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Modified Florida: Day 2

Wed. Sept. 20, 2017:
Miami to St. Petersburg, FL:

I had some how managed to forget to pack a razor. This combined with the fact that there was no in-room coffee meant it was time for a trip to the Walgreens around the corner. On the way there I spotted an Italian bakery across the street. A hot cup of brewed coffee beats out a bottle of overly-sweetened iced coffee any day. However as I crossed the street to head over I noticed another café down the street. I assumed that the Italian bakery would serve LaVazza coffee or Illy, both of which I dislike I opted for Les Moulin La Fayette instead. Boy was I wrong. They did not even have any milk for the coffee, all he offered me was Coffee Mate. I had to get the guy to pour me some from the carton they use when making lattes. On my way back I still stopped in at the Italian bakery, I needed something for breakfast. In the window I noticed what looked like pączki. When I asked what the flavour was it sounded like the guy said vanilla, but what he handed me did not look like vanilla. It looked like the polar opposite: chocolate. Turns out I had misheard him, he said Nutella. I ended up having to scoop some out because there was way too much of it in the middle. The donut part was really good- but it was not a pączek. It also turned out that the Italian café did not serve crappy coffee, they even made latte art.

In keeping with the theme of the trip thus far, Despacito (radio version without Justin Bieber) came on the radio in the cab on the way to the car rental place at the airport. It kind of sucked being at the airport, our vacation had just started. It was an incredibly long walk to get to the tram to get to the car rental place. We had been dropped off at the Air Canada terminal where we would be flying out of later- which is all the way at the opposite end of the airport. I had never been on so many moving walkways in my life.

We had a slight delay at the car rental place as they directed us to an empty parking spot and had to wrangle a new car for us. Once in the car it felt so good to finally listen to Stuff You Should Know again. It had been two weeks of saving them for just this moment.

Our first stop of the day was the Everglades Holiday Park for an airboat tour of the Everglades. As we pulled into the parking lot a giant tour bus unloaded. Crap we thought, it would be a long wait. The peacock was smart, he was hiding in the shade under the deck and away from all the people. I was happy to see that after all these years he was still there (I assume it’s the same one as last time). The tour group must have had a pre-scheduled tour because we waited less than 10 minutes. Our captain’s name was Charlie and it would be an understatement to say that he was energetic. On our boat ride we saw turkey vultures, cormorants, and fish. And of course, we saw some alligators. Two were circling each other, one was in the other’s turf- except he was not much of a menace given he was missing a leg and was aptly named Scar. They were within arms reach of the boat. One alligator eventually swam almost right up against the boat. The captain also stopped the boat so that he could feed some birds and fish, allowing us a close look at them. We saw an alligator gar fish with a long pointy nose. On our way back we spotted one more gator but he was further away.

After the airboat ride we watched the alligator wrestling show. It was really not that interesting and it was super hot outside. Regardless, we stayed until the end. It was awkward seeing people leave mid-show. The line after the show to get a photo taken with a baby alligator was too long and it was way too hot to stand around. We watched two racoons play in their pen. One sat on a toy tent and chewed on it and then the other grabbed it and started washing it in his water bowl. One of the racoons was albino, making them both seem that much cuter. The giant tortoise was having an afternoon nap. It was hot outside, but in the car it was unbearable. Adding to my discomfort, in addition to being dehydrated I was also hungry.

Eventually we spotted a sign on the highway for a McDonald’s, having missed the exit for Burger King. We did not realize we were in a part of Florida that had been hit harder by the hurricane. We tried to go into the McDonald’s but there was a sign on the door saying that they were under a boil water advisory and that only the drive-thru was open and only with a limited menu. We ended up ordering one of each. Really it was a small menu: 20 piece nuggets, quarter pounder with cheese, medium fries and two cans of Coke. We sat in the car in the parking lot and ate our lunch. It hit the spot.

The mid-afternoon rain was right on schedule, around 4 in the afternoon and soon after you could not even tell it had rained. We could see the baseball stadium on the horizon long before we were in town. We still had to cross a giant bridge into St. Petersburg where the Tampa Bay Rays play. Once in town we realized that literally just about everyone around was wearing Chicago Cubs shirts. The Floridians were outnumbered. We wondered how many Rays fans there would be at the baseball game, compared to Cubs fans.

On the way to the hotel, via a series of one-way streets, we were further detoured by a condo construction site that was inexplicably blocking multiple streets surrounding it. All for one lousy construction site. We walked to a nearby liquor store. On the way we saw a guy jaywalking and joking that he should try and get hit by a car so the lady driver would have to nurse him back to health. Then we passed a guy flirting with two girls by allowing them to use his cherry-picker to take selfies. St. Petersburg was a weird town full of weirdos. We walked by a free shuttle bus stop to the stadium but it was only a 30 minute walk. At the liquor store I ended up getting an orange Fanta, a new bottle cap for our collection.

Walking to the stadium we passed some more weirdos. There were two guys in a parking lot playing catch. One of them was barefoot, wearing white overalls, and a black undershirt and black shorts that were sticking out from under the overalls. Like I said, weird people in St. Petersburg.

Tropicana Field was giant. We had no idea which entrance to go to. In line we saw a few Rays fans, true Florida stereotypes: tanned, leathery and plenty of bad tattoos. We watched a girl try to chug the rest of her Bud Light and subsequently drop it. She tried to brush it off as not wanting it anymore. We got there just in time for the game to start. Our walk around the concourse would have to wait. On the way to our seats though I did manage to snag a free beer coozie and a squishy baseball. Only when we sat down did I see it was branded with something.

I kept getting distracted from the game because a family a few rows down from us kept getting kicked out of seats they had assumed were empty. There was a lot of shuffling and pointing at tickets. So much so that I missed a stolen base. I was assured that the player who did the stealing did not first do a dance to tease the pitcher, who inexplicably could not throw left. We had surprisingly good seats given we were sitting in row W. I had assumed we would be way back, but the rows start from the back of the alphabet. If we had Z we would have been the ones kicking that family out of our seats.

In the first inning the Rays got a home run. The home team got a home run and there was nothing: no theatrics, no mascots, barely even any cheering- though this was probably because the ratio of Cubs to Rays fans was about 9:1. They could have at least made the Tropicana orange in the stadium sign squirt some orange juice. There was nothing. I was very disappointed, except for the fact that at every game we have been to thus far, the home team has gotten a home run. Brent pointed out the tank of stingrays by the outfield and my first thought was of concern for their safety. What if a home run is hit there and the ball splashes down in the tank? I tried to float the idea of little baseball helmets for the rays and I was overcome with how cute it looked in my mind. In the 2nd inning a guy proposed to his girlfriend on the jumbotron. It was lame.

After the 3rd inning we went for a walk around the concourse. On a TV screen they were playing a video of Rally Cat, the cat dressed as a DJ in a Rays uniform. It elicited more than a few awws from me. The internet said that the pork nachos were really good, however it failed to mention that they were served in a bar in the stadium. I went across the way and got two tacos from Taco Bus instead. The marinated steak was sold out so I had to settle for pork and chicken. Meanwhile Brent waited in line for beer. On our walk we were on the lookout for a stand selling Italian sausages. And another one selling frozen cocktails. We passed by a craft beer place that was selling 3 Sisters key lime cider. That was clearly way better than a frozen cocktail! As I waited in line the guy behind me was standing way too close to me. Inevitably he bumped into me and apologized. But then rather than moving back a bit he just kept standing there, and again bumped into me and apologized again. I was so irritated. Why didn’t he just step back a bit?!

Finally we got to the rays tank. We took turns looking at the rays. They were all crowding in the corner and impossible to pet. Although it did make for a great photo op, because it looked like they were watching the game. I saw part of a sign that said grill and I was about to say that maybe that stand sells the Italian sausage but as we rounded the corner I saw that it was Budweiser Grill- no way they would sell good food I thought. Turns out I was wrong. We did not realize how big the concourse was. During our walk we had missed two innings. The concourse had no sightlines of the field because we were basically walking under the bleachers. My tacos were cold by the time we got tour seats, but still delicious. But the Italian sausage was better.

There was a kid in the first row of our section who was so desperately trying to get on TV during the whole game. He had a sign saying it was his first game. The Cubs had been losing miserably, and in the 8th inning they scored. And the stadium erupted in cheers. Everyone started clapping and chanting Lets Go Cubbies. We left soon after because we had an early morning the next day.

Walking back we passed by the weird art bar where the guys had been playing catch in the parking lot earlier. Now there was a poetry reading going on inside, with about 4 people in attendance. We passed a bar where a guy was crappily singing a song that I somehow managed to recognize as Where’s The Love by Hanson. This was the second Hanson song in two days.

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Posted by on September 29, 2017 in The Roving Reporter, Travel

 

Modified Florida: Day 1

Tues. Sept. 19, 2017:
Toronto flight to Miami, FL:

We had to wake up super early to get to the airport for our flight because there were new rules in place when going through security that might make it take longer. We were up before the subway was running and rather than taking a bus all the way to the other end of the city we took a cab directly to the airport. And of course, we breezed through security really fast as none of the new provisions were in place. Once we had settled in by our gate I left for the bathroom. On my way I could see David’s Tea on the other side of the glass doors! I figured I just had to backtrack to where we had first come in and take a different branch of the forked route. The lady at the information desk told me that in fact I could not access David’s Tea because it was in the international departures section of the terminal. I was very sad. Especially because I had walked all that way. I had to settle for a cup of tea from Starbucks instead of having loose leaf tea to last me the whole trip.

On the plane I had trouble staying awake. I intermittently fell asleep while reading my book, The Man From Moscow. I also made the mistake of drinking my tea too early and ended up having to pee. Because there was turbulence they could not serve hot drinks, and rather than have a desperately-needed cup of coffee I had to settle for Coke. Top it off with the fact that there were no snacks served with the drinks? So lame. A lady sitting near us asked if there was a time difference due to how short the flight was.

Once we had landed we set off looking for the taxi stand, it would have been too confusing to try and call an Uber. No sooner had we tried to look around for the taxi stand, a guy ushered us to his car and off we went- fingers crossed we were in a licensed taxi. Turns out we had taken a fancy car service instead of a taxi. At least the guy had a license. On the way in the only real signs we saw that a hurricane had passed through were torn billboards and palm fronds on the sides of the roads.

While Brent paid I went ahead to check us in. There was a slight delay as the fancy car had a crappy card reader. We only got so far with the check-in process as they needed Brent’s ID and credit card. We were staying at an art deco hotel in South Beach, the Delano. Our room was completely decorated in white. The mini bar was in a metal steamer trunk turned on its side. The hotel was fancy but not fancy enough to have an in-room coffee maker.

The first thing we did was head out past the pool to check out the private beach. They were still setting up all the beach chairs. When we tried to get back inside our cards wouldn’t work and we had to go all the way around to the front of the hotel to get back in. Afterwards we tried to go for a walk along the beach but it was way too hot and we did not have on sunscreen and the noon sun was threatening. There were some washed up corals on the beach and the water was warm. We left the beach and headed over to check out the rest of the art deco hotels on Ocean Drive. We stopped in at Walgreens, both for sunscreen and a short, air-conditioned respite from the heat. At Walgreens we found everything-bagel-with-cream-cheese flavoured Lays. They delivered as promised and were like a better version of salt and vinegar chips. We walked by three different hotels, all playing three different versions of Despacito. I couldn’t help but laugh at Brent who hates the song. The Tides hotel was known for having a great bar, alas it was still closed after the hurricane. We stopped at another art deco hotel, The Clevalander. They advertised happy hour but did not say when it was or what the deals were. I ordered an acai caipirinha. I only understood the $17 price tag when I took my first sip. Turns out what was listed as one drink, was actually the size of three drinks. In no short order, I was tipsy. On the menu they listed the option to upsize the drink to 55oz- which was just insane to me.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a tacky tourist shop, only because it was in an art deco hotel lobby. We ended up finding a World Cup onesie for Poland- the perfect gift for Camilla’s baby shower. It was a long, slow walk back to the hotel. It was so unbelievably hot and muggy outside. We stopped in at I ❤ Liquor to check out the selection. I had forgotten my keys at home so we had to buy a bottle opener as well. The selection was not great, but at least now I would be able to add Kirin and Guinness to my bottle cap magnet collection.

We got back with just enough time to change and head down to the Argentinian steakhouse restaurant in the hotel, Leynia. We were at a steakhouse, I had to get the steak. Brent ordered the Argentinian sausage. We traded halfway. The crispy smashed potatoes on the side were so good, the steak was incredible. It did not seem worth it to get another expensive cocktail was I still feeling the effects of the first one. We were too full for dessert and opted to snack on candy back in the hotel room instead.

After a short nap we walked down to the pool. It was nice because now it was not so hot and the UV was no longer as strong. We swam around for a bit and confirmed that the pool did in fact have underwater speakers. The pool could have been a smidge warmer in my opinion. I found the ocean, where we went next, to be much warmer. However I was not a fan of the seaweed that kept touching my feet. It was so gross and I kept stepping on it no matter how much I tried to avoid it. We gave up pretty soon, there were dark storm clouds threatening to ruin our fun anyways. The hotel was already dimly lit, and with my sunglasses on I could barely see anything as we went back to our room. Our timing was perfect, just enough to get ready and head out to the Marlins baseball game. Most of that time was spent researching what to eat at the park and catching up in my notebook, with a little bit of time allocated to scrubbing off the sunscreen.

We took an Uber to the Marlins Park stadium. We easily got our tickets exchanged from Saturday’s game which had been relocated. On our way in a guy handed Brent a bag, saying it was a free gift. Only when I approached the table and he tried to get me to sign up for a newspaper and we tried to walk away the guy said to give the gift back. So Brent left it on the floor as we walked away. Once inside I was shocked at how empty it was. And it’s not like we were there super early either. I joked that the place was so empty because of DJ Unity, the “official” DJ of the Marlins, who was playing Hanson’s Mmmbop and later the Spice Girls. Even though in my opinion, he was the best DJ around with great taste in music.

The food options inside the stadium were limited, not everything was open. Nothing in the Taste of Miami section caught my eye, everything there was just sitting under a heat lamp looking gross. Brent got a snapper sandwich there. I had wanted to go to the Clevalander for a specialty drink but when we got there we found out it was a separate bar within the stadium and did not want to risk an awkward situation because Brent already had his food and beer- so we continued on along the concourse. I eventually settled on a sad looking Cuban sandwich. I decided to wait until later to get a drink on our second round of the concourse. The sandwich was not good. It was greasy and dripping everywhere and it was way too salty. After eating half of it I got up to get a drink and to find some napkins. I had to walk a good quarter of the concourse before finding a place that served something other than beer. I momentarily considered getting a Bud Lite Lime-A-Rita but thankfully I noticed that they also served sangria. I had forgotten my ID in my other wallet, but the lady just asked me what year I was born in.

We had great seats at the game, we were so close, in the front of the second section. The TV camera guy was initially standing right in front of us. We were shown on the big screen but I refused to look or even acknowledge the camera guy- I was not having it. He soon left. Things were not looking good in terms of chances of a home run, making it 2/2 fails (the first being the food).

On our second go-round of the concourse I noticed a Cuban ice cream stand, Azucar. No sooner had I gotten in line, Brent mentioned the potential for a home run, so I left the line and went to join him watching the game. No home run. Back to the line. And just like that I was running back, the next player had hit a home run. The crazy tacky statute in the outfield was going off: lights were flashing, fog was billowing and the dolphin (er, marlin) was arcing across the fake sky over a fake rainbow. It was truly tacky and so worth losing my place in line. I ordered a scoop of dulce leche. It was delicious and it redeemed the food options at Marlins Park. There were no good drink options available, I passed on having a second drink. We passed by the bobblehead museum but for some reason they lose their interest when there are so many of them. It’s no longer really a novelty. Though there were some really crappy ones.

Walking around the concourse the TV screens kept hinting that there was going to be a kisscam. In the 6th inning there was a mascot race. And it was awful. They only ran around a quarter of the field, walked the next quarter and then exited. Half the stadium could barely see them! The 7th inning stretch was equally disappointing, it was just a long ad for a coffee company. The stadium was so empty that there were not enough people there to get the wave going. Oddly though our row was full.

Two foul balls were hit in our direction. The first one landed in an empty row below us and bounced high above us. The second landed in the section just in front of us and Brent leaned far over the railing for it. Scaring me in the process. He was not even close. I was sitting between Brent and a kid one seat over from me. They were both shouting at Stanton to hit his 56th home run. They both took to booing the pitcher and calling him a scaredy-cat. Just as I was about to tell Brent to stop booing, the whole stadium started booing. The kid kept picking up terms from Brent too.

We left at the end of the 8th inning: we had seen the homerun, the mascot and there was no sign of the kisscam. We walked a couple of blocks before ordering an Uber because the cops had blocked the streets around the stadium. On the drive back we passed through Little Havana, we saw the ice cream place I had gone to earlier and the place where Richard Ayoade played dominos in Travel Man.

Back in our hotel room we changed into nicer clothes and went down to the Rose Bar in our hotel for a nightcap. I tried to order a drink with smoked pineapple but the bartender was all out. Instead I ordered an old fashioned made with apple syrup.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2017 in The Roving Reporter, Travel

 

UpdatED: Gelato

Dear reader, if you care to remember, I recently went to Ed’s Real Scoop for a scoop of the city’s best gelato. And I was not impressed. That is until I came home and Googled it and turns out they had nailed the flavour- I just was not a fan of it. I promised to go back and what better excuse to go than during the Polish Festival on Roncesvalles? This time I got two different flavours: one scoop of pistachio gelato and a scoop of the pierniki flavoured ice cream that I have raved about before (I had to! one because I knew it was good and would make a good fail-safe lest I have another gelato-disappointment and two it was Polish festival!). I regret having ever doubted Ed’s Real Scoop. The pistachio gelato was amazing and better than Dolce Gelato (the previous best).

[Insert scoop pun]

 

Best of the Best of

Almost as if to make up for the previous fooding let-down, this week’s outing proved to be stellar. Tennessee Tavern had been voted best perogies and I was really psyched to go there after reading about the place online. I had really high hopes and and a very empty stomach.

Turns out I had forgotten just far Lansdowne is. For some reason I had it in my head that it was east of Dufferin and that walking there from Robarts Library after a full day of work would be a perfectly fine idea. Plus the idea of transiting at 5pm just seemed ridiculous.

Tired and exhausted we finally got there. The place was not busy at all. Despite the nice weather I did not feel like sitting on the patio. We had just spent over and hour walking mostly in the direction of the slowly setting sun. I was done being outdoors.

I have never laughed upon opening a menu. However Tennessee Tavern got me, they got me good. On the front page there was a picture of a cartoon pig holding a sign that in Polish said “eat veal.” Inside the menu had a header at the top about drinking in moderation unless you are Polish. On the menu they had to option to order a complimentary onion. It was like my dad had opened a restaurant. Right down to my main: a basket of assorted kiełbasy and kabanos.

This had not been the plan originally. We were going to split the Tennessee platter which had schnitzel, debrecyna sausage and some other stuff. However when we tried to order it we were forewarned that it was a lot of food and unless we wanted a lot of take-away we should just order the items from the platter that we wanted. Hence the basket of assorted sausages for me, and the schnitzel sandwich for Brent. I had read online that the schnitzel was not up to snuff but Brent reasoned that in the article the chef said he was working on it. So maybe it would be ok now? I was not willing to risk it. One bite and I was right. Way too much effort had been put into seasoning the breading but the schnitzel itself suffered for it. It was also enormous, comically sticking out of the sub-sandwich bun (when really it should have been in a round kaiser bun, duh). Also: why was there lettuce? Schnitzel on a bun warrants no lettuce. That was about the only ding against this place.

The perogies were amazing!!! Easily some of the best (not counting homemade) that I have ever had. We also split a soft pretzel. Also amazing. You even got to choose the type of mustard on the side. We went with grainy of course. The drink selection was also pretty good. I learned that Croatian red wine is kind of bland and Hunargian 3 year aged sour cherry brandy is really good and that Italian herb liqueur is terrible.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2017 in Adventures of Pinka!, Fooding

 

Worst Best of So Far

Whenever we plan on going out fooding we always look up the menu beforehand and decide what we are going to order. We usually try to order stuff we will both like so that we can split everything. This time however was not the case. We were going to Tabule, voted best Middle Eastern restaurant. Apparently, obviously, it only made sense for Brent to order the tabouli salad given it appeared to be the namesake of the restaurant. My first choice is never salad. ESPECIALLY when the primary ingredient is parsley. As far as I am concerned parsley is a garnish. I think Brent may have eaten more parsley in one sitting than I have in my entire Polish lifetime of eating rosuł. I knew from the start that the salad was going to be a terrible idea. I had some on half a piece of pita and even still that was more than I consume in a year (or more! who can say?).

I ordered the ground beef and lamb skewers in the hopes that the lamb would be drowned out by the beef. I was wrong. And the meat itself was kind of dry and just in general not that good. For once I was glad ot have a pike of rice on my plate to help me get it down. I kept trading bites for Brent’s falafel bites which were actually really good.

Overall dinner was quite the letdown. If we had instead only had cocktails and falafels it would have been superb.

 

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2017 in Adventures of Pinka!, Fooding, Uncategorized

 

I Placed My Full Trust In Bartender

I was skeptical about going back out again for best martini, my idea of martini involves copious amounts of fake apple flavour and zero olives. But Bar Chef had just been voted best martini and we had to go see what all the fuss was about. Really how much stock could there to be to this, can there really be that much differential between martinis? Is it not a limited medium??

We had been to Bar Chef before for fancy cocktails- and not much else, the food menu was tiny. Instead we went out to Amsterdam Brewhouse for a pre-drink dinner. Why the brewhouse you ask? Brent had a gift card. I had been listening to an episode of Stuff You Should Know about barbeque, so when my eyes landed on smoked brisket on the menu I just had to order it. Even though the first rule of smoking had been broken: upon approaching and then entering the restaurant there wasn’t even a trace of smell of cherrywood smoke, yet the menu said it was smoked on premise. Hmm.  Not being much of a beer fan I had settled on a citrus-y one, until I was told it was sold out. But we were at a brewhouse! I needed some sort of beer-drink, and they delivered: a beer sangria. It was ok but nowhere near the best I have ever had. It did get better towards the bottom as I got to the fruit and it got sweeter.

When we got to Bar Chef we were a bit confused. There was no martini on the drinks list. Brent asked the bartender who said he could make one. The catch being that Brent got to choose the vodka for the base of the drink. I noticed over the bartender’s shoulder that one of the vodkas they had was the Polish bison grass one, Zubrowka. The decision was made for Brent- it had to be Zubrowka! From that the bartender rattled off a few ingredients for the ok: fennel and chamomile. We both looked at each other after the bartender had left. What weird ingredients. It may have sounded weird but damn did it work! It really was the best martini I have ever tried. Major bonus points for no olives. I was still getting over my cold so I stuck to just nursing my drink instead of getting a second. I had ordered a drink with lavender in it and the rim was dusted in lavender sugar. I had confirmed that yes in fact, lavender can be consumed and it is quite tasty. Brent had a second drink, it had been one we both had our eye on because it had cola bitters in it. That drink won the night. I was initially going to say stole the show. But at Bar Chef that is not true. The show-stealers are the wacky drinks. The guy sitting next to us ordered a daiquiri and it was served in a coconut. We had ordered the wacky drinks last time and this time we were just after high quality artisanal cocktails.

 

You Know What Helps a Cold? Tequila!

Best margarita had recently been revoted and luckily for us (as you can gather from my many complaints) it was close by! What a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon, sipping on a nice cold margarita on a hot summer day. Except I had a cold. And the giant patio was full so we sat indoors.

I was looking forward to a nice lunch at Le Catrin becuase it was located in the Distillery District. I initially had plans to wander around the Distillery District afterwards. My body had other plans. Namely getting back home to rest. It’s too bad I was sick because they had a pretty good cocktail list and I would have liked to have tried more drinks. Brent had the regular margarita and I opted for the one with fresh berries. It’s no surprise that I won. But the second drink he ordered, with smoked honey and mezcal beat both margaritas by a long shot.

For lunch we both ordered seafood based dishes. Brent had ordered the swordfish burrito and I just had visions of a nightmarishly large monstrosity falling apart with every bite. In fact it was reasonably sized and cut in half, makign sharing all the more easier. Although I had him beat on that aspect too, as mine was by default two small tortas. We were still a bit hungry so we ordered the pork tacos to finish off our lunch. The food was delicious but did not hold a candle to Playa Cabana or Grand Electric.

 
 
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