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!

All Hail Lord Fry!

Dan and I spent 10 days in Melbourne. That may seem like a long time to spend in Australia’s second biggest city, but it turned out to be such a pleasure. Melbourne is really fun and they have a killer vegan scene. After 3 weeks in New Zealand, cooking 90% of our own food, it was time to indulge. And we fell hard for the least healthy, but incredibly tasty, Lord of the Fries.

Thank you, Lord Fry!

Thank you, Lord Fry!

Lord of the Fries (or LotF for short) is an entirely vegetarian burger and fries fast food joint. Note that I did say vegetarian and not vegan. They can make 99% of all their options vegan, but there are cow-milk cheese and dairy and mayo-based sauces available, and used as the standard. If you don’t already know, here is why you shouldn’t eat dairy and here is why you shouldn’t eat eggs. For the animals! Everything you will see in the post below are vegan versions that we ordered when we went to LotF. Equally delicious, but 100% cruelty free!

This small qualm aside, Lord of the Fries makes amazing burgers and fries. They have 7 locations in Melbourne and one in Sydney. Dan and I ate there 5 times over our 10 day stay in Melbourne (and once more at their only location here in Sydney) as LotF was always conveniently located and obviously tasty. Here are some of the best pictures of  (some of) our eats from Lord of the Fries:

Our first LotF burger - the Parma Burger

Our first LotF burger – the Parma Burger

Parma Burger innards.

Parma Burger innards. They gave us two patties! By mistake I think. Win for us!

The Parma burger is a chick’n patty (their spelling, not mine), soy bacon, napoli sauce, cheese and onions. This was the only time we tried their chicken-style patty and I really liked it! Dan preferred the cow-style patty you will see below. But this burger, overall, was delicious. I don’t know what napoli sauce is, but it sure is tasty!

Nuggets and Rings Munch Box.

Nuggets and Rings Munch Box.

A standard purchase for us after this first time: a “munch box” is filled with LotF’s delicious twice-fried fries, onion rings, and awesome vegan chicken nuggets. It’s hard to tell from this picture, but the box is really big, too. It’s a pretty good value (in addition to being delicious), as food in Australia goes.

And that’s something to mention, too. Prepared food in Australia is expensive. The burgers here (except for the breakfast burgers) all go for about US$7.50 and the munch box for about US$9.25. Australia’s minimum wage is over US$15 an hour, so purchasing goods where a human was involved in the production has to be more expensive. This is great for Australians (and is part of the reason why they can afford to travel so much!), but tough on foreigners. It didn’t bother us too much, as long as we were spending our money on really delicious food!

Then we decided one day to make it to LotF before 11 so we could try the breakfast burgers. Australians call these “brekky buns”, as you can see in the sign below.

Breakfast! Only available in Melbourne.

Breakfast! Only available in the Melbourne locations.

Dan's beloved New York breakfast burger.

Dan’s beloved New York breakfast burger.

Dan got the New York: Hash brown, LotF patty, cheese, onion, mustard, and bbq sauce. And he fell in love. He probably mentions it once a day. Too bad they don’t do breakfast here in Sydney!

The Tibet breakfast tofu-burger.

The Tibet breakfast tofu-burger.

The Tibet is just the vegan version of the Melbourne. I wish they hadn’t renamed it. It would have been cuter if Dan and I had ordered the vegan New York and the vegan Melbourne. Regardless, the Tibet is two tofu eggs, cheese, mayo and mustard. This one is good and very breakfast-y. I’m not really a burger-before-11am kind of person, so this was nice to have instead.

On our last day in Melbourne Dan demanded a return to LotF one last time so he could get his New York breakfast burger again, but he also really wanted to try the Big Mark (can you guess what burger that one is modeled after??). Do they do non-breakfast burgers during breakfast hours? We were going to find out.

Good news! They do! So Dan got both, and kindly shared them with me. For your viewing pleasure, a double Big Mark Burger: 2 LotF patties, cheese, pickles, onions, lettuce, and special sauce.

A Double Big Mark burger. The cruelty free version!

A Double Big Mark burger. The cruelty free version!

This burger was huge and tasty. Seeing as I have never had “the real thing”, I had to ask Dan how it stood up and he was not disappointed. But for Dan, nothing could hold a candle to his favorite, the New York breakfast burger:

The New York a second time.

The New York a second time.

Okay, New York vegan scene, please begin work on a version of this burger so that when we get home Dan can get one, because I imagine he’ll never stop talking about it otherwise! Maybe Terri could add it to their new breakfast menu? You can call it the Dan Special. I think he’d be okay with it!

Anyway, there you have it. Our fav food spot in Melbourne. I won’t hold it against you if you come all the way down to Australia just for Lord of the Fries, but I promise that Melbourne will be able to keep you entertained between meals as well! We really enjoyed it all!

Our Local Vegan Thai Place in Bangkok

All it took was our first bites at this place to know that we would become regulars. During our 5 days in Bangkok, we became just that. We ate at Baan Aree (also known as Banana Family Park) almost everyday.

Our first Baan Aree deliciousness.

Our first Baan Aree deliciousness.

Open at 7am, it was the perfect affordable Thai breakfast. We would stop in for a bite before heading off for our activities for the day. At 30-50 baht ($1-1.67) per plate (depending on what we got) it was a fantastic deal.

Tofu, veggies, noodles. Who could ask for anything more?

Tofu, veggies, noodles. All vegan! Who could ask for anything more?

Oh yeah, and crispy fried mushrooms! (upper left corner)

Oh yeah, and crispy fried mushrooms! (upper left corner)

If you are patient and come at the end of the day (they are technically open until 7pm, but I wouldn’t get there much after 6 if I were you), you are rewarded with the discounted leftovers of the day. 15 baht per plastic bag of food.

15 baht bags of deliciousness are perfect for long overnight bus trips.

15 baht bags of deliciousness are perfect for long overnight bus trips.

But Molly, you might be thinking, how the heck do we get to this place? Good question. It is inexplicably hard to find. A good place to start would be to review the description on their Happy Cow page. Then follow our step-by-step directions here:

Take the BTS Skytrain (the most pleasant way to get around Bangkok) to the Ari station. Take exit 1. Walk down the west side of Phahon Yothin road.

When you see this sign, turn down the alley that looks like...

When you see this sign, turn down the alley that looks like…

this! Yes it is usually this deserted.

this! Yes it is usually this deserted.

Once you are out of the alley, you will see some shops. Pass them and see on your right this big open space with seating and a glass-walled yoga studio at the back.

Once you are out of the alley, you will see some shops. Pass them and see on your right this big open space with seating and a glass-walled yoga studio at the back.

You are now almost there! Keep going! Walk to the right of the yoga studio, next to the bathrooms. Keep to the right and keep walking and you will finally see:

this glorious home of tasty food and a little health food store.

this glorious home of tasty food and a little health food store.

The health food store is the perfect place to pick up snacks or a cold drink, and the food stalls are all vegetarian. This is your chance, veggie-eaters, to get your fill of vegan versions of Thai street food. I recommend one of everything!

One tip I learned is to keep your eye out for yellow triangle-shaped flags with red writing on them. That means the food at that restaurant is “jay”. The Thai word “jay” (เจ), means a person who eats no meat, no seafood, no animal byproducts, no garlic, and even excludes a few herbs and vegetables that have too pungent of a flavor. (Definition borrowed from this article.) But I promise that does not mean tasteless! Our vegan Thai place was where local office workers came at lunchtime. This was no foreigner hangout. You, too, can find your own veggie Thai place in Thailand!

You can check out all of our Thailand posts here.

A Vegan’s Perspective of Elephant Nature Park

Molly and Dan with Medo.

Molly and Dan with Medo.

Elephant riding, tours, training, and feeding are big business in Chiang Mai, Thailand. If you are ever in Chiang Mai and consider “doing something with elephants”, please only consider Elephant Nature Park and do your research.

Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for retired and rescued preforming and working elephants. I learned a lot in my time there and thought I would share it with you guys so when you are in Chiang Mai you can make an educated decision on spending time with elephants in Thailand.

Elephant Nature Park doesn’t just care for their 36 elephants, they also have over 130 dogs that they care for that live on the santuary’s land.

This well-behaved guy really just wanted some people food! He is sitting on a stool!

This well-behaved guy really just wanted some people food! He is sitting on a stool!

There is also a herd of water buffalo that heard how nice it is there and took up residence.

The giant herd of water buffalo that live at Elephant Nature Park

The giant herd of water buffalo that live at Elephant Nature Park

Dan and I originally tried to volunteer for a week at the park but they were all booked up through mid-December. If you can, I highly recommend volunteering for an extended period of time. We were just day helpers and I personally felt that we were mostly visitors (and in the way of the people actually helping) and not so much helpers.

Dan cleaning Medo in the river.

Dan cleaning Medo in the river.

But to get to the important information: Asian elephants are smaller and tamer than their African cousins. In fact, if “broken”, Asian elephants can be trained to do all sorts of things for human entertainment. There are 3,000-4,000 “working” elephants in Thailand. What happens to those elephants when they can no longer work or carry tourists or paint pictures with their trunks?

That’s where Elephant Nature Park comes in. They provide a home, family, and food for “retired” elephants for the rest of their natural lives. There is no other elephant sanctuary in Thailand and there are an awful lot of working elephants. For the elephants at Elephant Nature Park, being rescued by Lek (the founder of the sanctuary) is the best possible thing that could ever happen to them. It should be noted that an elephant is worth a lot in Thailand. Obviously, elephants that cannot work are worth less, but this isn’t like a chicken that fell of the transport truck in the USA (worth nothing to the “farmer”). These horrible people who abuse the elephants still want compensation; and Lek does often pay for the elephants she rescues.

Lek and her children. The love there is palpable.

Lek and her children. The love there is palpable.

One of the things I did not know before spending time at Elephant Nature Park is that Asian elephants, after being trained, become like domestic animals. They cannot be sent back in to the wild as they no longer know how to care for themselves. This is really why Elephant Nature Park is so important! There is no where else for these beautiful creatures to go after they are no longer “useful”.

And since they are domesticated, but still huge (unlike your dog, for example) getting them to do the things you want involves bribery. Instead of punishing the elephants with bullhooks to get them to do what they want, Lek’s trainers uses bribes of the food variety. Each elephant has a trainer (mahout in Hindi) with him or her all day, and if an elephant needs to go from one end of the park to the other, for example, the mahout first tries voice commands and then if that doesn’t work: fruit.

Hungry elephants waiting for their morning fruit. Impatiently...

Hungry elephants waiting for their morning fruit. Impatiently…

Ultimately, the work that Elephant Nature Park does is vitally important as there is no where else for these elephants to go where they will be safe from harm and cared for for the rest of their 70-80 year lives.

Baby trying to steal fruit out of mom's mouth. Silly baby, you don't even have teeth yet!

Baby trying to steal fruit out of mom’s mouth. Silly baby, you don’t even have teeth yet!

My biggest problem with the sanctuary, as an ethical vegan, was that the elephants were “putting on a show” for us visitors. We fed the elephants fruits and veggies twice while we were there (in the wild their natural diet would generally consist of grasses and leaves) and got to crowed around them and take pictures with them at another point. They weren’t just left alone to be elephants. In some small way they are still working for their dinner. But things like riding the elephants is strictly forbidden at Elephant Nature Park.

And I obviously have a problem with paying for the elephants as well, as it encourages the people who use these elephants to continue, knowing that they get a reward even after their elephant can no longer work. But I don’t know how else Lek would be able to convince the “owners” to give up their old, blind, injured elephants.

A majestic elephant at Elephant Nature Park

A majestic elephant at Elephant Nature Park

Of course, it is obvious why they allow the volunteers to interact with the elephants at Elephant Nature Park. The tourists want to spend time with the elephants, not just watch them from afar, and it costs Lek $250,000 a year to run Elephant Nature Park. The money from visitors is desperately needed. So I was a bit conflicted. I know these elephants are used to spending time with humans, and they certainly were not showing any physical signs of stress, but it still felt off to me as an animal activist.

Panorama of Elephant Nature Park

Panorama of Elephant Nature Park

All of the behaviors I saw from the elephants, and their interactions with their trainers and visitors indicated to me that they are happy and well cared for. So, I am certainly not saying “don’t visit Elephant Nature Park”, I am just trying to examine all of the sides of the issue. In case you can’t tell from the pictures, we had a fantastic time with the elephants despite some hesitation. You should come to your own conclusions, but Elephant Nature Park is certainly the best option for these domesticated elephants that I know of.

Ultimately, I agree with this sign that I saw at Elephant Nature Park:

Amen.

Amen.

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!