Why I’m OK with failing my 2016 challenge

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At the start of 2016, I set myself an annual challenge. Sasieology is about visiting new places and trying new experiences as a vegan. This year, I set myself a target of visiting 12 new places and trying 12 new activities, one for each month of the year. And I failed. I don’t mean I missed my goal by just one or two, either. I failed miserably. But do you know what? I don’t mind, because one of the big things I have learnt this year is to not give myself such a hard time when I don’t meet my own expectations. I probably could have pushed myself to visit more new destinations, and signed up for countless activities just for the sake of hitting my target, but I would have exhausted myself and no doubt stressed myself out about the whole thing. Instead, I just allowed 2016 to take me where it wanted to.

There are lots of reasons why I didn’t achieve my aim this year. Back in January, I had a whole list of places I thought I’d go and ideas for activities that I could try. But then, life got in the way. I got a bit distracted by my new job, which certainly isn’t what I want to do for the rest of my life but it is a whole lot better than my last job. I spent over 5 years working for a company that seemed intent on sapping even the last bit of energy and enthusiasm out of me. Now, I work for a company where my energy and ideas are encouraged and I feel valued and respected. And if putting more effort into my new job for a while means I’m not spending so much time on my blog, that’s a hit I can take.

And while I didn’t make many of the places on my intended list for 2016, the year did take me to a lot of new places that I wasn’t expecting. My sneaky friends got me to Amsterdam (not that I took much persuading) for their secret surprise wedding, and when another friend was packed off to Frankfurt to work for three months, I jumped at the chance to go and visit her and also explore Cologne whilst I was there. Then, I returned to Germany to meet up with some travelling buddies in Berlin.

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I also got the chance to revisit an area that I’d kind of side-swiped years earlier when I went skiing in Les Arcs and Le Plagne in France. Plus, I returned to some old favourites such as The Green Gathering Festival just down the road in Chepstow, and visiting my family in Austria.

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Although I haven’t got around to trying many new activities this year, I have signed myself up for some interesting past-times and workshops. Earlier in the year I learnt how to prune fruit trees, which has proved very useful in Plasnewydd Community Garden where I volunteer. I was also dragged in as a last minute replacement for a workshop where we learnt to upcycle our clothes as part of #LoveYourClothes week in Cardiff. They needed a couple of extra people to be in photos, but I actually got so engrossed with the vest top I was upcycling that I completely forgot the camera was there. Considering I was pretty much banned from Home Economics class at school because I kept breaking all the equipment (not on purpose, which my teacher understood, but still annoying very costly to the school), I thought I did quite well and I can’t wait to show off my new vest top once summer eventually arrives in Wales again.

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One of my big focuses of 2016 has been to increase my voluntary work, both by getting involved in more local projects and volunteering at vegan events. I flyered two vegan festivals this year. I have to admit I was expecting at least a little negativity from the general omnivore public, but everyone was lovely to talk to apart from one man who simply shouted ‘I love pork’ at me (clearly eating meat has done nothing for his articulation or communication skills). I am also part of a group formed to open the first library of things in Cardiff. The project is still in its early stages, but we are very excited and I can’t wait to tell you all more soon. If anyone in the Cardiff area would like to know how you can get involved, please let me know.

So, as you can see, although I didn’t hit my target of 12 new destinations and 12 new activities in 2016, I have still had a busy year. I’ve already got some exciting and new experiences planned for 2017, so please keep reading Sasieology for updates. I’d love to hear from some of my readers about your travels and adventures too. This is me signing off for 2016, but before I go I’d like to wish you all a very merrry Christmas and a happy new year wherever you are in the world x

 

 

Vegan in Berlin

I don’t want to write a huge post about vegan travel and my recent trip to Berlin, but I did want to share a couple of photos with you. The people I met up with in Berlin are all omnivore, so we ate in a variety of restaurants. Finding vegan and gluten-free food in Berlin was not difficult, though, and the city is very vegan friendly. I did get a chance to walk out to Schivelbeiner Strasse, which has an entire vegan block. Not only did I eat an amazing lunch at the Goodies café there, I also stocked up on some groceries from Veganz supermarket and spotted some cool street art.

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Vegan Food in Amsterdam

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I have a confession to make. Although I travel solo a lot, when I am travelling with other people I tend to be the one who just follows everyone else. When I was in Amsterdam, as part of a group of 18, I ate a lot of great vegan food but I couldn’t tell you where some of it was from as I don’t know. I would like to say thank you to my non-vegan friends for picking some tasty eating spots though. Here’s what I do remember about eating vegan in Amsterdam:

Vegabond – This tiny shop and café on one of the narrow side streets is a must for any vegan visitor to Amsterdam. They have an impressive selection of groceries to keep you going (including gluten-free beer 🙂 ) and the café serves the most delicious lunches. The open gluten-free sandwich with vegan cheese and pine nuts is delicious, and I washed it down with a refreshing red juice.

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Candy Freaks – I’d seen this shop on Happy Cow but wasn’t going to go there. Then I stumbled upon it by accident whilst I was exploring (ie lost) in the city. This is the most vegan-friendly sweet shop I have ever been in. Most of the sweets are part of one huge pick & mix, and they are all labelled as to whether they are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and a whole host of other dietary requirements. The guy running the shop is also super nice, and very keen to direct veggies and vegans around Amsterdam and recommend places to eat. When he told me they also do mail order, including to Wales, I knew me finding Candy Freaks was just going to be dangerous.

Intercontinental Amstel – Most of the recommendations I make on my blog are for travellers on a budget. Just to warn you now, this one isn’t. To cut a long story short, I thought I was going to Amsterdam to celebrate a 30th birthday but the hosts surprised us by getting married whilst we were there! It was a true honour and privilege to have been included as part of their special day, and to top it all off they took us to the 5 star Amstel hotel for an out-of-this-world dinner in their wine room. My friend had informed the restaurant that I am vegan and gluten-free, but none of us expected the meal I got. Every course was as equally thought through and presented as my omnivore friends’. Anything I write here could not do the food justice, and I really appreciate that the hotel staff did not make me feel different or awkward for one second that I was there. This is the first time I have blogged about 5 star luxury, but if you really want to treat yourself I would strongly recommend the Intercontinental Amstel. If you are vegan, gluten-free or have any other dietary requirements, simply let the staff know and trust them to deliver the best meal you have ever tasted.

Vegan Food in Cologne

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When I was in Cologne, I was travelling with an omnivore friend. I decided the best way to choose where we ate was to pass her the Happy Cow app and leave it up to her. I told her I would eat anywhere listed as vegan-friendly. This is what she picked:

Naturata City – As well as being a handy place to shop for vegan snacks and essentials right in the heart of the city, this organic supermarket also houses a café  They serve meat, with veggie and vegan options available, and it’s self-service canteen style. I found the food labels in the café to be a little confusing, but the girl working behind the counter was happy to explain to me what I could and couldn’t eat.

Osho’s Place – Like Naturara City, Osho’s Place is a canteen-style restaurant. It’s all vegetarian, and the food is priced by weight. I was disappointed that they didn’t have many vegan and gluten-free options. The little I could eat was from different priced dishes, which led to the lady at the checkout getting very annoyed with me because I hadn’t understood their system of what goes in which bowl or on which plate and at whch price. In my hungover state, I told her just to charge me the most expensive price so I could sit down and eat my food.

Past & Future – I was surprised when my friend picked this restaurant because it is 100% vegan, but we loved Past & Future so much that we ended up going back there on our second night in Cologne as well. I’m sure their a-la-carte menu is very tasty, but to be honest I don’t know because I didn’t get past the amazing all-you-can-eat buffet. There are lots of gluten-free options too, and make sure you leave room to try the chocolate avocado mousse for dessert.

Vegan Food in Frankfurt

DSC_0714Germany is one of the most welcoming countries for vegans. A search of any German city on Happy Cow will give you a long list of not only vegan-friendly restaurants, but many options for dedicated vegetarian and vegan eateries. As I tend to do when I travel, I booked self-catering hostel accommodation in Frankfurt. This means that, should I have trouble finding vegan and gluten-free food, I always have the option to cook for myself. Self-catering can also work out a lot cheaper, although not always. As there are so many vegan options to choose from in Frankfurt, I treated myself and ate out for every meal. Well, it’s only my duty as a vegan blogger right? 🙂

Here are all the restaurants, cafes and coffee shops I managed to cram into my few days in Frankfurt:

Elia (Greek restaurant) – This was actually the one place I ate where they had no vegan options on the menu. Once I explained my dietary requirements, though, the friendly Greek staff were more than happy to request a vegan and gluten-free meal from the chef for me. I enjoyed a plate of rice with vegetables that was beautifully cooked and presented and tasted delicious.

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Saftcraft – On the day I arrived in Frankfurt, I sought out Saftcraft because I thought some fresh juice might perk me up after a long night of travelling. The café is 100% vegan and they have a lot of gluten-free options. The staff were super nice and helpful. Their quinoa Bolognese pot is one of the best vegan lunches I have ever tasted. I’m not usually a fan of iced tea, but as their homemade version was part of the meal deal I thought I’d give it a try and I’m so glad I did. It was so refreshing and tasty, and along with the Bolognese pot just what I needed to restore my energy. I loved Saftcraft so much that I went back for a breakfast smoothie the following morning. The first floor of the café is also a really nice place to chill out with a coffee, and I was happy to hang out for an hour or so whilst I checked my emails and caught up on admin. Wi-Fi connection is far from functional in Frankfurt, which I found strange for a business hub. Saftcraft is a Wi-Fi hotspot, though, which is really easy to sign up for and offers better than average service.

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Coffee Fellows – This chain of coffee shops makes a mean soya latte, and seems to hire some of the happiest baristas on the planet. They do also offer vegan sandwiches if you’re OK with gluten, and their ice-cream bar has an impressive selection of vegan options. You can just about make out the list of vegan flavours on the glass in my photo, but the real reason I took this picture was because of the cute step they have in front of the counter so that children can see all the ice-cream flavours. What a brilliant idea!

Vevay – As someone who travels solo regularly, I’m used to eating on my own. It can feel like you are a burden to restaurants, though, as they are missing out on the money from the extra seat at the table you are taking up. I’ve had restaurants admit me only on the condition I eat at the bar, crammed in next to either the glass collection point, the bathrooms or both. This was  far from my experience at Vevay, though. I was welcomed with a friendly smile, invited to sit where I wanted and not pressured at all to rush and vacate the table. I opted for the protein bowl, which had so many components to it I wouldn’t want to list them all here for fear I would forget some and miss them out. Needless to say it was delicious, and totally different from the food I would prepare at home so a nice treat for myself.

Pho Ngon – This Vietnamese restaurant is a hidden gem in the heart of Frankfurt, and I almost don’t want to tell you about it in case it becomes too popular. A friend who works in Frankfurt took me there after it had been recommended to her from a colleague. They have a few vegan and gluten-free options on the menu, and the young man serving us was happy to advise on what I could and couldn’t eat. We shared the vegan tofu summer rolls to start, which can be made with rice paper. They were huge, and I’m glad we decided to share as a whole portion to myself would have left no room for my main course. I opted for rice with fried tofu and vegetables, which was also a very generous portion. The food was delicious, and the restaurant a really nice setting to eat it.

Kuffler & Bucher Asian Restaurant – Frankfurt airport is either the second or third largest airport in Europe after Heathrow, depending on what information you read. Once you get through security, your options for food depend on which departure area you are in. Kuffler & Bucher is one of the options in Terminal 2B, which is where my flight was departing from. There are two totally different sides to the restaurant, which is a surprising but actually very clever idea.  While one side caters to very traditional German tastes, the other side offers all Asian food. Presuming I had more chance of finding something vegan and gluten-free to eat, I went for the Asian side. They have vegan and vegetarian options clearly labelled on the menu, and the lovely waitress swapped the udon noodles for rice noodles to omit the gluten. She also kindly put the chillies on the side of my dish so I could make it as hot as I wanted to. I could not have asked for a nicer airport meal to finish off my trip.

 

Vegan Skiing

There are 2 reasons I am not a food blogger:

  1. I don’t have a camera phone, so if I wanted to take a photo of my food I’d have to pull out my full size SLR camera. This can be slightly awkward in restaurants, especially when you’re eating with other people.
  2. On the odd occasion I have managed to take a photo of my food, I’ve always forgotten to take the shot until I’m already halfway through eating it. So, the photos don’t do the food justice to say the least.

With that being said, as a gluten-free vegan who likes to travel, probably the most common question I get asked is ‘what are you going to eat?’ So, I try to include some posts on my blog about what I’ve eaten and where on my trips.

Ski trips in particular seem to confuse a lot of people. I guess they have assumptions about what there is to eat in ski resorts. And, if it’s all pasta, fondue and pastries then I will surely starve!

When I’m the one planning the trip, I tend to opt for self-catering accommodation unless I’m staying somewhere that is specifically aimed at vegans. That way, I have much better control over what I’m eating. Unless I’m staying miles away from the nearest supermarket, preparing my own food is the easiest way to go. On my recent ski trip to Les Arcs and La Plagne, however, I was travelling with omnivores who did all the booking. I made sure to check out our hotel’s website before we left, and I was pleased to discover that the L’Aiguille Rouge serves all buffet meals. This is the next best option for me after self-catering. L’Aiguille Rouge is part of the Belambra chain, and there was plenty of food for me to choose from on the buffet at every meal. Apart from checking the ingredients a couple of times, I didn’t have to make any special requests for my meals. I’m sure, though, that had I needed to ask the restaurant staff for suitable food they would have happily obliged. They were all super nice, and nothing was too much trouble for them. They even had soy milk on the breakfast buffet, so I was able to get my morning coffee!

Out on the slopes, I would recommend the vegetable stir-fry with rice noodles at Le Sanglier Qui Fume in Les Arcs 1600 and Le Chalets de l’Arc at Les Arcs 2000 for their quinoa salad.

 

Anchorage

Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read it from the beginning.

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Most towns and cities have at least one feature that they label a ‘tourist attraction’ and milk it for all it’s worth. If they don’t already have one, they create one. Even though it is by far the biggest city in Alaska, and with a population of almost 300,000 home to half the state’s inhabitants, Anchorage apparently never bothered. Tourists come here (mainly from the cruise ships that had been following me up the west coast) and wander around the city centre, but there isn’t that one tower/church/underground city that everyone pays $20 to queue up in a line for 2 hours and experience for 10 minutes.

Downtown Anchorage is a pretty regular, mundane city centre, albeit with the quirks that don’t let you forget you’re in Alaska. It’s home to the biggest shopping mall in Alaska, for example, but the post office inside the mall still closes for lunch every day.

Anchorage spreads over a huge area, I heard it is the same size as Delaware (Alaska itself is 20% the size of the rest of the United States). Locals complain about over-crowding, which they blame on the permafrost they are unable to build on. I think, though, if they looked at other cities they could see it’s probably possible to fit a lot more people onto the solid land they do have if they really wanted to.

There is one trolley tour that will take you around some of the outlying points of interest in Anchorage, and I’d say it’s the best way to see them if you don’t have a car. Our guide on the Anchorage City Trolley Tours was Brendan, a 3rd generation Alaskan pre-med student with an infectious enthusiasm for his home state. He was brilliant, and kept us well informed and entertained on our one hour journey (you don’t need any longer).

Earthquake Park was previously known as Turnagain Heights. When the earthquake hit in 1964, most of the houses were pushed into the water. 7 of the 9 people who died that day were killed here. A peek into what is now woodland shows what an impact the earthquake had on the landscape. Once flat ground now rolls in huge waves out to the coast. Brendan told us that his father, a 16 year old boy scout at the time, was sent to Anchorage to hep with the rescue. He repelled into crevices trying to find survivors. They raise ’em tough in Alaska.

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Although 9  people sadly died that day, the death toll could have been much worse. There was a basketball game scheduled at the high school at 5pm. However, it being Good Friday, parents complained that their children should be in church instead. The principle rescheduled the match for the following day. Around 5.30pm, the earthquake hit and the entire (thankfully empty) high school building was swallowed  up into the ground. The class of ’71 arranged for the eagle to be painted on the side of the rebuilt school. When the principle refused to allow them to paint ‘class of 71’ on the bottom, they arranged with the artist to secretly incorporate the number 71 into the mural instead. Can you see it?

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Lake Hood is famous as the biggest boat plane dock in the world. The international airport sits right next to the lake, and the control tower has to co-ordinate both airports simultaneously. If you really want to travel in Alaska, you need a boat plane. Due to the high costs ($90,000 – $150,000), most boat planes are passed down through generations of the same family. There’s a 10-15 year waiting list for parking spaces on the lake, so you pretty much have to wait for someone to die if you want to park your plane there.

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If you make it to Anchorage, be sure to make a reservation at Snow City Café (I had to wait two hours without one). They do the best all-day breakfasts and cater to vegan and gluten-free diets. Their tofu and spinach scramble with hash brown and gluten-free toast is one of the best brunches I have ever had.

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Useful Info:

Flight Juneau to Anchorage with Alaska Air: $120

People Mover bus airport to downtown Anchorage: $2

2 nights dorm bed at Alaska Backpackers: $50

Anchorage trolley tour: $20

Surviving as a Plant Eater on the Alaska Marine Highway

Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read it from the beginning.

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On my journey from San Francisco to Seattle, I had pretty much stuffed my face with amazing vegan food. I’d searched Happy Cow for the best restaurants and grocery stores to try, and visited as many of them as I could. I knew, though, that eating on the ferry would be a very different experience. I was heading to Alaska, the land of fish.

As we boarded the boat, I could hear other passengers excitedly talking about how much salmon they were going to eat. I avoided these conversations. Before leaving Seattle, I’d made a dash around Wholefoods to pick up some hemp milk, protein powder and gluten-free snacks. I wasn’t going to starve.

On board the boat, there were two options for eating. I could have gone for the buffet in the restaurant, but it seemed a waste of money to spend $19 when all I would eat was rice and vegetables. The other option was the snack bar. They offered the standard American diet of burgers and pizza. And, of course, some fish. There was a vegan burger on the menu. I couldn’t eat it anyway because of the gluten, but I did wonder how vegan it was when the chef informed me that he cooked the fries in the same fryer as the chicken.

I went for the safe option. The snack bar had some pretty good fresh, raw veggies and fruit. It wasn’t exactly a gourmet meal, but teamed up with my emergency snacks (which I topped up when we stopped in Ketchikan) it was enough to keep me going  for 3 days.

It Must Be Courgette Season Again!

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We had a bumper crop of courgettes at Plasnewydd Community Garden this weekend:

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After what felt like weeks of eating only courgettes last summer, I didn’t think I could come up with a new recipe involving them. However, using some vegan pesto, mushrooms, olives and gnocchi, ta daaaaaa…

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Sacramento

Anyone following me on Twitter and/or Facebook will know that I arrived in the US safe and sound yesterday. I’ve decided that, whilst I’m actually travelling, I’m just going to post highlights of my day. Once I get back to the UK and have a chance to sort through my photos properly, I’ll write more in-depth posts about each destination. That way I won’t miss anything. Plus, I know a lot of my family and friends are now following this blog because they want to see what I’m up to while I’m away. They’ll hear all the stories from me anyway, so all they want to see on Sasieology is photos 🙂

With that in mind, here are my highlights from my first day in Sacramento:

I started my day with an epic all-you-can-eat vegan brunch at Garden to Grill. Hash brown, tofu frittata and, my favourite, gluten-free waffles. This is the first time I’ve been able to eat waffles since I went gluten-free and they were amazing. I also ate some fresh watermelon and pineapple to balance out the waffles (I’m pretty sure that’s how it works).

DSC_0207     While I was in the area I popped to the Gluten Free Speciality Market, where I met Melanie. She’s trying to start a blog to connect local food producers, so she’s a useful person to speak to and super nice.

I spent the rest of the day in Old Sacramento, including an underground tour and river boat cruise.

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