Saturday, 10 December 2016

Tips on Vegan Eating while Travelling

In this post I talked about our recent trip around Europe and there are some restaurant tips for the cities we visited.

I also have some general tips on how to have a nice holiday, and not live off of chips:

  • Plan ahead. I researched each city we were visiting and saved web pages as PDF's in my phone (in case we didn't have wifi access) with details of vegan friendly places. Sites like Happy Cow and TripAdvisor list vegetarian and vegan restaurants. Or just a google search will find you plenty of sites. 
  • You can also download areas of google maps to use offline to take with you, and can search for addresses in it as usual so this can come in handy with finding restaurants from the PDF's.
  • If you can't plan ahead that much, i.e. if you don't know where you will be staying, don't wait until you are hungry to try to find somewhere to eat. We tend to keep an eye out while walking around sightseeing in the day for places to go for dinner, look at menus outside restaurants and look out for likely places, and make a note of them. If you stop somewhere for a drink or coffee ask to see their menu or ask if they do any vegan options. It hardly takes up any time out of your day (we don't stop and look at every menu just if we are going into somewhere for a coffee or passing the door) and it means you can just have dinner or lunch later without any hassle.
  • Language Barriers - I took the Vegan Passport from the Vegan Society with me on our recent trip because we were visiting so many different places with different languages, I didn't use it but it was nice to know if I was really stuck I could. I actually find the wording in it a little arrogant and I was reluctant to give it to someone (It doesn't ask what on the menu is vegan for example, it says to prepare me something and "be imaginative", kind of makes me cringe). If I am going to one country I tend to research how to say a few stock phrases (and take them on paper too in case my pronunciation is terrible!) like "I am vegan" "no meat" "no dairy" "no eggs" "please can you help me" "can you show me what on your menu is vegan" etc. Also please, thank you and hello don't go amiss just to be polite. 
  • We had the car on our recent trip so took a plug in cool box, and bought things to go in it along the way from supermarkets. This helped with a driving holiday as the choice in service stations isn't always great (even for meat eaters anyway!) so I'd recommend taking a cool box and some supplies if you are going on a road trip.
  • Hotel breakfasts actually have more potential than you think. I brought a carton of soy milk so I could have tea, cereal and granola. Some places have soy milk but not many I've been to. Also toast and jam, some of the pastries (ask what's in them) and fruit from a continental breakfast. If there is a cooked breakfast there are often hash browns, beans, mushrooms (if not cooked in butter) and sometimes even a veggie sausage (though I don't see it too often).
  • Think about how you eat at home, if the local cuisine isn't very vegan friendly then think about Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mexican etc. 
  • If you do find you are not eating ideally because options are limited think outside the box on ways to get some better food. You can always go to supermarkets or markets and get some fruit or healthy snacks for lunch instead of having fast food. You can visit farmers markets or local farm shops for some fresh fruit. I usually make sure to take vitamins with me, although I actually forgot them on our most recent trip (I don't take them very often at home), just in case the food isn't ideal to keep me feeling good
  • You might need to be flexible in restaurants. For example if the vegan option is only salad and that won't be enough for you then maybe order some sides to go with it too, or order a platter of sides instead.
  • If in doubt ask someone! Ask at your hotel reception, or your tour guide or the host you are staying with. They will be able to find out for you if they don't know anywhere.
  • Remember at a push there is always chips/fries, or plain side salad, or a plain jacket potato, or a burger king veggie burger without cheese and mayo is vegan. You won't starve, you might just have to lower your standards momentarily :)
Happy travels!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Minimalist Challenge - Week 3

I recently started the "Mins Game" or Minimalist Challenge, the idea is that you get rid of one thing on day one, two things on day two and so on increasing by 1 item every day until a month has passed...by the end you will get rid of over 400 items!

Week 3 was still quite easy, I keep wondering when I am going to start to struggle! At the time of writing this I'm into week 4 and it's still easy to find all my items every day. I thought once I got into 20+ items a day it would start to get hard, but not even started places like under the bed yet and that will last me at least a few days!

I had a free pass until day 18 as we had so many CD's and DVD's to go from the week before, so I used the time to sell some stuff on ebay (our Wii and Wii fit board for £65, nice!) and get rid of some of the things that had gone into the 'holding zone of crap to get rid of' a.k.a the dining table. 

Day 18 through 21 were actually all pretty small stuff, more discs and small bits and bobs. Started on the actual clutter hotspots, like the box under the coffee table and the cupboard under the turtle tank. Lots and lots of paper and random little knickknacks this week, nothing massive except the Wii. The kitchen was done this week though and it was quite a nice one, we gained a whole free shelf in one cupboard (in a kitchen as small as ours this is a lot of space!) so I could get all my protein powder and creatine etc off the counters. Plus there is still space in there for the slow cooker that I am hoping that Santa brings me!

Some things I have learned so far over the last 3 weeks

  • If you build it they will come, also if you have a space to put stuff you will fill it. After this challenge is done I'm going to get rid of a few things like the boxes under and on the coffee table, it just encourages us to leave stuff in there rather than put it away!
  • We really do keep some random old junk. Most stuff has been easy to get rid of, there's not even a second thought as to whether we should keep it or not.
  • Glasses and glasses cases seem to be my favourite thing to hoard, I must feel like I shouldn't throw old glasses in the bin when I get new ones - a friend is an optician and has kindly taken my stash off my hands for charity. Next time I get new glasses I am giving her my old ones immediately!
  • The hardest part has been actually disposing of the stuff, I can't go the the charity shop or the tip every day so it just piles up until I can. Hence the "airlock of junk" that is our dining nook in the hallway!
Onto week 4! I am really starting to think I'm going to make it to the end of the whole month, which is slightly embarrassing considering we only have a 1 bedroom flat :)

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Vegan Food Travelling In Europe

I went on my first few trips this year since I went vegan, and I didn't end up just eating chips!

The first were short breaks to London and Dublin. There was plenty of choice and being English speaking places I could ask for what I needed, and I knew the chain restaurants I could go to if I had to.

Then the big one, we drove around Europe for 2 weeks.

Hm, that's a lot of different languages, cities, countries and cuisines. Didn't pick an easy one to start with! There is always chips, and I knew I could just go and buy some fruit etc if I really struggled, but it would be nice not to have to. As it turns out the only time I had to just have a plate of chips was in a random service station in the middle of nowhere in Germany so I think I did quite well.

Anyone visiting Brugge, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Switzerland or Luxembourg...here's what I found! Click on restaurant names for links to their websites. We stayed in most places 2 nights, so didn't eat in lots of places just dinner when we arrived, one full day then breakfast (usually just in the hotel) before we left for the next place. 

Bruges
We arrived pretty late into Bruges as we drove there from home and had the ferry crossing (FYI there was nothing much on the ferry, take food) so once we checked into the hotel we wanted some food. We found a place literally down the road from our hotel (the Ibis budget by the train station) called De Stoepa that did a few things. I had the quinoa salad (or it was maybe cous cous) and it was lovely, really large portions and the garlicky sundried tomatoes were amazing!

Second day we were up early as we had been to bed quite early due to being knackered from travelling, so we walked through the Minnewater park into the town - I would recommend an early start if you are staying here as once the day trips arrive it gets busier. We had a really lovely few hours in the morning wandering around the quiet scenic streets. We had lunch at Le Pain Quotidien which did really good brunch and lunch options. Be aware though the menu was a bit confusing and the "botanical" items weren't actually all vegan, I'm not 100% sure what it was meant to mean (organic?) but some had cheese and butter. The staff all spoke English (everyone we spoke to in Bruges spoke perfect English it was a bit odd) so could advise me and were really helpful. They also did soy milk so I could have a cup of tea and not black coffee - always a plus point!

For dinner we went to a Greek restaurant just off the main square called the Olive Tree because we happened to walk past and see they had a clearly marked vegan option in their menu, always a bonus when abroad if it is clearly specified on the menu. The food was good, although not that cheap but Bruges is generally not cheap so comparably it is probably not expensive.

I bought some nice dark chocolate here too that kept me in car snacks for the next few journeys :)

Amsterdam
We arrived in the early afternoon after driving from Bruges, so we decided to have a late lunch then a small dinner. We got caught in a downpour of rain so ducked into a bar/restaurant called Venus & Adonis while walking through the De Jordaan area, they didn't have anything marked vegan on their menu but the waitress confirmed that they could do me the pumpkin soup without cream and that the bread was vegan. That with a side of fries was perfect. 

In the evening we just had some takeaway food (I'll be honest I can't remember what I had, I'd had a few shandys) from the plethora of pizza and burger joints in the city centre.

The next day we had lunch at wok to walk as we were passing at lunch time (having been to a vegan restaurant that was fully booked), I love places like this as it's so easy, just choose your options and no fussing around about whether stuff is vegan or asking for things to be taken off (which in a foreign country isn't always easy). 

We had dinner at De Bolhoed  as we had just been to Anne Frank house and it's nearby, the food was good although the wait for it was a bit long. There is a resident cat which is always a bonus for me. This was the first actual vegetarian/vegan restaurant we had been to - my husband is not vegan so we try to find places that accommodate us both if we can, although he doesn't mind going to veggie places at all.

Berlin
Ah Berlin. You don't need a vegan food guide for Berlin. I was spoiled for choice. I don't know what it is, it's a pretty liberal city so maybe that's it, but the vegan choice is the best I have ever seen. Most places we went past had vegan options clearly marked on their menu, and if once place didn't the next place did.

The drive from Amsterdam was loooong so when we got there we didn't want to venture too far for dinner from the hotel (the Ibis in Friedrichshain). A quick google search showed there were about 3 Vegan or Vegetarian restaurants within walking distance of the hotel, but wait look a street food area literally over the road from our hotel with 5 or 6 vegan options. Hotel breakfast had vegan options, for lunch the second day we had Mexican. They had a vegan page on their standard menu (no asking for the allergy list here) and after that I didn't want a lot of dinner.

We stopped at Veganz vegan supermarket the way out of Berlin so I could get some things as we would be self catering later in our trip. I've already informed Tom we are going back again soon with more time so I can just eat, and eat, and eat, and bring back a suitcase of food.

Prague
The language barrier in Prague was a minor issue, but we managed. Our hotel was a bit out of the city (we had the car and not many city centre hotels in our budget had parking) so I was a bit concerned I would end up with chips on the first night as when we arrived from Berlin we didn't really want to get the tram into the city just for dinner, but the hotel restaurant had a pasta dish that was suitable (after an amazing effort by the waitress who said her English was not good but managed to get what I was on about and check for me).

The next day we had lunch at a vegan restaurant on the walk up to the castle called Vegans Prague, I had the vegan feast and a raw cake and it was gorgeous. There was a raw vegan place a few doors down and a cafe downstairs of you only wanted a lighter bite. We walked 16km that day around the city so I was glad to get a good meal! 

Prague is the only place I kind of struggled and we actually ended up eating at veggie places for all our meals here, as not many places had vegan options on their menu in fact some didn't even have vegetarian. Although vegetarian places were quite easy to find so it worked out OK.

We had dinner at Country Life which is a pay by the weight of your plate style canteen. Perfect as we had such a large lunch so just wanted a bite to eat before we had a few drinks in the evening! There was lots of choice, although I played it safe as I couldn't read the labels of what things were.

Salzburg
The drive to Salzburg wasn't so long, and we were entering the less city break part of the holiday so we were getting into smaller towns and more rural areas. We stopped for lunch on the way for a picnic with the stuff I got from Veganz (ham and cheese sandwiches with garlic mayo). When we arrived into Salzburg we walked along the river into the old town and had dinner at a small Italian restaurant. Austria seems to have good rules about allergies, most menus were clearly marked with a little key of what had different allergens in. This made it really easy to ascertain what I could eat, I had a pasta dish with tomato and basil.

The next day we had lunch at BioBurger Meister. The burgers were AMAZING, not too expensive either and definitely worth a try. They serve meaty burgers too if you have meat eaters in your group (I know unless you are travelling alone or your partner is vegan to can be difficult to please everyone).

We had dinner at Spicy Spices, a vegetarian Indian restaurant with lots of vegan options. The chef/host/waiter (as far as I could tell it was just him!) was really friendly and helpful. The food was really good, my husband likes Indian food more than me and he was impressed. He also bought some of the spicy chutney to bring home from the little shop portion of the restaurant. This was also good value we had drinks, both had starters and mains, and I had dessert and the bill was very reasonable.

Innsbruck
The drive from Salzburg to Innsbruck was beautiful, but we struggled to find any food as we didn't realise it was a national holiday and everything was shut! In the end we stopped at a garage and cobbled some breakfast together with some bread, a pretzel and some of the stuff I bought from Veganz!

We were self catering here so I don't have many food recommendations, but generally the old town was very nice and there were plenty of restaurants. Food seemed expensive in the supermarkets (although at this time the pound was worth naff all against the euro so it could have just been the exchange rate), especially certain fruit and veg so this is something to bear in mind. Tom also said certain meat was quite pricey too. Just something to bear in mind if you are self catering.

Switzerland
Again we were self catering, we stayed in Alt Sankt Johann in an AirB&B and it was beautiful, lots of walking and lovely scenery right outside the door. The kitchen was also very well equipped (I could have done Christmas dinner in there if I felt like it!) which was great, we made pizzas and pasta and nice breakfasts.

Luxembourg
We only stayed here one night to break up the drive home as Switzerland to the UK is along drive. We ate at a bar called Snooze, originally we just went in for a drink but we noticed they had a good range of veggie burgers. This was the only place we ate in Luxembourg as we arrived late in the afternoon and left early in the morning.

So that's the trip, I'll do a post on general tips on eating while travelling soon :)