’d have their usual food trucks before the show and they did. Sort of.

This year they had tents with tables in them, and I know I’m kicking a gift horse in the mouth by saying this, but they all served some of the worst food I’ve ever eaten. I’m convinced the chicken and waffles was soaked in water before they handed it over to me. I was forced to make do with a lukewarm beer and a quickly-melting bomb pop. Who says the life of a game journalist isn’t glamorous?

Anyway, Sony’s briefing was equally as jam-packed as Microsoft’s, although Sony did spend considerable time talking about hardware and services. Most of that was a blur though, once I heard they were remastering LucasArts’ Grim Fandango. Wahooo!!

That announcement was easily the best thing about the briefing – along with getting to catch up with my old friend Matt, who went from game tester to fancy-pants writer for Entertainment Weekly and Marvel.com in ten short years.

That's right - I drive a Smart car. So what?

After twelve hours of press briefing stuff, all I wanted to do was lie down on the sidewalk outside the venue, curl up in the trash scattered there, and go to sleep, but alas, I had another deadline to meet. That meant once again, no food and a night spent frantically typing. I submitted my article 90 minutes late, but I don’t think I should be held responsible since my brain was by then powered entirely by fat and sugar.

G-L-A-M...O-R-OUS yeah!

The good news is, that’s all overwith, and today’s all about heading to the show floor and seeing whatever I want. Yes! As Sherlock would say, “Get moving Watson – the games are afoot!”

E3 2014 Journal – The Show Before the Show

The Sunday before the big conference is always surreal. I fly into LA, pay an arm and a leg to take a taxi to my cut-rate hotel, then head out walking through the hot, garbage-strewn streets to the convention center and back.

This year’s pre-E3 Sunday’s been dead boring compared to last year’s. No late flights or horror show hotel rooms. All I have to report that’s of any interest at all is my sense of mild horror upon realizing that taxis now have TV screens, thus preventing us from ever getting away from advertising:

For the love of God, NO MORE.

…and mild amusement at the subtle warning I found in my hotel bathroom re: the consequences of theft.

I guess this means people are constantly running off with their bags stuffed full of sandpaper towels and lumpy pillows?

The other thing of note was an encounter at the local Smart and Final where I went to buy apples (pretending that I’d be snacking on those instead of candy) and was rung out by a cashier named “Elvedette.” Like Joffrey Baratheon, she’s gotta be the first and last of her name.

Beyond this, today’s just been a kind of mental preparation for the craziness of tomorrow’s press conferences and deadlines. Also a Sunday tradition and part of pre-press conference prep – a beer at the Yard House. This year’s selection: Great Divide’s double IPA, “Hercules”.

Aw yeah...this is what it's all about. Well, that and video games.

And now that I’ve had my customary trudge in the sun and my customary beer, it’s time to settle back in front of my wheezing, mostly-ineffective A/C and gather my thoughts for tomorrow. Speaking of thoughts, it occurs to me I haven’t had my customary before-bed candy bar. Looks like it’s time for a trip to the customary vending machine.

Ten Things I Learned While Visiting Warsaw

1. Young Polish women still wear panty hose. The girls are beautiful, but they insist on wearing grandma-like nude stockings with everything – even shorts.

2. Warsaw’s a clean city, but young Warsavians don’t have respect for the historical buildings – they put graffiti all over them.

3. The Tom Selleck mustache (aka – the modified Lech Walesa) is still widely worn – without irony.

4. Vodka is considered a breakfast food.

5. The Cocomo Go-Go Club is NOT the place to be. According to the news, girls with pink umbrellas pull patrons into the club where they’re given roofy-like drugs in their drinks, robbed and even blackmailed.

6. American culture isn’t as ubiquitous as I expected it to be. Mostly just McDonald’s, KFC and Dancing With the Stars.

7. TJ Maxx here is known as “TK Maxx”.

8. No matter where you go in the world, a clipboard-carrying, post-adolescent member of Greenpeace will find you.

9. Those goofy disposable hotel slippers actually come in handy when the floor’s cold.

10. Polish shower drains make NO sense.

Warsaw Day 7: Souvenirs and Hot Beers

Slept like shit last night. I thought I was over the jet lag but it came back again with a vengeance, preventing me from even thinking of sleeping until 1am. I lay there for an hour, my brain was racing, I got up, I read and played games trying to tire myself out, then resorted to slamming a pillow over my face at 3 am, hoping to convince my stream of consciousness to shut the hell up.

I woke up at 8:20 despite the restless night, and considered going back to sleep but decided to muscle through the fatigue and go to the National Museum. Along the way I encountered a street sign that illustrates perfectly why I keep getting confused about how to cross the street here.

Wtf?

The National Museum turned out to be right next to the brewery I went to the day before. It too was located in a hideous hunk of cement. The front of it had nothing that indicated it was an art museum – just a big empty fountain and a set of uninspiring stairs. Inside, there was again a huge mob of school kids. (sigh…) Admission to the regular galleries was free, but I paid the $6.50 admission to see a special exhibit of work by a 19th century Polish painter called Aleksander Gierymski. He was the most split-personality artist I’ve ever encountered.

Gallery after gallery was filled with paintings that looked like different people had done them; some were hard, some soft, some Impressionistic, some Academic, some sketchy and loose, some so tight they made my head hurt. My favorite part of the exhibit was a room full of night paintings like this one:

Paris Opera House at Night

He was obviously talented, however he had a tendency toward the sentimental and melodramatic that didn’t serve him well. In fact, I saw a handful of other good Polish painters in the museum and they seemed to do the same thing so it could be a romantic aspect of Polish character. Anyway, though the museum itself wasn’t much to look at, it was worth the visit for the handful of strong painters and some really impressive wooden Medieval sculptures, including these that looked like they had real hair. Ugh.

NOooooOOoooooOOOooooo...

After the National Museum, I was getting peckish so I went in the direction of the Modern Art Museum, thinking I’d find something along the way. I ended up going back into the mall where I had a warm beer (not wanting a warm Coke) and a soggy caesar salad. Not a very satisfying lunch, but enough to power my legs a few doors down to the museum. Admission was free, and as you might expect, the Poles do Modern and Contemporary weirdness pretty well.

It's a snowman. In a freezer.

The Modern Museum was small so fairly quick to get through. That left me with time to go back toward the Old Town and look for some souvenirs and/or draw. Taking new streets, I ran into this building in what used to be the Warsaw ghetto—it’s something else to be walking and suddenly run into it.

A monument to Jews who died in the Warsaw Ghetto.

It’s sobering to see, and I was honestly amazed that people were sitting outside at a cafe right next to it, eating lunch.

Past the building, I ran into the Saxon Garden which was built by King August II and dates to the 18th century. In it, I nearly fell over a slew of other points of interest: a huge fountain, a sculpture garden, a sun dial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (I basically breezed past a bunch of picturesque things, knowing I had a mere handful of hours before my time in Warsaw was done.)

My sense of direction must be improving because the path I took through these sights took me where I intended to go—the Old Town. There, that “I have to find gifts for people and I’m running out of time” anxiety set in. I found myself surrounded by tourist shops full of cheap, ugly “folk art”. (Machine-made, mass-produced garbage such as magnets, flags, dolls and ugly t-shirts with the word “Poland” on them.)

Finally, after scouring every shop on every street, I ran into a place right on the market square that was just what I was hoping for. A gallery full of hand made items made by different Polish artists. There I got me and Nick this adorable animal wall hanging…

Raccoon!

…and once I picked up this purse, I was physically incapable of putting it back.

The best use I've seen for felted wool.

Pleased with my purchases, I went out to the square and sat down at an umbrella table to drink a beer and sketch. The young waiter was not at all happy that I only wanted a beer and shook his head at me ruefully. Like, with some serious rue. Not to be intimidated by a judgey teenager, I took out my sketchbook and defiantly took up a table for over an hour. I got a few drawings done, accompanied by a guy with an accordion who blended together things like Besame Mucho, Russian folk song Korobushka, and the theme to the Godfather better than a New York City DJ.

I ended up justifying the time at my table when a friendlier waitress went by who was willing to accommodate my out-of-season request for hot beer. Take THAT, stubborn pierogi restaurant waiter!

Beer. With a straw.

The hot beer was…interesting. As the waitress explained it, they boil regular beer, then add cinnamon and flavored syrup. It’s meant to be a hot drink for a cold evening, but I’m not convinced it’d be all that satisfying. First, it was lukewarm, not hot, and second, the boiling process took all the carbonation out of it. Basically, it was a fruity, flat, somewhat-warm beer. Oh well. At least I can say I had it.

I also had this:

After seeing about a hundred kids walking around with them, I had to have one myself. Yes, it looks like leftovers from a mass murder, but it’s a belgian waffle slathered with cherry pie filling and whipped cream. I’m sure I looked disgusting eating it, but it was delicious. While munching I noticed this. So…when the live music is playing, are you supposed to climb down this hole?

Club entry or laundry chute? You decide.

Well Warsaw, that’s just about it. I leave tomorrow morning at 7 am. You’ve shown me some interesting sights, treated me to some incredible food, and been more hospitable than I would have imagined. We may never see each other again, but let me say with sincerity – I’m glad we met.

Warsaw Day 6 – Walking, walking, walking

My hope was to get up early and cram in as much sight-seeing as possible, but sleep deficit caught up to me and I slept late. I feel fortunate not to have been woken up by a pushy cleaning lady – apparently, this hotel has issues with cleaning ladies not taking “get out” for an answer. One of the journalists on this trip told us a woman barged into his room while he was sleeping and proceeded to fill his mini-bar despite his protestations. We suggested the next day, to wait for her right inside the door – naked.

Anyway, no grumpy maids accosted me so I slept until 12:30. This gave me a late start but was perfect timing as far as vising another brewery went. The only problem? My horrible sense of direction sent me blocks and blocks in the wrong direction. My only consolation was that I ran into a Starbucks and was able to buy the Warsaw Starbucks cup my dog nanny requested, and I got to see the famous Warsaw palm tree.

It's made of plastic.

I asked people for directions to the brewery three separate times, was sent various different ways and had a bizarre exchange with a woman who came up to me (perhaps thinking I knew how to get somewhere? ha!) on the Royal Road. She started to address me in Polish, I smiled and said, “Sorry, I don’t understand,” whereupon she put her hand out in a placatory gesture and said, “Oh sorry!” That in itself, isn’t so strange. What was unusual was that upon reaching out, she pressed my boob ever so lightly. Perhaps it’s a traditional Polish gesture of welcome? Hrm.

Despite wasting lots of shoe leather (or in my case, rubber) and suffering an unexpected groping, I at long last, found the brewery at the very crossroads on which I’d started. It was called “Cuda na Kiju” and was located inside an ugly old government building near a statue of Charles de Gaulle. Interestingly, although it’s connected to a structure that’s your typical hideous block of concrete, the bar itself is glass on all sides. I ordered a sampler of four Polish beers: a pale, a red smoke beer, a schwarzbier and an IPA.

There is solid craft beer in Poland.

These proved miles better than the ones at the previous brewery. They actually had smell, taste, an appropriate level of carbonation. The only one I wasn’t too keen on was the schwarzbier which had a strange “off” taste. It was an interesting place. Run by Polish hipsters, young skater-looking guys, but the music on the sound system was old American 1930′s songs – perky things like Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes”.

After the brewery, I decided to continue on South on Nowy Swiat to the Liezinski Gardens. On my own, I got to see more of them, and spent some time sketching at a little cafe. To buy time at the table I got a latte and an ice cream sundae with chocolate, vanilla and coffee ice cream with walnuts, whipped cream and prunes. Prunes? I wondered if perhaps they’d discovered some kind of wondrous culinary combination by tossing prunes on chocolate ice cream but no, they really didn’t add anything. Well, perhaps a bit of roughage.

That big black thing is a prune.

The park is huge and within its boundaries, I walked and walked and walked. The day was overcast, the squirrels were hopping, young couples were canoodling, older people were taking the air… I crossed back through the park again, across a freeway, and past a slew of embassies. The American embassy looks SO American. I can’t show a photo though, because I thought if I took one, the policeman outside it might tackle me. I did however, get a photo of the statue of Ronald Reagan that’s across the street from it. Polish people apparently revere him. Urgh.

Yup, there's the Gipper.

I entered another large park, took a long time traversing that one, and ended up in a kind of grim, unattractive area of the city. I stopped to buy a donut for later and for the first time, encountered someone young who didn’t speak English and seemed to get impatient with me. Mostly, people have been nicer than I expected and not too judgmental (at least visibly) about us lazy one-language-speaking Yanks.

Roundabout, I ended up back on Nowy Swiat and took it all the way back to my hotel. I got back at 6, realizing that I’d have to find some kind of dinner but had no energy to do it. I opted for room service, even though it forced me to straighten up my tornado-hit room. It’s just too embarrassing to let the guy bringing me my food see what a slob I am. Obviously, he was just as uncomfortable as I am with the concept of delivering food to a stranger’s rented bedroom, because upon trying to perform the big “voila” food reveal, he dropped the metal dome thingie on the floor with a big clang followed by a lot of apologies. Poor kid.

Warsaw Day 5 – Never, under any circumstances, ever stop eating.

The weather forecast said it’d be sunny and 64 degrees today. The weather forecast lied. This was a bummer because before going back to the venue to witness the climax of the World of Tanks Grand Finals, the press and some Wargaming people hopped on buses for a whirlwind city tour. The ride around the city might have been nice but for the constant amplified sound of the tour guide’s voice competing with two rows of German guys behind me who talked the ENTIRE TIME.

I’ve seen groups when they don’t speak a tour guide’s language, talk amongst themselves because they feel left out. These guys totally spoke English though, so they can’t use that excuse. They were just a rude group of jerks.

About to give Chopin a whompin'.

Anyway, we went to Lazienski Park, the largest park in Warsaw. It wasn’t quite green yet, but it did feature an impressive statue of Frederik Chopin next to what looks like Harry Potter’s Whomping Willow. It also had lots of royal summer residences, other beautiful sculptures, squirrels a-plenty.

The king preferred informal summer decor.

We basically breezed through the park (I might just go back tomorrow), skipping many interesting and picturesque things, and got back on the bus to take an equally fast-motion tour of the Old Town. There, the Harry Potter theme inadvertently continued when we saw this girl doing her levitation act.

WhooOOoooOOO!

The tour was meant to continue on beyond Old Town, but we decided to jump ship (or jump bus, as the case may be) and find something to eat instead. We found this amazing little place that served “the best noodles in Warsaw since 1682″. The food there was very good, but my favorite thing about it was the decor which was all painted on. The clocks, the wood paneling, the light fixtures – everything. So clever!

I'm going to throw all my furniture away and do this.

The only way to have a deer head.

After a lunch of kvass and pierogies (never can get enough pierogies – these ones were meat fried in cheddar cheese sauce – oh mah gawd), we walked back to the venue to catch the tail end of the World of Tanks finals. No surprise to anyone – the Russian team Natus Vincer won after beating out yet another Russian team, Virtus Pro. Check this out – the theater was so packed, this was what the theater lobby looked like with fans watching the matches on monitors.

Rabid World of Tanks fans.

Hard to believe, but once the competition was over and the trophy awarded, we actually considered eating again and started back toward the Old Town. We once again went for traditional Polish food and ended up at Kompania Piwna. This seriously, has got to be the best food value in Warsaw. We all ordered various entrees (only one each this time, thank god) and when they came, we were all taken aback by the size of them. Mine was grilled chicken (like, half a chicken) on top of a huge pile of rice, sauerkraut, cole slaw, garlic potatoes, and on top, thick disks of cheese. We also had a free starter of sauerkraut and pickles. Holy moly. And all of it, with drinks, was only $33.

The highlight of the meal was my gracious host from Wargaming ordering a meat sampler that was absolutely ridiculous. This is what he looked like after eating less than half of it.

Ughh.....Hungghhhh....

He may never eat again. Seriously. Like, I’m not even kidding.

I’m really glad I got to do these foodie things while I had people here to do them with. I’m not sure I’ll go to many sit-down places by myself and with them here, I’ve more or less had my fill of traditional Polish dishes. (Although I might get more honey kvass. That’s damn good stuff.) How the hell do Polish people eat like this? And they’re all tall and skinny too. The next couple of days I’m going to have to do a LOT of walking and cut the eating back as much as possible. In any case, when I get back I’m not looking at a scale for at least a week after getting right back on the Weight Watchers wagon.

Welp, tomorrow’s my first day on my own. Everyone else is heading back home in the morning, but I’m staying here in Warsaw two more days. Should be an adventure.

Warsaw Day 4 – Baby Tanks and Bigos

Day two of the Grand Finals and I was prepared to head out first for the tank museum tour. I walked to the Kinotek (which amazingly, is inside this humongous Soviet building) to catch the tour bus but I’d gotten my signals crossed. I’d showed up for the wrong tour (too early). As a consolation for getting thrown off the bus, I did get to see a kid dressed like a gangsta wearing a t-shirt that said “Straight Slavic Flavour” in big letters.

The Soviets are serious about movies.

I went across the street to the Multikino and spent some time watching World of Tanks matches. The Chinese team JL E-sports Club were repeatedly trounced by the American team Fnatic. I heard (but didn’t see) that the Russian teams are really kicking butt and so I’m hoping I’ll see them in action on Sunday. I noticed after winning, that the members of Fnatic had kids coming up to them wanting autographs. How cute is that?

After an hour or so of tank battles, I went back out into the mall and into a grocery store on the bottom floor. I still get a kick out of looking at food packaging in other countries and was also appreciative of the deli counter’s pierogi selection. Why don’t WE have this?

Mmmmm...pierogies.

At 2:30 I went back out to the Kinotek to wait for the bus. It took us to the Panzer museum (not a pleasant drive really, since the bus smelled like a mixture of sweat and mildewed towels) where we got to check out some Polish and Soviet planes (Korean war era) as well as a variety of tanks. This baby one (we were calling it the “Corgi tank”. I can just see Milo and Maisie driving it) was my favorite.

You just wanna give it a hug.

We loaded ammo, cleaned a tank barrel, checked out a tank engine, and watched an impromptu tank parade made up of the Corgi tank and two other tanks of increasing size. (Funny – one of the Polish guides “complimented” a French journalist who was doing the ammo loading thing, by saying he was better at it than the Germans. It was the way he said it that was funny. “Yeah, you have a reputation for being terrible at this, but you are actually better than the German guys!” Way to improve international relations, dude.)

Choking on dust and tank fumes.

It was interesting all in all, but the temperature dropped as the sun went down, and my attention span dropped right along with it. We were glad to get back on the bus and head back to the Kinotek. By then I was not only freezing, I was dying to wash my dirty hands. We walked back through town to a restaurant on Nowy Sviat (a very pretty street lined with shops and restaurants) to get some traditional Polish fare.

We chose a place specifically for the hot beer they were supposed to have, but our waiter was a stubborn cuss, and and since it’s a holiday drink, he wasn’t inclined to have the bartender make it for us. Instead he pushed the hot mead so we tried that. It was extreeeeemely sweet, which seemed like a mistake (as in, not fermented long enough) but the heat of it was welcome. We had to sit outside since the restaurant was tiny, but they had heaters and wool blankets for your legs which made it bearable.

Second dinner.

We fulfilled the fat American stereotype by ordering two entrees each (I had the Bigos – hunter’s stew – a mixture of meat and cabbage and a selection of pierogies) which is good because it took forever to get the second half of our order. Service here is very slow. There’s definitely no concept of efficiency when it comes to Polish waiters or kitchen staff. You can wait for an hour before they finally bring you anything.

Oh, and the waiter was pushy about what we wanted to eat too – we wanted the Polish sausage and he told us not to get it and tried to push the special – rabbit with cream sauce. Dude, shut your pie hole and bring me what I want! (He was also very strident too at the end of the meal, making sure we knew the tip wasn’t included in the bill.)

Stuffed with meat and pierogies, we rolled out of there and back toward the hotel, stopping for ice cream and other convenience store stuffs to take back to the room. I found a new favorite – a chocolate bar with a liquid cherry center. Mmmm….

Warsaw Day 3 – 50 Cent and Wargaming go head to head

Well it’s finally here – the first day of the World of Tanks Grand Finals. Today at breakfast, I had the courage to try the stuff in the bottles. Turns out, it’s flavored vodka, which I guess Polish people drink with breakfast because (as a girl at the buffet told me) “it’s not that strong.” (it’s 30 proof)

Cherry, walnut and pear vodka. It's what's for breakfast.

Fortified by booze, I walked from the hotel, across town to the venue (a cinema attached to a giant modern mall. I wanted to slide down this thing, and after my morning aperitif, was sure I could do it.)

Just gimme a bathmat.

The place was mobbed and I was amazed at how popular World of Tanks really is in Poland until I realized that the reason for the crowd was a coincidental visit from rapper 50 Cent who was there plugging his new headphones. Talk about an unexpected occurrence.

That tiny speck in the distance is 50 Cent.

Expensive little buggers.

Anyway, the Grand Finals were held in the craziest movie house I’ve ever seen. Like something out of a futuristic eight year old’s dreams.

VIP bar at the cinema. Who does this?

After a press conference, the battles began in earnest. I was expecting them to be fairly static and was surprised to find that the rivalry between the American team S.I.M.P. and the Polish team Lemming Train were pretty intense. The whole theater of course was cheering for the home team and I found myself really wishing the Americans would win. The two teams were pretty evenly matched, but in the end, Lemming Train prevailed.

Taking a break from the battles (which went on for 9 hours), I went walking around the nearby area where I found that you can dress like a matador if you shop at the Polish H&M and that TJ Maxx here is called “TK Maxx”. (It’s the little things, Jules.)

Matador is the new black.

I also sat outside a humongous Soviet structure, a kind of tourist center/technical museum and watched as what looked like a trio of art students giggled and took photos. Looks like the photographer was going for an homage to Willy Wonka?

Oh you crazy art students.

Waves of tiredness kept hitting me throughout the day, despite this break and frequent coffee breaks, a mediocre sushi lunch and a painfully sweet thing I bought that was like raspberry cream cheese sandwiched between two meringues—shudder.

I frankly didn’t think I’d make it until the end of the day, having to interview Wargaming execs and watch even more battles (dark, hot theater = narcolepsy), but I did. By then though, I and several other members of the media were famished. We attempted to go to this traditional Polish pierogi place, but they were tiny, packed, and not particularly keen to help us, judging by the hostess’s attitude. We ended up back at the Hard Rock Cafe nibbling appetizers, drinking beers and throwing back vodka and shots of some sort of heinous blue stuff. We also saw this puffy shirt on the wall which I thought belonged to Prince but which actually belonged to some Polish rockstar.

Someone's been raiding the Purple One's closet.

No food and too much alcohol did us in so we went back to the hotel around midnight.

Today – round two of the Grand Finals, but first, we’re headed to a tank museum where we’ve been promised a cool tour and tank rides! I’m hoping this time we get to ride IN the tanks as opposed to ON them.