Juice Culture

It's not clear how Eastern Europeans stay hydrated. Restaurants don't serve water, of course, and they're stingy with their beverages: everything comes by the deciliter, and three deciliters is considered a large portion. Further, in a country where prices seem consistently a third or less of what they'd be in the U.S., potable liquids are priced "normally," which is to say, extortionately, compared with everything else. The bottled water, even though close to undrinkable ("It's like fizzy water that's lost its fizz," says Sarah), is similarly expensive. It takes us several days to identify an imported brand which pleases our snobbish palettes.

The juices, though, oh the juices. At every corner shop, at every restaurant, at every food stand in a park, one can buy kindergarten-style juice boxes with straws (or super-sized 3dL boxes) in all sorts of wonderful flavors. Peach and mango are our standbys, but I develop a strong taste for the deliciously thick pear nectar.

When we get to Slovakia, though, there's a nasty surprise waiting for us, as one of the two major local brands of juice is, well, putrid. "Wet dog aftertaste" and "tastes like pork" are Sarah's two comments about the orange juice and there's something about the apple juice that goes where no apple juice should go.

As for the fabled beers of the turf we're travelling through, maybe I don't know enough to get the really good stuff, but I need to summarize my impressions with a large shrug. In Czecho, I try the "original" Budweiser, available in precisely those regions of the world where the American concoction is unavailable, thanks to an ugly trademark lawsuit and its non-compete-clause settlement. And, while it's sad indeed that Bud, that swill you woudln't wish on your enemies, enjoys the massive distribution that it does, the lack of Budvar in this country hardly moves me to tears.