Venice from a Vegan’s Perspective

Venice panorama taken from the back balcony of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Venice panorama taken from the back balcony of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection

I had been looking forward to getting Venice. The canals, the islands, the art. I’d heard so many wonderful things about it, how could I not look forward to going there?

The Grand Canal at a quiet moment

The Grand Canal at a quiet moment

Then, a day before we were to arrive in Venice I looked it up on Happy Cow (as I do for all places we are headed for. You need to know where your best options for food are located!). One vegetarian restaurant? That’s it? And it isn’t even a vegetarian restaurant, it is a health food store kind of place. (And Dan and I even stopped in there. It really isn’t particularly vegan-friendly. No vegan cheese to buy. But they did have wheat meat.)

Needless to say, my “love affair” with Venice ended before it had even started. Here are my biggest gripes with Venice:

Something is amiss here...

Something is amiss here…

#1: It is full of tourists, not Venetians. The smart Italians left Venice when the water started to rise. Due to this fact, the islands of Venice have more tourists on them than locals. And every local who does still live there is involved in the tourist industry, which leads me to…

#2: Everyone is trying to sell you something. From stupid 1 euro pig shaped sticky balls that vendors keep splatting on a piece of cardboard on the ground to stores selling the gazillion dollar brand name purses, everyone on the islands is employed to shill. As budget travelers who have no money or room for that crap, we were not amused.

#3: The water “buses” take foooooooooorrrrrrrrreeeeeeevvvvvvveeeerrrrrrrrrrr. And they are packed to the gills! All the time! Even in October. Dan and I kept remarking on how insane it must be on the boats in Venice in the summer during high tourist time if it is this crazy in October.

#4: It smells bad. Who thinks Venice is romantic? It smells like garbage! Even in October! Again, I can’t imagine how much worse it is in the summer. Those canals… They stink!

#5: Lastly, there isn’t really any vegan food. Yes, you can easily get a vegetarian pizza “senza formaggio”, but as it is Venice it will cost you twice as much as it would anywhere else in Italy.

Seeing as how I am unlikely to talk anyone out of going to Venice (since it is Venice, after all…), I will now try to be constructive and make your stay as pleasant as possible. Here are my tips to achieve that:

#1: Stay on the islands of Venice, not Venice Mestre (mainland, or “terra firma” as Dan likes to say). Yes, it will be ridiculously expensive, but it will save you a 15 minute bus ride before getting on those god-forsaken boats every day. Plus, when the Italian transit workers strike, you won’t have to worry about being able to get home at the end of the day. You’ll just walk. You would get to avoid being crushed by an oncoming mass of people all trying to stuff themselves onto the only bus for perhaps ever, due to the strike, as some people I know had to do. (Who could I be speaking of?)

#2: See the art. My absolute favorite parts of Venice were the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Venice Biennale. Amazing, amazing art is located on those islands. Go search it out. The art really saved our time in Venice for me.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Peggy Guggenheim Collection

#3: See the neighboring islands. If you are going to sit on a bus on the water forever, shouldn’t it at least be taking you somewhere awesome? Murano and Burano are the places to go. Still full of tourists, but unique and interesting in their own ways. Murano is famous for glass making. My advice before you go is to google the real Murano glass artists and visit their shops. Just to look, since everything costs more than my weekly budget, but that is where the art is. Everywhere else on the island is just peddling tchotchke, probably made in China. Also, the free glass blowing demos are actually really cool. Go to one or two. Then just wander the island and you may see some guys making glass in a workshop with their doors open because it gets hot in there. Watch that for a longer while since they are making the real thing. Not just for show. Burano is totally different with even fewer tourists. Burano is famous for lace. I am not a lace person or anything, but the craft-woman-ship is amazing. And Burano is also famous for its painted houses. Just walk around the small island marveling at the houses. And people actually live here! We saw some locals. It felt more like a real place than Venice did.

#4: Food-wise, we mostly bought veggie focaccia from the grocery store and ate that a lunch time while we were in Venice. It saved us a bundle and tasted good. But our one food recommendation while you are in Venice is Fritto & Frutta. They don’t use eggs in their batter that’s on the veggies, and they know what vegano is. Just ask for all the veggie options and you will be all set. And wash it down with a fruit smoothie. It will make the deep fried deliciousness, and the difficulties of Venice, go down much smoother.

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!

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!

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!

Tasty vegan eats in Glasgow, Scotland

In terms of vegan-friendly-ness, Glasgow is at the top. The city has 5 totally vegan restaurants. In fact, according to HappyCow.net, it has 5 vegan restaurants and only 3 vegetarian restaurants! I think one of the reasons why I am so impressed with Glasgow’s vegan food situation is because I wasn’t expecting it to be so awesome. The best part: All the food was really tasty! We ate at 4 of the 5 vegan places and visited the 5th (we had just eaten or we would have tried #5 out too!), and across the board the food was great.

We also noticed that the vibe was very similar from restaurant to restaurant. They all were very comfortable and large, with free wifi, and appeared to have similar handwriting across the chalkboards. From speaking to a waiter at Mono (the final place we tried), it seems that they were all founded by the same guy, but each restaurant’s chef creates his or her own menu.

So I thought I would give you the roundup on Glasgow’s vegan awesomeness, to encourage everyone to flock to Glasgow and get eating!

Saramago:

Saramago is located right next to/part of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow just off of a main walking street. It’s an excellent place to take a break from walking/art-seeing, has free wifi, and tasty food. Also, make sure you at least go into the CCA so you can see the beautiful building. Saramago’s bathrooms are actually in the CCA, so you may see it a bit even if you don’t want to.

Saramago and a pensive Molly

Saramago and a pensive Molly

Saramago interior

Saramago interior

Saramago artichoke hearts

Saramago artichoke hearts

Saramago tempura

Saramago tempura

Saramago grilled aubergine

Saramago grilled aubergine

Saramago dolmades

Saramago dolmades

Saramago root veggie chips

Saramago root veggie chips

Saramago brownie sundae dessert

Saramago brownie sundae dessert

Saramago coconut lime raspberry cake

Saramago coconut lime raspberry cake

As you can see, we ordered lots of food. Which lead to it being a bit expensive… But very tasty!

Stereo:

We actually went to Stereo twice, but only took pictures once. Our biggest comment about Stereo is that it is H-O-T in there! Open some windows, guys! Also, if the pictures below look familiar it is because we posted about Stereo in our “South Side of Glasgow” post!

Stereo

Stereo

Stereo interior

Stereo interior

Vegan haggis pizza, salad and house coleslaw

Vegan haggis pizza, salad and house coleslaw

TLT with salad and chips

TLT with salad and chips

The 78:

The 78 had our favorite desserts in Glasgow. And the good was stellar, too. But seriously, look at those desserts! Those of you who know me will be shocked to learn that I ordered that chocolate torte. But I ate every single bite of it! The only thing I would have changed was to add more raspberries. But everything is better with more raspberries, right? The chocolate was amazing, the ginger crust was the perfect compliment. A fantastic dessert. And, oh yeah, Dan loved his brownie sundae as well! Also, we forgot to take an exterior shot. Don’t be mad!

The 78 onion rings and hummus plate

The 78 onion rings and hummus plate

The 78 burger

The 78 burger

The 78 quesadilla

The 78 quesadilla

The 78 chocolate raspberry ginger torte

The 78 chocolate raspberry ginger torte

The 78 brownie sundae

The 78 brownie sundae

Mono:

Mono was the final vegan place we made it to while we were in Glasgow, and I think it may have been my favorite. It probably didn’t hurt that we were there right at opening time so we had the (giant) place more or less to ourselves. It was the perfect place to decompress for a few hours before catching our bus to Liverpool. Great wifi, fantastic food, and an awesome venue that also has music and a cool zine shop and record shop in it. We highly recommend it! I mean, just look at the food…

 

Mono

Mono

Fancy lemonade at Mono

Mono smoked tofu pesto mayo sandwich

Mono smoked tofu pesto mayo sandwich

Mono awesome pepperoni pizza

Mono awesome pepperoni pizza

And there was also vegan sticky toffee pudding for dessert, but the picture seems to have disappeared! So you can visualize it in your head. A slab of awesome, gooey cake with a scoop of ice cream on top, drizzled with caramel sauce! Yup. Aren’t you sad I can’t find the picture??

There is one more vegan restaurant in Glasgow, a bar called The Flying Duck, that we simply didn’t have time to visit. But they have vegan bar food, so definitely look it up if you have a craving while in Glasgow.

So those were our awesome eats in Glasgow. I highly recommend Glasgow – and Scotland in general – as a place to visit as a vegan. You will have tons of vegan options throughout Scotland (I promise!), and Scotland is so beautiful it will make your soul hurt.