Monday, February 19, 2018

It Wasn't All about the Food, but This Post Is All about the Food

What’s up, friends. How goes it?

I left you last with toilet bowls and whetted palates. (Huh? Go to the last post if you actually want to know what I’m talking about.)

Most importantly, I said I’d let the meals we had at Moszna Castle speak for themselves, and I intend to stick to that promise. However, I do want to give a little bit of context. Before going to Poland, Dane and I were not certain how we’d fare, in terms of our vegan diet, while in Moszna. We knew that, in Warsaw, we’d have an abundance of options because, as our research told us and as our experience proved, the city is full of vegan and vegetarian options. In fact, on our first night there, we went to an all-vegan sushi restaurant called Youmiko. Feast your eyes on THIS:

Brooooooo, you have no idea how tasty this miso soup is!

That, my friends, is eggplant and some sort of vegan fish-egg–looking stuff. Delightful.

Dane had been there once or twice before and it had blown his mind. We were lucky to get a table that evening, as a party of two, because they were completely booked. On our final evening, the restaurant was closed; we were, indeed, prepared to go back to Youmiko for another unique experience, since the menu features a number of types of rolls but, ultimately, diners are regaled with the chef’s choice of ingredients and ingredient arrangements, which vary by day and season. So, since Youmiko was closed, we opted for a tried-and-true classic, with locations reliably scattered all around the world: Loving Hut. This, too, offered a stellar meal, and I was glad I’d ordered too much food, because my leftovers served as breakfast at five a.m. the following morning. Here’s some food for your imagination:

This is what became my breakfast.

It turned out to be the ultimate “boy meal,” as Dane would say.

How do they do it?!

It was cold right by the door, so we kept all of our layers on.
The true star of the show on this trip, of course, as I indicated earlier, was the food at Moszna Castle. Being in the middle of nowhere (in our perception) in a country whose cuisine is not famous for being vegan-friendly, the Polish castle stood as a symbol of bleak uncertainty: Would the chefs have access to vegan ingredients? What will happen if we’re served a meal that isn’t actually vegan? What if we’re hungry between meals—will there be snacks? What’ll happen if there’s no one who speaks English if we have questions about our meal? And will we get enough protein?

(Side-note: I know vegans get annoyed by the “Where do you get your protein?” query from non-vegans, but, honestly, when you’re travelling and you have little or no control over the origins and preparation of your sustenance, you can find yourself feeling hungry really quickly when white pasta or potatoes or vegetables, as delightful and delicious as they are, are all the vegan options in sight and no beans or nuts are made available—tofu doesn’t even cross your mind, of course, because it’s usually too foreign a food in non-vegan contexts.)

Anyway, we covered our bases as best as we could: we communicated to the event organizers our dietary preferences far in advance and I bought us a sh*t-tonne of protein bars.

I also got lip balm and vegan jerky.
Before launching into the photos of exquisite meals that we shared at Moszna Castle, let me tell you this: of all the protein bars we brought to Poland, maybe four were eaten, and maybe two were eaten at Mosnza Castle proper. The rest, we brought home for me to eat on bike rides between campus and home. Dude, we were taken care of. Like, while everyone got their food from the buffet-style main table, we showed up at the counter of the dining hall, ordered ourselves espressos at almost every meal (yup), and stated our veganness to the staff. (Eventually, they knew us on sight and we did not need to say anything.) The staff nodded, crafted espressos, handed us said espressos, and off to a table of our choosing we went. And then they would bring each of us a gigantic plate containing a generous serving of artfully placed items—a selection of vegetables, proteins, and a starch. And as much as it dismays me to waste food, I don’t think I ever could finish a single plate that was served to me. They really wanted to make sure that we never left hungry!

And we never did; here’s proof:

I brought that Valsoia with my from Italy. 

I miss the soups the most.
Like I said: they took care of us, and incredibly well. They were stellar hosts. 

Thank you, CDPR, for allowing me to tag along and for looking out for all of us. And thank you to all the staff at Moszna Castle. Thanks to the casters, the friends of the casters, the players, the friends of the players, the production team, the friends of the production team, the cosplayers, the friends of the cosplayers, and anyone whom I might have missed. Basically, thanks to all the new friends. I had a truly meaningful experience and I am infinitely grateful for the unique view that I was afforded of the competitive e-sports world and, namely, the world of Gwent. I hope to attend another tournament soon! (First, though, I think I need to finish my PhD…)

CD Projekt Red, you are all super rad, and I thank you and the competitors that you bring together for filling my life, via Dane, with opportunities, love, support, intrigue, joy, and generosity. It is a unique gift to see one’s partner fulfill and live his dreams in the span of one year of dedicating himself to them, and I am psyched to be along for the ride.

With immense gratitude to you, dear readers, for riding along with us by reading and supporting us, I send you hugs and wish you a happy, healthy, safe, and peaceful 2018/Lunar New Year. I’ll talk to you soon.

Later, skaters.



Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Plague that Pummelled Our People in Poland

December 26, 2017

It’s been a week, to the day, since I came back from Poland. One week ago, I was cruising the skies with 200-or-so people, headed for home to Canada after a visit to my ancestral home and a place completely foreign to me—that is, Italy and Poland, respectively. Now, I’m sitting in the kitchen of my mum’s condo in my true hometown: Montréal—or, rather, Pierrefonds, in the West Island of Montréal, but it’s just two small towns away from where I grew up in Île Bizard.

Today is Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, and I can hear the stirrings in the condo above my mum’s as the day gets started. The last few days have been sweetly spent with family. My voice grew hoarse on Christmas Eve because we’re a bunch of yellers (in a good way), and I have another busy day of zipping around town today to visit with relatives and friends before heading back to Toronto tomorrow.

It’s always bittersweet to leave: I don’t like Montréal anymore (for reasons I can explain another time), though it has its charms and I have a great number of soft spots for it; what I love about Montréal, though, is my loved ones who dwell here, and it is always hard to be away from them. This visit has been particularly short, which makes the visit more rushed, and there are relatives and friends I won’t get to see, but that’s okay: I’ll come back. That’s how it is with all my travels: I try not to fret about missing this or that, because I always have the option to come back.

… but I truly doubt that I’ll ever go back to Moszna Castle. That, my friends, is a once-in-a-lifetime type o’ thing. Really. Take a look at this snazzy sh*t.

I closed the last post with this suspenseful statement: “And this was even amidst a plague that tore through Moszna Castle with abandon on the first days there!” This still makes me laugh, but maybe it’s because I had not succumbed to the plague. Sure, tonnes of people close to me, including Dane, were affected, but I was joyfully plague-free!

The “plague” was the term not-so-affectionately given to the mysterious malaise that affected a number of individuals, causing them to fall ill in some way during our four-day sojourn in the magnificent Moszna Castle. For some people, it resembled a cold; for others, it affected the ears or head in general; for others still, it doubled you over, drained you of energy and colour, and invited you to become intimate with the toilet in the nearest water closet.

Now, to be 100% clear, there was no one to blame for this—not food, not temperature, not lodgings. Winter had just fallen, many individuals had travelled from far as far as California and China, some people were overtired, the days were very long—boh. And maybe this was just one of those things where one person was sick and we were all in close quarters and then, Oops! Ouchies all around! (My friend told me recently, too, about the prevalence of sickness during and immediately after attending conventions. Just Google “con plague” and you will see ample first-hand evidence there.) Still, with everyone looking out for each other, taking breaks when needed, checking in on everyone else’s health, and providing aid in multiple forms, the show went on without a hitch and there was lots of cause for celebration. And as proof that the plague couldn’t actually take anyone down—or as proof that this guy is a determined and brilliant player—the winner of the Gwent “Challenger,” a dude who calls himself Freddybabes, confirmed on-camera that he was feeling ill when he played one of the most important games of the tournament. Right on.

Now, while all of this was happening—the production, the preparation, the intimate moments with toilet bowls—I was sometimes watching the cast, which started at four p.m. on December 16 and 17; at other times, I was going on walks, taking naps, meditating, writing, or getting lost in the castle.

And, of course, I was also eating. And the food here was really good.

I’ll let the food speak for itself in my next post, as I meticulously catalogued all of my meals at Moszna Castle, save for most breakfasts, and in Warsaw. Sadly, one of the best meals was served the one time I’d left my camera in my room! It was latkes and bean salad!

To whet your palate, though, before my next post, here’s a shot of the sushi that Dane and I devoured in Warsaw before we headed over to Moszna. And I hope that you’ll forgive me for the close proximity, in this post, of “intimate moments with toilet bowls” and “whet your palate.” Hahaha.

See you super soon,


Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Pretty but Perplexing Polish Idiom, or How I Fared Linguistically in Poland (and Germany)

Author’s note: Though I’m in Toronto now and it’s 2018, I wrote most of this post from Poland. I hope you enjoy! Oh, and if you want to catch up on what preceded this post, read this post first. Thanks!

Dzień dobry, my friends, and dzięnki for comin’ back here.

In my last post, I left you here: “I didn’t know what to expect, in this land that is still foreign to me, and my expectations have been far surpassed.” Indeed, still in Poland, I found myself, for the first time, in a country whose language I did not speak. Sure, this summer, I went to Germany and I don’t speak German, but even the Germans who said to us, “I don’t speak English very well” spoke English really well. So, we got around and made ourselves understood quite easily. And since we frequented only vegan restaurants and falafel joints, we were able to order anything we wanted from the former places with comfort and security, even if we did not share a mutual language with the staff there, and the falafel friends spoke a decent amount of English (that, and falafel is usually a pretty safe vegan bet). Additionally, with English being a Germanic language, we managed to accumulate a few key phrases for our travelling, and I’m still most proud of learning and using Entschuldigung in the correct circumstances, because that is a very long word, guys.

Okay, well, since I’m here, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to share a few shots of our trip to Köln for our buddy’s wedding this summer. Here ya go:

Basically, organic Nutella, but without trademark infringement or anything of the sort. It was so tasty that I bought another jar and two more of another brand... which all got confiscated when I was going through security in Frankfurt. Rest in peace, Bionella. You were good. (She was! Look how happy I am!)

The view from our apartment in Köln, in a building that, we learnt, is not well-liked—to put it lightly—by locals and that is thought to be sketchy. We enjoyed it and the view that it afforded; it is the only building of such grandeur, in terms of height, in the city. I meditated on two occasions on the terrifyingly high balcony, spending a big chunk of the meditation pondering and making peace with my potential demise should the balcony decide to give in to gravity under my weight. (Welcome to my mind.)

Me and Dane in front of the impeccably beauteous and beautifully hideous/hideously beautiful Gothic structure of the basilica in Köln. It is the first thing that greets you as you exit the train station and it is an architectural marvel. I love it.

The little things are the big things.

We made a point to see this structure as often as possible and at different times of day. It is truly breathtaking and terrifying at the same time.

I mean, look at it! Good lord! So spiky!

Vegan sushi all day, e’er day, at Maki Maki Sushi Green

Vegan schnitzel! In Germany! Broooooooooo. This food came from a restaurant that was also housed in a wellness/meditation facility; I think it was Osho’s Place. It was wicked. The place was bright and welcoming and this is where I got to say Entschuldigung in the correct context. Woo!

On our perambulations through the city, we just, you know, happened upon the Rhine, and these are the buildings that face it. They look particularly German, so we wanted to capture that.

El Rhino (not really. It is just the Rhine)

Dane having a particularly German experience at what became our favourite restaurant (we ate there twice): Signor Verde.
We had a blast there. We ended up having to leave a day early and, thus, bolted to the airport at three a.m. after having partied hard at our friend’s wedding because we were flying standby and our only chance to get home before Labour Day was, like, six hours after we got to our Air BnB from the wedding—and we needed to fly out of Frankfurt and not Köln, so we needed to catch a train at 4 a.m. to get to our 9 a.m. flight, and even then, we didn’t know if we would get on. If we hadn’t caught that flight [spoiler], we’d have been stuck in Europe for at least another five days. It was bonkers.


So, as I was saying, back in Poland (not Germany; I apologize for jumping back and forth in time and geoegraphy!), I couldn’t even pretend to know what the eff was going on linguistically. I’d started a few months ago to study Polish with the Duolingo app (which was my guide pre-Germany), and I think I abandoned my study after learning maybe seven words. I remember kobieta (‘woman’), mleko (‘milk’), and thought I remembered the word for ‘apple’, but I guess I do not. Oh, well. (I also do not remember anything from the summer of 2013 that I spent intensively learning ecclesiastical Latin, so, I am unsure as to what this says about the linguistic capabilities of one who is dedicated to language...)

Anyway, in terms of linguistic aptitude in this land whose language has no resemblance to the Romance languages I’ve studied in depth over the years, I acquired only a very loose handle on wegańska (‘vegan’, though I’m not sure about what gender, number, or case this is), Dzień dobry (‘greetings’, ‘good morning’, and ‘good afternoon’), Dobranoc (‘good night’ [this one is easy for me to remember because the noc is pronounced like ‘notes’, and that sounds a little bit like Italian notte]), dzięnkuję/dzięnki (‘thank you’/‘thanks’), na zdrowie (‘Cheers!’ or ‘To health!’), cześć (‘Hi’ or ‘Bye’ [another easy one to remember—but not to pronounce—because ciao works the same way in Italian]), tak (‘yes’), nie (‘no’), and proszę (‘please’ and ‘you’re welcome’—again, much like Italian prego, where it can mean ‘please’ [as in ‘please proceed’ or ‘go ahead’] and ‘you’re welcome’).

This is a screenshot I saved on my phone while waiting for Dane at the airport. I took fastidious notes, too (I learn best by writing).
Christina does not mess around. 
... scratch that: Christina does mess around. (She is very mature.)
And then there’s niegazowoda or something like that, which appears on bottles of water devoid of carbonation; all I remember is the description for uncarbonated water starts with nie for ‘no(t)’ and ends with woda for ‘water’. This is important if you find carbonated water to be vile-tasting, like Dane and I do. And in most parts of Europe, in my experience, drinking from the tap just is not the norm. (Isn’t it funny that carbonated water is the default here, such that its still/uncarbonated variant features the negation in its description, rather than “carbonated” being the descriptor for water with added carbonation? [Another side note: Dane was once called a “diva” by some of his Polish friends for requesting/preferring non-fizzy water. Ha! Talk about flipping stereotypes—that is, since, in North America, one might call someone preferring fizzy water a diva. Heh.])

Back to expectations being far surpassed (see the beginning of this post for the last line of the previous post. Like I said: I go on tangents and almost this entire post is one): I’m thinking specifically about the locale, the production, and, as this is a vegan blog, the vegan food. (I’ll come back to the food in its own separate post, because there is a lot to say and this is already becoming lengthy.) After day 1 of the “Challenger,” audiences were unanimous in their praises of the high production quality and the meticulous and “over and above” manner in which the stage was literally set for this immersion experience in Moszna Castle, the perfect stand-in for Emhyr’s castle (Emhyr being a central antagonist in the Witcher game series). A large community that can be notoriously hard to please (I’m not a gamer, but this is what I hear from the gamers in my life) was, well, delightfully pleased and even downright celebratory and singing CDPR’s praises publicly.

CDPR, evidently, listens well to fans and doesn’t mess around; they were right on the mark, with their inclusion of cosplayers and musicians; a premium production team and kickass set designers and stylists; hugely talented and enthusiastic commentators and hosts (please excuse my bias); and a breathtaking locale.

The dining hall was illuminated by candles and decorated for the festive celebration following the final day of the tournament.

The winner of the tournament, Freddybabes, being interviewed and photographed by journalists from China

Dane chatting with one of the competitors, Kolemoen, after the tournament. A cosplayer can be seen in the background, sporting the Nilfgaard logo or crest.

A cosplayer dressed as Ciri. I spoke with her after the tournament and she was super rad, very kind, and wonderfully pretty.

After the production, there was a lot of clean-up but also of milling-around for those not involved in the clean-up. This is also the spot where Matt Mercer and Marisha Ray hosted and interviewed players.
The desk of the casters and analyst

Ciri and Emhyr (apparently, this is a social anachronism of sorts—that is, according to Witcher lore, these two would not, under normal circumstances, share space). The Emhyr cosplayer was also really cool and super kind and approachable... when not in costume. Haha.

Emhyr greeting us upon our arrival to Moszna Castle—or his castle, for this event.

Guards and Bart the Bard (also a spectacularly kind individual) welcoming us with song and wit to Moszna Castle at dusk

The out-of-place ad must be appreciated for its out-of-place-ness amidst this immersive experience.

CDPR spared no expense to ensure that this event be run smoothly and picturesquely; it will surely always be an event for the organizers and participants to remember with pride, fondness, excitement, and satisfaction. I can already see this in Dane’s description of his own performance, but his immense talent, focus, and preparation can take him only so far. Thanks to the attentive support and encouragement of the CDPR team, he and his casting mates perform with exquisite ease, making the job look effortless.

And this was even amidst a “plague” that tore through Moszna Castle with abandon on the first days there!

This seems like a good spot to conclude.


To be continued…

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see ya soon.

Plague-free hugs and gratitude,