July 11, 2011

strawberries, donuts, & ice-cream

Three of the things that represent tastes of summer...
...okay, maybe not doughnuts. But they all certainly represented what I enjoyed in all the places I visited during my recent two-week trip to Europe.

Towards the end of June, I escaped from the increasingly hot and humid Japan and hopped on the plane.

My first (real) destination was Poland, where the flowers and fruits were singing summer's songs under the blue skies.

It was my first ever visit to the country, and although - or perhaps because - I knew very little about the place before setting my foot in there, I had somehow come to associate Polish summer very strongly with fresh strawberries.
And my rather simplified preoccupation, as it soon became clear, was not entirely a long cry from the reality, after all. The ripe red Polish berries were overflowing from large baskets practically everywhere.

I wish I could have bought one of those baskets of gorgeous strawberries, but a kilo (two pounds) of super-ripe fresh berries that appeared to be all on the verge of being rotten didn't seem like a manageable amount for someone on her travels, so I (grudgingly) settled for fewer berries at a time.
As a matter of fact, the overripe berries were exceedingly perishable, so much so that they'd get squashed even during a reasonably short tram ride from the market back to my hotel room. But they were exceedingly delicious, too; now I think about them, I think I might have been able to just sit there and finish off a kilo of them quite happily, by simply snacking on them - if strawberries had been the only thing I'd eat while in Poland.

As it was, there were other things I had set my mind on for my visit there - and doughnuts were at the top of the list.
And not just any doughnut, but it had to be a one filled with rose petal jam - a specialty of Poland. Light and fluffy, luscious and fragrant, these doughnuts - called pączki in Polish - are apparently very popular among the Poles, and I can totally get it; I think I could eat them every day. Almost.

Then again, it was not these doughnuts that I encountered on every street in Poland I set my foot on, but it was ice-cream.
In Poland, literally everyone seemed to be licking ice-cream out in town, and I'm hardly exaggerating. On seemingly every street I'd find a small ice-cream shop or stand, often with a line of people waiting for their scoop or two or five. And everywhere I turned to, chances are that I'd pass by someone with a cone of ice-cream in their hand, the young and old alike.

But it was totally understandable; with all that heat, who wouldn't? I certainly jumped on the bandwagon!
And these three items - strawberries, doughnuts, and ice-cream - became a sort of "themes" of my trip this time as I continued on my journey in Europe.

My second destination: London.
...Or more like my good old friend's house where I spent the first half of my short stay in England. Instead of going out and doing sightseeing, I busied myself with chatting away with her, admiring all sorts of flowers graciously blooming in their backyard, and watching their puppy running around or else dozing off - all while having a cup of tea on the deck, nibbling on things like proper English scones and fresh berry trifles that my friend would whip up (and, indeed, half the fresh berries she was going to use in her desserts - oops).

And yes, the English have pride in their own English strawberries.
And this year, I'd heard that an unusually warm period at the end of winter was bringing about exceptionally sweet crops, harvested much earlier than usual.

Early? Apparently. Sweet? Definitely.
In addition to the desserts my friend made for us, I tried to seize every opportunity to devour the berries during my short stay in the country, and markets provided a lot of them. This cup (or actually, cone) of Strawberries and Cream, while a bit different from a version I'd had at Wimbledon years ago, was excellent - so was the basket of organic strawberries I'd bought at the market.

And what followed the strawberries?
A doughnut, for sure! Of course doughnuts are ubiquitous in London and I wasn't particularly after one, but the meeting point my friend Keiko picked for us on that Saturday happened to be a wholesale bakery in East London; their selected line of bread is available to the public for purchase on Saturdays only, including their dreamily airy, cream-filled, sugar-drenched doughnuts. Heaven! Loved it.

And like in Poland, the weather cooperated excellently throughout my stay in England, and all the sunshine and heat certainly warranted ice-cream.
As crazy as I might sometimes be about ice-cream, I'm not a big fan of soft serve in general. But this cone of soft serve ice-cream with a Cadbury Flake (or more) sticking out, commonly referred to as a 99, had something nostalgically charming about it that made me want to have one.

I got mine at a (English!) beach, while strolling about amongst the beach crowd.
Everyone seemed to be enjoying the sunshine and the heat, and above all, the long summer days until (or even after) the sun finally set late in the evening.

While both Poland and the UK boast long summer days, it'd be hard to beat the Nordic countries when it comes to the length of daytime during summer....
My first and final stops of the trip were in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. It was also my first time ever to visit the country, and unfortunately a very short one for I was there only for a (stretched) layover, with less than 24 hours between the flights. But I think I managed to use my allotted hours almost to the fullest and enjoy a quick taste of the picturesque little Northern city at the height of the summer.

And if you thought the Poles were crazy about their strawberries, wait until you see the Finns...
At the waterfront market, there was positively a flood of strawberries; every single fruit vendor loaded their shelves with fresh red berries, labeled proudly as "grown in Finland", where the extremely high latitudes make it difficult for them to grow many fruits other than various berries. There were other kinds of berries on sale as well (mostly blueberries and raspberries at that time), but it was strawberries that dominated the scene.

And indeed, strawberries seemed to have a very special place in the people's heart in Finland.
I sampled a half of a large strawberry at one of the many stands, and bought a large basket of it there - and demolished the entire content pretty much right there. But hey, it was my last day before returning to Japan and I had to have as many fresh sweet strawberries as I could, which was precisely what I did. How I wish I could have brought some home!

And considering how short my time was in Helsinki, I think I ate quite a lot there - mostly at the market and out on the street.
I had my first breakfast (the second being the strawberries) at a makeshift cafe at the market, where along with a cup of coffee I had - yes, you guessed it right - a doughnut. It was called possumunkki, made in a very peculiar shape which turned out to be of a piglet. Filled with apple jam (I think), this flat but rather large doughnut was not too sweet or heavy, and went down fairly easily - maybe a little too easily.

And a mere few hours after my breakfasts, I found myself drawn to one of the kiosks at the corners of a large park near the port... get my ice-cream fix. It was so darn hot out there, I thought I'd melt away!

Well my ice-cream was definitely very close to it, prompting me to gobble it down as I hurriedly walked back to my hotel to pick up my luggage before heading off to the airport for my flight back to Japan, after the much too short time in the city.
My time was fleeting - perhaps a bit like a summer in the northern European cities.


When I plan my trip overseas, I try to make it a long stay whenever possible, especially for places far from home. But this time, for a combination of reasons, I had to make it rather short and my time just flew by way too fast.

It was my first trip out of Japan in over a year and half, which is fairly a long interval for me. I had a lot of friends over there I wanted to see after such a long time, but the shortage of time made it difficult for me to plan get-togethers with most of them. I wish I could have seen more of them.
And with those who I did manage to meet, I wish I had had more time to spend with them - talking, doing things, or maybe doing nothing. I had such a wonderful time but there was so much more I would have liked to have with them. But short or long, every journey has to end at some point, whether you like it or not. I love traveling yet it's always hard when it comes to end. It was particularly hard for me to leave this time, but I had to get on with it. Hopefully I'll get to go on another trip sooner rather than later and see them again.

So thank you so much to all of you who spent time with me while I'm there - I do hope to see you again soon. In the meantime, I am also hoping to do a travel post or two here, or a photo album on flickr at the very least. Now I wish I had taken less pictures... oh well.
Happy travels! cx


Alejandra said...

I love the Cadbury flake stuck in the ice cream cone--genius!

Maureen said...

This was a wonderful post. I felt like I took a mini holiday! I want ice cream, strawberries and doughnuts now!!

Aurora said...

that's why i love summer the most :D

Brigitte Forster said...

Dear Chica
It is so nice to read about your European trip!! And next time, please come to Switzerland ;)!
You're welcome here...

Anonymous said...

What a lovely trip! And so glad you enjoyed the sunshine. Europe is beautiful in the sun. And I must go and find that doughnut in London:)

Sari @ Cook Your Dream said...

What a lovely post. It looks like you had a lovely time in Europe. And I like that you tasted strawberries and ice cream (and doughnuts) in every place you visited. They are the best tastes of summer! :)

Tara said...

Another wonderful post!! Here in Japan we don't really get strawberries in summer. But your post made me excited about my trip next week to the U.S., where I will surely load up on berries, and try to emulate your beautiful photos!

peek-a-boo said...

Oh yes rose petal confiture is one of the kind. I once knew a lady who made a birthday cake based on this and some meringue, it was devine! But please while next time in Poland at this time of the year, do try the sweet cheeries :).

Elizabeth said...

What a beautiful post. I am always disappointed by the pączki here in the States (unless homemade.) That one looks perfectly light and luscious. We also take our doughnut sampling responsibilities very seriously when we travel!

Anonymous said...

Hi! I am visiting for the first time after come to your blog thanks to a figs post you wrote. Oh, I love your blog and your photos are stunning! I can't wait to read more.

Maria @ A Platter of Figs

Two fit and fun gals said...

lovely photos! :)

chika said...

hi all, thanks for your comments and kind notes as always - hope I managed to tell you how fantastic it has been to be all of these places!

chasingbawa- it's st john bakery in bermondsey. those donuts were divine!

peek-a-boo - actually i did try cherries in poland! they were lovely too, but i loved strawberries (and raspberries) too much...

Anonymous said...

I had a sneaky suspicion that it might be. I've been meaning to go there for ages - definitely will this summer!

Aleksandra Rybinska said...

Hi :)

I am really glad you liked Poland :)! This is true that we, Poles, love strawberries :D. Greetings from Liverpool :)

Claudia said...

Beautiful, as usual, Chika.


marta said...

I'm so happy that you have enjoyed Poland and our summery treats... next time you visit, please try pierogi z tuskawkami ( strawberry dumplings!) Cheers :)

onionchoco said...

Kisses from Warsaw :)
Yes, we do have the best strawberries in the world!
Now, it's time for apples.
Wonderful post & blog.

marla said...

Such a happy and beautiful summer post. Now I crave travel :)