Category Archives: Europe

Dinner in Poland, Montenegro Restaurant

Arriving to a very cold and already very dark Warsaw mid afternoon I was tired, due to a mix of small episodes of sleep between work shifts and that exhaustion tiredness various modes of transportation in a reasonably short amount of time causes. Honestly, all I wanted to do was find my hostel and get into bed and watch Netflix. However, Netflix is not an option in Poland and I knew better. So once connected to the wifi and having ignored work and real life emails which came through with a continuious buzz, I did a quick Google search for somewhere to eat nearby. The first dozen results were either Italian or Indian, so I may have been forgiven for almost missing a Yugoslavian restaurant in the mad scroll from my finger rapidly flicking the screen upwards. However my eyes did catch something different in between the pizza and tandoori pattern, and after a quick look at the reviews and the four minute walk away, I knew what my night would entail…after a quick nap.

The restaurant may look small on arrival, however a staircase leads upstairs to additional seating. The white washed wooden funiture, plus decorations of gas lamp style candle holders and branches tied together with canvas rags seem to fit perfectly into a Sydney beachside suburb cafe, but what pulls the place together and gives it that comfortable atmosphere is the mismatched photo frames covering one of the four walls. As hipster as it sounds, it is pulled off perfectly and with a edge of class. The frames display old, personal, portraits of Polish military men, photographs of women playing with children, men sitting outside cafes smoking and chatting, and families going on vacation next to 50’s and 60’s styled cars.

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The staff are friendly, and though they aren’t the highest level of professionalism, they do try by being polite, with excellent English and making sure everything is going well without being pesty. Who wants a uptight, snooty waiter anyway?

Wanting a glass of wine, the wine list offers several varieties, though only one type of red and one type of white are available by the glass. Easy decision then with a glass of red, which was very enjoyable and smooth.

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I started with a fish soup, though a couple of years ago this was a disgusting thought to me, my mind was changed after a delicious fish soup I had in The Basque region of Spain. Although a particular toad and fish soup in a Peruvian market could have turned me off fish in general, my Spainish experience won over and I was happy I made the right decision. Consisting of a cut of flaky fish, possibly cod, a cloudy broth, carrots, capsicums (peppers), parsley, a mild chilli oil which made to top of the soup a red oily consistency, perfectly seasoned and with a squeeze of lemon to tie it all together perfectly, I could have walked down to the kitchen and stood over the pot with a spoon all night.

As a main I went for the lamb cutlets, won over by the choice between polenta and potatoes, I was craving a good soft polenta. Yet of course I forgot to specify my order and was presented with fried potatoes instead. A brief moment of regret was quickly forgotten when I tried the  potatoes which had the exact right amount of salt and rosemary coating them, and sat upon several excellently grilled vegetables. The winner of the dish of course though were the cutlets. Again, seasoned and marinated perfectly, those bad boys weren’t on my plate for long. The first bite was an overwhelming surprise and the rest just seemed to dissappear. When all the meat which I was able to pull off the bone with a knife and fork was devoured I was tempted to rip the small amount of remaining meat off using my hands and teeth, like I would do at my grandmothers house whenever she would treat me with lamb cutlets. However my mother had taught me manners, and this wasn’t was grandmother’s house, so I pushed the almost clean bones to the side and savoured my last few sips of wine.

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Montenegro Restaurant and Bar
Natolinska 3, Warsaw, Poland

Hot’ Horse Burgers in Slovenia

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When the rest of the world went into an international hissy fit over traces of horse DNA in burgers, I can only assume that the Slovenian’s reactions was something along the lines of: “What’s the big deal? It’s only a little horse meat.”

Though it is rarely purchased due to the fact that it is quite expensive at butchers compared to other more common meat like beef, there is one place which offers this product in a fairly normal way…hamburgers. Just outside the city centre, there are two separate fast food stores which offer horse burgers at a fairly reasonable price.

If the name ‘Hot Horse’ hasn’t put you off trying one of them yet, once inside the small, brightly light box, completely stereotypical of all other fast food chains worldwide, you place your order at touch screen machine. Besides burgers, they also offer wraps and salad, and as well as the traditional style burger, there is also the choice of a wholegrain bun for a ‘healthier’ option. You then press in all your preferred salads and extras – just like at Subway. It is then briskly made for you at the counter and you are left to find a seat among families, business people grabbing something to eat after work, and groups of youths who obviously prefer the taste of horse, rather then a McDouble Cheeseburger, to munch down on as they waste their teenage years hanging around in fluorescently lit boxes.

The first bite tastes just like a frankfurt – you know the one used for hot dogs, which consists of all the left overs scrapped off the butcher’s floor, put through a machine and piped into the artificial red skin. I was fine with this, really, but after a moment or two it starts to get really funky. I’m not sure how I would describe it’s taste, but personally, it was not an enjoyable experience. I would like to point out that this is coming from the person who has willingly tried, and would happily eat again, the following: dog, the inside of a pigs skull, insects, spiders, snake, guinea pig, snakes blood, rice whiskey which still had various scales floating in it, an unidentifiable organ from am unknown animal, and toad and fish soup. Okay, so I probably wouldn’t have the toad and fish soup again, because that was actually nasty, but you see my point. So yes, with the mindset of, ‘whatever, I’ve eaten worst’, I walked in there feeling pretty confident. So although I couldn’t finish it (and anyone who has eaten a meal with me, which usually takes me less than five minutes, knows that this is a quite a statement), everyone has different taste buds, preferences and likes and dislikes – so if you’re game enough, go for it! Try something new.

“Of Course You’re Going To Slovenia”

“Of course you’re going to Slovenia.”

Said with a sigh, shrug of the shoulders and a quick roll of his eyes, my friend Dave stood in my room inquiring as to where exactly I was off to the next day. We met two years ago in Vietnam, and ever since his newsfeed has had a pretty constant stream of photos, statuses and check-in’s from all corners of the world – the majority of which have had my name attached to them. So his response was pretty understandable. Apparently I’m the “of course she is” friend.

The next day, after a particularly boozy evening and an impressive 5:00am return home, I got up at the fairly respectable time of 10:30. Followed by a run to the shop for eggs and a hungover household breakfast of bacon and egg sandwiches was made, I was walking out the door still shoving clothes into my bag for the next week. The next several hours were lost in transit, but I eventually arrived in Ljubljana.

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The week before I had met a friend of a friend, another Australian who had just moved to London, at a dinner with a bunch of other Australian’s (which seems to happen on a weekly basis actually). We got talking about backpacking around Europe (something which every Australian seems to talk about with other Australian’s), and she starting saying how much she loved Ljubljana; hence my decision to go and check it out for myself. I had rather high expectations already – as one would, hearing it be described as “my favourite place in Europe” – but even those expectations were pushed out of the way as even my first impression – a dreary, raining, cold night – found me liking Ljubljana even more then I had expected.

After finally finding my hostel (has it been mentioned that I am, quite ironically, extremely bad at directions and geography?) at the well known Sax Pub, a blues a jazz pub in the bohemian part of Trvono, I caught up on some missed sleep from the night before. Next next morning, after a bit of a sleep in, I headed out to find some breakfast. If I thought I was impressed the evening before, this morning I was one hundred times more. Standing on the stone paved road, in front of me was a narrow river which was border either side with tall trees, their leaves hanging down in shades of yellows and oranges. Now, I’ve always had this impression of Eastern Europe – gathered mainly from Vice documentaries on drug epidemics and illegal sex trade going-ons that it is kinda, a bit, dodgy and gross, probably with stray dogs just wandering around. Obviously however, I’ve been watching to many illegal sex trade documentaries. Okay, so maybe some parts are like that, but not here. Ljubljana is amazing, and everything about it is beautiful. The landscape, that buildings, the streets, and in particular, the people. I am yet to see an unattractive Slovenian, with the exception of a couple of 85 year old’s, but maybe they’re actually really attractive to other 85 year olds.

DSCN5394‘The Pink Church’, the main attraction in the Old Town centre.

So their country is beautiful, their architecture is beautiful, their people are beautiful – so far everything is going well for them. But it gets better – they speak perfect, fluent, 100% understandable English. Now I’m not one of those people who thinks everyone should speak it, not at all, but when someone does, it really makes everything a lot easier for everyone involved in communicating with me.

I arrived on a Saturday evening, and I’m going to be honest here…there really isn’t anything to do on a Sunday. Everything in the Old Town is closed, with the exception of the tourist information centre, a handful of restaurants, and a Zara store. Although the free walking tour does run every day and would be my recommendation of what to do on a Sunday. It starts at 11:00am, so not to much of a sleep in – unlike me. Due to the fact that I missed it, I went for a bit of a wander around and spent a bit of time taking some amazing pictures of the town in Autumn, followed by a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art. The rest of the day was spent in cafes and restaurants catching up on some writing or doing some reading. Everyone needs a day like that every once in a while, even while your traveling.

The next day I did drag myself out of bed at a reasonable hour and got out to see what the, somewhat more lively, streets of Ljubljana had to offer.

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The Dragon Bridge: a couple of hundred metres east of the main square is a bridge which, quite proudly, houses four statue dragons. Dragons happen to be the national emblem of Slovenia, appearing on the Coat of Arms and the Ljubljana flag. There are two stories as to why this is, one long and one short.

Let’s start with the short one; the main cathedral in Ljubljana is named and honored to Saint George, who as everyone knows, defeated a dragon.

Now the good one, and it involves Hercules; back in the mythological ages of Greece, there was a prince and his evil half uncle, and when it was time for the prince to inherit his royal duties the evil uncle stole his position and sent him away. Several years later, the prince returned demanding his rightful throne. The king decided to send him on a long journey, which he couldn’t possibly complete, and if he was to succeed the throne would be handed over to him. This journey involved traveling to Turkey to retrieve a magical woolen fleece. Well, when the prince got there with his posse, he tricked the guards and stole the fleece, fleeing back to their wooden boat, with them the beautiful princess, who went with him willingly of course, because after all, he is prince charming.

However, the Turks had followed him and the Prince knew that if he lead them back to Greece he would start a war. So instead, he decided to navigate their way through various rivers throughout what is now Eastern Europe, losing them on the way and making it safely back to Greece. However, while passing through Slovenia, the river dried up and turned into swampland, forcing the group to dismantle the boat entirely and carry it across. Luckily for them, Hercules was good friends with the Prince, and obviously did most of the heavy lifting. There was however, a dragon which guarded the swampland, and he challenged the Prince to a fight. Obviously the Prince won, as he always does in fairy tales, and they all went back to Greece where he claimed his throne and everyone lived happily ever after.

Which really doesn’t make any sense as to why you would put the defeated dragon on your Coat of Arms, but it makes a good story. It is also said that if a virgin is to walk over the bridge, the dragons will wiggle their tails. One Ljubljana local who I spoke to found this myth particularly funny, saying, “I’ve never seen that happen. I guess that says something about our people!” he exclaimed. He also had quite a laugh when he said, “Maye we should get Miley Cyrus to walk across it. A wreaking ball might come along and smash it to bits!”

The bridge itself however, was built between the two World Wars, when Slovenia was under Austrian rule and very poor. The bridge was the first of it’s kind, as it was built with an untested material of crushed rocks which were mixed with cement, due to the bad economic situation at that time. As it had never been tested to with stand use, the Austrians decided to give the Slovenian’s their bridge, arguing that if it did collapse, no harm done.

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Unlike most statues in Europe (and their is a fucking lot!) which depict conquers, monarchist, and military generals, the statue in the main square of Ljubljana is of the Slovenian poet, France Preseren. The Slovenian people believe that anyone who has contributed to language and literature, has had as much of an impact on their history then any military General. Personally, I find this extremely cool! Preseren was considered to be quite the romanticist, and wrote many well know Slovenian poems, as well as their national anthem. Above his statue sits another of a muse for him, just like most statues of other poets. In cities like Paris for example, statues of naked women has always been widely excepted. In Ljubljana however, a predominantly Catholic population at the time of it’s construction, this was not the case. Locals would complain about it’s lack of modesty, particularly visible from the church’s steps. It is said that to solve this problem, three large trees were planted on the statues right, blocking it from view of the church. This works great all times of the year, except for winter when the trees leaves fall of and no longer provide a barrier between the two sides of the square.

DSCN5392Juliet, France Peresen’s real life muse.

Peresen also had a real life muse, coincidentally, named Juliet. He first met, and feel in love with Juliet when she was just 13 years old – he, 42. Peresen would continuously ask her out, Juliet always refusing. Eventually Juliet grew up, married, grew old and lived happily every after with her husband. She continued however, to be Peresen’s muse, and was the inspiration of many of his writings and poems. Juliet also had a statue put in the Old Town square, on the side of a building, in the direct eye line of France Peresen’s statue, so that he can forever admire his real true love.

DSCN5432The beautifully lined canals of Ljubljana.

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Although most people assume that the Lover’s Bridge tradition started in Paris, being the city of love, it actually originated from Italy after a writer wrote a novel about two lovers who locked a lock onto a particular bridge in Italy, and threw the key into the water to symbolise their love. People started to copy this act, and it soon spread throughout Italy, into France, and now Slovenia. What’s ironic about the one in Ljubljana is that, unlike the romantic name of Lover’s Bridge in Paris, this one is called Butcher’s Bridge, due to the butcher shops with border it’s entrance. Although the government don’t seem to mind the new tradition which locals have started, they do however come along once a year and take a a hundred or so locks off when they feel that it is getting a little to crowded.

DSCN5416Local florists selling their flowers at the town’s outdoor markets.

In the middle of Ljubljana is a hill, and upon that hill sits a castle which looks down on the city. Although the castle it’s self isn’t as exciting as some in other countries, and the grounds seem to mainly accommodate people walking their dogs and a few groups with a quite recognisable smell of weed coming from their direction, it does house two restaurants within the castle’s walls. One is a ‘Jamie Oliver style’ Slovenian cuisine restaurant, and the other serves upĀ  traditional medieval dishes.

There are two ways to get to the top of the hill and the castle. The first being a ride in the shuttle for about 4 euros, and the other being a slightly steep walk up. Because I’m cheap, and feel as if I should probably do more physical exercise then I actually do, I decided to walk. It’s been a few months since I was trekking various mountains in Peru (and even then, with the altitude, thin air, and the fact that I’m not fit at all, I was dying) I did stop a couple of times, but trust me, it’s worth it, because when you get to the top you are greeted with this view.

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And here marks the third time I have ever seen snow. I can only imagine what it would have looked like during winter!

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