“Still or sparkling?” the waiter asked me.
Many restaurants and cafes in Europe ask if you would prefer a bottle of water with your meal—regular water (still) or a bottle of soda water (sparkling). During the orientation for the program where I am volunteering to help Ukrainian refugees, we were encouraged to drink the tap water here in Krakow, Poland.
As a water snob I can tell you that the tap water here tastes better than most waters out there.
“Tap.” I said.
“That is not a choice.” The waiter said.
I laughed. “Yes. It is a choice. I prefer tap water.”
Once I was in a country where they happily served me a glass of tap water. It was murky and I swear there was something swimming in it. I told the waiter that he convinced me to drink bottled water. The whole kitchen laughed as I gave in.
Was I just being cheap? Yes, and… I don’t care to buy into the idea that water must be bottled in order to be enjoyed. It isn’t just the expense on the restaurant bill, it’s the expense on our environment.
The waiter wouldn’t budge. “We do not give out tap water.”
I wasn’t going to budge, either, but I was out to dinner with Norway and Washington, two women who volunteered with me at the Free Store. This was our first night together since I’d been in quarantine, and our last night together as Norway was flying home in the morning.
I said, “I insist on drinking the tap water.”
The waiter didn’t smile. “The owners do not permit us to give out tap water in this restaurant.”
I had to give in. I didn’t want to ruin our time together.
The waiter continued. “Perhaps you’d like to purchase a Mango Lassie or a Lemonade?”
Upselling. No way. “No. Just one small bottle of water.”
The waiter waited for me to order something else.
“That’s all.” I said.
“I think you need something else to drink.”
I would love to walk out of this restaurant, but my friends chose it so I could eat gluten-free and eat outside so as not to infect anyone with any lingering Covid particles escaping from my body.
Am I becoming so needy that now I must have a restaurant that serves tap water, too?
Sometimes I tire of myself. At home I have a reverse osmosis filtration system sitting on my counter that supplies the purest water I’ve ever tasted; I don’t expect this when I travel, but I do expect tap water.
I said, “I will drink one bottle of water. And please tell the owners that I will never return to this restaurant since they will not serve tap water.”
The waiter started to defend them.
I cut him off. “I understand their rule. I will not eat here again.”
He nodded and walked away.
The food was amazing. The service was okay. I sure was thirsty.
When Washington ordered a chai, then reminded the waiter ten minutes later that she hadn’t gotten it yet, the waiter told that they were working on it. Ten minutes after that she asked the waiter to cancel the chai.
They charged us for the to-go containers. And my bottle of water that contained a meager 1 ½ cups of water, cost me two dollars, more than it would have cost in the states.
It will be easy to never eat there again.
After we left, Norway pointed out restaurants she thought I would like.
“Try this one, after I go home. And try that one over there.”
Although she was also from another country, Norway taught me how to ride the tram when I first arrived. She explained the system, the signage, how to pay and how to validate the ticket. When my phone wouldn’t work to pay for the ride, she paid for me again and again.
She said that she was used to European trams and that in upstate, New York I didn’t have the advantage of taking trams everywhere.
She would walk me to my Uber pick-up spot (Not anywhere, in designated places) to be sure I got home safely, then start her hop-skip-jump to get to her $20 a night part-of-a-living-room rental far from the city.
She is as generous with her time as she is with her help. She took ten days off of her five weeks of mandatory vacation time off in her country to come here to volunteer. Many days after working in the Free Shop, Norway would stay late and do extra cleaning to be sure the refugees had a good experience when shopping the next day.
Luckily Washington would be around for another week or so; I still had a friend to pal around with. And more volunteers arrive with the program two days a week; there would be more cool people to meet.
I told both women about my guest room at home and how they were invited to visit at any time so we could kayak on the creek. Washington invited us to the San Juan Islands where we could explore the coastline. Norway showed us on a map where she lived in Oslo and how she was a ten minute walk from the botanical garden and the restaurant area.
While eating dessert, Norway mentioned that both Washington and I were older than her parents.
“That may be so…” I said, “you may be the youngest, but you are the navigator. We will be lost without you.”
On the way back, she stopped just before the castle and said she was going a different way.
I said I thought I knew where we were. We would just walk up, then turn left and then follow that pedestrian road for a while.
Her face stilled as she tried to find the right words to say that I should never rely on my terrible sense of direction.
“Google Maps is your new navigator.”
Thanks for reading.
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