Vodka and Vikings

by wjw on May 28, 2014

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting Eastern Europe, but if you ever go, there are certain conventions that should be observed.  One of them being that at some point you have to go out and drink lots of vodka with the locals.  Lots of vodka.  Lots and lots of vodka.

Back in the year 2000 I was the guest of honor at Polcon, in Gdynia, Poland (which is a port town just across the bay from Gdansk).  It was not only the Polish national convention, but also Balticon, the big convention of the Baltic region, and Eurocon, the big convention for all of Europe.  So I felt jolly well honored, at least until I was told that they couldn’t afford to reimburse my travel expenses.

(I kept telling them that ticket prices would go up the closer to departure we came, but they were new to capitalism and didn’t understand this.  Under socialism, ticket prices are set and don’t move around depending on the desperation of the buyer, the way they do here.

(And yes, I eventually got reimbursed, so it ended up okay.  Though you’re welcome to send me money if you want, I won’t stop you.)

Anyway, it was otherwise a very nice convention, and I stayed at a hotel on the waterfront, with a big pier going out into the bay.  And when it came time to drink vodka with my new friends, we all trooped out to the end of the pier, to a bar there.

The vodka showed up, as it does, and then it kept showing up.  They bought rounds, I bought rounds, it was a fine evening.  I’m not a big fan of vodka normally, but the local product flavored with bison grass was quite tasty, and the company was very convivial.  (Apparently under the influence of memory-vodka, I first wrote “convenial” there, apparently a portmanteau of “convivial” and “congenial.”)

Long about the wee hours of the morning I felt I had sufficiently honored the local custom, and I made my way out of the bar and started walking down the long pier back to the hotel.  I was feeling rather pleased with myself, in that I was navigating pretty well, walking a straight line, not swaying at all, and certainly not falling over.

And then I heard this splash, splash, splash from behind and to my right side.  And I turned around, and THERE WAS A VIKING SHIP MOVING PAST ME UNDER OARS, AND IT SEEMED TO HAVE VIKINGS ON IT.

Well, I thought.  Apparently I haven’t survived my evening as well as I thought.

Ignoring the Viking ship and its crew as well as I could, I returned to my hotel and went to bed.

The next morning dawned remarkably headache-free, which is what happens when you drink the good stuff and not a bunch of crap liquor.  I opened the curtains and gazed down at the harbor in bright sunlight, AND THERE WAS A VIKING SHIP TIED UP AT THE PIER.

Because it was a real Viking ship, not an hallucination.  It was a Viking ship built by Swedish science fiction fans, and sailed across the Baltic so they could attend the convention.  It spent much of the convention sailing back and forth on the horizon, as if blockading the port.  One day they staged an opposed beach landing, Swedish Viking fans vs. the Polish equivalent of the Society for Creative Anachronism.  I wanted to view this, but the convention had me scheduled doing something else.

I’m not sure if there’s actually a point to this story, other than reality’s rather tenuous connection with itself.  But I found myself thinking about Viking ships today, or maybe vodka, and here we are.


Foxessa May 28, 2014 at 3:25 pm

I can rather imagine the pleasure of seeing that Viking ship during your stay cruising about on the local waters. I felt that way while living on the Chesapeake and seeing and cruising upon replicas of the various hot shot Baltimore privateers. It was a distillation of pure joy and gratification that I hadn’t felt about anything since leaving childhood — or, as an adult, exploring REAL CASTLES that I’d read about since childhood!

Love, C.

Margot May 28, 2014 at 6:16 pm

So, the bison-flavored vodka that Caro Sula drinks isn’t made up. Huh.

Margot May 28, 2014 at 6:17 pm

I mean bison-*grass* flavored. Not bison-flavored.

TRX May 28, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Building your own Viking ship and sailing it to another country sounds way cooler than buying a StarFleet uniform off Ebay…

Steinar Bang May 29, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Not vodka, but at least a viking ship shaped cognac bottle

PhilRM May 29, 2014 at 9:17 pm

You can get a Polish bison grass-flavored vodka in the states, Dubrowka. It’s excellent.

wjw May 29, 2014 at 11:11 pm

“Cognac of the Vikings.” I like the idea of the doughty Norsemen sitting around after a raid, swirling cognac in their balloon glasses, and remarking on its terroir.

Florin Pîtea May 30, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Great story. Thank you for sharing, sir. And, yes, the bison-grass Polish vodka is the stuff of legend. 🙂

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