World of Warships Trip: Day 4 – There is such a thing as too much borscht

Most of our last day consisted of a visit to the offices of Lesta Studio, Wargaming’s development partners, most of which I’ll write about in my professional pieces. I can though, make non-work comments about (what else?) today’s food.

First…lunch. We had lunch at Lesta Studio’s canteen and once again our starter was borscht. That was my third bowl in as many days, and although it wasn’t bad, when I was done with it, I was pretty much borscht-ed out. Of course what came after the borscht kinda made me want more borscht.

Lunch’s main course closely resembled something freshly squeezed, and I don’t mean juice.

It wasn't easy to dig into that, believe you me.

So, anyway, I haven’t been impressed with lunches here, but dinners, I’m happy to report, seem to fare much better. After the Lesta office visit was done, we went for dinner to Russkaya Ryumochnaya No. 1 where we sampled a range of interesting starters, such as meat-flavored jello:

Pineapple's for amateurs.

Pickled ears–er…mushrooms:

The onions kill the eariness.

Caviar:

Soooo salty.

And veal cooked to the consistency of shoe-leather. (Admittedly flavorful shoe leather, especially with the fatty brown gravy that came with it.) To wash it all down I had Russian Kvas, some kind of lingonberry-like juice and a range of different vodkas, starting with one made locally:

In Russia, vodka drinks you.

…as well as a cherry flavored vodka, a vodka made the “old way” (sounded from the waiter’s description like the vodka equivalent of moonshine) and best of all – a horseradish vodka. The last was seriously good although the smell could set your nose hair on fire.

Alas, after today my visit is nearly done. I’m going to do my best to get up early tomorrow and walk around for a couple hours before the bus comes to whisk me away to the airport.

World of Warships Trip: Day 3 – MORE Fun With Fortresses

So. Upon learning I’d be traveling to Russia, I was a little concerned about the food. I’ve since learned that the stereotypical bad food is not all-pervasive, but our lunch (sorry Wargaming! No offense!) totally met expectations.

During the tour, we stopped at a restaurant with a festive nautical theme (that part was really cool).

On the tables were “salads,” (a small, dry and unseasoned piles of raw veg), and we were brought something akin to borscht with some kind of meat in it. For our main we were offered “fish or meat;” for some reason I took meat, not knowing what that even meant. “Meat” was two little disks with the texture of cottage cheesey tofu accompanied by a handful of extremely salty potatoes.

Spongy, but then again, mealy.

Dessert consisted of dry, unadorned crepes with a stingy lump of jam(?) and our beverage (which came at the end of the meal) was a vaguely berry-flavored pink liquid with a grainy finish.

So yeah. Let’s just pretend lunch didn’t happen.

Post-lunch, we got in the bus and headed for Kronstadt Fortress.

Once the center of Russia's proud naval defense.

Now this was a pretty cool adventure, and I do mean cool. We took a boat to the island fortress and were greeted at the dock by a salty old seadog. No really, a sea…dog.

Aside from the dog, the best thing about this picture is the brick wallpaper.

Afterward, a guide took us around the fortress ruins and waited for us to turn into icicles. Ok, not really. What he actually did was tell a a group of steadily freezing and progressively less attentive game journalists as much as he could about the fortress’ place in history. The building itself was very cool in a crumbly, unsafe, “bricks could fall on your head at any time” kind of way. Currently, it seems to serve mostly as a place for Russian teens to hang out and drink Miller Lite.

Whooo! I can't feel my face!

We were supposed to go to a second fortress, but because of the cold (or perhaps because we were driving the guide nuts by dragging our heels everywhere) we instead got on the bus and headed back to the heart of the city. Unbeknownst to us, rush hour in St. Petersburg makes rush hour in L.A. look like a cakewalk.

It took roughly 2 hours to get back to where we were having dinner, and most of us gave up the consciousness fight on the way. It was worth the gridlock though, since we were treated to a nice dinner on a boat – sort of a dinner cruisey kind of thing – with beautiful views of the city and some excellently prepared food that more than made up for our lunch debacle.

10:20 p.m. This is as dark as it gets.

Well, that’s one seriously full day. Tomorrow we visit Lesta studio and see some World of Warships. Wheee!

World of Warships Trip: Day 3 – Fun With Fortresses

Today began at 3:45 a.m. with my calf muscle bunching itself into an extremely painful ball. Nothing like a wee hours Charlie horse (or in this case, a “Чарльз horse”) to get that jet lag going full steam.

Even with 4.5 hours of sleep, I was jazzed for our city tour however, so after a stop at the hotel breakfast buffet – which was pretty extensive and featured miniature blinis:

Mmm...blinis.

…and baked beans, I hopped on a bus with the Wargaming group. It was definitely colder than the forecast had predicted, so despite the disappointment of passing by so many interesting sights, we were fortunate to have the bus. (Little did we know how fortunate. More on that later.)

One of our first stops was this bakery/ice cream shop/seller of all things meat/cheese/alcohol. It was inside an art nouveau building and was really just an incredible fantasyland of delicious treats, including this fantastic white chocolate bust of Lenin.

Mmm...dictator.

After the sweet shop, we went on to the Fortress of Peter and Paul, which is in the middle of the city and features a hare for a mascot.

So THAT'S what the guide meant when she said 'hare piles.'

It also featured one of the most bizarre sculptures I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s of Peter the Great, known among his detractors as “The Tsar with the Tiniest Head.”

He looks like David Byrne in his big suit.

The tsars are buried at the cathedral inside the Fortress, but my main takeaway was the souvenir stand’s generous display of macho Putin T-shirts.

Hat, fur coat, aviators? Take your pick.

Amazing stuff. And all before lunch!

World of Warships Trip: St. Petersburg Days 1&2 – Mansatlantic Crossing

Days one and two of such trips tend to consist almost entirely of traveling, and as such, are thin on anecdotes. In fact, the highlight of my transatlantic flight was sitting next to a guy with a terminal case of Manspread.

There should be a law.

Wtf is wrong with people? How can they think it’s OK to invade someone else’s tiny, cramped airline space like this? This dude’s knee was a third of the way into my space the entire 11 hour journey to Frankfurt, and just in case that wasn’t irritating enough, he’d periodically punctuate his rudeness by kicking my bag, which was under the seat in front of me. Oh well. At least he didn’t spend the entire trip staring disapprovingly at me like the Russian grandma did on my last ocean-crossing.

She didn't trust me. No sir, not one little bit.

After surviving the Manspreader, the transfer from Frankfurt to St. Petersburg was hiccup-free (aside from the hour it takes getting from one gate to another in Frankfurt airport) and we landed in Peter the Great’s swamp-turned-city around 5 o’clock. It was cold enough to see our breath, and the overall atmosphere was worthy of a Russian novel – grim, gray and drizzling.

From the plane the countryside was lush and pretty: the man-made stuff, not so much. Buildings are blocky and drab, ad signage is simple and void of design. Fortunately, we by-passed the more industrial areas and arrived at our hotel which is in a more historic area.

Hotel Angleterre lobby

St. Isaac's Cathedral

And hey, when I got to my room, there was a cute little boat floating in my sink, courtesy of Wargaming. :)

Festive!

Before retiring, I enjoyed a hot shower–or I was enjoying a hot shower until the steam made one of the lights in my bathroom start strobing. All of a sudden it was Studio 54 in there, and I shut off the water in a hurry. All I needed was an alarm to bring an angry Russian housekeeper to my door.

Wargaming Tournament Trip, Part V – Beer Festival!

This is mean, but I just couldn’t resist texting my husband (who’s a craft beer fanatic) and telling him, “Guess where I’m going today? I’m such an ass.

The festival was (as mentioned before) at Legia Stadium, and I was early so I stood outside for an hour with four other guys who were as anxious as I to sample Poland’s offerings. I asked a question of one particular portly man, and he was a little stand-offish at first. He warmed up to me though. He was secondarily a Czech Hewlett-Packard employee—primarily, he was an avid beer label collector. He told me he had more than 300,000!

He was a nice guy actually, and even bought me a ticket to the festival. (Don’t get too excited – they were only $2.50 each.)

I got the Golden Ticket.

Once inside, (it was held in kind of the concession area at the top of the stadium) there seemed to be 20-30 stands, some with multiple brewers, and a good selection of Polish craft beer. Craft beer is still pretty new in Poland it seems, and they haven’t yet figured out how beer festivals are meant to work.

Why, Poland? WHY?

Poland's idea of a sample.

Rather than giving out samples, they wanted to pour you a full glass of beer. It was cheap – maybe one or two dollars—but there’s no way you can drink multiple glasses of craft beer and still remember your name. I ended up sipping a sample for a little, then sneaking to the downstairs ladies room to dump the rest of it out. That process didn’t allow me to try more than a handful (the highlight was one called “Smoky Joe” – a smoky stout by Hop Head Browar) so in a way, the experience was disappointing. I think there were many, many good beers there, and it was sad not to have my way with all of them.

In the end, I did have enough to put me in the kind of reckless mood that makes me think things like, “Let’s order an extra large pizza at midnight!” so on the way back to the hotel, I bought a little treat from a small bakery.

I don’t know what it was called. In fact, I only know four things about it:

1. It cost around $.70.
2. It had an unexpected cookie-like texture
3. It was stuffed with Nutella.
4. It was friggin’ delicious.

Back at the hotel, I attended a Wargaming “welcome” dinner and cocktail hour at the baroque bar on the 40th floor. Sadly, my photos of the bar came out like crap, so instead, enjoy Poland’s loud-and-proud support of Heinz catsup.

Wargaming Tournament Trip, Part IV – Americans Are Funny

Up at 4 am with my head pounding like a male silverback gorilla. Carrying my 90 lb messenger bag the day before resulted in the tension headache to rule all tension headaches and the only solution for that was three ibuprofen and some impromptu Sun Salutations.

I didn’t think I’d get to sleep again right away afterwards, so I turned on the tube to maybe catch a Polish info-mercial. Polish rap music echoed off the walls, performed in front of a rapt audience by a group of young guys with a lot of attitude.

I quickly changed channels, but found nothing better: Seinfeld dubbed in Polish so the voices were totally incongruous with the actors, a horrible 3D cartoon featuring hat-wearing bears riding a boat and singing a song about Jesus, and a home improvement show that looked like it was filmed on some guy’s cell phone.

I fell asleep around oh, I’m guessing 5 :15, and the next time I opened my eyes I was shocked to see the clock glowing 12:03. Overall, I’d slept for 13 hours. I haven’t slept for 13 hours since high school. Luckily, we’d been given Friday as a free day, so no one was going to reprimand me for my sloth. While trying to ignore my throbbing head at 4 am, I’d discovered a craft beer festival going on at Legia Stadium. Talk about good timing!

Figuring by the time I got over there, it would have been on for a while, I hurried around getting ready and dashed to the lobby to exchange some cash. The guy at the window got a smirky smile on his face when I told him I wanted to exchange for some Polish currency. I asked why, and he said, “Oh, because it’s such a nice day outside.” Turns out, the smirk had to do with me not telling him what currency I wanted to exchange FOR. Ha ha, hee hee! Americans are funny!

I agreed with him on the weather, and just to be a jerk, said, “Yes, and you’re working, and I’m going to a beer festival!” No, he didn’t club me for saying that—he actually got a lot friendlier and somewhat apologetic for being a douche. Still, I felt like responding with a famous Peter Falk line from the movie Murder by Death.

“You pit your wits with me, little man, and you won’t have your wits to pit with, know what I mean?” — Sam Diamond

I get $50 a day plus expenses.

I cabbed it to the stadium (cabs here are very cheap, just like the food), scarfing a Starbucks latte and a sandwich made of some undefined (but delicious) meat. The place looked decidedly empty. I found some garage attendant type guy, who told me the festival didn’t start for three more hours. Doh!

I actually recognized the stadium area; I’d walked there during my first trip to Warsaw. There’s a large, pretty park nearby, so I headed into it. It was 68 degrees, sunny—the perfect day to hang out on a duck raft.

They should be wearing little yachting hats.

I spent the time trying to get more acquainted with my new-ish camera. It has so many settings on it I don’t understand, I still can’t make it produce more than mediocrity. At least the subject matter was interesting, like this graffiti decorating the pylons supporting the rail line…

Wargaming Tournament Trip, Part III – Pork Knuckle and Prostration

Finally made it to Warsaw, don’t ask me how. The flight from Frankfurt was a blur since I was only half-conscious during it. All I remember was an endless ride to the plane, packed like match sticks in a shuttle bus with a hundred other people. It went on so long, I was convinced they were driving us to Poland.

I managed to stay vertical until I checked into the Marriott Warsaw, but then the minute I stepped into my room, I heard the sound of running water. A previous occupant had thoughtfully left the toilet running for me, and since its workings were wall-mounted, there was nothing I could do about it. So even though all I wanted to do was go to sleep, I had to call the front desk and wait for a plumber.

He looked like this guy, but with a big mustache.

The good news is, while I was waiting, I was invited by Wargaming, to tag along on a dinner jaunt with a group of journalists from Asia. We went to a place on the Royal Route called Specjaly Regionaline, which as you might have guessed, specializes in traditional Polish food.

The traditional Polish waffle tower. No, not really.

The wooden fairytale book in which they bring the bill.

There, we partook of an obscene number of savory Polish dishes (like duck, goose, pork knuckle and blood sausage) as well as many tasty Polish drinks, including honey beer, which is my new (and potent) favorite.

I was worried about not fitting in, but the minute I took out my phone and started obsessively photographing my food, Wargaming’s PR Director informed me I was “so Asian.” :)

After dinner, I was fading fast and happy to walk back to the hotel. Along the way we spotted a HUGE Wargaming logo on the side of the train station:

…and this guy.

I immediately thought of my husband. If you knew him, you'd understand.

– By the time we got back, it was all I could do to press the elevator button, open my room door, and fall on my face.

Wargaming Tournament Trip, Part II – Try Not to Pee at Frankfurt Airport

Oh Frankfurt airport, how I’ve missed your inadequate bathrooms!

Frankfurt airport is pretty darn big, as evidenced by the 5K I had to endure to get between gates. One positive of aspect of this airport is its free luggage trolleys. Canceled out by that positive is one negative—the airport’s attitude toward the disposal of human waste.

Last time I was here, I waited in an endless line for a one-seater women’s toilet. This time, I walked and walked and walked, finally saw a toilet, went into it, and found a long line of women waiting to use (shudder) a toilet that didn’t flush. I did a quick about-face and left, amazed at how blasé these ladies were about taking turns perching upon a cauldron full of filth.

Noooooooo...

I trudged to the next bathroom (stopping along the way to buy a $6 bottle of Coke. I’m not kidding – six dollars.)

This bathroom was miraculously empty and had twelve or so stalls, but all of them were locked. No one was in them—they were just for some reason, inaccessible. I loaded up my trolley again (oh, and btw I somehow ended up with the oldest, noisiest trolley in European history. You shoulda seen me squealing my way like a poorly-oiled shopping cart past gate after gate.) and found a toilet designated for disabled persons. Since no one was around, and I really had to go, I dodged inside.

Frankfurt must have been struck by an epidemic of non-flushing toilets, because the toilet in that bathroom was stuffed full of paper. Thinking to confirm it’s lack of flush-power before using it, I pulled a red cord hanging from the wall. No flush. Not that surprising really, since the cord had nothing to do with flushing and belonged to an emergency notification system designed to bring airport staff running.

A loud beeping started blaring from a wall-mounted intercom and I admit it; I panicked. Frantically pressing every button on the thing, I called into it, “I’m fine! Nevermind! I’m OK!” No one responded, so I got out of there as fast as my old, squealing trolley wheels would let me.

Oy. Looks like I’m holding it until Warsaw. I guess one consolation is how much the Germans love David Lynch. Well, at least his coffee.

That's a damn fine cup of coffee.

Consolation #2 is how nice the ceiling is in Frankfurt airport. Here’s a picture of it. It’s the last thing I saw before I collapsed on a bank of seats and my eyes slammed shut.

Wargaming Tournament Trip, Part I – Being mistaken for German and questioning Ridley Scott’s judgment

It all started with rude Lufthansa employees.

The girls at the check-in desk (both before and after security) seemed to think my simple check-in questions were designed to antagonize them, and they made no bones about their disgust at my (and other customers’) informational need. One passenger who approached the desk was actually dismissed with a combination eye-roll and “shooing” motion.

You’d think that after the high-profile disaster where one of their pilots intentionally killed a plane load of people, Lufthansa would bend over backwards to keep people from running away in fear. Yes, you would think that, but if you did, you’d be wrong.

I’m happy to say, the staff on the plane was much more professional. Funny thing though; one particular stewardess was determined to believe I was German. At her first German overture (makes it sound like she was handing out hot towels in a horned Wagnerian helmet)

I responded with an awkward ‘Merican “thank you,” which should have tipped her off to my utter ignorance of the German language. It didn’t though, and from then on, she rattled away at me in German at every opportunity. Eventually, I just played along, nodding up-and-down or side-to-side, depending on what she offered. Cart full of duty-free cigarettes? No thanks. Tray of water and juice? Don’t mind if I do!

In between these vaguely embarrassing exchanges, I went forward with my usual international flight orgy of movie-watching. I got in Lincoln, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and The Imitation Game. Really enjoyed the first and third, but what was going ON with the casting of Exodus? Christian Bale as Moses (employing an accent that was 25% Laurence Olivier, 75% Jersey Shore) and Aaron Paul–otherwise known as Jesse on Breaking Bad–as Joshua (Hey, check out the God of Israel, yo!”) and Sigourney Weaver and John Turturro as Egyptians. Did someone lose a bet?

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.