A Swiss Weekend

I’m on the train from Geneva back to Paris after a long weekend filled with cheese, cheese fondue, cheese making, more cheese fondue, and a few sites in between. It truly was a cheesy weekend.

I visited with Silvana, a fellow Yahoo!, and her husband Brian at their abode outside Geneva. They’ve got a great flat with a view over lake Geneva. Trigger and I enjoyed watching the fog rise over the lake as I plugged away on the computer. Yep, it’s always a working weekend.  I added caching and some user-friendly features to InsiderFood.com. So let’s get to the cheese and fun activities.


I rode the TGV directly from Paris to Geneva and would recommend paying the extra 10 euros or so for first class. It’s nice to have a power outlet and room to stretch out, read, etc. While Gare de Lyon in Paris is large, bustling, and confusing, the Geneva train station is smaller, quieter, and still a bit confusing.

I needed to grab a surface train from Geneva to Lausanne to get to casa Silvana. There were no ticket windows but plenty of little computer kiosks. They’re fairly easy to use and are more satisfying than the coffee I suffered through from the station cafe.

Keep an eye out for the surface trains. The screen only mentioned a single train, but I barely missed one on the platform and another arrived as I was waiting for the one mentioned below in the main station.

Geneva was not an exciting city. I was expecting something very “Swiss”. I didn’t know what that would mean, but Geneva was not inspiring my Swissness. I would compare a Swiss vacation in Geneva to a trip to California and staying in Sacramento. The mere thought sends shivers down my spine, although it could be worse… Riverside!!!! AGGGGH

Not to completely diss Geneva; they had some nice Catholic churches that were stripped of their fabulousness during the reformation, the lake is super clean, the United Nations had some interesting buildings, and I found a great Hello Kitty smart car. The Hello Kitty car was enough to give the city an ounce of respect.

We also had our first fondue experience in Geneva. The Swiss Chalet featured a huge pot of the melting goodness with piles of bread. I was afraid that I would trip and roll down the street like the chewing gum girl in Willy Wonka, only my inflated bratbody would be creamy yellow instead of purple.

After the Chalet we discovered a great Russian orthodox church. It was small but full of gilded goodies. More than anything, it revved us up to visit France, a mere stone’s throw away.

Evian was our destination. We’ve got water to drink.

I didn’t know what to expect of Evian. I figured it would be a small, artistic village on the side of the lake. There would probably be some shrine to the water and a huge industrial complex in the center of town. The people would probably be quiet and friendly.

Fortunately we arrived for the Carnival, their belated Mardi Gras celebration. The Evianers know how to party. It was a blast to watch the parade and the interaction between the paraders and the parade watchers. Everyone knew each other and particularly enjoyed blasting horns, pelting with confetti, and spraying silly string on their neighbors.

The ground was littered with confetti, hats, children writhing in pain after throwing confetti in the face of the wrong person (who shall go nameless :) ), and the detritus of a festive event. The parade was so good they decided to have an encore as all the floats returned down the same street in a faster, albeit still explosive manner.

We finally went in search for the Evian spring after the parade. Lo and behold it was right there on the main street. It is a gorgeous Art Nouveau folly. It looks like it belongs in Disneyworld. It was closed for the parade but the spring is always flowing for whoever is thirsty. We drank our fill and then climbed the hill to see the rest of the city and lake.

Evian is a great town. I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in pre-modern architecture, the spas, and enjoying a small city that knows how to party.

The ride around the lake

We continued our trip around the lake and stopped off at a restaurant named after Alexandria, one of Napolean’s nieces. It was a bit hoity toity, but good for a rest stop.

Montreux, where the uppity ups spend money and listen to jazz

We drove through Montreux, a city known for its jazz festivals. Its a beautiful city and looks like it costs thousands of dollars to even walk on the sidewalks. It reminded me of Beverly Hills, only without the hookers down the street and people on every corner selling maps to stars’ homes.


Laussane at night
We didn’t pull into Lausanne until after 10p.m. and I was pretty damned tired. The city was fascinating. It’s an ancient city on the shore of the lake. It sits on the edge of a very steep mountain and the city rises like a terraced rice paddy. The city is built with layers and bridges fly over buildings as they cross from one section to another. I have a fear of tall bridges and these were freaky high. It reminded me of the futurama drawings of cities with monorails that zoom through sky scrapers.

The city’s heart is an ancient chateau and cathedral high up on the mountain. The views are amazing as the city pulsates below you.

That was the end of a great day touring the towns around Lake Geneva.

Gruyere – cheese, cheese, and more cheese

We planned a few activities for Sunday. Visit the Chateau de Gruyere, the cheese factory, an artist space for Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely (thanks Jana for the correction), and finally go to the Ice Palace, a fantasy construction of frozen water.

Gruyere was supposed to be a quick stop to look at the cheese factory, buy some cheese, and see the chateau. We were not expecting the town to be so fabu! We spent the entire day here and threw our plans out the window.

The Maison du Gruyere is a small factory, restaurant, and gift shop. There’s a small trailer out back with two men making the cheese the old fashioned way. They started with buckets of milk and a huge copper cauldron heated by a wood fire. The cinders floated up and into the milk. I was sold, I wanted some of this cheese!

Inside is a more modern fromagerie with a large glass cave for cheese fermentation. Wall-e’s little buddy works inside here. The robot travels down the rows picking up large cheese rounds, flipping them, and placing them carefully back on the racks. It also does the hokey pokey when it reaches the end of the aisle.

The gift shop was super expensive but had some unique items. I got some postcards and butter from Gruyere. Yep, no cheese.

The Chateau de Gruyere

Above the cheese factory sits Château de Gruyères and village. The village reminded me at first of many towns that live off the chateau’s tourist traffic. But this one was different, it had soul, artistic blood, and a huge fat kitty that loved everyone.

What can you say about a tiny midievil village that boasts not only artisinal cheese makers, a wonderfully restored chateau, and an H.R. Giger museum/cafe. This ain’t your standard tourist trap.

The chateau tour starts with a short movie about its history. The small auditorium projects images against every wall and ceiling to give the user an immersive experience. I have to say it was very well done. I’ve seen a lot of places attempt this without the sophistication of this chateau.
Chateau de Gruyère in Switzerland
The chateau has been nicely restored and is completely open to tourists. There are no guides and equally few areas are off limits. You are free to explore the rooms and grounds.

You are also free to photograph to your heart’s content. The only rooms with restrictions include delicate fabric and works on paper, so don’t use a flash! Each flash is like sticking the object in the sun for a day. It makes paper and cloth based items fade quickly.

The windows look out onto the Swiss mountains and landscapes. It was nice to have a few openings without glass for better picture taking.

The chateau at one time was owned by an artist who made some restorations and decorations. Corot was invited to spend some time and helped paint a room. It’s quite a time warp as you go from ancient castle to impressionist parlor.

The ramparts surround the back of the castle and provide various openings for photographing the scenery. You could also shoot invading armies and dump boiling oil on the uprising cerfs if needed.

H.R. Giger museum

Giger is a polarizing artist. You either like or appreciate his art or run out holding your stomach and swear in disbelief. It’s an erotic vision without the eroticism, violence and degradation join self-idolatry. Giger is most known for designing the sets and monster from the movie Alien. His figures morph between human and machine, organic and industrial.

It’s surprising to see his museum and cafe in such a small tourist village. But it actually makes sense when you think of the artistic pulse that has survived in the city, especially after Daniel Bovy took over the chateau in the 1800’s and invited his friends to help decorate the chambers.
raspberries and coffee with la double crème de Gruyère
The village also houses multiple restaurants that naturally encourage large cheese-based meals. I threw caution, and a month long diet, to the wind and had fondue two days in a row. I survived yesterday’s pot so why not? I even had raspberries with la double crème de Gruyère afterward for dessert. I’m so full of dairy products my udders are swollen. I also bought some bizarre local specialty. It’s a spread made with mustard, honey, chocolate, and god knows what else.

Gruyere ate up the day like a fat Ted wolfs down melted cheese on bread. Before we knew it we were on the freeway trying to get back to Geneva before my train took off. We made it about 10 minutes before the train took off. I was able to waddle onto the train just in time.

Paris is only a few miles away. I don’t think I could look at cheese for a few days. But I could use an Evian right now.

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Visiting Iceland

Flashback 5th grade, Miss All-breath’s class: Ok kids, the big country is called Greenland, but it sucks. It’s just a big glacier and very difficult to live on. But notice this smaller chunk. It’s called Iceland and is really a cool place to live. It’s actually fairly warm and in about 10 years there will be a band called the Sugarcubes, then Bjork, then Sigur Ros will transform what is thought of as music in the world. So the moral of the story is don’t believe what the Vikings always say. Sometimes they lie. Like when I bought the 50 lb chunk of cheese from Vikings-R-Us and discovered it was really just plastic. Bastards…

Ever since that fateful day in Miss All-breath’s class I’ve wanted to visit this mysterious, fraudulently named country. It was one of my top goals when I moved to Paris in 2006. Fortunately the Icelandic economy crashed a few months ago and I could suddenly afford the trip. Sometimes Bush’s disastrous policies can lead to some good. An international economic crisis can mean good opportunities for travel.

In case you are wondering, we called her All-breath because she drank about a dozen cups of coffee and Tab soda mixed together every morning and her breath would make your hair stand on end.

So here I am eating muesli at my hotel on Sunday morning. The sun won’t rise for about an hour, which is a good thing. I’m going to grab my tripod and camera and photograph the rising sun over the shoreline. I’m sore from yesterday’s tour of the country. But mostly, I’m content. I’ve finally made it to Iceland and it has been wonderful.

The Icelandic people are very friendly and polite. The water tastes like candy. The air is crisp and clear. And the weather is cold, especially for this Californian, but it’s not crazy cold like Chicago or Buffalo. It’s certainly not Alaska or Montreal cold. It’s cold like the coffee you poured 30 minutes ago and thought, ooh coffee…

Speaking of traveling, my lesbian sisters need to get their butch and femme asses over here. Show some support for the new Prime Minister. Don’t expect Dinah Shore Weekend; but you will find an open-minded, friendly country that desperately needs your travel dollars.

Swimming pools

Everyone here swims. Reykjavik has a great Olympic swimming stadium that the city uses as a social area, exercise space, and relaxation. It costs about 1 euro to enter, that includes a locker/key. You can use the indoor Olympic sized swimming pool, but most head outside to swim or soak in heated water while their heads slowly freeze. I didn’t see the hot tubs during my first visit. There is a set of tubs with different temperature water next to the large sauna. You can soak those tired muscles and backs for hours in these while meeting the locals.
Iceland 2009
Today I am going to the Blue Lagoon. It’s like Salton Sea in California, only without the retching stench of rotting who knows what, decaying buildings, and fish bone shores. No, it’s like Salton Sea in that it was created as an accident.

A geothermal energy plant began pouring the cooled water they brought up from the deep below the surface into a shoreline covered in lava rock. This water contains all sorts of minerals, salts, clays, and mysterious healing goodies. People began swimming in this oddly blue pool and bragging about how wonderful it felt. Soon it became the “blue lagoon” with its clay sold in Nieman Marcus makeup areas.

Geothermal goodness

Icelandic Geothermal PowerplantAs a Southern Californian, I feel guilty taking long hot showers. First there is the ever-present drought. Add the energy needed to heat the water. Hot showers equal hot dirty sin in my mind. So imagine my relief to be in Iceland where there is unlimited water and it’s heated by the ground. No energy is used to make the water hot. It feels so good to take a sin-free hot shower.

I visited a geothermal energy plant yesterday. It’s what you would expect: big pumps, turbines, lots of pipes. It also had some interesting guides and even an earthquake simulator. Speaking of which: Where’s my earthquake? I miss them and was hoping to experience at least a 4-5 richter jolt while in Iceland. They have them all the time, but do they save one for me? Nooo.

Falling on my ass

I’m a city-slicker. A warm-weather city slicker. I spent 6 weeks in California this year to avoid the winter in Paris. This leads to my shoe collection. There ain’t a damn thing I own for walking on ice. I went to BHV but they don’t carry shoes for people like me that wear pontoons for shoes. So imagine me trying to walk on icy paths leading to waterfalls, geysers, and overlooks. Oh, it was entertaining! My ass is black and blue from falling all day. Combine that with a backpack and camera fanny pack and I am one tired, sore fool this morning. I think I fell more than the entire tour group combined. I was ready to just sit on my ass and skoot around like a beggar in a Flemish genre painting.

Icelandic food

It’s a good thing I’m a vegetarian. There’s some really gross meat products over here. There’s a shark dish that rots in the ground for three months to be dug up and allowed to aerate for another 3 months. They also eat dried sheep faces and ram balls. And this was before the country went bankrupt!

I brought some goodies from Paris in case the news reports of mass famine were correct. I brought some Poilane bread, clementines, and comte and mimmolette cheeses. Luckily I haven’t been forced to eating crumbs from the bottom of the bread bag. There’s plenty of food here. There’s also some nice restaurants that are quite inexpensive. I had a great mushroom soup an garlic bread for about 7 euros the first night and an Indian meal last night for about 10 euros.

I think I may buy some sheep faces for my friends in Paris. I’m sure they’ll enjoy them.

Search for the mythical Northern Lights

i went on a Northern Lights tour last night. It was doubtful they would appear as the sky was filled with clouds in Reykjavik. However, there was a very slight chance and what the heck.

Our tour bus made a quick stop at a Viking museum next to the Alcoa aluminum smelting plant. They had a mockup of a fantasy theme park based on northern European culture. We then went to the most western part of the country in hopes of escaping the clouds. Although there were gasps of potential wonder, we just stood around in the cold and took photos of eachother and the non-Northern Lit ocean.

Iceland Photographs

I’ve uploaded a bunch of photos to Flickr. I am trying to get used to the digital SLR. The more I use it, the more I think I prefer film. I also realized I ignored much of the advice I gave to my students.

I had my light meter set to spot instead of center-weighted, which requires much more care. I also kept forgetting to cover my eye pieced during long exposures, light can come in and change the meter reading. I didn’t buy a filter for my new lens and the lens got smudged. I forgot a grey card and/or to set my camera’s exposure and white balance to work with snow scenes.Oh, and I forgot to fully charge the battery. I still got some interesting photos and my trusty Panosonic point and shoot worked like a viking trooper.

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Another day, another flight to Paris

I’m writing this while flying from San Francisco to Paris on Air France. I’ve flown this route several times in the past year, but never with such “flavor”. This trip is only half way over, yet the memorable events just keep piling up.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like this flight has been bad. There are no singing nuns, deadly snakes, or poisonous entrees. No, this flight has been filled with those little experiences that make me say to the little gremlin on the wing: “Did that just happen?”

Setting the stage

The flight started off fairly normal. I’ve got a great seat, 32G – a bulkhead aisle seat. The seat next to me is empty and a lady with her toddler sits on the other side of the vacancy. On the other side of the aisle are a couple of elderly women. One of them is frail, the other is quite sprite. Directly behind me is a French couple taking self portraits while strapped into the seats.

The rest of the plane seems to be comprised of inbred American teenagers on at school trip to Paris. No, seriously, they all have this common pie shaped, dough colored look. There is a really ugly set of patriarchs somewhere in California.

Oh, my seat is also a mere 4 feet from the restrooms/self-service area. I’ve got a steady stream of traffic to the right of me.

Hello Mr. open fly

I was treated to several visits from Mr. open fly. We’re not talking simply unzipped. I think this guy thought he was in an adult bookstore and was letting people sample the wares. He paraded up and down the aisles with the fly well open.

It reminded me of a little kid I went to  elementary school with. One day he wore overalls to school with no drawers. He delighted in letting the other kids check the contents of his pockets, hint hint, nudge nudge.

Naturally, I didn’t tell Mr. open fly that the corral was open and the horse was ready to escape. Why spoil such pregnant expectations?

The community television screen

I don’t know how we survived without individual television screens on airplanes. God bless jet blue for introducing the masses to such luxuries. Now we can fly blissfully around the world without having to share the joys of Everyone Loves Raymond with a planeful of idiots that actually think its funny.

No, we now have the ability to watch our own selection of movies, tv shows, and other special visual treats. It’s even possible to spend 9 hours watching movies without seeing Owen Wilson’s stupid nose, a “cutting” sitcom with laugh tracks galore, or the standard educational documentary featuring animals tearing each other to pieces.

No, that’s what the community screens are for. Scattered around the plane are little televisions displaying safety messages, animated stewardesses serving scalding hot coffee, maps of the world with the progress of our plane, and a disturbing collection of entertainment. I hadn’t really noticed these television’s content until this flight.

If it bleeds, it leads

I haven’t been watching the screens consistently. I’ve been trying to watch movies on my little personal slice of video heaven. Once in a while, my eye will be distracted by something twittering on the community screen, which sits about 4 feet away, next to the toddler’s suspended bassinet.

piglets photo on flickr
Piglets photo by ynskjen on Flickr

The first scene that grabbed my attention was a group of playful piglets trying to jump out of their pen. The pens looked like an farm from an old vampire film: dark shadows, low angle, carefully placed detritus, and a sanitary suspense. Ah look at the cute piggies.

Bam, cut to a butcher’s knife chopping through some anonymous chunk of animal corpse. One second cute piglet, next second a farmers market and dinner for some family.

This documentary then cuts to a pleasant Asian women talking to to the camera. There’s no sound, so she could be discussing the future of world peace in Africa, the art of Owen Wilson films, or the joy of slaughtering piglets. Frankly, I am assuming it is the latter. We continue to watch more scenes from Chinese markets as mysterious chunks of creatures are pulled out of woks, women plucking birds, and dogs running around scavenging for snacks and litter mates, sometimes both at the same time.

Keep in mind this is displayed on banks of televisions scattered around the plane. It’s also on some kind of demented loop. I’ve caught this documentary several times.

The broadcast hits keep on rolling

There was one particular stretch of joyous images that occurred during our meal time. Which reminds me of a particular Thanksgiving memory at the Drake house. We were gathered around the table waiting to dive into the feast.

Naturally the television was  on and for some reason it was tuned to a surgery channel instead of the normal Three’s Company marathon. Just as the food was starting to be dished out, a doctor cut open a tumorous organ and a gallon of black bile poured onto the surgical table. Yum, pass the gravy.

So, while I’m diving into my vegetarian in fight meal, the community televisions start displaying a series of bloody images. Tibetans were getting slaughtered, cartoon detectives were shooting bad guys, piglets turned into meat chunks, and the toddler next to me is making his toy ambulance crash into his toy cement mixer. “Would you like some bread with your meal?” You betcha!

The long trip to powder the nose

The frail older lady next to me needed to powder her nose a couple hours ago. This procedure involved several people as we jockeyed positions to make sure she had a clear shot to the bulkhead. Her companion assisted her. Just as she finally gets out of her seat and is heading towards the powder room, passengers from the forward section jump into the toilets and she’s forced to wait for an opening. One of the stewardesses assisted her to the premium lounges. She made it back in good shape and is now sleeping soundly.

And then Little Betty died

Little Betty is the name of my new laptop; a tiny toy of a thing made by Asus. Unfortunately, the battery died mid flight and I wasn’t able to finish documenting this flight. There were several inbred teenagers that liked to hangout at the free sodas in front of my seat. I could describe them for hours. Alas, my post-flight haze is kicking in and they’ll have to escape the brutal knife of my razor sharp wit.

London really is the capital of bad food

I’m on the Eurostar returning to Paris from a busy trip to London. I cannot remember another week in my life when I consistently ate horrid food. I’m talking really, really bad.

I mentioned this to my buddy Glen who remarked: London restaurants make good food as good as any city in the world. But they are the best at making awful food. Amen, glory hallelujah, and pass the bread.
London Cityscape at night
It’s truly amazing my stomach and tongue didn’t go on strike and leave me stranded. I even tried to find good places. I walked for seemingly miles among the west end looking for a new place that had good food. But over and over, i ended up on the short end of the fork.

I will say that my hotel’s breakfast bar had edible food. But when the culinary highlight of the day is medium strength coffee, toast, and Weetabix, you know something is going down the wrong way. It’s a good thing I was on a business trip. I kept the receipts for the expense report and they remind me of such lovely meals.

Day one: Canela – a Portuguese/Brazilian cafe.

This was an easy place, they are across the street from the hotel, it was late, I was hungry, I bit the bullet. Their vegetarian options were pretty sparse, so I got the vegetarian lasagna with salad and a plantain dessert thing. The lasagna wasn’t bad before it took a ride in the microwave express for 5 minutes. Throw some salad on this nuclear lunch and you’ve got a slab of pasta/cheese with broccoli, smothered with wilted salad and dressing. YUMMMY! Fortunately, this was filling enough for me to save the plantain thing for later, oh how lucky…

Day two: Yahoo! cafeteria and Sartaj Limited

The Yahoo! cafe had a lovely serving of pasta with veggies and tomato sauce. It wasn’t awful, just typically British and mediocre. I think this sums up a lot of the food I eat in London. It’s edible and mediocre. You forget what you ate 30 minutes later. Unless you end up burping the flavor every 30 minutes; like today’s unfortunate falafel wrap. *burp*

Dinner was at Sartaj Limited. The menu promised unique Balti food, a rare cuisine in India. I figured, what the heck. It couldn’t be bad. Everyone says you can get good indian food in London. Which is true. You can also get some horrible Indian food in London. Like the Hari Krishna cafe on the last trip where everything tasted like it was cooked in dish detergent. At least it was all you can eat.

But I digress, let’s savor the flavor of Sartaj. I asked the waiter what was so special about the cuisine and why were they the only ones to provide such a service outside of India? The answer: we serve it in the cooking dish, a small wok.

Stop the presses! I think we have a true culinary revolution! They serve the food in the food in the iron skillets that they cook in. Now that is novel! Have I ever had anything like that before? Oh yeah, every truckstop dive in America has their skillet eggs and potatoes. But those dives are not Sartaj!

So, I told the guy I would like the quintessential vegetarian Balti dish. Did I mention I was the only customer for about 40 minutes? I also ordered some variation of naan, raita, and water.

He asked if I liked it hot. I chuckled and said “does the pope shit in the woods?“. Of course I like it hot, I grew up on the Mexican border. Make me sweat, make my nose run, make me beg my momma for mercy, give it to me hot and hard,… ooh, maybe I’m giving away too much information…

The waiter gave me a single glass of water, about three gulps worth and left to chat with the other person working in the cafe. Remember, there are no other customers in sight. After a while, I get the fabled iron skillet of Balti legend. It’s a mixture of onions, peppers, and onions with a spicy broth. The raita is yogurt with a chopped cucumbers on top and the naan had some kind of greasy, pressed creature inside it.

Hold me back, I knew I was in for some dining pleasure with this.
On the train to London
I will say the food was spicy and i appreciated the snot dripping out of my nose and flavoring the dish. I had to mix in some raita to soothe my rapidly eroding tongue as the water lasted about three bites. The creature inside the naan started to look like Bambi and the waiter was nowhere to be seen.

I’m a bit of a silent sufferer. I’d rather sit in the chair and stew in a pool of self pity than get up and pour myself another glass of water or steal a napkin from one of the many empty tables for my waterfall of a snotty nose.

After the dish was finished, I started to cough, sniffle, and read my book until the waiter decided it was time to acknowledge me again. That’s ok, he was busy with the other customers, no wait, I was the only one.

This meal was edible, as spicy as I requested, and not the same ol’ same ol’. I’ll give it that. Besides, it wasn’t the worst thing I’d eaten that day. I walked around the area for a while and decided it was time to hit the hotel and finish that lovely plantain thing from the night before.
Let me start by describe this thing visually. Imagine a soft cake/pie with layers of plantains (a starchier, less sweet cousin of bananas). It reminded me of a gingerbread/plantain tart. How could such an exotic dish go so bad? I took one bite of this lovely piece of goodness and nearly broke a tooth on the top plantain, while my lower jaw made its way north through something best described as brown semi-solid goo. It had no flavor and reminded me of legos in mud. Yummy, give this one to Durward!

Day 3: Questo the Italian Buffet and Diana’s Diner

I grew up with buffets. I was the youngest of six kids and a night out for our family included a trip to the smorgasbord, where kids ate free. My mom always had healthy advice for us: “Skip the salads and head straight for the meats and desserts. Load up on the expensive stuff!”
I love buffets, from the good, the mediocre, and the bad. You’re gonna get crap, you pay too much, but oh what a selection! I remember people fighting over hamburger patties, cut in half, with a slice of cheese on them at Hometown buffet. That’s the spirit a buffet should inspire. Give me more dammit and don’t you dare take my fifth serving of canned peas!

So, I couldn’t pass up an Italian buffet with promises of pasta and pizza. I instantly thought of my friend, moo, who would join me at Shakeys for the pizza buffet. He would actually visit the vomitorium to get rid of the first batch so that he could continue going through the buffet lines another hour. It’s all about getting your $4.99’s worth of grub.

I walked into Questo and saw the enormous buffet after sitting down. It stretched from one end of the wall to another. Unfortunately, that wall was only 4 feet long. I ordered the buffet (approx. $12) and a Pepsi (approx. $4) and asked where the pizza was. “Oh, the pizza is extra, that’s not included) 16 bucks for four feet of buffet and a Pepsi.

How bad could this food be? I honestly was driven to sample everything to find out what was the worst thing I’ve ever eaten. It seemed like a challenge to find something with a satisfying texture or taste. The eggplant parmesan consisted of micro-waved eggplant with tomato sauce brushed on and two crumbs of mozzarella baking in a steam table, the pasta was decimated broccoli/cauliflower with white sauce and penne, there was a semi-solid polenta thing in ketchup, and dry basmati rice with a single stem of saffron waved over the pot during cooking. I was in hog’s heaven.

Just as I declared the polenta thing as the truly worst thing I’d eaten in 2 1/2 years, I noticed a customer going to another buffet bar in the back. Could it be? Am I lucky enough to try yet another treasure trove of culinary delight?

I grabbed my plate and headed for the promised land. I was amazed to see a salad buffet bar. But, do I go against my mother’s advice? Should I skip the salad and grab some ice cream from the freezer next to it? Nah, that’s not included. It’s another 4 bucks for a scoop. So, i marveled at the salads and started grabbing spoonfulls of pre-processed macaroni, egg, bean, etc salads.

The polenta remained on top as the worst dish. Frankly, it will take a truly hideous dish to knock that sucker off its throne. I only wish I had brought my camera to document the awards ceremony.

To top off this luxurious lunch, the cash register guy tacked on a mandatory tip and crossed out the “NOT” in the “SERVICE NOT INCLUDED” statement at the bottom of the receipt. They must have known I was cheap and would have left without some coin on the table. Don’t worry, you were not forgotten. :)

After the lunch, I was feeling a bit less than healthy. *falafel burp just happened* I wanted to tread lightly for dinner and settled on a tiny diner that looked like it belonged in a hippie movie. It was no-frill comfort food. I should have gone for a classic breakfast, but was tempted by a vegetarian risotto. How could this be bad?

I will say that the restaurant was pleasant, the people were nice, it was very affordable, and I did enjoy my meal for what it was worth. I got a salad and the risotto. It’s just a shame to call it risotto. It should have been called veggie stew and rice. They used long grain rice instead of the stubby, starchy stuff of risotto legend. So, I’m giving them a pass. The place was pleasant the food was perfectly mediocre, not over-priced, and didn’t leave me burping risotto for the next two days.

Day 4 Yahoo! catering and Browns bar and restaurant

I was in a big meeting day 4 and 5 and Yahoo brought in trays of snacks and sandwiches to quench our hunger. I hadn’t slept well the night before. It was probably the polenta getting its revenge. For some reason I was also hungry all day long and kept grabbing cookies, snacks, and coffee in the morning. By noon, I was ready for something with protein and tried the egg salad triangles and tomato-cheese finger thingies. Once again, perfectly mediocre and hardly satisfying. But it’s all good once you’ve eaten enough brownies, diet coke, and cookies.
Yahoo! Din Din in London

Afterwards, the meeting participants went out for a real dinner. Some Browns restaurant. It was almost forgettable due to it’s perfectly edible food that actually had taste and texture. I actually licked the plate clean. No, really. I was that impressed. I picked up the plate and began licking it clean, first the front and then the back.

Day 5: More Yahoo! catering and attack of the killer falafel, scone and potential pizza.

The second day of the meeting also had an assortment of cookies, snacks, and tea sandwiches. I prepared for this spread by having a large breakfast at the hotel. I skipped the Weetabix and went for eggs, hash browns, and mushrooms. Yep, they eat mushrooms for breakfast in England, those silly chaps.

The catering was unremarkable and less than filling. So, I figured I would get something for the ride back to Paris. I should have gone to a decent sandwich shop by turning left at the office door. But no, I had to make a right and go towards Soho and the land of bad takeouts. I stopped at the first falafel place and ordered a sandwich to go. I spotted some pizza with corn as a topping and thought that would be good if I was absolutely desparate on the Chunnel and didn’t feel like eating my shoe.

I knew I was in trouble when he dropped a ball of falafel and it bounced off the floor and landed back in his hand. He promptly placed a few of these super bouncy balls in the microwave to heat up. Oh yes, this was going to be good. These were wrapped in a large pita with a shmear of hummus a tease of flavor and a hint of taste. I asked for the pizza to be left cold, no need to heat up this wonder.

Needless to say, the falafel was really awful. It wasn’t as bad as the polenta from earlier in the week, but truly bad. I’ve been burping this chickpea-garlic flavor for the past few hours. *falafel burp*
Scary pizza from London
I was starting to thing twice about the pizza sitting in my luggage. Could I really be hungry enough to eat it? I’d better not chance it, so I bought a scone at Le Pain Quitodien. This restaurant is actually pretty good. It’s a chain of bakery/cafe’s. Leave it to me to buy the worst thing in the cafe. The scone was bad. It was flavorless and dry. Perhaps I’m jaded. I’ve been spoiled by the sublime scones at Rebecca’s in San Diego. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out today’s scone was a bomb.

So, now I sit on the train heading to Paris. I’ve got a piece of scary pizza in my luggage, I’m burping falafel from lunch, and writing about a week of truly bad food. I can’t wait until my next trip to London.

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