Saturday, March 18, 2017

Aloha Hawaii

As a friend of ours was getting married on the Big Island of Hawaii, we decided that was a great reason to take a trip. We spent two weeks in Hawaii, mostly on the Big Island with the last few days in Honolulu. We flew into Honolulu for one night and then flew to Kona. As we were arriving late in Honolulu, I smartly packed some vegan pizza pockets for dinner! After arriving in Kona, we picked up our reserved car at the airport via National (great service - highly recommend). We were lucky to get a free upgrade to a fun new, 4WD, jeep! Our first stop was for lunch at Kaya's Store, which has great coffee and vegan pastries. 

We stayed in Waikoloa Village at the Fairmont Orchid (specifically because they offered vegan options at their restaurants). We enjoyed meals at the beach front Hale Kai restaurant, and a nice fancy dinner at Browns' Beach House, which has a separate vegan menuWe also picked up great snacks, deli items, and breakfast pastries from the Kona Island Natural Market and deli. We enjoyed a healthy meal and large fruit plate at the nearby vegetarian restaurant, Under the Bodhi TreeThe hotel was terrific with a big pool, terrific beach access, and several green sea turtles hanging around. Our friend's wedding was just down the road at the Lava Lava Beach club. It was a beautiful ocean side ceremony with a great dinner on the beach. By surprise, our neighbours and friends, also happened to be on the Big Island so we had a visit with them at the Hilton hotel.

We went on a nice (hot) 8km hike (where we stumbled upon more green sea turtles and Keanalele waterhole), checked out the nearby petroglyphs, relaxed by the pool and went up Maunakea, a dormant volcano! J really wanted to go to the top to see the Mauna Kea Observatories; a height of 14,000 feet! This posed a bit of an issue as we did not bring any warm jackets to save space. We are totally committed to carry-on only whenever possible with our awesome Patagonia MCL carry-on convertible backpacks; which even fit our snorkelling masks, shorty fins and all our other needed items. We solved the problem by picking up some jackets at the Kona Salvation Army, which proved to be wise as the temperature dropped significantly, and the top of Maunakea was snow covered. Once you get the to the Maunakea visitors centre, 9200 feet, you require 4WD to go up the remaining winding, super steep road. Our jeep actually stalled at the very top due to the reduced oxygen levels, and I certainly felt winded and light headed. Once at the top we took photos of the gigantic telescopes and enjoyed the view. It was very eery to be above the clouds looking down. Everyone has to depart by 7pm to not interfere with the astronomy work, due to vehicle lights and dust. We travelled back down to the visitors centre and spent a few chilly hours taking star photos and listening to the staff discuss the constellations. We were rewarded with a super clear night and I am anxiously awaiting J's  photos to be posted to flickr



Next we drove to Hilo area and stayed in an airbnb cabin right on the beach, outside of the town of Pahoa. This location was terrific to watch the waves crash on the rocky beach, take a short walk to the nearby Kapoho Tidal Pools, access to Hilo and other attractions, plus cabin had a well equipped kitchen, so we were able to cook many meals with vegan supplies from the Islands Natural Market and Deli in Pahoa and Hilo. Pahoa is a sweet little town, with a hippy beach vibe (apparently there are nearby clothing optional, beach drumming circles), and we enjoyed delicious vegan pizza from Strato's. We were also able to donate the jackets we picked up from the Kona Salvation Army (for the Maunakea excursion), to a Pahoa charity. The clothing donation is located right at the dump, which was also outfitted with great recycling bins, ensuring as much as possible is diverted from land fill. (As our airbnb was more remote it did not have garbage pick up so we had to drop our garbage off on our last day in the area.)

The tidal pools were great for snorkelling as they offered a sheltered area way from the crashing waves. We saw many tropical fish and coral. The entry is a bit tricky as you climb over sharp lava rock; having the shorty snorkelling fins proved helpful for entry. We also spent some time in Hilo and checked out the nearby Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens - I've never seen so many orchids! The gardens also end at the beach with stunning views of cliffs.

The highlight of the trip was seeing red hot, flowing lava at Kalapana Lava Viewing Area. We read up on it on tripadvisor, a great site to get up to date travel information from fellow travellers, which helped us decide what to do and how to get there. Once you arrive at the parking area you must travel by foot or bike the rest of the way, which is 14kms round trip, plus the distance spent exploring. We opted to rent bikes on site, to more easily reach lava viewing area. The bikes were $20 USD each with a lock, headlamp and a bottle of water. Headlamps and lots of water is a must! We travelled by bike on the gravel emergency access road, which had a few gentle hills. At the end we locked up our bikes and had the option of going towards the sea viewing area or inland to the rocky lava field. Taking advice from tripadvisor, we opted for inland and we were not disappointed! We spent hours until dusk exploring the field and getting within a few feet of red hot, flowing lava. It was a truly amazing experience worth the trek, heat and fumes. It is against Hawaiian culture to poke the lava with sticks etc, and while tempting, we respected this rule, enjoying just watching the lava suddenly appear in different spots as we walked around. 



We spent another day exploring Volcano National Park, where we checked out the Jaggar Museum and viewed the Halema‘uma‘u Crater, spurting lava, from the observation deck. We also checked out the steam vents, which are just like they sound - cracks in the earth with steam flowing out, and the Nahuku - Thurston Lava Tube, which is like a long cave left behind by flowing lava, surrounded by lush forest. On our last day on the Big Island we dropped our car at the Hilo airport and headed to Honolulu; the inter island flights are super easy and quick. As Honolulu is a large city with good public transportation we opted to not get a rental car.

When J was little, he and his family, went to Waikiki and stayed in a condo a few blocks from the beach. On this trip, he spotted the Royal Hawaiian, a bright pink, vintage, ocean side hotel, and vowed one day to stay there. I was easily convinced as it reminded me of the Grand Budapest Hotel, a favourite movie. The original portion of the Royal Hawaiian was built in 1927 and offers old world charm and luxury. We were given a free upgrade to a junior suite, which had an extra sitting room! I adore this hotel with its quaint pool (plus free access to the pool at the adjacent Sheraton), ocean front location, and lovely vintage decor. We spent time bobbing in the waves and relaxing by the pool. As luck would have it a dear friend, who now lives in Australia was also in town for a conference, so we enjoyed an evening visiting at the beachside restaurant. 


Honolulu is a very different experience than the slow moving towns on the Big Island and offers a lot of urban activities. We travelled around by city bus and walking. We were delighted with the terrific art at HOMA - Hawaii Museum of Art, which had diverse exhibits including contemporary Hawaii design, historical and multicultural artifacts. The building itself is beautiful and has lovely inner courtyards with plants and ponds. Our favourite place to eat was Downbeat Diner, which has a vegan option for every item on the menu. It is a funky, rockabilly diner, located downtown, but the bus stop is right at the door! While downtown we checked out the older buildings and vintage shops. We checked out Whole Foods Market for snacks but ended up preferring the Down to Earth all vegetarian market. Down to Earth had a terrific deli, hot buffet, and great snacks. I also loaded up the remaining room in my wee carry-on with a few vegan items not easily found at home.

Hawaii was a terrific, relaxing trip. We had way more adventure and fun than we anticipated and spent time with great friends! To check out my photos head over to Flickr or instagram.








Saturday, February 25, 2017

Morocco; hardship + time = adventure

First of all, this post is shamefully late as we were in Morocco in October 2016. As we are now traveling in Hawaii, I thought it best to get this post up on the blog! 

We arrived in late in the evening in Casablanca, Morocco by plane from Lisbon, Portugal. On landing we immediately picked up a SIM card in the airport, which was installed and set up but the very helpful clerk; instant calling, internet and GPS maps! We fondly recall the adventures of our early days of travel with our well worn lonely planet book, and internet cafes, to help us navigate foreign lands. It is almost too easy now with an unlocked smart phone and local SIM cards. We spent one night in Casablanca before taking the train to Marrakesh. We booked our tickets for the train right at the station and the tickets for first class (enclosed, shared cabin with air conditioning)  were very cheap. The train was comfortable, easy to navigate and provided a great opportunity to see the landscape. 

We were met at the Marrakech train station by a car from our accommodations Riad Star located in the bustling medina which is also a Unesco World Heritage site. The medina was founded in 1070 as the political, cultural and economic heart; it is the enclosed, central area of the city, filled with homes, markets, shops and restaurants, with narrow winding paths for pedestrians and sometimes donkeys and scooters. A Riad is like a bed a breakfast in a traditional house, which typically has an enclosed central courtyard/garden square for relaxing and which you can view from your window. Our Riad had a terrific rooftop patio which offered a great place to relax, sunbathe, watch the stars and listen to the melodic sounds of the call to prayer

We spent our days wandering the medina, checking out the gardens; Jardin Majorellele jardin secret and taking photos of all the cats! Every store and restaurant seemed to have a cat or two and many strays milling around. The locals spoke fondly of all the cats and provided food and water for both the shop cats and strays. One evening we were at the local cafe we frequented and the regular cat was doing her nightly dance begging for food. Suddenly her head shot up and she darted across the medina road towards a man walking in the crowd. He bent down and scratched her head and went about his way. The cat spent some time pacing excitedly back and forth, eventually returning to under our table. We were perplexed that she spotted this man in the crowd and ran to him with such purpose. A few minutes later the mystery was solved when the same man reappeared, and she ran to him again, as he put down a large bag of scraps for all the medina cats. We also learned that cats are quite revered in Islamic cultures; this article provides some history on the role of cats Cats in Islamic Culture. Many people do not have a lot of extra money but sill they try to provide the basics for the cats. Sadly there is a lack of spay/neuter and vet services. We made a donation to SPANA to support their work in spaying/neutering and providing vet care to the many strays.

A highlight of the trip was a day trip into the Atlas Mountains. We hired a driver to take us on a tour which allowed us to go at our own pace. We checked out a few local stores and artisans along the way and took in the desert scenery. The hike was picturesque with a waterfall at the top of the first section, and a mountain side cafe. The rocks were quite slippery but our guide was fully committed to ensuring that I did not fall, and literally held my hand in the most difficult sections. We decided to not venture on to the higher section as I was not eager to traverse the precarious hand made ladder that started the next leg.

As the title eludes to, Morocco also offered some more difficult travel experiences, but as time passes it turns into fond memories of adventure. We did fall prey to one of the common scams, the henna assault, in which a woman forcefully grabbed my hand and started applying henna while ignoring my protests and then demanding money. It was annoying but somewhat understandable as people are trying to survive; the minimum wage is about $300 USD a month, and of course many earn less than that. A nice shop keeper let me use his sink to wash off the henna. 

But mostly the difficulty was due to the trouble finding good vegan food, which often left us hangry (hungry + angry). We were also spoiled by the plentiful, flavourful, affordable vegan offerings of Portugal just prior to Morocco. (We were also surprised that Moroccan restaurants were more expensive than anticipated).  Over the last 24 years, we have travelled in more than 40 countries first as vegetarians, and for the last 7 years as vegans, and we found Morocco was uniquely challenging. I also had (incorrect) visions that falafel and hummus would be plentiful, like our experience in Jordan. In Morocco the staple dish is the tajine, a clay pot baked stew of meat and vegetables with couscous, and even when it is just vegetables it often has meat broth. With advance notice, our Riad did provide a welcome dinner of vegan tajine but day to day it was difficult to find good vegan food. We did use the trusty Happy Cow Vegan Dining Guide but the one vegetarian spot we went to was quite terrible. 

We took the train back to Casablanca for our last night. J smartly booked us into a posh hotel and we spent the entire time lounging in the pool (except for the spa massage and the delicious taco salad we found a the nearly mall). To check out my trip photos head over to; https://flickr.com/photos/8751723@N02/sets/72157671719301674

A final note; Morocco, is the 6th predominately Muslim nation we have visited in our years of travel. And like everywhere, we found lovely people just trying to do their best (previous nations; Jordan, Palestine, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt). Don't buy into propaganda; Good people come from all cultures and all faiths (and non-faiths). 




Friday, December 2, 2016

Portugal Vegan Food Tour

Portugal has absolutely amazing vegan food and we were pleasantly surprised at the prices when compared to home or other European large cities. We spent our time in Lisbon and Porto, and as always, utilized the fabulous vegan dining travel directory; https://www.happycow.net. We found staple grocery items at the health food stores as well. My favourite grocery item to get in Europe is vegan jarred ravioli and dark chocolate covered rice cakes.


In Lisbon our favourite vegan spot was Ao 26 - Vegan Food Project. I had researched this spot before our trip by going through their Facebook feed, and based on the tasty looking photos, we booked an airbnb around the corner. Wise move indeed. Ao 26 is a bright and welcoming space with a casual, slightly upscale, bistro vibe. It is perfect for lunch or dinner, which we enjoyed repeatedly. They have English menus and wonderfully friendly staff. The menu is full of delectable appetizers, mains, salad as, specials of the day and dessert. For lunch we generally ordered one of the homemade burgers with fries. Their house made vegan cheese platter and their tempura vegetables are great appetizers. My dinner favourite was the cornbread crusted tofu with potatoes. J enjoyed the seitan steak on more than one occasion but his absolute favourite was a house special that had amazing creamed potatoes. The chocolate mousse is always a great way to end the meal.







A staple lunch spot for us is Primo Basilico, located on a very vibrant narrow street, serving the best focaccia style pizza we have ever had. It is a small space, with a few stools and counter but it also has a sitting area next door with 5 or 6 tables. The restaurant is not exclusively vegan but has terrific vegan options including a several types of pizza and calzones. Pizza is available by the slice or an entire pan. The vegan pizza does not have vegan cheese but you don't even notice as the focaccia and toppings are so fresh and flavourful. The prices are very affordable as well.


It was hard to be torn away from our two favourite spots but The Food Temple came highly recommended so we ventured out one evening to give it a try. (Reservations are strongly encouraged.) We found the small restaurant tucked away on a side street, with live music playing outside. It has a fun, casual hippie vibe and due to the limited space we shared a table with another couple. The staff work seamlessly together in the compact, open concept, kitchen and quickly served us our selections. The food is tapas style and changes regularly. We enjoyed everything we ordered and had a fun evening!

When exploring further out of the centre, we had lunch at Miss Saigon. The spot seems very popular as there was a line up to get a table. Everything was delicious and health focussed. We enjoyed the set daily combo plates which offered a good variety, and ended with dessert. 


We then traveled north to Porto and found more great vegan dining. We had a terrific vegan pizza from the veg friendly take away spot Hand Go. In fact it was so great we had to order extra. It comes topped with a very good vegan cheese and loaded with vegetables. 


Another great lunch spot is the all vegan Black Mamba burgers which has a cool vibe with a focus on good food with a side of animal activism. We had homemade burgers and fries and dessert. The portions, prices and staff were all great.



Our top pick for Porto is Em Carne Viva, an elegant vegetarian restaurant with lots of vegan options. The interior is a beautiful restored house with lots of bright white details. We ate there several times (like daily). We also enjoyed a wonderful thanksgiving dinner there with two of our friends. Meals began with a savoury plate of warn buns infused with vegetables and seitan pastry puffs. My favourite meal was Garden of Autumn with mashes roasted chestnuts, chi take mushrooms, seitan on a bed of gravy. The prices were very reasonable especially considering the exceptional quality, portions, setting and lovely staff.


Portugal was a very tasty adventure! For more photos see: https://www.flickr.com/photos/8751723@N02/albums/72157673489976092













Saturday, November 19, 2016

Portugal

Portugal was a surprising delight! It melds old world Europe with a modern urban vibe, plus it is well priced. We spent our time in Lisbon and Porto with a day trip to Sintra. This trip we opted for carry-on only made possible by our fabulous Patagonia Headway MLC bags - the perfect size and thoughtfully laid out. They convert easily to backpack, suitcase or shoulder bag.  Carry-on only made the trip a breeze; no waiting for luggage, and easy to lug around while walking or taking public transport. I can't say enough good things about the bag and found it easy to pack all the required items including a spare set of shoes and flip flops. Check out the video:



We arrived first in Lisbon and rented a great airbnb apartment in the Chiado Neighbourhood, which is very central to the metro, museums, shopping, the ocean and most importantly right in the middle of the quaint winding, cobblestone streets. Our favourite thing to do in interesting cities is to wander about and see what we find. The streets of Lisbon did not disappoint! 



While we generally do not buy much when travelling we do like to continue the world wide search for the retitrement Picasso. This search brought us to the flea market; "Lisbon's flea market is called locally the Feira da Ladra, often thought to mean "Thieve's Market" (in Portuguese "ladra" is a woman thief) but it actually derives from "ladro," a bug found in antiques. A market of this type is thought to have been in place in Lisbon since the 12th Century and the name Feira da Ladra was first mentioned in the 17th Century." The market sprawls along narrow streets perched on a steep hill and sells assorted junk, art, ceramics, used clothes, household items and antiques.  We love antique stores and flea markets; they give a great glimpse into life over the years. It is like going to a free museum where if you really like an item you can take it home! I couldn't resist and picked up a colourful, small, locally made ceramic sardine. J asked me several times if I might want to purchase a second but I insisted one would be fine. (Of course days later we made the trek again when I needed a second). We try to not have a completely packed schedule so we can be open to what ever comes our way, which also allowed us to stumble across a Vintage Festival packed with vehicles, antique furniture, art and other treasures from Portugal's past.



Lisbon is also home to several terrific museums. We checked out; MNAC Museum of Contemporary Art, MAAT Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, and Museu Berado. (Sadly we missed out on the MUDE - Design and Fashion Museum as it was under repairs). All three museums were well worth the visit. MAAT is also connected to the Electricity Museum which is inside a historic power station, filled with very educational exhibits and a cool 1970's electric car; the Enfield 8000. We were very fortunate to arrive just the same week that MAAT opened and we had the special treat of attending a lecture from Ray and Charles Eames grandson; Eames Demetrios. He brought a very personal feeling to the works of his grandparents. The museum collection also showcased an original prototype of the famous Eames fibreglass chairs and a touching love letter from Charles to Ray. Museu Berado has a phenomenal contemporary art collection and it is totally free to visit! It is a nice collection of international superstars such as Picasso, Warhol and Calder as well as local works. It also allowed us to stumble upon a terrific recycled, trash graffiti racoon artpiece by Artur Bordalo on a nearby street.

From Lisbon we took a day trip on the train to nearby Sintra, a quaint town with amazing monuments, castles and gardens. We were initially going to take the cheap tourist bus loop to hit all the sights but it was very crowded. We decided take individual tuktuks and cabs between the sights; more expensive but also more delightful. We made the rounds to the National Palace, Castelo dos Mouros, the brightly coloured Pena Palace, and Quinta da Regaleira filled with secret tunnels and the awe inspiring 27 foot deep Initiation Well that looks like an inverted tower. The last three on the list were all surrounded with lush, magical gardens with water features. We spent a very full day wandering around all these sights. Below are photos of Pena Palace and the Initiation Well.



Then we set off for 5 nights in Porto taking the train north and enjoying the scenery as it rushed past. We again had a well situated airbnb which happened to have 2 bedrooms which ended up coming in handy. Porto has some amazing graffiti art so we spent quite a bit of time exploring the streets taking photos.  Our luck followed us to Porto and we arrived just after the exhibit featuring works by Joan Miro, opened at the Serralves Foundation. The works were confiscated from a bankrupt bank and had not previously been on public display. Joan Miro is a favourite artist of mine, and while his museum is Spain is even more impressive, this exhibit was full of very interesting works and we enjoyed a documentary of his artistic process. The museum also had several other fabulous exhibits and is situated in a lush garden. While in Porto, we had the extra special surprise of being joined by our dear friends for a night, on their way home from hiking in the Azores. We spent a day with them checking out the amazing bridges, architecture, a ride in the Funicular, and shared a great Thanksgiving dinner.

After Porto we took the train back to Lisbon and spent a luxurious night in the Memmo Alfama boutique hotel before heading to Morocco. Check out my Portugal Photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/8751723@N02/albums/72157673489976092

Friday, March 4, 2016

European Vegan Food Tour

Over our four week trip to Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest and Vienna, we enjoyed some delicious vegan food! One of our favourite parts of travelling is checking out the local vegan scene. Some think being vegan while travelling means missing out but we find the opposite is true. Being vegan means you get off the beaten path to find restaurants and local vegan specialities. As always, our number one vegan travel trip is the HappyCow Worldwide Veg Dining Directory available as a free website or smart phone app. The site has over 40,000 listings, and I have contributed over 740 photos and reviews!

Starting in Amsterdam my favourite spot was Vegabond a simple vegan cafe with limited seating and a well stocked vegan specialty grocery. They make a great sandwich with locally made cashew basil pesto cheese. The coffee and desserts are also terrific. The shop has all the required vegan staples; faux meat, non-dairy cheese (including my favourite Vegusto), cookies, candy, ravioli and pasta. We ventured further out and went to the Loving Hut which had some nice filling dishes including a devious crispy faux chicken and a great tiramisu for dessert. Another further out spot is Koffie ende Koeck which had a nice sandwich, baked goods and coffee. I had high hopes for the vegan butcher I had heard about; De Vegetarische Traiteur, but we were a little underwhelmed with the offerings. It is still a good place to check out and their frozen take home items look good. In fact, we more than once enjoyed their delicious faux chicken product available on a bagel at the chain Bagel and Beans. A local recommended we check out Golden Temple, a vegetarian spot with a fun atmosphere. The flavours combinations (Indian, Asian and Mexican) sometimes were a bit different than expected, but we did enjoy our meal. The pakoras were particularly tasty. We checked out the TerraZen Centre one evening for an interesting mix of Japanese and Caribbean food. The space is small but the staff are friendly and we had a nice time. A favourite spot around Europe is the vegetarian falafel chain Maoz, which we enjoyed a few times. The best part is the all you can fill toppings bar with the great cilantro sauce. Amsterdam also has a candy shop, Candy Freaks, with vegan options clearly marked. We picked up some great licorices and chocolate covered raisons, which I haven't had in years! Amsterdam is also lucky to have a vegan shoe store; VegaLife, where J picked up a new belt. We found over all that Amsterdam vegan spots were more casual and cafe like and the city could do with a nice fancy vegan option.

Cupcakes from Vegabond Cafe


Part of the reason we opted to go to Prague is that we heard the vegan scene is really growing. We picked out our airbnb to be closed to a vegetarian spot; Etnosvet and Etnosvet Cafe. The cafe is all vegan and was our regular breakfast spot for yummy grilled panini with vegan cheese and espresso. It is a small shop with a few seats at the window. The vegetarian restaurant (with vegan options clearly marked) is around the corner. The setting is fancier - a great spot for a nice dinner. I loved the mock Peking duck, and peanut satay the best. There are few vegan options for both appetizers and mains; it is just lacking a vegan dessert. Our other common spot was Moment Cafe, an all vegan spot across from a nice park and near the train. We loved the vibe and the great staff. We ate many meals here and often stopped in later for a coffee break too. It is a great place for breakfast, lunch or supper and they have lots of desserts. Items I particularly liked; vegan egg spread, waffles, seitan bagel, and the soups. They also have great daily special meals. Prague also has a small shop and restaurant called Puro which is affiliated with the awesome vegan grocery chain, Veganz. We stopped in a picked up a few vegan snack items. However, we found the health food store, Bioobchod, near our accommodations to have more of the items we were looking for. It is all vegetarian, with lots of vegan items. There was a great selection of violife and other vegan cheeses, vegan sliced meats like wheatly, and vegan snacks. It also has pasta, canned goods, and a bakery area.

After connecting on social media, we also met up for coffee with Randi, one half of the full-time travelling duo behind the Veggie Visa website. We had a great visit! "Veggie Visa’s mission is to discover vegan lifestyle options all over the planet. Whether it be a delicious restaurants to dine at, great places to shop, vegan recipes, or health and wellness information, the site is devoted to traveling the globe to bring you great vegan resources, tips, and stories."

Grilled Panini from Etnosvet Cafe

Now Budapest has quite a few vegetarian and vegan restaurants, unfortunately due to the holidays some were not open the entire time we were there and others were only open part of the time. We were grateful we booked an apartment with a kitchen as we used it a few times. We stocked up on items from the Bio ABC health food market and picked up fruits and vegetables at the Great Market Hall (central market). However, Budapest is home to one of the most amazing things I have ever eaten; vegan fried cheese from Napfenyes Restaurant and Pastry Shop. This delightful dish was recommended to us by our new friend Randi, of Veggie Visa. She does a nice review of this delicacy in her article; Vegan Food Tour in Budapest, Hungary. Napfenyes is also home to amazing vegan cream filled eclairs. I admit we packed a few (several) for the train ride to Vienna. This spot also had great pizza and salad options, plus J's new favourite, a vegan napoleon square for dessert. Another great spot is Kozmoz Vegan Restaurant, and the highlight was the layered chocolate pancake dessert. HappyCow lists Madal Cafe as vegetarian friendly but it did not have a lot of options other than a few raw dessert items. However, the espresso is excellent so we stopped there regularly. There are also many Hummus Bar franchises with a good selection of vegan friendly hummus, falafel, soups and salads. 
Vegan fried cheese!


And on to Vienna, the highlight here was not one but two all vegan grocery stores: Maran Vegan and Veganz. Veganz is a chain of all vegan grocers, the first of which we went to in 2012 in Berlin. The Vienna store is terrific and we picked up some European favourites including vegan ravioli. Maran Vegan is actually a larger store and has a larger deli and produce area. Both stores had expansive selections of vegan cheese, faux meats, snack items, pasta, bakery items, personal care items etc. Whenever we visit a vegan grocer I always pick up a new reusable bag for a souvenir, and I particularly loved the all black one from Veganz. With the lovely groceries we made dinner a few times in our flat, after long days of wandering. We regularly visited Swing Kitchen, and all vegan burger joint. We went to both locations and loved the burgers, sides, and the soft dipped ice-cream cones! It was a novelty to have such a yummy vegan fast food joint with a fun atmosphere. For a more upscale and health focussed option, we loved Tian Bistro a vegetarian spot with lots of marked vegan options. The baked potato stuffed with cashew cream, and the tempeh salad were our favourites. Pirata Sushi was also a good spot with a variety of all vegan sushi. 

Vegan groceries 

































Friday, February 19, 2016

Amsterdam, Netherland


We started our Europe trip with 2 nights in Amsterdam, to settle into the new time zone. We stayed at the convenient WestCord City Central Hotel. Then we spent the next nearly 3 weeks travelling around Europe before returning for our final week in Amsterdam. We stayed in an Airbnb flat in the core of De Wallen, which was much closer to the Red Light District than I anticipated (3 windows were a few feet from our door).

Some come to Amsterdam for the legalized pot and prostitution, but I was all about the cat museum, adorably called Katten Cabinet. The museum is in a tall row house, with cat related art exhibits and small museum store on the first 2 floors, then vacation rentals above and finally the owner's suite on the top floor. The exhibits are very diverse with the common theme of portraying a variety of cats. There are posters, sculptures, paintings - including a Rembrandt, etchings - including a Picasso, textiles, signs, advertising pieces, household items emblazoned with cats, ornaments, photos and a few real life cats wandering around. I loved the experience and saw many, mostly women, also enthralled, (some with bored looking husbands/boyfriends in tow).  The backyard contains several cat related tin signs and a few chickens running around, and the staff person said the owner calls them his two-legged cats.

Some of my readers may not know this but I started collecting cat related items when I was a young child. It all started when my maternal grandmother gave me a small china ornament of a cat sitting on a boot. From there I amassed many cat related items in my childhood. A highlight was shopping at The Bay and finding a cat comforter with matching cat sheets, which complimented my cat wallpaper, and the little cat foot prints I insisted my mom paint on my dresser. I slowed down on my cat collecting in my tweens and focussed in on the vintage Shafford  black cat collection from 1950's Japan. The first one I bought was a mug in a small antique store in Red Deer, Alberta, which was later joined by a teapot from a BC flea market. As an adult I've added more pieces to this collection. In 1986 I also desperately wanted the Franklin Mint "Cats of the World" Collection and they were simply too expensive. Last year, at an estate sale, nostalgia won out and I bought 15 of them for a bargain (which joined a few my sweet husband had previously purchased for me). Surprisingly our house is not overrun with cat kitsch, most of it is regulated to an old steamer trunk, and I promise we only (currently) have one real life cat; Milli.

Ok enough about cats... Amsterdam offered many other sights and things to do. The city is very picturesque with all the water filled canals and we often spent time just observing the street life. The streets are quite boisterous in the evenings but we did not have any negative experiences. Pro Tip; the 'coffee shops' don't actually sell coffee which is evident by the plumes of pot smoke spilling onto the streets; to find coffee you need to look for a cafe. We don't tend to do a lot of shopping but we did visit the Tesla store and picked up some shirts. We also visited the Sea Shepherd store where I added a towel to my collection.

We used the trams to get to the further out lying areas. We visited two excellent museums; Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum. The Van Gogh was a truly immense collection of Van Gogh works and information on his life. Stedelijk is dedicated to contemporary and modern art and design. I particular enjoyed the design portion with art in everyday objects such as, well designed kitchenware and furniture. On a different note, we also visited the Red Light Secrets - Museum of Prostitution, which gave a informative overview of the issues and history. One particularly powerful exhibit was set up like a Red Light window, with the museum visitor on the side of the woman working, and a life sized screen on the other side playing a video of the many types of people who pass by, including the curious, the friendly, the embarrassed, the rude, and the abusive.

Amsterdam is also home to Anne Frank's house, the young jewish girl who wrote a diary of her time in hiding from Nazis during the second world war. The exhibit is extremely informative, and is well set up items that belonged to the Frank family, Anne's diary, photographs and educational video. It is is an important and popular place to visit, so we opted to purchase booked tickets online, which allowed us to go at a specific time and avoid the line up. The canal house contained a business owned by Anne Frank's father Otto, while the hiding place is in a annex out back and above, the entrance hidden by a movable bookshelf. Anne Frank's family hid there with four other Jewish people (Hermann and Auguste Van Pels and their son Peter, and Fritz Pfeffer). Four of Otto's employees risked their lives to hide everyone and provide all their provisions over the more than two years they hid in the annex, before they are discovered by Nazis in 1944 and sent to concentration camps. Otto was the only one to survive the camps. It was an emotional experience to walk up the narrow staircase and stand in the rooms seeing the same walls that surrounded these eight people.

Anne Frank's life would have been much different had she and her family not been denied entry to the USA as refugees. Canada also turned away Jews fleeing persecution and death in Nazi Germany. "It was 1939 and 907 Jewish refugees aboard the German transatlantic liner St. Louis were seeking sanctuary from Nazi Germany. Canada refused to take them in and the ship sailed back to Europe, where 254 would later die in concentration camps." (source: The Chronicle Herald) As a global community we need to learn from history and respond to the worlds' suffering, injustice, poverty, war and those fleeing, in a compassionate manner.

“I think the purpose of life is to be useful, responsible, honourable  compassionate. It is, above all, to matter: to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.” - Leo Rosten

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Vienna, Austria

We arrived in Vienna via train from Budapest, Hungary. For some reason in Vienna we had a difficult time finding information on public transportation schedules, so we opted for a taxi from the station to our airbnb rental in the Neubaugasse neighbourhood. The flat was magnificent, in an old building with an ancient but working elevator. The ceilings were high, with light filled windows. Vienna was snowier than our previous stops, and we were thankful for the extra layers in the damp cold. It was interesting to see flowers point through a light dusting of snow.

The view from our flat;


Vienna was our shortest stop, five nights, and we spent it immersed in wandering the streets and checking out the museums. We also did not anticipate the national religious holiday on January 6 called Epiphany which saw most shops and restaurants closed for the day. We tend to skew towards contemporary art exhibits but we enjoyed exploring the history in Hofburg Imperial Palace, which is a very historically accurate glimpse into the Habsburg empire. It includes furnished Imperial apartments, Sisi museum, silver collection and a large collection of Imperial utilitarian objects. We also learned a lot about the rather tragic life of Empress Elizabeth who was married into imperial life at sixteen years old, lost her son to suicide,  suffered deep melancholy, and was ultimately murdered. The exhibit did a good job engaging with visitors via the stories, authentically decorated rooms and artifacts.

Mumok Modern Art Museum was a fantastic experience with great exhibits in an interesting building. I particularly enjoyed the tapestries by Ulrike Muller. A local recommended the free exhibit at the Kunsthalle Wien which had an interesting mixed media show called Political Populism, exploring current and historical social issues. We also enjoyed the artistic, and often political, graffiti displayed around the city.

Vienna was also fabulous for vegan food, but that's another blog post!

For my photos on Vienna see: https://www.flickr.com/photos/8751723@N02/albums/72157663100881976