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History

5th July 2003

12:48pm: NH Frankfurt-Airport Hotel
While I'm on the subject of hotels I figured I'd mention the hotel I stayed at during my layover at Frankfurt am Main airport (FRA) [http://www.frankfurt-airport.de]. I guess I'm branching out into hotel listings, but whatever.

NH Frankfurt-Airport
Mörfelder Strasse 113
D-65451 Kelsterbach
Germany
Tel: +49.6107.938.0
Fax: +49.6107.938.100
email: nhfrankfurtairport@nh-hotels.com
http://www.nh-hotels.com

The NH Hoteles (sic) chain operates hotels in Europe, Latin America, and Africa. The one at Frankfurt Airport is a professionally and efficiently run business hotel. My non-smoking en-suite (bath and toilet included) room, with a queen-sized bed, TV, and phone, came to €66. Breakfast is optional at €15, so I didn't bother.

The hotel runs a shuttle to the airport every 20 minutes from 0500 to 2345. It's a longish walk (maybe a couple of kilometers) which I wouldn't want to do with baggage, but the shuttle is quick.

There's a local bus stop across the street which will take you to the airport and to Kelsterbach. Both have S-bahn stations, but I found myself using the shuttle because it runs a lot more frequently. There's also a small pay parking lot in front of the hotel. I imagine you get a deal if you actually stay in the hotel.

Not much character, but I'd definitely stay there again as it's one of the least expensive options near the airport. An oil man from Alberta I met on the shuttle says he's stayed in most of the hotels near Frankfurt airport and this one is his favorite. I can see why.
2:12pm: Aqua Restorans
The In Your Pocket guides (http://www.inyourpocket.com) cover many of the important cities in Eastern and Central Europe. I found them really helpful. Their Vilinus guide described Aqua as having one of the biggest buffet selections in town. It did, and the food is fine, but Vilnius is a small place, for a national capital, and don't expect a huge spread.

Aqua Restorans
Didzioji g. 28 (in Old Town Vilinus)
Vilnius, Lithuania
Tel: +370.5.260.88.70
Mobile Tel: +370.615.38498
http://www.rimi.lt (despite this being on the business card, the site appears to be for the supermarket downstairs; maybe they own the restaurant)

M-F 0730-2400
Sa-Su 1000-0200

Aqua serves breakfast and lunch cafeteria-style. The decor is fairly upscale, and it attracts a matching local clientele. Foreigners look somewhat more scruffy, because while the prices are high by Lithuanian standards, they're certainly not by Western ones. My lunch came to Lt. 12.50 ($4.16) on my first visit (entree, side dish, vegetable, and soft drink), and Lt. 25 ($8.32) when I was really trying to spend all my remaining Lithuanian money. I couldn't finish it all, that time.

The food, as I said, is fine, if nothing spectacular. Lithuanian and international cafeteria food, although one highlight is that they have a nice free-standing salad bar. Service is friendly and polite. You'll probably need to ask someone what things are because they're labelled in Lithuanian, but many of the staff speak English.

Overall, an inexpensive, cheap, quick place to have breakfast or lunch in the Old Town. If you can cope with the 70's disco they've decided on for background music, you'll probably like it. Note that although they're open late, sometime around 2PM they convert from a cafeteria to an upscale bar.
2:14pm: Vilnius accomodation options
My first night in Vilnius, I decided I'd book ahead, since I was flying in and arriving after business hours. You never know how it's going to go when you get in to town that late. I found Litinterp online.

Litinterp
Bernardinu 7-1
Vilnius, Lithuania
Tel: +370.5.212.38.50
fax: +370.5.212.35.59
email: vilnius@litinterp.lt
http://www.litinterp.lt

Litinterp is an interpretation service with an attached room-finding service, B&B, and car rental agency. Or maybe they started life as an interpretation and translation service, and branched out. In any case, they do a nice job with their B&B. Rooms are clean and furnished in that Scandinavian modern natural wood look. My room was a double (two single beds) because it was all they had left, at Lt. 100 ($33.25). If a single had been available, it would've been Lt. 80 ($26.62). Both prices include a continental breakfast delivered to your room. Staff were helpful and very nice. (I watched the manager deal quite well with a rather difficult customer when I stopped in to ask about something. I've worked with customers myself, and I have to say I wouldn't have wanted to deal with this guy, but the manager never lost his cool, despite the fact that the guy was being a pain, hassling the manager over something out of his control, and in English, which was clearly not the manager's first language. Nice job.)

It was a pleasant place, deep in Old Town Vilnius, and if I were going to visit Vilnius again with someone instead of alone I'd pick Litinterp instead of the Old Town Hostel where I stayed next, just for the privacy.

Old Town Hostel (affiliated with Hostelling International)
Ausros Vartu 20-15 (400 meters from the train station)
Vilnius, Lithuania
Tel: +370.5.262.53.57
email: vilnius@balticbackpackers.com
http://www.balticbackpackers.com/hostels/vilnius_old.htm

This is a very social place, even for a youth hostel. I met a good dozen people here in a single day, five of which I got to know well enough to exchange email with. Dorm beds are Lt. 32 ($10.65) if you're a member of HI, Lt. 34 ($11.32) if not. Sheets are extra, at Lt. 1 (33¢) per sheet or pillowcase, or Lt. 5 ($1.66) for the whole set, including a towel. There's use of a kitchen (with free tea and coffee) and free internet access (which there's usually a line for), but no locked access for luggage. I just locked mine to the bunks with a bicycle chain. Overall, though, the place seems reasonably safe.

I liked this place, if only for the fact that lots of interesting people stayed here and sat around in the common room drinking tea and coffee.

Everyone traded info and stories about nearby countries. Fiona, the manager, was off to Belarus when I actually stayed there. She and I had talked for a couple of hours when I went by to make the reservation and hand her my credit card info. Zack was on his way back to Australia via the Trans-Siberian. One guy seemed to be travelling the world despite the fact that he never flew. Another went on and on about what a great time he'd had in Bulgaria; how great the beaches were, how hot the women were, how it was a non-stop party on the Black Sea coast, and how he hadn't wanted to leave. I gave Catherine info on a couple of hostels in Warsaw; we ended up having two meals together and I finally walked her to the bus station so she could catch her overnight bus to Warsaw. I talked with a woman from Montreal about the fireworks festival, the new Harry Potter, and Six Flags buying La Ronde. And finally, I went to Warsaw on the overnight train with Hayley, and Alison & Mark.

As I said, a social place. If you don't like the backpacker experience, go elsewhere. If you do, you'll find this hostel particularly social. I think it's the shared difficulty of dealing with Eastern Europe, and the scarcity of tourists, that make for a congenial environment here. That, and it rains a lot, so people find themselves hanging around here drying out.
3:11pm: Gospoda Pod Kogutem
Wherever I go, I like to try local food. Why eat food you could eat at home while you're travelling? You could do that at home. Besides, I feel as if you get a better idea of a place when you've got their food in your stomach.

I was in Warsaw. I wanted bigos.

Gospoda Pod Kogutem
ul. Rakowiecka 43A (corner ul. Opoczynska, in Stary Mokotów)
02-521 Warszawa, Poland
Tel: +48.22.849.08.78
Metro: Pole Mokotowskie

M-F: 1000-2200
Sa-Su: 1200-2000

It's been a long time since I'd had bigos. One of my friends from college had a Polish-American girlfriend, and for a while they'd keep a huge cauldron of bigos simmering on the stove at their group house for folks to spoon a bowl out of if they got hungry. Bigos is a sauerkraut-based stew containing a variety of meats, kielbasa, and vegetables. It was great stuff.

Gospoda Pod Kogutem had it. Not on the English language menu, mind you, but on the Polish one. I compared the two, and noted that on the English menu items cost slightly more, but were larger (in the old Eastern European manner, menu items are listed with their portion sizes in grams). I asked if they had bigos (listed on Polish menu for zl. 10., $2.58; charged as zl. 12.00, $3.10) , and they did. I ordered a herring appetizer (zl. 10, $2.58) and a bottled water (zl 3, 78¢). Bread and spread for bread (which looked like fat and onions, and tasted okay, although I still prefer butter) was zl. 2 (52¢).

Overall, everything except the bigos was excellent. On the other hand, the bigos was okay, just not as good as the homemade bigos I remember. Then again, I suppose that's asking a lot. :)

Service was polite and friendly. I wasn't sure if I'd gotten gouged because it's possible I'd gotten a slightly bigger portion than the 200g on the Polish menu. However, the difference was about half a buck, so who cares?

Note: the front entrance opens onto a bar. Walk through and take the doorway on the right to the dining room.
3:37pm: Cukierina Wierniccy / Piekarnie Ambroziak
I was changing trams when I smelled the pastries through the open door. Good sign, that. I thought they'd closed for the day, but then I looked down at the hours and discovered they were still open for fifteen more minutes. So I went in.

Cukiernia Wierniccy/Piekarnie Ambroziak
119/125 Aleja "Solidarnosci" (at Aleja Jana Pawla II)
Warszawa, Poland

M-F 0700-1900
Sa 0800-1600
Su 1100-1500

I'm a sucker for pastries. I went in and got a (3.75 in) fruit tart, to go, for zl. 4 ($1.03). Yummy.

I don't know if this place is particularly noteworthy compared to other pastry shops in Warsaw, but I liked it. And it's certainly easy to get to, as it's at the junction of two major tram routes.

(It does amuse me that "the corner of Solidarity and John Paul II" is an address that would not have existed in Warsaw before 1989.)
3:49pm: Vecmeita Ar Kaki
Another recommendation from the In Your Pocket people, this one from their Riga guide.

Vecmeita Ar Kaki
Maza Pils iela 1
Riga, Latvia
Tel: +371.732.50.77

I decided I was going to try and avoid pork tonight. In Latvia, an entire day's food can and often is constructed around pork. I'd just had one of those days, so it was time for something else.

I started with spicy meat soup (Ls. 1.10, $1.95) which was tomatoey, not very spicy, and in any case probably also had pork. Oh well. Seafood in shell (Ls. 2.00, $3.55) was excellent, however. Served in two halves of an open scallop shell with toast, it had calamari, mussels, shrimp, octopus, and baby clams, all in a cream sauce and lightly seasoned with peppers and onions.
The Norwegian salmon (Ls. 2.90, $5.15) with horseradish sauce (which turned out to be more cream than horseradish) was served piping hot, right out of the broiler, and sprinkled with dill. The salmon itself was excellent, and tasted more of dill than horseradish, which to my taste was just fine, as I love dill. It comes with your choice of boiled potatoes, rice, or fries. I got the rice, but probably either of the potato options would have been more interesting than white rice.

The local pear cider, Lucky Dog (Ls. 0.90, $1.60), is 6% alcohol, and tastes it. It was okay. I've had better pear cider, but it was certainly drinkable.

Food is cooked to order, seemingly one course at a time. This wasn't a problem for me but if you're in a hurry, keep it in mind. Portions are European-sized, i.e., small. Still, I waddled out. I probably shouldn't have ordered the soup.

Service was quite efficient. The menu has English translations.

Note that this is a cellar bar, or pub. It's much like a Dutch eetcafe; a drinking establishment that serves good food. There's an extensive drinks menu. Don't be surprised if the folks at the next table are singing off-key at the top of their lungs in languages you don't understand. :)
4:13pm: Florence overview.
There was a lot of great food in Florence. Even better, my friend KJ met me at the airport and saw me off at the train station. In between, she took me to a *lot* of good places to eat. Nearly all the following restaurant listings are because of her.

Thanks, KJ! :)
4:15pm: Trattoria Baldovino
Our problem at mealtimes was choosing which great place to go to. There were just so many good restaurants. Trattoria Baldovino was just one of KJ's faves.

Trattoria Baldovino
Via San Giuseppe 22r (corner Borgo Allegri, near the Piazza San Croce)
Florence, Italy
Tel: +39.055.241773
email: info@baldovino.com
http://www.baldovino.com

(they also own an enoteca at Via San Giuseppe 18r, but we didn't go there)

We decided we'd try a couple of their samplers for antipasti: a crostini misto (€5.50), four different crostini with olive, artichoke, salmon, and liver patés, and bruschetta (cecca on crostini) for the fifth; and a smoked fish sampler (€10): tuna, whitefish, and salmon. Both pretty small, but very tasty.

For our primis KJ got lamb-filled ravioli with sage and butter (€7), which was excellent, while I got the fusili carbonara, with zucchini (also €7). The carbonara sauce was remarkably Kraft orange-colored, but tasted fine. I think the ravioli were probably the way to go.

We split a secondi, the spiedini toscana, or Tuscan skewers (€11.50), with chicken, veal, and sausage. This turned out to be two mixed skewers with meat interspersed with onion and peppers. We each took one and made very short work of them.

Florence was 36C that day, and we drank three liters of water between us, at €1.75 a liter. After adding in the coperto of €1.55 each, our total was €49.35, which we rounded up to €50 because service was quite good.

A great start to my visit to Florence.
4:31pm: Vestri, Cioccolato d'Autore
Vestri is a chocolate shop which serves gelato, mostly in various flavors that include chocolate, like chocolate-orange or chocolate-ginger. Chocolates and gelato. What a combination!

Vestri, Cioccolato d'Autore
Borgo degli Albizi, 11r
Florence, Italy
Tel: +39.055.2340374
http://www.cioccolateriavestri.com (more Flash)

(main location at
Via Romana, 161
Arezzo, Italy
Tel: +39.0575.907315)

As is standard in Florence gelaterias, you can get your gelato in a cup or a cone, and there are three sizes, starting at €1.50 for a piccolo (small). Also standard is that a small can include two flavors. I got the chocolate-orange, which tasted just like the candy, and giandula (chocolate-hazelnut, recommended by KJ's Italian instructor). KJ got the chocolate-ginger, which she likes. I think if I liked ginger more I'd like it but it's got quite a gingery taste. Great if you love ginger.
4:45pm: Riga central market
Riga's central market is a major landmark and the city's biggest source of food. It is huge. How big is it? After the First World War, someone bright came up with the idea of moving five airship hangars from the Latvian coast to Riga. The hangars had been built by the Imperial Russian Air Service for their now-lost airship fleet, and would be just the thing to cover the Riga central market and protect it against the weather.

Five airship hangars.

Mind you, the Imperial Russian Air Service had smaller airships than the U.S. Navy, so the hangars aren't quite as gigantic as the one at Moffett Field. Still, you could put a football field inside each of these things with plenty of room to spare. And the market doesn't actually fit inside the five of them, but spills out all around.

One of the hangars is devoted to fish, one to produce, one is a butcher market, one has lots of delicatessen stalls. The fifth is divided into sections including baked goods and nuts. Outside, there are sections for flowers, clothes, shoes, household goods, and more produce. People say one can get lost here although I didn't find it very confusing. Just big. Very big.

I rather wished I had a self-catering flat, or at least a kitchen, to take advantage of all this food.

The market is, broadly speaking, open from 0700 to 1700 daily, although individual kiosks may open earlier or later. The market takes up a lot of space behind the train station and behind the bus station. To say, "You can't miss it" is something of an understatement, as you can see the airship hangars from anywhere nearby.
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