Why We Travel: Penguins!

Melbourne was our favorite city in Australia. It doesn’t get as much hype as Sydney, Australia’s largest city, but we loved this artsy, diverse and walkable city. Melbourne has many draws and a big one for us was the beach suburb of St. Kilda. We aren’t really beach people, so there must be something really special about a beach to make us trek out there. St. Kilda has several things going for it – including being a home for penguins! Let’s walk through the day so you can see what makes this hour-long trip on the tram worth it:

St. Kilda beach. Beautiful and (on the day we were there) empty!

St. Kilda beach. Beautiful and (on the day we were there) empty!

The beach is big and beautiful. When we got there in the afternoon the beach was deserted. It was a bit chilly, yes, but it was deserted mostly because it was super windy! We were being whipped by sand, which is even less pleasant than you are imagining. We just a quick walk along the water’s edge then we got the heck away from there!

Luna Park

Luna Park

Melbourne has it’s very own Luna Park! After doing some research, the Luna Parks around the world are not actually related and the name was simply borrowed. This Luna Park originally opened in 1912! Like the Luna Park in Coney Island, it has a wooden roller coaster.

Making funny faces (Dan didn't get the memo) in the crazy mirrors.

Making funny faces (Dan didn’t get the memo) in the crazy mirrors.

We wandered the park for a while, made some silly faces and had some fun. No rides for us as many were actually closed for the afternoon because of the strong winds!

After our Luna Park fun, it was time to head to dinner. Lucky for us vegans, there is at least one excellent option in St. Kilda for dinner: Lentil as Anything. Lentil as Anything is a vegetarian (mostly vegan) not-for-profit restaurant with an awesome concept. It is pay what you wish. The St. Kilda location has been surviving on this concept ever since it opened in 2001. Beautiful! And the food:

Savory vegan pancakes.

Savory vegan pancakes.

Pumpkin curry on the left, dal on the right.

Pumpkin curry on the left, dal on the right.

Beautiful, healthy, homely, and tasty. I love the Lentil as Anything concept and was really happy to support them and enjoy their tasty food. There was a wait, as I assume there almost always is, but it wasn’t too long and we made some friends while waiting!

After dinner it was time for the main event! The reason we traveled an hour by tram from Melbourne’s central business district: Penguins! Little (or Fairy) Penguins, to be precise.

Luna Park and the Palais Theatre at sunset.

Luna Park and the Palais Theatre at sunset.

The penguins don’t come back to dry land until it is getting dark to avoid predators, so we started walking out to the St. Kilda breakwater, where the colony lives, at sunset.

Sunset off of the St. Kilda breakwater.

Sunset off of the St. Kilda breakwater.

Then it was penguin time!

Little (Fairy) Penguin #1.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #1.

At St. Kilda, they smartly built a little walkway for humans that takes you right next to the penguins without allowing you to walk on their breakwater home. This way the penguins are safe to inhabit their home but the humans can get within 4 feet of them! It was amazing how close we were.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #2.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #2.

These cuties are the world’s smallest penguins, only growing to 13 inches high and 3 lbs! They have excellent vision, hence the strict orders to not use flash photography. So, sorry for the slightly dark photos. We were just protecting their eyes!

Little (Fairy) Penguin #3.

Little (Fairy) Penguin #3.

At the St. Kilda breakwater, there is a trained volunteer working there every night, available to answer any questions you have about these adorable penguins. We would have stuck around longer and pestered her with a million questions (and stared at the penguins for hours, obviously), but it was still insanely windy and the waves were crashing over the breakwater and drenching us!

So, if you are ever in Melbourne, we highly recommend taking a little side trip to St. Kilda for a day of beach fun, awesome vegan food, a beautiful sunset, and penguins! Just choose a nicer day than we did!

Travel Cost Breakdown From Our Time in the UK and Ireland

People say to us all the time “Wow, how can you afford to travel for six months?” Travel can be expensive and, as long-term travelers, we are always very aware of our costs. Since we finished traveling in the United Kingdom and Ireland some time ago we are going to share actual numbers from our trip so you can get an idea about long-term travel costs in these generally expensive areas.

Our travel budget has one simple strategy. Write it down! If you write down every single purchase and expense while traveling – and know your spending limits – you will always know where you stand.

Molly examining trip expenses in our travel notebook

Molly calculating trip expenses in our travel notebook

Writing it down will keep you from forgetting that $2.00 coffee or falling into the ‘How much was lunch last Thursday?‘ trap. Keeping track will also allow you to do one of my favorite things: Data analysis! I broke down all of our expenses for the 32 days we spent in England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland into five cost categories. These categories are lodging, food, entertainment, transportation, and miscellaneous. We use the Currency app by Jeffrey Grossman on our iPhone to convert all of our costs to USD.

Lets lay out the big number first. Our average total cost of travelling in the UK and Ireland turned out to be $131.43 per day (or, just under $66 per person per day). We have each made our $66 dollars go pretty far. In most cases we have had our own private room, eat out for lunch, pay for museums/entertainment and travel to a new location about every 4-5 days. The one expense not factored into the UK/Ireland numbers above are our flights from New York to London via Iceland. We budgeted intercontinental flights separately and will talk about these costs at the end of our trip. Travel costs for this post reflect all local travel throughout Ireland and the UK including one flight, two train trips and numerous bus trips. Every item adds up and the chart below shows how our daily costs were divided, percentage-wise, among our categories:

For our ‘once in a lifetime’ around-the-world trip we are not looking to set any records for traveling inexpensively. If you enjoy couch surfing and eating ramen noodles i’m sure you could spend less. We happen to be spending a significant amount of our budget on awesome vegan food. (Vegans – go to London, you won’t be disappointed!) We are personally traveling to see all of the great sights and experience all of the wonderful (vegan) cuisine. The occasional $15.00 entree does not have to break your entire budget if you leave room elsewhere.

It should be noted that Molly and I aren’t big drinkers. We did seek out local brews/wines/ciders wherever we were, but we purchased them from grocery stores. I think we only went out to a bar once (to watch the Chelsea vs. Manchester United soccer game while we were in London), but they happened to be pouring the cheapest cider and beer I’ve ever seen. In other words, if you plan to go out drinking all over Europe, you should adjust your budget accordingly.

Our ‘miscellaneous’ category is almost non-existent. As long-term travelers, we do not have much extra real estate in our backpacks or our budget. This means that we almost always say no to souvenirs. We have a week of clothing which we wash and only replace when needed. Our few miscellaneous purchases have been things like a beard trimmer, stamps and postcards, batteries, etc. And we are not carrying any solar-powered waving Queen Elizabeth figurines home with us in our bags.

As a result we have made our money go far. We spend almost two entire weeks in London which is one of the most expensive cities you can travel to. Dublin can be costly as well. There are places in the UK and Ireland which are more budget-friendly that we also traveled to such as Liverpool, Glasgow, and Derry. If you are willing to venture away from Dublin and London to some smaller cities you can find some great deals.  AirBnB has been one of our favorite resources to find an affordable place to stay. In most places we found that $50.00-$60.00 per day is a reasonable target for a private room.

Eating, sleeping and traveling will encompass the vast majority of your expenses. This is especially true for vegans who want to experience all of the great food in London (parts #1, #2, and #3), and Dublin, and Glasgow! Entertainment costs may actually be lower in the UK and Ireland when compared to other countries. Most major museums in the UK are free and there are a ton of affordable options. Check out our post on affordable activities in London, or our post on affordable options in Dublin, or our post on an affordable and different day in Glasgow.

I can recap the entirety of this post for you in three sentences (for those who aren’t interested in the numbers): Don’t let the strength of the Pound and Euro against the dollar scare you off from traveling to the United Kingdom and Ireland. There is plenty to do and see and eat for a budget traveler. Just be aware of the numbers and you’ll be fine!

Now get to traveling!

Our Time in Paris

So we have been in Paris for almost a week, and I have spent a lot of this week thinking about what to write about Paris. I have conflicting feelings about it. I think the way I feel about our time in Paris can be summed up by making an analogy:

Dan and I heard about Boutique Maille and instantly wanted to go. We love mustard. (Don’t judge!) This is real French mustard, originally from Dijon, France. You know, like Dijon mustard… They have only two physical locations, one in Dijon and one in a super ritzy part of Paris. They have three signature mustards on tap. ON TAP people!

Boutique Maille mustards on tap!

Boutique Maille mustard taps!

So we went to taste some awesome mustards. A word of warning to vegans, brush up on your french words for cheese, because some of the mustards have cheese in them. The ingredients are all clearly listed (in French) though, so you should just check if you aren’t sure. So, while we were perusing our mustard options, I go to read some ingredients and what do I see on the back of the label. A big ‘ole Unilever stamp. Unilever, if you do not know, is the world’s third-largest consumer goods company that owns over 400 brands and tests on animals. What a disappointment it was to see that on the back of the Maille mustards. Even though it is still exceptionally tasty mustard, it isn’t everything I hoped it would be.

So in some weird way, my engineering brain thinks that that outing is an analogy to our time in Paris. We love it here. It is beautiful and romantic. It is a great walking city, with something fantastic to see on every corner.

Notre Dame Tower Tour -  Paris Gargoyle

Notre Dame Tower Tour – Paris Gargoyle

And yet.

For one thing, the vegan food is (generally) expensive and sub-par. We ate at about 5 places that were more expensive than any restaurant we went to in London and not a single place matched our worst food experience in London. And that was disappointing to me. I expected more. These are Parisian chefs, after all! All they do is talk about food, and cook food, and eat food here, no? You will not starve in Paris, vegans, so fear not. You just will probably not have the outstanding food experience you expected. I’d even go so far as to say that if you have access to a kitchen you should use it. At the health food chain here, Naturalia, we found bottled vegan ravioli in sauce. We are it for dinner 3 nights here. It is tasty and cheap!

Naturalia ravioli filled with vegetables

Naturalia ravioli filled with vegetables – great with a splash of French wine added during the cooking process.

We had one food exception. It was the French onion soup at Le Potager du Marais. The rest of the meal was expensive and disappointing, but this soup was delicious. Whatever vegan cheese they use on top is super tasty and the soup itself is delectable and filled with yummy croutons. Savory and fulfilling. We wanted to go back and have the soup again but the restaurant is closed on Monday and Tuesday. And sometimes other days when they feel like it. Seriously.

Vegan French onion soup from Le Potager du Marais

Vegan French onion soup from Le Potager du Marais

Another problem with Paris is that everything else is very expensive, too! No museums are free (except on the first Sunday of every month when they are all free. We lucked out – date-wise – and went to 3 museums on our free day. Exhausting, but it saved us a bundle). They are super sticklers for checking ID’s, too. Here to get discounted admission, you have to be between 18-25, no exceptions. In the UK, we just showed our old student IDs from undergrad and no one batted an eye.

I guess I expected more. It’s Paris, after all!

And yet this makes it sound like I didn’t have an amazing time in Paris. And that would be a lie. Dan and I probably walked 10 miles a day through the winding Parisian streets. And somehow, they are all beautiful. And historic. And interesting. Our experiences with locals, contrary to popular opinion, have always been lovely. They are kind and helpful. I can’t wait to come back here again someday. Somehow Paris adds up to more than the sum of its parts. And we love it here despite the negatives.

All smiles in front of Sacre Coeur in Montmarte

All smiles in front of Sacre Coeur in Montmarte

On a completely unrelated note, happy (day before) Rosh Hashanah, (Molly’s) mom. We did go to the Marais today and checked out the art nouveau synagogue designed by Agoudas Hakehilos. Proof:

A bad picture of the Agoudas Hakehilos Synagogue. Sorry! Happy Rosh Hashanah from Paris!

A bad picture of the Agoudas Hakehilos Synagogue. Sorry! Happy Rosh Hashanah from Paris!

The Big London Vegan Food Post, #3

Dan and I have been in Dublin now for 4 days, but we still haven’t finished our write ups about London! Traveling is so time consuming! This will officially be our last London food post.

If you missed parts #1 and #2, feel free to review before reading part #3 below!

We had heard good things about 222 Veggie Vegan from a few people so we trudged all the way out to West Kensington to try the vegan buffet for ourselves. They proclaim themselves as London’s favorite vegan restaurant. Well, Dan and I can definitely confirm that they are London’s best vegan food deal. Lunch is an all-you-can-eat buffet for 7.50 GBP.

222 Veggie Vegan

222 Veggie Vegan

222 Veggie Vegan buffet

Molly sampling the 222 Veggie Vegan buffet

222 Veggie Vegan - my first plate

222 Veggie Vegan – Molly’s first plate

Dan and I each had two big plates! So good and such a nice diversity of dishes. Our favorites included this bread/vegan quiche dish that tasted so good, the lentil loaf with baked tomato on top, the greens with cashews, and many others! So much food! Worth the trek, for sure.

The next day we headed to London’s oldest vegetarian restaurant for a late lunch. Food for Thought has been in the exact same spot in Covent Garden for over 40 years. The neighborhood is now super fancy. It was actually really amusing to see this old school, hippy-type veggie place on the same block as some fancy clothing stores! We headed downstairs to the eat in area and got to sample two delicious vegan mains, which come with a plethora of salads on the side. See the pictures below!

Food for Thought

Food for Thought

Food for Thought - Malaysian curry

Food for Thought – Malaysian curry

Food for Thought - chana masala

Food for Thought – chana masala

That Malaysian Curry, you guys… So good. And the price isn’t too bad. For the main dish and all those sides it is 8.40 GBP for each one.

On Saturday we headed to Portobello Market to experience that madness. And madness it was. Packed with people. Tourists, mostly. But there were some nice surprises awaiting us.

Vegan churros!

Vegan churros!

That’s right! Once you fight your way past the antiques (and who really cares about those anyway), you get to the food portion of the market. We were walking the stalls and I saw a sign for vegan churros! The chocolate sauce they offered was not vegan, but sans chocolate sauce, they were delectably vegan. They were not, however, cheap. That cup of about 12 small churros was 3.50 GBP, or about $5.25. A terrible deal, but VEGAN CHURROS! Besides, we already knew where we were going to lunch and we knew it would be cheap and plentiful so we indulged.

The Grain Shop - super cheap for tons of food

The Grain Shop – super cheap for tons of food

It may be hard to tell from the picture above, but The Grain Shop really fills that container! This is a large container which Dan and I shared for lunch. The Grain Shop only does take-away, so we had to search for a park to eat in, but I believe that overflowing container (if you get it without the lid they will just stuff as much in there as possible) costs 5.50 GBP. Not all of the options are vegan, but they will happily tell you which ones are and then stuff your box with whichever you fancy. I will admit the food wasn’t the most flavorful, but it was filling and pretty healthy. Oh yeah, and affordable!

Dan and I made it to inSpiral Lounge twice for food and once for drinks while we were in London. It’s in a nice location, right across Regents Canal from the Camden Lock Market (which is where Cookies and Scream is located.)

inSpiral Lounge

inSpiral Lounge

InSpiral Lounge has all the trappings of the perfect place to hang out. Free wifi, vegan meals, snacks, homemade kale chips (with plentiful free samples), drinks, and a view. Below is the food we ate in our trips to inSpiral, not including the raw cheesecake I had, and the beverages we had with a friend there that went unphotographed (bad blogger!)

inSpiral Lounge - delicious vegan pastries

inSpiral Lounge – delicious vegan pastries

inSpiral Lounge - vegan spanakopita

inSpiral Lounge – vegan spanakopita

 

inSpiral Lounge full vegan English breakfast!

inSpiral Lounge – full vegan English breakfast!

So, that is my final roundup of all of our vegan eats in London. It is possible to eat tasty vegan food in London and not break the bank. You simply just have to limit your meals out. We have really saved the budget by cooking dinners and eating breakfast and dinner in every day instead of at restaurants. Lunch is generally cheaper at restaurants than dinner as well. But I have been happy to be able to support vegan places as well and enjoy the tasty food! It’s all about balance, no? Until next time!

The Big London Vegan Food Post, #2

When we last left you all we had just experienced the wonder that is Westminster Abbey for free (by accident!). But food consumption continued to happen all around the date of our breaking and entering. We have pretty much limited ourselves to one meal out a day in order to protect the budget. Somehow this still means that we have a trillion places to post about from our time in London so this is part 2 of 3 of the London food posts.

Diwana Bhel Poori House - Thali

Diwana Bhel Poori House – Thali

Diwana Bhel Poori House - Dosa

Diwana Bhel Poori House – Dosa

The day after Amico Bio we had lunch at one of London’s many vegetarian Indian restaurants, Diwana Bhel Poori House. Unfortunately because of our super-busy day we missed the window for the lunch buffet so we had to order off of the menu. The prices were still good. The two meals above cost us a grand total of $23.15. The only problem with this meal was that a few hours later Dan’s stomach started to hurt. I felt fine. I fixed the problem by feeding him pepto-bismol (brought from NYC in pill form) and waiting a few hours. All better.

From lunch (but before Dan’s stomach started hurting) we hopped on the tube and headed down to Brixton where Ms. Cupcake lives.

Ms. Cupcake

Ms. Cupcake

Ms. Cupcake store interior

Ms. Cupcake store interior

What an adorable storefront. We chose 4 cupcakes to take home (we were still full from lunch). I think somehow the picture of the 4 cupcakes we took home got lost, but use your imagination. We took home a banoffee (banana toffee), a chocolate split (chocolate cake with vanilla frosting), a Ferrero Rocher (exactly what its name is in cupcake form), and a strawberry-coconut. I was partial to the banoffee and strawberry-coconut, Dan loved the chocolate split, and (don’t hate us!) neither of us was very interested in the famous Ferrero Rocher cupcake. I’m not a huge chocolate person, and Dan just didn’t really like it. But Ms. Cupcake has a mouthwatering array of cupcake flavors on her website, so maybe we are just bad at choosing flavors? It is possible.

The day of the Westminster Abbey adventure we went to lunch at Tibits. Tibits is delicious. A full buffet of vegetarian goodness with everything clearly labeled.

Tibits food boat!

Tibits food boat!

Tibits - buffet including dessert

Tibits – buffet including dessert. Molly’s plate

Tibits - buffet deliciousness

Tibits – buffet deliciousness. Dan’s plate

Tibits was one of our favorite meals in London. It is in an exceptionally fancy and touristy neighborhood and the price of the meal reflected that. I think this may have been our most expensive meal in London! But it was really good. And it was the only time I got to eat sticky toffee pudding while we were in London. I’d say that it was worth it, but if you are on a tight budget definitely go at lunch (cheaper per kg) and be careful with how much you pile on that plate.

The last place I will talk about in this post is the only place we went to more than once while we were in London. And it isn’t even a vegetarian restaurant. And we happened upon it entirely accidentally. It is Scoop.

Scoop

Scoop

Scoop is a gelato store. But Scoop is special. They label all of their gelatos and sorbets with the possible allergens that they contain. So dairy and eggs are marked on all of the items that they are in. And the dairy and egg-free sorbets are vegan! There are a bunch of vegan options and they were pretty much universally delicious.

Scoop - chocolate, melon, and strawberry

Scoop – chocolate, melon, and strawberry

Scoop - chocolate, passionfruit, and melon

Scoop – chocolate, passionfruit, and melon

We also asked if their cones were vegan and we got the okay on the cones, so we indulged. Those two giant cones didn’t come cheap – 4 gbp for 3 flavors (about $6) – but they were delicious. The first time we went to Scoop it was a freak 94 degree day in London. There is probably nothing better than ice cream on a hot day and this fit the bill perfectly. And Dan gets to keep a little bit of Scoop with him throughout the rest of the journey as he dripped a bit of the chocolate flavor on his sneaker and the stain won’t come out! I guess this is one food memory that we will have with us for a while.

Come back soon for the final London food installment!