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.

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!

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!