Hiking Cinque Terre

Hiking Cinque Terre was a beautiful experience that Molly and I will never forget. If you have read articles about Cinque Terre, such as this article from The New York Times, you may even be ready to buy your plane ticket right now. I can confirm that it is a tranquil and relaxing place and that you should keep it on your travel-destination radar. Read below if you want to know your show before you go. The obsession with Cinque Terre is fairly straightforward as far as travel destinations come. You have five stunning towns whose yellow, pink and blue buildings pop out of a lush mountain landscape overlooking the Mediterranean. You will quickly fill up your SD card snapping photos of just about everything you see. What you will also learn is that the best views you will get are from high up in the mountains on the many hiking trails.

Riomaggiore Cinque Terre

A view of Riomaggiore – the southernmost village in Cinque Terre and our starting point

The most famous trail to travel through is actually part of the National Park of Cinque Terre and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This trail is by the sea and has an incredible vantage point – if you get the chance to take it. The path was closed during our stay due structural weakness on the path from recent rain. Mountains help create this dramatic landscape, but have caused difficulties and dangers for residents for years. When heavy rains hit bad things can happen as we saw in 2011. The devastation from this storm can still be seen to this day. One portion of the seaside trail is still closed after the damage inflicted by the 2011 floods. When we visited, the seaside trail was entirely closed due to recent rain so we began began hiking one of the higher paths. The mountain paths are well marked and there are a number of options to choose from, but they are steeper and definitely a better workout than the seaside options. There is enough trail variety to keep you busy for several days. Midway through our hike, a portion of the trail near the edge gave way under my foot. So a word to the wise – be careful and take rain-closed trails (and the resulting landslides) seriously. Also, don’t copy me and stay clear from the edge! With this in mind you can safely enjoy the incredible views.

Cinque Terre Village

Looking down on Corniglia (the middle of the five towns) from up the mountain

Oh, and be prepared for plenty of vineyards and olive groves too.

Cinque Terre Village

A view from the walking trail

Hiking will take you off the tourist trail and allow you to experience smaller nearby towns, historic architecture and a little bit of everyday life. One of my favorite moments – seeing a gardener leaving fresh vegetables and greens on his neighbor’s doorstep. There is a slightly more leisurely feel to life than we are used to in New York. If hiking isn’t your thing, there is another great way to take in the sights of Cinque Terre. There is a ferry service that runs between the five villages. You can see the details of the ferry here. You can take the ferry to and from all of the villages except Corniglia which does not have water access, due to being located on the cliff edge. In addition to the transport, you get a great tour of the coast!

Italy Cinque Terre Dock

Leaving the dock.

Italy Cinque Terre

From the water.

Italy Cinque Terre Coast

Back on the coast.

We highly recommend the ferry. It’s functional, practical and beautiful. The train is also a fine way to get from village to village – just don’t expect it to come on time. Cinque Terre has a lot to offer. It’s a great vacation spot to relax and take in the sights, sounds and pleasures of the Mediterranean. There is plenty of hiking and exploring to do and it is also ideal for drinking wine by the water. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Cinque Terre Italy Sunset

Make sure you get down to the water around sunset!

On the practical side, you can expect to pay more for lodging and food in Cinque Terre than most other Italian destinations. There are simply fewer options to accommodate all the tourists who want to visit. It was the most expensive place we stayed on our entire trip – save for the Great Barrier Reef. You wont find many listings on AirBnB there! Vegan food options may also be limited in the restaurants. However, we found a number of great pizza places that made us vegan pizza in Riomaggiore. Just remember vegans – senza formaggio!

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!

Naples, Italy: A vegan pizza extravaganza!

Naples, Italy is famous for one thing: Pizza. The story goes that pizza, in it’s current form, was invented in Naples and that there are only two kinds of traditional Neapolitan pizzas: Marinara and Margherita. Lucky for us vegans a true marinara pizza is just pizza dough, tomato, oregano, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Vegan and delicious.

Our first pizza in Naples from L' Antica Pizzeria da Michele, around the corner from where we were staying!

Our first pizza in Naples from L’ Antica Pizzeria da Michele, around the corner from where we were staying!

While in Naples, Dan and I decided the only respectable thing for us to do would be to taste test as many marinara pizzas as our budget (and bellies) would allow. We were staying in the historical center of Naples and there were a bunch of “Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana” (“True Neapolitan Pizza Association”) pizzerias right near us. We made it to all three places. We even picked a favorite and headed back there for our last pizza in Naples.

First things first: There are no losers here. The worst pizza we had in Naples was pretty much the best pizza we have ever had. But everyone picks favorites, even us. And there was only one pizzeria we went back to during our 4 days in Naples. Lucky for us it was more or less around the corner from where we were staying.

L’ Antica Pizzeria da Michele is one of the oldest pizzerias in Naples. The crust is thin, but chewy with awesomely developed gluten (I feel so smart saying that!). It’s the kind of crust I always wish I was capable of making! The sauce was delicious, the garlic bits were delicious, the olive oil was delicious. In other words, so freaking good!

L' Antica Pizzeria da Michele pizza number 2! So good, we had it twice!

L’ Antica Pizzeria da Michele pizza number 2! So good, we had it twice!

The magic happening at L' Antica Pizzeria da Michele

The magic happening at L’ Antica Pizzeria da Michele

If this picture above looks vaguely familiar, it is because you have seen the movie Eat, Pray, Love. This is where Julia Roberts had her Naples pizza in the movie. There is (obviously) a picture of her with the pizzeria staff up on the wall.

 

L' Antica Pizzeria da Michele

L’ Antica Pizzeria da Michele

It should be noted that there is a huge line at this place most of the time! But no worries, the pizzas only take 3 minutes to cook in that kickass wood-burning pizza oven, so your pizza will be ready lickity split. Just be sure to say “marinara” to them very clearly! I’m going to guess most of their orders are for margherita pizzas. Oh yeah! There are only two options here, margherita or marinara. And the “maxi” size is only 5 euros! We shared a maxi marinara the two times we got pizza from here, but I have no doubt I could have eaten one all by myself!

Molly with pizza outside of La Pizzeria di Matteo

Molly with pizza outside of La Pizzeria di Matteo

Pizzeria number two of the three places we visited was La Pizzeria di Matteo. They open at 9AM so we had this pizza for breakfast. Also, di Matteo had the cheapest marinara that we tried. The pizza below was 2.50 Euros. Isn’t Italy wonderful?!

La Pizzeria di Matteo's margharita pizza

La Pizzeria di Matteo’s margharita pizza

I think I liked this sauce the best. It was the sweetest. It tasted like it had been cooked the longest, so the tomatoes sweetened the most. The crust was our least favorite, but like I said, still better than pretty much every pizza in America! Also, apparently Bill Clinton visited in 1994, and was a big fan. They have his picture on the wall. (I’m sensing a theme here…)

Pizzaria Sorbillo

Pizzaria Sorbillo

Finally, we went to Sorbillo’s for lunch one day. This place had the most American crust of the pizzas we tried. A bit fluffier than the others, so if you enjoy some extra crust this might be the place for you.

Inside the oven at Pizzaria Sorbillo. Our pizza is in there!

Inside the oven at Pizzaria Sorbillo. Our pizza is in there!

Pizzaria Sorbillo's margharita pizza in all its doughy glory

Pizzaria Sorbillo’s margharita pizza in all its doughy glory

This seemed the least traditional to me, so perhaps that’s why it wasn’t my favorite. Or maybe I just like more sauce than crust. Either way this beauty cost a mere 3 Euros.

There may be things to see and do in Naples (we even managed to see and do some things ourselves!), but with pizza this good, who cares? I recommend that everyone make a pizza pilgrimage to Naples at least once in his or her life. It is simply too tasty to miss out on. If you are ever headed to Italy via Rome, Naples is a short train ride south. You won’t be disappointed (by the pizza), I promise! Just be careful of the crazy car traffic. It’s madness down in southern Italy!

Also, be sure to check out the new page we added to the website: Molly’s Long-Term Travel Tips. This page will be updated as we travel to new destinations and learn new tricks!

Berlin’s Awesome Vegan Food Options

As we have mentioned before, Dan and I have mostly been using AirBnB during our European travels to find places to stay. This means that for the price of two hostel beds (usually) we can stay together in someone’s second bedroom and have access to a kitchen. This is a very good perk for budget travelers. So, following in our European footsteps we used AirBnB for our place in Berlin as well. We stayed in a great apartment with a small but adequate kitchen.

We were in Berlin for one week. We use the kitchen only once. What can I say? Berlin has too many vegan options and is just too darn affordable for these New York City vegans. In fact, we ate so much food in Berlin, I’m just going to share the highlights. (But I will not be covering the delicious Mio Matto or Voner, as Dan did such an excellent job of that the other day)

Kopps:

Kopps Vegan Restaurant

Kopps Vegan Restaurant

This is a very elegant vegan place. We had a few dishes that were good but not fantastic, but this Lentil Burger was too good to not mention.

Lentil Burger with amazing fries

Lentil Burger with amazing fries

And the fries! I have never in my life had fries that good. No idea what they do to them, but yum. Plus having fries at a vegan place is the best because they give you vegan mayo to dip them into, which is a very European (and tasty) thing to do.

Chay Viet:

They may not actually have their own website, but damn do they make amazing vegetarian Vietnamese food. We actually went back to Chay Viet later in our stay because it was so good the first time! Due to the lack of website, and thus menu, you will have to deal with vague food descriptions. Sorry! But trust that everything shown below was delicious, and they have menus in English so no need to worry about the language barrier.

Tofu and banana (?) skewers with peanut sauce

Tofu and banana (?) skewers with peanut sauce

A delicious pancake appetizer

A delicious pancake appetizer

A super tasty basil leaf appetizer

A super tasty basil leaf appetizer

Dan's rice noodle and veggies dish

Dan’s rice noodle and veggies dish

Dan's soup with fried wontons

Dan’s soup with fried wontons

My coconut curry with veggies over rice noodles

My coconut curry with veggies over rice noodles

Not pictured above (because the picture came out blurry) is the super tasty fried banana dessert over coconut sauce I shared with a lovely Berliner friend. Also not pictured (because we forgot to take one), the fantastic iced lime, soda water, and cane juice drink I got both times we went to Viet Chay!

Cookies Cream:

Hidden entrance to Cookies Cream

Hidden entrance to Cookies Cream

Yes, this place is hidden in an alley behind a hotel and impossible to find if you don’t read the fine print on your reservation. It is rare to find a vegetarian restaurant on the cutting edge, but that is what Cookies Cream is. Innovative food in a swanky atmosphere. The prices match though, so keep that in mind. Also, I wish they had more vegan options, so we could have tried more things. Something to work on, Cookies Cream. Also, these are not actual menu descriptions because to see their menu online you have to sign up for their mailing list. No thank you…

Salad with cabbage, mandarin orange slices, and chocolate shavings

Salad with cabbage, mandarin orange slices, and chocolate shavings

Amazing eggplant dish with corn sauce and green beans

Amazing eggplant dish with corn sauce and green beans

Mushroom dish, with mushroom foam, squash sauce, and some balled veggies

Mushroom dish, with mushroom foam, squash sauce, and some balled veggies

Sweet and sour cherries dessert. Amazing.

Sweet and sour cherries dessert. Amazing.

Sun Day Burgers:

Sun Day Vegan at the Mauer Park Flea Market

Sun Day Burgers at the Mauer Park Flea Market

They only sell one entree out of their little truck at the Mauer Park Flea Market (an amazing thing to visit in Berlin itself), but it is a good one: A burger which consists of a whole wheat bun, tofu steak marinated in soy sauce & ginger, lettuce, tomato, beet root, cucumber, caramelized onions, fresh coriander, sprouts and topped with a smoked chipotle chilli, mango chutney, or Thai peanut sauce. All for 4 Euro.

Dan's Sun Day Burger with peanut sauce and a healthy bite taken out of it (by Dan, of course)

Dan’s Sun Day Burger with peanut sauce and a healthy bite taken out of it (by Dan, of course)

Dan got the peanut sauce and I got the mango chutney and we both recommend what we got. The burgers weren’t really burgers, but they were epically delicious.

And, perhaps the best for last:

Sfizy Veg:

Sfizy Veg

Sfizy Veg

What is there bad to say about this place? Maybe it is inconveniently located to most everything in Berlin, but I don’t care. Get your butt over there because the food is outta this world good. No, they don’t have an English menu. Yes, the menu has about 200 items on it (really). No, you will not be able to choose and will just end up pointing at something. But don’t worry. It will be fantastic!

Giant German menu

Giant German menu

Dan's organic beer is simply called Beir. My blood orange drink.

Dan’s organic beer is simply called Bier. My blood orange drink.

Traditional bruschetta and a mushroom variety

Traditional bruschetta and a mushroom variety

My pizza with artichoke hearts, olives, and four (4!) kinds of vegan cheese

My pizza with artichoke hearts, olives, and four (4!) kinds of vegan cheese

Our awesome Berlin guide's pizza with veggie ham and four (4!) kinds of vegan cheese

Our awesome Berlin guide’s pizza with veggie ham and four (4!) kinds of vegan cheese

Dan's pizza was a green pizza: pesto, cheese, olives, tomatoes, arugula, and grated vegan parm

Dan’s pizza was a green pizza: pesto, cheese, olives, tomatoes, arugula, and grated vegan parm

Half-eaten vegan tiramisu. Too tasty to remember to take a picture of until it was half eaten.

Half-eaten vegan tiramisu. Too tasty to remember to take a picture of until it was half eaten.

In case you can’t tell, Berlin is a vegan haven where most people would least expect it: Germany. But don’t let the Germans’ love of all things wurst (braut and curry come to mind) discourage you. Germany is filled with vegans and vegetarians and Berlin is definitely a hub for amazing vegan food. So go forth and enjoy. We certainly did!

Board Games and Vegan Treats: Berlin’s Friedrichshain Neighborhood

I have a little travel secret. When I go to new places, I often google around to see if there are any cool game stores in town. When Molly and I are home in New York, we often play board games with some friends. It has been fun traveling around the world and seeing what kind of games people like in different countries. But Berlin really took the cake because Berlin has a “play cafe” called Spielwiese.

Spielwiese storefront, Berlin

Spielwiese storefront in Berlin

We were quickly hooked and actually stopped in twice more. Let me illustrate what I mean by a “play cafe”.

Spielwiese, Berlin

Molly with Powergrid! Surrounded by other board games

They have hundreds of board games and card games of all types imaginable. You pay a small fee to use the games and can stay as long as you like to play. Spielwiese also rents our their board games. There is a small cafe (sadly, no vegan options) and a refrigerator full of people-pleasing beverages of both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties.

Spielwiese Berlin

Molly and I playing Powergrid

If board games are your scene, and you happen to be in Berlin, I highly recommend checking out Spielwiese. It’s a unique cafe with offerings that you do not see very often. I do have some good news for you gamers located in New York City. The man working at Spielwiese informed us that a similar style cafe will be opening soon in New York near NYU.  The Uncommons currently has a Kickstarter campaign if you are interested in supporting or following the project!

The only problem with Spielwiese is that they have NO vegan food. What are two hungry vegans to do? Lucky for us, there are some excellent options in Berlin’s Friedrichshain neighborhood.

You know you have arrived in a veg-friendly town when you see not one, but two Veganz locations – a supermarket where every product is vegan! The store location pictured below at store location at Warschauerstraße 33 is about a 5-10 minute walk from Spielwiese.

Veganz, Berlin, Vegan

The inside of Veganz in Friedrichshain, Berlin!

The model for Veganz is clearly working. According to their site they plan to have 21 stores open throughout Europe by the end of 2015. (Maybe New York next?? Please?!?) Veganz is great for picking up a wide variety of grocery and household items to cook up your own vegan feast! If you are in the mood for baked goods in Berlin, the Veganz locations also house the vegan bakery Goodies. Their chocolate croissants and cinnamon buns come highly recommended by us!

Goodies, Vegan, Berlin

Vegan baked goods from Goodies! (Housed in Veganz, Berlin)

After a marathon shopping session at Veganz you would be wise to check out Mio Matto. Mio Matto is a vegan restaurant conveniently located above this same Veganz store at Warschauerstraße 33. The restaurant opened just two weeks before our visit to Berlin and upon our arrival they were already on top of their game. Each dish really blew us away. Check out the pictures below of our feast.

Berlin, Vegan, Mio Matto

Antipasti for two at Mio Matto in Berlin

Vegan, Berlin, Mio Matto

Vegan Calzone at Mio Matto

Vegan, Berlin, Mio Matto

One of many pizza options at Mio Matto

Vegan, Berlin, Mio Matto

Vegan Hot Chocolate!

Vegan, Berlin, Mio Matto

Cannoli at Mio Matto

Yes, the dishes were as good as they looked. What surprised us about the food was its affordability. Most of the pizza and pasta dishes were in the $8 – $10 (USD) range. You will find a huge menu here of mostly pizza and pasts dishes. There are other less carb-filled options too. It was a great value for a nice evening of vegan dining.

If you are looking for something a little bit more quick and casual, but just as delicious, you should head to Voner. It is just down the same street as Spielwiese. Look at these spuds!

Vegan, Berlin, Voner

Vegan “special” fries at Voner

Do yourself a favor and get an order of these”special” fries. Molly and I agree that they are the best vegan cheese fries we have ever had. They are seasoned fries that come topped with cooked onions and vegan cheese sauce. Yum yum. We ordered two additional items from the menu including the signature vegan doner! Doner is the same as shwarma, as far as we could tell. Voner makes their own vegan doner “meat”, and it is really very good!

Vegan, Berlin, Voner

Vegan Doner at Voner!

Vegan, Berlin, Voner

Vegan Cheeseburger at Voner

Voner takes the crown for quick and affordable food. Our entire meal – with a local beer – was around 15 euro and it was far too much food! The fries and doner are worth the trip – or perhaps multiple trips!

There was too much great vegan food in Berlin to cover in one post. Please check back soon for more Berlin coverage!